Part Three – On Top of Southern California (mile 165.8-259.4)


The sun is setting as we make it to a campsite approximately 3 miles away from Apache Peak. During our long ascent, we observed the first few snow patches, a taste of what is waiting for us tomorrow. The wind is very strong, and to avoid having our tents struggle in it, the five of us (Andrew, Sophie, Shortcut, Devin, and I) unanimously decide to cowboy camp all together. We set up our mattresses and lay down next to each other, feeling like sardines in a box.

The wind keeps me awake all night, throwing dust in my face. Clouds roll in above us at a fast speed. Incapable of sleeping, I wonder. Maybe the wind is the mountain’s way to tell us it doesn’t want us here. I don’t know. We will see tomorrow. Far down the valley, Palm Spring’s lights shine in the cold and windy night. It’s beautiful and eerie.

4:30am. Our alarms ring and get us up from a sleepless night. We start hiking silently in the dark. The wind has died down considerably, which reassures me. After crossing a few down trees and losing the trail a couple times, we reach the trail junction with Spitler Peak trail. It’s our last exit option before heading into our biggest challenge so far. We move on.

After a few minutes, our group hikes around a bend. All of the sudden, everyone in front of me stops. « That’s it! » says Andrew. I make my way to the front to take a look. The dirt trail suddenly stops and give way to a steep white slope with boot tracks cutting across it. Below it is a void. No trees. Nothing to hold on to if a fall was to happen.

« This is Apache Peak. Is everyone good with it? » asks Andrew. We all shyly nod yes. « Okay, let’s do it! » I say in a determined way, probably to motivate myself as much as to motivate the others. We start moving forward. When I take that first step on the snow, time stops. After the second step though, I’m in focus mode. Every move I make is controlled and we advance slowly but surely. The footsteps carved into the snow are very helpful. After about ten minutes, we make our way to the other side of the traverse. We all look at each other, feeling the same way. « That was it?! » says Shortcut. Yes, it was it. This insurmontable challenge that was painted to us, was just not. The risk was still there, but it was far from the tales aimed at frightening us.

Summit, Glissading & Beers

After a whole day in the snow, our group is now more comfortable. Using an ice axe and crampons has become an integral part of our routine. It’s crazy how quick you can pick up new skills with repetition. The next day, we set off at 6:00am, in the dark and cold morning. Today’s objective is to summit Mount San Jacinto, at 10,834 ft. This will be the highest I’ve ever been.

Making our own route through the snow, our path leads us through a white meadow surrounded by pine trees. The sun, which has just risen, shines its light through the branches giving the snow a golden hue. It’s beautiful.

As we go up, breathing becomes hard. I can only make a few steps before I get out of breath. The slushy snow doesn’t help either. I decide to stay at the back of the line and take my time. Finally, the shelter appears in our eyesight. A bit further up is the summit. After a quick lunch break, we leave our packs at the shelter and walk the last few yards to the top. At the summit, a feeling of pride and accomplishment overwhelms me. I did that. The panoramic view of the desert on one side and the San Bernardino mountains on the other adds to the moment.

The sun has been out for a while now, and the snow is getting slushier. We must go down fast. Going down? Slushy snow? You know what that means? Glissading opportunities! I have never glissaded before, and am excited at the idea of finally attempting it. My first one is slow as I am still trying to get the hang of it. But the more I do it, the more I get comfortable and it is so much fun.

During one of them, Andrew goes after me. I look at him going down fast but notice something strange as he lands next to us. His pack left a slightly yellowish trail behind on the way down. At the sight of this, Andrew opens his pack in a panic and takes out the beer can he had carried out of town. It had been burst and was leaking all over his pack. Andrew and I finish what was left while he assesses the damages. Nothing too bad, except his pack now smelt like beer. « Well now we got to find you a name! » says one of us. After a short brainstorming session, we found the winner. Andrew will now be called « Beer Slide. »

You’re Not From Texas!

After only one day, we are down a few thousand feet and back on a dirty, dusty, desert trail. To our right, overlooking us, is the summit of Mt San Jacinto. I can’t believe we were just there the day before.

The following morning, we make our way down to the I-10. I start hiking early because we are on the eastern face of the mountain, which means that the sun will hit us right away. During the descent, I keep looking up at San Jacinto. In my mind, I thank it. For letting us go through safely.

At the bottom, Beer Slide and I meet a hiker named Todd. Todd asks me where I am from, and wearing my cowboy hat and bandana, I proudly answer: « I’m from Texas! » This was a joke we had going with the group where I’d say this to strangers because of my look. Todd looks at me and starts smiling. « Nahh, you’re not from Texas! » he says. « I am from Texas and that’s not the accent from Texas you got there. » My Frenchness had gotten me caught!

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