PCT Day 24: Up and Over

May 12, 2022

Swarthout Canyon at mile 347.2 to Inspiration Point parking lot on Highway 2, mile 369.3 to Wrightwood

22.1 miles

My alarm rings at 4:40 but I ignore it. I know Andy is heading out early, but I’m not sure I have it in me today. I hear him go from awake to packed up in the span of ten minutes, then he comes over to me and tells me he’s leaving. Our original plan is to do 20 miles today and then nero into Wrightwood tomorrow. We chat about this versus going in today, then decide we’ll see what happens. “Don’t rush,” he says, smiling, and then heads off into the morning.

I don’t hear DLT or Rob moving yet, so I decide to indulge again and make myself a hot tea. Uh oh. This is becoming a dangerous habit. By the time I’m done with tea, breakfast, and packing up, it’s around 6. DLT and Rob still aren’t quite ready yet, so I head out first. It’s a 17 mile all-uphill water carry today, and I pack out 3 liters from the cache. It might be cutting it a bit close, but I can’t stomach the idea of hiking with any more water weight when most of the day will be uphill.

The Swarthout Canyon water cache

The world is liquid gold as I start heading up the switchbacks. The flowers are illuminated in the morning light. I feel an intense peace here in this canyon, by myself, listening to the crunch of my feet and the smell of the breeze.

I pass a hiker named Commando and chat with her for a while, but otherwise, it’s a while before I see anyone. This trail is beautifully made, and I hardly notice that I’m going uphill. Soon I’m about four miles in, and I stop to take in the view and eat a snack. DLT catches up with me, and we start walking together. We round a corner and see a bizarre and horrifying sight: a snake wrapped around a still-alive lizard, eating it. We stand there transfixed for a while, then step around carefully around the creatures and leave nature to itself.

A little while later we run into Beetle and have a quick snack break. The trail continues its smooth, easy grade for hours, treating us to views upon views of Pine Mountain. Desert gives way to conifer forest, and the world starts to smell so good. We take a break and eat the McDonald’s that we packed out, and Rob catches up. Up, up, up we go, taking our time, taking breaks, talking, being quiet, listening to music, deciding what we’re doing tonight.

When we’re at the top of the biggest part of the climb, we get a little service and learn from the group chat that Andy is already in town and doing laundry at a trail angel’s house, and Beetle is at the road in search of a hitch. So much for that nero; looks like we’re going to town tonight! DLT starts calling trail angels in Wrightwood in search of a place to stay, and he finds a guy named Greg. He’s going to pick us up at the road at 6, so we start hustling to make it there.

It’s tough for a bit because the trail follows the slopes of a ski resort, some of which involve serious uphills followed by steep descents, but we manage to make it to the Inspiration Point trailhead just before the appointed pickup time. Greg is there waiting for us, and Stinger, Mouse, and IPA are going to town as well so we all pile in his truck and bounce down to Wrightwood.

I didn’t do a ton of research on this town, so I’m not sure what to expect. But it is so cute! There are all sorts of little shops and restaurants clustered in a main area beneath the mountains. Greg drops us off at a Mexican restaurant, where Andy comes to meet us. We have massive plates of food and two margaritas each. It is excessive and delicious.

Greg picks us up again after the meal and drives us to his house. It is such a cool place! The living room has a huge wall of windows crowned with a string of Tibetan prayer flags. He has a friendly old dog named WIlma. There is a wood stove in one corner and a huge, tropical-looking plant that extends outward from the upstairs loft. We take showers, put laundry in, and revel in the life-changing magic of being clean. We stay up for a while talking to Greg and then settle down to sleep. Trail angels! They are so amazing! I love these little vacations along the trail.

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