Posted on March 23, 2014
Mexican Border to Lake Morena – PCT
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) starts at the Mexican Border and runs approx. 2,600 miles to the Canadian Border. We wanted to start at the beginning, but the 20-mile (32 km) portion from the border to Lake Morena County Campground is dry and remote, with no water available on this section in a typical year. Carrying all our water in the desert, as well as the difficulty of finding transportation to and from the trailheads put us off it for some time, but we felt we were ready to tackle it this weekend.
Our plan was to rent a car, drive the rental and our car to Lake Morena, then all pile in our car and drive it to the border and start the trek, spending a night on the trail camped at Hauser Creek, about 15.5 miles in. The day before we left, I shared our plan with a friend from Gabriel’s class at school, Jen, who generously offered up her husband Brian’s car for us to use! Grateful, we accepted, and at 4:30am on Saturday morning we set off for the Mexican border.
We arrived at Lake Morena Campground around 6:15am, and dropped off Brian’s car just outside the park, saying a prayer that it would be safe overnight. Once we got to the border we chatted with a couple of Border Patrol agents who were not convinced leaving our car by the border fence overnight would be a good idea, but one agent showed us to a spot he’d seen people park their cars about 3/4 of a mile down the road. We thanked him, parked, and packed up our stuff to backtrack to the trailhead.
The border was an interesting place, very aggressive and harsh feeling, all barbed-wire, dirt, iron, and border patrol agents. We celebrated for a moment as we stood at the start of this long trail, unable to comprehend the distance. And then, at 7:30am we were off!
Knowing we had to travel 15 miles to our campsite for the night, we started out really fast, flying through the first 6 or 7 miles in a couple of hours. We got a bit happy and started entertaining the thought that maybe we would be able to power through the entire 20 mile section in one day. We stopped for a snack at mile 7 where some guys had camped overnight, overlooking fields and a valley.
Continuing on, we braved a couple of hills and our speed slowed down as our packs started weighing heavier and heavier.
We had brought 7.5 liters of water for the trip, and at about mile 11 we realized that wouldn’t be enough for the remainder of the trip, especially if we were going to use some water to cook our dinner. I began to think that it would be better if we tried to press on the entire way. Luckily, the weather was cool and hiking wasn’t too hot. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people hiking in the later months when temperatures can get above 100 and with no shade in sight.
We walked down the side of Hauser Mountain and had a brief rest and a discussion about our plan. Would we continue, or camp there overnight? Jess had had a tough time going down the hill and wanted to stay, but I was thinking that since we were at the bottom of a canyon, overnight temperatures would probably be below freezing and I didn’t want to risk running out of water and having to do a second day waterless. So, after a bit of a rest and a pep-talk we set off to climb up and over Morena Butte at around 4:30pm.
Climbing up, Jess found a new source of power and almost ran up the 1,000 ft climb in no time. I was struggling, and puffing, but made it up too!
At around 6:45pm we descended into the Lake Morena Campground and celebrated completing an epic, 20-mile trip!
Since we didn’t have a second child seat, we played some ‘musical cars’ – I drove Brian’s car down to the border, drove Jess’s car back up, then we piled in Jess’s car and drove it back down to the border and picked up Brian’s car and drove home.
Before we go on our next hike I want to share some of my thoughts about this trip because it was an incredible experience for us. We had been wanting to “officially” begin section hiking the PCT and we’d been contemplating this first leg of the trail for quite some time. We continually believed it wasn’t possible with Gabriel. For one it just didn’t seem fair to drag him along for a 15 mile walk, let alone a 20 mile walk. It would be a lot of riding in the backpack for him and it was really difficult for us to come to terms with that. And secondly we were heavily-laden as it was when we didn’t have to carry the extra water so was it even possible for Simon and I to manage the extra load coupled with the extra mileage? It was a puzzle. We didn’t know. The purchase of a new backpack carrier (“Poco”) was a key to this because it was far more functional and comfortable for both Simon and Gabriel than the Tatonka. (Our pack weights ended up being Simon: 52 lbs, Jess: 38 lbs).
The weather had been warming up and the weekend before we were tentatively planning this trip, it was incredibly hot. We were visiting my parents who live inland and it was difficult for us to walk down the street in the heat- without backpacks, without hills, for like 50 feet- and we both really believed we had missed our window for this trip. The reality of the heat was something to really consider. It was a real danger. But as the week progressed the forecast dropped from 90 degrees and we were set for a perfect 68 degree hike. It was one of the factors that motivated us to go do it. In fact when we arrived at the trail head in the early morning it was hardly above freezing it was so cold! We were so lucky. Now to keep watch for rattle snakes… (We heard a rattle at one point and I identified lots of snake poo -I think- but thankfully we didn’t actually encounter one!)
I found it pretty easy to talk about hiking 20-miles but when it came to actually walking them it was a really different story. We started off hiking super fast and it seemed like it would be no trouble. But around 4-miles in I started having strange things happen. The sun shirt I thought would be perfect for the trip had this stupid seam that crossed over my collar bone under the backpack strap and was chaffing my skin so bad I had to take it off. Then around mile 8 I felt a “squiiish!” in my shoes (oh honey I think some blisters just popped on my feet!). Around mile 12 I was feeling pretty trashed and some rocks rolled from under my right foot causing me to skid a bit. After that my right hip was complaining especially on the downhill. I had to hobble my way, wincing with each step downhill from then on.
But what I really enjoyed was how Simon and I balanced each other. When I was tired he felt good and could offer encouraging words. When Simon felt tired I felt good and I could show support back to him. We played off each other like this the whole second half of the trip. When we finally arrived at Hauser Creek which was our intended camping spot at 15.5 miles, I felt like I could hardly walk. We took a break on a log and I took my shoes off. 1,2,3,4,5… I counted 8 blisters on my feet and my hip hurt so bad I was done. We rested and snacked while Gabriel cheerily entertained us. Simon and I talked about the pros and cons to climbing over the mountain to Lake Morena versus staying the night in the deep, cold canyon. It was a big decision to make. I didn’t think I could go the last 4.5 miles but Simon didn’t think it was smart to camp where it was sure to be a freezing night with a short supply of water. Thinking about it, I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to walk the next morning if my hip stiffened up in the night. Yet I was terrified of hiking after dark. Could we make it before sundown? We decided to press on to Lake Morena and I am so grateful for this wise decision.
So up the mountain we climbed, one horribly grueling step after another. This was torture. One of Gabriel’s books came to mind- The Little Engine That Could- and I found myself chanting under my breath, “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…!” And I nearly sprinted up the mountain as Simon mentioned above. I kept watch on the sun setting behind the opposing mountain trying to beat it to the top before it sank out of view. I was motivated. When we made it over the ridge and Lake Morena was in sight, I had the biggest sense of relief I have experienced in a long time. I was so happy when we emerged from the trail as dusk fell I can’t even describe it. There was no greater feeling than getting home and climbing into our own bed that night, knowing that 20-mile section was behind us forever!
I was so sore after this trip it took 3-4 days before I could walk normal again (and thankfully my hip was not injured!). I couldn’t imagine trying to hike after a cold sleepless night at camp.