Well so much for those early March hikes in the low elevations in order to get them done before the weather got stifling hot. I think it must be cooler now than it was then. The past week has been as though a giant A/C unit has been blowing full blast in our faces. I am not at all complaining though. I will take frost on the tent in the morning, and wind blasted desert crossings over 104 degree temperatures just about any day. We have been unbelievably lucky with the weather so far. This section from Idyllwild to Big Bear City passes ridges over 9000 feet high, and then winds for 15 miles down hill to lower than 1500 feet elevation in the desert through which I-10 passes. We were told from some trail angels in Snow Creek that the drop off San Jacinto peak is the steepest escarpment in the US. I don’t know, but that kind of change in elevation typically would warrant an extreme change in temperature. For us this past week, it simply meant a steady increase in gale force winds. We were fortunate to take shelter behind the toe slope of the giant mountain, while others ended up pitching their tents beneath I -10, with the steady roar of freight trains all night adding another dimension of wind blasts ricocheting off the walls of the overpass.
Heading north from I 10 the trail passes the Mesa Wind Farm and enters the San Gorgonio wilderness by which it follows the wild Mission Creek to its origin back up in the sugar pine/Jeffrey pine mountain tops of the San Bernardino National Forest. This altitudinal cross section is rife with botanical diversity as well as many lizards, snakes, ground squirrels, deer, and birds. Rising back up to over 8000 feet we hit our coldest nights of the trip thus far and spent the better part of Wednesday hiking through something between snow and freezing fog. The scene was sublime though, as we passed from ridge to saddle to ridge again, and wove our way slowly through forests of ancient Juniper trees (Juniperus grandis), some as large as 4 feet diameter or more. The cold weather was inspirational to make some miles, and the relative lack of biodiversity at these high and dry altitudes made for less frequent distraction. We pulled into Big Bear this morning and have been easing off the feet as much as possible (while still needing to run around to the post office, laundromat, downloading GPS points, uploading new maps, doing interviews and erhumm donut shop). In the forecast: highs of upper 60’s, lows of mid 40’s. Yes! The record breaking winter rains and continued cooler weather means spring keeps coming slowly, and the flowers keep blooming!
The past stretch of the PCT was gorgeous and super diverse with magnificent views. We went from desert to sub-alpine mountains. We saw hundred year old barrel cacti, many magenta colored flowers (e.g. the Opuntia basalaris var basilaris, see pic to the right).
In the last 1.5 day we met with 6 different species of pines to give you an impression of the sheer diversity of the place. The landscapes at times reminded us of Scotland at other times Justin said it was just like Yosemite. I felt the diversity of the Caucasus present as well. So in all; stunning. It was crazy busy in town: catching up with fellow hikers,downloading GPS points, writing the field notes, interviews for work and research, food, shower, laundry. Now, we will need to part from our netbooks as the post office is about to close, so will be running now. Till next week when we arrive in Big Bear City. For now we will be going above 9000′, the highest we will reach until we hit the Sierra’s.
A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HAVE BACKED THE BOOK PROJECT! It looks like it is funded, and still slowly climbing. There are 6 days left so feel free to continue to pass the word along to others who might be interested. Obviously the more money raised, the better the ultimate result will be. The link is: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/866011503/writing-a-field-guide-to-the-pacific-crest-trail
Notes from the field: We are taking a ‘zero day’ at Warner Springs, CA, having completed 110 miles from the Mexican border, to go with the 120 done already back in early March. We are caught between the interesting southern cali phenomenon of wanting to get through the lower elevations before the real heat kicks in (and it is already) and not wanting to hit the higher peaks too quickly as the snow pack this year is record breaking (biggest in 65 years in the Sierra). So for now, we rest our feet, drink some Sol, and enjoy catching up with some people. I have also been busy transcribing my audio recordings from the past 55 miles and preparing plant samples pressed along the way for shipment to UC Riverside herbarium where Andy Sanders, curator and friend, has been very generous in helping me identify unknown plant species lacking sufficient flowering material in order for me to field id them.
