Day 12 23.03.18 12 Miles / 20km
Today was amazing.
Kyle decided to stay in Idyllwild an extra day to catch up on some work while the rest of us head off to summit Mount San Jacinto as a side trail from the PCT.
Microspikes are now required due to the snow storm we’d just sat out in town. I had brought some with me but posted them to Kennedy Meadows where the snow sections usually start. Not interested in waiting around or missing out on the fun I buy a new pair at the local outfitter.
A local sees us in town and offers a lift up the highway to the start of the trail and gives us a packet of Lifesavers each. We graciously accept as it would have been a crappy section to walk. Small towns like this take such good care of hikers.
We start up Deer Springs Trailhead which connects to the PCT and it’s an instant uphill climb. Wondering if we should have walked the highway as a warm up we eventually find our rhymth in this sudden scenery of pine and flowing water. It’s so hard to belive we were in desert the day on trail prior.
Slowly we start seeing snow around till eventually we decided it was time to try our microspikes and crampons – what a difference they make. Once we reach the Mount San Jacinto Peak turnoff we left Emma and Four Eyes to carry on to camp since they weren’t feeling up to a long day. Myself, Ray and Bluejay climb for what felt like hours through snow that got deeper and deeper.
Being my first time ever to experience altitude at 3300 meters I was exhausted. The brutal climb took so much more effort than usual making every step forced, particularly with a heavy pack. 2kms from the peak we decided to drop our bags for the final steep path to reach the summit. Thank god we did. We guzzled water, filled our pockets with snacks and enjoyed the freedom of being 10kgs lighter.
The final push was incredible, we found ourselves in a winter wonderland surrounded by frozen pines above the clouds. The sound of smashing ice falling from trees rang through the air and we were cautious avoid falling icicles. Once landed they were in perfect bite size pieces to munch on as I walked.
When we reached the Mount San Jacinto Peak the conditions were perfect. On one side we were above the clouds, which looked like we were ontop of the world. On the other side, we looked out over the desert which we are soon to cross. It’s just bizzar standing in snow looking at desert.
Summiting captured for me what the beauty of living is all about. We pushed hard and experienced so much reward. We are out here making this happen and it’s nothing short of amazing.
Descending we learn the difference between icy snow and slushy snow; and why icy is better for hiking on. Through the slush we slid around in wet shoes trying to avoid any puddles that formed in the days footprints. Using my poles best I could to avoid any injuries I manage to snap one clean in half. MAN DOWN! In a state of shock and frustration I consider the next 4 days to Big Bear with one pole. I huff and put the two broken pieces in my pack. Annoyed I remind myself to look around, appreciate where I am and remember how incredible this place is. A broken pole isn’t the end of the world.
Once back at the turnoff where we left the girls Ray lent me one of his poles for the walk to camp. He’s much faster than me and a little more balanced in snow. There was just 2hrs of light left for the day, and 12kms still to cover. On top of this we had to collect water for the following day so added 4Litres to our packs. The boys went ahead while I walked at my pace, having the sunset completely to myself in woods. This ended up being a truely magic experience.
Once dark I put my headphones in and turned my head torch on. I’d bought new batteries that day but hadn’t yet changed them, not wanting to stop I make do with the dim light. Warm in my fleece gloves and jacket I follow frozen footprints in the snow for over an hour until I reach camp. I’m greeted with a welcome reception, the boys were only 30mins ahead so were just settling in. Four Eyes offers me a spot in her tent but still warm from walking I set up my own and cook myself a well earned hot meal at 8:30pm.
Day 13 24.03.18 15 Miles / 24.5km
The morning was the coldest we’ve had yet. Not ready to get out of my sleeping bag I treat myself to a pop tart in bed. Having breakfast is still productive right? I had long cringed such a sugary meal, but I gave into curiosity seeing how popular they are here… And I can see why.
I hear the sounds of Ray bashing my broken hike pole with rocks against an old fire pit. Determined to fix it so he could take back his own pole without feeling bad he removed one of the height adjustment sections and taped everything in place. Amazingly this works, at least well enough for the next 100km section to Big Bear where I can replace them. Forever in Rays debt I present him with his own borrowed pole while kneeling. Thankyou.
We gave ourselves a 10am start because of our late arrival to camp, and even then the air was still cold. The usual symphony of sniffling noses and snot rockets started as the wind picked up, cueing us to put on our wind jackets. Dropping down the mountain we were finally protected to enjoy a cloudless day in the sun as we destroyed our knees on the endless downhill section. I’m glad to say I’m not the only one hurting.
