PCT Week 3: More Climbs, Even More Climbs, and a Marathon
Idyllwild, a Town with a Dog for a Mayor
A nice zero to relax and plan for the next section is taken. We head into town to resupply and make sure all of our gear is ready. But first, a shower is needed and for the first time in two weeks laundry! Yes, I didn’t do laundry for the first two weeks, and I was okay with that. One long hot shower later I feel relaxed ready to go into town.
We have a special visitor in town, the mayor, and his deputies! Now, this is no ordinary mayor. Mayor Max is a golden retriever, yes you read that right, a golden retriever. In 2012 the town of Idyllwild elected a dog as mayor, and everyone is excited to meet him.
The rest of the day is spent relaxing and we all go out to dinner to celebrate getting into town. The night is spent full of conversations and laughs, and I spend my first night on trail in an actual bed, I prefer my sleeping pad.
Our final night in town is spent preparing for the San Jacinto Mountain Range. This next section is one of the most difficult and dangerous depending on the conditions. Every day is different on the peak, and it’s hard to really know unless you go up yourself.
Safety is the most important factor when going through the San Jacinto’s. Microspikes or crampons should definitely be brought up and I would always recommend an ice axe just in case. You may not need it, but just in case the conditions are difficult, it’s important to have it with you. Nomad Ventures in Iddlywild is a great resource if you don’t already have this gear.
Reaching Apache Peak, Orriflame Canyon V2
We finally head off after a couple days in town. The night before, there was a storm that hit San Jacinto, and it’s concerning. Even with the amount of experience I have in these conditions, I don’t take it lightly. I know I’m ready, and I start my climb into the San Jacinto.
It’s definitely a climb and a cloudy morning hides the peaks ahead. It’s amazing being back on trail. The water carry is also long, and finally, a good stopping point is reached by the first water source all day. I meet Prism, Shroomboot, and Day Dreamer, an awesome trio that is also headed up.
As a group, we decide that taking two days to reach Apache Peak is a good idea. Everyone walks at their own pace, and having everyone together for the snow will make us all safer. With the storm that just hit, it’s essential to make sure everyone sticks together.
Finally, a long day of climbing ends with a surprising reality: there is no snow on Apache Peak. Twenty-four hours made a huge difference. Hikers who had made it to this point just a day or two before had sent out messages that this section was fully covered in snow.
As someone who grew up and lives in California, I’m actually not as surprised as many others. This has been the reality for many years, our winters haven’t been great. Other than a couple years here and there, we have had less and less snow. And most of it doesn’t really stick, it’s just too hot. It’s both a huge sigh of relief as a hiker that it’s safe to go up, but also sad as someone who has seen the effects of climate change hurt our winters.
That night we are treated with probably the best sunset of the trail so far. We enjoy a nice evening as a group, but things are about to get interesting for everyone. As much as it’s nice out, we are still on top of a peak, and I can tell things are not what it seems.
60+ mph winds hit us all night. Now I’ve already experienced this already on trail when I was up at Oriflamme Canyon. But just like that night, I’m up all night trying to keep my tent up and not have it fly away with me in it. At one point it did almost fly away, but one stake kept it grounded.
Just like in Oriflamme Canyon, we make it through the night. A beautiful sunrise is the reward. It’s quiet, and I check in with everyone, as I’m the only one in the group who had experienced this already on trail. It was rough for everyone, but we are all in good spirits.
Conquering the San Jacinto
It’s time. We head out and turn the corner of Apache Peak, and there is the snow. It’s not as bad as it could be but spikes are needed, and ice axes are taken out. I can already tell it’s going to be a slow day. It’s all climbing, and between the snow and fallen trees, it’s going to take us all day just to do about six miles.
I’m actually having a blast out on the side of the snowy peak. This is what I love, the challenge, the risk, the experience. I have said it time and time again, a thru hike is not fun, it has its fun moments, but fun is not the right wording. It’s rewarding.
The day is long, and I’m tired. But I signed up for this and reaching the other side of the valley is an incredible feeling. We can see the trail from across the mountain range, all the work we had done was there for us to take in. As much as it wasn’t always fun, I look at all I did and I’m proud.
Lunch goes quick and back on trail we must go. Now the trail is all snow, and following boot tracks is necessary. We just happen to find a campsite in the middle of a snowy valley, and that’s where we call home for the night.
Another long day is ahead of us, it’s all climbing again, and all day is spent post-holing and following the boot tracks of previous hikers. I’m enjoying every second of it.
We are reunited with Tumbleweed and Cougar, who had left just a day before us. Their experience was completely different, they dealt with more snow and even longer days. It really shows how variable conditions are day by day.
