Last weekend, my wife and I headed out with a good friend of ours to the Cleveland National Forest (let’s call our friend Tom Train, you know, for the sake of argument). One of the great benefits of living in San Diego is the ability to visit Alpine environments or nearby Parks, without packing 4 season gear. Last weekend we had unseasonably warm nights (45F vs 30F) and headed off for a quick 2-day, 1-night trip. We wanted this trip to not only test us physically, but more importantly, allow us to really test all of the gear we have been accumulating….to see what truly works and what doesn’t. We will have several more of these trips prior to hiking the PCT this year.

As per usual, we waited until the morning of the trip to truly prepare and this would cost us later in the day (both in time and gear). The idea was to carry 5L of water a piece, not because we needed it, but just to simulate weight while actually hiking on PCT. For food, we purchased the types of things to plan to eat while on-trail and will be taking nearly all the gear we plan to take on our actual hike. We ended up leaving San Diego a bit before 8AM on Saturday and headed out to the Sunrise Highway and Mt. Laguna, approximately an hour away. We headed to Penny Pines, just past the campground at ~ Mile 48 on the PCT. I had put together a loose itinerary using Guthook’s SoCal App and we were planning on heading about 16 miles to an on-trail campsite listed at PCT mile 64.

First of all, this stretch of the PCT, especially in winter, is one view after another. It follows ridge lines that open to expansive views of the Anza Borrego state desert throughout, without gigantic changes in elevation. The weather was perfect, mid-sixties, and we headed north, eventually nearing Garnet peak.

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We continued to the Pioneer Mail Trailhead, where you head up to an incline followed by absolutely spectacular views (PCT Mile ~53)20150117_110700[1]

Stubborness can cause interesting, negative experiences. I knew my shoulders hurt during and after 5 miles, I also know that I have strong shoulders. I also know that your pack weight is supposed to primarily rest on your hips, but I chose to ignore my shoulder pain to this point and act like I could just Hulk through it. Lesson learned. Literally 10 seconds of adjustments and strap tightening later and my pack becomes a very docile beast, primarily without even being asked, just a small tug on the waist belt. Moral of the story, if something hurts…. fix the cause…Immediately. Any other reaction is ridiculous and self-defeating.

We continued on, enjoying the scenery and some snacks, but our late start had us behind the schedule we wanted to keep. We came to the Sunset HWY Trailhead, just before PCT Mile ~61 and decided we were good on water. We had enough to cook and drink for the evening, as it had not been overly hot that day. At that point, we continued on to a campsite at Mile 61.7 and decided to stay there for the evening, despite it being 3:00 PM. Our friend’s knee was bothering him and the next decent camp was 2 miles further, 1000 FT in Elevation below. This was also a fantastic campsite, with a beautiful meadow in front and mountains all around.

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As the sun set, our rushed preparation in the morning caught up to me….no gloves. Thankfully it would not be below freezing tonight, but as we prepared meals, I knew my hands would be cold until the following day. It’s almost funny the amount that you read and prepare, until you start using the knowledge you have gained and the gear you have purchased…your lessons are accelerated. Once things go wrong however, you also realize you can adapt quickly. We camped early that night, slept early and woke early, but had a great time doing it. The image to start the post shows the sunrise, but hiking out of our camp on Sunday, it was one reminder after another of why I engage in this type of activity and why the sacrifices are worth it.

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At the Pioneer Mail Trail head, a Trail Angel had put out some fresh water with a register to sign. Ready to get back and watch some NFL playoffs, we opted to open one of 3 gallons of water there and take just what we needed…I signed the register like I actually know what I’m doing and we headed back the next 4.5 miles to Penny Pines.

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Overall, a great weekend. We learned that quilts should be tied together with the opening in the middle to maintain heat, gloves should not be forgotten and that we still feel ready for this challenge in April. I’ll keep posting our preparations until we begin and hopefully honing the skills it takes to maintain a blog.