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[pct-l] Section C Trip Report


I flew out to San Diego on Sunday, May 20 arriving at the Cottonwood Trailhead (just north of I-10 at 2pm) courtesy of consumate Trail Angel Charlie Jones.

The trail rises up along the many wind turbines and then drop down to Whitewater River, a most unusual geologic formation, rust and greyish-purple cliffs with a light gray river of granite running in the middle. Evidently the river bed is made of a different material that has washed down from higher up. 

 The guidebook says that you round a bend and see turbines, however the whole first 2 miles is in view of these neat contraptions. They must have added some since the guidebook was written.

I got in about 13 miles in 90+ degree heat, crossing into Whitewater River, descending into dry South Mission Creek and stopping at the next ridgetop above the North Fork of Mission Creek. The heat is not so bad, it is the constant pounding of the sun that makes this lower elevation hiking so tough.  

A horserider passed me from a distance as I lounged along Whitewater River. Then as I climbed the ridge to the next canyon the horse and rider appeared on the ridgetop. As I climbed the next canyon to my resting place for the night, the horse and rider appeared again sillouetted against the setting sun. I was really getting spooked as this horse and rider appeared before me on every major climb.

I awoke to a pleasant sunrise over the Little San Bernadino Mts, dry and brown as they sit to the east over lush Palm Springs. The street lights of Palm Springs were on and a few minutes later they were all off, as the sun lit things up. Today was the big day, the one that would set the tone for my whole trip, the 15 miles, 5000 foot climb to Mission Creek Trail Camp, into the heart of the mountains.

The first 5 miles stay close to the creek and are quite pleasant. After leaving Fork Springs, the creek disappears underground and surrounding land is much hotter and drier.  As I rested mid-day the mystery of the horse revealed itself.  Joanne, "Goforth", from Washington was thru-riding. She took her horse downstream for pasture and I passed her in the early morning. She passed me later in the day as we headed up the canyon.

About 1.5 miles from my nights destination, I crossed Mission Creek for the last time and picked up water for the night and the 16 dry miles tomorrow. Suddenly my pack was 12 pounds heavier and I was exhausted trudging up that last mile.

Just as I was leaving the creek I passed a horse rider, toothless is all I can remember, whose other pack animal I passed on the trail a few miles back, a white horse tied up along the trail in the middle of nowhere. She was going back with water and another horse to carry the load. I learned later she was a thru-rider and had to leave the trail. Her gear was just too heavy it seemed for those horses in the the heat.

After a restful night I was working toward Coon Creek Jumpoff, a granite defile at the head of same creek.

I passed Stephan from Washington, who left Fork Springs at 2am and hiked past me in the early morning. I called him PM Hiker, as he hiked mostly at night.  We passed each other for a day or so.

After passing Coon Creek, I worked my way toward the Onyx Summit, and passed the circus animals caged right by the trail, how did this happen? Bears, Lion, and Jaguars not 30 feet from the trail!

By mid afternoon I was at Deer Springs. I cooked a mid day dinner, hung out a while and then left for 5 miles of very pleasant and surprising ridge walking on Nelson Ridge. This high desert community features Joshua Trees!

I camped on a pleasant nose just off of the trail. I enjoy eating in the trail camps with water and then leaving in the cool of the evening for a few more hours of hiking. 

The next day the trail wound along and around the ridge over to Highway 18, over to Doble Trial Camp, (really, just below the County Landfill) I could see and hear the heavy equipment. I should have dropped my trash off!

You can still see the Doble Mine above, with white vans and modular buildings surrounding it. I cannot understand a tunnel mine on top of a mountain!

The trail around Gold Mt. pased through several rose colored Talus Fields, before descending to Van Duesen Canyon. I stopped and cooked here before heading up to Bertha Peak and Delmar Mt. where I camped for the night. On this ascent the trail crosses slashes of pure white marble. The geology here is fascinating. I passed Bill from Berkley and a father and son from Sacramento who were section hiking.

I camped on another pleasant nose off of Delmar Mt. as a moisture starved thunderstorm tried to blow up.

Sometime during the storm another hiker appeared and camped just below me, Jeff from San Diego.  I did not see him until morning. We met again a few miles down the trail a Little Bear Springs Trail Camp. Here the trail begins a long slow descent down Holcombe Creek to Deep Creek.  

