Idyllwild – It didn’t even rain overnight but I still woke up soaked, my tent was literally like a jungle there was so much condensation everywhere. Decision made, time for a new tent. I packed up the wet mess and headed down the trail as the sun rose as I normally do. Once some heat was coming down I pulled over and dried out my sleeping bag while eating breakfast. The final descent into Idyllwild completely destroyed my knee. Limping down the trail isn’t a very fun way to hike, but the thought of arriving at the Paradise Valley Cafe where there is supposedly the best burger on the PCT was enough to keep me going. As I walked up to the highway, I noticed a sign.”Paradise Valley Cafe closed 4/11. I frantically looked at my phone to check the date, relieved to see its the 12th. I hurry a mile down the road to get my burger and am crushed when I arrive to another sign saying “closed due to water shortage”. The irony is unreal seeing as it’s been raining for the past week. With an empty stomach I thumb a ride into Idyllwild from a racist old man who informs me he suffers from dimmensia. In town I hook u with a bunch of other hikers and eat at the red kettle. Corned beef hash and eggs was just as good as any burger. I stay overnight at the San Jacinto Campground, and then zero the next day in cabin 5 with everyone else at the Idyllwild Inn. We cook a huge spaghetti dinner for all the hikers in town and invite them over for dinner. Red Riding Hood is so happy she cries when we surprise her with a cake for her 23rd birthday. The community of this trail is such a beautiful thing.
April 13 – We woke up in our cabin to America making biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs, perfect breakfast before a day full of climbing up Mt. San Jacinto, One of SoCals tallest mountain at 10,800 feet. At eight we catch a shuttle to the Devils Slide Trail which intersects the PCT 2.5 miles up at Saddle Junction. This was necessary because part of the PCT between Paradise Valley Cafe and Idyllwild is closed due to a wildfire that took place a few years back. We wait for everyone to arrive at the trailhead and set off as a large group of Boaty, Pouch, red riding hood, Shepard, Rebo, Tent Girl, Central Booking, America, Rocko, Kodiak, and Jesse. The Devils slide trail is graded much steeper and rockier than the PCT. I’m reminded of the Appalachian Trail and quickly make my way up leading the pack. At 8000 feet the dry heat of the desert fades away as I enter an alpine forest of pine trees. It isn’t long before small patches of snow begin appearing on the side of the trail, a surreal obstacle as I look down on the desert floor getting further and further below.
My knee feels great without having any downhill to deal with. At saddle junction I found cookie and jacque resting and decide to wait here for everyone else. The thick pine forest is like something out of a fairy tale, and I quickly grow impatient and push on down the trail, leaving my hat behind in the excitement. Soon the trail is completely covered in snow. It was a good taste of what the Sierra will be like, and also makes me consider getting microspikes once I get up there. The novelty of it was exhilarating though, two days ago I was surrounded by nothing but desert chaparral and sand. The PCT truly is a trail of extremes.
I wait at the side trail that leads to the summit of San Jacinto and am soon joined by America, Shepard, and Red Riding Hood. Not knowing what the conditions will be like ahead, we stick together for the beginning of the ascent and soon arrive to an amazing snow filled meadow at 9000 feet. After a Kodak moment we push on and the snow disappears momentarily on an exposed section of trail. I go on ahead in wonder, the scenery was like something out of a postcard. Back in the forest the snow reappears, deeper now and this time it doesn’t go away. The trail is buried and I’m left making my own path in the general upwards direction. Even though the snow is deep, it’s hard pack so I walk on top of it, soon finding a sign completely covered in snow. I dig it out a little and an arrow directs me .3 miles to the summit. Upon arrival I find I’m the first to make it to the cabin on top and take my choice of bunk for the night. Then it’s up to the summit where my breath was taken away by the scene. John Muir describes the view from this summit as the most sublime spectacle to behold on this Earth. 9600 feet below me the desert spread for miles, quite a different scene from the nearly 11,000 foot snowy peak I looked down upon it from. I could see the highway that would bring me to Cabazon, the only thing lying between me and it being 20 miles of descent from snow to sand. Everyone began to show up one by one and we had an awesome afternoon hanging out up here on top of the mountain. The weather was perfect for it other than being freezing but what do you expect at this elevation. The sunset from the top was to die for, west coast sunsets are really something else. The clouds settled below us turning pink, leaving a golden light shining through the desert. We now have 11 people occupying this cabin which is keeping it pretty cozy. It really was an incredible day.. It’s hard to process all the amazing things that have happened so far. Each day is getting better and better.
April 14 – We slept pretty cozy with 11 people packed into the small shelter atop Mt. San Jacinto. The early morning temperatures were still numbing outside though and the wind was brutal. It was a relaxing morning packing up slowly while we waited for the sun to warm things up. I even cooked a hot breakfast for once, something I rarely ever do on trail. At around 9:30 we set off. Knowing the conditions ahead could be hazardous, we hiked as a group, waiting for each other every couple of miles. The camaraderie of this trail is truly something beautiful, these people that I’ve known for less than two weeks are suddenly my best friends, my support system, my reason for pushing on. On the Appalachian Trail I tended to keep to my own plans as a solo hiker, this trail seems to have me doing quite the opposite. I feel so submersed in the social scene of the PCT that it seems to outweigh all other aspects of the trail. It seems like forever ago when I was walking alone through the border area at the beginning of this hike.
