During peak season, as many as 300 people a day attempt
the 11-mile climb to the summit of Mount Whitney,
the highest point in the lower 48 States.
Our PCT Journal
The Desert Divide - California Dreamin'? Doesn't the song go on about girls in bikinis, sandy beaches, and lots of sunshine? One would almost think that we are in a different California. Well, we are in a different "part" of California. We are up at 7,000 feet in the San Jacinto mountains hiding out in our tent, trying to wait out a hell of a wind storm. We are a little less than twenty miles from Idyllwild right now, but those twenty miles require that we climb another 1500 feet and that we hike numerous miles along a ridgeline. Not something that we can do in today's weather.
We woke up this morning to the usual routine. The sun wasn't quite up over the nearby ridge yet so it was hard to tell if the skies were clear or overcast. We began to pack up and prepare for our day's hiking when the sun did start to climb height enough to show it's face, but we were unable to see it as we stared at the clouds being ripped over the peaks 1500 feet above us. There was blue sky directly above us, but westward there were many more clouds rushing in to close it up. We briefly pondered our options, but as we had had a waterless camp last night, we decided to push on, up the hill to our next water source.
We started the days hike in the relative shelter of Penrod Canyon with the wind blowing high above us, but as we passed the miles we got higher and higher up the Canyon and closer and closer to the ridge. Fortunately much of our climb had been in the shelter of Live Oaks and Pine trees, so when we got to the first water access detour we decided to hold off until the next one, another four miles up the ridgeline. That was a mistake because we haven't made it that far.
We were hiking along the trail when we came out onto the ridge. We stopped short when we saw a nearby pine tree cloaked in ice from the blowing wind. A closer look revealed that the grasses and bushes were also shrouded in ice. We pulled on our rain jackets, stuffed our down sleeping bags and thermarests into our waterproof sacs and then headed onward to brave the full force of the storm. The wind pulled and pushed at us, making us unstable on our feet, but we made it through the gap and then a few open ridges after that. At last we pulled into this spot, on the ridge, sheltered from the wind by a thicket of scrub oaks. It had been the first sheltered, flat ground that we had found since reaching the ridge, and we figured that it would just have to do.
So here we lie, wrapped up tight in our sleeping bags, trying to stay warm. The wind is raging around us, making our tent dance for the second time this trip. We still need to refill our water supplies, but for now we have food, shelter, and a few liters of water to see us through the night. Hopefully this storm will pass over sometime before then.
Our adventures on this leg of the trip, however, have not been limited to today's wind storm (as if this isn't enough!). On our first day out of Warner Spring we had made some good headway up into the hills. Scott's knee didn't really start to bother him until we had already covered about 12 miles. Again we found ourselves searching for a place to pitch the tent, but we didn't find any level ground until we came to a dirt road crossing. The guide book indicated that water could be obtained from a private residence .3-mile up the road. We decided that Rachel would go and get some water while Scott set up camp. Little did we know at that point that we would soon be entering into the land of the bizarre.
About fifteen minutes after she had left, Rachel came back down the road driving a Dodge pick-up truck. She had found the owner of the house, asked for some water, and had been offered accommodations within the house for the night, or however long we needed. We pulled up the tent, threw the packs in the back of the truck, and headed back to the residence for the night.
Bill, the owner, had purchased the house and property a year and a half ago from the US Marshall (the previous owners had been using it to grow marijuana) and had since been working at transforming it into a gathering place for "all night parties" (otherwise known of as Raves). The house was in serious need of a cleaning after he had just had two back-to-back parties the previous weekend, (actually it was a bit like flop house with barely any furniture and hadn't been cleaned in who knows how long) but regardless, it had hot and cold running water and all the amenities, (most importantly, a shower). Bill let us in, showed us around, told us about his dreams for the place, and then got in his truck to head back to his home in San Diego, leaving us to ourselves. By this time it was dark out so we cooked ourselves dinner and then curled up in our sleeping bags on the living room floor. It really was a very bizarre experience.
