PCT Days 16-17: Hail and Wind

The wonders of hiking in the mountains are many. Sweeping, panoramic views. Gnarled trees clinging to windy slopes. Big lizards staring at you while doing big lizard pushups. Did I mention the views?

The problems with hiking in the mountains are that you must hike up them, then down them, then up again, then down again, etc, etc. The uphill sections are just hard—hauling yourself and your pack up with every step. The downhill sections, while easier on the lungs, can be demoralizing because every step down is just another step you’ll have to go back up later. (No one has yet installed the peak-to-peak suspended walkways that would smooth the whole process out.)

But the thrill from reaching a pass or a peak, the changing trees and rocks and flowers—and, yes, the views—make up for the problem parts. So on Day 16 we started hiking out of Idyllwild, headed up towards Mount San Jacinto. We started at 5300′ and slowly puffed our way up to the end of the PCT fire closure at 8100′. Where it started hailing. Which was actually really fun—our first precipitation of the trip, and it’s frozen. We put up our umbrellas and kept walking.

From there it was up then down then up again in 1000-foot swings. The trail took us through interesting terrain, but whatever views down to Idyllwild we might have had were shrouded in clouds. We collected water at our last water source for 20 miles—a small stream on the mountainside—and kept hiking, sometimes through snow.

Our camp that night overlooked a cloud-shrouded valley, and in the morning there was frost on the tent. We hiked through more patches of snow and 40-degree temperatures, headed for Fuller Ridge, a notorious descent to the valley floor. Fuller Ridge is the section where hikers talk about running out of water, of nearing heat exhaustion, of being genuinely pushed to their limits for the first time on their thru-hike. The trail descends 7800 feet, from 9000′ to 1200′, over 20 waterless miles—just down, down, down.

 

We started above the clouds, the San Bernadino mountains visible in the distance, wind farms far below. The trail sticks to PCT standards—roughly a 5% grade, suitable for pack animals—which translates to long, long switchbacks. We’d walk halfway around the mountain then turn around and walk halfway back in the opposite direction. It took for freaking ever to make any progress downwards. But it was beautiful, and we passed the 200 mile mark! 

 

Near the bottom we discovered why there were so many wind turbines in the valley: dear sweet Spaghetti Monster, the wind! It was gale force. It was constant. When we finally reached the water spigot at the base of Fuller Ridge, it was still blowing. We set up the tarp and bug net, tying the cords to rocks because the wind kept pulling the stakes out of the sandy soil. We boiled water for dinner inside the net, ate and tried to sleep, but the tarp sounded like it was about to be ripped apart. Then the corners started to flap loose from their rocks. The noise was constant. So around 11PM we took it down and resigned ourselves to a windy night of being peppered with grit under the limp net tent.
Day 16: 14.3 miles, Idyllwild streets and trails for 6.1 miles + PCT Mile 179.4 to 187.6, hillside campsite

Day 17: 18.2 miles, Mile 187.6 to 205.8, water faucet windstorm campsite

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *