Tuesday, November 12, 2013

PCT Southern Terminus to Mount Laguna - Training hike and gear test!

Bring on the PCT training!! 
Josh and I hiked from the Pacific Crest Trail's Southern Terminus at the Mexican border in Campo to the Mount Laguna Lodge this Veteran's Day weekend. Our hope was to learn about our body and our gear in order to gain insight for our 2014 PCT thru hike.

Saturday morning we parked Josh's truck at the Mount Laguna Visitor's Center and headed south to the border in my truck.

We arrived just before 8am. After a brief chat with a Border Patrol Agent we walked up to the terminus and checked out the register book. It is kind of cool to see the entries from the people I followed this season.

A couple of photos later, we were off! I have hiked the first 20 miles as a day hike two times before this and Josh has hiked it once. However, this was the first time we had ever done the hike with full packs.

Not far into the hike we saw signs of mountain bikers on the trail. There were tire tracks and jumps assembled in the sand. There were very few sections of the trail that were free of mountain bike tracks over the course of the weekend. There is a renegade group of mountain bikers that use the PCT even when they are not supposed to. The ruts created by the bikes make for hard hiking and are a general bummer.

We crossed a dry creek bed over a wood bridge and watched our step to avoid the copious amounts of poison oak in the area.

Around mile three we took a short break at the train tracks before dropping into another dry creek bed, before climbing out of the canyon. We followed the ridgeline for a few miles, taking in the views of the Campo Indian Reservation.

It was already warm out and we wondered how brutal it would be in April, if it was this hot in November.

We took a break at the top the ridge, where we could see the opposite side of Hauser Canyon and our destination for the day.

This area had been burned several years ago and Josh and I remembered it as a barren plateau, We were pleasantly surprised to see it has rebounded so well in just one season.

It was about mid day when I checked my water levels which were critically low. I was dying of thirst but tried to ration my water knowing everything was dry until Lake Morena. I made a major mistake not cameling up before our hike. All week I had been drinking coffee and Diet Pepsi, which is not conducive to a positive hydration status. Oops. I winced when I saw that at mile 10, I had but one liter of water left. 

Signs of fall: There were Oak Galls everywhere! The variety of colors and shapes were beautiful. Inside of these galls are insect larvae awaiting spring; at which time they will emerge from their gourd-like orbs and annoy the crap out of hikers everywhere. :-)

At last, our challenge emerged: Morena Butte, a daunting switch back climb out of Hauser Canyon. From our vantage point we agreed that it looks much worse than it actually is. The trail is really well graded but it is still a pain in the butt after 15 miles of hiking

We took a final break in the shade before our descent into Hauser Canyon. Our minds were set on cold drinks at Lake Morena and we discussed our options. There is a store about half a mile outside of Lake Morena Campground and we wondered how late it would be open. I took my phone out of airplane mode and was happy to see I had service! 
Josh called the store and asked their hours...open until 9, no sweat. We will make it no problem and drink everything they have! Our spirits were restored and we hiked on with incentive.

Josh says, "two times!" 
The last time we hiked this Josh was OVER IT by this point. Not this time. Our bodies were feeling great!

The sign, roughly translated says, "Caution! Don't expose yourself to the elements it's not worth it!" 

A message for immigrants, I suppose. 
I find it hard to believe that an immigrant would read the sign and say "Oh, dude, you're totally right, its not worth it." and head back for Mexico. But hey, it makes for a good photo op.

Descending into Hauser Canyon we sang praises to the trail crews! When we were here in the spring the trail was swallowed by brush and poison oak.

Hauser creek was dry, as expected and riddled with poison oak. We saw one hiker having a rest and wondered if he was a south-bounder. He didn't look too keen on conversation so we left him alone.

Morena Butte is not hard hiking in the true sense of the word. It looks like a monster but once you're on it, it is not super steep. However, it drains you of any energy you may have had left after your 15 mile trek to it. If the creek was full, I would have opted to camp there and hike out fresh in the morning.

The views of Barrett Lake were impressive as the sun began to set. Finally on top of the pass over the Butte we sat and tried to recover from the climb. Still about three miles to go we readied ourselves for some night hiking.

As we hiked down from the butte, we played the alphabet game to pass the time. Not surprisingly, all of our words were centered on something to drink. Agua, Beverages, Cola, Drinks....

The hike out of the Canyon and the lack of water started to take their toll. I was a little cranky, an opportunity Josh used to take some quality photography.

Earlier in the day I scared Josh when I hit a dried up century agave with my trekking poles, resulting in an explosion of seeds and rattling. He returned the favor by hitting one with his poles while we hiked in the dark. I thought something jumped out of the bushes to attack us and it made me jump off the trail, almost landing in a barrel cactus while Josh laughed.

