DAY 8: WARNER SPRINGS (109.5) TO MIKE'S PLACE (127.3)
Hiked out of Warner Springs after sending a bounce box with excess gear (rain jacket, gloves, base layer etc.) ahead from the post office, I don't need them now and even a couple pounds seems to have made a big difference after hiking all day.
Joe hiked out ahead of us, had a short road walk with Brian. A couple older day hiker ladies stopped us and asked us questions about the trip and asked for our picture. They were amused that I was Canadian and Brian was from the Marines: one kept saying “the boy scout is bringing her home to Canada” …c'mon lady, I'm bringing me home to Canada.
Had a pretty good morning and powered through without any breaks, since there were trail rumours of homemade pizza at Mike’s place...a strong motivator. Probably the hottest day I’ve had so far and this is one of our longest stretches without reliable water. I ran into Eris who I think definitely had a touch of heat exhaustion. We had some water and sugar which seemed to help us both feel a little better. Shortly after we got to a trail junction to get water, but the source was way downhill off trail. Eris headed down to avoid dying probably but I chose to push on, which was a stupid idea... ran out of water about four miles out from Mike's, and it felt really shitty. It wasn't at all life threatening, but thirst seems 10x more unbearable when you know there’s nothing you can do about it. Also hadn't eaten much all day so I was grumpy and just wanted to get to camp and sit down. It would've been really easy to stop and rest/eat but I was being stubborn, which just turned into a feedback loop of irritation.
Finally got to the water tank on Mike's property, it was my first water since mid-morning and I stood there for 15 minutes drinking straight from the filter. Mike's Place is a house in the middle of nowhere, he very kindly lets hikers drink his water and camp in the yard. When I arrived it was full of familiar faces- Joe, Sara, Eris, Ramsay, Francis and Yves, plus many more that were new. The best part was homemade grilled chicken and watermelon and beer, after my miserable afternoon, I nearly cried when the food was offered and the beer was probably the best tasting I’ve ever had, even though it was just shitty Budweiser. A little later homemade pizza was made for us in a wood oven and it was the best birthday present I could've asked for.
At nightfall, Joe and I were a little concerned since there was still no sign of Brian, and he's usually faster than I am. Sara and Eris hadn’t seen him all day even though I passed them shortly after leaving Brian at the creek this morning. Figure he either turned back to Warner Springs or made camp somewhere in the middle.
A day of ups and downs, happy birthday Jack!
DAY 9: MIKE'S PLACE (127.3) TO CAMPSITE (149.9)
A good start to the day with homemade coffee (huge thanks again Mike's place!) and Brian caught up after having to turn back to Warner Springs yesterday to retrieve forgotten poles at the PO.
Desert was putting on a show today, tons more of my favourite pink and yellow flowers and the sky was bluer than I've ever seen-not even a hint of a cloud all afternoon. There were great views of mountain ridge after mountain ridge and I'm surprised by how much I love the desert, I was dreading it a little bit before starting due to my intense dislike of heat.
Got to a well maintained water cache around dinner time, a unique stop managed by a trail angel named Mary...there was a small library and life sized cut outs of Thoreau and Whitman. The library included lots of paper print outs of Walden, although I didn’t take any books- unnecessary weight!
We had dinner there at a picnic table but weren’t feeling particularly tired so we decided to hike a few more miles with headlamps to shorten our morning hike to breakfast-we were only about 6 miles from Pines to Palms highway and the trail famous Paradise Cafe. The three of us hit the trail just as the sun was setting and it was really nice to be hiking though the sunset glow, plus it was a lot cooler than during the day. When it got too dark to see we put on our headlamps and stuck close together. I could get used to evening hiking.
Found a decent camping spot which was supposed to have a beautiful view but it was too dark to appreciate. We cowboy camped for the first time and set up our sleep pads right next to each other. The view of the stars inspired lots of conversation about our lives and plans for the future. Tomorrow we’re going to hitch into Idyllwild from highway 74 since there’s a fire closure after the highway and none of us feel like road walking. The PCT purists would look down on this but none of us are too concerned about walking every single mile.
