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Day 8 – April 11, 2022

Mile 101.1 (Barrel Spring) to 119.6

18.5 trail miles | 18.0 tracked miles | 2,929 ft elevation gain | 66.2 F / 19 °C

The day started with a bang. I spilled my entire coffee while making breakfast in a daze. At least, my tent is unscathed; the dramatic incident took place in the vestibule. And dramatic it is indeed—I have exactly one coffee packet per day, so I had to forego my daily caffeine infusion.

With great distress come major decisions. I have to to simplify my morning routine. Making hot coffee takes time—and I’m slow enough in the morning already—and it consumes fuel. Oatmeal is equally problematic—I have only one pot, and besides I consistently neglect to soak the oats overnight.

Therefore, from now on, I shall switch to breakfast bars and drink cold coffee.

Armed with the satisfaction of having made a life-altering decision before 7am, I left the Barrel Spring campsite and crossed the Montezuma Valley Road.

It was like a gateway to another world. The rugged desert scenery had made way for an expansive meadow and grasslands. This stubborn ribbon of dirt called the Pacific Crest Trail stretched as far as the eye can see.

It was a chilly morning. Temperatures dropped dramatically overnight, which turned out to be a blessing on this very exposed segment.

Soon we reached Eagle Rock, a natural rock formation that looks like an eagle taking flight, rising out of the landscape. It looked much more impressive than I expected, and it’s no wonder that it is a popular local hiking destination, though the site was relatively quiet on this crisp and cloudy morning.

A few other thru-hikers whom we met in Julian soon showed up, and we took an extended break. Alex “Chewy” snapped a photo of me while I was taping my feet. “It’s not all rainbows and butterflies”, he pointed out. Some aspects of thru-hiking are indeed better left untold.

Eagle Rock!

We resumed our journey and set our sights on Warner Springs, a minor town just a few miles further up north. According to our hiking app, Warner Springs has two points of interest for hikers: the community center, which offers various services such as bucket showers and porta potties; and the gas station, which can serve as a resupply point in a pinch.

In my decaffeinated state, I started to fantasize about gross gas station coffee. Visions of vile, dubious black liquid on a hot plate were the most soothing mental image and fueled me through the seemingly infinite meadow.

The Warner Springs Community Resource Center.

As it turns out, the Community Resource Center was closed, and the gas station was one mile off the trail, in the center of town, so we just kept going. Warner Springs, you broke my heart.

The section north of Warner Springs was luscious. Sand aside, I felt like I was almost back home in the Washington state. We walked under the shade of sycamores, cottonwoods, willows, and coast live oak trees. I even officially crossed my first mighty river on the PCT—the two-inch deep Agua Caliente Creek. In all seriousness, it was incredible to have readily available water after a few days in the desert.

My first water crossing. What an adventure.

Eventually, we started a long and somewhat tedious climb, while temperatures rose dramatically. Familiar desert landscapes started to unfold again, even though green remained the dominant tone. I don’t think I had ever walked through so many dramatically different ecosystems in a day.

We stopped for the night at a backcountry site at mile 119.6. At 4,455 feet of elevation, it is our second highest campsite so far.

The clouds are moving in fast, and I believe I can see rain in the distance. I have secured the biggest rocks I could find to tether my tent to the ground. My spot has some minimal protection from a small tree, but it’s likely to be a windy night. A few section hikers joined us after dinner and we managed to make room for everybody.

The clouds are menacing, and it’s raining in the distance.

We’re technically not dry camping again tonight, as there is a spring .2 miles away on a steep, rugged abandoned dirt road. After dinner, one of the section hikers caught me mostly unclothed while I was freshening up at the spring—he let out a gasp as he was shivering in his puffy jacket. I am committed to staying clean as much as I can!

Backcountry camping at 119.6.

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