November 22, 2020
Sunrise Trailhead Connector to Scissors Crossing
6:40 (moving) / 8:26 (total)
Max 5,006 feet (+1,540 / -4,280)
Our original Day 4 was planned for November 8th, however, after suffering thru the cold/wind/rain elements all day long for Day 3 hike our common sense told us when we saw the weather report of mid 20’s with a 90% chance of rain/snow to postpone.
A common theme to all my PCT trail blogs has been weather. When I was running marathons I remember no matter how big/small a race was or what it was rated as a good or great marathon a decisive factor that determined the enjoyment of the race was the weather. Even more with running the temperature would affect your body’s performance. Also nicer days are so much better for the soul compared to a crappy day of weather.
Day 1 was nearly cancelled because of fire & hot temperatures. Original Day 2 was cancelled because of trail closures due to California wildfires. Day 2 was actually a pretty nice day, maybe just a little warm. Day 3 was nearly postponed because of a stormfront that moved it however we decided to ride the storm out. Original Day 4 was rescheduled because of cold/snow/wind. Mother nature had thrown about everything she had at us so it was about time we got a perfect day. It appears that winter months desert nights can get cold but it usually warms up. We had expected a cold morning in the mid 30’s all week but come day of the hike even about the time we finally made it to the trailhead close to 9 a.m. it was already in the high 40’s with only a light breeze and pleasant temperatures would remain all day with the high mid day in the low 70’s.
A challenge for all of us in 2020 has been Covid-19 which the whole world is struggling with. You would think that on the trail, especially as few hikers as we’ve seen, other than our own homes probably there isn’t a safer place to be than on the trail itself. Before heading out the next day, I was surprised Friday morning when my dad called from Ohio to let me know he heard that California just issued a statewide limited Stay at Home Order to slow the spread of Covid-19. It was a strange order taking effect beginning Saturday November 21st and lasting thru December 21st stopping gatherings between 10pm and 5am. I didn’t think this would affect our travel plans to the show must go on!
Another common theme to my PCT trail blogs have been logistics. Section hiking point to point requires careful planning and while it would be nice to travel in one vehicle have a guaranteed ride to and from the trailheads not relying on any 3rd parties provides a little piece of mind you not only get to the trailhead on time but you also have a ride when you finish the hike at the end the day. There is Driver Dave AKA I’m told as cowboy Dave, he gave us a ride Day 1 to the Southern Terminus and I’ve kept his card ever since hoping for the right time to call on him again. I actually thought we might be able to get by with a single vehicle this time if he was available but unfortunately according to him he had something going on and wrote, "I far more than you, regret that I won't be able to help you this weekend."
The other challenge each weekend is lodging. California is a big state and most of the trip so far has been in the absolute middle of nowhere. There are very few places even to stay and the ones that are open are either too expensive, a complete hole in the wall, or already booked. Since our starting point was near Mt. Laguna in November camping could be quite chili so I started looking for hotels. Julian, the closest town, was either booked or entirely out of my price range. The closest town I could find for a reservation this time around was Ramona, which is 23 miles away from Julian.
So the plan would be to drive both cars to Ramona, spend the night, and drive 23 miles into Julian. The end of hike at Scissors Crossing was out to the east side of Julian 12 miles where we would drop off one car, then drive back into Julian. The trailhead of the day was Sunrise Trailhead 9.4 miles out the south side of Julian.
Much of the fun of hiking is the traveling and seeing new places. I hadn’t been to Ramona before and didn’t know what to expect. As all previous weekends we would leave Los Angeles mid afternoon and arrive about dinner time. We arrived just before sunset and drove up and down the strip checking out the town and was recommended a place called Pete’s BBQ. I had to circle the place once to figure out where the entrance was. It ends up it’s connected to a liquor store and you actually enter threw the liquor store and the restaurant is in the back. Dinning inside was not available because of Covid so carryout it would be.
The alarm was set for 6 a.m. This was first hike since the time changed and days would be shorter. Day 3 was 16.9 miles and took 6 hours and 46 minutes where it was mostly downhill & we barely stopped to keep from getting too cold. Day 4 would be nearly similar millage, only a mile longer at 17.8 miles so taking our time with longer snack breaks it would take us 8 hours and 26 minutes. Starting at 8:48 a.m. once again we would finish our perfectly timed day right about sunset.
