Breaking New (to me) Ground

Day 2: Agua Caliente Creek to Combs Peak Ridge

Trail miles 114.7-129.2

May 4, 2019

I was sluggish in the cold morning as I brushed condensation from my tent and quilt. A pain I’d felt the night before in my lower back had migrated to my hip. Perhaps my new pack isn’t sitting properly and is taxing a particular muscle more than others.

I followed the trail through the shady canyon along Agua Caliente Creek, stopping to filter water before the dry stretch to Mike’s place (Mike is a trail angel who allows hikers to access a water tank on his property). Channeling my inner camel, I headed out of the shade and up into the Southern California sun, laden with four liters of water.

The trail climbed out of the canyon to an elevation of 5000’, and here I must give enormous credit to the people responsible for planning, building, and maintaining the trail, because the 1800’ climb was so gentle as to be nearly imperceptible. Along the way, I was treated to innumerable wildflowers and their tireless pollinators. Of the flowers I saw, I could name wild pea, indian paintbrush, and manzanita, but many others were unrecognizable to me.

The hills I hiked through were bristling with chaparral and studded with granitic boulders. At midday, I rested in the shade of one such boulder and spread my sodden gear over the nearby manzanita bushes. (Camping in a canyon by a creek leads to some pretty major condensation inside a tent, no matter how good your ventilation is.) Though my gear was dry in minutes, I wasn’t ready to move for a full hour.

As I sat there under my rock, the contents of my pack draped around me like wares at some strange garage sale, a couple hikers passed and stopped to ask if I was ok. I told them that the shade was quite nice and that I was feeling fine. I didn’t mention the pain in my hip.

When I did finally get going again, I felt refreshed and ready for the next challenge. But as I made my way towards Mike’s place, my hip only hurt worse, and the pain combined with the sun to sap my energy. By the time I reached the water tank on Mike’s property, I was ready for a serious break.

In addition to being a highly convenient place to stock up on water before another dry stretch of trail, Mike’s place holds special significance for me. It is the place where my dad and sister picked me up when I abandoned my first hike. I remember how defeated and foolish I felt as I waited there, unable to hike farther after just a week on the trail. Before I left, I signed the trail register, thanking Mike and the property caretaker for their help.

This year, the caretaker was new and only half of the register from 2014 was on the property, so I was unable to find my first note. I rested in the shade for a while, but eventually decided to continue up the trail to camp on the ridge below Combs Peak.

Considering how still the night before had been, and believing the breeze blowing across the ridge to be katabatic (and thus susceptible to slowing after the temperature stabilizes at night), I decided to cowboy camp for a better view of the stars.

I spread out my groundcloth, weighing out the corners with my four liters of water for the following morning’s hike, and crawled under my quilt as the evening light faded from the sky.

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