Yes, you read that right. Today was my last day on trail…for now. I’ll explain more in the next post.
Beth drove us back to the trail after her amazing generosity and hospitality. She made us avocado toast for breakfast, which is a great pre-hike meal.
Thirty seconds after she dropped us off, we saw two hikers coming up the trail. Postmaster and 4Runner! Two of the very first people I met on trail after my difficult first day. They really helped get me on my trail feet after Lake Morena and it was so perfect that the trail brought us back together on my last day. There’s something truly cosmic going on out here.
We hiked together for the morning, climbing up the ridge above the lake.
We hiked on through relatively flat terrain as we got closer to Cajon Pass and I-15.
We wound down the trail into the valley.
It was a really nice hike and I was happy to spend my last day on trail with a great friend I had made. Sticks is continuing on with his hike as a tribute to his late son. He’s a great guy.
The last bit of trail went through a beautiful canyon. This was an unexpected and lovely way to end my hike and Section C of the PCT.
This is also part of the old Route 66.
One more post coming to explain why I left the trail and what the future holds. I’ll try and get it up later today or tomorrow.
I woke up in the dusty side lot of the Joshua Inn and had to decide what to do.
My feet were absolutely destroyed the day before. They had been getting worse and worse, ever since Big Bear, despite my zeroes in Idyllwild and Palm Springs. I think the main culprit was the late creek crossing a few days ago and my feet never really recovered.
New blisters, old blisters festering, and now ankle pain, on top of the numbness spreading in my left foot. That said, a good night’s sleep at the Joshua Inn revived me enough to decide to continue hiking with Sticks until at least Cajon Pass, 26 miles further on.
We woke up and were in no rush, since we were only going 13 miles to Silverwood Lake.
Alan gave us a ride back to trail in his electric Nissan Leaf with a trailer for our packs.
We hiked up into the hills, but mainly stayed on the flanks of them overlooking the valley with views of Mt. Baldy in the distance.
We had one tricky creek crossing where Sticks tried to rock hop, but slipped and fell in, losing a hiking pole in the process.
We came to the dam that creates Silverwood Lake and the California Water Authority equipment depot at its base.
We hiked up a steep hill and were greeted at the top by great views of the lake and an amazing breeze. We then hiked a few more hot miles around the lake to the far side, where we had an amazing swim and rest at some picnic tables in the shade.
Water felt amazing, but my feet were not happy.
We weren’t technically allowed to camp at the lake, so the plan was to hang out until evening and “stealth camp” (usually cowboy camping – no tent – in an inconspicuous place) to avoid detection and get out early the next morning.
But the trail provides. Sticks got a text that a friend of a friend (another firefighter) who lived 20 minutes from the lake had offered to let us stay with her that night and was going to pick us up! Trail Angels rock!
Beth picked us up in her RAV4 and drove us up the windy mountain road to the small town of Crestline. First stop: FOOD!
She then took us to her house where we showered, did laundry, and slept in real beds! She even gave me a robe.
Today sucked. Every step was a new nightmare (Tyler and Ike should get that reference).
The flies and gnats were relentless all morning and we had 19 miles to make today, all on the banks of the canyon formed by Deep Creek. It was so hot. I’ll let videos do most of the talking.
We made it to the hot springs where I had to sit in the shade and eat to get some calories so I could keep going. The hot springs were…underwhelming.
Lots of naked locals and not in a good way. Apparently we just caught it on a bad day, as other hikers would later tell us they had a great time and were surrounded by mostly other PCT hikers, but for us it was just sketchy and weird. Homeless people, lots of fat, old white guys, and just generally a methy vibe. Oh well.
So we skipped the soak, refueled and hiked on. We crossed the rainbow bridge (another PCT landmark I had been wanting to see).
Six hard miles later, made it to the highway where we called Alan, a trail angel who shuttles hikers to the Joshua Inn.
The Joshua Inn is really just a bar that lets hikers camp out in their huge dirt side lot, but it was a good hang out and they had beers and good food, which is what we hikers care about.
We paid $5 to camp and another $5 for a cold shower. My feet were absolutely fried and I had a lot of thinking to do this night.
Woke up and hiked. More of the same, but with great views in the morning!
We created the ridge and went down the back side to a nice spot for lunch where we decided our packs were too damn heavy with 4 days worth of food. So a big lunch was the only answer.
Towards the end of this long day we were greeted with a couple of creek crossings where we had no choice, but to get wet. Always fun right before camp so you have to let your shoes dry out all night. Oh well.
We finally got to camp, set up all of our wet shoes and socks to dry, and were treated to another beautiful sunset. The bugs would also come out, but they weren’t too much of a problem until the morning.
I went back to Idyllwild after coming down off San Jacinto at I-10 and hung out for a couple of days while I waited for Court to fly into Palm Springs to meet up.