DAY 10: CAMPSITE (149.9) TO PARADISE CAFE/HIGHWAY 74 (151.8)
Less than 2 miles, great job guys. Nero in Idyllwild.
Not sure what caused it but I had a hell of a nosebleed in the middle of the night and now my bandana is pretty gory-looking. Up with Joe and Brian at 7, skipped breakfast to push the quick couple miles down to the highway for breakfast at Paradise Cafe. It wasn’t open yet when we got there but we hung out on the patio while the staff arrived. I had a breakfast burrito that was the size of a small baby. The menu had a section dedicated to “breakfast beer” which was much appreciated.
Met an Australian hiker (Bill) that was hiking the PCT in sections. Him and Joe compared old school paper maps vs GPS, and he ended up giving Joe a ton of food since his buddies had bailed and his resupply was enough for four people.
After breakfast we got an easy hitch to Idyllwild with the French Canadians, Ramsay, Sara and Tony. We decided to split a rental cabin since it was dirt cheap split 8 ways. Dropped off our stuff and then went to the Lumber mill for lunch and drinks-met One 11 at the bar, a thru hiker that got snowed out last year and is back for round 2 this year. His name comes from a poorly played round of bullshit. We had some questionable drinks (The hell is a trashy Texan? Still not sure but it was an electric shade of blue) and beer and then explored the town.
Idyllwild a beautiful town, lots of quaint little log buildings and the mayor is a golden retriever. Views of the mountains outside of town are incredible, it looks like a town set straight out of a movie. Back at the cabin now, I’m splitting a room with Sara and managed to talk to the fam at home, although the wifi is the slowest I’ve ever experienced. The bathroom is a hot commodity when split between 8 dirty people.
Went back to the Lumber mill for dinner again, joined by Eris and Caroline who are staying in another cabin. It was really fun to be out with a large group of friends, felt like at home. Back to the cabin for a few more beers and popped my heel blisters with a needle and lighter. We’re planning for a zero day in Idyllwild tomorrow but we’ll see, the group is pretty split on this.
DAY 11: IDYLLWILD/DEVIL’S SLIDE TRAIL (179.4ISH) AND DETOUR TO SUMMIT OF SAN JACINTO
We had a pretty lazy morning, got breakfast at the Red Kettle in Idyllwild, one of the best breakfasts so far on trail. Did resupply shopping in town and went to pharmacy to get some painkillers and tape for blisters. After checking out, Sara, Brian, Joe, Ramsay and hitched to Devil’s Slide trail and summit Mt San Jacinto in the evening and stay in the hut at the summit for the night.
We started hiking around three in the afternoon and although the views were great, I had a really rough time on the uphill and found it hard to breathe the closer we got to the summit. Nearing the top we ran into One 11 and another hiker named Chad (trail name W, pronounced George W style). They were intending to skip the summit but had taken the wrong trail and so decided to come with us.
Just before sunset, we heard someone yelling way down in the valley behind us. It was hard to make out what they were saying but we were eventually able to piece together that it was a lost day hiker who was way off trail due to snow patches that had obscured large chunks of trail. Chad and One 11 turned around to help him out since it was almost night time and freaking cold. The rest of us kept going towards the summit, but I felt a little on edge wondering what was happening down the mountain.
Near the top, there was still quite a bit of snow and I was feeling awful, just absolutely wiped out. Had to stop to breathe every few steps, no exaggeration. Dragged myself to the summit just after sunset, took one whole picture, had a quick dinner and crashed in the cabin at the summit. It’s an emergency shelter made of stone with two sets of bunk beds-managed to snag a spot on the bottom.
One 11 and Chad showed up just in time for dinner-the day hiker had found the trail again and yelled up to them that he was okay. After we had all crawled into our sleeping bags and were drifting off, heard footsteps and the door of the hut being pushed open. It was the day hiker... showed up around 10 pm, absolutely unprepared for a hike to the summit. no warm clothes, sleeping gear or food, just water. Luckily the shelter had an extra sleeping bag and the boys gave him some layers to keep warm.
