Southern CA B

May 22, Sun.–22 miles–So. CA B and begin C

Sunday, May 22    Miles today: 22     Total so far: 220.3      So. CA section B and begin section C

Whew! This was our hottest day yet–it was 112 degrees in the shade at 9:30 am.  I don’t even want to know what it was later on when our camera “died” from the heat.  So…here’s what happened.  We knew it would be HOT crossing the San Gorgonio Pass valley,  so we were up really early.  It still took us till 8:30 am to reach the bottom of our 6,530 foot descent off Mt. San Jacinto.  (But hooray!  We passed the 200 mile mark in the process!)  Our plan was for breakfast at the famous Snow Canyon Creek water faucet, and by the time we got there, we were already hot and thirsty for LOTS of water! 

The Rock and faucet at Snow Creek

The Rock and faucet at Snow Creek

Approaching the faucet, our hearts sank.  It was out in the full, hot sun, with no shade.  Then we saw the Big Rock, with a big SHADOW.  We made straight for that shadow, and what flashed into my mind was a line from a classic old hymn that goes, “…the shadow of a mighty Rock, within a weary land”, and for the first time in my life I felt I could really appreciate what those words meant.  We were definitely very weary and thirsty and the rock and its shadow really did give us refreshment and strength.  We are grateful to God for that Big Rock at Snow Canyon, and even more grateful for THE ROCK, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We happily filled our water bottles, ate breakfast, and were just reloading our packs and pouring water over ourselves (clothes & all) in preparation for heading out, when along came another thru-hiker couple, Jeannine and Steve.  “You’re just in time for the shade” we told them.  “There’s only room in it for two people.”  Jeannine and Steve looked very tired.  “Are you going on in this awful heat?” they asked us.  “We’re stopping here–we’re not going on till late this afternoon.”  But Bill and I were geared to go, with our hiking umbrellas covered in mylar and our shirts and hats wetted thoroughly.  We were determined to push on.

Heading out into San Gorgonio Pass

Heading out into San Gorgonio Pass

Well, what followed was a very long (over 2 and a half hours) slog through a lot of sand, with the wind blowing so hard that we finally had to stow our umbrellas and just face the heat, which was well into triple digits.  San Gorgonio Pass is full of wind farms, and for good reason!  We were very grateful, however, that though the wind was very strong and incredibly hot, it could have been MUCH worse.  We’ve heard stories of sandstorm-like conditions here.  All I had to do was make sure not to walk downwind of Bill, or the sand thrown up by his footsteps would blow all over me.  In retrospect, it probably was crazy for us to hike under such conditions.  Bill certainly paid a price–his feet became very swollen and sore, and made it very difficult for him for many days afterward.

But the “trail” across the Pass was “interesting”–there was NO trail!  What we had to do was follow a series of posts set up on mounds in the shifting sand.  The challenge was that the posts were pretty far apart, and we’d find ourselves peering all over looking for the next one.   (Note to fellow thruhikers–don’t bother trying to follow the posts–just head for the railroad tracks and hang a left!)  This made for slow going, but finally we made it across to the railroad embankment, and made a left turn towards the underpass half a mile away.  Now we were headed straight into the wind and slogging through deep, soft sand.  The hot wind blew sand in our faces.  I felt wasted!  Just when I thought I could not make it, there was a little TREE–another “miracle tree”, this time some sort of desert river wash willow.  I collapsed under it for awhile, and was afraid to even look at the little thermometer on Bill’s pack! 

Looking back at Mt. San Jacinto

Looking back at Mt. San Jacinto

Somewhat recovered, we two staggered on against the wind, finished the trek and reached the shady, non-windy under-the-overpass for the interstate highway. There we made like homeles hobo bums–pulled stuff out of our packs, made ourselves comfortable, and I was getting ready to cook dinner, when who should come along but a guy named Rick, from Medford, Oregon!  He said his trail name is “PuffDaddy” because he’s overweight and is doing the PCT to lose some of it.  He was very friendly and even gave us the rest of his water, since he had decided to hitchhike into Cabazon.  “Too hot to hike anymore today” said Rick.  (As it turned out, his gift of water was a gift from God, because there was NO water at the next water cache, and we would have been in some trouble without the half-gallon he gave us.)

At 1:15 pm, we left the shady underpass, and entered PCT Southern CA Section C!  Hooray!  Our third PCT section!  At what used to be the “Pink Motel”, there was a hiker register.  Bill wrote, “Only Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and PCT thru-hikers go out in the noonday sun.”  No kidding.  It was so hot, and we were now going uphill, that I could not do more than 20 or 30 minutes without collapsing in the pathetic shade of some chaparral.  But the BIG bummer was when I decided to do an “artsy” photo of the windmills with Mt. San Jacinto behind them.  I pushed the “on” button for our little digital camera, and its lens obligingly came out, but when I pressed the shutter, the LCD display went black and the lens refused to go back in when I pushed the button.  The camera had “frozen up” from the heat.  Groan!  Bill said it was probably the batteries, and it turned out he was right.

Finally we finished the 450 foot climb and reached the top of Teutang Canyon.  The wind was blowing so hard that sometimes we were staggering around like drunks. But we found a sheltered place in the shade later on by a little creek, where we had crackers and cheese for supper.  Knowing that we had a fairly serious river ford to do almost 5 miles further on, we continued up, higher and higher, till finally we could see it in the canyon far below–the Whitewater River.  We could hear the river roar even from way up high.  And the sun was going down–we really had to hustle!  Fortunately, we were no on the SHADY side of things, and it was all downhill, then follow the river for a bit before the final turn to the “ford”.

