Escaping the Storm, Embracing the Storm

Escaping the Storm

For the first three weeks we were on trail, we were playing hide and seek with the weather. Weekly rain or snowstorms dictated our pacing – our first weekend on trail, hail forced us to end day two early in Lake Morena. A snowstorm hit just as we arrived in Julian, and, freshly scarred from the torrential downpour of the week prior, we decided to take two zeros rather than risk having to hike Scissors Crossing in the rain. It snowed steadily throughout our first zero, and every time we looked out the window at the snow blowing sideways, we congratulated ourselves on our good sense to not keep hiking. During our second zero (spent at Stagecoach RV park), the rain never came down hard enough for us to feel truly confident that we’d made the right call on a second zero; the sun never shone for long enough that we completely regretted it either.

fitting 6 hikers into a single room in Julian 😅

Then, we heard of another incoming snowstorm that promised over 5 inches of snow on San Jacinto. We pulled out FarOut and mulled over our options. If we were willing to be ambitious, we could potentially outrun it; we just needed to do two back-to-back twenty mile days our second week on trail, and it would get us to PVC, where we could hitch into Idyllwild to find a place to stay. Never mind that we were sprinting 78 miles in 4 days, when we had barely covered 81 miles the 7 days prior. Never mind that between our tramily we had knee injuries and blisters galore. Not having to be in a tent when it was snowing out seemed worth it, so the race was on. 

same, Paws, same 🥲 – taken on the sprint towards PVC

This is how we wound up night hiking and stumbling into camp after a 13 hour day, cowboy camping for the first time on trail both because it would get us ready for the second 20-mile day the next day, and because we were so exhausted we could barely feed ourselves, let alone set up our tents. The next day, I would race alone up the trail most of the day, spurred on by the belief that the faster I got to PVC the faster I could sit down. I wouldn’t find out until after Disco Thor and I had scoured PVC’s entire mailroom for our tramily’s packages, and the hiker hobble had fully set in, that the stumble I took at the beginning of the day was in fact me spraining my ankle. I had hiked on it for 20 more miles, numbed by the singular desire to reach the finish line, and I’d pay with a limp for the rest of the weekend. 

the storm wall 😩

The storm hit that night, while we were safely packed into a trail angel’s ADU ( thank you Ella!!!!) The seven of us nestled side by side, listening to the snow pelting the windows, and counted our blessings that we had enough time to get to town.

Ella’s place in Idyllwild!

Embracing the Storm

We were back in Idyllwild a few days later, after bailing off Apache Peak (more on this in a different post). A friendly shopkeeper asked if I had heard about the upcoming weekend’s storm, and my heart immediately fell. It seemed like all we had been doing since getting on trail was racing against the impending clouds. The next week’s section included Mission Creek, the washout from Hurricane Hillary that was sure to be a flash flood zone if we were to be caught in it when the storm hit. The days after that promised lows in the sub-20s. It seemed like once again, the race would be on. 

Situated at the In n Out at Cabazon, our tramily debated if it was worth trying to pull big days again to get off the trail before the storm hit, and whether the temperatures would truly get low enough to jeopardize people’s well-being. No matter how we cut the miles, it seemed like it would be impossible for most of us to make enough consistent daily mileage at our fitness levels to make it to the road where we’d hitch to Big Bear Lake. We would have to leave trail early, or face the storm. We chose to face the storm.

thanks I-10 trail angels for rescuing us from the heat 😫

Having reached Cabazon by hiking down from San Jacinto under the merciless blaze of the desert sun, it seemed inconceivable that the temperature over the next week could drop over 50 degrees. We passed Whitewater, then Mission Creek, and each day felt as sweltering as the last. Even the 58 times ( I counted 😅 ) that we crossed over Mission Creek’s waters, and the buffs we dipped and dripped onto our heads, didn’t cool us down for long. Then, we were clambering 2000ft, straight up a mountain along the ridgeline alternate, and not long after cresting its peak, a shock of white lay before us – snow! 

navigating the banks of Mission Creek

We were exhausted and just a bit defeated.  It had been one of the most strenuous days on trail so far, even without suddenly realizing we’d have to posthole a few miles at the very end of the day. Suddenly, the temperatures dropping below 20 started seeming much more likely.

Spring and me unenthusiastic about the snow

The next day, Spring and I put our microspikes on and took them off 7 different times as we navigated the gravel, snow, and scree. Each time we thought we had rounded a side of the mountain where the sun would have burned off the snow, we would turn the corner and find an unbroken sheet of white. When we trudged into camp 13ish miles later, the sky was clear but a fierce wind was whipping up. We set up our tent quickly and watched with trepidation as the storm clouds blew in. I put on every layer I had, expecting to spend the night shivering.

I was cozy all night, and when I woke up, it was unclear if it had even rained. Roadrunner confirmed she had heard some droplets in the middle of the night, but all of our gear was more dry than some of the nights we’d spent cowboy camping during the previous weeks. We had spent more energy deliberating our options than for any of the previous storms, and yet this storm never materialized.

the next morning at our campsite

To go or not to go

Hindsight being as perfect as it is, we did have some retroactive misgivings about taking the second zero in Julian, especially given the indecisive weather. This may have fueled our desire to push through at Mission Creek. Both decisions could just have easily been the wrong call – it could have been a downpour that turned Scissors Crossing into an unbearable mudslide, or we could have been soaked and miserable on the ridgeline before descending into Big Bear Lake. We can never know for sure. All we know is that we’ll have to continue fine tuning our ability to make these types of risk assessments as a team, as we forge ahead towards the Sierra and continue to face ever more challenging terrain and weather. 

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Comments 2

  • Jeff Greene : May 7th

    Keep up the good work! Was just day hiking in Whitewater a week ago and chatted with some PCT hikers and saw a bunch more there at the Reserve. Love that stretch, and was telling my wife about that climb up Mission Creek and all the crossings there!

    Reply
    • Angie : May 11th

      Oh awesome, that area was so cool, and we were pretty stoked that the crossings weren’t bad at all, although the ridge climb after was a bit of a doozy 😅 hope you enjoyed your hike as well!!

      Reply

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