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Fire and Water

(6/10/10) Written by Larry C and photo credits to Jeff C and Larry C

"We shall go through fire and through water, yet You have broughtest us out to Lake Arrowhead." Psalms 66.12

And so it went, with PCT 13. On Saturday morning, Mike, Jeff and I stood shivering in the Arctic wind on Highway 18, about to start on the 13th section of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Big Bear Lake to near Lake Arrowhead. The timing of our trip coincided with the hajj of a number of PCT through-hikers, who seem to share two distinctive traits. First, they all go by trail names, like Upchuck, Glug, Pockets and Bones. Second, it seems they all have been high on something since the age of 7.

We already knew a substantial part of our route would go through terrain burnt to a crisp by fire. But the first day, though long (20 miles), went over gently rolling hills dotted with phlox and lupine. Half a mile before the end, we came across a landscape of charred trees, branches looking like they were tossing about in the wind of a firestorm, frozen in time. And then, at camp, we saw Upchuck and Glug, who looked like they were tossing about on the tail end of an acid trip. They were busy bragging of their conquests in town, and arguing about how many teeth the average woman in Big Bear had left. (These tales of macho exploits inspired us to pick up a woman the very next morning.)

But first.... According to Jeff, Mike practically had a panic attack in the morning, looking out his tent at the 3 inches of snow that greeted us! I think this was the first time Mike was ready to leave before me - instead of packing, I was absent-mindedly doing a crossword puzzle, listening to the snow pelt my tent. Nothing like late May in Southern California. So we got started and picked up a woman named Jan. She was thinking of doing a through-hike but instead turned to us for a snow rescue, asking if she could hike out with us. It was actually really beautiful hiking, with the still falling snow swirling around us. The whole scene was trippy enough that Jeff told us that the day before he saw a giant coyote with a pink ribbon around its neck (apparently in honor of the cure for breast cancer), and Mike recounted a dream about pumping water while he slept.

Speaking of water, half-way through the trail led us straight into a raging stream, ten or so feet across, swelled with snow melt. Figuring that the alternative was freezing our feet numb and being swept away by the flood, we crossed in our boots, and proceeded to slosh the last 8 miles or so back to the car. Just when we thought the worst was past, we found out we had to cross back over the stream. Fortunately, this time there were two narrow branches that we were all able to tightrope walk our way across without having to get wet again.

I ended up making everyone else wait at least an hour because I was the only one laid back enough to stop for lunch (it takes a lot to faze me on a backpack, having dislocated a shoulder, having been trapped on a cliff below Mt. Russell, and having nearly bled to death on some prior off-trail solo outings - possibly the reason I'm not leading any Perfect Pace trips), and then I futzed around trying to get the perfect camera shot of lupines in the snow. Soon the sun came out, birds started chirping and, just before reaching the parking lot, I passed Upchuck, Glug and Bones again. They were talking wistfully about where they might find some magic mushrooms. Ah, the PCT! Someday I'll have to do it as a through-hike myself.