From the peak of San Jacinto the trail switchbacks down 9600 feet over 20 miles to the desert floor. The snow is plentiful as we begin our day at 10,000 feet and it isn’t long before we completely lose the trail and are bushwhacking down the side of the mountain. It was a perfect time to do some glissading, which is when you slide down an icy slope on your butt instead of hiking down it. Eventually we find the trail and take a break at an extremely random porta potty in the middle of the woods. The snow forces me to burn more calories, making me hungrier than I planned for. Rationing my food is impossible and I’m soon down to two packets of oatmeal, tuna, and half a jar of peanut butter.
We push on, thoroughly enjoying the snow and taking advantage of every glissade we can. After getting back to the PCT from the alternate route that lead to the summit, we take a lunch break at the San Jacinto River. The raging water is covered in snow and ice, forcing us to make an opening with a rock to refill. The ice cold water tastes so good, it was the first time I didn’t use my filter for a natural source on this trail. My ramen bomb consists of beef ramen, hashbrowns, and cheese, to die for. My hiker hunger still goes unsatisfied as we pack up and hike onwards towards the infamous fuller ridge, where a woman died a few years back traversing it’s snowy north face, the same snowy north face that the pct travels along on its way down the mountain.
In the midday sun we begin to post hole, giving us a glimpse of how deep the snow really is. Still it wasn’t much of a hazard, it was slick in spots but mostly solid hardpack through the beautiful forest of pines. The trail continues to switchback down through the snowfields, leading to a clearing where we take our last break for the day before heading three more miles to a campsite. Everyone was pretty worn out after so much downhill, my knee surprisingly was doing pretty good. I spent some time stretching in order to ensure that would continue. The snow quickly disappeared after the clearing. The trail below was bedding of soft pine needles, the trees they fell from gigantic in size. The desert lay below followed by the San gorgonia mountains, also covered in snow at their peak. At 7000 feet signs of the desert began popping back up. The air became drier and the sun more direct, leafless scrubs scattered throughout the diminishing forest. We are now camped out right at the edge of the tree line, ten miles of downhill still waiting for us in the morning. At the end of those miles is waits an all you can eat buffet and the town of Cabazon. My first real mountain is behind me now, and I really have no idea what lies in store ahead. I’m anxious to find out, maybe still a little nervous, but most of all excited.
April 15 – From our campsite the trail quickly transitioned back to desert as it descended more noticeably now down to interstate 10. Pine trees turned to cacti and lizards were scattering everywhere along my path as I walked by them. Behind me the prominent and snowy peak of San Jacinto grew taller and taller. It was surreal to be in such a dry atmosphere while looking back at the alpine forest I had just been in two nights ago. In front of me was flat desert littered with wind turbines, behind them the San Gorgonio Mountains, also capped in white powder. The scenery of this trail is humbling, I walk on in a daze through the breathtaking landscape. I spot my first rattle snake hiding under a rock, and shortly after reach a post serving its purpose as the 200 mile marker.
The heat becomes more and more miserable as I descend down to the desert floor. I can see the water source far below, the first in 17 miles. It looks so close, but by trail it’s still 4 miles away. The PCT winds through every crevice of San Jacinto, there isn’t a spot of this mountain I haven’t seen. I grow frustrated with the trail when it turns the exact opposite way I need to be going for what seems like miles. Without my sunhat the temperature is unbearable. I drink the last of my water with two miles left, and as I do I round a corner and see my friends already at the source. I continue heading down, San Jacinto peak now 9600 feet above me. A water fountain stands in the middle of nowhere, my friends huddled under a rock to escape the heat. From here, it’s five miles through the truest of true desert to interstate 10, where a hitch will bring us to an all you can eat buffet at the Morongo Indian Reservation Casino. The final stretch is more brutal than the 20 mile descent we just went through. I try to deploy my umbrella but it’s useless in the raging wind sweeping through the valley. There’s no trail to follow, only miles of loose sand which I sink into with every step. The highway appears to be close but I never seem to get there. I can see the underpass where I’m headed, a shady oasis in an otherwise barren landscape. Everyone is there laying down when I arrive, and after a quick break we make a beeline to the buffet. They had EVERYTHING, it was such a reward after a tough section. It was the perfect way to relax with everyone I had been hiking with though, we all needed the calories so badly. This was the first stretch that I ran out of food in this trip, I blame the snow and cold temperatures but I’m sure my hiker hunger is growing more ravenous every day. After the buffet we headed to trail angel Ziggy and the Bear’s house where I got a package containing my new tent. Hopefully now I can weather a storm without getting soaked.
From Ziggy and the Bear’s the trail is closed for another 50 miles due to another forest fire that happened last year. There’s no known alternate for this closure, forcing hikers to take a bus around to Big Bear City. We had planned to stay the night and figure out our game plan the next day, but as we arrived another trail angel showed up who’s been shuttling hikers to around. We graciously accepted the two hour ride over the six hour bus commute and before we knew it were headed on to a motel six in Big Bear. 266 miles down, not really but here we are. Zero day tomorrow while we wait for everyone else to get here and then back to the trail.