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State: WA Washington
Begins: Apr 10, 2014
Date: Sun, May 11th, 2014
Start: Idyllwild CA at Deer Springs Trail Head
End: PCT Mile 186
Daily Distance: 7.5
Trip Distance: 115.6
Entry Visits: 2,019
Journal Visits: 12,721
Guestbook Views: 627
Guestbook Entrys: 18
Pacific Crest Trail Map
I just took two days off. I took one to resupply my pack and redo the next four resupply boxes that Don will be sending and one day to play before Don heads home. Play included going to the movies (saw "Noah") and swimming and sitting in the hot tub. Oh yeah it also includes lots of eating and sleeping! The amount of time it takes to get laundry done and resupply the pack takes longer than you would think. So I am wondering how I will handle it on my own in the days to come.
It's Mother's Day. Before I left for Idyllwild, we caught my grandson and talked with him on the phone. He is an early riser; everyone else at his house was still asleep. Later that day, I got a text from my son. I sent off my best wishes to the Moms in the family, but my cell service was spotty and the text with picture didnt go through. I was so glad they were all getting together at my Moms house today. I knew she was really looking forward to it. She has had a hard row to hoe over the past three weeks after my dad fell and was in then out of the hospital and a skilled nursing facility. It is hard to get him out of the house, so having family come to them is really appreciated.
We were at the trail head by 10:00 am and it was time to say goodbye. Okay, the tears came. Don had been a huge part of my success so far on the trail. This is a guy who has never been away from home on a vacation for more than 14 days and that was traumatic for him. He prefers a 3-day weekend kind of expedition. He is a home body who loves to tinker in his shop. For him to have stayed with me on this journey for what will be five weeks by the time he gets home is a small miracle. Actually, it is a testament to how much he wants to support me in my endeavor. I hated to be separated from him for 5 months and was a bit hesitant to go on. He reassured me and reminded me of the three laws that a friend of ours lives by:
1) It is always harder than it appears
2) Its easier to get into something than to get out of it
3) And never force anything.
These rules were about to make a difference for me.
On the way to the trail head, we had stopped at the State Park Ranger station to check on trail conditions and see if I needed a campsite permit. Based on the ranger's suggestion, I headed up Mt San Jacinto via the Deer Springs Trail to reconnect with the PCT. Although I will miss Saddle Junction which is accessed via Devils Slide, I opted for the easier route which would get me to water faster. I heard the Dodge pull away as I left the trail head. My heart was heavy. So was my pack. I did not know how far I could get on the trail today, because I would be experiencing something new. I would be climbing from 5000 ft to 9000 ft. I carried three liters of water (two to drink and one for dinner) and two Gatorades that made up another liter of fluids. I figured I would need the electrolyte on this hot day, but more importantly, I would need the emptied bottles for water in the miles to come. I would now have a carrying capacity of 10 liters.
It was a pretty hike and there were a lot of tourists and day-hikers celebrating Mother's Day on the trail. Most were just going to Suicide Rock about 3 miles in. It was nice to have friendly chats to divert me from thinking about being alone now on the trail. I climbed 3000 ft to reach the 8000 ft level in the first 4.5 miles; that was a constant climb. The highest I had ever hiked with a pack before today was 7180 ft at Goat Rocks last August. And last August, my pack probably weighed at least 5 lbs less than it did today. Now no matter how many times I climb Badger, I just won't get the needed acclimation for elevations above 7000 ft. I really had to slow my pace down after 7000 ft to catch my breath. In fact, I found myself traveling only 1 mile per hour. It was also getting hot. I was grateful for the shade from pine and other trees that were larger than any I had hiked through so far.
I got to Strawberry Junction which was at Mile 183 on the PCT about 2:00 pm. I couldn't believe it had taken me four hours to do this 4.5 mile stretch. I was hungry and decided to stop and eat a hot dinner early. This was part of stealth camping which I decided to try today. Stealth camping is a method used by Ray Jardine, who led the way to ultralight backpacking. The intent is to camp away from established campsites where people cook to reduce the likelihood of having food issues with critters. The way you do it, is to stop a few hours before you are ready to camp for the night and cook and eat at an established campsite. Then move on a few more miles to sleep away from the scent of food at an unestablished spot flat enough and large enough to put up your tent.
