Its a slow morning, I wake and organize my pack carefully on the picnic table. AJ wakes up and does the same. We all decide to meet near an inn at 8am where we'll get a ride to the Devils Slide trail, which will get us back on the PCT and get the others to the Jacinto peak trail. AJ and I leave in search of coffee and something to eat. We find a little bakery called the Bake and Brew and I order a huge "harvest roll" full of cranberries, orange zest, walnuts, pecans, spices and caramel. It fills me with much needed fast burning calories I'll need on the climb up.
We see the others walking by the shop, so we gather our packs and head towards the inn. Our ride arrives immediately and we all load up. The drive takes us up and up and up, my ears pop.
As we unload at the trailhead I realize with a slight panic that I left a trekking pole at the coffee shop. The woman who gave us a ride doesn't think twice about driving me back down, she insists that we go back and find it. As we speed down the mountain and I run back into the coffee shop to local my missing pole, it isn't where I had left it.
"Pitch!" Says a voice. Its Nicole, a girl I've hiked with a few times. "The shop owner drove your pole up to the trailhead."
Well shucks. Back up the mountain we go again and there it is, leaning on my pack. Feeling very frazzled and stressed, full of sugar and caffeine and guilt for holding people up. We all set off up the switchbacks.
5 minutes in, my leg muscles are screaming for oxygen. The elevation is no joke for me, the rain forest valley dwelling person that I am. We stop quite a few times to catch our breath and the views.
Soon, we make it to the turning point to go further up the mountain where we take a break with a Boy Scout leader. He's waiting for a group to come down after a short backpacking trip. We eat snacks and regroup. I've made the firm decision to not summit. It just doesn't interest me, I'd rather just hike the PCT miles.
Soon, the Boy Scout group comes down. We make a little arch for them with our trekking poles and cheer for them. They tell us about trail conditions. Only a little bit of very manageable snow.
I stow away my snacks and wander off to go pee but a twig catches my foot and I fall, leaving a large bloody scrape all down my left shin. Oh well.
We pack up and begin hiking again. The elevation burns me all over. A tiny taste of the Sierra, I tell myself.
I switchback and switchback. My heart pounds so intensely. Pedia is up ahead of me, the others behind me. I pause every now and then, catching my breath. This is so hard! My Achilles is warm and very slightly protesting, so I change my gait to take pressure off of it as best I can. I come across my first patches of snow and step over them carefully a month ago, I might have needed crampons and an ice axe to attempt this! But then snow is very manageable.
Eventually and much to my relief, we reach the spur junction. We all collapse into the sun to escape the cold shade and pull out our food bags. We are all instantly very hungry. I can't stop eating. I have two meat sticks, a handful of cashews, a hemp seed bar, potato chip, Reese's pieces, dates and I still want more, but I stop myself.
As we all relax, I can feel a burn on my inner thighs. Chafe! Why now of all the times and miles I've hiked? I change into my tights that will offer more protection. Soon, we all part ways. I know I won't see AJ, Bananas, Honeybuns, Knock and Annie for a while since they decided to summit. Pedia and I are the only two continuing on the PCT proper. She's faster than me, so I know I'll be alone most of the time. This is what you wanted , I remind myself. Suddenly, I feel anxious and needy, but I realize it's just because I'm doing something different than what has been normal for me. Pedia and I agree to meet at a water source, but I don't count on it, she she's doing so well on the climbs.
After some delay, I set off by myself. Up and up, down and down, up, down, up and down I go. It feels good to have the space to myself. As I hike, the trail abruptly stops. What?
I can see that others had also stop here and been confused. Some climbed down and some up. I look at my maps. I should be right on trail. When I turn around I realize the switchback turn was so tight and I didn't even see it. So I turn back around and begin climbing again. It takes.
Wait, why am I climbing again? Wait a minute. This all looks familiar!
I accidentally went back the way I came. So I right myself and then make the descent down the switchback correctly this time. What a dingus. Pay attention!
I space out for a good long while. The hike is beautiful, but hard. I'm huffing and puffing on the climbs and stepping gingerly on steep descents.
I come to an earlier water source than what Pedia and I agreed to meet at. But I'm tired and the spot is just too perfect to not take a break at. A small stream cascades down some rocks and into a pool. There's a large stone perfect for me to lean up against. I take off my pack and pull out some snacks, filter a little water, mix in some electrolytes and take in my surroundings. I relax. I'm really happy and content.
