Home Pacific Crest TrailPCT California PCT: The Highest Point

PCT: The Highest Point

by Lisa

Day 3: Kitchen Creek Road to Desert View Picnic Site – 12.6 miles

I didn’t take for granted my opportunity to escape to the desert in December to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Winter storms were starting to blow in to the coasts of Washington while I got to enjoy warmth and clear skies in Southern California.

I was however surprised to wake up in the foothills of Mount Laguna and find frost on the ground. My third morning of this section started off with my husband and I bundled in all of our layers as we decamped and hit the trail. Thankfully our first couple miles were in full sunlight allowing us to thaw out a bit. We briefly had a view south-east to distant plateaus filled with large power-generating windmills. There were also some interesting vertical rock formations nearby that we theorized were created by tectonic shifts (the area’s littered with faults).

Windmills on a distant ridge
Unique rock formations

We dropped into a cool canyon lined with cottonwood trees. There were still some frosty patches where the sun hadn’t yet reached. Back out into the sunshine we took a short break before tackling our biggest climb for the day – 800 feet in 3 miles. Our goal was to reach a camp at a large old live oak tree where we could rest and enjoy our lunch.

Dan in the shade of a big old oak
A rainbow of colours in Long Canyon

After lunch we had a much more gradual climb following a creek up Long Canyon. The canyon had some fresh green from the recent rains however the oak trees weren’t the evergreen type and looked quite skeletal.

Another mile and 400 feet higher we caught our first glimpse of pine trees. We were out of the desert and into the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. This area receives the most precipitation of San Diego county with about 20 inches of rain annually and even a few inches of snow most winters.

Reaching the pine forest of Laguna Mountain

Our last few miles of the day were on soft trail under the shade of many pines. As we rounded a corner we were greeted by epic views of the desert to the east. Even the Salton Sea was visible, 40 miles distant.

We reached our ending spot for the day just after 3:00 pm. We’d pushed ourselves a bit throughout the day to arrive earlier and meet our support crew for the next couple of days – Dan’s parents!

The Salton Sea in the far distance

We’d originally asked some San Diegan friends to support us for this section but they had a last-minute business trip and couldn’t help us out. Our next call was to my in-laws who live just north of Los Angeles. My father-in-law enjoys reading about all of my hiking adventures and had offered his support. After we chatted in November, Dave and my mother-in-law Cathy, decided to book a cabin in the area and enjoy some time in nature themselves.

Historic downtown Julian (photo: Wikimedia)

Dave picked us up around 3:30 from a nearby picnic area. We popped into the Laguna Mountain Store where we’d left a resupply box a few days earlier, then headed north to the town of Julian at warp speed (aka 50 mph).

As per thru-hiker tradition our first stop was at the Julian Beer Company where we could get a slice of pizza, a pint (or two) of craft beer, and a wifi connection. From there it was a 15-minute drive to the beautiful log cabin where we had the privilege to stay for the next couple nights. We cleaned ourselves up, relaxed, and shared stories of our adventure over a delicious home-cooked meal.

Our cabin in the hills above Julian

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