Day 10: Idyllwild to San Jacinto Peak
April 19 // 8 miles
Breakfast at the Red Kettle again, stepped away from the usual burrito to have pancakes. Debating hiking out all morning with Waterfall and Franky, I really, really wanted to, but the weather forecast on Jacinto summit had a high wind advisory, snow, freezing rain and temperatures down to -10C over night.
To make the decision more difficult, it started snowing down in Idyllwild after breakfast. Every hiker I talked to was zeroing today, every hotel in town was fully booked. Spent the morning searching through different weather networks and forecasts and trying to decide whether hiking was an unsafe decision.
After we were kicked out of the inn at 11, went to the gear store to pick up another layer-a fleece jacket which I’ve wanted for some time. Although my quilt has been warm enough for sleeping, I’ve been cold in camp almost every night. Another benefit for fleece is that it’s much easier to hike in than my puffy jacket, which gets sweaty and clammy right away. Talked with some of the employees at the gear shop who know the area well, they didn’t seem to think it was crazy to want to hike out today.
Went to the coffee shop to get out of the cold and try and make a final decision, I think every hiker in town was there, it was standing room only inside. I took my coffee onto the porch and noticed that the snow had stopped and the sky was clearing up in the distance. It was like a sign and I decided that hiking is on! As soon as I had made up my mind, Franky showed up and we both said on the spot that we wanted to hike out. Already noon and I knew it would take me a long time to climb up to 10600 ft so we started making moves right away. Our game plan was to stay out of the wind and cold by staying at the emergency summit hut, and I knew from last year that there’d be extra sleeping bags to cocoon in. About 4 days from Big Bear and my resupply is mainly comprised of leftover pizza and a new bag of Fritos. Ready to roll.
The climb out of Idyllwild was slow going, as I knew it would be. In the sun it was actually quite warm but thick cloud cover kept blowing over and made it hard to keep the right amount of clothing on to be comfortable. The higher we went, the chillier it got and I started feeling the elevation around 9000 ft, struggling to get a full breath of air and had to break often and sit down. Not much snow compared to last year but there was slight dusting from this morning covering the ground, no footprints on the trail except for Frankie’s.
The views were unfortunately obscured by cloud most of the ways up but every so often it would briefly clear up just enough to see down to Palm Springs, strange to imagine my friends down there enjoying Coachella and being warm.
The last mile to the summit took me over an hour, a touch of dizziness if I pushed any faster. Getting real cold, the pines were frosty white and taking gloves off led to my fingers going numb within seconds. Finally saw the stone emergency hut, we ditched the packs there and did the last scramble up to the peak for a couple quick pics, but both of us mostly just wanted to get inside ASAP.
Back at the hut it was straight into bed, wearing all my layers plus wrapped in my quilt and another heavy sleeping bag from the shelter. There are some very questionable stains on it, but it’s warm as heck so I’m appreciating it, weird stains and all.
Made soup for dinner that went cold within a minute, our water bottles are already icing over and you can see clouds when we breathe. It’s going to get real cold tonight, by far the coldest night I’ve ever spent on trail. Definitely not getting up until the sun is well above the horizon, it’s supposed to be warmer tomorrow and we’re going 20 miles downhill to the desert floor.
One other hiker named Maui arrived shortly after we got settled in and grabbed the top bunk above Franky, the whole bed shakes alarmingly with even the slightest movement and I’m happy there’s no one sleeping above me. It is creaky as hell but I am toasty to the max, hopefully no one else is camped high up on the mountain outside of the shelter. The wind is howling outside and my biggest fear now is having to go to the bathroom...will have to problem solve because I am not going outside for anything tonight.
Day 11: San Jacinto Peak to Rusty Pipe (205.7)
April 20 // 26 miles
Day of THE DESCENT. Which was by far one of my least favourite days last year and I have not been anticipating it.
Woke up warm and cozy despite temps still in the negatives and very reluctantly packed up with Frankie and Maui. Thankfully the sun made a huge difference and the wind had died down to nothing so had a quick breakfast and started the 9000ft drop to the desert floor.
There was still a thin layer of snow covering the trail and had to be careful not to slip on the icy ground underneath. Took a lot of time picking my way down the rocky path and a few frozen streams, took almost an hour and a half to make the two mile hike back to the PCT to tackle Fuller ridge. The snow made the steep trail a little sketchy but it was absolutely beautiful, the pines were still frozen white and the ice and needles on the ground made a very satisfying crunchy sound, one of the only mornings so far with no music needed to get going.
