Wrightwood-Agua Dulce: A winter wonderland in the desert

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
-Pablo Picasso

We are relaxing at this hiker haven, The Saufley’s in Agua Dulce, that is famously renowned on the PCT circuit for the hospitality and kindness.  Jeff and Donna have been taking in PCT hikers for the last 15 seasons, and along with their home they have RV’s, tents, and a yard set up that is equipped to meet the needs of around 50 hikers a night. Their garage is piled high with resupply boxes, a board full of info, and a place to send out packages. I can’t imagine the water bill they must face at the end of a season.  I feel profoundly grateful for their generosity, and a bit at loss of how to pass it on. “Pay it forward” truly comes into practice, because although they have a jar for “contributions”, they don’t ask for anything in return. This spirit on the trail causes my faith to continuously be restored in humanity. In a tight-knit community where people can and do rely on the kindness of others, it’s a nice place to be. I’ve discussed with other hikers about their strategy for repaying, and most of the time it feels like you can never really pay that kindness back in full to those that gave it so freely, (although money contributions do help), but one day in the future we’ll remember it and pass it on. Guess that’s how kindness really works. There aren’t any tally marks or track meters, but it’s simply a matter of respect that you treat others the way you’ve been treated. Feels good.

So backtrack to last Friday. On our zero day in Wrightwood we checked the weather report, and the only mention of possible rain was for friday night, although winds were projected to reach up to 45 mph on Saturday. We left that small mountain town with Popeye and Olive Oil, a fun couple from Seattle who turned out to be great company, and Elodie and Stephon aka the French Team, who we’ve been hiking off and on with since Warner. We started our ascent to Baden Powell around 9, and the day was beautiful and clear. On the way up we hit a small patch of snow, where I slipped and fell on my trekking pole, splitting it. One disadvantage to carbon fiber poles: they do break more easily than their aluminum counterparts….so J made a splint using our tent stakes and climbing tape (which has been incredibly useful, patching holes in bags, taping feet, and now…a splint). Much better that  a splint be needed for gear than for the body…the last mile or so up to the summit was about 3 feet under snow, and the foot steps ahead of us went off the switchback trails and became a direct climb up the mountain. It was midafternoon, so the snow was soft, there was a bit of postholing, but nothing serious.  They were good steps, but quite far apart, and I was glad to have long legs to reach up for them. After a break on the top, we kept to the ridge and “ran” into two people “running” the same path we had just come from. Turns out they were training for an Ultramarathon that was 100 miles along the PCT from Wrightwood to Pasadena. Awesome. And humbling.

Camped at Little Jimmy CG with some boyscouts and other hikers. The next morning, which happened to coincide with my birthday, we woke to a winter wonderland of snow. Not much, but enough to get the tent and everything pretty wet. The night before Popeye had been saying how we should think about what we would do when we had to pitch or pack up the tent in rain or snow. Nice timing. Guess we got to practice. Lesson learned: things get wet. So we began to walk down as quickly as we could, and found that the snow+45-50 mph winds on a mountain=cold. At the next road crossing, there was a bathroom, where we hid out for a minute to figure out what to do. We thought walking the road at that point might be the best option to avoid the inevitable up that characterizes the trail. Didn’t want to go up in that. So we started the road walk, and my pack cover was taken hostage by the wind, so again, we hid out in the toilet. At that point Elodie and Stephon were there, so we decided to take the PCT. Stephon was like “well, it could be worse.” Yup, it could. It’s all about perspective. Although we weren’t very comfortable, we weren’t in any real danger.

At that section they still have the 18 mile Endangered Species detour which is where the emblem is marked, and it was going down the mountain, so we started down. About a mile in we figured out that it was the detour that we didn’t want to be on, which would have added an extra 10 or so miles, so we walked back, once again, to the bathroom. Regroup. So then we started up what was the PCT, and up and up and up some more. What goes down must first come up out on the trail. Although the wind was pretty brutal, and my hands and feet, which were completly soaked, were numb, the ice on the trees and rocks was absolutely beautiful. Really stunning. And there is something about walking in fresh snow where there haven’t yet been tracks made, that is neat. Like paving a new path. The sun started to peak out as we continued on that day, and later on we were able to dry out  the tent, our shoes and socks, and warm our hands. Another lesson learned: I need to get water proof gloves for those days when the sun doesn’t peak through. Elodie and Stephon were ahead of us for the rest of the day, and I later learned that Elodie and I shared a birthday. So everytime we caught them, we both yelled to eachother “happy birthday!” And when we stopped seeing them, we would come across messages written in the dirt. Turned out to be a great day indeed.

The next day was clear for the morning, and turned bad as we entered into the burned areas in the afternoon. Winds picked up, the clouds rolled in, and we found ourselves camping at the end of a road with what would have been a beautiful vista in a clear day, where the wind wasn’t so bad. Rain came, and the next morning was the same parade: attempting to keep things dry, but not really doing a very good job-the solar charger was damaged in the process, so until we get a charger mailed, we won’t be able to call or text. More lessons learned: we should line our packs with garbage bags. Got those from now on. The rain and wind continued to share their presence until mid-afternoon, again, when we were graced with a peak from the sun to dry our gear. That evening we continued to descend in altitude and ended up camping in the lovely refuge that is Maddox Canyon, which put us about 15 miles from Agua Dulce. Lesson learned: Rain isn’t so bad when the winds aren’t around, and winds aren’t so bad when it’s not raining. But they do like to go together. So I start singing “These are a few of my favorite things” from the Sound of Music when they go together.

J put up some pictures for a better way to see the trail than my attempt with words, and we’re planning on heading out again tomorrow for some flat lands-weather projections look good for the next week or so. Will let all know when/if phone gets up and running. Also want to wish a very happy birthday to Kate. Sending a virtual hug. Many many well wishes to friends and family who are following along as we continue walking, and to others who may be reading.

Peace and love,

-Chinchilla

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3 thoughts on “Wrightwood-Agua Dulce: A winter wonderland in the desert

  1. If you’ve already got warm gloves that just need water-proofing you could try a super light-weight trick I learned from Rigatoni. Use plastic shopping bags with an elastic band (or stretchy hair tie) around your wrist. It worked a treat for me putting them over my socks too, soaking wet shoes, only slightly sweaty feet, happy hiker.

  2. Guys,

    I could send the battery from Jake’s old cell phone to Kennedy Meadows, which would give you a spare to use for Twitters and calls. You could charge it using the USB cord (which you will pick up when you get to Tehachapi). But, since I don’t want to send something that you would have to carry unless you are thinking the same thing, let us know, OK?

    Love
    Dad

  3. Pyrite and Chinchilla,
    You guys have been through quite the weather adventure! So fun to read. Your pics ROCK on Picasa big time. Packing a camera that takes that quality of photos is…well crazy, but will be so worth it. Looking forward to hearing more.

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