Mile - 145 - 175 | Paradise
I love how quickly the terrain and wildlife change day to day on the PCT. The valley we climbed down into and back out again to Mary’s place was desert like with scrub and brush trees and cacti - now we were walking along trees and flowers!
We had a straight forward 8 miles to get to Paradise Cafe for breakfast, the food here is rumoured to be the best! It is so easy to feel completely wild and remote and forget that either side of the mountain range we are walking through are towns and cities! Paradise cafe is popular with hikers and bikers as it is a road side caffe just a mile off trail but on a through road!
We were marching so fast towards breakfast we almost blew past the 150 mile mark sign! Claire raced ahead, I only just caught up to her on the downhill! We are starting to find while we have very similar hiking styles, we go at different speeds depending on the time of day. We’re growing in confidence and allowing ourselves to walk separately but we always meet at water, lunch and confusing turns!
We were almost running down path to the cafe, off trail miles can be frustrating but worth it when there’s milkshakes and eggs at the other end! We poured over the huge breakfast menu before coming up with the great idea to get a short stack (small stack of pancakes) to share 4 ways and our own breakfast. I went for a cheesy omelette with a hash brown and guacamole AND a milkshake! I never normally drink milkshakes but out here it is my biggest craving!
You may got for days without seeing other hiker friends but one thing is certain, hikers always congregate at food and water! It was so nice to catch up with our friends we’d been hiking around, Tim and Jess had reached the cafe the night before and slept on the porch of the cafe with a dozen other hikers - at the owners permission of course! I love hearing other hikers trail experiences as they differ so wildly even though we are all walking the same path!
We sat around trying to decide if we’d stay for lunch then carry on hiking, it was a tough decision but we were so full we probably didn’t even need dinner. Claire, Miles, Matt and I had all sent a small resupply and our microspikes to Paradise Cafe from San Diego which was our best decision yet! We were all getting updates from friends ahead on trail that there was quite a bit of snow before Idyllwild, the next town! Some of our friends had run out of food so we shared our resupply because we’d packed too much again, some also hitched into Idyllwild to take a zero ahead of the climb in.
I would definitely recommend the option of hitching into Idyllwild from Paradise Cafe and taking a zero, then heading back and going up and over San Jacinto in one run, you have to do 4 off trail miles down and back and going over Fuller Ridge after a Zero is really tough!
It took some will power but we eventually decided we didn’t need lunch and that we had a huge climb ahead of us - the last 4 miles we had to go up 1261 feet in elevation with quite a lot water carry too!
It was a hot day when we finally got going but the terrain was so much fun, almost straight off the road we were in a boulder field. The trail climbed up and over huge stones then we went though pine forests, the smell of the pine was so fresh and new!
One of the hard things we learnt about being up so high on the ridge lines is that water is often lower if there is no snow melt run-off. We left our backpacks in a bush and took a trekking pole and a water bladder and climbed back down over 250 feet to get to a tunnel spring that emptied into a rather green trough. The frustrating thing was that none of us brought our filters down with us so we finally had all this water but couldn’t drink it! The climb back up to the trail was so tough, trying to balance the water bladder like a baby in your arms and not fall on the rocky steep terrain.
We pushed on another mile before finally finding a camp spot. We were so high up it didn’t seem like there would ever be any flat ground to camp on, the side of the cliff dropped steeply away - it can be very tough at the end of the day if you’re looking for a place to sleep but for miles ahead all you can see is a steep drop and a thin trail squiggling round the edge of a mountain!
In tradition trail fashion, we rounded a corner and suddenly we were in trees! There was a cluster of telltale camp spots - flattened ground and a ring of rocks used to anchor the tent in the wind or on hard ground. Little Red and Shaker were camped there already and we chatted briefly about the route into Idyllwild before I tucked into my take away from Paradise Cafe, a deconstructed tuna sandwich. They knew I was hiking so to avoid a soggy sandwich I was given 2 giant slices of toasted bread, a huge pot of tuna mayo and some chipotle mayo - it was huge!
Claire and I got up early as we had more climbing to do, we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise! We stopped a few miles down the trail for breakfast, I had a Mama Chia squeeze! I would highly recommend it, especially on a long water carry as it makes for a juicy breakfast!
The terrain today was high up but we just kept climbing, the trail was getting narrower and narrower the higher we got! We kept getting glimpses of snowy mountains ahead, specifically Mount San Jacinto! It has been looming for weeks and here we were just a few days away!!
It was equal parts beautiful and nerve wracking, it felt so high up! We had to keep going down off trail for water which was so tiring, as was all the climbing. We kept using the view as an excuse to stop and take a breather! There was one patch of snow we crossed together but just as I turned back to see if we all made it across, Claire slipped and went almost head over heels over the edge of the cliff! I felt myself shout at her to turn onto her front to try and self arrest in the dirt. It all happened so quickly and luckily she was able to come to a stop by a tree. It took a moment for everyone to react but Miles was able to get down to her and take her bag as she scrambled back up. Fortunately it looked a lot worse than it was and Claire was shook up but not hurt.
We pushed on to our camp site in silence, the higher we got the windier it got! Claire and I decided to stop at mile 175 with Julian and Dan. It was so windy that there were suggestions of cowboy camping. Camping without a tent, under the stars!
Dan informed us that it was going to be a blood moon and that the city we could see lighting up below was Palm Springs. Tuna and Bessie pulled up just before it got dark and joined us on our cowboy camping ridge, it was one of the best nights (and sunrises) we’ve had so far on trail. It was beautiful.