Sand to Snow on the PCT – Day 11-14

Day 11 –

We got up a bit earlier than normal to tackle the long uphill miles before the day gets hot. It was dark and cool weaving through the river canyon, between trees, up the wash, crisscrossing the streams. It started to get cooler with gusts of cold air forcing us to put our fleeces on. We soon realized we were headed up the mountain right into a  snowstorm. At first, the flurries of snow were fun and exciting. Snow falling on us in the desert on the PCT! But as the temperature continued to drop, the wind picked up and the snowfall got heavier, we started to get very cold.

We stopped at a creek for the last water for 16 miles. Of course, climbing thousands of feet up a mountain and a snowstorm weren’t enough. Now there’s a long water carry.

We threw on our wind pants and jackets, gloves, hats, anything waterproof that could keep us warmer. It was now 32° out. Filtering an ice-cold stream while trying to keep your fingers and toes warm proved very difficult. Once we had enough water and a quick snack we knew we had to keep moving to stay warm. I had to carry Dirt Devil from here on since he was shivering and just too cold even in his base layer and fleece. He loves to be snuggled in my shirt so he was warm, happy and took a little nap in there.

We met some other hikers who decided to set up camp and wait out the storm, but we knew we would be warmer moving and the storm wasn’t bad enough that we couldn’t keep going. The cold motivated us to move quickly. We reached the summit and seesawed up and down for another 10 miles. Finally, the storm started to let up a bit as we got to the other side of the ridge. The sun broke through the clouds and we took a little break in the warmth.

More miles got us to mile 250! And then past old animal cages, apparently where they used to keep animals from Hollywood movies. Sad.

At this point, my ankle started hurting. I think I’ve been walking funny because of an old deep blister. It was very difficult and painful walking the last 4 miles down to the campground.

Before reaching the campground we realized we might have phone service so I stopped to look up if there were any trail angels in Big Bear, our next town stop, that could help us out. One quick call to Kenny and we had arranged a place to sleep, pick up at the trailhead tomorrow morning, and a hot breakfast waiting for us! Cell phone service is the best at mountain tops so if you think you have a view of town you should try for service if you need to make a quick call or text; you may not have it at camp that night. It was a smart move because we quickly lost service as we descended to the campsite.

The last 2 miles probably took me an hour on my injured ankle. When I got to camp and saw an actual real live campfire, I almost cried in happiness;  it was our first campfire on the trail and it couldn’t have come at a better time with the 30° we’d been hiking in all day.

We got to camp around 5 pm, one of our earlier times so we had a long time to sit around the fire and chat with the 15-20 hikers huddled around. This was clearly the bubble of hikers ahead of us as most knew each other and had been hiking together for some time.

Meat was cooked on hot rocks by the fire, stories of days past and interesting hikers encountered on the trail. Once again it was a little sad that they had this big group and had formed all these bonds, but they were going far slower than I would be happy doing. I like moving fast, I like covering ground, I like the physical challenge of it as well. We all want different things from the trail, and I think we all find them as long as we listen to ourselves and do what we want.

Day 12 –

We awoke up to 19° on the thermometer; coldest morning so far. We only had 10 miles to Highway 18, our pickup location for Big Bear, and a warm, home-cooked breakfast was calling our name. It snowed the whole way there and was very cold so we were excited to be getting indoors away from another snowy day.

At Kenny’s, there was a breakfast of waffles, berry smoothie, potatoes, meat, everything a hungry hiker could want. He showed us around to the laundry, hot showers, and rooms full of hikers. Since I’m a single woman I got the first pick of the private room, lucky me! I had a TV with Netflix, a shower, and most importantly my own bathtub!! And yes, I took a bath while watching Netflix. Twice.

Kenny drove us to the grocery store for a resupply, and then we mostly hung out drying out tents and sleeping bags, packing our bags, repackaging food, and planning the next stretch of trail up to Wrightwood, CA. It continued to snow all day so we were very appreciative to be indoors, warm and dry.

That night we ordered Domino’s. I ordered a whole medium pizza for Dirt Devil. Spoiler alert – he ate the whole thing in less than 3 days.

Getting to sleep in a real bed is such a treat on the trail and so rejuvenating for our tired bodies.

Day 13 –

Another amazing homemade breakfast, this time peach crumb cake was added to the menu, and after another quick Epsom salt bath, we got the trail by 930am.

The trail was a bit monotonous for most of the day. There is one really pretty stretch by Cougar Crest; you can see the town of Big Bear, the lake, and the snowy mountains behind. The views disappear quickly as the trail descends back into desert landscape.

As the sun was low on the horizon and the temperature cooled, we snaked on sandy hillsides down to a river. We camped there on a large sandy beach near a pretty waterfall.

Not all days are especially beautiful on the trail, but there’s always beauty somewhere. As long as you keep walking you’ll be stunned by the quick change of scenery and landscape before you.

Day 14 –

For the next 20+ miles, the trail follows Deep Creek to the Mojave River Forks Dam. It winds high above the river providing sweeping views of the river below. It looks so cool and inviting down there as we roast in the sun hiking up high.

We hiked quickly today knowing another big highlight was coming up – Deep Creek Hot Springs! I had heard very mixed reviews about this place. Lots of day hikers come here and apparently, there can be lots of garbage all over, and loud and obnoxious people; we were nervous about what we would find there. Fortunately, our experience was far different.

We arrived at the hot springs on a Thursday around noon and it was the most wonderful experience. It’s gorgeous there. An oasis in the middle of the hot and dry desert. There are multiple pools, each a different temperature, and the river provides a cool bath to dip in between.

Like most natural hot springs, the area is clothing optional so be prepared for some nudity. Everyone was especially kind and respectful. I didn’t want to leave.

We spent 3 hours there talking with other thru-hikers we’d met on the trail, comparing experiences and telling day hikers about what we’re doing out here. It felt so good to soak our sore feet and bodies; it was overwhelmingly relaxing. There were even hummingbirds flying all over – you can see one captured at the top of the next photo.

I seriously thought about staying the night here and having an ‘on trail zero’ but I could tell this wasn’t my hiking partner’s cup of tea. I begrudgingly packed up and headed back into the sweltering heat.

The hike out to the dam was pretty miserable. It was over 90°, no shade, one of those rough sections of trail where you just have to grit your teeth and keep going.

We both started to get overheated, dehydrated, and moody. Walking through the hottest part of the day in full sun is no good for anyone. At least we were walking through the prettiest yellow flower shrubs that glowed in the evening light.

Eventually, it started to cool around 5:30 pm and we made it the last few miles to a campsite just at dusk. Rough afternoon but we made it. I know there will be many more rough times on the trail but those times show you how tough we truly are and that no matter what we can get through it. I will make it to Canada.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 2

  • Edward J Sefner : May 6th

    You and dirt devil are awesome.
    Loving your journey.

  • Doug Ruby : Jul 25th

    We’ve lost track of you did you make it to the Sierras


What Do You Think?