Days 18-22: Big Bear to Wrightwood

Day 18: Big Bear (266) to Little Bear Springs Camp (286)

Day 19: 286 to Deep Creek Hot Springs (308)

Day 20: 308 to Silverwood Lake (329)

Day 21: 329 to Swarthout Canyon (347)

Day 22: 347 to Wrightwood (369)

Highlights: Hiking with my brother; awesome hot springs; Week 3 pace firmly on track for 5-month completion; I think I’ve outlasted the cold, wet weather.
Lowlights: Gradual descent out of San Bernardino mountains a bit monotonous.

Big Bear to Deep Creek

We started off from Big Bear in the morning of Day 18. We grabbed breakfast in town with a few other hikers, then in the parking lot of the restaurant, this couple offered to drive us out to the PCT (they were starting a 3-4 day hike, I think). Naturally we accepted, but it turns out that there are several PCT trailheads near Big Bear, and they were going to a different one. It didn’t seem appropriate to ever say anything, so we arrived at the wrong trailhead, thanked them, waited for them to leave, then went back to the road to get a hitch to the correct trailhead.We were picked up without too much difficulty, and were soon on our way on the trail. Hiking on Day 18 was fairly unremarkable – some nice views of Big Bear Lake, though it’s not the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen (which, for the record, is in Andorra), and some nice views over the canyons we were hiking in. Lots of day hikers around because it was Memorial Day weekend and close to lots of trailheads.

By the end of the day, we made it down to Little Bear Creek camp, a campsite at the end of a dirt road which was a weird mix of hikers camping, Jeeps roaring up the road, people firing guns, and some weird dance music far in the distance.

The next morning was predicted to be snowy, so we got a decently early start in the hopes of being low enough in elevation and far enough from the mountain crest so as to avoid the worst weather. Either our theory was correct or the forecast was wrong, because we only got light rain that day. Now, with no rain in the immediate forecast, I may have successfully dodged all of the inclement weather that has really hindered the progress of a lot of other folks.Midway through the day, we crossed over into the Mojave River canyon (also known as Deep Creek where we were? Unclear as to the correct nomenclature). This was a stunningly beautiful desert-y canyon.

We spent the rest of the day (and the next morning) working our way down it, eventually ending up at the natural hot springs.

Unclear what the story is with these hot springs, but there are pools off to the side of river with hot water. There’s also apparently a group of regulars who hike in and are naked basically as long as the air is warm enough, so I’ve only got a couple pictures of the hot springs.

Deep Creek to Cajon Junction

We stayed the night at the hot springs, took a morning dip, and headed out in the morning of Day 20. For the first half of the day, we continued to follow the Mojave River canyon as it dropped and began to open up. It culminated at the Mojave Dam, which appears to serve no purpose, as there’s no reservoir on either side of it. It almost looks like the lead engineer accidentally built it sideways.

Also around here was a proper, more-than-knee-deep river crossing.

Shortly thereafter, Torsten got off the trail and hitched ahead to where I was planning to make it that night, Silverwood Lake (apparently the southernmost reservoir in the California Water Project). He had to fly back to SF the next morning, had already made 100 miles on the trail, and his Achilles was bothering him, so there was no sense pushing it. Therefore, for most of the day I was alone, and it wasn’t particularly interesting hiking.

Eventually I came beneath the dam that holds back Silverwood Lake, and went up and over to the banks of the lake. A bit weird to hike up to a lake rather than down, but I guess that’s reservoirs for you. (Overall comment on Southern California hiking: I’ve been blown away by a lot of the expansive views, the rock formations, and the canyons, but the lakes have all been underwhelming. I guess that’s because the topography doesn’t support natural lakes, so I think all of them have been artificial and developed.)

Eventually made it to the campground and met Torsten there.

The next morning, Torsten headed off to the airport and I was alone once again. I hiked out of the Silverwood Lake basin and over towards Cajon Pass, where I-15 cuts between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains. The views heading into I-15 were surprisingly epic.

After a steady descent, I ended up at Cajon Junction, where the PCT meets I-15. There’s a McDonald’s, Del Taco, and Subway there, so I headed to McDonald’s and dropped $18 on a large bacon quarter pounder (“Royale”, for my metric-system friends) meal, ten chicken nuggets, and a flurry (I refuse to put “Mc” in front of anything other than McDouble), while hanging out with hikers consuming a similar amount of food. We hung out there for a couple hours.

Cajon Junction to Wrightwood

A group of four of us left McDonald’s to go another five miles to camp. Aside from when Torsten was with me, and at the beginning before we lost Chris to the sarlacc pit, I’ve mostly been walking alone, and chatting to people at water stops. This was a refreshing change of pace, though I doubt it will become a regular thing until the Sierras. I was with Alex aka Sunshine, who is from suburbs east of Sacramento (Cameron Park or Shingle Springs); Trevor aka Machine, who is from Seattle but lives in Nashville; and Shea (no trail name yet), who is from Chicago. All of us seem to be between the ages of 25 and 35 (Sunshine may be a bit younger) and had a lot to talk about, so it made for some easy time passing.

Also, the trail went annoyingly under some train tracks, and I had to crawl because the neck of my guitar sticks up about a foot above my head.

Five miles later, we made camp at a water cache. In the evening, just as we were going to bed, two women appeared to refill the water, and also brought a bunch of Del Taco food. I had three burritos and two tacos. Yum!

On Day 22, the first day of my fourth week on the trail, the program was to ascend all day out of the Cajon Pass area into the San Gabriel mountains, with about 5,000 feet of ascent over 15 miles or so.

The first half of this was pretty monotonous, with no shade and a constant gradual climb. Nice views to the rear though.

The two highest mountains in Southern California: San Gorgonio Mountain (left) and San Jacinto Peak (right)

After a few hours, some pine trees began to appear. They looked really funky though, like they had been burned in a fire and were sprouting new pine trees from the branches of the old one. Never seen anything like that before.

Finally I reached the crest of the San Gabriels, near Mt San Antonio, the highest mountain in the range and in Los Angeles County, as well as the namesake for Mt San Antonio College (Mt SAC), where a huge high school cross country running event takes place every year.

Mt San Antonio (aka Mt Baldy)

Also from the crest were some great views out to the Mojave Desert, and what would be awesome views of Los Angeles were it not filled with smog 24/7.

Mojave Desert
Note the cloud of smog in the distance

Crest Trail is the easy run down from this lift

Eventually, 22 miles after the start of the day, I descended a bit to the Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2), and hitched a ride into Wrightwood for the night. After seeing one other person the entire day, I ran into three other hikers at the road (including Trevor), who had just managed to flag down a big van. The guy who drove us is a cameraman working for a Democrat challenging Republican congressman Paul Cook (one of only seven in California), so he’s got to shoot footage across the district, which is huge and runs all the way from north LA county up to Mono Lake. Had a nice chat with him about politics.

After dinner, I split a room with three different hikers, where I am currently still lying. I think I’m going to spend the rest of the day in Wrightwood, as I haven’t taken a full day off in a week and a half (I took half a day in Big Bear), and I think my body needs a little recovery time. I’ll report more on the town of Wrightwood in my next post. Ciao!

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