This is Evan Ruddell and I’m posting from Kennedy Meadows 702 miles in to my 2010 Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Thru-Hike. It has been an awesome trip so far, I’ve meet some cool people, seen some awesome views, and eaten large quantities of unhealthy calorie rich food. So here’s the summary, I guess I’ll start from the beginning, the Mexican border near Campo, CA.
After a series of flights and shuttles from my home in Philadelphia, I arrived at the house of Scout and Frodo, two trail angels who put up hikers at their home in San Diego, and then shuttle them to the border. It was a super cool place, they have everything absolutely dialed in (you have to when you have 25 or so hikes at your house every night). Had some tasty food, and got all my last minute chores done. It was great to be back among my fellow hiker trash again, it had been over 5 months since my Appalachian Trail hike ended and I had definitely been missing the hiker hostel experience. The next morning a convoy of five cars packed with hikers left for the border. It was not at all what I had expected, I had been warned of extremely hot sections of trail with temps in excess of 100 degrees, what I found at the border was fog, 30-40 degree temps, freezing rain, sleet and snow, not the blazing hot desert I had expected at all. After a cold but relatively easy day of hiking I arrived at the Lake Morena campground, the site of the 2010 ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off). I set up my shelter during a brief break in the rain and promptly crawled in and remained immobile for the rest of the afternoon. During the time spent sitting in the shelter it handled the rain and wind quite well, anything that slipped past the tarp was stopped dead by the bathtub floor. I woke up the next morning to ice all over the tarp, it had obviously dropped well below freezing. I was quite pleased to find that it had finally stopped raining and I could actually enjoy the Kick Off now. The ADZPCTKO was an awesome event all the lectures were super helpful, the food was great, the videos and gear contest very entertaining, and of course the people were awesome.
Following my 2 zero days at the kickoff I continued on my hike, crossing the pine forests in the Laguna Mountains and many sections of chaparral and high desert (where my tarp came in very handy for providing some much needed shade). After five days or so I arrived in the tiny resort town of Warner Springs (named for the hot springs that reside there) and took the best zero day I have ever taken, relaxing in hot springs and eating is an excellent way to spend a day off. After a very relaxing day I regretfully left Warner Springs and started the two day hike to Idyllwild.
The terrain in between Idyllwild was much the same as it was the previous week , a lot of chaparral and high desert environments, reptiles, mostly lizards were very abundant. In addition due to the large amount of recent rain the dessert was in full bloom with many beautiful flowering cactus and yucca plants among others. I arrived at the road into Idyllwild and was greeted by a man named Doc who had set up a big tent for shade and was making tacos for hikers (trail magic is a wonderful thing). After indulging in all the tacos I could eat I headed into Idyllwild. I stopped in to the outfitter to make some gear changes and check for updates on the snow in the San Jacintos. I was told that they were completely snowed in and there had been many reports of “near death experiences” and I should road walk around it. I decided that rather than skip a section of trail, I would go see it for myself and if it was bad turn around. The next day I started the climb up to the ridge line, and saw no snow until the north side of Apache peak, where there were a few 50- 100 foot long patches of snow, nothing terribly difficult, these conditions continued until the next morning when 4 miles before saddle junction we started hitting the real snow. Having no experience on snow fields I was a little worried at first, but I was hiking with an experienced mountaineer so I learned quick and had no trouble crossing the 15-20 mile long section of snow covered trail. The next day I got a glimpse of just how quickly environments can change in SOCAL, we went from heavy snow pack to 100 desert heat in less than a day. This turned out to be the only real hot section of the trail I would experience in SOCAL (it’s been a very odd year weather wise here, lots of precipitation and not a lot of heat). After two days in the heat we once again climbed into the mountains, the San Bernardino’s where there was not nearly as much snow and the Jacintos. A day or two later I arrived in big bear and took the second zero of my trip. It was not nearly as relaxing as the first, Big Bear is a very spread out town so most of the day was spent hitching and taking buses back and forth to get resupply done.
