Photos: PCT Days 30-37

PCT Day 30:

PCT Day 31:

PCT Day 32:

PCT Day 33:

PCT Day 34:

PCT Day 35:

PCT Day 36:

PCT Day 37:

(All photos are also on Flickr)

PCT Days 33-37: Oh, The Places You’ll Sleep

We sleep in some interesting places out here. Some nights we’re in the Backpacker Magazine shots: an illuminated tent under an ocean of stars, views stretching to the horizon. (I don’t have any photos of this because I’m always huddled in my sleeping bag by that photogenic point in the evening.)

Other nights… not so much.

Day 33 started at 5AM under the buzz of high tension power lines at North Fork Ranger Station. It’s a pretty spot with views out toward a green valley in one direction and the brown desert in the other—but the crackle and hiss of the wires is omnipresent. Hikers can camp in an old “roadside rest” area between the station and the power lines, along a long-disused road. There are picnic tables and a pit toilet as well as a water cache and cooler of trail magic (sodas and granola bars).

That day we did a quick eight miles down to the Acton KOA, which offers mail drops, showers, laundry, a pool + (lukewarm and toddler-filled) jacuzzi, all the bins of loaner clothes and hiker supplies from the Saufleys’ now-closed Hiker Heaven, pizza + beer delivery, a small store, power outlets, and a lawn to camp on. Turns out, it’s also next to a commuter rail line, a busy highway, and an exotic animal sanctuary with what sounded like disgruntled or possibly amorous—and loud about it—large cats.

I’d never been to a KOA before, but it lived up to all my expectations: packed with huge families during the weekend and filled with RVs of all types, including what was clearly the lifer section out back. Kids throwing each other into the pool. Picnic tables covered with all-American junk food. We had pizza delivered and I ate four ice creams. Hikers bought beer and kept it cold in the ice-water tub where we’d been soaking our feet all afternoon.

On Day 34 we decided to try out night hiking, so we hung out at the Mexican restaurant in Agua Dulce all afternoon then started walking again around 5:30PM. We walked past sunset, through dusk, into night and made camp around 10PM. We unfortunately chose the first site we could find, which was a spot between two trees at the top of a ridge. A very, very windy ridge. So windy that at 4AM we took down the tarp, packed up, and started walking, still in the wind. (Turns out there was a wind-free side of the hill just a half mile further.)

The next night was spent at a truly legendary spot: Casa de Luna. Joe and Terrie Anderson have been hosting PCT hikers at their home in Green Valley for 16 years. Terrie greets everyone with a hug—every single dirty, smelly, sweaty hiker—and points them toward the rack of house Hawaiian shirts. Their driveway is filled with couches and picnic tables (and coolers of beer), and their enormous backyard includes an outdoor shower and a manzanita forest filled with winding paths leading from tent site to tent site.

Joe and Terrie are total hippies and consummate hosts. They make taco salad every night and pancakes every morning—for upwards of two dozen hikers daily. They have three friendly dogs and an entire wall in their living room dedicated to pictures they’ve received of hikers mooning the camera in various scenic spots along the trail (“The Moon Wall”). They actively cultivate a vortex but are happy to shuttle hikers back to the trail multiple times a day—but only after Terrie argues for why each hiker should stay longer. They are fabulous.

The next morning, Day 36, started with a long road walk whose sights included a car flipped onto its roof in the road, llamas, a wolf sitting on top of its wolf sanctuary wolf house, and ostrich sex (lots of flapping and swaying of feathers involved).

Our day ended at Sawmill Camp, a campground located off a dirt road that goes from nowhere to nowhere but is apparently well-travelled by gun enthusiasts. There were bullet holes in the campground signage. In the trash cans. The outhouse looked like it had hosted the dramatic finale of an FBI shootout. There was broken glass everywhere. 

This, my fellow Americans, is why we can’t have nice things.

Day 37 took us to Hiker Town, another place I’d read about before starting the trail. It’s a collection of miniature buildings right off the PCT that looks like a combination of Old West movie set and junkyard trailer park. Chickens roam in packs. It’s owned by an ex(?)-Hollywood guy who built it and welcomes hikers “because his wife made him do it.” It’s an odd place. Some hikers love it, some are creeped out. We stayed in an RV where I tried not to touch any more surfaces than necessary.

Day 33: 8 miles, Mile 436.3 to 444.3, Acton KOA

Day 34:
18.5 miles, Mile 444.3 to 462.8, windstorm crest campsite

Day 35:
15.8 miles, Mile 462.8 to 478.6, Casa de Luna

Day 36:
18.2 miles, 12.9 Powerhouse Fire alternate + PCT Mile 493.4 to 498.5 + 0.2 to Sawmill Camp

Day 37:
19.3 miles, 0.2 to trail, PCT Mile 498.5 to 517.6, Hiker Town

PCT Days 30-32: Snowy Poodle Dog

Before starting this hike, my biggest question mark was the desert section—the first 700 miles from the Mexican border to Kennedy Meadows, where the Sierra section starts. I hadn’t done desert hiking, I hadn’t spent much time in Southern California—I imagined walking through long, flat, dry desert and crouching in the meager shade of sage brush and cacti.

There’s been some shade crouching, but mostly I’ve been astonished by the variety of these first 400 miles. Variety in vegetation, in topography, in temperature—turn a corner on a mountain and everything can change dramatically.

Day 30 started with sunshine, then we turned a corner and walked into clouds, then there was rain falling from the pine trees where clouds had condensed onto the needles, then that moisture turned into icicles in an onslaught of cold wind and the icicles fell on us, then there was sun, then there was hail, then there was hail + sun, then hail blown sideways by the wind. All while the temperatures hung out in the 30s and 40s.


We did the “endangered species detour,” a.k.a. “frog sex detour,” a.k.a. “toad walk” with a group of hikers, dashing from one side of the twisty two-lane highway to the other, wherever there was more shoulder to walk on.

That night we set up the tarp in a vicious wind, one end tied to a picnic table and the other tied to the chimney of a campground stove. Not long after crawling into our sleeping bags, we started to hear a soft patter on the tarp—not rain, no longer hail… definitely snow. It accumulated along the ridge line, and I spent a while reaching up to knock it off, watching its shadow slide down and start to pile up along the sides of the tarp, which was staked right down to the ground to keep the wind out. Eventually I gave up and tried to sleep. At some point the guy line holding the windward pole snapped, so the tarp started hitting me in the butt with every wind gust. It was a long night.

Our second month on the trail started with a frosting of snow—an inch or two had fallen during the night, with huge drifts piled up on either side of the tarp—but the tarp stayed up. 

Everything was beautiful. Cold, but beautiful.


Hiking was slow—we were stopping to take so many photos. The wintry mix returned, and we had to hike fast on the uphills to stay warm.

This was our first day of snow hiking and also our first day of poodle dog bush infestation. Poodle dog bush is a weed that moves in after forest fires. It’s big and ugly and smells like low-grade pot—and if you touch it, it can cause a reaction severe enough to put you in the hospital. There’s a PCT legend that a few years ago a hiker thought poodle dog bush was marijuana and tried smoking it, and terrible, terrible things happened. The story may or may not be true, but the telling always needs to end with: “He lived… but it was bad.”

It makes for exhausting hiking. Trail crews have done a valiant and much appreciated job of clearing much of the trail that used to be so overgrown with PDB that hikers had to road walk around it—but it grows back quickly and it grows back big.

Days 31 and 32 were an obstacle course: bobbing and weaving, sliding and shimmying past that damn plant. Putrid Demon Bush. Devil Skunk Weed.

These miles were some of the most dramatic in terms of changing temperature and vegetation. Slushy snow on one hillside, falling icicles around the corner, and sand and cacti a few hundred feet further down the trail. These three trail views were taken within ten miles and 24 hours of each other:


Day 30: 17.7 miles, PCT Mile 384.4 to 401.1 via toadwalk, to Camp Glenwood
Day 31: 17.5 miles, Mile 401.1 to 418.6, Mill Creek Fire Station
Day 32: 17.7 miles, Mile 418.6 to 436.3, North Fork Ranger Station

Photos: PCT Days 21-29

PCT Day 21:

PCT Day 22:

PCT Day 23:

PCT Day 24:

PCT Day 25:

PCT Day 26:

(More Day 26 photos on Flickr)

PCT Day 27:

PCT Day 28:

PCT Day 29:

(More Day 29 photos on Flickr, and all photos are also on Flickr)

Photos: PCT Days 18-20

PCT Day 18:

(Many more Day 18 photos on Flickr)

PCT Day 19:

PCT Day 20:

(All also on Flickr)