PCT 2019: Day 34, Tentsite at Mile 411.7 to Messenger Flat Campground

Baby, don't you do it

View through burnt trees

Last night’s campsite was perched on a ledge overlooking a wide valley. It was located on a slope of Pacifico Mountain.

The trail went around, not over the mountain, which was part of a large burn area. Some of the trees here were still standing and alive, though deeply charred. Others were little more than burnt stumps.

DateSaturday, April 27, 2019
WeatherClear skies with a high temperature in the upper 70s
Trail ConditionsOvergrown in a couple spots, long climbs aren’t steep
Today's Miles18.7
Trip Miles431.6

Two significant wildfires damaged this area in the last few years.

One was the Station Fire, which was started in 2009 by an arsonist. Two firefighters were killed and more than 160-thousand acres were burned, making it the largest California wildfire of that year.

The other fire was the Sand Fire, which burned 41,432 acres and killed two residents in 2016.

As we were preparing to leave this morning, Just Awesome told me something that horrified me. He said last night after I went to bed, a Korean hiker named Bambi started a big campfire, about 75 to 100 yards from where we were camped.

Just Awesome, Falls, and Captain walked over to talk to Bambi. They wanted to make sure Bambi knew to put out the fire before going to bed. That somewhat relieved me, but I was still shocked to learn someone would start a campfire in this area. The damage from the wildfires was obvious.

More than that, I found this news disturbing because campfires are prohibited unless they are contained within a fire ring in an established campground.

As thru-hikers, we were required to obtain a California burn permit in addition to our permit for the Pacific Crest Trail. Despite its name, the burn permit didn't give permission to build a campfire. It only permitted the use of a propane camp stove. More than anything, the permit was a way to educate hikers about wildfire dangers.

Descending on barren trail

We didn’t see any evidence of a smoldering fire when we left the campsite.

The trail took a smooth and easy route around Pacifico Mountain, then down the side of the mountain. We walked through a section of charred trees before entering a barren ridge.

There were no trees, though many stood here before the fires.

View of Mill Creek Fire Station

Because no trees were here to block the view, I could see down into a large valley. Mill Creek Fire Station was in this view and that was where the trail would take me.

Though I liked the view, the lack of trees meant there was no shade. I was getting much warmer hiking down the trail.

When I reached the fire station I was glad to find a water spigot there. I filled up my water bottles and cooled off in the shade of a privy built for hikers near the fire station.

While there I talked to two section hikers who were waiting for a shuttle driver to pick them up.

Hot, sandy trail

After leaving the fire station, the trail continued the descent before beginning a long, hot and sandy climb.

Trail through burnt trees

The trail entered another stand of burnt trees. Seeing them made me realize how large the fire zone was.

Long view from trail

Once again there were no trees or shrubs to offer cover from the sun. I had expected to find trail conditions like this in the desert, but that didn’t make the heat any more tolerable. I was just glad my early start date meant I was not hiking here in June when it would be much hotter than now.

Overgrown trail

Eventually, I began to see some green foliage, too much in fact. Now I had to be on the lookout for poodle dog bush.

A small stream was the reason why the trail was lined with green. There wasn’t much water trickling in it, and for the most part I could only hear it, not see it.

Rattlesnake at side of trail

The trail followed the stream. On the left side of the narrow path was a steep slope going up. On the stream side of the trail, the slope continued steeply down.

Suddenly, I heard the rattle of an annoyed rattlesnake. I froze because I knew it was telling me it didn’t want me here. This was the snake's trail, not mine.

I didn’t have a choice to walk around the snake. The trail was too narrow and the slopes on each side were too steep to easily slip by. To continue forward I would have to remain on the trail, so I attempted to coax the snake away by tossing small rocks in its direction.

I didn’t want to hit the snake and I certainly didn’t want to annoy it beyond motivating it to leave.


The snake wouldn’t budge, so I tossed a couple more rocks, this time a little closer. Now it was irritated and let me know with another rattle. It still would not move.

After checking again to make sure I had no way to walk around the snake, I threw another handful of pebbles directly at the snake. When they landed in front of the snake they kicked up some sand. This was finally annoying enough to convince the rattler to leave.

It reluctantly slithered away from the trail and I was able to continue walking.

Just Awesome, Falls and Captain at stream

Less than a mile farther I found some of the Woohoo Crew had stopped where the stream was flowing better and easier to access. They said they ran into the same territorial rattlesnake.

Then Bambi arrived at the stream. Someone mentioned the fire he started last night. Realizing this was the hiker Just Awesome told me about, I emphatically shook my head and said a long, drawn-out, “No-o-o-o!”

I knew Bambi's English was not very good, so I intended to be as clear as possible. I wanted to make sure he understood open fires were not allowed in California. To add to the point, I gestured toward the burnt trees standing all around us.

He tried to explain he had a California fire permit, but I told him as clearly as possible that the permit didn’t allow for fire building, only stoves.

I think he was still a little confused, but I did my best to get the point across.

Trail on ridge

We gulped down some water and filtered more to get us to our campsite. Then we began a long climb up a ridge.

Poodle dog bush

I didn’t see any poodle dog earlier where I had expected to see it, but now larges clumps appeared along the next segment of trail.

Trail ascending through trees

The trail’s ascent continued into an area of large trees that were damaged but not destroyed by fire. The climb was not especially steep, but it was the most difficult of the day.

The trail went up nearly 1,000 feet in a little more than three miles as it headed up Mt. Gleason. It didn’t go over the summit, which was used from the 1950s to early 1970s as a base for the U.S. Army’s Nike anti-aircraft missile system.

View of mountains and valleys

The final mile headed back down the mountain for about 500 feet in elevation. From there I saw a range of mountains and valleys through a late afternoon haze. Ahead of me were the last of the San Gabriel Mountains. Beyond them was the Mojave Desert, though obscured by the haze.

After reaching the campground I needed several minutes to find a suitable place to pitch my tent. I could only find three choices.

One was on a slope. If I pitched my tent there, I thought, I would be rolling out of my tent all night long. Another option was littered with broken glass.

My third choice was next to a patch of poodle dog bush. This wasn’t an appealing option, but I decided it was the best because I could see where the bushes were.

Or at least I hoped I could see where all of the bushes were.

Tramily preparing dinner at a picnic table

As the tramily members gathered at a picnic table for dinner, a couple of friends arrived, Gromit and Simple Man. They were with a hiker from Sweden.

I warned them about the broken glass, so they chose the slope for pitching their tents.

The campground wasn’t an appealing spot, but it had a clean privy. And the forest didn’t burn down overnight. I’ll always put that in the plus column.

Baby, don't you do it
Don't do it, babe
Don't break my heart
Don't do it, babe
Don't break my heart
Please don't do it, babe
Don't you break my heart


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.