Hard Truths

Time isn’t real out here.

I feel like I’ve known my first trail family for years even though it had only been a few weeks together before we dispersed. These people are Susan (fka Shank, she’s rethinking the name), Tal (Chai Guy), and a mother/daughter duo – Liz (Hummingbird) and Delilah (Spry). We traversed the early desert mostly together, Tal usually miles ahead of us but all arriving to camp together at the end of the day. We took a double zero together in Julian and enjoyed town food, laundry, and Netflix as a family. We reached Paradise Valley Cafe 75 miles away still somewhat intact. Chai was a day ahead while the four of us women went into Idyllwild for a reset after multiple mental breakdowns (mostly mine). Chai continued trekking on through the San Jacinto mountain range to give us an update on conditions.

Idyllwild was comforting but the towering San Jacinto mountains cast a heavy vibe.

The jagged range explodes through a desert landscape over 10,000 feet high with the PCT reaching to 9,030 feet. The climb is strenuous and if that’s not enough, the majority of the trail is on a steep ridge looking 100’s of feet down and is covered by large blowdowns (fallen trees). Once you have traversed that challenge, the mountain gods sprinkle in some more sketchiness. Snow has never scared me before except when driving in it in my Corolla. But I was concerned about this mountain.

There were so many mixed reports coming from people who had gone the full distance of the San Jacinto’s and came back into Idyllwild for rest. “You don’t need microspikes or an axe,” “there’s only like 40 blowdowns,” “there’s 150 blowdowns,” “my friend had to self arrest with an ice axe after falling 20 feet.” What am I supposed to do with this information?

I had microspikes and an ice axe, but I wasn’t versed in how to use the axe to the extent that my body would automatically react in a self arrest position if I were to fall. This was my first realization that I was not as prepared as I ought to be. I also did not expect to need this skill so early on. I was aware of the mountain range in the desert and knew its dangers but figured I’d reevaluate when I got there. And now I was there.

We left our ice axes behind based on some “professional” information and Susan and I set out a day before Hummingbird and Spry. This mountain kicked my ass. First a freezing cold night, then a wind storm that forced me to abandon my tent and squeeze in with Susan, a hiker obstacle course of trees and rock slides, and then the snow. I will breeze over this next part because it’s not my story to tell, but Susan had a fall and I almost went down behind her. She was unharmed thankfully but it shook me to the point of realization that this could have been much worse. Just that morning I had been reading the story of Trevor Laher who lost his life in 2020 from a fall just miles before where we were.

It was not a fucking joke what we were doing.

This mountain was a threat to those unprepared and I wasn’t confident enough to keep going. And although many made it through the San Jacinto’s safely and not phased without snow gear, I wasn’t willing to risk it. We exited down a side trail the next morning.

The social scene is contaminated.

Then came the sick. We had gotten word that a Norovirus outbreak started just north of where we were to go next. On top of that, this section of trail was washed out and damaged by Hurricane Hilary so hikers were having an extra difficult time navigating it. I was at a place mentally and emotionally that was wanting to go home. Instead of doing that, we made the tough call to skip our first miles on the PCT. Susan and I caught a ride up to Big Bear and skipped a whole 98 miles.

The guilt.

I felt guilty for skipping (spoiler alert it happens again). I was seeing others on social media making the trek and I felt weak and still sort of do for making that decision. It was for the best at the time. When we arrived in Big Bear, I felt lighter, I had less anxiety, and I felt excited to be on trail again.

I reunited with my friend Danny who I met on the shuttle to the southern terminus and started the same day as me, April 17. He had been 90+ miles ahead of me for a while but we had stayed in contact on social media. (Goes to show how slow I am.)

A few days outside of Big Bear, Danny camped with us and while making dinner said something that caught me off guard. He told me that my view of this experience always seems to be the worst case scenario. He wasn’t wrong and I was kind of sad by the realization that I appeared outwardly as that cynical worrier I’ve always sort of been. But then he followed up with “it’s refreshing” because it’s “all ego out here.” I knew what he meant and it made me suddenly feel proud of my rawness.

I find humor in being openly honest and letting my fears be known. I think it makes people uncomfortable sometimes. But god damn, how else are we going to get through this?

There is a lot of ego out here. The people I have gravitated towards don’t hide their concerns. Nor do they act better than anyone else. Even the strongest hikers must feel concern at some point, unless you’re a psychopath and I’m sure there’s a couple of those out here as well.

I’m not doing this hike because I thought it was going to be easy, I also don’t want to be afraid the whole time. Or guilty for choosing to skip miles. And I don’t want this blog to be solely about the scary shit that happens out here (even though it kind of is so far.)

I’m doing this hike because I’m looking for something in the hardship to inspire me, whether that drives me home early or not.

Over the course of the 6 days, 91.6 miles between Big Bear and Wrightwood I had a much more enjoyable experience. I was pushing bigger miles (15-18 a day), camped in some beautiful spots, and saw the most amazing sunrise. We avoided people and potentially contaminated areas (except the McDonalds in Cajon Pass) due to Noro continuing to spread in that section. We made it to Wrightwood, settled into the cutest AirBnB, and then shit hit the fan, again.

To be continued.





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Comments 2

  • Chai Guy : May 18th

    You’re right, there really is a lot of ego out here. Your feelings will always be your own but I just wanted to say that I think skipping a section you don’t feel safe doing is the correct and by the way the braver choice. You’re forging your own path by your own rules instead of carrying on other ppl’s norms.
    Have fun out there!

    • Autumn Hunnicutt : May 18th

      Miss ya Chai. Hope to see you soon!


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