Day 9 – April 12, 2022
Mile 119.6 to 140.2 (Nance Canyon Tentsite)
20.6 trail miles | 20.1 tracked miles | 2,559 ft elevation gain | 66.2 F / 19 °C
The wind howled all night. We woke up to dreary and menacing weather, which put a damper on everyone’s motivation. Even Michael, who’s always the first to be up and ready to go, and typically stares at his slower brethren in deafening silence, suggested that we stay sheltered for a bit. I was more than happy to oblige.
We finally emerged around 8am. The air was dry and crisp. Temperatures ultimately stayed cool all day and it never rained—it was perfect hiking weather, and we were able to forego the usual siesta.
The trail was initially smooth and easy to follow, prior to becoming a bit more overgrown. We climbed steadily until lunch time, but were rewarded with gorgeous views. My pictures don’t do the scenery justice.
While green seems to be the dominant tone, the area is extremely dry. The only vegetation consists of shrubs and desert plans, a far cry from yesterday’s lush forest.
As usual, every seasonal stream was already dry. I can’t count my blessings enough for hiking this section in mild weather. Cool temperatures mean less water to carry, and thus less weight on my back.
The sole water source deemed reliable over 16 miles was again man-made, courtesy of a local resident turned part-time trail angel.
While it feels very remote, this section of the PCT often skirts private land. At mile 127.3, a short .2 spur trail leads to “Mike’s Place”, a private enclave within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Mike’s Place feels out of this world. There, in the middle of the desert, stood three rusty silos that seemed to have survived a nuclear holocaust. I didn’t venture much further, but I spotted what looked like a junkyard in the distance.
We had heard rumors of trail magic—beer, possibly burgers—should Mike, the owner, be around. But there was no Mike in sight, just a few weary hikers resting and filling up their water bottles. The place was odd, but I am certainly grateful for the water. We loaded up enough for the afternoon and the night, spent a moment chatting with other thru-hikers, then stepped back into the wilderness.
Six miles later, we left San Diego county and entered Riverside County! While it’s rather inconsequential, I suppose it’s a tangible sign of progress. Riverside County is on the outskirts of the sprawling LA metro.
Shortly thereafter, a sign pointed to Tule Springs, one of the many water sources that used to be viable before climate change got into overdrive. According to comments from previous hikers, Tule Springs is still trickling, but it’s swampy and difficult to access. We passed.
Our hiking app mentioned an old concrete rain water cistern at mile 139.5, minutes away from our intended campsite. According to user comments, it is the stuff of legends: a dilapidated structure where rodents meet their fate. Two PCT returners who we’ve been hiking with on and off confirmed that it was probably wise to stay away.
I figured I would check it out anyway. I like having a bit of extra water for the night; it’s nice not to have to ration and be able to wash up somewhat.
The rumors were not exaggerated. The crumbling cistern was almost empty, and the interior looked straight out of a horror movie. The cover cracked as lay down in at attempt to reach the deceptively low water level. Suddenly, a snake rose out of the water in front of me. I jumped back and dropped a few expletives. The snake wasn’t impressed.
It took determination, or possibly stupidity to finish the job, but I prevailed. Ultimately, I could have done without extra water, but I enjoyed the adventure in a twisted way.
The final brief stretch, bathed in glorious golden light, gave Mediterranean vibes and reminded me of Israel.
Nance Canyon Tentsite is our stopping point for the night. The creek appears to be permanently dry, but the canyon offers excellent protection against the wind, and I look forward to a restful night. The actual tent sites are few and far between, though, and we had to play PCT jigsaw to fit all our tents in a tight space.
A few other hikers showed up, and we all got together for dinner and great conversation. I’m enjoying the social aspect of the trail. Yet, the evening was short: the famous “hiker midnight”, which is traditionally around 8pm, came a bit earlier tonight as the sun quickly disappeared behind the canyon walls.
We are all looking forward to lunch at Paradise Valley Cafe tomorrow, an obligatory stop near the trail. I’ve had visions of BIG JUICY BURGERS all day!