• Tenley Lozano

PCT SoCal Big Bear to Wrightwood: Day 4 (November 2015)

76 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in 5 days, from Big Bear to Wrightwood in Southern California, November 2015, lands of the Tongva, Yuhaviatam and Maarenga’yam (Serrano) people.

On day 4, I woke up feeling creaky and sore for the first time in the trip and my knees ached. As first light brightened the sky between two hills, I packed up our camp and we headed out on the trail again.

A blond dog in a red coat and red pack stands alert in front of a arched bridge crossing from one side of a valley to another. The bridge has a rainbow painted on its side.
Crossing Deep Creek on a rainbow bridge

With renewed optimism after a good night's sleep, I felt lucky to be climbing the brown land spotted with green shrubs and autumn alders in varying shades of orange and yellow. The trail followed the twisting and rumbling dark blue-green Deep Creek all the way to the Mojave River Spillway and Dam.

Brown mountains spotted with dark green shrubs are in the foreground, with pale pink and purple hills in the distance, lit by the rising sun.
Sunrise in the San Bernadino mountains

The giant man-made structure spread out in front of us and we walked down a steep trail into an open sandy area with metal signs warning of quicksand. There the trail was washed out, with foot and paw prints crisscrossing the hard sand. The creek flowed on our left and we wandered, Elu sniffing the ground and me searching for a PCT signpost. I checked my phone again and saw that we were off trail, but the GPS app couldn’t pinpoint our exact location.

A large and flat sandstone structure stretches wide between two brown hills.
Mojave Spillway and Dam

I found a metal trail sign, but I still couldn’t figure out which path was the PCT. Between the recent storms, the various footprints, scrub brush by the side of the creek, and random cleared areas that looked like trail but dead-ended in thorny plants, I didn’t know where to turn. So I resorted to taking out my maps and compass. I saw from the map that the trail should cross the creek, but I couldn’t tell which path was the correct one.

I grabbed Elu’s leash and led her splashing through the creek. She was wagging her tail and happily trotting beside me as we ran up a small bank on the other side and through some scraggly trees. I held my hiking poles out in front to shield my face from the thin branches. Breaking through the tightly spaced trees, I spotted the trail a few yards away and let out a sigh of relief. My boots were soaked, and I was a little concerned that my feet would blister worse because of the wet socks. More than anything, I wanted to get away from that place. Fast. I saw that many other hikers must used similar tactics to get across the creek; there were plenty of makeshift trails from the other side. I felt less incompetent knowing other people had the same problem. I'd just wasted nearly an hour of daylight on crossing that sandy area and the stream, but at least we didn't step in quicksand.

Walking slowly on, I watched as the landscape changed again from tall trees providing shade to Mojave yucca, chaparral, and short cactus plants. I became annoyed at the desert landscape. Hiking the past few months, I’d learned that when I got stuck in a negative mindset, it was time for a snack. Low blood-sugar always makes me cranky, so I promised myself we’d stop once we reached the next road crossing. At Highway 173, a two-lane road near Hesperia, I stopped to eat, give Elu water, and switch to dry socks. A woman pulled up across the road in a big silver truck with a fluffy German Shepherd in the bed.

A blond brindle dog wearing a red pack looks away from the camera as she lies in the shade of shrubs on a brown dirt path.
The only sign that Elu is beginning to get tired: she's now lying on the trail during our breaks.

She looked dressed for a run, wearing sneakers, a synthetic t-shirt, and black stretchy pants, her long brown hair up in a ponytail. She walked over to us and Elu stood protectively in front of me, stretching out to sniff the stranger.

“I know you’re prepared and everything, but would like some water or a banana?” the stranger asked.

“A banana would actually be amazing. This is my fourth day of packaged food,” I said. She jogged over to her truck and grabbed the fruit out of the back seat, then ran over and handed me a beautiful yellow banana. I thanked her and retied my boots. She was leaning on her truck stretching as Elu and I headed back onto the trail, walking westward.

I savored the sweet fruit, but after the last bite, my enjoyment faded. My feet hurt so much that I began chanting mantras in my head as a distraction and tried to focus on my breathing to keep from crying. My knees ached deeply with each downward step and I leaned heavily on my hiking poles to take weight off of my lower body. Maybe we'd pushed too hard with big mileage early in the week, but the weather hadn't given us much choice.

We passed three areas where streams were marked on the maps and trail guides, but they lacked running water. Only the debris field told of the storm from earlier in the week. With each dry stream bed that we passed, I became more worried. We needed more water before making camp, and I hoped we could find a flowing stream before dark.

A dog wering a red pack stands on the dirt trail overlooking a sparkling blue lake with rolling green hills in the background.
The man-made freshwater reservoir of Silverwood Lake

As sunset rapidly approaches, we walked toward Silverwood Lake State Park and saw the sparkling sapphire water from the top of a hill. Relief flooded me and I was ecstatic to see the lake, knowing we could rest for the night after walking another sixteen-mile day. I set up our tent on the beach of the lake as Elu inspected trash lying near the water and sniffed around. That night, we heard the splashes of jumping fish and the soft Spanish chatter of a handful of men nearby fishing. Elu and I snuggled as frost lined our tent and I heated water bottles every few hours to keep us warm.