“Ford–what ford, where?” was my thought as I stood looking at a dark, roaring, scary river.  But God knows exactly what we need when we need it–sitting on the other side, just putting on his shoes, was Chris, the same Chris we’d given our water to back on the Desert Divide.  He told us where he’d crossed and said it was pretty bad.  So Bill and I got our first test of our plan for crossing roaring rivers.  (We learned about it from reading other thru-hiker journals online).  We crossed side by side, but with Bill, who is heavier and stronger, on the UPSTREAM side, with me thus protected from the “full blast” of the current.  We could not see the bottom (it turned out to be thigh-deep on us) and it was really scary.  Me, the wuss, I was praying with every step, “Lord Jesus, help me” and Bill was saying, “All OK, Monty?  Ready for the nest step?”  Well,  between Jesus and Bill, we made it! 

Chris was glad to see us, and offered us some freshly mixed, cold Gatorade.  Yum!! Another gift from God right when we needed it!  We talked to Chris for awhile–turns out his wife Barbara decided she’d had enough after they also got lost in the snow coming in to Idyllwild.  But God used her to possibly save someone else.  Chris told us that when they lost the trail in the snow, he told Barbara to wait while he scouted a way through.  Barbara was sitting and looking around, when WAY down the mountain among the trees, she thought she saw a pack.  Then looking harder, she realized that there was an old man sitting by the pack.  When Chris came back, Barbara pointed him out and Chris went to check on the old guy to see if he was OK.  It turned out the old guy was confused, and lost, and had been there for over 2 days and had no food left.  Chris and Barbara took him in tow, and then who should come along but Swiss Herbert and his friend!  Herbert had been a Swiss mountain guide in his youth, and was VERY happy to put his mountaineering skills to the test.  He led the whole little group through the woods, mountainsides and snow back to the PCT.

Well, we were glad to hear that everyone was safe,  but sorry to hear that Barbara had quit the trail.  By this time, it was dark, but with a full moon it was almost like day.  Chris said he wanted to push on while it was cool, so we said goodbye, set up our camp, and then–oh luxury–we took baths at the edge of the river.  It was wonderful to crawl into a sleeping bag feeling refreshed and clean!  And even better, a warm wind was still blowing, so there were NO mosquitoes and the roaring river made a soothing sound to sleep by.  We felt very blessed.

May 21, Sat.–11.1 miles–So. CA B

Sat. May 21   PCT miles today: 11. 1  + 8 mile roadwalk + about 6 miles      Total PCT so far: 198.3 miles

We were so tired that we “slept in” this morning till 5:15!   At the foot of Black Mountain Road, which leads up to the PCT, we passed by Brian still zonked in his tent.  Hope he had fun climbing Tahquitz Peak today!  For us, first it was 8 miles of walking up a dirt road to get back to the PCT.  We could see Fuller Ridge, and yes indeed, it looked “full” of snow.  Without GPS, there is no way we could have made it.  About 3 miles up the road, we were passed by a couple of truckloads of smokejumpers, presumably headed for the fire lookout tower.  They looked like tough but cheerful guys. 

A genetically tough pine tree

A genetically tough pine tree

 We also noticed that several of the pine trees near the road had little white cards on them which basically said, “Don’t cut this one down–we’re using it for a study in genetic resistance to white pine blister rust.”  No kidding!  The “carded” trees were green and thriving–the others looked sick.

Awesome and awesomer views!

Awesome and awesomer views!

As we climbed  higher, the views grew amazing-er.  (Guess I sound like a broken record on that, but seriously, one of the most fantastic things about the PCT area is the incredible views you get!)  We could see Mt. Gorgonio in snowy splendor just across the hot desert valley we must cross tomorrow. 

Finally we got back to the PCT–a VERY welcome sight!  But we really wanted to see if we could get at least a LOOK at the Fuller Ridge part of the trail, so we hung our food, hid our packs, grabbed lunch and ice axes, and headed “backwards” on the PCT. 

Standing in snow, looking down at desert below

Standing in snow, looking down at desert below

 But doggone it–the snowdrifts all over the trail got worse and worse.  Many were taller than I am (climbing over them was interesting!) and all were on steep hillsides.  It was weird to be ice-axing our way through snow, while just below, the desert baked with heat.  But finally, after only 1 1/2 tough miles, we had to give up.  We just could not figure out WHERE the trail went. 

Our footprints going over huge snowdrift

Our footprints going over huge snowdrift

So we followed our own footsteps back,  a little easier because the snow was softer and we didn’t need ice axes as much.  But by the time we reached dirt trail again, I was so wiped out from all the slipping and sliding and chopping steps that I just lay down flat and didn’t move for awhile!

But now we needed to think about our water supply.  We had 15 miles of downhill-to-the-desert ahead of us, and no water on the trail.  The nearest water was at a creek, 1 1/2 miles back down the road.  So off we went with our platypuses, and filled them from the creek.  Snowmelt water–COLD!  GOOD!  Then we soaked our tired feet in the creek, too.  Too bad for the people downstream–our feet were pretty stinky!  (But carrying fully loaded heavy platypuses back to the PCT was a bit of a slog.) 

 We located our packs and food, loaded up, and headed down the trail, at first through forest.  So few people have done this part of the PCT this year, that the trail was pretty messy with fallen branches, sticks, etc.  But we persevered, and got plenty of miles in before dark, including a great view of Mt. San Jacinto.  We also got to navigate around an amazing  ridge of what the guidebook called “granito-diorite nedles”.  But with the sun going down, it was time to find a flat place o sleep and call it a day.   Tonight we’re being serenaded by the sound of freight trains in the valley below, plus (sigh) the whine of mosquitoes.  They are everywhere!  We should have carried our net tent all the way from Campo!  But it is a beautiful night, and we are very glad to be back “home” on the PCT!