Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning or have looked through our backlog, you may have noticed that Jon and Marissa did a similar hike as an overnight back in November. The main differences of this hike to that earlier one are that Marissa was off at work so this hike included the group of Gary, Lora and Jon; the time of year was much different making the terrain and weather different as well. The other difference was that the group wasn’t going north of Warner Springs to camp as we were being picked up in Warner Springs from Sandy (Gary’s wife and part of our future support team). We also detoured (very slightly) from the Pacific Crest Trail to take a break on the back side of Eagle Rock and you can definitely see why this rock formation gets its name from the back side.
The group parked a car along the S22, also known as Montezuma Grade, and picked up the Pacific Crest Trail heading north. I won’t rehash the details of the hike as you can skip back to that previous post for Marissa and Jon’s overnight hike. I mainly wanted to discuss the differences in the time of year in this section as that was what struck me. I had someone mention to me about that earlier post that it was nice to see what the trail looked like in a certain section but with changes of the season so to come changes on the trail. The terrain in this area was far greener than it was for that earlier hike. The trail was no longer surrounded by brown and yellow rolling hills with spots of Coyote Gourds and replaced with the greenest of pastures dotted with cows (and frequented with cow pies).
The crew for this hike also brought their packs along with them as they did for the previous hike from Burnt Rancheria Campground to Kwaaymii Point and Jon even increased his pack weight from about twenty pounds up to thirty pounds. The weather was perfect for this hike also, the first hike in this section from Jon and Marissa was a very windy day in which they stopped at Eagle Rock merely to hide behind some rocks for a while to get a break from the gusts. This hike was far calmer and easier for it.
As mentioned in a previous training hike post, Marissa and I (Jon) were planning on doing an overnight hike/camp trip to the trail camp that is roughly 4 miles north of Warner Springs along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This is the account of that overnight hike.
To get to the Barrel Springs entry point on the PCT we parked along Montezuma Valley Road (S22) at the 1 mile marker. There was a pretty well defined dirt pullout on the south side of the road with good shade cover where we parked. From the car we entered onto the PCT by crossing the road (Look both ways! The speed limit is 55 here so cars can come up fast!) and entering through a cattle gate heading north. This part of the trail begins with a slight climb on some looping ridge lines finally bringing you to the top of a chaparral covered ridge. From here you’ll descend through the chaparral and cacti to reach the valley below. Once at the valley, you may feel a bit exposed as the terrain is much more prairie like and contains nearly no overhead growth until you reach the next ridge. The first valley is pretty short, though, and serves as a bit of a prelude to what is to come. After the first valley you’ll traverse another small ridge with more chaparral and cacti before descending again to the next valley floor. The climbs are negligible, as you’ll see in the stats images at the end of this post. The total gain/loss for the entire one-way hike from Barrel Springs to our camp site was only 1040 ft. Once you’re on the second valley floor you’ll head out into the open again with great panoramic views of rolling hills and their accompanied ridge lines on the outskirts. The trail first takes you to some rock formations you can just make out as your start your trek through the meadow. From these first rock formations you’ll follow the trail up a slight ascent and then back down again as it bends west a bit and finally arrives at Eagle Rock. Eagle rock is another grouping of rock formations right around the 5 mile mark.
A main challenge in this open space, at least on the days we were coming through in mid-November, was wind. The wind coming through the valleys can be pretty brutal if you don’t have some sort of wind protection. I was wearing a long sleeve dryfit shirt to protect against the sun and wind and my hat has a chin strap which came in very handy in this area. We took a break at the trail crossing to Eagle Rock (you can take a small side trail up to the rocks if you’re nasty) where there were a few decent sized rocks near the trail that we could get a rest from the wind for a few minutes. Click here for a video of the panoramic view from the trail with my AEE MagiCam SD22 (It’s like a GoPro but a fraction of the cost). I replaced the annoying wind flooding the camera’s microphone with a more soothing, yet still fitting, tone.
