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[pct-l] Report on Section D, March 23-30

We hiked most of section D from March 23 to 30.  Our party consisted of
two people, three pack llamas and a dog.  Here is a report of trail
conditions and water supplies.
March 23  Acorn Trailhead (Wrightwood) to Guffy Campground.  We picked
up a fire permit at Big Pines ranger station and were warned of a "crazy
lady" who is rude to hikers at Acorn trailhead.  Sure enough a lady who
lives at the last house on the right shouted rudely at us as we walked
by her house.  She objected to our van being parked there (on dirt, on
the other side of the road).  As we were removing it to Agua Dulce in
minutes, it was a non-issue, which we explained to her more mellow son
who came out to talk to us.
It was a struggle to get to the PCT on the Acorn trail.  The last half
mile was buried under up to a foot of drifted snow, and a downed tree
across a steep side cut required us to take a detour through deep drifts
to reach the summit.  The going was easier when we kept close to trees.
We walked the road once we reached the ridge, and made camp next to the
outhouse at Guffy campground as it afforded the only wind shelter.
There were snow flurries and strong winds all night, but the wind blew
all the stuff over the ridge to form drifts on the north side.
March 24
>From Guffy to Blue Ridge the trail is routed on the north side, and the
trail has deep drifts on it, so we walked the dirt road, which is on the
south face and almost free of snow.  We walked the road (now paved) from
Blue Ridge to the second reservoir of Mtn High, which was operating it's
westernmost lifts.  From there on we took the trail to Inspiration
point.  Here it is routed on the south side of the ridge to avoid Mt.
High's towers and ski runs, and it is essentially free of snow.
We found no running water anywhere.  We didn't bother looking for the
spring near Guffy, as it would be buried in snow and probably frozen,
not running.  The llamas and the dog were eating snow for water, and
drinking snow melt running down the road.  We hiked on to Grassy Hollow
visitor center and filled our bottles and watered the animals from the
restroom faucets.  Then we hiked to Jackson Flat Group camp, where the
water was turned off, and spent the night nearby.
March 25
We anticipated that hiking the Baden Powell trail could be very
dangerous on the upper switchbacks because of snow, so when we reached
Vincent Gap we detoured down the Manzanita Trail.  We found running
water in a small stream prior to Dorr Creek, a good flow in Dorr Creek,
and a good flow at South Fork Creek.  We hiked up the South Fork trail,
hoping to rejoin the PCT at Islip Saddle, but were forced to turn back
within a mile.  This trail is cut into the side of a near vertical rock
cliff, and the path is not wide enough to accomodate pack animals.  When
they fear they will fall off, they won't continue.  So we turned back
and headed up the trail into Devils Punchbowl, and camped at Holcomb
Creek, which had a good flow of water.
March 26
We continued through Devil's Punchbowl and took the Burkhart trail over
the saddle.  The only running water we encountered was at Cruthers Creek
and Little Rock Creek, which we reached as darkness fell.  We camped
there, right on the trail.  The Burkhart trail has just been rebuilt and
is in excellent condition.  We met the trail crew who are finishing up
their last bit of retaining wall and signage.
March 27
We reconnected with the PCT at Cooper Canyon.  Rattlesnake Creek  and
Little Rock Creek crossings both had good water flow.  Stream water was
available at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.  We hiked on to Sulpher Springs
campground.  On the way we passed four water pump houses beside the
trail between Camp Glenwood and Three Points.  One of them was releasing
a stream of water where we could fill our bottles and our critters could
drink from the runoff.
The stream at Sulphur Springs is flowing slightly just 10 minutes before
you reach the campground, and is very sluggish within the camp
boundaries.  We boiled this water to make dinner and watered the
March 28
We hiked on to Mill Creek Summit Ranger Station.  Just past a tree
filled ravine near Sulphur Springs, brush is beginning to encroach on
the trail.  Fortunately it doesn't last long.   We dealt with lots of
soft snow on the north facing slopes of Pacifico Mt, but it was only a
couple inches deep.  The critters munched it for water.  We found no
running water anywhere for 13 miles.  The water fountain in the PCT
parking lot was turned off, and the restrooms were locked.  We filled
our bottles at the outdoor faucet next to the office, which had very low
water pressure.  Then we crossed the road and made camp in the first
flat spot we found as a rain/wind storm hit hard, from 5 PM to midnight.