After the zero we left big bear and started heading towards the next resupply in Wrightwood, between the two we encountered more snow more desert and a 20 mile fire detour. By then I had both my hiker hunger and hiker legs, so my pace quickened and the amount of food I was consuming grew alarmingly higher. We arrived in Wrightwood after four days and started trying to figure out what to do about the snow covered Mt Baden Powell and the 50+ mile station fire detour. After once again hearing “you will die if you attempt this” (I was getting quite sick of hearing this by now) we again decided to go see how the conditions were for ourselves. I was very glad we did because the day over Baden Powell turned out to be my favorite day of the trip so far, lots of snow but it was a blast and saw some of the best views so far. Got in to camp exhausted but hungry for more snow crossings. The fire detour immediately after that was definitely one of the less interesting parts of the hike so far, but after walking 40-50 miles on the road and camping under a billboard between an interstate and a railway that ran all night, and being mistaken for homeless people (actually not really much of a stretch at all, it’s a fine line between thru-hiker and homeless) by the locals who were not used to the PCT running through their backyards. We arrived the the infamous Hiker Haven, a hiker hostel run by the Saufleys.
Hiker Haven has been described as an exercise in “corporate efficiency” in that is very true, Donna Saufley has the Hiker Hostel routine 100% dialed in. Everything is done in a very specific way in order to simplify having 50 or hikers around as much as possible, although at this point we were a few days ahead of the big pack so there were only 15 or so other hikers there. It was a great place I was able to get all my resupply done and also get boxes mailed out for the Sierras and pick up some different gear such as heavier boots for kicking steps in ice. I cannot thank the Saufleys enough for their hospitality and i recommend that every PCT hiker make an effort to stop there.
After a zero we left the Saufleys and made a two day hike to the next house hostel, Casa De Luna run by the Andersons, this was a totally different but also very enjoyable experience. While not nearly as organized the Anderson’s are great people and do so much to help hikers, including Terri Anderson’s famous taco salad dinner, which was delicious. Eager to get back to hiking and camping after all time spent indoors we decided not to zero at the Anderson’s and headed back out onto the trail.
The next stretch was a combination of pine forests in the mountains followed by the famous aqueduct crossing of the Mojave desert. The Aqueduct stretch is a 20 mile long section of trail that follows the LA aqueduct, it is flat as a pancake and usually hellishly hot. However my crossing was quite the opposite it was 65 degrees with a very cool very strong wind all day, which lead to a relatively easy 34 mile day (once again the weather this year has been very odd). Following the cold windy stretch past the aqueduct it stayed that way and the large amount of windmills we passed was evidence that the wind (30-40 mph sustained with gusts up to 70-80mph) was not going to let up anytime soon.
After a quick resupply and breakfast burrito (best breakfast burrito I’ve had in my life) stop in the town of Mojave we continued into the Tehachapi Mountains (which is actually geologically the start of the Sierra Nevada’s). The wind and cold continued, including waking up to snow one day despite the fact we were in the desert and it was nearly June, all the way through the Kennedy meadows. although the cool temps for the most part made hiking very enjoyable camping was made much more difficult, all though my shelter stood up to the moderate wind better than all others stakes do not stay in the ground for any shelter with 70+mph wind gusts, and I had to cowboy camp a few times, thankfully I was able to use bug insert by itself to keep the lizards and insects off me.
So now you’re up to date, I have been very happy with my Hyperlite Mountain Gear shelter so far and have enjoyed the versatility and light weight of the product very much, it handles rain and wind as good or better than any other 3 season shelter I have used before, and I am excited to see how it performs in the Sierra especially with the added protection of the beak. So now after a zero day tomorrow we will be heading off into the snowpack of the high Sierra’s, where there will be no visible trail for 150 miles, not a single road or bit of evidence of civilization for 200 miles, everything above 10,000 ft (most of the trail) will be covered in 15+ feet of snow, and where most people have said we will surely die (despite the fact that people have been going through sporadically for about 2 weeks). Anyway I will go and see the conditions for myself and not be swayed by other’s opinions. I am psyched for the challenges that await and expect this to the most enjoyable and most beautiful section of the trail. See you on the other side.