PCT Update #2

Days: 15-19

Miles: 179.4-266.1

Current location: Big Bear Lake, CA

This stretch is a doozy and has it all: all the ways the trail is hard. Hot? Cold? Up? Down? Too little water? Too much water? Yes yes yes.

We did this stretch in 5 days, so let me take you through them. First off, I’ve been hiking with a fun group: Amanda, Nardina, Cassie, Joey and Firefly (Reed). We all started within a day or two of each other but I just asked them when we actually became friends and nobody can really remember so let’s just say the beginning.

Oh, we had stayed in an eclectic Airbnb together for our zero in Idyllwild and I should mention that it didn’t have a shower, only a bathtub, and we had to MacGyver a way to rinse our hair using a sauce pot from the kitchen, so this may be our real friendship origin story.

Stretch Day 1

Anyway, coming out of Idyllwild everyone but Joey decided to take an alternate back up to the PCT to avoid having to hike through more snow on San Jacinto’s exposed Fuller Ridge and on the descent down from the top. We hiked 8 miles on an alternate road and met up with the PCT further down the trail than where we had gotten off to get to town; and past where there was any remaining snow. We then started the 6,700-ft descent off the darn mountain. It might sound fun and easy to go down but it hurts; especially with a pack full of 5 days worth of food. Oh, add to that no water for long stretches which means you have to carry extra weight and it’s just a lot of pounding on your knees and feet. I rolled my ankle on the way down and there’s nothing to do out here but hike it off when that happens. We walked 18 miles the first day out of town and crossed the 200-mile mark, then camped at a really pretty site with a spectacular view of San Jacinto and the snow. Having not taken the alternate, Joey hiked a few more miles than we did – plus a couple of those as slower snow miles – so got into camp well past dark.

Day 2

We finally made it down and out of the San Jacinto mountains then started a hot, hellish slog through the desert to Whitewater River in the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains. What’s worse than ‘extremely not fun’? It was that x50. We very dumbly did not realize how blisteringly hot it would be and so thought a 5:45am start would be early enough to get some miles in before it got too warm. (It was not). First you have to hike through this sh*tty deep sand for a bunch of miles with no shade or cover and few discernible trail markings, then cross under a highway so you see and hear traffic noise for miles which is gross and depressing after the peace and quiet of the mountains, and then you have to continue the hot-a$$ no-water death march with your still too-heavy newly-resupplied backpack and all the water you have to cart across this hellscape in order to not die for another like 14 miles until you finally get back to mountains……except then your tired thirsty a$$ has to, like, start climbing them.

The only saving grace are the heroes of the Mesa Wind Farm who run a completely random and absurdly amazing little oasis in the middle of all of this nonsense. You come around a bend in the trail to find this small what-looks-like construction site office with a garage-type structure and a “PCT Hikers” sign taped to the door. Inside there is water and snacks and air conditioning and bathrooms! If you’ve never felt the misery of trudging slow, hot, sandy, scrubby miles in the desert in the middle of the day then it is hard to accurately convey how desperate you become for water, shade and cool. The day we came through they also had freshly cut watermelon and donuts and four puppies! (Well, dogs but all dogs are puppies). If you can’t tell from the description above, this was one of my more miserable hiking days and I felt truly awful by the time I got to the lifesaving wind farm office. The wind farm staff and the biologists who work there there are so kind and accommodating and I can’t rave enough about how fantastic this pit stop was. I spent two hours there cooling down and avoiding the mid-day heat, then kept going on miserably for a total of 19 miles until we finally reached our first (and only?) real river crossing of southern CA, aptly named Whitewater River. It was swift but not deep and Firefly, Cassie and I crossed in the evening and camped on the opposite bank; the rest of the group crossed the next morning.

Day 3

We knew this was going to be a hard day because we had to start the 8,400-ft climb that would last the next day and an half, about 30ish miles. The AT goes up and down and up and down torturously, but the PCT has these long, constant ups and downs. It is less steep but not less challenging. And the day was hard, but compared to the previous day I felt so much better climbing in the cool of the mountains and with plentiful water. And by ‘plentiful water’ I mean going back and forth across Mission Creek 27 times on the way up,  getting your feet soaking wet each time and getting sand and rocks in your shoes but doing it way too frequently to make it worth it to stop and empty them. I resurrected a game I used to play with myself on the AT called “how long can I go with this (these) pebble(s) in my shoe(s)?” We climbed 5,100 feet over 17 miles and all pretty much crawled into camp bonked.