March 29
About a mile up trail we found our first dead tree across the PCT.  It
was about 6 inches thick, so we cut it and moved it off trail.  We
expected to find water in the streams beyond Big Buck trail camp, but
they were all bone dry, despite the rain the night before.  We had water
in bottles for us, but were getting concerned about water for the
llamas.  At a spot about 2 miles past Big Buck, where a dirt road
crosses the trail and heads downhill, there was a yellow locked gate
across the road uphill from the trail.  I walked a side trail past this
gate and found a dirt landing beside paved Mt. Gleason Rd.  At this dirt
landing there was a cinder block box in the ground with a two inch steel
pipe and gate valve, and a 2 inch PVC pipe that stuck up out of the box,
with it's own red valve.  I pushed that valve and a big flow of water
came out of the PVC pipe.  We filled our big bucket and watered the
llamas from that pipe.  Then we hiked on to Messenger Flats campground
and set up for the night.  At 2:00 the camp was unoccupied and the water
faucet was on.  A ranger stopped by and greeted us warmly.  I asked him
about the mysterious box and pipe and he said it was part of the water
system for the prison camp nearby.  He told me to expect company for the
night, since it was Friday night and the weather was fine.   By
nightfall four other groups, all car campers, had pulled in and set up.
The group next to us played a boombox and drank heavily and caroused
until three a.m.  Unless you would like to join in that sort of
activity, I suggest you avoid using this camp.
March 30 We hiked on to North Fork Ranger Station.  We asked the ranger
stationed there about the mysterious box and pipe and he said it is a
rainwater catch and isn't safe to drink.  He offered showers and
restroom use, and pointed out the three tent spots that have been
constructed just for hikers.  The guide said we couldn't camp there, but
these tent sites were constructed in the last year and are available for
hikers now.  This would have been a much better place for us to camp
than Messenger Flats, which he told us has a reputation as a major party
camp.  Of course, Messenger Flats is a remote car camp, with walk in
sites only, and no camp host, so it is impossible to police.  We told
him about some treadwork needed in a ravine 15 minutes walk from his
station, and he said he would get it taken care of.  We filled up all
our bottles at his outdoor faucet and hiked on.  As we descended toward
Soledad Canyon, temperatures soared to 100 degrees at noon, and Mattox
Canyon was dry where the trail crossed the stream bed.  The place was so
hot and uninviting that we didn't bother to explore for water upstream,
as the guide suggests.  We trudged on to the river crossing in Soledad
canyon bottom where all the critters could drink.  We contemplated
another hot, shadeless day crossing Vasquez rocks, and decided it wasn't
a good place for llamas in full winter coats.  So we hung around for a
while looking pathetic, found a ride to Agua Dulce to retrieve our van
and headed home.  While waiting at the Robin's Nest RV campground we
talked to the new owner, encouraging him to welcome PCT hikers and offer
them showers and camping space.  This camp looked like a very easy place
to score a cold beer.  We encountered many kind, friendly,  and well
lubricated people there.
   We finished this trip much concerned for thru hikers who will be
passing by some 8 weeks from now, when there will be even less flowing
water to be found.  But at least, by then, more of the campgrounds will
be open and the water faucets will be on.  The only working water
faucets we found were at Grassy Hollow, Mill Creek Summit, Messenger
Flats and North Fork Saddle.
The trail tread is in very good shape, overall.  The routing of the
trail from Sulphur Springs to North Fork Saddle is a masterpiece of
trail placement, in terms of putting a trail where there is maximum
shade and minimum contact with man-made stuff.
Marion Davison