The Trail is Broken


Upon arriving in Idyllwild, we found ourselves chased by bad weather, compelling our group to seek refuge for a couple of days. This respite was necessary before embarking on our journey over the first major mountain, complete with snow and an exposed ridge traverse. The tangible fear was heightened by reports of danger from fellow hikers who opted to avoid this section, compounded by the tragedy of a PCT hiker on the mountain in 2020. Gathering information on pre-existing snow conditions and what to anticipate after the fresh snowfall became an urgent topic of discussion among hikers in town. It marked the first time on the trail where it truly felt like an expedition, with all of us travelers banding together to strategize our approach to navigating this challenging stretch ahead.

Day 15 – Meeting the Mayor of Idyllwild

May 4th, 2023 – Idyllwild (Zero)

I woke up to a dusting of snow and freezing temperatures. Andrew was up first and made coffee, which I gratefully accepted, feeling slightly hungover. Soon, everyone else woke up, and we enjoyed a big family-style breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, cinnamon rolls, and cereal. It was fantastic to share this meal with such great company.

I had several errands to complete, with the most important being resupplying my food. Concerned about my clothing, I tested my layers for warmth and found them lacking, so I needed another layer for the upcoming mountain section. Additionally, my tent pole had snapped, requiring a fix. My plan was to resupply food, visit outdoor shops for a jacket or mid-layer, and find a solution for my tent pole at the hardware store. With tasks in mind, I headed to the town market.

At the market, while gathering my food resupply, I ran into other hikers, and we discussed the upcoming San Jacinto mountain section. This mountain, bulging in the desert with its white-capped peak, is our first major obstacle. To pass San Jacinto, we must traverse Fuller Ridge, an exposed section with high snow levels this year. This is the real danger of San Jacinto, and everyone is on high alert due to the current bad weather affecting trail conditions, particularly on Fuller Ridge. The trail conditions are changing rapidly, creating a sense of nervousness and urgency. Most hikers are bunkering down in Idyllwild, waiting for the weather to pass. When it does, there will be no updated trail condition report, and the trail will likely look new, covered in fresh snow. This will likely cause groups of hikers to split up and reform into new teams—some will attempt the snow traverse, while others will flip up, avoiding Fuller Ridge altogether.

While continuing to do my errands, I met the mayor of Idyllwild, Mayor Max, who is a dog. Yes! A f—ing dog like “woof-woof.” While looking for another clothing layer at the local outdoor shop, Nomad Ventures, I saw Slow-Mo, a fellow hiker, buying a used jacket. I told him I was looking for another layer piece too and a local who overheard us offered to sell some of their used clothing items. I ended up buying a used Patagonia zip-up hoodie for a good price.

Lastly I went to the hardware store with Andrew. The lady there helped me get a piece of tubing that could possibly slide over the broken piece of the tent pole to hold it in place. It cost just a mere 44 cents. I have a zero sleeping bag but I need my tent to work in the mountains. I didn’t hike with this much gear just to be extremely uncomfortable. 

Back at the cabin, we had guests over, including a hiker named Kitty. While laying out my resupply items to pack, I eventually got to the point where I tried to repair my tent pole with the hosing. Kitty offered me a small metal tube that was made for a tent pole repair. I could not have been more grateful at this moment because I didn’t even know they existed. He invited me to pick it up from him in the morning. After the guests left, I stayed up late, drinking with Stephanie and Andrew.

Day 16 – Finding a Solution

May 5th, 2023 – Highway 74 to Live Oak Spring (158.4)

I met with Kitty in the morning to get the tent pole repair piece. When I returned to the cabin, everyone was packing up their bags. Andrew was struggling with a hangover after staying up late last night. I would have bet on him staying behind, but he miraculously picked himself up and decided to get on trail with us. We arranged a ride with a trail angel who was scheduled to pick us up around noon. When the trail angel arrived, we piled into the car with our bags, and I held mine on my lap. The trail angel drove like a maniac, reigniting my fear of impending doom when accepting rides from strangers.

Back on the trail, it felt like home. We headed to a spring and hung out with other hikers named Slo-Mo, Groundhog, Oatmeal, Fiddlehead, and Captain Cook, who had a fire going. The mountain air was frigid, and the fire provided much-needed warmth. I wore all my layers, including the new piece I picked up in Idyllwild. We smoked a joint while hanging out, and soon Ash and Jana joined us. It was a cold night, and I decided to cowboy camp, using all my layers to test for warmth before heading higher up the mountain.

Day 17 – What the F*** is up with this wind!?

May 6th, 2023 – Live Oak Spring to Apache Spring (169.2)

I woke up multiple times throughout the night since I was cowboy camping. The wind made it very cold, so most of us were getting up very early. We left camp around 6:30 am and started our hike to Apache Spring for the night. Although Ash wasn’t feeling well, she decided to push through and continue on.

