Day 1 – April 4, 2022
Mile 0.0 (Southern Border) to 20.0 (Lake Morena)
20.0 trail miles | 18.9 tracked miles | 2,898 ft elevation gain | 82 F / 28 °C
And just like that, I’m a thru hiker. While I’ve been anticipating this day for many months, it still seems a bit unreal.
I am off to an auspicious start.
I bumped into Scout and Frodo at the terminus, which was a nice surprise. Barney “Scout” Mann is a triple-crowner and former PCTA board member, and he and his wife are legendary Trail Angels, having hosted hundreds of hikers at their San Diego home over 14+ years.
The famous PCT Southern Terminus monument that I had so vividly pictured in my mind laid right there, steps away from the border wall, a poignant symbol of the onset of an adventure. I took the obligatory pictures, chatted briefly with other hikers, and registered with the PCTA host. As a thru-hiking permit holder, I received a PCT backpack tag–an already cherished possession which will hopefully make it all the way to Canada!
Armed with Frodo’s parting words, “Make wise decisions!”, I took my first northbound steps. I started hiking in a sweater, but the morning fog quickly dissipated, dashing my hopes for a cool day.
The sad border wall dominated the landscape for a while, but a more joyful landmark, the famous mile 1 marker, soon snuck up on me.
Crossing the San Diego & Arizona Railway at mile 3 was a treat for this train geek. The railroad is still technically active: the Campo Pacific Southwest Railway Museum acquired the right of way in 1986 and runs scenic rides on weekends.
The next few miles were more overgrown and rugged, and the scenery more diverse than I expected. The descent into bone-dry Hauser Canyon was a treat.
The hits kept coming: the infamous emergency red button, the dramatic view over the ascending trail on the North side of the canyon–sights that I spotted in so many YouTube videos and that I finally saw in the flesh. Of course, there’s a darker side; the emergency button is a stark reminder that the border area isn’t just a hiker’s playground. It’s a treacherous passage for humans in search for a better life.
I took a break at the bottom of Hauser Canyon and got acquainted with several other thru-hikers who are also starting their northward journey. Two German hikers didn’t know that the Canadian border is closed, and booked their return flight from Vancouver, BC. It’s fascinating how little research some folks put into preparing for a major adventure!
Back in the day, Hauser Canyon used to be a good stopping point for the night, but due to climate change, the stretch between Campo and Lake Morena is typically dry nowadays during hiking season. With this in mind, I started early in the morning so I could comfortably make it to Lake Morena County Park by late afternoon.
The hike up Hauser Canyon turned out to be easier than anticipated, and the final stretch into Lake Morena was smooth as silk. And my backpack feels super light–such is the benefit of having trained with a heavy load!
I setup camp at the Lake Morena County Park campground, which has a dedicated section for PCT hikers. I was considering walking to the nearby café for a hot meal, when two ladies waved at me. Trail magic for dinner! On day 1 no less, I am spoiled already.
After an enjoyable dinner chatting with other hikers, I made a beeline for the coin-operated showers–an extremely rare luxury on trail. Then, I retired to my palace–pardon, my Duplex.
Day one is in the books, and it was fantastic.