Tramily on the trail

Pay for your ticket and don't complain

Day 4, Mt. Laguna to Tentsite at Mile 47.7

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Though I moved my tent last night to a spot I thought was away from sharp locust tree needles, I was still afraid I might poke holes into my inflatable sleep pad. The night turned chilly, and I didn’t want to wake up to find myself on a flattened pad.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I stayed warm and cozy.

Weather Overcast; temperatures mid-30s to mid-60s and breezy, then very gusty
Trail Conditions Easy with some sections of small rocks
Today's Miles 6.2 miles
Trip Miles 47.7 miles

The morning was still cold when I woke up, but I was able to sleep in a little extra. We intended to walk into town and get breakfast.

Mt. Laguna was a small town, surviving almost entirely on tourism, and right now was an off-season for visitors. According to the information we had, the Pine House Cafe didn’t open until 9 a.m., so there was no point in leaving camp too soon.

Pine House Cafe, Mt. Laguna

We arrived at the restaurant just a few minutes after 9:00, but it was closed. Signs said it would be open, but that wasn’t the case.

As a small crowd of hikers began to form, an employee came outside and explained that the cook had not come to work yet. They wouldn't begin serving food until 10:00.

Mt. Laguna store

To kill some time, we walked to Mt. Laguna's general store, which was located less than a half-mile down the road from the restaurant.

According to comments posted in the Guthook trail app, the store’s clerk had a reputation of being grumpy. This turned out to be a true assessment. He didn’t seem to appreciate us, though we were spending money and being polite.

I bought a few extra snack bars, which would give me enough until I reached Mt. Julian, the next town up the trail.

Inside Pine House Cafe

When we returned to the Pine House Cafe, it was still not open, but we didn’t have to wait long before we were allowed to enter.

With several customers entering at once, the waitress was a bit overwhelmed while trying to take food orders. Seeing that, the manager stepped in and said, “We’re going to do things differently.”

Tengo blurted out a reply, which he intended as a joke. “More professional?” he asked.

The manager stopped and gave him a stern look, and he attempted to apologize.

When we returned to our table we jokingly gave him a hard time about his comment. Tengo said, “They’re going to bring me scrambled eggs with spit, spit and spit.”

One of the items on the breakfast menu was called the Hootenanny, and that gave Tengo an idea. He suggested “Hootenanny" would be a good trail name for Luis because he still likes to shout “Woo hoo!"

Service was so slow we didn’t leave the restaurant until after 12:15 p.m. Still, I felt a little bad about how we all descended upon the business with only three employees trying to run it. I left a generous tip and Tengo did too.

As we were leaving, we saw the Smiths, the family we met on the trail yesterday. They seemed as appreciative as we had been to find the restaurant was open.

Leaving Mt. Laguna

Tengo, Bookworm, and I were slower to leave than the other tramily members. We could have continued walking north on the road, but we elected to return to the campground so we wouldn't skip any trail miles.

Tengo and Bookworm

From there, the trail began a climb along the edge of a canyon. We got views from the trail for a long stretch before it turned to a flatter section.

The trail gets flatter

Away from the canyon, the trail was easier to walk and was covered in trees. We moved quickly.

Charred trees appeared along the way, which showed a fire had burned here many years ago.

Former site of Mount Laguna Air Force Station

As the trail began to climb toward a spot called Desert View Picnic Area, I could see a radar dome. This area once housed the Mount Laguna Air Force Station.

The installation was built during the Korean War as part of a defense network of radar stations. By 1981, the Air Force decided the facility was obsolete and turned it over to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Four radar domes stood on the mountain when it was actively used, with up to 400 military personnel stationed here. Many of the buildings have since been demolished and only one radar dome remains.

Tramily members at Desert View Picnic Area

We caught up with other tramily members at the picnic area. We had been hiking for less than two hours so far. Though the picnic table offered a good spot to stop, we didn’t stay long.

Leaving Desert View Picnic Area

After our brief break, Tengo, Bookworm, and I continued on together. The trail again took us through a pine forest with some burnt trees.

Stop for view

By mid-afternoon, we had returned to a landscape of rolling hills covered by grasses, sagebrush, and other scrubby chaparral vegetation. In the distance, we could see that a wide valley lay ahead.

Snow on San Jacinto Mountains

As the valley came into better view, we could see new mountain ranges ahead. The farthest range stopped us in our tracks.

It was our first view of snow, and we presumed it was on the San Jacinto Mountains. We would have to walk nearly two weeks more before we reached those mountains, so we hoped that would give enough time for much of it to melt.

Burnt section of trail

The next section of trail had many burnt trees. Some were nothing more than blackened sticks protruding from the ground. Others were more recognizable as trees, but were bleached white.

Tramily with Orange Crush

We were taking frequent, short breaks today, and just before 3:30 p.m. was time for another. In addition to the usual group of tramily members, we were joined by a section hiker named Orange Crush. His name came from the large orange pack he carried.

Though we had not been hiking the whole day and the trail wasn’t difficult, we decided to go only a couple more miles and then begin looking for a place to camp. We needed to stop early because beyond that, our trail guide didn’t show any tent sites for another nine miles.

Dead tree

There were few live trees in this section. Most were charred black or ashen white remains of former trees. This area had been devastated by a fire in July 2013 called the Chariot Fire.

More than 7,000 acres and 149 structures were consumed by the fire. A report released nearly a year later said the fire was likely sparked by some brush that became caught in the undercarriage of a Bureau of Land Management vehicle.

Stopping to view Colorado Desert

When we reached the edge of a large canyon, we stopped again to take in views of the distant mountains, as well as the area called the Colorado Desert.

Stop at viewing platform

After about 45 more minutes of walking, we reached a wooden viewing platform. It was rebuilt after the Chariot Fire. By now the temperature was dropping and a strong wind was picking up. We knew we wouldn’t be going much farther.

Ruins of Al Bahr Shriner Camp

The viewing platform was near the Sunrise Scenic Byway, a two-lane highway that went through Mt. Laguna and over the mountains. The trail we had been walking today sometimes ran parallel to the highway.

On the other side of the road from the platform were the remains of a dining hall and lodge that were once part of Al Bahr Shriner Camp. This and most of the cabins and other structures of the camp were destroyed in the Chariot Fire. All that was left were some stone steps and a fireplace.

The Shriners operated a camp here starting in 1923. After the fire destroyed everything, they attempted to renew their lease with the U.S. Forest Service and intended to rebuild the camp, but their negotiations and ensuing litigation failed.

Tengo and Bookworm set up tents

When we reached the spot where we had thought we would camp, we discovered it was very exposed to the wind.

Bookworm said he had a hunch there was a place to pitch our tents if we backtracked a little, so he dropped his pack to begin looking. He found enough room for himself, Tengo, and me to tuck our tents into some trees less than one-tenth of amile away. The others continued on and found another protected area a short distance up the trail.

It was still windy in the trees, but less so than if we had stayed where we were. We had to use rocks to anchor our tents.

The time was only 5 p.m., but because of the gusty winds and chilly temperature, we stayed in our tents for the rest of the evening. We didn’t hike far today, but we didn't have much control over our late start and early finish.

That's just the way the trail goes sometimes.

I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain
You give something up for everything you gain
Since every pleasure's got an edge of pain
Pay for your ticket and don't complain

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