On that note, the kindle is working out really well. Having the Jepson flora, all 10 lbs of that book including all of the line drawings (thanks to mom for that endurance scanning effort), in a digital searchable format has proven invaluable. So that is the routine taking shape. 12 hour days of hiking, along with many stops en route to note through audio recording what we are seeing and experiencing, as well as to take photos, In town days later that all gets downloaded onto the netbook that has been sent ahead of us in our ‘bounce box’. All of this means that we are moving slower than the average thru hiker, and certainly slower than I did on the AT when 19 years old back in 1999, but there is no rush, and the experience of really paying attention to the land already feels valuable and rewarding.
So, thanks again, and lets see what the next 6 days bring…
Li An and I will be heading down to the ‘kickoff’ celebration just north of the Mexican border. This is a thru hiker gathering which happens each year at the end of April. Many of the thru hikers will start immediately following this. Some, like ourselves, already have in sections. Others will begin later. It will be interesting to meet the varied and colorful people who make up the thru hiking community. We will head north from there, connecting up with the two sections already completed. Snow packed mountains are IN THE FORECAST. The Sierra has the highest snow pack for 65 years this season, which should make looking at plants pretty challenging. No matter, we are willing to be flexible in our approach of what sections we are able to do and when, and will make efforts to bow gracefully to the demands of the mountains. I have constructed a ‘ultralight’ plant press for small specimens of encountered unknown plants. I also have a kindle loaded up with various plant identification keys to aid in the process and a digital audio recorder in order to, hopefully, record field notes without having to write too much. These notes will be transcribed into word processor using transcription software. Sounds pretty high tech? O well, I hope to keep it simple enough to stay in the flow of the trail, the mountains, and the fresh scenes, and out of the pencils and paperwork. We will see how this method works out.
This afternoon we made another visit to Andy Sanders at the UC Riverside Herbarium to id some specimens collected in mid March. Prior to that we have been busy buying bulk foods and bagging up smaller quantities to be boxed and shipped to us along the way. Back in New Jersey the past month I spent a fair amount of time dehydrating ground venison, home grown spaghetti sauce, shiitake mushrooms, and home cured venison ham to add to the stocks of dried blueberries, tomatoes, zucchini, and jerky. Yeah, a LOT of dried food heading for the digestive system. I have also stocked up on brand x Beano…mmm
I also wanted to give you an update and let you know that thanks to over 50 contributions the kickstarter campaign has blazed past the 2/3rds mark. There are less than two weeks to go and my communication from here on out will be spotty. If you have some folks in mind who you have been thinking about passing the link on to, now would be an opportune time.
In his essay about walking, Henry Thoreau wrote about heading West: “we go Westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure” …”The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild.”
As we are still concentrating of what needs to be rounded off and prepared for, I feel all the fibers in my body ready to move West into this Wildness that Thoreau describes. Meeting the open world unfolding itself constantly, unread, unspoken, always opening. As the layer of winter’s trace melts, we arrive and start the trails. But first things first, I will need to finish my research project and Justin will need to prepare his plant press. In the meantime you can visit and forward the Kickstarter clip with Justin introducing more about the plant study and to help support by crowdfunding the project which has 18 days left and still 2/3 to go.
Happy Easter – Vrolijk Pasen to you from here in Spring blossomed-New Jersey.
With two weeks until we head out on the PCT, and 29 days left in the Kickstarter campaign we are making progress in raising funds for the book. If you haven’t seen the link and short video clip please check it out, and help make the book a reality by pledging and ‘pre-ordering’ yourself a book if you like. Li An is plowing her way through a final work project analyzing methodologies for the the beef industry to better understand and calculate their supply side carbon footprint and sustainability assessment. I have been busy with the tree nursery getting shipments out and grafting next years crop of several hundred pear, plum, paw paw, and mulberry trees. We are both making some final decisions on gear to bring on the hike, and I am working on ideas for creating an ultralight mini plant press…Ideas?