Strawberry Junction was perfect for this method. It was an established campsite. In fact, had I stayed there I would have been required to have the $ 5 permit I discussed with the ranger earlier in the day. Moreover, it had the perfect cooking set up for the parched SoCal conditions: there was a large flat slab of granite more than 5 ft in diameter on which a flat granite boulder sat that was just the perfect bench height for sitting on while cooking and eating. Perfect setup! As I was finishing up my dinner, a man and his young nephew came into camp. They were the first of their party to arrive at the junction from a campsite near the 10,349 ft peak. We chatted while I cleaned up and repacked my pack and they waited for everyone else to catch up with them. This was a shakedown backpacking trip for them. Three of them in the party were getting ready to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in August. I had met a solo female hiker earlier in the day that was using this trail to train for the JMT which she too was going to do in August. It is a very good trail for that because of the elevation gain.
Although I had been quite tired when I had arrived at Strawberry Junction earlier, I now felt refreshed after eating and resting. So about 4:00 pm I got back on the PCT and decided to head for the only water on the mountain at Mile 186. I had talked to two thru-hikers earlier in the day that had come up Devils Slide; they were going to head for the water and try to find a campsite near there. There were no designated campsites at or near the water. So I had no idea what I might find. I had asked some weekenders coming down trail if there were campsites ahead. Most people said no because they think only of the official campsites. I finally got smart enough to ask about the terrain and whether there were flat spots that one could use to camp on. That question got more useful responses and I knew that I would find something ahead although it sounded questionable whether it would be at the water. I scoped out options between mile 184 and 186 a very Ray Jardine kind of thing to do. Stealth camping means you need to pay attention to the topo maps and look for flat areas that you might be able to set a tent on rather than focus only on designated camp sites.
It was getting late in the day and I was losing light, but I decided to go the whole distance to the water. I was rewarded for the effort. Lo and behold, as I crossed the first trickle of water that they call North Fork of the San Jacinto River (we'd probably call it a seep or seasonal rivulet up here in the Washington Cascades), I could see a tent downhill to my left. Before I got to the second crossing of this raging "trickle" of a river, I saw an entry point to a large flat area that could have held 100 thru-hiker tents. Score!! I set up so that a wall of boulders protected me from the SW which seemed to be the dominant wind direction that day, paying attention to not be too close to the boulders in case mountain lions used them for perching. I saw another thru-hiker come in just before me. I went over to talk with him. He was a very soft-spoken foreigner and we struggled to communicate. I think he was going from Walker Pass south to Campo. I never saw the other hikers in the tent, but I assumed it was the two young men I had spoken to earlier in the day. That meant there were at least four of us camping near one another.
This campsite was at 9000 ft. There had been a few small patches of snow as I came into the area. It was much colder especially as we were losing day light. After I set up camp, I tried to get a GPS signal out with my SPOT to no avail. The cell phone service wasn't working either. I knew Don would worry if he didn't hear from me tonight, so I climbed up out of the trees on top the boulders to get a GPS signal; still no phone, but at least he would know I was camped for the night. By the time I had finished this task, a cool breeze was coming up and I was ready to get in the tent, get warm, and eat. Because I had eaten a hot dinner at the Junction, I was now eating my cold lunch tonight. I have to say, it just isnt as satisfying to have cold food at night, especially when the air temperatures were dropping.
And drop they did. All day, I had been sweating in the heat as I struggled to climb 4000 ft. Tonight was just the opposite. Now I know how a spaceship feels: when the sun is on you it is very hot and when you get to the dark side, it is very cold. We had almost a full moon that night which cast sharp shadows through the tree branches and into my tent all night long. Without the insulation of the cloud cover though, it got cold fast. It wasn't long before I had every piece of clothing on that I had with me. My 20F sleeping bag with the silk liner which is supposed to bring it to 15F was not enough. I had on my capilene base layers (bottoms and top), wool socks, puff jacket, balaclava AND wool hat and that was not enough. The cold wind was picking up and cutting right through my sleeping bag keeping my hips and thighs a little too cold. So I added my hiking pants and Mountain Hardware gloves. These helped, but still didnt quite do it. So I wrapped my rain jacket which doubles as a windbreaker around my hips. First, I put it on the outside of the bag. Sleeping bags work because the feathers hold your body heat in the air pockets. I thought if I put the jacket around me inside the bag, it would reduce the body heat going into the down insulation. But I was wrong. With the wind blowing, convection was taking out some of the warmth in the down. And I am a restless sleeper, so the jacket would shift out of position when I rolled over. In the end, I had to wrap it around my hips and thighs inside the bag to keep warm enough. I avoided hypothermia and sleep. I was wide awake all night feeling a little too hungry and a little too cold to drift off. And getting up for those night time bathroom visits took a lot of time and repositioning to stay warm.