I saw no one the rest of the day, we must have been the only people on the mountain because of the weather advisory. Dropped from over 10,000 feet down to just over 1,000...crazy to see the vegetation go from pine trees to scrub and manzanita, finally back down to the familiar cacti and sage. The temperature variation was also intense, after complaining for days about the cold, I started to miss it when the afternoon was heating up. Layers came off until it was back to the hiking shirt and shorts.
Took a two hour siesta in a small patch of shade with great views of the valley and rested the foot, it’s felt a little better after two smaller days of hiking.
The two mile long switchbacks at the end of the day were frustrating as I knew they would be, but tried to focus on enjoying the easy downhill instead of getting hiker ragey. It kind of worked, but by the time I got to the water faucet at the bottom I was done with hiking for the day and scrapped my plans to do another four miles to I-10. Franky was there with only two other hikers, a brother and sister duo from Texas. They had camped a little lower down the mountain and had a very chilly night, I think we made the right call by staying in the shelter yesterday.
Finally going to have a warm night, and it’s not too windy which is a nice luxury. Cowboy camped overlooking the wind mill lights blinking down in Cabazon, the mice have already started to encroach on my space so sleeping with my feet on top of my food and praying they don’t chew through my quilt.
Hopefully can do a couple bigger days to meet up with the old trail fam on Sunday as early as possible, but getting a little tired of all the big mile days this early in the trip.
Day 12: (205.7) to Mission Creek camp (229)
April 21 // 23.3 miles
Woke twice to a mouse running across my chest and feet last night, but my food and gear was untouched which is the important thing. It was getting warm before the sun was up, started the long flat walk across the desert floor to the interstate, called mom and Stace to pass the time.
Some trail magic under the highway, cracked a quick morning beer to make up for the fact that I was skipping the popular hitch into nearby Cabazon for an In-n-Out burger.
It started to get really hot heading up into the San Gorgonio wilderness, had to stop often for water breaks and shade but knowing each time that the full heat of afternoon was getting closer and closer. Hit the devil stretch that’s basically a quarter mile of straight uphill, calves were burning but I felt good at the top of the climb. The reward was incredible views of the mountains ahead, and could still see the snowy top of Jacinto behind.
Thankfully the hottest part of the day was mostly downhill to whitewater preserve, the most flowing water I’ll see in SoCal. I didn’t stop in last year, but there’s a little oasis I had no idea existed, with visitor centre, park, and a wading pool! Soaking in the cold water was amazing and I got trapped there way too long, spent hours napping in the sun and knowing it was costing me down time tonight and tomorrow, considering I still had over 30 miles to do to get to Big Bear by Sunday morning. Despite all the willpower it’s taken to stick to my schedule so far, I could not make myself get up and start hiking again.
The park was crowded with locals and Franky and I had to endure the torture of waking up from napping to find that three picnic tables around us were taken by groups picnicking with barbecue steak, slow cooker rice & chicken and takeout pizza respectively. Despite us doing our best to look starved and sad, no one offered us food and the smells were a little too overwhelming so we started packing up to go.
It was 5pm at that point and I felt torn between hiking on or just staying the night at Whitewater and have Jade pick me up there instead of the trailhead into Big Bear. Franky left while I waffled, and I finally decided that I’d worked so hard to get here I might as well finish the job properly. Left the preserve with the intention of doing at least ten miles, and although it probably wasn’t the smart move for my battered body, it felt good to keep hiking on.
Followed Whitewater river back up to the mountains as the sun started to set. The climb was tough but the long lunch break made it much easier, and the views at the top with the setting sun were spectacular.
Got a little worn out during the last mile to camp and was checking the my GPS app every minute just to see the distance creep by torturously slowly. Made it to our planned campsite at Mission Creek as it was getting dark, and threw down my sleeping pad and ate dinner in the dark. I’ll be passing out right away. I want to get up first thing to start hiking and meet the squad as early as I can tomorrow but I’m dead tired. 23 miles to go.
Day 13: Mission Creek camp (229) to Onyx summit
April 22 // 23 miles
Not only is it TOWN DAY but it is also SQUAD DAY. I had set my alarm for 5 which was ambitious and I ended up hitting snooze until 5:45. Long gradual uphill for the morning, almost 6000 feet of elevation, which is not what I need for a speedy hiking day. Started really strong, passed over 20 people within a couple hours which was odd since we’ve seen almost no one for the past three days. Where did you all come from? Back into the next hiker bubble I guess.
Followed Mission creek for the first ten miles, so no need for carrying water, a nice change. I started really struggling after taking a break around 10:30, foot was aching badly and I couldn’t catch my wind or rhythm on the uphill.
Despite knowing I would see my friends in only hours, an emotional and physical low for sure during the late morning/early afternoon, I’m going to really enjoy being able to do less miles and take longer breaks in town now that my (self-imposed, slightly stupid) schedule has been met.
After most of the climbing was done and I was getting back into a faster pace, heard familiar voices ahead of me and there was Q, Jade, Lukas and the dogs coming down trail! They’d parked at the trailhead and hiked out to meet me, knowing I was struggling with pace. So good to see them, especially on the trail.
Knocked out the last few miles together, my foot was still hurting but the conversation and company made it fly by.
My first zero tomorrow, we’re spending the night at Cy’s place so the old Sierra crew would be fully intact if Sara were here, but she’s unfortunately caught up at work. Time to ice the foot, eat some good town food and catch up with the 2017 family.
Day 14: Zero in Big Bear
Slept amazing on an actual mattress and not my foam pad. Cy arrived back home from Coachella first thing in the morning, so strange to have the old squad together and not be hiking out with them, a little bittersweet for me.
Spent all day enjoying the company, sun and town food, iced the foot and I think finally having a full day of rest is just what I needed.
Unfortunately Q and Cy both have to get back to work tomorrow so said goodbyes and I’m spending the night at the hostel in town. If the foot’s feeling good I can slack pack the 14 miles between Onyx summit and Highway 18 tomorrow and spend a nero in town again. Now that I’m no longer pushing on a schedule, really looking forward to smaller days and no mile requirements.
Day 15: Onyx Summit (252.1) to Hwy 18 (266.1)
April 24 // 14 miles
Shower count: 2 Breakfast burrito count: 7
What a daaaaay. Slept like a rock in an actual bed and managed to not wake up until 7. The leftover pizza from last night’s trip to the brewery paired well with the way too strong hostel coffee.
One of the other hikers staying at the hostel had a rented car used to drive to REI so he gave me a lift and I hit the trail alone to slack pack the 14 miles between Onyx summit and highway 18, both are easy hitches to Big Bear. The only thing in my pack was my fleece, lunch (kettle corn, sour patch kids and a cream cheese wrap) and a litre of water... did I ever feel light. Could easily cruise at speeds over 3mph, and after being used to the heavier pack weight, I was flying down trail
I’d never be able to cut enough pack weight/luxury items to be truly ultra light, but I can see the appeal of a sub ten pound base weight...sacrificing comfort in camp to have comfort while walking. Not using poles was also a nice change, I was free to munch on kettle corn while walking, or snap photos without awkwardly chicken wing-ing my poles against my side.
Passed two other hikers about a mile in and then after that I saw no one. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm with a nice breeze, and the trail was easy, through sparse pine woods that smelled like a Christmas tree farm. The weird and wonderful Joshua trees are starting to show up.
Even with a long lunch break it only took about four hours to knock out the miles and as I arrived at the trailhead at Hwy 18, a car was just pulling in from town to drop off hikers, easiest hitch I’ve ever gotten, plus the guy driving hiked last year and was doing some trail angel-ing, he had lawn chairs, cold beer and chips in the back ready to go.
Back at the hostel, the other hikers were barbecuing chicken, while it was cooking I got to have my second shower on trail. Hands down one of the best showers of my life, large bathroom, good water pressure, actual towel, 4 different shampoo options. Unedited journal notes go on about the shower for like a solid two paragraphs. It’s a great thing about trail, how much you learn to appreciate the commonplace things from the “real world”. Finished off the day with a couple rounds at the brewery with the hostel hikers, but called it an early night to ice my foot and get ready for the next stretch tomorrow.
Trail’s been rough on me so far this year but I think things are going to get a lot easier now that I can chill out and slow down. I’ve also been trying to turn this summer into the same trip as last year and then getting disappointed when things feel different. Should’ve been treating it as a new adventure, which is what I’m really going to try and start doing.
10% done the PCT, which is hard to wrap my head around, still feels like I just left home.