After a long drive from western Washington, and a quick lunch at the Paradise Valley Cafe (highly recommended), Sue dropped me off at the trailhead Wednesday shortly after noon. Last year when I had hiked north from Campo, I had skipped this section of trail, hoping that the closure would be removed by this year when I returned to finish southern California. But it had not been, and some reports suggest it may be a long time before the burned section is reopened.
The first few miles of the trail meander up, down and around and is pretty easy walking. It is mostly open with a lot of shrubs that are not too familiar to me, along with yucca, cacti and manzanita. After a few miles the trail began to climb a bit and I made camp about a mile and a half from the closure in a small saddle. No sooner than getting my tent up, the clouds came rolling in, and through the saddle. Visibility dropped from miles to feet, and the air became very damp. Nothing like living with your head in the clouds. While eating dinner a family of four, with an 11 year old boy and 9 year old girl passed though camp, looking to make another mile or two. I met them again the next day and discovered that they were the Ravens and were thru-hiking. After going to bed I heard what sounded like rain, but later decided it was just the cloud condensing on the trees and dripping on me. When I got up during the night to answer the call of nature, the clouds were gone and the stars were out bright.
Thursday morning I was up and on the trail early, bouncing back and forth to either side of the ridge. After about a mile and a half I came to the closure and found the Ravens camped there. I dropped down off the ridge on the Cedar Spring trail to the Morris Ranch Road and then followed it down to highway 74. The Morris Ranch road is paved but with very little traffic. It seems mostly to service a very large Girl Scout camp at its end and running for several miles along its length. I followed 74 along for a short while and then took a side trail over to the power line road that follows it. This road was more like a trail than a road in many places, and while a bit longer because it meanders a bit, it was preferable to the highway. The power line road quit just short of the Lake Hemet market, then back on the road to the Hurkey Creek campground when I was able to follow a trail to the Keen Summit and a meet with my own personal trail angel who packed me up and brought me back to her campsite in Idyllwild. Kind of a long and boring day with so much time walking roads.
I had planned on starting back at Keen Summit on Friday and following the May Valley road and then the South Ridge trail back to the PCT. But the cold I had been fighting and the expected cold and rain in the high country convinced me to take a different approach. Sue dropped me off at the end of the May Valley road and I followed it into town, through town and then up the Ernie Maxwell trail to the start of the Devils Slide trail. It was a nice 8 mile slackpack, mostly in the rain. When Sue met me, she walked the trail back to town while I drove the car down. Dinner in town, followed by packing for the next day and then off to bed.
Saturday morning Sue dropped me off at the Devils Slide trail head. This is about a 2.5 mile trail with a couple thousand foot elevation gain. The day started off clear and bright but a bit cold. Seldom do I hike for long with a coat, but that day proved to be the exception. The coat, gloves and beanie never came off. Once I got back onto the PCT it started to snow, but only briefly. The area around Mt San Jacinto is beautiful and I enjoyed the scenery, at least for a while. I walked off and on through the day with Kat, an Aussie transplant to London who was doing a thru. The trail climbs to just over 9000 feet, drops 500 and then back up over 9000 before slowly descending.
Late morning it started to mist and by noon it was raining. Compounding that, the wind had started to come up. By early afternoon I noticed what looked initially like shards of glass on the trail, but found it was actually ice. The rain had started to freeze and was coating the needles on the trees until the ice got to heavy and broke off.
As a side note, last year I bought a ZPacks Heximid tent with a poncho groundcloth. I had never attempted to put the poncho on until that day. The wind was blowing, it was raining, I was cold, and found myself standing in the middle of the trail with my pack on and attempting to put this poncho on. I’m sure it would have made an interesting YouTube video, but I found it very frustrating. I finally managed to get it on by taking my pack off, stuffing the back corners of the poncho into the water bottle pockets on the pack and draping the poncho over the pack. Then I sat down in front of the pack, got my arms through the straps and pulled the poncho over my head. The poncho has a pair of zippers on each side to zip up the sides to keep it from blowing away. I finally managed to get them zipped and then discovered that the water bottle pockets were nearly inaccessible. But at least I now had a little more protection from the rain. I can’t imagine going through all that again though.
So I am hiking along in freezing rain, the wind is starting to gust with gale force, my gloves are soaked and hands are numb and mostly inoperable and I am starting to get cold. I see what would make neat pictures of pine branches with long needles and cones coated in ice, but I cannot operate the camera. I am starting to focus now on finding a flat place that is protected enough from the wind that I can get a tent setup. And it is not looking good. The trees are coated in ice and the trail is starting to accumulate ice falling from the trees. Eventually I drop low enough that the ice quits, but the rain is getting worse and the wind will occasionally blow me off the trail.
