PCT Desert Day 12: Ups and Downs

Mile 183.50 to 190.50 — Today’s miles: 7 PCT miles, plus ~4 from Idyllwild via Deer Springs Trail
I wake a little later than intended — it’s so hard to get out of this bed. I take another shower and use the flush toilet as many times as I can, and sit at a real table to eat breakfast. It takes me forever to tape up my feet, but using Scissors’ advice I think they actually feel good for the first time in days. I walk over to the post office and drop off the first set of postcards for people who donated to my fundraiser for the Border Angels, and then it’s back to the trail. Goodbye, Idyllwild — you are an adorable place, and I can’t wait to bring Cyn back here on vacation. All forthcoming trail towns have a lot to live up to now.

I’m not going to summit Mt. San Jacinto, so I take the Deer Springs Trail from the edge of town up up up to join the PCT. It starts at an elevation of 5620 feet, and over about three miles, climbs to 8055 feet. It’s steeper than I’d anticipated, and I suspect my lungs are starting to feel the elevation change, but my feet feel surprisingly good! I had secretly been worried that I’d wake up limping and have to double zero in Idyllwild. At the viewpoint for Suicide Rock, I chat with an ultrarunner who is running these trails to train for his next race. He tells me bad weather’s coming in tonight and it’s gonna be cold.

I continue uphill until I meet the PCT junction, where I have a quick snack. It’s starting to look like the Sierra Nevada up here, and as I zip along the PCT toward Fuller Ridge, I think about how much I love hiking in the mountains. Above 8000 feet is my favorite, I decide. It’s gorgeous in this area, with huge slabs of granite and big boulders, lots of running water, and sweeping views. I come to an area with lots of snow patches, and am not exactly sure where the trail is. But I know the general direction, and for a few minutes this is a choose your own adventure hike, as I take this easier snow patch over that one on the left, this stream crossing instead of the one further downhill. A few checks of my GPS app affirm that I’m headed in the right direction. And then there’s the PCT again, and I hop back on. I see the ultrarunner again — he’s made some sort of loop and is catching me on the backside of it — and he says there’s tons of water flowing over the trail ahead.

This is true. My feet get wet. I hope this won’t ruin the good foot day I’m having. I cautiously make my way across a couple of snow patches, slick where other hikers have crossed them, and arrive at the North Fork San Jacinto River, which is, at least right now, crashing down in a huge waterfall. There’s a sketchy looking crossing that might keep my feet dry, but I decide not to chance it and just wade across. On the other side, I lay my shoes and socks out to dry in the sun, fill my water bottles from the river, and eat lunch. My appetite is big today, and I’m not sure if hiker hunger is finally kicking in or if I’m just responding to the crisp mountain air up here. I see another hiker with a big U.S. flag sticking up from his pack. I’ve seen this on other trails too. My own distaste for nationalist imagery aside, I am always perplexed by why someone presumably from the U.S. carries a U.S. flag while hiking in the U.S.

I’ve been on Fuller Ridge for a little while now, high above a thick layer of clouds, and it is unbelievably beautiful up here. There’s a different kind of cloud a little below, in the trees there, the kind that could be rain. I head off, with only four miles left to my first possible campsite. (There are lots of great camping options on the ridge, but I want to get lower with a storm coming in.) I’ve climbed to just under 9000 feet on the ridge, and now begin the descent.

After 30 minutes or so, I realize I’m entering that might-be-rain cloud. The wind picks up. It’s all socked in over here. The trail goes up and down like a little rollercoaster, teasing me as I beg it to just descend. I pass a pair of young folks who ask if this trail will take them to the summit. “Yes,” I say, “there’s a turn-off for it, but keep an eye on the weather.” I worry about them as they continue on. Finally, I finish the last up. I’m ready to be speedy on the downhill, wanting to beat the weather, but I run into endless snow patches. It takes forever to gingerly cross them, slushy and slippery from others’ footsteps. Once I realize that they’re not going away soon, I put on my microspikes. I still have to be cautious (I slide to my butt once), but now I can cross much faster.

The weather’s faster than I am, and drops of rain start to ping my sunhat. I’m past the snow patches but don’t pause to take off my spikes — they work just as well on the dirt and forest duff on the trail, though are less than ideal on stones. It’s getting cold. I practically run the last mile down the ridge, relieved when I see the parking lot for the campground. There’s one car camper, and one backpacker tent. I hurriedly pitch my tent next to a large boulder as the rain begins in earnest. I break the head off a stake as I’m pounding it into the ground with a rock, but it’s the last stake, just to pull out the foot end of my tent, and I slip a stick through the guyline loop and throw a rock on top of it.

In the tent, I realize how cold it really is. I can see my breath. I change into my dry wool sleep clothes, put on my puffy jacket, and snug down in my quilt until I’m no longer freezing. Then I eat half a bag of trail mix and drink some water. The rain gives way to hail. I have very spotty cell service here but manage to text Cyn. I’m still cold, and put my windpants on over my long underwear. As the night comes, I worry that I should tighten the guylines and check the rocks on my stakes, insurance against the coming winds. I get out, chattering, only to find all the guylines frozen stiff. Okay, so it’s really very cold, then. I notice seven or eight other backpacker tents that have arrived in the last hour or two.

I try to sleep. It’s too cold to use my phone to blog or read, even with gloves on. I hear a different sound on my tent walls and realize that it’s snowing now. The wind howls, billows my tent, endless wind. I’m not cold, but I’m not exactly warm, either. I know I’m not in danger, but it will probably be an uncomfortable night. I put in my earplugs and hope for the best.

Old car on my walk to the trailhead.

What is this bright beauty? On Deer Springs  Trail.

Views near the top of Deer Springs.

On Fuller Ridge.

Clouds coming in.

Thank you, microspikes.

No kidding.

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