After leaving Eagle Rock the trail leads you through the final stretch of meadow and then into a shaded area that appears to follow a creek bed, which was dry during our hike. From here, you’ll descend some while enjoying the much more protected area of the shady oaks around you until you finally reach Warner Springs. Before you reach the first crossing of Highway 79 near Warner Springs you can opt to take the California Riding and Hiking Trail into town if you want to grab a bite to eat or need to tend to anything else in a small town before heading to camp. We continued on the Pacific Crest Trail with goes wide to the west of the town. If you continue on the PCT, first you’ll come to the Warner Springs Fire Station where you will have to come up to the road and cross (you can’t go under the bridge even when the creek is dry as there is a barbed wire fence on one side). Once across Highway 79, you’ll follow the trail northwest through some more open meadow lands until you reach some more shady oaks just before the second Highway 79 crossing. Just before crossing the second road we took another little break at what appeared to be an ill maintained campground. It wasn’t pretty but there were picnic tables and a rope swing in the area we set our packs down.
After starting up again you’ll pass by what looks like some fire fighter training grounds with a ropes course and some other structures around. Then you’ll come to the white bridge that you would park near if you were going to start the Agua Caliente Trail hike that was outlined in a previous post. From here, you will follow the PCT northbound as described in that earlier Agua Caliente Trail Hike post.
When preparing for a trip as long as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) it is important to not only make sure your supply packages and town stops are planned out and in order. It’s also crucial to prepare your body for the wear and tear of walking all day everyday for an extended period of time. This means doing as much pre-departure training hikes as possible. Currently, as we are roughly 5 months out from the departure date of April 1, 2015, I am hiking at least 3 times a week. Most of which are the usual 5-8 mile in town trails I’m used to. However, to give myself a change of scenery I try to get out of town when I can. A lot of the time this includes small sections of the PCT that can be done as day hikes. This hike is exactly one such section.
Less than a mile from Warner Springs, CA along highway 79 is a bridge that carry the cars on the highway across Agua Caliente Creek. At this bridge you’ll find turnouts on either side of the road to park your car. On the west end of the bridge is a trail signed for the California Riding and Hiking Trail and just a few hundred feet up the trail is the PCT. Once entering onto the PCT, head north on the trail which will situate the seasonal stream of Agua Caliente Creek on your right hand side.
As you make your way north you’ll eventually cross the creek bed a couple times before heading up and around a small climb which takes you around a hillside and eventually back down to the creek. Once back to the creek after the climb (and subsequent descent), you’ll cross the creek again and then follow the trail along side of the stream bed for a while. While my wife, Marissa, and dog, Buster, hiked this in late summer I imagine that this section of the trail could be a bit soggy and problematic when water is actually flowing in the creek. Aqua Caliente Creek was bone dry by the time we made the journey in mid-October due to the severe California water drought. After following the creek bed for a while you’ll reach a fairly well defined campsite in a grove near the creek. This is where we chose to turn around which ended up being just short of 4 miles from our starting point on Highway 79. The campsite has a clearly groomed flat area for a tent and even a fire ring, though I believe this area is in the Cleveland National Forest which could make utilizing the fire ring slightly unlawful. Marissa and I are planning on extending this hike to come back to this campsite the week of Thanksgiving. Our likely extension will include starting at Barrel Spring along S2 (Montezuma Valley Road) and hiking up here for an overnight. I’ll detail that journey separately should it become a reality.
From the campsite grove you’ll, simply, turn around and retrace your steps back to Highway 79 and your car. This was an enjoyable hike with some nice late Summer scenery, though I imagine water being in the stream would make it a bit more green and lush. I’m looking forward to seeing the same spot when we make our way past in mid/late-April next year!
Here are some trail stats I took with the MapMyRun app on my phone. It’s a nice free app (can pay for it for additional tracking and features if desired) to track things like distance, pace and elevation.