I became very familiar with all the local shops and restaurants, having nothing to really do for a couple of days, which is a very weird feeling after getting up and hiking all the time.
When Court flew into Palm Springs, she grabbed a rental car and headed up to Idyllwild to get me. We went to the brewery for lunch and then a little Italian bar for a glass of wine, while we waited for the mayor and his deputy to show up and greet visitors on the town square.
Idyllwild is a really cool town and I think we will definitely be back.
We headed down to our rental in Palm Springs, which was great. Guest house with a private pool. Very plush.
We enjoyed our time there, but honestly, Idyllwild is more our speed. Anyway, I decided to skip a little bit of trail so I could meet back up with my hiking partner John, since he was now going solo (Clay went home for work and family until July).
Court drove me the hour and a half through the bizarre desert and up the mountain to Big Bear where we met John at the highway 18 intersection with the trail. We made a quick jaunt into town, dropped another hiker off at the store, then got a fast food breakfast (sorry Court) and zoomed back up to the trail where I said goodbye and headed into the mountains.
We only did about 10 miles to ease me back on the trail a bit before setting up camp at a nice spot early and watched the sunset through the trees.
We woke up early, packed up, and walked a mile up the road out of town to the Deer Springs Trailhead. This would start our ascent up Mt San Jacinto, the second tallest peak in Southern California and highest on the PCT before the Sierra.
This trail went up 4.1 miles to Strawberry Junction at 8000 feet where it met with the PCT.
We turned left on the PCT to continue northbound and soon the snow started to be more frequent. The water was flowing great with all the snow melt, so we never carried more than a couple of liters.
Soon it was time to put on the Microspikes to help us get some traction. Later, the ice axes would come out.
We trekked on until we came to Fuller Ridge. This is notoriously difficult in snow and I am definitely glad we had ice axes. We would not have attempted it otherwise. There were a couple of younger hikers doing it with just poles, but that is not advised.
I don’t have much from the hard parts, as you had to be completely focused and in the moment every step of the way. If we fell, we wouldn’t have died, but definitely could have gotten hurt in some parts. I self arrested with my axe twice and Chainsaw (John) did three times. It took us about 2-3 hours to get fully done with the ridge.
Here’s a fun glissade (sliding down on our butts) though.
We finally got to the other side of the mountain and started descending. We had some amazing views of Mt San Antonio (aka Mt Baldy) and Mt San Gorgonio in the clouds on the way down. These mountains are part of the horizontal range above Los Angeles.
We got to camp at a lovely sheltered spot next to a creek below snow line. There was no wind and the sound of the babbling brook was nice to fall asleep to. This would not last.
The next morning, after the wind decided to rage starting at about 1am, we got a slightly late start on the remaining 16 mile hike down the mountain to Interstate 10. This is a huge 7000 foot drop to the valley floor and the second lowest spot on the PCT.
The rate of descent is actually very gradual and the trail winds around the mountain faces FOREVER. We would also pass the 200 mile mark.
We finally got to the famous high pressure water faucet at the bottom several hours later and refilled water and soaked our hats for the remaining 3 mile flat walk to the I-10 underpass, which marks the end of PCT Section B. This was actually just as brutal as the descent. The wind was relentless and we had to trudge through a dry, sandy riverbed that was reminiscent of walking on Mars.
But we eventually made it and we’re greeted with trail magic of cold Rolling Rocks to end the day!
The guys got picked up by their wives at the underpass to go stay in Palm Springs for a couple of days and I miraculously got an Uber back to Idyllwild (45 min drive back up the mountain). I will have another couple of zeroes there while I wait for Court to meet me and then have a long Palm Springs weekend of our own.
A zero day (zero miles hiked) in Idyllwild was definitely the right choice, especially with what was coming next.
After I checked in to my room on Friday, I went out and did some town chores. I got some resupply food and first aid stuff, got an amazing pizza for dinner, and went back to the room for an Epsom salt bath and bed.
The next morning I went out and got breakfast. Hiker hunger is starting to kick in!
Then it was time for the most important chore: new shoes. I love my La Sportivas, but my feet, specifically my toes have swollen and I need something with a bigger toe box. So I took the Altra plunge, as many hikers tend to do these days.
They didn’t have exactly the size I needed (14), so I went with a 13, which still gave me a little room to grow, but not much. I’m sending my La Sportivas home because when I’m done hiking here, I still want them for day hikes. Love those shoes.
John and Clay had bailed on the second part of the 32 mile stretch they were doing to come and get a nearo (near zero miles) in town before we ascended Mt San Jacinto the next day. I met them up in the afternoon for a glass of wine and some live music and then we all crashed at the house.
The three of us woke up early and hit the trail, as John and Clay’s wives were meeting them at the highway 74 junction to take them to breakfast at Paradise Valley Cafe, a mile up the road. I was the lucky recipient of that ride as well. Thanks y’all!