Day 4

We had high hopes for Day 4! Our backpacks were finally getting lighter and the terrain was going to level out halfway through the day. We did have a long water carry, about 12 miles to a reliable water cache the SOBOs were telling us about, but on flat-ish ground high up where it’s cool that distance is less a concern. And actually it was a pretty fun day with a bit of unexpected adventure thrown in in the form of lightning, thunder, hail, rain, and all four at once! I’d never experienced thunder hail before.

We were all dispersed across the trail when the thunder hail started, but most of us were up at about 8,500 feet on a steep stretch of trail with a long drop-off that went from dry to icy in about 10 minutes under a torrential downpour of pea-sized hail. I didn’t expect it to last that long so just kept walking without digging out any of my rain gear or spikes which was mostly fine other than getting pelted with hail really hurts! and the ground quickly got a bit slippery. I finally put on my puffy toward the end once I was already soaked. It sounds scary but it was really all kind of exhilarating and cool to watch the sudden change in weather and conditions.

I found Firefly post-thunder hail and we met up with Joey soon after, right around the 250-mile mark. I changed into dry clothes just in time for it to happen again. Honestly it just doesn’t occurred to us to check the weather most of the time, oops. So the last 5 or so miles were very cold and wet, high AT vibes. Like when you roll and ankle, there’s not much to do out here but just keep moving. Everyone got into camp pretty sad with wet clothes and wet stuff except for Cassie so she won gold star for the day. Camping cold and wet is, differently but equally, as sad as death marching through the desert, so I treated myself to my emergency morale mac & cheese and two episodes of Ted Lasso.

Day 5

We waited until the sun was out to really get going the next morning, to ease the pain of putting on wet clothes, socks and shoes. And then relatively uneventfully finished the last 10 miles into Big Bear Lake. We all got super easy hitches straight to Taco Bell where we ate an amazingly disgusting amount of food and then checked in to a bear-themed Airbnb to get clean, do laundry, laze, and start town errands.

This stretch was hard for me for sure, but the blow-by-blow above doesn’t convey all the giggles, fun, beauty, and good times we had too. Some of these things are so difficult to describe or have that you-had-to-be-there factor; and some are so seemingly inconsequential they don’t even feel worth writing about when compared against narrative facts like how many miles we hiked or how many feel of elevation we gained/lost. Like the morning on Day 4 when I was filtering water and saw a gorgeous tiny hummingbird with a bright purple head land in the creek right next to me and drink. Or on Day 3 napping in the shade with this Swiss guy, Roland (with whom we have this ongoing joke about how our group keeps trying to be friends with him and he keeps trying, and failing, to outrun us) when he jumps up and screams bloody murder after a lizard crawls across his foot. Or making up song lyrics or talking about all the crude things “hot girls” do out here like wear dirty socks or getting lost and bushwhacking side trails for the fun of it. So, there’s all of that too.

Tomorrow we head out for our next stretch, 100 miles to Wrightwood.


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Comments 2

  • Dan "Monk" Paris : May 31st

    PCT ’14, ’18 (Another planned for ’25)

    Hey Snap, if you think crossing the sand I to Cabazon was hot, or going into the back country of Big Bear, you are in for a rude awakening. Be very careful of going thru the Tehachapi’s. There is absolutely NO shade, water, and minimal camping. Before that, when you reach Hiker Haven, please be careful, the guy also owns the hotel down the road. He is a PERVERT!! He has put hidden cameras in the rooms and has spied on females in the past. If you stay, camp in the yard, then leave early the next morning. Also, the heat from the Tehachapi’s on into Lake Isabella is going to be HOT. The best thing to do is hike early morning till about 10 or 11am, then get off yer feet. Take yer shoes off, and rest till about 4:30 or 5p. Get back hiking till about 10p. This way you don’t hike in the heat of the day. It will be brutal, but you guys can do it. You have each other for support. Also be careful going thru the Kern River area, as this too will be HOT, expect over 100 degree Temps… more like 110-115 degrees. Don’t worry, there is some shade. Keep an eye out for Mojave Green Rattlers, as they blend in with the plants. If you get bit, you be dead within minutes. And please be careful crossing the rivers in the Sierra, as the snow melts, there will be swift, high rivers. When you get to Washington, and the snoqualamie area, there is a hot springs about 11 miles north, just off the pct. It is amazing. What a way to relax and refresh. Try to go if you can. Good luck, happy trails, and keep your eyes and ears open ALWAYS!

    • Dan "Monk" paris : May 31st

      I forgot to mention, the Hot Spings is called Goldmeyer Hit Springs. 🙂


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