Rt 78 into Ramona from Escondido was a joy to drive as was 78 into Julian from Ramona. The best yet was 78 leaving Julian and heading down Banner Canyon, another very twisty road down to the bottom of the valley where the road straightens out all the way to Scissors Crossing. For what felt like again the middle of nowhere, the parking lot was just off a relatively busy state highway. We found only a couple of cars parked at the trailhead, dropped off the 2nd car and carpooled up toward Mt. Laguna to Sunrise Trailhead. Again, only a couple of cars at the trailhead. Two other hikers were heading out another trail called La Cima Trail but we would cross the road and take the .25 mile connector back to the PCT.
It was already sunny and beautiful and both Mai and I were both in good spirits for the nice weather and the new trail. We missed the views all of Day 3 after weathering the cloud and rain but today we would have 360 panoramic views in all directions the entire day long. At mile 9 there may be a water cache but we didn’t know for sure if it would be stocked so we decided to carry all the water once again for the entire day. Being a little cooler I packed conservatively with only 3 liters of water, a 32 oz Gatorade and a can of Mountain Dew. Still descending from the Mt. Laguna we had 4,280 feet of decline over the day and only 1,540 ft of incline. The first 4 miles were a gentle downhill and trails were easy to follow so we had smooth sailing. Our first truck trail crossing we could easily see the trail connector on the other side but the 2nd dirt road truck crossing we had to follow the road for a steep climb until finally we saw the trail once again on the left.
We seemed to reach the top of a ridge about mile 7 and decided it was the best view so far of the day and also found a nice pile of rocks that made for perfect seats to enjoy the view and have lunch. After lunch we started another decline that took us all the way to mile 11. We always joke about how many hikers we may see during the day. So far after we left the truck trail we only heard the sounds of a ATV tearing up the trail but couldn’t actually see it. About 9 miles was supposed to be a water cache but we were distracted because we finally crossed paths with a couple up for a short hike. There was a back country road which we saw their parked Toyota Rav4 and said our hellos, they were only doing a short out and back hike. Probably the road they drove in on was the same road the Trail Angels would use to stock the water cache. Had we started 30 minutes earlier we would have completely missed this couple and would have had the entire trail to ourselves the entire day long.
Never have we been able to see our destination off in the distance so we had to go by GPS to know that we were getting near our vehicle at the end of the trail. The Valley de San Felipe is a vast flat area surrounded by mountains on all sides and simply breath taking. We had brief glimpses of the parts of the valley way before mile 12, but probably starting around mile 12 we could first see the destination of where our 2nd car was parked off in the distance. We could see it pretty clearly six miles away. The car was parked on the closest side of the valley and we could see all the way across to the other side of the valley so we estimated visibility at least 35-50 into the valley.
Seeing the car if we made a straight shot toward the car it would be a shorter route, but the trail hugs the side of the mountain and traverses all the way around it’s edge. Just when you think you could descend all the way into the base of the valley the trail plays a trick on you and climbs a couple different pitches before mile twelve and after falling down a little more ascends again all the way thru mile 14. Although the last 4 miles will be downhill it’s discouraging as the trail traverses the side of the mountain it takes you uphill and seemingly away from the final destination.
No matter how good of shape you are in 7-8 hours on your feet of non-stop hiking and you get a little tired. While even downhill or flat it was nice there were no challenges the last 4 mile of the hike. Like every other day with the change of elevation it’s amazing the difference in the scenery and vegetation along the way. The final stretch along the desert floor we saw many more cactus of all kinds. Another great feat for the day, even past long sections with no signs, we never got lost or went off trail.
The final part of the day we had a beautiful sunset and snapped a few more great pictures to add to the days collection. We found 3 gallons of water that were left for another group of hikers with some nice messages made with rocks and sticks next to their drop off. We didn’t see that much wildlife, but at sunset saw a few rabbits. We crossed a wash that was completely dry next to the bridge but didn’t explore too much. I later read that there was a water cache under that bridge. It turned fully dark just as we made it to the last small section above the trailhead after crossing I-78 and we started to see some new kinds of cactus.
The car was once again safe all day long and we headed back to Julian about 6pm and were delighted to see the not only the Julian Café and Bakery were open but they were also seating outside and we could get a warm meal along with a few pies to bring home. The last order of business was driving back to the trailhead to retrieve my vehicle and then the long drive home.