No sleep means 10 hours in the tent with nothing to do but think. And I did lots of thinking. I had a decision to make. Tomorrow, I had another 20 mile stretch with no water down the hot side of the mountain. It would be a 6000 ft descent in what had been described to me as never ending series of switchbacks. At the bottom, there was supposedly a spigot to get water from and then a 5 mile walk across the sand to get to Ziggy and The Bears house. They are trail angels in Cabazon CA; I had sent my next resupply box to them from Julian last week. When I talked to Ziggy on the phone the previous week, she warned me to carry lots of water through that upcoming 25 mile section. She said they had already had 3 rescues on this stretch of the trail and maybe a fourth one to be rescued the day I talked to her, because hikers were underestimating how much water was needed. (I learned the next day that indeed a fourth hiker, a man in his 70s had to be rescued last week. I thought of Recon, who would have been that much ahead of me. I hoped it wasn't him. And I was sorry for whomever it was.)
I had learned by now that I drank 5 liters of water in 20 miles. Luckily I had water close by my campsite to fill up before I headed out tomorrow. I also noted that I was about to hit three days of really hot weather ranging from 95 to 102 F as I got to the lower elevations. These were Red Flag days according to the local weather report which meant high temps and strong winds leading to an extremely high risk for fires. (As you know by now, these conditions led to 11 fires in the San Diego County during this period.) At these temperatures, i.e., anything over 85F, one should be carrying 1 liter of water for every 2 to 3 miles. I had brought along the extra Gatorade bottles just for this type of situation. If I used this rule of thumb, I should be carrying up to 10 liters of water which is 22 lbs of weight. And if I wanted to cook, I would require another liter. My base pack weight was 20 lbs and I had 5 lbs of food. This weight of up to 47 lbs was becoming less and less tenable, especially with such large elevation changes and temperatures ranges, i.e., almost a 70 F temperature change in less than 12 hours.
As the night wore on, I began thinking through the facts. And heres what I came to.
* I really did not want to have Don be 3 hard driving days away for such an extended period of time. I had come to think of him as a partner in my adventure, even if he was not on the trail with me. I knew it would get harder and be a lot less fun without him. He had offered to drive back and get me any time I called, but I hated to make him do the 3 day trip when I could just catch him in Las Vegas, making a pickup at this point only a one day trip.
* Water was becoming a real concern for me. I was now seeing water sources listed in the recent water reports that were dry or gone when I arrived. So I was carrying a lot of water to make through to the most likely water sources. That weight was slowing me down, especially when climbing. And the higher temperatures were only going to make the load increase. Water caches had been on the trail, but as I have said before, you cannot count on them when figuring what you carry. You can only enjoy tanking up with a liter when you come across them.
