I have to leave Idyllwild today. I can’t believe I’ve been here for three days now, this is insane. How did this happen?! I know how of course, this place is awesome. Seriously though, it’s time to go. Hotel and food bills add up quick, I don’t want my hike to end because of financial limitations.
My dad and I hopped over to the Red Kettle one last time for one more awesome breakfast. It had been packed over the weekend, but it was Monday now so we were expecting a quiet meal. Nope. I opened the door and it was packed, nowhere to sit. I looked around feeling really claustrophobic, either needing to sit down or run the hell out and look for something else. Just as I was thinking of leaving, a huge group sat up and started to leave. My dad and I rushed to one of the tables, moved all the dirty dishes, and claimed our territory. Aw yeah!
I ordered corn beef hash with eggs. As I started eating it I noticed I was becoming increasingly wary of eating potatoes. Potatoes are faster to make on trail so I’ve been eating them every night. I eat it regardless, but I kicked myself for not getting a breakfast burrito with avocado or something. Anything but potatoes!
We ran over to the grocery store so I could pick up my last few items. I was hoping to grab some beef jerky to throw into my mashed potatoes to try and spice them up a little bit, but to my disappointment there was none. Who doesn’t carry beef jerky?! Oh well. I considered running to a gas station, but I knew if I made a big deal about this I’d be out running around town all day and I wouldn’t get back to the trail yet again, so I dropped it and opted to head back out.
My dad drove me up to Humber Park where I could take the Devils Slide Trail back to the PCT. I lagged a little bit in my preperation, a little reluctant to head back out after my last stretch. Am I cut out for this? I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way to know. I eventually put on my pack and thought: “Well, I guess we’ll find out” and marched up the trail. As I hiked I passed a couple guys, we talked about water for a little bit and parted ways. We leap-frogged with each other for a little ways, and eventually they disappeared up the hill. These zero days didn’t take much of a toll on me as they did when I had to take a break in Julian, I still felt marginally strong and ready to hike, but the trail was also constantly uphill. My pace was pretty average all things considered, but I wasn’t particularly worried about it, my priority at this point was to make sure I was having a good time.
As I hiked along, I ran into the two guys once again (I forgot their names, whoops!). One of them decided to have a huge pancake breakfast at the Red Kettle. Turns out that may have been a mistake with a big uphill day ahead of you, the poor dude threw up. I made sure he was in a good mood before I laughed about it, I started to think of a trail name out of the situation, but unfortunately had one. Leave No Cakes had a good ring to it (like leave no trace.. get it? Get it? I thought it was funny). We leap-frogged again for a while, but I was mostly in my head wondering how this stretch would turn out, still paranoid I’d be pushed to my limit and quit. I don’t want to quit, I like all this despite the bad moments. I guess I just shouldn’t quit then, right? Alright then, I won’t.
The trail hit Saddle Junction after a few miles of uphill, and then proceeded to go uphill even more. The trail started to look a little bit like a teaser for the Sierra (which are 500+ miles away at this point). Rocks dotting the landscape with trees scattered everywhere, high elevation, etc. It was such a drastic shift from the desert, I didn’t know if I should be wowed or confused. I went uphill for a ways before I decided to take a break. I went off trail a bit, climbed up, over, and around some boulders, then had a little space all to myself where I could stare out at the trees. I’ve put my doubts behind me at this point, it’s time to enjoy this. I’m going to try and enjoy things like this more often from here on out, daily mileage doesn’t mean shit unless you really need to make the miles for water purposes or whatever. I know I can do 20 mile days, so fucking what? What does that even mean in the grand scheme of things? I’m not out here for that, I came out here to enjoy the moment.
Of course I do have to make a certain amount of miles to make it to Canada before the snow falls, so I decided I’ll do 15s until I can casually do a 20. Sounds good to me. I also made a mental note to stop staring at my phone so often tracking the day and pre-planning my camp sites. It’s time to just throw my hands in the air and accept whatever comes at me. The plan for today however is San Jacinto, the thought of summiting another peak was exciting to me. It’s all I did before the PCT, I felt at home in the moment.
I followed Saddle Junction, then followed signs for San Jacinto which would lead me to Wellman Divide. The trail shifted from snow, to green, to snow, to green.. you get it. Sometimes the footprints in the snow would take me in the wrong direction and I’d have to backtrack to correct myself, but it was a lot of fun. The trail started to become more drastic with its uphill and I started to become more and more excited. I love climbing up mountains. You don’t strictly do it on the PCT very often, you’ll climb up to what’s almost the summit, but you stop short and walk along a ridge, then hop over to another mountain.