The next day we packed up and left Bill's abode to head out onto the trail again. We hiked a couple of miles to a great vista looking out over Terwilliger Valley. We began our descent down into the valley, and as we made our way the clouds rolled in overhead At first we were hopeful that they were just going to keep us cool, but it wasn't long before we had a light rain sprinkling down on us. Now, being that we are in Southern California, hiking through the desert, we initially considered ourselves to be quite privileged, (its not very often that one finds oneself hiking in the desert during a rain shower, especially in this drought year that Southern California has been experiencing), but our relative delight in the situation quickly waned as the rain came down heavier and heavier. With our sleeping bags in their dry-sacs and a poncho covering our packs, we forged on through the rain, again, looking for somewhere flat to camp (isn't it beginning to sound like a theme starting here?). Finally the rain let up, as we were only about a mile from suitable camping, but Scott's knee, and Rachel's feet were beginning to act up so we decided to camp there regardless (plus it gave us the opportunity to dry out some of our gear).
Yesterday's hike was a good one. We left our camp in Nance Canyon and made our way back up onto the ridgeline. The weather was cooperating with us (for one day anyway!) and we had nice comfortable hiking temperatures. We were looking at having to travel twelve miles to our next water access (with only about 6 liters between the two of us) so the cool, but sunny day was perfect. As it turned out, about 4 miles out of camp we came upon the Hiker's Oasis, a huge water stop complete with cabinet to keep the water out of the sun, compliments of two more Trail Angels We were dumbstruck at our luck as we had been thinking that we would have to be very careful with our water rationing that day. We topped up our water bags and filled up our quart bottles before moving on.
We were passing around the east and north sides of Terwilliger Valley and we marveled at how this desert community was expanding. New dirt roads had been built, and building lots been leveled in anticipation of selling off parcels of hillside properties. As we hiked we heard the heavy machinery leveling more land, and we marveled at how close these lots were coming to the PCT.
Despite the construction going on, the scenery was pleasant and the hiking was good. We climbed out of Terwilliger Valley and over the north side only to descent back down into another shallower valley on the other side. At one point we were walking along a ridge line that separated two drainages. The drainage on the east was evidently eroding much quicker than that on the west, and we contemplated that it will only be a few thousand years before the ridge is gone and both valleys become one.
At last we crossed Highway 74 / 371 and made our way into the San Bernadino National Forrest. A sign at the beginning for the forest lands indicated that we were only 28 miles from Idyllwild, (and we were thinking that we would make it there by tomorrow, but that was before this storm). We made it a few more miles before making camp for the day as Scott's knee was beginning to give out after the 15+ mile day.
Now that we have been sitting out this storm for over five hours already, with no sign of it letting up, we have resigned ourselves to the reality that we will be here for the night. What will we do if the storm is still blowing in the morning? Do we take the next spur trail and head out to the highway? Do we sit it out some more? Or, do we pack up and push on? That is a question that we can only answer when the time comes.
Well, we made it to Idyllwild. It is now just after noon on Sunday April 28th and we just pulled into the State Campground and pitched our tent in the Hiker/Biker site. Next it is showers, and then off into town to do laundry, eat pizza, purchase a hiking staff for Scott (he had commandeered Rachel's since he hurt his knee, and Rachel has been missing hers ever since), and then try to get connected to the internet so that we can post these journal entries and check emails. But..., back to that night on the ridge-top with the wind howling around us...
The wind didn't settle down that night like we had hoped it would. We had a cold and restless night tossing and turning, fretting about what the next day would bring. At times we thought that it was easing up, but then another huge gust of wind would come and vigorously shake our tent. At about 6 p.m. we were lying there pondering what our course of action would be for the following day when we heard footsteps on the trail beside us. "Hello there" rang out two voices. We did not see these noble wanderers, but they did inform us that they were heading a little further up the trail to Cedar Springs Camp, and that they had been hiking most of the day. This news left us in two frames of mind. First we were relieved to know that there were others out there suffering through the same conditions, but then it struck us that they had been hiking most of the day through the wind and fog. But then, they had only just reached the ridgeline. Nonetheless, the knowledge that there were others crazy enough to venture out in those conditions gave us the resolve to press on the following day.
