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.
We are just under two months from our departure date and as we draw closer and closer it becomes more and more important for us to start introducing the weight of a thru-hiker’s pack into our training hikes. It is for this reason that when Gary, Lora and Jon hiked the nearly 13 miles from Burnt Rancheria Campground in the community of Mount Laguna, CA to Kwaaymii Point just off the Sunrise Highway to the north. Along the trail, this section would be the first half of day three which would likely end somewhere around the Mason Valley Truck Trail before the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way around Granite Mountain and to Scissors Crossing on Highway 78.
The conditions for this training hike ended up being a nice test for some new rain gear that some members of the team either had already acquired or were thinking about skipping. Gary had yet to test his new rain jacket and pants from Montbell that he got for Christmas and Jon was hoping to make it through most of the trail without traditional rain pants. The first half of the hike was just on the edge of needing this type of gear as it was mostly just a lite mist in parts. However, that mist eventually gave way to actual rain showers as the day and our hike pushed onward. Jon and Gary also got to test their new pack covers from ULA which worked great and are the lightest things we could find for such use (and much more durable than a hefty bag). As for the other gear tests, Gary’s Montbell rain gear is the lightest we’ve seen and performed very well in the grey misty and rainy conditions. As for Jon not having rain paints, that has actually changed as a result of this hike (as I write this entry about two weeks late). The issue became not really the rain itself but that Jon was wearing regular hiking pants for the day and found that as the day’s weather accumulated on the plants on the trail that the most effected area became below the knees due to dismissing brush on the side of the trail. This is normally an unnoticed occurrence on a dry day but kept depositing the plant’s water onto Jon’s pants which became quite wet and heavy by the end of the hike. This could be avoided by wearing shorts (as Lora did) but that is less comfortable for most or wearing rain pants (Which Jon has since purchased and will carry on the trail).
As for the hike itself, the trail in this section is a breeze! Because the hike starts at Burnt Rancheria Campground in Mount Laguna, CA you’re at the highest part of this section. The trail is relatively flat for the first few miles as you make your way north of town before dropping a couple hundred feet at a very steady pace. There is a slight climb as the trail winds along some chaparral lined and rocky ridge lines. After this mild and short climb the trail descends again down to the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area just off the Sunrise Highway. The last .7 or so takes you from the picnic area up to Kwaaymii Point which is a little bit of a climb but is less than a mile and has some memorial plaques and nice views off into the desert on a clear day.
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.