Finally, we made it to Lake Morena and made a beeline to the store for drinks! I was having horrible thoughts on the way there that we would arrive and there would be one broken down cooler with a bottle of warm, Cisco wine inside. But my fears were dispelled when we walked in and saw refrigerators shinning like gems, filled with cold, colorful beverages sparkling in their bottles. YAAAASS!!! 
$20 in drinks later, we were happy campers.


After a long walk to the Ranger's Station we paid for our camp spot. The hike and bike camp spot is only $5 per person and is right next to the trail! We set up our tent and crawled inside. We were so exhausted we cooked dinner from inside the tent, ate, and bundled up in our quilts.

Oh, boy. This is my first blister EVER. In all of my hiking and backpacking I have never experienced this! I cleaned my foot and hoped it would resolve over night.

Good Morning! What a crappy nights sleep! All night it was drunken campers, car alarms and barking dogs. However, I am still happy to be on the trail. Lets get up and get'er done!

We only have 12 miles to do today, so we have a slow morning. While making our breakfast of re-fried beans and buffalo jerky, I notice a dime on the ground! For those that don't know me, my Mom told us growing up that if you found a dime on the ground it was God's way of saying you're on the right path. I find them in the weirdest places and they make me smile.

Up and packed, we headed out of camp toward Cibbets Flats.

Unbeknownst to us, we had already set ourselves up for a long day by thinking it was going to be a short day. We popped blisters and taped our feet but were pretty tired from the long 20 miles the day before. In good spirits, we pushed on.

Climbing away from Lake Morena the trail turned to sand and gave our calves a work out. The day was beautiful and warm.

Josh rocked the latest in hiker fashion.

We stopped at mile 23.9 under the bridge at Buckman Springs Road for a brief respite from the heat. It was kind of a bummer to see all of the graffiti under the bridge. Why PCT'ers? We are supposed to live by leave no trace principals! Granted, this area is a bit on the funky/ghetto end, but it is still my backyard. Let's not add to the damage it in 2014, ok?

While checking out the Swallow's nests we waved to a passing hunter and realized, we are not wearing any orange. Oops. We left the bridge and hoped we wouldn't be mistaken for a deer and shot.

 The next two miles went by quickly and we arrived at Boulder Oaks Camp. The creek just before was flowing slowly and made stagnant pools so we found a log to cross on. 


Boulder Oaks is a beautiful camp and we took a long lunch break there under a large oak tree. The next stretch of trail climbs above Kitchen Creek and is uphill and exposed. By now, we have realized that we are TIRED and searched for our second wind in some dehydrated fajitas.

We packed up and headed for the edge of camp where we walked along, and eventually crossed, Old Hwy 80.

While crossing under Interstate 8 we met our first large animal on the trail. A cow! He stopped chewing with plants hanging out of his mouth and looked unsure what to make of us.

The fall colors and foliage were beautiful and we admired the views as we climbed above Kitchen Creek.

That's the trail, climbing in the distance. Once we made it around the bend it was be new territory for both Josh and I until Mount Laguna.

The only water we saw in Kitchen Creek was a stagnant pool on top of the falls.

This canyon is very beautiful and I can't wait to see it in the spring.

After the long climb up, we turned away from the 8 and rested in the shade for a while. We reflected upon what we had learned thus far. Admittedly, we were both completely brain dead. It's a kind of funny to watch.

The sun was hanging low in the sky and the shadows were getting long as we crossed Kitchen Road.

The trail seemed to go on forever and we had a hard time figuring out where we were on the planet. The Interstate seemed to be in the wrong place and the trail was not where we thought it would be. Finally, we agreed that we were just tired and decided to hike until we got to Cibbets. We played a couple more rounds of the alphabet game and picked up the pace.

A few dry creek beds later we arrived at this sign. According to Halfmile's maps, a military plane crashed here in 2009 and they decided to post a sign, as opposed to locating and clearing the unexploded shells. Tread lightly.

After paying for our site we set up camp and had another night of dinner in the tent followed by the exhausted collapse.

The next morning, we woke up at about 5:30am and had coffee in the tent. We considered that since we thought the twelve miles of yesterday were going to be easy and instead were hard, that today was going to be equally difficult. We opted to get an early start and minimize the time we would be hiking in the heat.

Up and out by 7am we hiked the .6  miles out of Cibbets Flat and rejoined the trail. The hiking was easier than expected and it was cool and windy as we climbed out of the canyon.