Head is hurting from altitude but One 11 gave me some tips on breathing which seems to have helped a little. Squishy but warm inside the hut, and I can hear all the different sounds of people breathing (some snoring).
DAY 12: JACINTO SUMMIT TO WATER FAUCET (205.7)
24(ish) miles of just straight down.
A tough morning of hiking, Fuller ridge was a surprise uphill my legs were not happy dealing with after going up Jacinto yesterday. Thankfully the snow has mostly melted and it wasn’t as challenging as had been rumoured online. We got lost a couple times trying to find trail and spiky bushes scratched my legs up pretty bad.
The whole day was a series of mile long switchbacks down San Jacinto, our elevation went from 9000 feet down to 1200 which was absolutely insane, we don’t even have elevation change close to that in the Sierra. All afternoon I was staring down at the same valley with the same wind turbines and the same highway and it got really frustrating in the afternoon because it never seemed to get any closer.
Saw a couple rattlesnakes on the way down, which terrified Brian and fascinated Joe. I’m pretty neutral, they give you a good warning before you get anywhere close.
Was getting a touch of hiker rage nearing the bottom of the mountain but fiiiiiinally reached the rusty pipe (check the reviews on GutHooks app for a good laugh) and water fountain just as the sun was setting. There were more hikers camped there then I’ve seen on trail yet, didn’t socialize outside my group due to being a hungry grump. Getting water from the faucet was a challenge, we had to design a system to protect the light flow of water from the wind, otherwise it would blow everywhere except for into the bottle, while also simultaneously avoiding a half dozen wasps that were hanging around the base of the tap. Only had patience for the minimum amount of water to drink and make my macaroni, which was probably the (figurative) high point of the day. Ate with Sara, One 11 and Chad and waited for Joe and Brian.
Currently cowboy camped but I'm set up way too close to the faucet and the wind is blowing water on me every time a hiker turns on the tap. Windy af, jacket and water bottles keep blowing away, gonna be a long night.
DAY 13: WATER FAUCET (205.7) TO I-10/CABAZON (209.5)
Not rough terrain this morning but 4 miles of sandy exposed WIND. It was so strong everyone was walking slanted and sometimes it would push you a couple steps off trail. The sand was whipping onto my legs and it was a long slog to get to the underpass at I-10.
Another hiker quit when we got to the highway after his hat got blown off his head and across four lanes of traffic, he booked his plane ticket home right in front of us.
We didn't quit but decided to head into Cabazon for In-N-Out burgers, it's on my American food bucket list. We caught a ride from trail angel Hillbilly, who lives in Cabazon, and piled into the back of his truck and went to In-n-Out. It was pretty good but I think A&W is better.
We had planned to go back to trail but we somehow ended up back at Hillbilly’s place to hang out in his garage to get out of the wind. He had a beautiful old Ford pickup in the driveway and a few very old dogs in the yard. Definitely one of the most interesting people I've met in my life. His wife passed away last year and now he trail angels for hikers on the PCT. Some of his stories from the military and as a narcotics agent are clearly meant to shock ("see this scar here? I killed the guy that gave it to me") but they were also fascinating, and we spent most of the afternoon listening and drinking beer. Hillbilly is also an expert on local bugs and flowers and passed around a jar with a preserved Tarantula Hawk, a large wasp which kills FUCKING TARANTULAS by injecting a paralyzing venom into their unlucky prey. Hillbilly also informed us that a sting from this thing would have us on our backs screaming in pain for hours... 10x more painful than a bite from a fire ant. Damn nature, u scary.
We were solidly vortexed when Hillbilly mentioned he was making steak fajitas for any hikers that were spending the night and it didn't help that he had been coming around with a bottle of everclear and a shotglass every half hour or so insisting on us drinking. I couldn't do more than one, but he was throwing them back with ease, never appearing to be even the slightest bit affected by the alcohol. Most of us were out of our league trying to keep up and I think there are going to be some serious hangovers tomorrow morning.
Crashing in a back room filled floor to ceiling with M&M memorabilia with Joe and Sara. Hillbilly's has been one of the most interesting (slightly uncomfortable stops) but I'm excited to get back to trail tomorrow.