April 6, 2018
5.5 to Tahquitz Peak, then to mile 182.7
After a hearty breakfast burrito at the Town Baker in Idyllwild, we caught a ride to South Ridge Trailhead and hiked up to Tahquitz Peak, which is mostly along the PCT and then there’s a little side trail to the lookout which stands at about 9,000’. It was about 5.5 miles total.
For me, it was the most challenging climb ever. Sparky could tell I was struggling and kept pace with me, but I eventually told him to go on ahead with Ghosthiker. I appreciated him sticking with me but I needed to stop a lot and catch my breath. And cry. That’s mostly why I sent him ahead. The elevation gain was brutal and swift and the climb was steep. My legs were on fire and sometimes it was so hard to breathe I couldn’t help but burst into tears.
Being unable to breathe can be rather panic-inducing, and not knowing how to ease myself into it, I simply pushed until I couldn’t catch my breath and then stopped until my lungs ceased their burning, then set off again. I honestly wasn’t sure I could make it to the top, but I knew we had much larger climbs coming when we reached the Sierra and this was just a warm-up. I needed to know if I could do it.
“Some warm-up.” I remember muttering angrily as I forced my knees to carry me up yet another tall, rocky step.
It was worth it. I can’t begin to describe how rewarding it was to reach the top and know that I’d climbed it myself, that I actually did it. And I didn’t die, even though I was sure I might.
We didn’t actually climb to the peak of Tahquitz. That was a short hike and another hundred or so feet of elevation gain. Sparky and Ghosthiker decided that the views from Tahquitz lookout we’re rewarding enough since it was only about 30 feet off the PCT. The lookout tower was all locked up but we were still able to climb up and view the surrounding mountains from the balcony, and I sat with my legs dangling over the side and enjoyed a well-earned Snickers.
We arrived at the lookout shortly after Gazelle and Sensei. As was a terrible habit of mine, I was carrying way too much food and offered up some of my surplus to the others.
“It’s too bad you didn’t offer back in town,” Gazelle said, “(name redacted) got into town just as we were leaving. I’m sure he’d have happily taken whatever you didn’t want.”
The Cling-On. Apparently, he’d arrived in Idyllwild early that morning and we’d just missed him. Last night I had explained to Ghosthiker that I was trying to avoid another hiker, though I didn’t go into any details at the time. I don’t like talking badly about people.
At Gazelle’s announcement, I said nothing, and she proceeded to say that he was an odd character and what was all of our impressions of him? Oh, and hadn’t I been hiking with him for a while?
At that point, I decided maybe it was time to be a little more forthcoming. I don’t like to say negative things about anybody and hadn’t yet shared the details of my experience or who the Cling-On was with anybody but Nightingale. I like to let people form their own opinions about others. In this instance, though, I admitted that I’d never intended to hike with him despite what he must have been telling people and that I was actively trying to ditch him because he was making me uncomfortable. I relayed some of my interactions with him and my general feeling that he was stalking me for my extra food if nothing else. I also said I hoped I was wrong, that I hated saying bad things about other people but that I knew I needed to trust my gut on this one.
Everyone there said that he was definitely an off-putting guy, that it was very uncool that he was ruining my hike with his constant appearance, camping near me, his leud humor and constantly criticizing my pack weight (no doubt to get me to offload some of my food, they agreed), and that I was doing the right thing by trusting my instincts and trying to ditch him. Gazelle admitted that she had bought him some hiking shoes online because he’d said he had no money and was hiking in very bad shoes. I told her about his willingness to pay for half the hotel room in Julian as well as his frequent beer and cigarette purchases, but that shoes were a different matter and maybe he really couldn’t afford them? She had already canceled her order during the course of our conversation.
“Don’t cancel them because of what I told you,” I said.
“I’d already had misgivings about buying them,” she said.
I still felt bad. I don’t know why. I’m too nice.
The hike down the other of the peak was kind of sketchy. There was more snow than I expected and the drop on the other side of the trail was almost vertical, it seemed to me. We hiked several more miles down and into a nice open area with lots of tall trees and flat tent spots. We decided to camp there because it had a lovely view of the city below and sat at about 8,400′, which Sparky said would be good acclimation practice for hiking up San Jacinto and for future elevation gains.
I had to hang all my food for the first time to protect it from bears. Sparky showed me how. He also showed me how I could use large rocks to anchor by tent stakes to ensure they didn’t get pulled up by the wind knocking against my tent, which it would probably do all night.
Overly windy nights would prove to be a problem for Ghosthiker, who had a beautiful and spacious Zpacks Duplex tent. It was so roomy she boasted being able to do yoga in it! I mean, she’s a good head shorter than me and I’m almost 6’, so that’s not surprising. I was still jealous. Unfortunately, her tent did not hold up well in extremely strong winds and she occasionally found herself needing to switch to cowboy camping in the middle of the night. It was in those moments that I was extremely thankful for my little 1-person Big Agnes tent. It’s only a few inches longer than I am tall and narrow enough that I usually left my pack outside under the rain fly. I learned to sleep with my head basically nestled against the top of the tent so my feet had plenty of room at the bottom. It was an easier adjustment than I thought it would be, probably helped by the fact that I was always so tired by the end of every day.
Except that night. The wind thrashed against my tent all night long and I barely got a wink.