Finally, around 5, I found a large fairly flat spot in a somewhat protected spot and managed to get my tent setup. The ground was made of coarse sand without much holding power, so I piled rocks on top of my stakes, secured everything as best I could, and crawled into the tent. Just then Kat came along, in worse condition than I had been, lacking any real rain protection. She quickly setup alongside, followed by a third hiker. I huddled in my sleeping bag for quite a while before I finally stopped shaking and got warm, then sat up and had some dinner and arranged stuff a bit more inside and laid back down for the night. The rain became pretty intense for a while, but quit around 8:30, although the wind continued to whip most of the night. By 11, when I got up for the first time, the stars were out.
Another side note. My ZPacks Heximid is actually a shaped tarp with an attached bug screen for walls and floor. This works great in mild weather. But it presents some real challenges during heavy weather events. It needs to be pitched kind of high to get enough airflow to prevent condensation, but that also allows the wind to drive rain trough the bug screen. I pitched it a bit low, so ended up with condensation, some of which dripped on me all night, and some of which froze. The ground cloth is also marginally bigger than my bag, presenting some challenges in finding dry places to keep stuff. All my electronics and other stuff that need to be protected ended up in the bag with me. A lightweight bivy would have made this experience more tolerable, as, I am sure, having more experience with the tent. And in general, it points out the challenges that can face those who are trying to travel as lightly as possible. Your gear can easily be pushed beyond its limits, especially if you do not have the experience to overcome those challenges, something I gained the hard way.
Sunday morning dawned clear, cold and still a bit breezy. I was up early and broke camp, wearing everything I had except for a pair of shorts and my down puffy, and it was all damp. Shortly after leaving, the trail begins a serious descent of the north face of San Jacinto. The sun was out bright and shortly I had stripped down to just my pants and a pair of shirts. After two hours I found a big rock in the sun and plopped down for breakfast, The view was amazing. I could see the interstate down below and my pickup point for the end of the day. And I could see San Gorgonio mountain and the surrounding ridges, tracing my steps for the first couple of days after leaving I-10 last year. Stripped off the second shirt, put on some sunscreen, although not enough, and continued on.
The trip down was long, but uneventful. From my breakfast rock, the trail switchbacks down in long sweeping traverses, never seeming to get any closer to the end. I could see cars on the interstate at 8:30. By noon they were no closer, although the desert floor was slowly coming closer. It was around 2 before I came out onto the desert floor and another hour and a half to walk, first a paved road, and then several miles of sand, before getting to the pickup point. I found it interesting that the last portion of the sand was laced with muddy streaks. Apparently last nights rains has created some rivers that 20 hours later were just muck.
The missing section of the trail has been completed and now it’s on to Big Bear to pickup where last years shin splint derailed the hike.
|All decked out and ready to hike|
|Not near as many cactus in bloom as I remembered from last year, but this one was pretty.|
|Looking out over the rolling hillside just north of the Paradise Cafe.|
|My favorite desert plant. There are apparently a few different varieties based on the color and shape of the blossoms.|
|The trail climbs higher as it gets nearer to the San Jacinto’s.|
|First night out, setup under some small trees in a saddle between two valleys.|
|Not long after I was setup the clouds started rolling in and the next few hours were pretty damp. By the middle of the night though the stars were out bright.|
|This yucca hasn’t actually blossomed yet and is still growing. One of my trekking poles is leaning on the flower stalk to get an indication of size.|
|Tahquitz Peak, looming over the trail head of Devil’s Slide. The trail climbs a couple thousand feet to the left of this 8800 ft peak. |
|Suicide Rock as seen from near the top of Devil’s Slide. Wonder how it got that name?|
|Tahquitz Peak from the PCT.|
|The first of many snow patches along the trail in the San Jacinto’s. While there were periodic patches of snow, I only had to walk through 1 tiny spot of snow on the trail|
|This rock vaguely resembles a pig snout. And some enterprising hiker has left pine cones in many of the holes; like an offering to some deity.|
|After the storm, looking down on San Gorgonio Pass, a part of the San Andreas Rift Zone. I-10 is nestled down in this pass along with bunches of wind mills. The trail descends forever before crossing several miles of desert, then under I-10 and finally climbing into the hills beyond the pass. |
|Looking back at a shoulder of Mt San Jacinto with it’s newly fallen snow. Sure glad to get off this mountain.|
|This cactus looks so fuzzy, but I suspect someone fooled into stroking it would quickly regret their actions.|