PCT 2019: Day 4, Mt. Laguna to Tentsite at Mile 47.7

Pay for your ticket and don't complain

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

Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be the case. I stayed warm and cozy.

DateThursday, March 28, 2019
WeatherOvercast; temperatures mid 30s to mid 60s and breezy, then very gusty
Trail ConditionsEasy with some sections of small rocks
Today's Miles6.2
Trip Miles47.7

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.

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.

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 Guthooks trail app, the clerk here 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.

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.”

Hearing that, Tengo blurted out what 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 joked and gave him a hard time about the incident. 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, so I left a generous tip. 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.

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.

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

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

There were signs that a fire had burned here many years ago.

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.

There had been four radar domes on the mountain when up to 400 military personnel were stationed here. Many of the buildings have been demolished and only one dome remains.

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

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

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.

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

It was our first view of snow, which appeared on the San Jacinto Mountains. It would be nearly two weeks before we reached those mountains, so we hoped that would give enough time for much of it to melt.

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.

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 a just couple more miles and then begin looking for a place to camp. We were going to have to stop early because beyond that, our trail guide didn’t show any tent sites for another nine miles.

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.

As we continued to walk we reached the edge of a large canyon. We stopped again to take in views of the distant mountains, as well as the Colorado Desert.

After about 45 minutes of walking we reached a wooden viewing platform, which had been rebuilt after the Chariot Fire. We stopped here for more views, but by now the temperature was beginning to drop and a strong wind was picking up.

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 had sometimes run 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 had operated a camp here since 1923. After the fire they attempted to renew their lease with the U.S. Forest Service so the camp could be rebuilt, but their negotiations and ensuing litigation failed.

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. Less than one-tenth mile away he found enough room for himself, Tengo and I to tuck our tents into some trees. The others continued on and found another protected area a short distance away.

It was still windy in the trees, but less so. We used 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 had not hiked far today, but we hadn't had much control over a late start and an 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

From “Silvio” by Robert Hunter and Bob Dylan

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