Days 22 & 23: Miles 209.6 – 225.5 (Mission Creek aka Mission Abort)


If you are a hiker and you are contemplating entering Section “C” going NOBO towards Mission Creek, please stop and take heed.

In August of 2023, Hurricane Hilary barreled into the California coast, bringing massive amounts of rain. More rainfall than most California areas have experienced in a very long time. With huge dumps of rain comes destruction on a grand scale.

The pictures below are of the White Water Preserve… a once green valley saturated with trees and a beautiful, “little” river. It is now a desolate landscape of rocks, boulders, and sand. It looks like a dried up river bed… except lined with very steep, unstable cliffs where raging waters cut new boundaries for itself.

The entire valley is now a riverbed.
New boundaries.

Please do yourself a favor and avoid this section. It is risky at best… if not deadly. Nothing is stable, and everything is upset.

Miles 209.6 – 225.5

Rachael, Bird, and I stayed in Plam Springs for the night. It was a short visit, but in that time we were able to shop for our resupply items, have a nice dinner, and meet-up with one of Rachael’s dear friends.

Chappy is his name, and he was one of Rachael’s first regular customers when she first started out as a server. Chappy is an older guy, full of character and quick as a whip. He knows what he likes and likes what he knows. Chappy was very helpful in driving us around town to fulfill our in-town chores and then getting us back to the PCT the following morning.


We felt the stop in Palm Springs was nice, but not nearly long enough as the three of us once again set out on trail, hoping to make it through the Mission Creek area and onto Big Bear before the weekend’s winter storm hits. Yes… another storm.

The three of us set off on trail just before 1:00 p.m. Our intent was to tackle the initial, smaller uphill climb before taking on the massive, and reportedly hazardous Mission Creek section on days two and three.

Section “C”

Day one included a short, yet very steep climb. We were climbing up the trail the moment we stepped out of Chappy’s van and continued for what felt like eternity. The climb was extremely steep… it seemed way too steep to be an equestrian trail, but what do I know?

Our campsite was epic! One of the best we’ve had since beginning the trail. We found a super nice spot in a dry river where we were able to spread out and even make a very welcoming campfire.

The perfect end to an exhausting day.

Day 2: The Mission Creek 2-Step

Climbing up a mountain is no easy feat…

Day two was filled with climbs and beautiful weather as we inched our ways toward Big Bear. It was a blue bird day with temperatures in the mid 70’s. Having been deployed to the Middle East numerous times during the summer, and having lived in both Las Vegas and Tucson, you would think I can handle a little heat. Well… living in Bend, Oregon for almost four years has made me a little more sensitive to the heat than I remember. It was hot! I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like when the temperature reaches 100 degrees. 😬

I love morning hikes!

We had set off at 7:00 a.m. hoping to make some ground while the weather was still relatively cool. It was mostly uphill, so we couldn’t get the big miles in that we would have hoped.

All morning, we thought and talked about what our options might be as we got closer and closer to the closure area. We knew the trail was a complete wash out and that our only two options for hiking thru would be to navigate the river or scramble up one of these ridges without a trail. Both options would require us to be off trail, bushwhacking through unknown amounts of vegetation and navigating over and/or around potential boulders, cliffs, and even waterfalls. Neither sounded like fun.

Mojave Yucca in Bloom

We eventually made our way to the White Water Preserve where we got our first glimpse of the destruction caused by Hurricane Hilary. The valley looked like a wasteland. A massive dry riverbed that stretched a quarter mile across from one side of the valley to the other. Both sides of the valley were lined by newly cut cliffs, formed by what must have been 30 – 40 foot flood waters.

The entire valley… washed away.

This should have been our sign to turn around, but we didn’t. The three of us navigated our ways across the desolate terrain, across a river, and back onto trail… climbing up the mountain yet again.

Rachael’s first river crossing.

It was about noon when Rachael, Bird, and I stopped for a short break under the shade of a few sugar bushes. We again talked about our options… it was apparent what lay ahead of us was weighing heavily on all our minds.

We soon heard some voices approaching from a distance up trail. Rachael suggested we hang out for a few minutes. Maybe these were other hikers that might have some new info about the trail ahead. Certainly they can help us decide which path would be best to take.

Within a couple minutes, three hikers approached: Honey Bee, Paris, and Incognito. The three were on their way back down the mountain after attempting to blaze their way around the trail damage. They confirmed to us that there were in fact steep waterfalls in the river detour and that the ridge line we had discussed was extremely treacherous to climb.

Beavertail Pricklypear in bloom.

The group continued to explain that they had a fourth member with them… a Norwegian gentleman who had a lot of experience mountaineering. The four of them had climbed a portion of the ridge only to find out the ground was not ideal for maintaining good footing. They exhaustedly scrambled up the steep mountain sides for hours before finally calling it quits. Oh… and they turned around well before they reached the “hard part.”

Honey Bee continued to explain that the Norwegian gentleman continued up the ridge line without them. He called them later that evening and was obviously shaken while talking on the phone. The man explained to the other three that he had just completed the scariest climb of his life. So scary that he is seriously considering getting off trail and returning home.

With this new information, our decision moving forward was obvious. Rachael, Bird, and I would turn around and head back down the mountain. It wasn’t a safe situation, and we had no reason to doubt the other hikers after seeing the destruction the flood waters caused in the valley.

Thanks for the new bridge, Bird.

So… we are back in Palm Springs. We are yet again faced with some big decisions. Our window of opportunity to navigate the Big Bear section before the next winter storm has closed. We must either weather the elements or hunker down yet again until the weather improves.

The Zero Day Blues

When Rachael and I requested our PCT permits, we chose an early start date and late finish date on purpose. We wanted to afford ourselves enough time to complete the trail, yet not feel the pressure to do so too quickly. Our plan was to take our time and to enjoy the trail as best we can. We don’t have a time completion goal and neither of us have any serious obligations that cannot be navigated. We are here to ENJOY this incredible experience.

The trail always provides but the timing of those provisions is not always ideal. Weather happens, as do trail closures. Problems on trail happen… it comes with the territory. The best we can do is make decisions that are best for us. Only we can control the outcome of our experience.

White Water Preserve

Yes, we have and are taking more zero days than we had hoped or planned for. But, we are having a blast. We still have our eyes set on the prize… we still want to complete a full thru-hike. Our goal is to experience every mile of this trail we can… which is proving to be more difficult than we had imagined.

The three of us are stoked to be on trail. We aren’t moving along trail as quickly as we would have hoped, but we are making progress. We are controlling what we can and taking those things we can’t control in stride. Not to worry… the trail miles will come in time.

Thank you as always for following along on our journey. I wish we could provide more progress, but there are barriers we cannot control. In an attempt to hike every accessible mile… we have had to take risks. Those risks have become temporary setbacks, but we have nothing but time. We will prevail.

Cheers, Smiley

One step at a time.

Post-hike soak.


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Comments 2

  • Chris : Apr 2nd

    Better to be safe than sorry. Certainly a benefit to starting early like you three did.

  • Kat : May 12th

    We just went through this bit of trail. It’s really not very difficult at all. Slower going but it was still beautiful and not dangerous


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