Weekend Power-Backpacking

At the Monument. Image by M. Donnelly.

As the patrol agent slowly came by I prepared myself for my usual rant and rhetoric with overly assertive peacekeepers. Though, it was raining - no pouring out - and I was on the move. I casually passed and with a smile, nod, and a polite wave the Border Patrol agent continued casually down the road. Here I was at the often ballyhooed start of the Pacific Crest Trail. Alone with all but Maura, my ride, in the sleet/rain/hail/maelstrom from the sky. Before you ask, no I’m not hiking it… all… this year. Maybe someday in the future, but not now. 

I was off for a weekend as a section hiker on this marvel of a trail. I was to experience the first 42 miles of this 2,650 mile trail; though it reduced to the first 33.5. I’ve hiked several sections of this trail throughout the years either as part of a backpacking trip in the Sierras or as day hikes elsewhere. Sometimes my time on the trail was nothing more than a footprint as I crossed it on a cross-country trek and others I spent hours on this well-trodden path. This would be the first time I’ve ever set out to hike exclusively on the trail.


Kind-of last minute, though not really, I was invited to join my neighbor Mary on her restart of hiking this magnificent trail. It is a neat opportunity to get out and hike the southern desert section that is so close to home. My trip started with an early morning shuttle from Maura to the southern terminus of the trail early Friday. It was raining, cold, and windy; but that didn't deter me. If you've ever been out backpacking you learn to be prepared for these conditions and eventually learn to embrace it. Because of the rains the crowds I'd otherwise expect weren't on the trail. I passed three couples and a group of three guys from Montana on my day hike.

Twenty miles in a day isn’t for the faint at heart and definitely isn’t something you should just get up and conquer “off the couch.” It’ll kick your ass in wonderful and magnificent ways. This section of trail is the first patch of lengthy distance without water. Knowing this, I had 4 liters of water and 1 liter of electrolyte drink strapped to my back, oh, and some snacks and lunch right around 15 lbs. But yeah, my misery was the wet feet. My reprieve was that I was meeting the core group at Lake Morena that evening; and with them was the rest of my camping gear. I was going to go light for the remainder of the trip with a pack that weighed around 18 lbs total.

Walking down this well used path I felt at home. People are friendly. 20 miles is big, but not insurmountable. I made it to Lake Morena at 3:51 PM in the rain. 7 hours 51 minutes on the trail with a few breaks. Hauser Canyon is pretty and things weren’t all that bad, though the uphill comes at the end of a powerful hike and is all uphill.  I wasn’t pushing too much as there wasn’t a real need to. I was going to take the two following days to do the 23 miles to Mt Laguna with Mary and Co. As the experienced one I knew they’d be looking at me for tips and tricks to make future excursions more pleasant.

Starting at the o-so-early time of 8:00 we made our way north from Lake Morena along the gentle sandy trail, under a bridge and along a mostly flat valley before stopping at Boulder Oaks campground for a snack and a water break. From here we would start our way up in to the mountains. Our trail soon turned further into the mountains where we were presented with pleasant grades and beautiful vistas and valleys that make up eastern San Diego County.

Suffice to say that we didn't make it all the way. Because of the weather and other obligations the group of 12 reduced to three (including me) before we even started. A combination of wet, cold, and the dreaded bonk kept us from going further than Cibbits Flat campground. Nestled in an oak grove adjacent to a running stream, this quaint campground was a welcome stay and perfect to end a good trip. Mary and Norma had a good time and were able to shakedown on 13 miles of good trail. There's already plans to do another trip. Maybe something in the Sierras this summer, where learned skills will be honed.