Day 4: Marathon to Water

4 April 2021
Mount Laguna to Rodriguez Spur
PCT Mile 41.5 to 68.4

Half Cookie and I slept great last night — so great that we both woke up before the 5am alarm this morning. That gave us some extra time to get ready and proceed cautiously through the marine layer fog that rolled into San Diego this morning.

By 6am we were in Mount Laguna saying goodbye again. But not before we spotted our first wildlife outside the visitor’s center.

Jerusalem cricket

Half Cookie headed out and I walked the road back to the PCT. For the next couple of hours I retraced a route I have taken many times both in day hikes and backpacks. It was interesting to see it with fresh eyes, now that it is just a small part of a much longer voyage for me.

Ahhh Laguna again
Pretty flowers
Amazing views of the Anza Borrego desert
Flowy trail
Garnet Peak
No more berries!
Shadow Selfie

Today’s main challenge was water. So this is an excellent time to address another question from my friend Elbow Maven:

“how do you get water on the trail? Sounds like there are stations? Is that right? or do you use like creek water and use tablets?”

For most of the trail there are natural sources like springs, creeks, and lakes, but we also sometimes get water from trailhead faucets, campground systems, horse troughs, cow ponds, underground cisterns, established water caches (strategically placed water bottles), and sometimes caches placed by trail angels (altruists who help hikers) or by the hikers themselves.

My first water source today was a faucet at Penney Pines trailhead. Since that was only six miles away, I carried just one liter of water to start this morning.

The Penney Pines faucet

But sometimes — especially in the desert and especially in drought years like we are having now — these sources run dry. The next source was a horse trough at Pioneer Mail picnic area, and I had mixed information about whether there was water in it. Many thru-hikers use an app called Guthook Guides where hikers crowdsource information about campsites and water sources. And this what I saw:


I was sufficiently concerned about this that I decided not to rely on that source. But Sunrise Trailhead was also dry, which meant the next water source wasn’t for another 20 miles and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do such a long day on top of the 6 I already walked.

So I filled up with 6 liters of water at Penney Pines. That’s 12 pounds! It almost doubled my total pack weight. I normally only do one liter per five miles so 20 miles would be 4 liters, but I usually budget more for hot days, dry days, and days where I am “dry camping” away from water.

Alas, when I got to Pioneer Mail, it turns out the more recent reports were correct.


That means I carried 10 pounds for 4 miles for no reason! But the good news is that by the time I got here I felt good enough to push for the water source that was now only 16 miles away. That would make today a marathon, but it would all be downhill. I dumped a liter of my water into the trough (someone will use it!) and pressed on.

Notice that the water above is labeled “non-potable.” That means it needs to be treated and lots of sources in SoCal are the same. I use chlorine dioxide drops, but most thru-hikers just filter.

Finally, when I passed the turnoff for Sunrise trailhead, I noticed many hikers had cached water for themselves since the trough there was dry. They drive there, write their name and date on it, return to the trail, and hope it’s there when they arrive.


Whew! Who knew water was so complicated?

Anyhoo, back at Penney Pines I met GroundScore and Berk, two thru-hikers who tried a southbound PCT hike last year but got pushed off trail by all the fires. We seem to be going the same pace and it was really nice hanging out with them at the faucet.

GroundScore and Berk

I also “leapfrogged” with a nice woman called SnakeSkin. Sometimes I passed her and sometimes she passed me.

I took a nice break at Pioneer Mail picnic area.

Making progress!

The next bit of trail to Kwaymii Point follows an old road dramatically perched on a cliff and is now used as a site for memorials.

The old road
Ride free

It was here that I got my first distant view of Mount San Jacinto, which I plan to climb where the PCT passes it.

I’m coming!

The rest of the walk today was windy but flowy and downhill and not nearly as hot as I feared.

And wildflowers!

Bush poppy
Blue dicks
Smallseed sandmat
Strigose bird’s foot trefoil
Western wallflower
Southern umbrellawort

As I neared my 26th mile for the day Granite Mountain loomed over the valley where I would spend the night.

Granite Mountain
Cold-soaked rice and beans (yum!)
Home for the night by the water tank
View from the water tank

Hike-u for today:

Hiking with a ‘Why’
I’ve walked here before
But now it feels different
Since there’s a mission

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Do you have to look up a lot of the names of flora and fauna, or do you keep all that stuff stored in your head?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      I use iNaturalist. You submit a photo and they have a machine learning algorithm that suggests possible species, each with several photo examples. It only works when I have cell service.


      1. Cool. Looks like it covers Australia, so I’m gonna check it out.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Alicia says:

      JimmyJam – it all looks so beautiful and you’re killing it! Please be safe!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Leslie A says:

    Gorgeous photos! I love the flower & animal classifications. As a fellow San Diegan, I’m enjoying following your journey – I found it while looking for current water conditions along Agua Caliente Creek, where I plan to take my daughter for her first backpacking trip in 2 weeks. You should have passed there by now, so I hope you’ll note if there’s water in the creek! 🙂 Best Wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      Thanks! Guthook says there is water in Agua Caliente right now. I’ll be there Wednesday to see for myself! 🙂


  3. Happy to see that you are using the adjective “flowy” properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      I learned that term from you!


  4. BarnFinder says:

    Loving the blogs! Is the number of other thru-hikers you’re seeing about what you expected? And where you you estimate you are in relation to the “herd”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      I would say we are about 30 a day now and quickly rising. I am probably behind 30% of the hikers, but early ones are more likely to drop out, so I expect to be among the first 10% to enter the Sierra. For a nice comparison, check out the list of redditors on the PCT.


  5. Alicia says:

    JimmyJam – it all looks so beautiful and you’re killing it! Please be safe!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s