Backpacking for Beginners: The Windy Gap to Little Jimmy

by Gabrielle Antonette

Memorial day weekend is when the masses tend to get outside, of course, but to avoid the tailgating scene, we chose a campsite on top of a steep af mountain. We've been dabbling in backpacking lately, which is a nice hobby if buying a bunch of expensive stuff and carrying it all on your back is your thing.

This time we tackled the Windy Gap Trail to Little Jimmy Campground in Angeles National Forest. The trail starts at the Crystal Lake Campground, which is just over an hour away (driving) from central Los Angeles. The Windy Gap Trail is about 3 miles each way. This sounds easy, but it's almost 2,000 feet elevation gain, so it can be a healthy challenge with the extra weight of the backpack.

This Windy Gap/Little Jimmy combo offers a unique experience in that it's part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is a classic backpacking trip from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border. At Little Jimmy, you'll meet these "thru-hikers" who have been on the trail for about a month, and who have several more months of hiking ahead of them. Spoiler: they're already exhausted at this point. It's pretty special to cross paths with this crowd, but with them can come crowdedness. You'll want to get to the campground fairly early to get a site, and pick a spot that's tucked away if you enjoy a bit of seclusion. This is a busy season for the PCT, so by nightfall, the campground may be overflowing. Just beware of sites without much shelter, because the wind can be intense. Site 7 offers notable views but also maybe the most wind. Despite the potential compromises, this is the best time of year to visit because wildflowers are in bloom, and the nighttime lows are reasonable/in the 40s-50s.

There's stream water if you have a filtration system or you can scrape by with 2-3 liters per person in your packs. At this elevation, be prepared for precipitation. There was, supposedly, a 0% chance for our trip but it ended up raining in short spurts about 3 times, meaning we frantically threw all our stuff in the tent 3 times but eventually were able to recoup the fire and get some s'more action going.