Miles: 14 PCT + 6 from town, up Devils slide to the trail
Water: In solid and semi-solid state; in my shoes
I am writing in my tent, camped with a view of Mount San Jacinto. Only a few hours ago we passed not far from the peak, ankle deep in slush. Today was the Most Difficult day of hiking I have ever done. But not the worst.
Packs again heavy with food, Shenanigans and I decided to continue our hard won continuous line of walking, by getting ourselves from the hotel back to the PCT on foot. Again we are offered rides and directions and encouragement from locals driving by. Idyllwild is a definite contender for mist hiker friendliest town anywhere.
It is sunny and crisp, trees on the hills all dusted in fresh white. Not far out of town the road gets icy. At the trailhead parking lot just standing takes work as I slowly slide sideways back down the hill. Snow covers the trail fully, even here at the bottom. And there’s still 2000 feet elevation to be gained. But there are footsteps to follow.
At first the snow is novel and exciting. And most importantly, still fully frozen and relatively walkable. We wonder, though, who broke the trail and how they knew where to go. As day warms up the snow becomes increasingly slippery, then semi-liquid, repeatedly filling our shoes with icy slushwater. Each step sliding, each tiny bit of forward motion a fight against snow, against gravity, against the desire to just curl up and rest. But every rock and log and bit of earth is buried a foot deep, nowhere dry to sit.
At midday we are barely making over a mile an hour. At 9000 feet we are Up in a cloud, it is misting and barely above freezing. With wet feet we cannot stand breaks more than 10 minutes without shivering. But still there is humor as Shenanigans generously offers the use of her body for a toboggan, should she die.
Theb we break through the mist and see the peak that the PCT will not quite summit, all snowstreaked and massive. Friends are filling bottles at a cascading creek, fast with meltwater. Now we are above the misty clouds, only a tiny island of treetops piercing through. This is geography in action, you can watch climate zones being made. Clouds stopped by tall tree covered mountains, and the desert they create in rain shadow. Bits of mist rolling over the hills vaporizing in the rising heat. There are neat rows of wind turbines, a vertical mile below. It all seems so amazing and impossible.
We walk for 11 hours without breaks longer than 10 minutes, feet wet most of the day. On top of this, I have new shoes, ones that are not prematurely falling apart. Finally, the trail is clear of snow. “The trail is a trail!” I yell. It is like summer here. I skip along the bare earth in celebration. Birds are chirping, manzanita in bloom. The late afternoon sun is warm and gentle. But there is no water on the way down. Shoes squishing wet, but nothing to drink. We stuff icy handfuls of the thinning snow patches into our water bottles.
A few more miles down, we agree , eager to get off his crazy mountain. There are familiar voices. We have caught up with the rest of our friends who opted for a ride to the trail and had a head start. I take off the wet shoes to see that my feet have somehow survived. I make dinner watching the pink-purple glow of sunset fade on the snowy peak trying to understand how this has been a single day.