Now with the whole group together we make our final push, switchbacks, more snow, slips, and falls. All we can do is laugh and enjoy everyone’s company. It’s not easy. We’ve been up since sunrise and we finally reach camp just past sunset. But we did it! We conquered the San Jacinto Mountain Range.
My Proudest Moment So Far and Camazon Trail Magic
Descent is upon us. It’s a 19-mile day and a 15-mile water carry down the mountain. I only have a liter of water left. All that’s on my mind is reaching I10 and getting my reward, In-N-Out.
The entire way down we are treated with a beautiful view of San Jacinto. It’s astounding that we had been up there just 24 hours ago. This is the reward that makes the climbs worth it. Each switchback opens up more views of the mountain. I can’t really explain the feeling, but it’s magical.
All this emotion hits even harder when I reach the 200-mile marker. While this is only the beginning of the journey, I’m proud to have reached this milestone. Even though I’m confident that I can reach Canada, every little step is an achievement. In this moment I am truly proud.
The rest of the descent to water goes quick, but I’m almost out of water. I’m helped by other fellow hikers who are able to spare just enough for me to make it. Just Mary gives me an excellent piece of advice that I now live by on trail, water is better in you rather than out. While it might seem like a good idea to conserve water, when you’re pushing a long hot day, it’s better to drink what you have right then and there, your body needs it.
With just half a mile left, I meet up with Chief doing something unexpected. He’s going back up. The 19-year-old had made it to water super early and chose to bring the remaining hikers water if they needed it. He climbed back up two miles to make sure everyone was able to safely get down.
Finally, we all make it to water. We rest in the shade before our last four-mile push to I10. The last push is more difficult than anything else. It’s hot and we’re in the desert. We can see the road but it seems so far away. And another push is rewarded with a cache of water and gatorades at the underpass.
We are picked up by Clutch, a 2021 PCT thru-hiker who lives nearby. This 19-mile day is fully rewarded with a bountiful meal from In-N-Out. Hiker hunger hits and I eat for three. Clutch becomes even more clutch when she offers us a place to stay, a shower, laundry, and a hot tub. Now this is trail magic!
Marathon to Big Bear
After an unexpected nero in Redlands, it’s back on trail we go. Fully refreshed from the trail magic, it’s a couple day push to Big Bear.
Guess what it’s more climbing! The days are even hotter, but the views are beautiful. The hills are covered in California poppies and in the background you can still see San Jacinto. Lots of day hikers are passed. Whitewater Preserve is the lunch destination.
The shade of the preserve is very welcoming and I take a very very long lunch in order to wait out the heat. I finally meet Grizzly Gramps, a thru hiking legend. Laughs are shared and naps are taken, it’s hard to leave Whitewater Preserve. We could camp here, but I’m not content with a nine-mile day.
Now that the day has cooled, it’s time for more miles. The first night hike of the trail is experienced and cool weather helps us reach Mission Creek. The extra miles are worth it and we reward ourselves with a campfire. In the distance, we can see tomorrow’s climb.
Mission Creek is a mess to navigate. It’s a climb, it’s hot, and it’s hard to find the trail. We look for cairns and markers. On multiple occasions, I can definitely tell I’m off trail, but as long as head north I’m fine. The great news is that the whole day is spent crossing the creek, so no water carry is necessary.
Chief, Duces, and I push forward finally reaching Mission Camp for the night. It’s a cold night, but we get another campfire tonight and it’s just what we need. All this climbing is worth it when you get to end the night with a nice fire and good company.
We awake and we are only 26.3 miles from Big Bear. There is a storm expected tomorrow and as we hike we consider different options. At lunch, the decision is made. We are going to Big Bear tonight! I already have a hitch organized with a friend who lives in town.
We hike 26.3 miles, a whole marathon, and finally reach Highway 18 around nine p.m. I feel incredible, and honestly could go another 15 miles, but a couple days off in Big Bear is necessary. Jason picks us and our long day ends.
Big Bear, a Well Deserved Zero
I spend two days in Big Bear. It’s an amazing mountain town with a bunch to do. Finally after a week we are reunited with ROY-G-BIV who I hadn’t seen since Paradise Valley Cafe. We made it just in time as the storm hits and within 24 hours, the whole town is covered in snow, which does melt pretty quickly throughout the day.
Everyone trickles in from the mountain. It’s a whole reunion with the tramily. Good food and drinks are enjoyed with everyone. A moment of clarity makes me realize why I am on trail and who I truly am. I am optimistic for a reason, and this time spent in Big Bear gives me a whole new perspective on why I’m out here doing this.
I’m ready for the next section, I’m truly content out here and I’m thankful to have the support of everyone. The trail calls my name and I’m off.
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