Mile 179 - 209.5 | Crampon crampoff, all the way to Cabazon!
As the morning dawned on us and we began making preparations to head back to trail, it became clear that Claire would most likely not be able to join us. Her knee had ballooned in size and her hobble was more than a regular hiker shuffle. Everyone packed up in silence, a few of us eager to get out on trail earlier than the others, at least we all agreed we’d go for one last pizza!
I couldn’t stand the dilly dallying any more so I was the first to get up and out, Shaker was ready and waiting by the door. Claire decided to come to town with us, she was in the midst of sorting out a trail angel to stay with - she wasn’t ready to talk about it though so I didn’t know the details. There was an awkward tension as we walked down the road to try and get a hitch, I wanted to talk about what was happening but understandably Claire wasn’t ready - it can’t have been easy being the first injury of the group. I said I’d stay if she really wanted me to but she shook her head.
I had resupplied the day before but needed to grab bits out of my bounce box before sending it back off again, the post office was rammed! We congregated in the Pizza place one last time before Claire informed us she was going to stay with Tiffany and was being picked up shortly. We packed out our leftover pizza just in time for me to head out and meet Tiffany and give Claire a hug. The second she got in the car and drove away I burst into tears. I didn’t know when I would see Claire again, I was confused and also upset for Claire too - if I feel this way how on earth must she feel?!
The weather was progressively getting worse as Miles, Matt, Shaker, Julian and I headed out towards the trail, most of the traffic was going into Idyllwild not away so a hitch wasn’t looking likely. I pulled on my rain gear and we made it another 20 mins before a kind guy with a truck pulled over, our first pickup truck hitch!
We were kindly dropped off right where we had been picked up in the Humber Park car Park and started up the gruelling 2 miles of off trail miles up to the trail head. If felt so strange not having Claire there!
We got about a mile up before I head a shout from the switchback below, Shaker was hurting. He said he had to turn back, he couldn’t carry on! I fumbled my phone out with my cold hands and shot a quick text to Claire saying that Shaker was heading back, could he stay with you so you’re not alone? I had no signal but left my phone on incase it went through - the weather was getting worse, Shakers chances of getting a hitch was very low! With some luck, the message got through and Claire and Shaker were able to coordinate- I felt a little better knowing she wouldn’t be alone at least.
On top of the 2 miles up to trail, we were only going to do a very short day due to the snow ahead of us - we wanted to pass over Fuller Ridge and the snow in one day. It was late by the time we got back up to the trail and we were very aware night was catching up to us, the heavens opened and we got caught in a hail storm! The sunset we were treated to was unbelievable and very worth the wind and hail!
That night I slept badly, the wind was so strong the wall of my tent kept touching my face and the thought of the snow was playing on my mind, also were Claire and Shaker okay? Our tents were crammed into the smallest space, I’m pretty sure I blocked the wind for Miles and Matt in the end because they slept well!
I was up and packed much earlier that the guys, by this point on trail Claire and I had a ritual of being up and our early and the boys would catch us by lunch. I crammed a dense ‘healthy’ bar into my mouth as I waited for them to pack up, I was nervous but excited for my first mountain snow experience!
Snow has a funny way of appearing. You can kid yourself that there’s not much snow then turn a corner and it be snow covered for the next 10 miles! I’ve learnt now to be able to predict it based on which direction the face of the mountain we are on but it took me by surprise this day!
After Claire’s fall before Idyllwild, my decision to put micro-spikes on was based on how big the fall would be if I slipped, being so high up this meant I was taking them off and putting them on again constantly! It wasn’t until after a break at the top (not the summit, we chose not to this time) that we hit about 10 miles of constant snow.
I’m still not even sure which bit in particular Fuller Ridge was but from our break spot all the way to Fuller Ridge camp ground it was snow covered. We were doing a mixture of following footsteps and navigating, because of the snow cover we were often below the trail and at a few points having to scramble up over rocks.
I didn’t take many photos of this section as I have to admit, I was terrified. I have little to no snow mountain experience and the sun was up high melting the snow making it slushy. Even though my spikes were helping me not to slip, if I took too long to decide where to step the snow would mush and slide underfoot. I postholed up to my thigh, that means when your foot breaks through the surface of the snow onto soft snow below. I fell forward and down towards the slope as it was my outer leg, I felt my bag try and tip over my head! If I didn’t have my whole leg in a hole I could easily have slipped down the slope to my right. Matt had to help pull me up as every movement I made felt like I was closer to glissading down the mountain!
I knew that you should not step near trees, logs or rocks as the sun heats these up and the snow around them is posthole central as the snow melts from below but I guess we should have set off earlier in the morning as we were falling through the snow in the middle of the trail!
