PCT Day 11 : A Magnificent (And Miserable) Start To The San Jacinto Mountains

April 4 (~08:50 – ~16:45)
Highway 74- Fobes Ranch Trail junction (14.8 mi / Total: 166.6 mi)
Weather: Overcast in the morning. Then it gets hot with a cold wind later on. Wind gets stronger at night, when it rains a little.

After spending all night uploading blog posts, I get up early so I can do the last few things: buy more sunscreen to make sure the sun rash I have on my hands don’t get any worse, and get a coffee and banana bread at Higher Ground.

After running my errands, we meet Black Water at the inn, and get into a shuttle with an older hiker called Old Big Foot. We are quite curious as to what this section will bring – Black Water has a friend who’d slipped down a snow chute and tore open his thigh the day before. He was quite a reckless guy and didn’t have any microspikes, but we still decide to stay together and get through the snow patches as a group. We may not face any today, but we definitely will tomorrow, and we all feel the added safety will be good to have. It will be interesting to see how how this will work out, as we all have very different hiking styles. Black Water is tall and effortlessly fast with his long legs, Speedy does her Speedy thing, and I’m a bit erratic, but usually spend most of my time taking pictures, far behind everyone else. We will all naturally assume our own paces, but will need to make sure we’re together for the gnarly bits.

When we start the trail I feel amazing. Usually, after a day off it takes time to get over the initial pains of not having walked for a day and getting energised again, but I’m flying. I’m flying until I decide the scenery is too amazing not to take pictures, so I let the others go and take my time. The trail is windy and fun and I just can’t get over these giant rocks – the concept is so alien to me that I thoroughly enjoy every single view. I eat my town foods – my banana cake and my apple, and then the trail moves away from the boulders and starts to go up.

When I reach the first water source, it’s suddenly busy. After the quiet morning with just Speedy and Black Water, I find myself in an unexpected queue of people. I skip the water source – it’s a quarter mile down a steep side trail, and opt to get water at Cedar Springs 5.5 miles ahead instead. It’s not an ideal situation – the creek is actually a mile off trail, and I’ll have to fill up a significant amount of water for the rest of the day, plus tomorrow, as I’ll be dry camping (camping without a water source nearby) tonight. As I’m already carrying food for six days for the first time, my pack is pretty much at capacity – so if I can prolong carrying water for a little while longer, I will.

With all these other hikers suddenly catching up on me, I decide to speed up a little to get ahead. It’s not easy. I’m on an exhausting climb that just won’t stop, but it surprisingly works, and when I look down on the switchbacks, I see no one. But it does mean I have to keep moving, and I walk in the heat of the sun while I dream of walking on that green hill opposite me, where’s there are thick, green trees, lush with leafs and shade. But I’m not, I’m on an exposed track that leads towards a lilac mountain top with faded desert views. Despite the lack of shade I marvel over the desaturated colours and I break once I’m on top of the mountain, when I find a small clearing that shelters me from the ever increasing winds.

It doesn’t take long to reach the turnoff to Cedar Springs, and I walk the long mile down, scampering over the rocky path. When I get there it’s a little heaven with huge trees and beautifully fresh water. I rest while I filter some water, and make sure I have enough for tonight and tomorrow morning. I carry 3.5 litres, more than I ever have, and combined with almost a week worth of food, the load is strenuous. I’d already started feeling my ankles for the first time because of the heavier food, but with the added water, the weight is pressing down on me even more. I realise now how much the lighter pack has done for me – I would’ve had a lot more ankle problems had I still carried my old gear.

I find my way back up, a huge ordeal with the heavy pack, just as two other hikers run down with just their bottles. That’s what I should’ve done – left my pack at the intersection and gone quickly to just pick up the water. Instead, the long and heavy haul turns into a detour of more than an hour, and I still have at least a few more miles to go.

I have no idea where Speedy and Black Water are, but I need to make sure I camp with them, so that we can hike out together in the morning. I assume they won’t be moving beyond mile 169, as that’s where the snow is reported to begin, so I hurry down, feeling the weight of my pack press my feet further into the ground. It’s a long and windy trail that goes up and down, from the quiet side of the mountain to the icy cold and windy one, back and forth. I watch the grandiose mountain in front grow bigger as I approach, and I desperately hope they didn’t already head up there. I keep looking out for them, to see if their tents are hiding in the trees somewhere, but there’s nothing for a long time. I get a little desperate, it’s cold, everything around looks exposed and it’s horribly windy, and I begin to wonder if I should set up on my own but I know I shouldn’t, I have to keep going.

I finally descend into the shaded side of the mountain where I seem to be the only human for miles, and frighten myself with thoughts of mountain lions, until I spot some tents at last, and Speedy and Black Water are hiding under a couple of trees, waiting for me.