Though the forecast said no rain, we awoke around 6 to that horrifying pitter patter on our rain flies. Noooooooooo.
I took full blame for the inaccurate forecast (wtf Garmin?) and we again packed up wet gear. Luckily, it was really more fog than rain, and it cleared pretty quickly.
We had good conversation about our hometowns (John is a retired firefighter from San Diego, Clay is a musician who grew up in Kentucky and Telluride (!), then moved to San Diego) along the trail. I got to regale them with Dazed and Confused factoids from Austin.
We got to the highway and the wives were there to take us and our stink to the cafe for breakfast. It was so good.
John and Clay are going to continue on trail today, while I go into Idyllwild (amazing town!) for an unplanned zero day. My feet need some work and I need a rest. I’m going shoe shopping tomorrow to maybe try out the Altra Olympus or Lone Peaks, which are made specifically for thru hikers whose feet have swollen and have a larger toe box. I really wanted my La Sportivas to last, but I think they are just too narrow for 15-20 mile hiking, day after day.
My amazing wife got me two nights at the Idyllwild Inn and the only cabin they had was a three bedroom. I’ll live like a king tonight! Clay and John are going to hike down from the mountain and stay with me tomorrow night and then we are all three going to tackle the hardest part of the San Jacinto PCT trail on Sunday: Fuller Ridge. With the snow this year, it’s not something I want to do alone.
I’m WAY ahead of schedule, as Court is meeting me on the other side of the mountain in 6 days. So I’m going to spend the next couple of days resting and figuring out logistics. I may hitch back to Idyllwild after the mountain to tackle the 28 mile section I’m missing, or I may just take almost a full week off trail! I’m no longer a trail purist. You have to adjust.
We will see. For now, I’m waiting for my room to be ready and having a few pints at the local brewery. Can’t wait for shower and laundry!!!
As I said previously, the breezy fields and easy trail were just a tease. Today was all uphill, all the time. And I turned it into a 19 mile day.
I was again solo hiking, having left the Rocket Surgeons behind. The trail does that. I’m sure I’ll see them again somewhere.
I listened to Dave Grohl’s soothing voice on his autobiography, explaining his wild ass life (I’m pretty sure he’s actually an alien) while I switchbacked up mountain after mountain.
There were some beautiful waterfalls still flowing in this section. Such a great year for the trail in the desert.
The climb continued after lunch, as did the views.
I got into one section that was simply hills adorned with massive boulders. I kept an eye out to make sure none of them decided to dislodge and send me to an early doom.
I was heading to Mike’s Place to camp at mile 127. This is another legendary PCT place, but when I got there, I had second thoughts. I knew it was a bit trashy, but it was really more of an old junkyard and there wasn’t a soul to be found anywhere.
It was just downright creepy. Mike wasn’t there and neither were any hikers. Supposedly there are nights where 20-30 hikers stay here. I hung around for an hour and charged my phone a bit (and used the pit toilet, thanks Mike!), but decided there was no way I could sleep here alone.
Have you ever seen Toy Story where the demonic kid next door tortures the toys in his yard? This felt like his yard.
It was 4:30 and I figured I could push hard and get to the next campsite, 5 miles away. I raced the sunset and did make it to the next site with about 30 minutes to spare before sunset. I knew weather was supposed to come in overnight as well.
I woke up at 7am to 36 degrees and rain. Not ideal hiking weather. Hell, this was Washington weather. I wasn’t supposed to see this until the end of my hike!
But there was no getting around it, so I waited for a short break in the rain, bailed out of my tent, and put together my wet, muddy pack as quickly as possible. Embrace the suck, as the saying goes.
I wore every piece of rain gear I had. Jacket, kilt, rain mitts, and umbrella. Considering, I stayed relatively dry. Hey, I didn’t carry it all this way for nothing!
The rain finally started to clear around 1pm and my playlist shuffled to one of my favorite Coltrane songs, “After the Rain”. How appropriate.
Needless to say, I didn’t take a ton of pics today. But here’s a few.
I hiked to mile 145 to another trail angel water cache. This was Mary’s and she had a water barrel, a little free library, and some cutouts of John Muir, Thoreau, and Whitman along with quotes. Cool little spot that I decided to camp at around 4:30.
Camping this early allowed me to use my stove, which I’ve been neglecting, and cook up an amazingly good freeze dried meal from Peak. This is the most expensive of the hiker freeze dried meals, but also the best!
Two other gents strolled into camp about an hour later and we got along great. They are John and Clay, slightly older than me, and well experienced hikers. John is going for the full trail, while Clay is just doing sections. More on them in the next post. We got to bed early and prepared for a 7am leave time for the 6.4 miles to Paradise Valley Cafe the next morning.