Thursday, June 1, 2017
Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus – Campo, CA
Mile 0 – Mile 3.0 (6 miles round trip)
Clear, sunny, mid 70s
Today was a big day and I’m betting this blog entry will be pretty long. Courtney had a conference in San Diego and I tagged along, as neither of us had been to San Diego before. I rented a car one morning while she was at the conference and drove the hour or so down to Campo and the Southern Terminus of the PCT.
One day I hope to thru-hike this entire trail. For today, I had to be content with the first three miles. I have been looking forward to this for several years now and the experience, as short as it was, did not disappoint.
I got out to the monument at about 10am. It wasn’t hot, which was nice, considering it’s the desert in June. There’s not much to Campo, as you would expect, and it was strange driving through town to the border. At first I drove up to the border wall and to the back of the monument, but there is now a chicken wire fence between the wall and the monument, so you have to approach on foot from down the hill. There’s no real parking area, just a bunch of intersecting dirt roads, so I improvised and it turned out fine.
There was a man parked right next to the monument when I got there and I thought at first he was part of the Border Patrol, but it turns out his name was Dave and he had driven down just to see the monument. He is in his mid-60s and lives somewhere about 400 miles north of the border in California and just loves the trail. He said he plans to do some trail angel-ing later on in the season up around Walker Pass, Seiad Valley, and several other places. Trail angels are people who go out of their way to help out hikers on the trail, whether that means stocking water caches, leaving coolers full of food and drinks at strategic places, or sometimes so much more. Some take hikers into their homes, provide meals, showers, laundry, and rest. Trail angels are amazing people.
I signed the trail register and Dave took my picture at the monument. I was pretty starstruck at the beginning and the whole situation was pretty surreal for a while. According to the register, there was actually one other person who had started the trail that morning, who I believe was a thru-hiker. June 1st is generally a pretty late start date for a North-bound thru hike, but there is record snow this year in the Sierra, so I think some people may be trying to let it thaw out a bit, hence the later start. The first hikers in the register were from April 16th, which is usually right at the peak of when the majority of hikers start. Usually there are a lot that start during the first two weeks of April as well, but not this year.
I also got to use the demo version of Guthook’s PCT app, which worked fantastically. It is super easy and essentially shows where you are in relation to the trail as well as elevation profiles and also has tons of points of interest (water sources, road crossings, campsites, etc) that are very helpful when hiking a 2,655 mile long trail.
The trail starts a bit ambiguously. Many hikers apparently start out going the wrong direction (more on that later), but I had researched the path and knew where to go. Another thing I was not expecting was that the monument actually is at the top of a big hill at the border and the first quarter mile of the trail is going down that hill. I had always assumed it was just kinda flat, but that’s not the case.
There are two orange cones about 100 yards in that serve as the first official trail markers, kind of like a starting line. The trail was sandy and dry with multitudes of rabbits, ground squirrels, and lizards constantly darting hither and thither.
As you enter Campo, the trail goes right alongside the road and actually joins the road for a stretch, so you are immediately hiking through town next to people’s houses. It then turns off and starts to go up into the desert hills.
The Mile 1 sign is a PCT hiker tradition as well and is strategically placed just on the other side of a boulder at a turn in the trail, so it catches you by surprise.
Again, I expected the beginning of the trail to be a lot flatter than it turned out to be and it actually is somewhat tough right off the bat. There are some decent elevation changes and you get into the wilderness pretty quickly. The first road crossing is at Highway 94, about 2.3 miles in.
After the road crossing the first water source is at a wooden bridge in a slightly wooded section. It’s not great, but I suppose if you somehow have gone through a ton of water in the first couple of miles, it would be useful.
The trail winds up through the hills where it reaches a railroad and this marked the farthest I would go today. I hung out for a couple of minutes contemplating what it would be like to just keep going to the end. One day.
I turned around and headed back the way I came. I averaged about 3 mph, which is a relatively quick pace, so I was actually somewhat tired when I got back to the monument. On the way back I ran into the only other hiker I would see. I asked where he was headed and when his reply came “Canada” I wished him good luck. He seemed a bit green, but there’s a steep learning curve out there. I hope he does well and reaches the border.
Back at the monument, Dave was still there, hanging out in his truck just enjoying the day. He told me that the hiker had initially started off in the wrong direction (walking parallel to the border wall) and when he got to the top of a hill, a Border Patrolman picked him up, explained his error, and drove the hiker back down to the monument to try again. This apparently happens a lot. We both had a bit of a chuckle at this, but to be fair, the monument is oriented in a way that it gives the impression that’s the way the trail goes.
I talked with Dave a bit more and then walked back down the hill to where I had parked my car and ate a sandwich I packed in for lunch. This was quite the experience for me, despite being so short in length, and I can’t wait to do other sections of the trail and eventually, hopefully, the entire length, border to border.
A couple of different map angles: