Idyllwild to Big Bear: The Pilgrimage for Pancakes

We awoke to the sun baking our tent in San Jacinto State Park. Having gotten in late the evening before the good shady spots in the designated PCT camping area were already taken. However, on the flip side of this, all of the showers were open and we were both able to take our second hot shower since starting nearly three weeks ago. It didn’t take long for Michelle to be reminded about her fall the previous day, as she quickly learned while climbing out of the tent that certain movements would cause her quite a bit of discomfort. Knowing we had a bigger climb out of Idyllwild ahead we opted to take a day to rest and resupply. We headed to a bakery for breakfast and coffee and to charge our devices. We found a Scrabble board on a shelf and the day passed quickly. Before we knew it, it was midafternoon and the bakery was closing. We resupplied and headed back to camp. 

Later that evening after a nap we were headed downtown to try to find some dinner. A couple of other hikers flagged us down and waved us over to a picnic table full of food. Half a dozen or more people were sitting around the table talking. We soon learned that this feast was provided by some PCT hikers from the previous year. They shared stories about their journey and answered all the questions we had for them. After most of our questions had been answered our trail angels headed back to their camp, but not before inviting us all for beer and hot dogs later in the evening. 

Mt. San Jacinto

Having unexpectedly stayed up the night before we slept in a bit longer than we intended. We packed up camp and waited out the hotter part of the day in the shade before ascending back into mountains. The climb out of Idyllwild was one of the steepest we had had yet. We were struggling, to say the least, and Michelle’s tailbone seemed to be bothering her on the larger steps up and down so we took our time. We made it to this campsite and this view just in time, as neither of us was in the greatest of moods. We quickly set up our tent before climbing on a recliner-shaped rock to elevate our feet and enjoy what was left of the sunset. 

The next morning was our earliest yet, deciding on the fly the night before that we were going to summit Mt. San Jacinto for sunrise. We left our tent standing and just grabbed enough water and food to get us there and back without being too heavy, a term that is called slackpacking. We unfortunately weren’t able to make it up for sunrise but the views were still nothing short of spectacular. Although we were only at 10,834 feet it felt like we were on top of the world as it is the highest peak in Southern California. 

When we couldn’t take in the beauty any longer we descended to camp, where we took a quick nap before getting back on the trail. We took the rest of the day relatively easy after our morning summit, stopping to wait out the sun by a mountain creek. As we continued down the mountain the next day we passed the 200-mile marker on the way down toward what still stands as one of our least favorite stretches of trail so far. The walk to the I-10 overpass seemed like it would never end. We were trudging up a dry riverbed, in loose sand, head-on into 40+ mph winds. We both were leaning forward like Olympic sprinters trying to remain as aerodynamic as possible.  Finally, after what felt like an eternity of being pelted by wind and sand, we reached the overpass to find an abundance of trail magic. Water, sodas, beer, and fruit waiting like a hidden oasis under the concrete bridge. 

The Climb to Big Bear

Being as exhausted as we were and having done our longest day yet, nearly 20 miles, we opted to spend the night under the bridge. This was a terrible idea in hindsight. We both slept like shit. Which was unfortunate because it was basically uphill the entire way from here to Big Bear. We had already planned for a shorter day, thankfully, so we knew we had a nap in our future. With Coca-Cola for breakfast we had a small boost in motivation and set off. 

A few miles up the trail we came to a set of chairs, and a few miles past that a trail angel named Stormin’ Norman was parked giving out water and snacks. He told us some stories and we shared ours. We took a picture together, and we were on our way. Our next stop up the hill was a wind farm. They had a small sun shelter built with access to water and a restroom, both luxuries for us out in the desert. We continued on through the midday heat, nearing our final destination of the day, Whitewater Preserve, an old fish farm that is now a state park and campground. We arrived midafternoon and immediately soaked our feet in the wading pool. After our cool down we set up camp and played some cards while we charged things before turning in before the sun went down. 

The next day was hot, the hottest we had experienced on trail so far. It didn’t make things any easier that the wind we were cursing just days prior now seemed nonexistent in the foothills we were hiking up. We walked along a stream and found a big, lone shade tree, just in time to take a midday break, or so we thought.

We stripped off our shoes and soaked our feet in the water as we refilled our bottles before retreating to the safety of the tree. We weren’t there much more than an hour before it was quite apparent that Michelle was allergic to something in the area because she couldn’t stop sneezing. We reluctantly packed up our bags and left the comfort of the tree. The temperature increased by at least 20 degrees the moment we stepped out of the shade, now well over 100 degrees F. Fortunately, we had frequent water crossings as we hiked up the canyon so we didn’t have to carry much water. Though this helped it was still hard to replenish what we were losing from sweat as we continued to plod up out of the canyon. 

We found a small pool, deep enough to sit down in, that provided some relief, but without shade we were unable to escape the heat of the sun. We soaked our clothes once more in the water to help cool us off and aid in sweat loss and continued on; slowly. The sun finally began to go down and it started to cool off. Despite the temperature finally letting up we were both too beat from hiking through the heat of the day to continue on so we began looking for a place to camp. Soon after the sun was down behind the mountain we stumbled upon our first rattlesnakes we’d seen since being on the trail. They were nestled on a rock just off the trail. Michelle actually walked right past them without realizing it. Shortly after our rattlesnake photo shoot we found a place to camp just off the trail near a creek where we set up camp, did laundry, soaked our feet, and fell asleep before it was even dark out. 

More of the Same

The next morning we awoke with high hopes of having a good day, despite finding that some of Michelle’s laundry had blown off the tree and had been soaking in the creek rather than drying. Our optimism faded quickly, as did our energy, as we both were exhausted from the night before. The 4,000-foot climb we had that day took every bit of energy we had left. When we made it to our next water source, a spring that was only eight miles away, we filled up and laid down in the shade for a nap. We awoke four hours later, hot and sweaty, no longer in the shade of the tree we hid behind. We were still feeling very exhausted so we listened to our bodies and set up camp rather than pushing ahead. 

Lucky for us the morning was cooler than any we had had in a while. It was a nice change as we finished the climb into Big Bear. We stopped and finished off the last of our food, potatoes, and tuna, before reaching the highway to hitch into Big Bear where we planned to take a zero day and get rehydrated. We stayed at a hostel that night and the next, where we were able to get our dog fix in, shower, and eat our favorite town food (cinnamon toast crunch). We kicked our zero day off with breakfast at Grizzly Manor, something I’d been dreaming about before ever setting foot on the trail. With full bellies we waddled back toward the hostel, stopping to resupply along the way. 

We spent the rest of our final day in Big Bear playing cards in the shade of the porch all afternoon. We ate our leftovers for breakfast the next morning and hitched out back to the trail. Next stop Wrightwood.

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