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Day 3 – April 6, 2022

Mile 32.6 (Cibbets Flat Campground) to 47.8 (Storm Canyon, north of Mt. Laguna)

15.2 trail miles | 16.3 tracked miles | 2,969 ft elevation gain | 77 F / 25 °C

So far everyday has been a bigger high.

My new-found tramily and I set on a modest goal for the day: the plan was to hike just 10 miles to Mt. Laguna, then resupply and stay overnight at the Mt. Laguna Burnt Rancheria developed campground, which is equipped with showers.

You might be wondering why there’s such an abundance of “luxury” camping options in the area. That’s because dispersed camping in the Cleveland National Forest is not allowed without a permit, so the Forest Service has invested in above-average infrastructure at designated sites. As a PCTA permit holder, I’m not bound by any camping restrictions, but since there is little to no water outside the official campsites, dispersed camping has limited appeal anyhow.

As it turns out, 10 miles isn’t much when both the terrain and temperature are relatively gentle. I should have known, since I hiked the stretch from Cibbets Flat to Mt. Laguna in half a day back in October.

And thus, we arrived around lunch time. I was ahead of the pack and took a detour through the nearby desert view trail, earning an extra bonus mile or so (which, sadly, I forgot to track), then reunited with the rest of the gang at a local restaurant. The owners turned out to be French, so I indulged in a goat cheese salad. As a self-proclaimed goat cheese salad connoisseur, I’d rate my meal a paltry B+, but then again, it was an unexpected treat in rural California.

Goat cheese salad (in case that wasn’t obvious)

Over lunch, a trail name was officially bestowed upon me: “Looper”—a nod to the few extra miles that I inadvertently hiked over the last couple days, and most notably my ego-crushing adventure on the loop road that circles Boulder Oaks campground. After weighing my options for a brief moment, I decided that I like it. And thus, Looper I shall be until Canada.

After a leisurely lunch, we chilled outside the general store across the street, and I picked up my first resupply box, which I had sent myself just a few days ago. It was somewhat reassuring to find out that my package had indeed made it to its destination!

Considering that the day was still young, and in light of the fact that the Burnt Rancheria campground was somehow closed for an obscure reason—shattering our dreams of a refreshing shower—we decided to push further north.

The trail hugged the desert all along, albeit at a safe distance and elevation, offering dramatic vistas of the expansive barren landscape.

Desert view near Mt. Laguna
Willow, yours truly, and Joe

We settled six miles further at a backcountry campsite near Storm Canyon 6. The nearest water source was a few hundreds of yards further up the trail, so Ky and I embarked on a water collection expedition at golden hour. The glorious scenery bathed in the warm hues of the nascent sunset, the company, and the joy of a light backpack on this brief spur were truly elating.

Golden hour at Storm Canyon

I took advantage of the fresh water stream to freshen up as much as possible, then returned to our campsite.

Tomorrow, I will have my first “true” desert experience as the trail veers into a much dryer area. And as far as I understand, the water situation is dire.

Campsite near Storm Canyon 6

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