This section of the trail was filled with uphill climbs and tree blowdowns, making it feel like an obstacle course. When we reached Fobes Trail, which leads to the road back to Idyllwild, Jana and Steph decided to bail out on the summit attempt and head back to town. Our summit team was now down to myself, Andrew, and Ash. The next three miles were painfully uphill, and the mountain was extracting its toll on us. The weather ranged from cold and windy to hot when the mountainside blocked the wind.

Finally, we made it to the one-mile side trail down to Apache Spring, only to find it was incredibly windy at our campsite we chose for the night. The exposed side of the mountain was being battered by the wind, so I had to set up my tent with the newly repaired tent pole. Thankfully, the repair held up well. This was another milestone for me on the trail—finding solutions to problems and fixing them on the go.

Apache Spring was popular with other tents, making it look like a hiker town. Nearly all the hikers from yesterday were here, providing a sense of camaraderie as we were all moving at the same pace. I retrieved 5 liters of water for the night and for tomorrow’s hike, as well as for cooking and chores. The water source was a spillway known for its unpleasant odor, often referred to as “fart water.” After filtering, I added a lot of MIO flavor enhancer, which made it taste fine, though it’s water I hope never to encounter again.

As I lay in my tent I can hear it creaking and stretching under the wind. I am hoping it holds up through the night. I had to use guy lines to pull out the sides of the rainfly to keep it from blowing hard on the poles since they were starting to bow in under the high winds. Honestly, I am very nervous for tonight to see if my tent holds. It shouldn’t get worse but there is nothing I can do now except go through with it. Good night!

In the middle of the night, I noticed Ash outside her tent while I was in that hazy state between sleep and wakefulness. She was moving around, adjusting her tent stakes. I initially thought she might be bailing off the mountain since she hadn’t felt well earlier in the day. Concerned, I poked my head out of my tent and asked if she was leaving. She reassured me that she wasn’t; she was just reinforcing her tent against the relentless wind. Her adjustments were necessary to provide extra support as the gusts continued to batter us through the night.

Day 18 – Failure

May 7th, 2023 – Apache Spring to Devils Slide Trail into Idyllwild (179.4)

I woke up to hellish winds still raging. Determined to make the summit today, we left camp and set off. We made it to the summit of Apache Peak, where I wrote in the summit registry: Atlas: The Titan. Descending over the saddle of Apache Peak was steep, leading us back to the PCT trail. Along the way, we crossed numerous tree blowdowns and encountered sketchy snow sections with steep drop-offs.

We had lunch at a beautiful campsite where I made a ram-bomb. A few other hikers had shown up. After some discussion, everyone decided on different plan: I chose to summit San Jacinto and Slo-Mo was going to try and summit too, while the others opted to go down Devil’s Slide and head back to Idyllwild, avoiding the mountain.

Slo-Mo and I continued together until we reached a section of the trail completely covered in snow. Another hiker joined us at a particularly sketchy part where we needed to put on microspikes. I went first and continued for a while, thinking Slo-Mo was right behind me. After some time, I realized it was actually the other hiker trailing me, and I was now alone.

I pressed on and soon found Groundhog with Flamethrower. Groundhog had slipped into a tree well about 10 feet off the trail. It was a precarious spot, and if he hadn’t hit that tree, he might have slid much further down the mountain. I waited with them as Groundhog pulled out his ice ax and dug it into the side of the hill. I checked in with him, asking if he was okay mentally, and he admitted he was not. The extensive snow travel had left him scared and shaken.

The trail from mile 175.4 to 179.4 was entirely covered in snow, making it incredibly slow and challenging to traverse. It took us about an hour to cover just one mile, and the snow was turning into slush, further complicating our progress. I had a three-day supply of food and initially thought I could make it to the summit of San Jacinto, then pass Fuller Ridge and meet the group the next day. However, the slow pace of snow travel made me realize this plan might not be feasible.

I faced the reality that I might need to summit, tackle Fuller Ridge the next day, and then spend another day reaching Cabazon. While this was technically doable, the snow conditions made me uncomfortable. Snow has always been my weakness in hiking, given my background in Las Vegas. Eventually, I decided to abandon my plan and take the Devil’s Slide trail back to Idyllwild. The mountain had defeated me.

I felt disappointed in myself for not following through with my original plan to summit the mountain, but I was essentially alone if I attempted it. Given the warnings to avoid Fuller Ridge for a few days after the recent bad weather, I felt it was the safest decision. Continuing would have meant losing even more days on the PCT, just for this one mountain. It might have taken two days to pass Fuller Ridge and then cover over 20 miles to Cabazon for resupply.

I descended Devil’s Slide trail, literally sliding down parts of the mountain. Snow still covered the upper sections, so about a half mile down, I removed my microspikes and continued walking on the trail. As I hiked, I came across a dead deer lying in the middle of the trail, a gaping hole in its side where birds had been picking at its insides. I moved quickly downhill and eventually reached the parking lot, where I saw Groundhog with Ash and Andrew. They were shocked to see me.

