Leaving Aliah’s moms house, we decided to skip Mt. San Jacinto because Aliah’s knees were still really bugging her. It turns out that she has Patellar Tendinitis in both knees, she bought some new knee bands to see if they would help but she didn’t want to risk seriously injuring herself on this small climb and not be able to reach the Sierras. Rick dropped us off near the I-10 underpass where we hiked our first night hike on the PCT. The first few miles we walked through a wind turbine farm and as you could probably imagine… it was super windy. The trail was on a steep pinnacle of the rolling hills through the southern California desert. They don’t call it the Pacific CREST Trail for nothing, the trail is about 12inches wide and literally follows the crest of these hills, basically the whole way; Through the desert, up into the Sierras, then through the Cascade mountain range all the way up to Canada. This can be a little tricky to keep balance on when theres crazy windstorms at your back. 60-70mph winds pushed us along the trail all the way to white water preserve.
I really had to use my hiking poles strategically along this little section in order to stay on the trail and not get swept away by the wind. By the time we reached the campground it was pitch black with the new moon, making it difficult to set up camp. Wind storm aside, I really enjoyed hiking in the dark. The miles passed by quickly, we didn’t have to carry as much water, we saw a couple new critters and met a new friend who we would leap frog with the next 200 or so miles.This leap frogging with new hiker friends became a common theme along the trail.We’re always passing each other day after day, week after week.
So far, everyone out here is pretty genuine and transparent. With one common goal in mind among all of us, it is easy to make friends. We all were working our asses off to reach Canada, challenging every bit of our being to walk all those miles to that northern terminus . It’s a really beautiful culture out here, there is very little judgment… only support of one another’s shared goal and understanding of personal limits and space. How beautiful would it be if the “real world” could be like this too? We talk about the . “real world” out here as if it were actually the fake world, and this, out here on the PCT, this is what is real. If only….
Sleeping in was another big bonus of night hiking, waking up between 5 and 6am every morning to make miles before the day got to hot wasn’t always easy. It’s usually super cold in the mornings which make it hard to get out of my cozy sleeping bag. (I’m so happy with my sleeping bag choice, by the way. It’s perfect and keeps me warm at night even when the temperatures drop below freezing.) We took our time getting up before heading to the visitor center to charge up our phones and heading out the the pond to soak our feet. It wasn’t long before everyone who we had been hiking with since Jullian showed up. Ava, Una, Skinny Dip, Painter, even the PCT boyz. We all sat around in the wading pool soaking our feet, enjoying the cool shade, and eating lunch, and napping before setting off on another night hike.
The next day we climbed over 6,000ft of elevation over 10 trail miles. The first 8 miles were gradual and relatively easy, it wasn’t as difficult as we thought it was going to be… until we reached the last two miles that were STRAIGHT up hill. The climb was hot and brutal, stopping at every switchback or shady to catch our breath. We had officially begun our climb into Big Bear. When we finally reached the top of the mountain, we were surrounded by burnt pine trees. The base of every tree and most every branch charcoaled and lifeless. We found some spotty shade under the giant black pines. As we started putting down our packs and digging out our food backs we heard the noise. Another rattle snake! This time we saw him and he was fierce looking. The snake was about 4ft long and maybe two inches think, it had black scales which was a surprise to me. I thought that most rattle snakes were a sandy red/tan color, did this one adapt to its fiery surroundings? Either way, I didn’t want any trouble, we moved to a new shady spot and were officially on high alert for other snakes.
After our little siesta, we continued to hike into the evening. Climbing higher and higher into the mountains as the sun was setting was a beautiful sight, blue/gray rolling hills with giant pine trees scanned the horizon. The temperature was dropping quickly the higher we climbed and the wind really began to pick up. I made the mistake of stopping at the peak of the mountain where I found service to make a quick phone called to some loved ones before continuing, Aliah and the rest hiked ahead. Before I knew it, I was freezing and my legs were getting blasted by the sand in the wind. I was pretty far behind my group but I knew that I only had about two more miles before reaching the campsite that we all agreed on staying for the night. When I finally arrived at the campsite it became apparent that the group had moved ahead. I reached a slight moment of panic, the sun was setting and I was shivering in the wind, hungry, and extremely exhausted. “How far did they push on?” The campsite was really exposed to the elements so I’m sure that they only pushed on a little farther to find better shelter. They found it alright, about 5 more miles up trail. Hiking alone, I started running, my pack bouncing up and down with each step, putting massive amounts of strain on my back and shoulders. I saw a giant heart etched into the sand and knew that it was from Aliah, she must be close.
Up ahead a noticed a bunch of hikers hanging out around what looked like a couple abandoned buildings. The widows didn’t have glass and some were boarded up. When I walked inside the main building, 20-30 other hikers were all in there curled up in their base layers, puffy coats and sleeping bags, huddled close by the fire. “I guess this is where we are sleeping?” I thought to myself. I set up my sleeping bag next to Aliah, put on my warmest clothes, and cooked myself some Idahoan instant massed potatoes for dinner. Of course I ran out of fuel on the one night I could really use a warm meal… Fucking great… Cold mashed potatoes on a freezing cold night, my favorite! I organize my pack one last time before settling in for bed and notice a giant spiderweb attached to the wall next to it. Awesome… I love spiders. This night just keeps getting better and better. Everyone started hanging their backpacks and food bags in case mice wanted to check out our goods while we slept. I kept thinking to myself how this might be the most uncomfortable sleeping situation I have ever experienced. It was all so exciting… uncomfortable, but exciting. This is what the PCT is all about, stepping outside your comfort zone and adapting to the elements. The wind howled all night long, loud rusty swinging noises were coming from outside, hikers snores came from everywhere in the room (myself included), and I could hear the crackle of the fire all through the night. Sleep didn’t come easy.
We woke up to weather alerts warning us of a two day snow storm that was about to hit in Big Bear. Only yesterday we were melting in the sun climbing up this mountain, and today we are doing our best to avoid snow? Okaaaayyy. Luckily we were only 10 miles out of town and had arrangements to stay at a friends AirBnB to wait out the storm. Aliah, Skinny Dip, and myself (along with a couple other hikers who passed by the house) hung out in Big Bear for three days waiting out the weather. I think we watched about 12 movies on Netflix along with a couple documentaries in the time that we were there. We made two wonderful family dinners, drank and entire handle of tequila (Thanks Twerk for the wonderful margs) and 3 bags of chips. When you’re hiking for 10-12 hours every day and burning 4,000-5,000 calories, you are ALWAYS hungry and can eat anything you want. We decided to splurge on the munchies. Going from being active 24/7 to sitting on your ass for three straight days made us go a little stir-crazy. We were happy to get back on the trail and hike our way back down to the desert floor.
The Pacific Crest Trail has been a physical and mental roller coater so far. One day we’re on the desert floor melting in the heat, and the next we’re climbing 7,000ft up into the mountains where there’s snow and high winds. One day I’m crying my way down a hill because my arches feel like knives are stabbing through them with each step and my knees feel like they’re going to burst straight through my skin, and the next day I crush 21 miles with no serious aches or pains slowing me down. The trail is constantly challenging me in new ways but it ALWAYS provides.