Boulder Oaks to South Terminus Campo via Lake Morena #2

6/29 – 6/30/2012
26.479 miles

Birthday – Day 2

Lake Morena to Campo South Terminus

We have now completed 56.803 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. While we are quite pleased to have done this much, we fully know that we still have more than 2500-miles ahead of us. The enormity of our undertaking has never been more real.

We got up and out before 7:30. We knew that the day’s 20-mile hike ahead of us was not to be taken lightly: we knew that it was commonly said that it was not safe to camp between Lake Morena and Campo, that there was no water sources to speak of, and that Hauser Canyon was the challenge that rests between. Knowing there was nothing to plan but to finish the entire 20-mile leg, we had to carry enough water to cover the day. Our packs were heavier than ever before, carrying 150-ounces of water for each of us, much less than is commonly suggested by so-called experts. Patti had approximately 26-pounds in her pack, I had 34-pounds.

The trail isn't always clearly marked.

Every now and then you come across something like this. You hope to find some kind of marker to guide you the right way.

Which way

Patti finds the marker indicating the path to take. Many hikers take wrong turns and get off the trail. Looking for the markers becomes a skill.

Having descended the day earlier into the Lake Morena Valley, we knew that we’d be digging out of that valley before getting on our way. But we had no idea what was in our future called Hauser Canyon. Hauser Canyon is the thoroughfare of the controversial San Diego Gas & Electric PowerLink that connects the Imperial County to San Diego County, now providing a significant portion of the region’s energy needs. The controversy that surrounds the power line is that it cuts through a uniquely beautiful and fragile landscape which includes Hauser Canyon. It also creates a constant threat of wildfires. We initially saw the canyon from afar. We had climbed to a slightly higher elevation just prior to getting to the canyon rim and it was there we first could distinguish the sheer enormity of the canyon. It is a cut deep into the earth circled by 3000′-high plus mountains. The canyon runs east to west where the PCT intersects it. At the bottom of the canyon is a series of power lines supported by huge, ugly, metal monstrosities.
View into Hauser Canyon

Hauser Canyon looking from the north. You can trace the trail starting at the center of the right edge, then across to the middle of the image, down switch backs toward the camera then to the bank of trees at the bottom. Then we went up. You can see the trail start the ascent, it’s the bright white road that the power company built for access to the power lines. We then zig-zagged back up the trail, hardly viewable in this image, back toward the camera, finally finishing at the left edge about a third of the way down from the top.

The canyon itself is sensational. It was mostly hot at the rim and on down about half way. Then we saw lush and green undergrowth and trees. We came across a sign at the bottom of the canyon that warned us against the poison oak that rested beyond, but never did we see a water source that may have been near. The descent into the canyon was long but gradual. It was a pleasant, slow and easy stride into the depths of the canyon.
Brush along the trail

Half-way down to the Hauser Canyon floor, we started seeing plants with stringy flowers that reminded us of saffron. We would see more of these along the way toward Campo in the denser brush.

As we moved closer to the bottom, and the height of the ridge above to the south looked more challenging, I couldn’t help but think how marginalized I felt as a human being. The PCT never looked bigger or more challenging as it did right then. I thought about my decision to do this hike, and I thought about what I might want to say by accomplishing it. I saw, at a specific moment, that despite any of my efforts, nature takes its course. I thought of the oblique ways we as humans try to control nature, and I came to wonder if my purpose of being on the PCT was to somehow gain control of my life, if not nature itself. This day, in the end, would prove to be the single most physically challenging event of my life. I couldn’t help but hope there was some real purpose in mind. And yet, I knew, there was no controlling the trail. It is undeniably bigger than me.
Resting in Hauser Canyon

Just one of many rests we took in Hauser Canyon. The sun was intensely hot and felt somehow more direct than we’ve ever seen. Whatever shade we found we took advantage of.

We both struggled up the mountain to the south exposure. We first stopped when we were tired, but then later, more frequently. Even the mere sight of shade was reason enough to take a five-minute break. We both felt short of breath. At one point, my pulse rate was unusually high and I felt pressure on my chest. Once we checked our pedometer  and realized that we were climbing to a 3400+’ elevation, it all made sense. The sun now beat down on us full and there was very little shade along the way. When we did find a tree providing shade it was hard to pass up.

The distance between Lake Morena and the South Terminus is 19.5 miles.  We honestly believed that we could finish the hike in about 10 hours. But it was dark before we arrived at Campo on the border of Mexico, and it was 14-hours after having left Lake Morena. As dusk approached, we saw a rattlesnake sitting on a rock, the same rock Patti had chosen to rest on. We let the snake keep its place and we moved on. (Well, actually, I scurried on quickly, especially when it started rattling at me as I tried to take its picture.) We also saw a bobcat off to the left of the trail, jumping onto a rock before it took off to the north. As it got darker and we lost all sunlight, the brush along the trail gave off a sound almost like a hum. But it was all the nocturnal wildlife likely waking up.

Lessons learned: We have to stop picking up trail mix and granola bars that contain chocolate. It melts. And you can never have enough water. While we had enough to get through the day, we did have just 10-ounces of water left when we finally arrived at the South Terminus. Also, it doesn’t matter if you are primarily going down hill or primarily going up, the fact is both are hard when in excess. The guidance from all the books we’ve picked up warn about swollen feet and increased shoe sizes, and already we have seen this. I just bought my first-ever size 11 tennis shoe. And finally, despite that an average through-hiker of the PCT does between 15 and 20 miles per day, I believe Patti and I have concluded that from now on we’ll be sane and just keep it to eight to twelve miles.


A very tired Patti at the South Terminus. It took 14 hours but we finally made it.

We will press on with a new segment in a week or two. It might take that long for us to recover from Hauser Canyon.

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