We passed and saw only one other couple and PopTop earlier in the day. I asked Poptop, a lovely older (sorry PT) German lady who had broken her tooth trying to open a bottle (hence the name!) if she wanted to hike with us but she had assured us she was fine.
It felt so good to set foot on solid ground again as we crossed Black Mountain Road and into the Fuller Ridge camp ground. Black mountain road is a popular snow free road walk alternative for those not wanting to cross the ridge. The camp group had a picnic table (YAY!) and sun! We peeled off our wet shoes and socks and laid them out in the sun to dry, we were also starving as it was almost 3pm and we hadn’t stopped for lunch! We were so hungry Miles tried to build his lunch wrap but it was still in the ziplock bag!!
We sat and thawed out, Julian appeared not long after and I was keen to see PopTop come through. The boys laid down in the sun as a one or two faces appeared - one being Forest Gump a French girl who was flying through the snow! She informed us she was ahead of schedule this morning so had got to where we were then went back and summited SanJacinto!! We had only just about made it 10 miles and she didn’t even have micro spikes. I’m pretty sure she’s Wonder Woman!
Eventually PopTop came hobbling round the corner, she had taken a big fall and had ripped her gaiters and cut her knee quite badly. I was annoyed I hadn’t insisted she hiked with us but she’s a tough cookie and would have probably fought me! She resisted any first aid but was happy to see us! Bloody hell PopTop you didn’t half give me a fright!
After the campground there was virtually no snow so we powered down the mountain, you could see the casino and Cabazon off in the distance below!
It was incredible how quickly the mountainous forest terrain turned to sandy desert, before we knew it we were scorching under the sun. I took a moment to look back up towards San Jacinto and marvel in my achievement, I just climbed that! I didn’t fall off any thing and I didn’t die! Woohoo!!
We grabbed some water and started on the down hill until it reached dusk. The sandy trail was still radiating heat from the scorching it had in the day so we decided it would be a perfect cowboy camping night, Matt and Miles’s first cowboy! We laid my groundsheet down and Miles’s and tucked into a bush like a little row of sausages!
I had been keeping my phone on incase I got signal and word through from Claire. Overnight a flurry of texts came through as Claire let me know she was okay and was missing us, it had been hard on her to watch us walk off. I too was feeling somewhat drained from the stress my body was in on the snow, constantly bracing against falling and my worry if Claire would make it back on trail - I wasn’t quite ready to say a real goodbye yet! Luckily this wasn’t the case and she’d seen a Physio who had strapped her up and sent her on her way. She would be in Cabazon tomorrow when we get there. Unfortunate Shaker wasn’t as lucky, he had an inflamed Achilles’ tendon and skipped ahead to Big Bear to wait and recover there.
I set off running in the morning, knowing Claire was going to be there at lunch was giving me serious motivation to get moving. In the excitement of it all I almost missed the 200 miles sign! There was still a serious superbloom ongoing despite the heat and the flowers were out in force!
Once we got off the snaking, switchbacking long climb down, we grabbed some water and texted Claire saying we were only 3 miles away. Little did we know just how long the road walk and sand walk to the i-10 underpass would take. Having spoken to other hiker friends, I feel relieved that I’m not the only one who found this stretch very difficult. You could constantly see the underpass in the distance but we had to cross over what felt like a desert! The sand was deep and thick, it felt like every step you took you’d slide back - energy was instantly zapped!
It seems comical now that I was pushing hard just to get under the I-10. This was the first time on trail that I really had to grit my teeth and push through any feelings of not wanting to be here. As I got closer, I spotted something - an umbrella? a photographer’s flash umbrella. What an odd place I thought to myself as I practically sprinted into the shade.
The setup was that of Andrew Burns who is a professional photographer. Andrew started up the PCT People Project this year as a passion project and has been travelling up and down the trail photographing and collecting stories of the many hikers on the PCT this year (2019).
Andrew took our photos, gave us grapes and much needed Gatorade and told us about his passion project! It was so nice to meet him as I had been following his insta and was enjoying the eclectic mix of hikers he’d captured, some I had met and some I was soon to meet!
Above is a pic of Bessie who was just a day behind us at this point! We were then surprised with even more Trail Magic from Waltzing Matilda who shoved giant wedges of juicy delicious watermelon into our hands!
“The trail provides”
It is true what they say. My toughest moments were just a few steps away from kindness, generosity and passion for the trail. Just when I needed it the most, there it was! Even more excitingly, a short hitch and I was reunited with Claire and got to eat rice and broccoli, the little simple pleasures in life!