I explained that I chose not to attempt the summit due to the lengthy snow travel and increasingly slushy conditions, which significantly slowed our progress. I was uncomfortable continuing alone in such challenging conditions. Although I felt disappointed, safety was my top priority.

Groundhog was the only one with service and called Steph. She arranged a ride, and all seven of us—Ash, Andrew, Groundhog, Oatmeal, Fiddlehead, Flamethrower, and myself—got picked up. We made it back into Idyllwild and were dropped off at a pizza place. Steph and Jana showed up, and we all ate and hung out.

Afterwards, we walked to the campgrounds to set up camp. Steph came over after I changed. My socks and feet were stinky, and when she asked to come inside my tent, she remarked on how bad it stunk. I put my hiking socks outside and hung them up in my vestibule. We drank together while talking, laughing, and joking. We discussed hiking plans since we had been stuck in Idyllwild. I considered hiking up to Big Bear together, but after that, I might move on to cover more miles each day than the group. I’m already over budget and haven’t been putting in enough miles each day for my plan.

Day 19 – Letting Go

May 8th, 2023 – Idyllwild to Black Mountain Road

When I woke up, I felt torn about not sticking to the plan of staying up on San Jacinto. I stayed in my tent most of the morning, sulking and contemplating going back, but I didn’t want to risk it. Snow is still foreign to me, and honestly, it scares me. I smoked a bowl to ease my mind and started cleaning all my gear, emptying my bag, and taking inventory of my food. I had about three days’ worth plus a few extra meals as snacks since I’ve been so hungry. Eventually, Steph called over and asked if I wanted to go to breakfast, and I eagerly agreed.

We went to the Red Kettle, and I had their biscuits and gravy—full portion. It was amazing to eat a hot breakfast. Afterward, I went to the market to resupply for the next stretch to Big Bear Lake. Back at my tent, I did the math on my mileage. Realizing I should be in Big Bear today for a zero, I found myself 120 miles behind schedule. To make up the mileage, I would need to hike a total of 20 days at 24 miles per day.

I was getting my things together and Andrew approached me saying he has been thinking about Fuller Ridge. He was going to ask around town about more info about the ridge but said he could have kept going yesterday. I was excited for him but I wasn’t going to go back up that mountain. I had resupplied already and felt that I have spent too many days here already. Going back up the mountain would put me in Idyllwild for over a week. I am ready to move forward with this journey.

I now had 6 days’ worth of food to make it to Big Bear. Steph and I wandered around the small town looking for something to eat while I watched the SanJacJon trail report to get an idea of Fuller Ridge, which didn’t seem too bad. Andrew mentioned that the outfitters said we had already tackled the hardest part from PVC to Devil’s Slide. Initially, I was eager to go yesterday before everyone descended Devil’s Slide, but now I was uncertain about retracing my steps back up there, adding at least 7 extra miles. Ultimately, I decided to bail on my plan and skip the summit of San Jacinto and Fuller Ridge. It was a tough choice, but as I reflected on my journey, I realized there will be more experiences than just San Jacinto.

We left and were driven by a trail angel named Rob Muir, a relative of the legendary John Muir. He drove us up Black Mountain Road, which was washed out. The road was bumpy, and we bounced all over the place in the large suburban. He dropped us off at a gate that would not allow cars to travel further. So we exited, left him a tip on his seat while we grabbed our bags.

We began the steep ascent on Black Mountain Road, the alternate route to San Jacinto. Steph and I brought along some alcoholic beverages for the walk up. I opened mine about halfway and started to relax. Although I felt disappointed for skipping part of the trail, I was gradually getting over it. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of spending so much time in Idyllwild. I realized I was now 140 miles behind schedule and had exceeded my budget by over three weeks.

We hiked for about 5 miles until we reached a spring or creek surrounded by snow. After filling up our water bottles for the night, we arrived at the last campground on Black Mountain Road, which offered a breathtaking view. Sitting high above the clouds, we watched the sunset, taking pictures, selfies, and videos together. These moments reminded me why I’m out here, despite my setback on the mountain. Even though it would be cold, I chose to cowboy camp under the stars. After a quick meal, we settled into bed once the sun had set.

Reflecting on my decision

At this moment in my life, I felt utterly destroyed. The trail, once a blessing bestowed upon me, seemed to have vanished from my hiking spirit. It had transformed into something more scientific and calculated, devoid of the experiential essence I sought. Initially, I set out to experience every mile of the trail, but even this early in the journey, I found myself breaking away from the conventional path. The journey evolved into a personal exploration, a process of shedding layers to embrace a deeper, more primal connection with people and nature. I realized I had to forge my own path which may deter from the actual trail to rediscover the true essence of the journey I yearned for. It was no longer merely a hike; I was journeying on foot, stripping away the trappings of civilization, disappearing into the wilderness, perhaps never to return.

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Comments 1

  • Jayson C Matthews : Jun 9th

    Good report. If you could give me the general coordinates of the camp fire featured in one of your photos I would appreciate it. Or just report it to the Idyllwild Ranger Station. Thanks!


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