Once out of the Canyon we looked back at how far we had come. We were impressed that our bodies and minds felt so good! We were making great time and feeling good. It seemed we were getting stronger as we progressed.

It wasn't long before the vegetation started to change from desert to oaks and a smattering of pines.

Only about 4 miles left to go we took a break and finished off our food. This was a super easy hike! What a surprise considering it was the most elevation gain.

We crossed Long Canyon Creek which was flowing well and climbed back into the manzanita. Josh and I were happily chatting when suddenly he stopped mid-sentence and turned around with wide eyes. I stopped hiking, concerned, and asked him what was wrong...
"I left my keys in your truck." he sighed.

What?! HAHA! Well, at least we have a couple of miles to try and formulate a plan.

The trail widened out and the hard work of trail crews was evident. Thanks trail crews!!

We entered the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area and hiked through dense pine forest. It was wonderful to be in the shade and scent of the pines.

A mile or so later we met with the Desert View Trail and the spur to Burnt Rancheria Camp. We turned down the spur and hiked through the camp to the Sunrise Hwy and the Lodge. We made it!

We stopped and got food and drinks at the Lodge Store and went to the Visitor's Center to figure out how to get into the truck or back to the border. After several phone calls and Facebook shout-outs, all our friends were at work. Josh went in to talk to the volunteer ranger. She offered us a ride to the border when her shift was over.

At 2pm we jumped in the car with Trish and headed for the border. We are so grateful to Trish for her help!! We offered her money and she asked that we put it in as a donation to the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area.
What an amazing lady!

Trucks and keys recovered we finally took off our shoes and surveyed the damage, before going out for a well deserved steak dinner. It was a great hike and taught us many valuable lessons for our thru hike next year.

--After thoughts--

Some things I learned on the hike: 

1) I need water. Lots of it, and need to camel up at night.
2) I need better hygiene with my feet. I have never had a blister before and got two bad ones on this trip. I need to be sure to take better care of my feet as I go. This includes packing more socks, leukotape and baby wipes.
3) More snacky type foods. When I'm hot and thirsty I only want to eat snacks, even in place of meals.
4) Smart wool undershirt really did make a difference in stink factor. I was much less smelly than past hikes.
5) I will get stronger everyday. I thought I would get more tired and weak but it was the opposite, my stamina improved and I felt better each day.
6) Sesame sticks are a morale booster. I need more of them. They are delicious.
7) A long handled titanium spoon would be worth the money.
8) I really like hiking with Josh. Not only is he fun, but he has super foxy calves that mesmerize me when he is in the lead, which is often. 
9) My blue superfeet need to be replaced. They have officially bit the dust, however, they out lasted two pair of Merrell ventilators which is a good lifespan.
10) My current gear is sufficient.

Somethings Josh learned on the hike:

1) Hygiene is important; clean feet and other sensitive areas at least once a day.
2) Bring chocolate.
3) Bring extra foot care stuff, one does not want to be skimpy on leukotape because they didn't bring a whole roll.
4) Bring the keys to the car.
5)You will be sore in the morning so start off slow and your muscles will warm up.
6) You will hurt, think about something else and ignore the pain.
7) You will have bad days, use that energy in a positive way to fuel your hike.
8) Everything gets better once you are under your sleeping bag.
9) Your endurance will improve.
10) Have fun!


  1. Nice write up! Looks like you guys had a great hike. Thanks for posting so many photos.

    In terms of spoons, the Sea to Summit long handled aluminum ones are actually lighter than titanium and are cheaper. Lexan is lighter still of course but doesn't last quite as well and there's the issue of BPA with Lexan.

  2. Glad to find your blog--there aren't many good hiking ones out there. I'm a PCT section hiker, finishing up WA this year and hopefully some southern sections. I will be following your trip!

    1. Awesome! Thanks for checking it out. It's nice to meet you, Mary!

    2. Mary, if it's of interest, I did a section a bit north of the section Mandy and Josh did (with some peaks thrown in). Trip report: PCT Peak Bagging along the Desert Divide


  3. How much water would you carry next time for the 20 mile first day?

    1. Well, there are some variables to consider. If I had cameled up like I should have the day before, 4 liters would have been exactly enough. If we we're to have dry camped at Hauser, I would have needed 6 to 8. Obviously if the creeks were flowing, less. Keep in mind, I sweat something awful when I hike and drink tons of water on any given day hike. Josh did the hike fine on 3 liters where I was ready to die. He even shared his water with me! I suppose it is all about what your body requires in various conditions. I knew when I started the hike I was risking it with only 3 liters. I should have not played that game, and will err on the side of caution next time. I hope that helps. Thanks so much for reading!!