We got up a little earlier than usual yesterday as the wind was still howling around us and we wanted to get a good jump on the day. As we packed our gear we were cognizant of the layer of ice that had formed on the inside of the tent. When we got out of the tent, however, we were amazed to see that the ice on the exterior was solid and sheet-like. We couldn't shake it off, nor could we scrape it off every effectively, so we had to resign ourselves to packing the fly away, ice and all.
As we started out on the trail we had to watch our footing because the sandy path was frozen, making it difficult to gain any purchase. Many of the rocks also had a thin sheeting of ice on them. As we walked the wind whipped around us, occasionally pushing us off the path. The trees and shrubs were wearing cloaks of ice as thick as an inch, and they creaked to break free of their casts.
After about three or four miles of hiking through the storm, we noticed that the sky was brightening a little. One look over our shoulders and we saw that the sun was trying to break through the clouds. A few minutes later and we realized that the wind was beginning to ease up. At last! The storm was over! Our efforts had been rewarded. The rest of the morning the sun and clouds had a wrestling match to see who was going to prevail. We were still shrouded in cloud much of the time, but the winds had ceased and the sun was showing its face more and more often. As we made our way along the high ridgeline of the San Bernadino Forest, we were occasionally treated to a momentary clearing in the clouds and we were able to look down, far below us, to the sprawling desert community of Palm Springs.
The miles passed steadily in the cool of the day. We still hadn't detoured off route to refill our water supplies as we had been sucking on icicles to quench our thirst as we hiked along. As the day wore on we hiked higher and higher towards San Jacinto peak. Up and up we went. The sun was warming the air and melting the ice crystals off the trees, showering us in shards, and occasionally brick sized chunks. We felt like we were the ducks in a fairground target shooting range as we ducked and weaved our way through the trees, trying to avoid being hit. By the end of the day, we had each been hit by at least one golf-ball sized ice chunk (sorry, no visible bruises to show for it), but we managed to avoid any of the larger chunks to the head. (Some of you are probably thinking that if we had been hit in the head we might have come to our senses and given up on this crazy expedition.)
We had been hoping to make it to Idyllwild yesterday, but as the day progressed we began to tire. We managed to put in a 16 mile day, but had come up two miles short of the Idyllwild turnoff, and 6.5 miles short of town. We found ourselves a snow-free, level patch of ground and staked the tent down. We collected bottles full of snow and ice to melt for water and hot-chocolate, and then crawled into the tent to warm up and suffer through a cold night at 8000 ft.
This morning there was not much on the agenda other than getting into town. We got a late start after treating ourselves to a hot beverage to melt the morning chill out of our bones, and then we started on. After a short way we came to a trail junction that offered us the opportunity to take a half-mile detour up to the summit of Taquitz Peak. While we would normally have avoided the extra mileage, we felt at liberty to take the side trip today as we only had 6 miles to go. We scrambled up the slopes, watching our footing carefully as the trail was completely covered with ice crystals that had fallen from the trees and come to rest on the only level part of the hillside (the trail). When we safely made it to the summit we were rewarded with spectacular views all around (uninhibited by clouds for once), before carefully making our way back down again.
At last we made it through the crystallized snow and slush up to Saddle Junction, where we would begin our 4.5 mile detour into Idyllwild. As we were descending down the trail we past countless day-hikers out for Sunday hike and stopped to chat with a few. Now that we are here, it feels good to relax and get clean. Our laundry is now done and we are fit to head into town for Scott's hiking sticks and internet connection. Tomorrow we will get our re-supply once the Post Office opens and we will then think about making our way further along the trail.