They arrived an hour and a half earlier, but they didn’t go off trail to get water, and carried a lot more during the day. This is the first time I have more water than Speedy, and I can hardly believe it. I say good night to Black Water and Speedy and I go and find a place where I can pitch my tent. We walk a little further out as most sites are taken, and the tents are already being violently bashed around by the wind. We think we found a good spot a little lower down by a tree, but when Speedy goes back to her shelter, I hunt around for a little longer and move to an even more remote spot, concealed by a circle of trees. I hope it’ll offer respite from the storm that is raging through the campsite right now, but soon I’ll realise it won’t.

The ground is soft, and I have difficulty keeping the pegs in. I secure the front and back ends with double pegs, and I solidify the tent in the middle by fastening the storm guy lines to the trees. When I retreat inside my tent, a strong gust of wind immediately pulls out the pegs in the front end, near my head. I go back outside, and I have no idea what to do. The gusts are so powerful that the pegs will never stay in the ground. I untie one of the storm guy lines and attach it to the front instead, and fix the rope to a tree. Once inside, the pole on the side without the extra guy line gets blown away, and I take it out, so that half the tent collapses on top of me. I tie the bottom of the loose rainfly to a low branch, so that the fabric won’t get blown around mercilessly by the wind. Everything is sideways and literally hanging by a thread, but it’s the best I can do.

I try and eat dinner with half the tent sagged on top of me, while the wind blows underneath the rainfly and my instant mashed potatoes flakes and dehydrated peas fly throughout my tent. Almost worse – I find out I’m on a significant slope. My pad and quilt are visibly sliding to the foot-end of the tent, and I lie folded into a bundle all night, unable to stretch my legs or move up.

Basically, it’s a little hell inside. It doesn’t take long before it begins to rain, when I try to sleep. I put my raincoat on top of my quilt to help against the freezing temperatures and winds flying through, when I notice that the part of the tent that is lying on top of me, is soaking through. Soon my raincoat is saturated, and it’s beginning to seep through my quilt. With these temperatures, I can’t be wet, and I begin to put the few plastic items I have on top of me: a big Opsak ziplock bag, and an unused soft water bottle. It doesn’t improve until I find that despite the storm, I can erect the toppled trekking pole well enough to keep the fabric from touching me, and getting me wet. I put the wet raincoat in the quilt with me, hoping my body warmth will dry it out a little before tomorrow.

I barely sleep, waking every thirty minutes to make sure the pole is still up, watching it vibrate unrestrained in the wind. Every now and again I try to crawl out of my snug position at the foot end, and try to shift the pad up a little, out of its slope. Every time I feel myself slide right down again. I watch the hours go by, freezing in the collapsed tent, waiting for morning…

Published by

Rosanne Luciana

A Dutch-born London-based hiker who has swapped an East Asian backpacking experience for the opportunity to truly immerse herself into nature, by quite simple, walking.

6 thoughts on “PCT Day 11 : A Magnificent (And Miserable) Start To The San Jacinto Mountains

  1. Hi Rosie, what a day! Great photos and love your writing. From your pictures, it looks like your pack is too small for your body frame. Its looks like your hip belt is not properly supporting the load. Sometimes it’s worth an extra 0.5 kg and carry something like a Big Agnes Copper Spur 1 person tent when your dealing with extreme conditions. The ultralight tents are just not that durable in high winds. Your doing great! Remember, when crossing steep snow slopes to stay vertical and do not lean in to the slope. Your feet can slip out from underneath you. Best wishes.

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    1. Hi Bob! Yeah I think I should’ve gone with the medium sized pack, although luckily it seems I’ve got used to it and it’s actually quite comfortable now! I’m still thinking of getting another pack for the Sierras though… And I so wasn’t expecting such harsh weather on the PCT! This tent is great in fair weather… but I definitely prefer my older tents for when it gets rough out. You live, you learn, I guess!!

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      1. How Rosie, Your doing great! You may want a better tent in the Sierra. You can have beautiful stable weather or blowing, sleeting get me out of here weather. Strongly urge you to consider an ice axe and have someone (if you do not know already) show you the proper way to hold it so you don’t impale yourself. REI has Black Diamond ice axes that weigh about 0.4 kg.

        Thank you for the wonderful pictures. I will be in the Sierras during August and you will be passing by the Three Sisters near my home. I think some of the PCT hikers do a 60 mile challenge in like 28 hours on the west side of the Three Sisters. Something to consider, ha ha.

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  2. I’ve had a couple of miserable nights like that in the past and it is so demoralizing! I hope you get some warm sunshine tomorrow so that you can dry out. The trail ahead is amazing and well worth the work!

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