April 6 (~07:00 – ~16:30)
Before Saddle Junction – after Black Mountain Rd (12 mi / Total: 191.2 mi)
Weather: Cold in the snow, but the sun is warm. The warmth from the sun is great when we set up camp.
We wake up surrounded by snow. The forest is cold, and the night was freezing, but at least I slept, unlike the night before. I check my socks and shoes in the vestibule – both are frozen solid. I pull out my second pair of clean socks to wear, and I squeeze them into the frozen shoes at the very last minute. It’s so unbearably cold that I almost cry because of the sheer pain. We put our microspikes on and it’s time to go – further into the forest, back into the snow.
We soon reach Saddle Junction, and then the trail moves to the other side of the mountain, where it wraps around the valley with views of Idyllwild and its distinct rock outcrop, Suicide Rock. Apart from a few patches, the snow is finally gone. We are all relieved, take off our microspikes and follow the switchbacks in the sun. Everything has warmed up and the pain from my frozen feet has dissipated. I fall back while I take in the mountain views of fresh pine trees, vibrant colours and remnants of snow.
When the trail turns a corner and moves back into the forest, everything is snow again. Finding the way quickly becomes confusing. At times, the footprints hit a snowless spot and it’s impossible to tell which direction the trail goes into. Different footsteps try every direction, and none of them are conclusive. It’s easy to get lost, and once I hit Deer Springs Trail, the path grows steeper, and angles precariously into the steep mountainside.
I pass two hikers as I walk, and one of them catches up shortly after, asking if I mind if he trails along. I like my solitude at the back but I can’t blame him – it may be easier, and safer, to navigate with another person. He’s an older American hiker, and he’s complaining about the problematic wayfinding, so I tell him to be friends with the snow, and we’re off.
It doesn’t take long for me to negotiate us up a steep slope just before a stream, riddled with foot prints, before we realise the real trail only faintly moves upward on the other side of the creek. This keeps happening. The existing footsteps in the snow are light so we must be some of the first people to come through. It seems as though the first person who negotiated this trail and carved the initial footsteps, really wanted to descend, as we keep moving down to find ourselves stranded, only to bushwhack back up again.
With all the unsteady footing in the snow, I begin to feel my ankle again. I sprained my ankle a year ago, during my last week hiking the TA and it still bothers me now and again. I haven’t had any problems so far, but it doesn’t agree with all this walking in the snow. It makes for a stressful day. I don’t even want sit down to have lunch because I’m so behind, but I lack the energy to keep going at the same time. I just push forward, go go go.
Finally we hit Fuller Ridge and the path is clear, with stunning views of the trail meandering down a rocky ridge. I let the American hiker go ahead, and find Speedy and Black Water shortly after, just moving on from lunch.
They waited for me. Apparently, the trail is about to go around the other side of the mountain again and they think there might be more snow. They are right – it’s another slog through now softening afternoon snow, a steep mountainside with a precarious route. The views show us the city and mountains ahead, everything far, far below us. It’s another long and exhausting stretch that just won’t end, and I feel faint as I haven’t eaten. I didn’t even have my protein powder this morning as my bottle was still filled with electrolytes from the day before. We finally emerge at a little campsite where several others have set up their tents, and we find a collection of large rocks in the delicate sun where I finally have lunch. It’s already after three, but I feel so much better.
Then we go again, back into the soft snow. The American hiker takes one look and decided to stay behind and set up camp, while we continue to sludge through. We put our microspikes back on and we glide through the snow. Forward forward forward. Let’s get out of here.
It’s not even an hour later when we see a great campsite and decide to take it, set up camp for the night after another draining day. Our mileage has been low, and I feel like I could’ve hiked more after I finally had lunch, but I’m equally excited that in between the patches of snow, the sun is shining bright and I can finally dry out my shoes again.