Bluejay: “I was wondering why my knees hurt so much then tried walking with correct posture. Turns out hunching over is really bad for you”
We passed the 200 Mile marker (hooray for 321km) which came as a total surprise since I’ve been using Guthook (PCT map/GPS app) in the Metric system. I’m now trying to swap to imperial so I have a better grasp of distances and elevation when it’s being discussed.
The scenery changed a lot as we made our way from one side of the mountain to the other. The morning had started on the cloudy snowy pine side but now we’d reached the side with desert views.
I’ve noticed terrain drastically changes the way my shoes wear. All new blisters had just about stopped but after this full day of downhill I have new hotspots on the balls of my feet which had to be tapped. No blisters to be treated, just new pains to add to the list, along with the chaffing that started as well.
Happy to be at camp at a reasonable hour I had a wet bandana shower, finally changed the batteries in my dying head torch and cooked pasta sides for dinner. To save on cleaning and gas, I add the boiling water straight to the foil packet and let it sit. I then add in baby spinach and tuna to bulk it up. The pasta never properly cooks through this way, but it still seems more appealing than a dirty pot. Cheers to lazy dinners!
Day 14 25.03.18 20.5 Miles 33km
After being woken by the wind at midnight, 2am and 3am, I was finally woken at 5am by my tent pegs coming out of the ground and the fly of the tent flapping around. I get up, re-peg the tent and climb back into bed thankful that it’s at least a warm night. Against the wind the tent leaned on me all night and once I got up I noticed Ray had given up and removed his fly completely in an attempt to get more sleep.
My alarm went off at 6am and I began my routine to be ready to leave at 7am. I have a pop tart in bed, get dressed, pack my sleeping bag, pack the rest of my bag, go to the toilet, take down the tent, pack and close my bag now with tent, food and clothes on top, brush my teeth then refill and filter any water I need to. On lazy or cold mornings I cook hot oates and coffee in the vestibule of my tent still wrapped in my sleeping bag. Before going to bed I get breakfast out ready and the days snacks go into the hip pockets of my pack.
On this occasion I was the only one up and ready at 7am with the sleepless night taking its toll on everyone. I decide to still start early since it’s a huge day ahead. It’s still externally windy and cold, I’m rugged up in gloves, rain/wind jacket and a buff over my face.
I walk past fields of the huge wind turbines I could see from the top of Mount San Jacinto. At times hiking poles were crucial to staying upright or on the trail.
Under Highway 10 there was a break from the wind and some trail magic. A box with fruit and snacks and a cooler with cans of soft drink. I have an apple, sign my name on the cardboard wall and take a can of cola for lunch.
Four Eyes and Ray catch up with me at the 10km mark and we climb more windy hills past the turbines together. We agree on a spot for lunch then seperate all hiking at our own pace. At the turnoff for the White Water Resoviur Four Eyes and I couldn’t find Ray so we kept walking and each took our lunch breaks when ready. I found a spot in the sun just off the trail. The area was full of day hikers being a Sunday, many of them stopping to ask questions or chat. Three ladies in particular had many questions about food, resupply, and the PCT. They were so lovely and one even took my empty cola can so I didn’t have to carry it till Big Bear. Three other hikers passed and chatted, we realised we were going to the same campsite so we agreed to talk more there.
I survived my first proper river crossing balanced on logs across the Whitewater River. I came out with dry shoes and lots of adrenaline. These are going to be scary once we start doing serious river crossings.
Eventually Ray caught up to myself and Four Eyes and it turns out he took the turnoff the the reserve, used flushing toilets with soap, and was fed so much food by campers who wanted to support hikers. An unknowing trail angel with jerky, popcorn, chocolate and chicken. Daym.
After a huge day we made it to camp in daylight so cooked dinner and stretched together while chatting with hikers Gandalf, Good News and Piney until the temperature dropped with the sun and we retreated to our tents.
Day 15 26.03.18 12.5 Miles / 20km
Fatigued from the big day prior we planned a shorter day knowing it would be all uphill. It started out as and easy and consistent climb but after lunch turned to a steep relentless slope. It took half a packet of lifesavers and playing AC/DC to make it to camp.
We had lots of piddly little crossings following Mission Creek all day and I seriously hate them. Ray caught me on film pathetically struggling on a small crossing so is now calling me River. After much thought I’ve accepted the Trail name.
We found Just Scott (he never accepted Pack Rat and wanted to be just Scott) having a break so joined him for lunch. Scott hitched from Idyllwild to Highway 10 to avoid damaging his sore knees on the mountains we’d just climbed. We knew he was ahead somewhere but wasn’t sure how far so he was a welcome surprise.
Once I finally reached camp it was freezing. We’re at just over 2400m elevation so small snow patches we appearing and ice covered the ground on some tent sites. Topping up water at the spring was impressive surrounded by icicles.
Four Eyes and Scott made it to camp together. Scott immediately helped Four Eyes put up her tent and boiled her some water since the cough she got two days ago has become considerably worse. She’ll be hitching into town tomorrow to get a few days rest.
Jerry also made it camp. Jerry is my age and from South Korea. We’ve been crossing paths since the beginning but I hadn’t seen him since Warner Springs. He’s been named Speedy Gonzales since he’s such a fast hiker but he keeps needing zero days for his sore knees to recover.
Camp was so cold our wet bandanas froze before sunset. I cooked dinner from my sleeping bag and everyone was in their tents to be warm by 7pm. It’s a sleeping bag cocoon kind of night.
Day 16 27.03.18 19 Miles / 31km
What a night. By the time we woke up in the morning it was -5C, through the night I’m sure it was colder. Luckily I’d put my Sawyer Squeeze water filter and electronics in my sleeping bag to keep warm as the water bottles in my tent had mostly frozen. I slept in all my layers, both thermal bottoms (which I’m now keeping for the Seirras), my thermal top, fleece and down jackets, beanie, socks and gloves. My head was down inside my fleece liner and even then the cold kept waking me up. Never bad enough to shiver, but enough to be uncomfortable all night.
Slowly I got up, boiling water for a coffee but also to melt the 200ml of water frozen in my pot so it could be put away.
Ray’s tent was still in the shade when packing up so his pegs were frozen in the ground. After snapping one trying to pull it out he used water to free the rest.
While Ray dealt with his frozen tent pegs I went down to the Mission Creek Spring to collect water for the day. Icicles dramatically came down from the spring and ice covered a lot of the stream. Working around this I filtered my water with now frozen hands.
Four Eyes’s cough continued to worsen in the extreme cold so Scott approached some Forest workers planting trees if they could give her a lift to the main highway to then hitch to Big Bear. They were of course happy to help so Scott went with Four Eyes to see her safely into town.
Myself, Jerry and Ray hobbled our frozen joints down the trail occasionally stopping to strip off layer by layer as we warmed up. It wasn’t until midday that my wind jacket finally came off. It was an easy day of steady downhill, mostly alone as the boys charged ahead. We’re now in dense pine with short sections of the trail covered in ice and snow. It’s not enough to warrant the microspikes from the very bottom of my pack so I carefully tippy toe across the slippery ice, glad no one can see me.
Once I reached the campsite I notice I was alone. I wonder if I missed something or if the others changed their minds and decided to push on. We’d been talking all day about getting a good breakfast in town so I assume they opted for the campsite another 15kms away close to the highway ready for our hitch. I collect extra water and prepare myself for the PCT games to begin. I’d just walked 25km, it was 5pm, but the adventurer racer in me works out I can cover the 15km by 7:30pm hiking only half an hour in the dark. Game on, I put my head down and pick up the pace. 5km later I come around a bend and stumble across the boys with their tents set. My bad, we were doing a “20mile” day and my poor conversion skills led me to assume we’d end up somewhere different. I’m almost disappointed since I was doing so well for time.
Day 17 28.03.18 6 Miles / 10km
We woke up early, packed up and hiked the 10km to the road. Reaching the road the four of us stood in line for a hitch hike into town. 10mins later we were on our way to the Grizzly Bear cafe for the breakfast we’d been dreaming of for the last two days. The huge meals lived up to our expectations plus some.
We took a bus to the post office to pick up our parcels, used the cardboard from our parcels to draw a hitch hike sign back to Big Bear Lake and within a minute someone walked past and offered us a lift straight back to the Hiker hostel. We checked in, showered, and ran errands in town. The hostel manager gave us a lift to the camping store where I replaced my poles and gave us 30mins at the grocery store for our resupply of food for the next 5 days.
Kyle caught back up with the gang, Emma and Bluejay made it to town and Gandalf is joining the gang. Gandalf is a quirky looking 38year old product manager from Israel.
With tomorrow being another rest day I expect tonight will involve a few drinks with the other hikers at the hostel.