Day 11 & 12 – Into the mountains

Thursday 9 May 2019
Day: 11
Location: Mile 142.9 to Live Oak Spring (Mile 158.4)
Distance travelled: 15.5 miles / 25 km

As I was getting ready for bed last night I could hear coyotes howling not too far off. It was a little unsettling for my first night camping alone but as it turned out I had the best night’s sleep since starting the trail! I normally toss and turn what feels like every hour or so but last night I can only remember rolling over twice. I reluctantly woke up at 5am when my alarm went off.

Low cloud hung around the mountain all morning so I packed up a very wet tent and was out hiking by 6.30am. The air was damp and my hands were freezing cold. It seems to be the same every morning so I should be used to it but there is such a dramatic difference between night and day time weather here in the southern Californian desert.

I reached Mary’s place as the sun had started to burn off the cloud. This was the Trail Angel’s place I was aiming to stay at last night but fell 2.5 miles short. She has set up an incredible campsite on her property, fills a water tank for hikers and has even built a toilet and a shower. Every year she changes the theme of this outdoor hiking oasis. I stayed long enough to appreciate her creativity and fill up my water bottles before getting back out on trail.

Once the last of the cloud burned off I was able to enjoy the desert views, rather than walk through mist. The desert was starting to feel a little same same for me this morning. After 10 days walking through similar vegetation I feel like I could do with a change of scenery. I love seeing the snakes and lizards and wildflowers along the trail but am looking forward to a change in vegetation as I get closer to San Jacinto and the mountains.

During the morning I hit the 150 mile mark. It was a little surprising when I stumbled on the cute little marker someone had crafted on the trail. The first 100 miles seemed to go quite slowly but the subsequent 50 have flown by!

Not too far down the track was a turn off the Paradise Valley Cafe. It is a bit of an institution among hikers, a mile walk (or hitch) from the trail head and you can enjoy a delicious burger or breakfast mid section. They even let hikers sleep under their awning of an evening or on the floor of the cafe if it’s raining. It is super kind of them.

I enjoyed a ridiculously large but delicious spinach and cheese omelette. It was enough for 3 meals, with 2 slices of toast and a huge serve of hash browns. I managed to get through it all though, only 1 piece of toast remaining. The best thing about American style cafes (apart from the hiker sized portions) is the bottomless coffee. If you order a coffee the wait staff will come around and continuously top it up. For free!! It can be dangerous though. I think I had one too many refills and left the cafe feeling a little nervous and jittery.

A local trail angel was hanging around the cafe warning hikers about a few things, firstly a patch of bad weather that was due to come in, secondly, that the accommodation options in Idyllwild would be full and expensive Friday and Saturday night. While he was aiming to be helpful he just panicked me and made second guess my plan for the couple of days ahead. I was aiming to get into Idyllwild on either Friday night or Saturday day, I knew there was rain coming so the timing worked out well. Finding out that I wouldn’t be able to find accommodation once I arrived made me feel stressed. He was warning people that even the campground would be full!

After chatting to a few people who were also planning to continue on the trail I decided to continue on anyway. If worse came to worse I wouldn’t be on the trail on my own and there are many side trails coming up that will give me options to get off the PCT and into town should I need to get out early.

Just as I was about to leave I spotted Jeff walking into the cafe. He was a little behind me yesterday and as it turned out camped a couple of miles south of where I camped. We chatted for a bit, he would be trying to get into Idyllwild to get more food before getting back out on the trail. Sadly it is unlikely that I will see him in the next couple of days but if I spend a day in Idyllwild he may catch back up to me. Graham was long gone. I had seen him heading back out on trail as I was coming into the cafe. He was planning to do another 12 miles that afternoon so I doubt I will see him for a few days.

I luckily nabbed a lift back to the trail head to save me walking an extra mile and as I got out of the car I saw Sarah at the trail head waiting to get in. She was also thinking about heading into Idyllwild that day. I wished her luck and farewelled her.

As I headed back out on trail I could feel the vegetation change almost immediately. It was strange having only crossed over a highway but the change was definite. Big boulders lines the trail and were scattered around the forest, pine trees started springing up here and there and before I knew it I was walking through pleasant little sections of pine forest.

In the distance were the mountains I am heading towards over the next couple of days, their peaks disappearing in the clouds.

Having left the cafe mid-afternoon the sun was in its prime. I seem to be developing a bad timing with the sun. I walked for a couple of hours before having a break from the heat. I used the time to do a little planning for the next couple of days and to dry out the fly of the tent. I leapfrogged with a couple of other hikers I’d met that afternoon, each taking turns to hide from the heat of the day.