A late post on that section, but better late than never. I am actually back in NJ now, briefly, and Li An is back in the Netherlands trying to sort out her visa. I have hundreds of trees here to get shipped out to their various new homes, and some more plans to make for our upcoming much more extensive hike starting in April.
Last weeks shakedown hike from sunrise highway to Warner Springs was excellent. Again, the weather was ideal; sunny, warm, windy. At night there was an early waxing moon to brush one’s teeth by, and late night starry sky intermissions from the many bizzare and wonderful dreams that come from sleeping on the ground. The lay of the land there is mostly ridges and steep gullies, but the trail, frustratingly at times, takes no chances and tends to wind and wind and wind and o yes wind some more just slightly off contour either up or down. After nearly thirty miles of walking I checked my GPS and found I was 7.6 crow miles from where I had camped two nights prior. Yikes. Especially since water is so scarce. I set out with a gallon, and dry camped both nights, very VERY thankful that the water cache trail angels are already at work. This is a rugged, granitic bouldery, steep, and yes Beautiful land. Without a good trail though, the Chamise (Adeonstoma fasciculatum), Ceanothus greggii, and scrub oak (Quercus spp) would be near impossible to travel through. Coming slowly down out of a repetitive Chamise chapparal landscape one enters into creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) shrubland, and eventually down below 2500′ and onto the south face slope of Grapevine Mt past Scissors Crossing where you really get into the xeriphytic desert landscape, if only briefly. To greet us, as only cacti can, there were barrel cacti in full bloom, Opuntias of various sizes and dispositions, Agave, Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens ssp splendens), and of course Joshua Tree’s disheveled older brother Mohave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)…I digera that name, how about you, you digera??
It was gorgeous, but the heat is already turning up there, and spring will flash past quick as the thermostat soon gets set stuck on triple digits. This was the brief taste of Anza Borrego State Park I was hoping for, and was happy to see some desert blooms without the threat of myself bursting into flames.
Following on from that the trail regains altitude, enters back into chapparal, before dipping again into some ancient Coast Live Oak woodlands (Quercus agrifolia), clear and cool streams, and some very large meadows where the Lasthynia’s were blooming in mass.
Again I am impressed by the shear diversity of not just the plants we are encountering on this trail, but the varied landscapes and vegetation communities we are passing through.
I would also like to say that my homegrown (on oak logs), home dried shiitake mushrooms are absolutely Making the spaghetti dinners for me. All hail the mycelial network!
Just returned from hiking our first 120 miles (193 km) and 7.5 days on the PCT. We started in Aqua Dulce (with the famous Vasquez Rocks) with amazing oak trees, through Antelope Valley along the infamous Los Angeles Aqueduct (from the Owens River Valley) with jolly Joshua trees jangling and radiating, through the desert with many flowering plants, past the thousands of wind turbines yesterday to Tehachapi pass where we got a ride back to our car with one of the Regen community members where we sleep now in Pomona LA. We had excellent weather, nice and sunny but cool, and plenty of water. Feeling alive meeting all the elements and the other-than-human life forms and with feeling all the muscles in my body.
Thankful already for the many trail angels along our way (from the Trish of the hardware shop, the oasis cache, the people who gave us water, Amy and Andrew who gave us a hitch into and out of Lake Hughes, Garage Man and Pound Hound for sharing us their stories and candybars, Bob at Hikertown for the food, Lisa who picked us at Hwy 58 and above all the five coyotes showing themselves right when we started hiking and the little white owl flying a circle above our head when we had finished.
Now back at the Regen Co-op in Pomona LA enjoying picking and eating fresh oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, shower, more goodies, while Justin is keying the plants we collected and I applied online for my 6 month visa needed for the real thing starting in April. We’ll keep you posted and you can sign up for this blog, you can also find Story the Walk on Facebook now.