This is what you need.
To hike my own damn hike. Not play catch up or slow down for others. Or to skip a beautiful break opportunity like this because I feel like I "need" to be around other people. This time is for me. Why is this such a struggle for me to understand?
The higher elevation sun burns my skin. A small jumping spider stares at me from my pack. I feel a little sleepy, but I know I need to hike to lower elevation to avoid a colder than comfortable night of sleep. So pack up and head out again.
This is why many hikers don't take breaks, it's slow to get back in a groove again and I struggle to find it. My feet feel more sensitive and the harder climbs make me feel cranky. I pass quite a few flowing water sources. The air is warm and also cool. The sun heats up the pines and firs and the air smells like dusty duff, hot rocks and warm resinous woods. It's so strong. Coming around a corner I see a bright red cone coming up out of the ground! It's huge! And stands out so strongly against the browns and greys. Immediately I know that it's something similar to coralroot - it's a parasitic plant, but I don't know which. I take a picture to send to my boyfriend for identification.
I pass an older couple who are section hiking. We leap frog one another, happily complaining and laughing about dealing with the newness of the steep climbs and elevation.
Soon I pass a seasonal creek crossing where the water is overflowing the trail and steps that were added in by a trail crew. The sight is stunning. I pick my way around it and hardly get my feet wet much to my own surprise. This was the water source I was supposed to meet Pedia at, but she isn't there of course, because I lingered for a while at the earlier one.
I maneuver around more snow and find the trail junction. At the sign is a note from Pedia, telling me she hiked on with three others named John, Bruce and Dylan.
Just then the older couple catches up with me. We talk hiker talk and I take their picture. We wish each other luck and then I turn into the notorious (for the 2017 snow year) Fuller Ridge. As I move along it, I can see how terrifying this would have been in snow and ice. Parts of the trail fall away very steeply, down through trees, rocks and cliffs.
I maneuver what feels like a few times back and forth over the ridge line. I fall a few times. Each time I manage to collapse in a way that saves me from an injury. My legs are scraped all to hell. The western side whips up wind and blasts me with cold air, the eastern side provides a block from the wind and I can hear it thrashing from the other side. I check my watch, it's about 4 pm. I wanna get to a campsite that will put me at 12 miles from the next water source. For whatever reason, I decided to only carry a liter and a half for that afternoon and into the evening. My camp spot will be void of water, so I won't be able to fill up until I hit the desert floor the next morning. I don't tend to need a lot of water in the morning, but this sets me on edge. Why didn't I fill up? I suppose this is an opportunity to test my edges of discomfort.
Soon, the trail levels out and begins to descend and flatten. The grade change allows me to pick up speed and I'm flying down the mountain, stepping carefully over snowy sections. I come into a large empty campground, it's sort of creepy as the light wanes and the wind blasts me.
I drop down and down. I can see the desert floor from a clearing in the woods. Tiny tiny little wind turbines dot the ground. I'll be down there tomorrow. I come in and out of the raging wind that chills me while I hike in the tree and ridge shadow. Soon, the trail turns and the sun hits me, a comfort and security coming out of a cold dark forest.
2.5 miles to my next camp site. I fly past old manzanita, with their red orange bark. They sway and rattle at me in the wind, being illuminated by the setting sun. I grow more and more anxious, it's getting colder and the wind is relentless. It kicks up dust into my eyes and nose.
I contine on until I find the campsite. There's a few folks sitting behind shrubs creating a wind break so that they can cook. I find a small spot tucked in some manzanita it creates a little wind break, but not much. There aren't very many other options. I'm exhausted from all the climbing and I set my tent up in the whipping wind. It flaps and flaps at me.
Eventually I get it secured with rocks. It still goes flap flap flap! in the wind. I try not to focus on the fact it's going to be a restless night of sleep. I cook a little bit of food somehow in the wind break of my tent and some rocks. My dehydrated lentils and rice with spam and taco seasoning has been my favorite meal. It's quick, warm and filling. I tuck everything away and put my bag in my tent as to prevent more wind from whipping up inside. I push in my ear plugs, secure myself into my sleeping bag and hope that my tent doesn't collapse in the night.