I got up to Wellman Divide and saw a sign for San Jacinto, among other things. I noticed Humber Park was only five miles behind me. My day certainly felt a lot bigger than five miles, but now that I’m Mr. “I don’t care about numbers” hiker, I shrugged and took pictures. There were boulders all around and I opted to sit among some of them. Once again I got off trail and started climbing all over them looking for the perfect spot. I eventually found it and sat down. Between a couple of them in front of me I had a little view. This is nice.
As I was relaxing, a helicopter flew overhead. It turned around, flew overhead again, turned around again, etc. It kept doing this, and kept getting lower and lower as it did. I checked my Delorme InReach thinking maybe I’d pressed the SOS button on accident somehow? No? Okay. This is definitely a SAR (Search and Rescue) operation thing going on here, but I’m not in trouble. I got up and started walking hoping they’d understand that I wasn’t the one in trouble. They followed me for a ways and eventually flew off. Well that was weird.
I was finally on the proper trail up San Jacinto making the final ascent. The trail mostly stayed along a steep slope, occasionally switching back where it could, but mostly staying along a constant grade. All things considered it really wasn’t that bad. As I walked up, I started to notice the sky getting darker, but it didn’t really look like a storm would blow in. It would snow/hail briefly every once in a while, but I’ve been up on a mountain in a thunderstorm before. That experience was burned into my memory, I could say with some certainty that I’d be fine, so I pushed on.
I finally hit the saddle of the peak and started hiking up to the summit. As I went on I lost the trail a few times. It’s so weird not being on the PCT where your every change of direction is obvious. Trail or not, I knew where I was going either way. Get to the saddle, take a right. Easy. I eventually made it back to the trail and found myself in front of the emergency shelter. I passed it not particularly curious about what it’s like in there, and followed the cairns up to the top.
The last push was nothing to sweat really, it was a little snowy but you could really just stay on the rocks and scramble up. As I climbed up over the last rock I could see a guy enjoying the summit all to himself. I recognized him as one of the people to pass me earlier in the day as I took my time.
I got up and set my pack down on the rocks and sat down, looking out at the desert floor below us.
“This is cool” I said.
“Oh yeah” He replied. “How was your go at it?” He said with an Australian accent.
“Good, I think I brought way too much water though. You hiking the PCT?”
“Absolutely. I’m Chris, what’s your name?”
“It’s not set in stone, but people are calling my Tarzan. Where you from?”
“Washington” I replied. Obviously I knew where he was from, but I didn’t want to be that guy and say something like ‘I bet I can guess where you’re from!’, so I asked. The answer: Australia, of course.
We talked for a bit and took pictures until another hiker rolled in.
“Hey hey, how’s it goin!” I said. I have no idea who this is, but it’s exciting to see thru-hikers off the PCT for some reason. We did the whole introduction thing, his name was Yukon and he was from nowhere really. After hiking the AT he lived on the road for a couple years. After a while another guy rolled in named Frankenstein. He’s had multiple knee surgeries including some tissue transplants from donors along with some bolts here and there, ergo Frankenstein is the obvious trail name for him.
This is the first time I’ve really sat around and talked to a group of hikers, and it was really awesome. But eventually it became a little too crowded, so I started to wander around the summit a bit, going along the ridge for different views. When I got back, the last of them were leaving and one of them wanted to take my picture. Who knows why, but I agreed and did the whole “I’m on a mountain” pose. They left, I went and grabbed my backpack and started down as well. I wanted to camp on the summit but the clouds went from innocent to looking slightly more ominous, so I’d hike as far as I could and camp wherever looked best.
Going downhill in the snow was a little more of challenge than up, so I tried to stay on dry ground as much as I could, occasionally getting hit in the face with branches. I passed a few people making their final push up the mountain, and then I was alone once again. I accidentally went the wrong way for a little ways, so I had to backtrack and head towards the other face of the mountain where I went downhill a ways. Woops.
I went downhill a ways looking to camp at a backcountry campsite a few miles from the summit. As I got down I noticed a hiker behind me and recognized him from the many PCT Facebook groups. Coolio! He pressed on for water, I wandered around the maze of this campsite looking for a good spot to call it a day and eventually settled on camping where the rangers usually stay when hiking season is in full swing. There was snow everywhere and the whole place looked like a scene from a movie or a dream, albeit slightly more creepy. I made dinner, strapped my quilt to my now functional sleeping pad, and laid there until I passed out. I dunno how this stretch will turn out, but it’s off to a great start.