Having spent a good couple of hours at the cafe I didn’t have too much hiking time left in the day. I walked another 7-8 miles before deciding to camp at Live Oak Spring.

The water is limited on this section of trail and all available water sources are off trail. The one I had chosen was a mile down hill off trail. My thought behind it being that I could also camp near the spring so I didn’t have to dry camp and therefore need to carry too much water. The alternative source was apparently half that distance but not as god quality with no opportunity for camping. I am sure I will regret the decision on the hike back uphill tomorrow morning but for now I am protected in the valley under some large oaks should that bad weather actually come in.

As I was setting up the tent and moving through my evening rituals I could hear a woodpecker pecking on a tree near by. I saw a squirrel running along the brances of the oak tree and even saw a couple of humming birds hovering overhead. For my second night camping alone in as many days, it was a nice spot to be in.

Friday 10 May 2019
Day: 12
Location: Live Oak Spring (Mile 158.4) to Mile 175.4
Distance travelled: 17 miles / 27 km

The plus side of having camped a mile off trail down in a valley was waking to a bone dry tent, I was down low enough to be out of the clouds. It was nice to be able to pack away a dry tent, saving my poor hands from frostbite for just one morning. The negative side to being camped off trail was the mile walk uphill to get back to the trail.

As I climbed back to the elevation of the trail my views became more and more obscured. I was hiking up into the clouds. My views would remain the same for most of the day. I could see little more than 10 or 15 metres in front of me at a time and it rained on and off throughout the morning.

This section of the trail was only recently re-opened after a large forest fore a couple of years back. It was eerie walking through the charred black and white remains of the trees with the cloud hanging low. To make it even more creepy I barely spotted any other hikers all day. Normally you are constantly running into people along the trail but this morning it felt like everyone was either sleeping in due to the bad weather or had decided to get off the trail.

Just before lunch I had to make another deviation from the trail to collect more water. It was about a mile each way. I was happier walking the extra distance than hauling more water with me from the morning. The side trail turned out to be quite nice, it lead me to a small stream where I sat and had a cooked lunch while I filtered my water. I figured eating my dinner for lunch would save me carrying too much extra water and would mean a quick dinner at the end of a long day.

Once I rejoined the PCT the sun was beginning to break through the cloud. I got glimpses of views as I walked. The cloud danced around the mountains as the air pressure changed into the afternoon.

At around 2 the sun finally broke through the clouds and I was greeted with magnificent views. Having climbed for the best part of 2 days through cloud I didn’t realise how high in elevation I had climbed. It felt so good to be up in the mountains once again.

The desert was starting to feel a little repetitive over the last 2 days, so it was such a beautiful and welcome change.

I had been checking my phone on and off for reception, hoping to make a call to Idyllwild to see if there was any accommodation available. I had taken a break 5 miles from my goal campsite for the night. With incredible views over the city below, I surprisingly had a signal. I called a hotel in town which had availability but was a tad expensive for me but it at least gave me the comfort that there would be availability in the campground if the hotels weren’t all booked out yet.

I was surprised to also have internet reception. I checked the time in Sydney, almost 9am on Saturday, it was perfect timing. I gave Adam a call. I wasn’t on the phone for long before it cut out. Just as Adam was dialling back Jeffery came walking along the trail. It was poor timing, Adam was heading out to his barber appointment so I would have to wait to speak to him from Idyllwild.

I was surprised to see Jeff again. It turned out that he didn’t go into town for a resupply but bought a few things of another hiker who had over packed and headed back out on trail yesterday afternoon. It was good to see him. It’s nice to have someone to hike with and face challenges with. It can feel a little daunting on your own, up in the mountains with supposedly bad weather due to come in at any time.

The hiking for the rest of the afternoon was steep but absolutely stunning. I felt like I was in Yosemite with large white boulders and dramatic cliff lines and towering pine trees over head. It felt like I was finally seeing the views that I had jumped on the PCT to see.

There was a lot of climbing for the remainder of the afternoon. By 6.50pm we were 1 mile from the campsite I wanted to make it to. It would be dark soon so we decided to call it and stay put. The campsite we chose was busy and quite exposed to the elements but Jeff really didn’t want to walk any further and I didn’t feel like walking into the dark.

I was tired and couldn’t be bothered cooking so I ate wraps with peanut butter for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed some peanut butter cup trail mix for desert. After a long day I am sure I will sleep well tonight.

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