* My overall pace was less than 15 miles per day (mpd). I was able to 15 mpd, but I was usually aiming at a campsite or pickup point or water location that was less than 15 mpd. This is not fast enough to thru-hike the PCT in a single season. To thru-hike, I would need to average 20 mpd, INCLUDING zero and nearo days. That means, minimizing time in town and averaging more like 25 mpd when actually hiking. One might reason that my pace could increase; certainly my muscle tone had improved markedly and the tendons, ligaments, and fascia that develop a little slower than muscle seemed to be doing okay. I had no aches or pains. But there were also reasons to think that my pace was not likely to increase. With Dons support, I was getting physically stronger. He fed me well when I came off trail, so I wasnt depleting my energy stores. He was at the trail heads to pick me up so that I didnt have to walk into town or take time to hitch a ride; that saved me a lot of time and energy. He also handled the chores like laundry, shopping, and cooking, so that I could sleep and rest when I was off trail. Going forward, I would have to do extra walking or wait around to hitch rides. I would also have to do the chores on my own. I would now be taxing my energy stores more and getting less restoration during the zero and near zero days. Moreover, I was facing some brutal conditions over the next four days before I came to the first hotel where I could get out of the heat and really rest. I had called ahead and already knew that this hotel did not have a restaurant, so easy food was not available beyond the complimentary breakfast. Id have to walk to the nearby convenience store and fast food places. Finally, I would be hitting more and more high elevations in the 9000 ft range in SoCal followed by 9000 to 13000 ft in the Sierras. My slow pace today told me I had an acclimation problem to deal with. Northbound thru-hikers have a harder time acclimating than Southbound thru-hikers due to the terrain. I would likely be struggling and going even slower in the Sierras which was problematic because it meant carrying more days worth of food. That translates into carrying a heavier load because of the distances between resupply points, i.e., likely 7 to 9 days at my pace. The equation of pace, weight, and conditioning were not adding up in my favor.
* In the Sierras, there was still snow. It would melt pretty quickly this time of year, but nights would likely be as cold or colder than I was experiencing this night and I was already at the limit of my ability to stay warm with the gear I had. I could add gear, but that would add weight which would exacerbate the problem of hiking pace. I would have the 2.5 lb bear canister, 7-9 days of food which is about 10 to 14 lbs, plus heavier clothing which adds about 2-3 lbs. Water still had to be carried, but less of it because water sources were generally closer together in the Sierras.
* If I was likely not going to be able to hike the whole PCT this year in a thru-hike, then I should think about what sections I could and wanted to hike. I remember a thru-hiker I met at the Big Lava Springs on Mt Adams last August who suggested that I consider hiking the prettiest stretches of the PCT. He said there was a lot of the trail that wasnt at all scenic. it was just mileage you had to walk through to get to the next good stretch. I had certainly experienced this situation as I hiked between Rodriguez Spur and Barrel Springs through Scissors Crossing. That was 32.7 miles with no water and lots of heat. The only thing living there were lizards and cactus. Id have been happy to skip that section.
As the night wore on and the wind got stronger, I had to admit that I was not ready physically or emotionally to thru-hike under these conditions without support. I knew I had several more 20 mile stretches and in one case, a 30 mile stretch of no water ahead of me in what would likely be high temperatures. And I had elevation, lots of it, to contend with yet in SoCal. At this point, I went back to the three laws. The hike was harder than it appeared and I would be forcing solutions to keep going. I thought about how many times in my adult life, I had striven to succeed even when it was not healthy for me to do. I decided I had finally figured out what my professor used to tell me, "Work smarter, not harder." I hated that saying, but as Ive gotten a little older, I now understand. So I made the decision to come off trail, head home with Don, and regroup and refocus. There was still a lot of trail to travel that was not in SoCal or the Sierras. I would choose a different place to re-insert; one more fitting to my physical fitness, a little closer to home, and more aligned with my skills and experience.
Now the trick was how to reach Don before he drove too much further north. If I went forward to Cabazon, I would be hiking 1.5 more days and get to mile 211. I liked the idea of getting to the 200 mile mark. However, I had two problems with that approach: I didnt have cell service to reach Don before he left Las Vegas and no idea when I would have it again if I went forward. Additionally, Cabazon which is located on I-10 was out of his way and had nothing there but a trail angel offering up their yard and water, i.e., no hotel, no restaurant, no public transportation. And waiting for me to hike out would hold Don up for two more days. So the logical thing to do was to backtrack to Idyllwild. I knew I had cell service 3 miles back down the trail that I had just hiked. I also knew that Idyllwild had a hiker-friendly inn and lots of restaurants so that I could eat, shower, and sleep while I waited for Don to return. Moreover, he was familiar with Idyllwild and would have an easier time finding me.
So the plan was set as the air temperature reached 38 F and the wind reached about 25 mph, making it near freezing with the wind chill factor. I lay awake watching the moon shadows pass over me and bid farewell to my dream of thru-hiking this year. I was good with my decision, although I figured Id have some rough spots in the days ahead. I had read that re-entry could be a bit tough.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org