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  • Emily Hayes

The desert to Julian and beyond

First published on The Trek and in Botley Bridge.

I'm finally on the trail, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Unfortunately I caught covid a few days before my flight and had to delay all my plans, including my start date.

I've walked 150 miles in 8 days and as I write this I'm taking a rest day in an idyllic mountain town in southern California called Idyllwild. The experience of hiking through desert, or the high desert as it's called here, has been incredible. Dry, cold, hot, beautiful flowers, wind, interesting people and landscapes. The American diet on town days has been enjoyed also, I'm making sure I eat enough calories!

I started walking on 28th March, the day a storm was due to hit the region. Of course I'm used to a little rain and wind so I decided to get walking even if all the fair weather hikers had decided to take shelter in a nearby hostel. I'd already made a friend, a young German lady named Maj, so we walked and camped together in the rain and continued together for a week into the next town.

I've been surprised at how green and beautiful the desert is. After the rain came the blossoming desert flowers and lush growth along the steep sides of the mountain path. Cacti and lizards growing on the uneven rocky terrain would subside to shady pine forests as we walked into Mount Laguna on day 3. The storm was over and the desert heat was coming on strong as we climbed back up the Laguna Mountains after resting in town. Our water supply strategy now needed some more consideration, early morning alarms needed to be set to escape the midday heat and more and more breaks needed to be found under the bush.

After Julian, a delightful town at mile 77 on day 6, I had to say goodbye to Maj as she had a foot injury. I had met many people on trail and a small community had begun to form which meant you never walk alone. I then met Gillian, a hiker from Oregon that could match my pace. We hiked up and down the mountains for 5 days, struggling in the heat on some days and finding it challenging to pitch our tents due to exhaustion. We cowboy camped a few nights, which is sleeping outside without a tent or a bivvy bag. I tried my hardest to not think about rattle snakes and insects as I fell asleep. I was lucky to have spent a night with a lovely group of hikers a few nights ago who educated me on how to cowboy camp.

The trail has taught me so much already. I'm looking forward to my first mountain summit in a few days. San Jacinto mountain peak currently has a little snow but a steep climb to the top.

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