I saw my first Rattler this morning on the trail. I had been somewhat anxious about meeting one and hoped to get it behind me. They coil up on the trail in the sun when shadows are long, early or late in the day. You can almost step on one if you are not careful! This one moved off of the trail after a Kodak Moment.

As I approached the lower reaches of Holcombe Creek, I noticed charred wood on the trail. I thought who would have a campfire up here. Only then did I look up at the burned hills from the 1999 Deep Creek Fire. Shortly the whole area down to the trail was burned and this continued for about 10 more trail miles all the way down Deep Creek. Sadly the loose granite on the hills is washing down damaging the trail and clogging the creek. This event will take years to recover from.

The 4 miles that veer away from Holcombe Creek over to Deep Creek were burned the worst. The incredibly poor trail layout, hot sun, and burned surroundings made this very unpleasant. I reached Deep Creek, where a 90' bridge,strong enough for horses, spans this large creek. The poor trail design is evidenced by the switchback right in front of the bridge that everyone cuts, except me.

I rested here a while before heading down Deep Creek toward the famed Hot Springs! Jeff caught up with me here as I rested for a while in the shade by the creek. The mosquitos said move on and I did.  On the way to Bacon Flats for the night I came to the Rattler from hell. He would not move off of the trail, raised up and hissing the whole time! He finally moved after some geologic encouragement.

Jeff appeared at Bacon Flats and commented on the ornery snake about a half mile back. 

I left before Jeff in the morning and arrived at the Trail and Creekside Hot Springs by 9 am. I soaked for a while not seeing anyone. A day hiker appeared and was picking up trash. He said he came up every month to help clean up. He pointed out the "tan guy" across the creek who lived up here most of the year, naked!

I asked the Day Hiker to take my picture. He dissappeared for a few moments and the reappared holding my camera, wearing nothing and calling out "say cheese".

I moved on shortly thereafter. The trail continues down Deep Creek for about 5 miles getting hotter and drier. About half way down the trail crosses the creek on a smaller bridge, again with a looooooooong switchback right in front of the bridge, that many cut.

After this bridge the trail follows the remants of an old aquaduct. In places it looks downright Roman as I tried to figure out how, when, and why it was built.

After passing along this bit of history, the trail comes to the behemoth Mohave Forks Dam. One mile long and 150 feet high to stop a little creek.  I wonder what Congressman got this approved? The trail evens follows along the base of the back (where there would normally be water)of this dam. A large culvert under the dam allows the normal flow to pass through under dam, so nothing backs up behind the dam. Just what this dam is for I do not know?

The trail then skirts along the edge of Summit Valley. With a steep drop off from the high desert on the other side. This hot hike ended at the Summit Valley store. Cool drinks and shade at the end of a 20 mile day!

With no place to camp I decided to push on to Silverwood Lake. This lake is a giant holding lake for California Aquaduct water on its way from Northern California to Greater LA. Now that is an engineering feat.

I camped at a Gazebo overlook above the lake. Quite a nice unoffical place to camp, but with a beautiful sunrise! 

Saturday beckoned with a 16 mile hike from Silverwood Lake to I-15 at Cajon Pass. A 1000' climb over Cleghorn ridge began the day and a 1000' descent to the highway ended this day. There was some pretty valley hiking along Little Horsethief Canyon and startling descent down the knife edge ridge to the highway. This dry badlands has been sculpted by the wind and water for thousands of years. I passed a group of Boy Scouts out for a day hike and working on Hiking Merit Badge. It gives me great satisfaction to see kids "scouting" in the great outdoors!

How best to end a hike, why at McDonalds. The trail comes down Crowder Canyon along remnants of an old asphalt road, the old way to the high desert perhaps?
It ends at an underpass with a McDonalds one half mile up the frontage road.

I sat down under a shade tree on a glorious day, with a wind blowing ocean cooled air from the west!  This weather pattern seemed to hold most of my hike. If you are on the windward side of the mountains, you benefit, the leeward you swelter.

This is truly a wonderful way to spend a week.  

See you next year!

David Craft
Greensboro, NC