Day: Sunday, May 22nd 2016
Section 1: Idyllwild, CA – PCT Milemarker 178 (6.5miles)
Section 2: 178 – 191.35 (+2miles for Mt.San Jacinto alternative loop)
The title is a little misleading in terms of my physical and mental wellbeing after the experience, if factually correct for a brief moment in time. After a break off the trail, even a brief one such as a Nero-day, the impulse to regain momentum (possibly foolishly) is very strong. I had completed a vaguely satisfying 6.5 miles yesterday, and today, ideas of making it up conflicted with a desire to summit Mt.San Jacinto. The idea that I could make up distance whilst also hiking to the top (and down again) of one of Southern California’s highest peaks is now simply baffling, maybe even idiotic. It’s a simple 6.5 mile alternate loop along the PCT, jump off at point A, rejoin at point B, I told myself. Between these points, the increase in elevation is a little over 2000ft, however the starting point for the day is a slight increase on that, from 5350 in Idyllwild to 10833 at the peak of Mt.San Jacinto. The numbers don’t add up. They never added up. But I did it anyways.
I woke around 4am to a frigid morning. The dawn chorus hadn’t even started as the birds had clearly decided to flee Idyllwild for the warmer climbs at a lower elevation. The real-feel indicator on Accuweather tells me it is 22F and I’m wearing every piece of clothing I have as I take down my tent. I’m going to the trail by the recommended fire closure alternative route via Tahquiz Peak. I walk the roads of Idyllwild with scarcely any lights on in any houses along the way. I rise on a asphalt road, then a dirt road and then barely a track in the dirt high above the city as the sun rises on the far side of the peak. Morning always gives some great clear views and wonderous shadows but the cold led me to hesitate at the thought of taking out my camera.
I then rejoined the PCT at mile 178 and the end of the fire closure area, before heading north towards Mt.San Jacintos heaving mass above. The trail wandered through masses of old growth forest before a spur leads to the peak alternate route. I spoke to “Grandaddy Amos” (trail name) from Albany, OR who was on his final section after 6 years of hiking, he was an interesting and insightful character and he split for the main PCT route whilst I took the alternate, he wanted to come back to do San Jacinto with his brother he said. The trail continued upwards for the next 4miles. The elevation had a huge effect of my progress and time seemed to stand still as I dragged my pack up and up. It only seemed to get heavier as I ventured further (although as yet, disappointingly I have not found any scientific rule that may validate this idea!). The views across the Coachella Valley to Palm Springs, the Salton Sea and beyond were incredible, as were the hoards of day hikers who came up on the tramway from the desert-side.
I found myself a little annoyed by the day hikers, the through-hiking thing seems to have given me a sense of self-importance and elevated status to myself that makes me feel they should move aside for me and lavish attention on me. I do of course jest, but some of their hiker-etiquette was appalling. The quip from one Boy Scout “why did you haul that pack up here!!” Whilst pointing at me, did receive a slightly gruff “because I live in it” reply from me. I was quietly satisfied with the retort but I think he was just confused. Regardless, the hike was grueling, the views were fantastic and I’m glad I went up which is all that’s important.
Now for the down. And wow, was there a lot of it. I realized soon enough that the little forestry service signs with distances on them are speculative at best. The 4 mile loop advertised is actually 6.5 miles and the connection to the PCT was lengthy to say the least. I finally rejoined officially only 4.5 miles from where I left however I had covered close to 7 miles with 2000ft elevation and 2000ft of a descent in that time. Things were a little “creeky” I think is the best word. And when I say creeky, I mean that parts of my body were making sounds that you’d expect to hear from a wooden sailing ship. By PCT miles, I really had not gone very far at all, but today had already been an epic in terms of sheer elevation gained and lost and now I had started an effective 25mile drop to the valley floor at Interstate 10. The trail provided incredible glimpses across to the Big Bear area and back to Idyllwild as well as into the Los Angeles basin from atop the Fuller Ridge.
I hiked on and on, still with that need to get miles in, and declined one spot with some friends I met, until I reached a beautiful solo spot at Milemarker 191.35, with a perfect soft sandy base and a view of the setting sun.
It was 6.30pm and I was on the go since 4. Today was an epic. Knees, ankles, thighs, I think the works needed a rest and the incredible sunset was a nice was to send off the day with a pot of Mac and Cheese and a smoked tuna packet (it was better than it sounds I swear).