Squiggle Engineering

In a comment on a previous post, Dan asked what the hiker term was for “a long, sinuous, snakelike alignment like from Idyllwild….” Thank you Dan for your question and the excellent use of sibilants. The short answer is “Squiggles,” which are the modern replacement for the historic and sensible “Switchbacks.” The PCT is a patchwork of trails connected by a name threading through assorted county, state and federal jurisdictions. Some of the oldest stretches were designed and constructed by actual engineers in an era where algebra, dynamite and slope gradients were commonly deployed in transportation projects. Trail users in the heyday of 1930’s trail making included mules who are particular about walking on no more than an 8% grade. Humans needed mules to carry canvas tents with wood frames, canned goods and heavy woolen outerwear. Thus, the engineers calculated the pitch of the slope, the vertical distance between top and bottom, the width of the terrain, and some other very important stuff like how much dynamite was needed to blow chunks off the mountain. They came up with a formula multiplied by the coefficient of evil to get a plan for sensible, sinuous switchbacks suitable for man and beast. An excellent example of this approach is Forrester Pass in the Sierra. In the modern era of trail building, as evidenced by the descent from Idylwild to Cabazon, the State of California, or its consultants, developed a series of 10-Year Plans each requiring 1000 page Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and extensive public review, to determine the best possible method of trail construction for new or replacement links in the mighty PCT system. The State of California replied, “OK, will do,” to a comment made by Mr. Robert Basilovitch on page 632 of the revised, amended Appendix H of the EIS, “Respect the environment, every rock, every bush, has a right to exist in the exact spot where nature put them. The trail needs to avoid each of nature’s little babies.” This was the turning point in the evolution of trail building. Also the cost of the pre-design and pre-construction process was so high that few funds remained for the actual construction process. The modern construction contract specifies the Squiggle Method be used to design a trail: “See that mountain? Cover it with trail and avoid every rock, bush, squirrel hole and sacred spot. Construction equipment: One pair of shoes, Men’s size 8 maximum. Construction method: one human in specified shoe size walking heel to toe all over the mountain so as to cause maximum mileage with minimal trail surface. If hikers could just walk in a straight line, they’d be climbers.”

4/20 was celebrated on the trail


April 21, 2015
Day 10
Miles to Date: 151.9

Not bad so far. Getting used to dry camping and calculating how many liters of water I need to carry between water sources. It’s hot and dry and the country out of Julian, MP 77.1, has been kind of unvarying: brush, manzanita, cactus, dirt, enlivened by an occasional drop down into a dessicated stream bed with poison oak and ticks.

I hike for hours on my own, and then spend hours leap frogging with other hikers. We tend to gather at water sources like wildebeests and lions on the savannah. We talk story. The community of hikers is like the snowboard community in a lot of ways. The names are just weirder: Blisters, Butt Newt, Daytripper, Occupy, Costco, 30-30, The Predator, Squachy, Poppy, Jihad, Stinger, Geisha.

A few days ago I decided I had to have a shower at the Warner Springs Resource Center, which is run by volunteer seniors, and closes at 4. I made the 16 miles in good time but they’d “turned off the water” to the outdoor showers and closed the little store I needed to buy food from. So I camped on the grass by the parking lot with a bunch of other hikers, some I knew, some new to me. At MP 109.5, this odd place across from the fire station, (“Hey, shit bird new guy, wash the truck!” over the fire yard PA as you walk by with your hiking sticks.) was gathering hikers with issues, some staying for days in the parking lot, like winged ducks rafting up in the Minto Flats during hunting season. A guy with blisters so bad he hobbles in hiker-box flip flops almost the right size, a guy who walked too many 20-milers and got an Achilles strain, and people waiting till Monday when the post office opens and they can pick up their resupply boxes. However, most of us get up the next day, buy a great $6 breakfast cooked by the volunteers, and get back on the trail.

I’ve had sweet little campsites the last 2 nights, tucked out of the wind and out of sight. Today, a first, cool and a mist with the wind, it felt like the Scottish Highlands, I expected Braveheart to come bellowing down the trail at any minute. No cell connection so no weather report for 2 days. I saw no one the 3 hours it took me to get to Paradise Valley Cafe where I joined a bunch of hiker trash at a table and ate a bacon burger. More trickled in as we ate while others hitched into Idyllwild in 2’s and 3’s. Found out there’s a chance of snow on the trail ahead tomorrow. I love snow, I’m prepared, but it doesn’t hurt my feelings that I already booked a zero in Idyllwild.

Who knew?  Cactus blooms are enormous and intensely colorful.
Who knew? Cactus blooms are enormous and intensely colorful.