Day 17: Storm on Mt. San Jacinto

April 7, 2018

182.7-193

The wind was so fierce last night that none of us got much sleep. It crashed against our tents all night long and into the next morning. Trying to make my coffee was a bit of a chore even under the protection of the rainfly, but I got it done. Priorities. We left camp at 6:30 am to hike a few miles to the turnoff for Mt. San Jacinto. The climb was only 2.7 miles but we gained 1800′ of elevation. The summit reached 10,834′ total! 

Despite our general lack of sleep, Ghosthiker was in fine form and sped well ahead of us. Similar to yesterday, when we hit icy patches of trail she had microspikes on and had no trouble, but Sparky and I had to go a bit slower to stay sure-footed. The weather was closing in as we got higher and it made me a little nervous. I did not want to be on top of the mountain with a storm rolling in.

I was imagining that a bear came by and just took a swipe out of this tree with his massive bear paw!
Some kind of BoyScout campground close to the summit, complete with port-a-jon.

Sparky eventually pulled ahead of me a little bit but he was often in view so I wasn’t too worried. I still wasn’t used to hiking alone in the wilderness, and I also didn’t want to be the one slowing down my new hiking partners. I really appreciated their company and was eager to prove I could keep up with them. Sparky called down to me a couple times to see how I was doing and how I felt about continuing on. I could tell he would readily turn back if I said that’s what I wanted to do. I think we were both nervous about going higher with no microspikes. He said if the cloud cover rolled in before we got to the top, he’d be turning back and encouraged me to join him. It was nice to have a trail “dad”, looking out for me but also letting me make my own decisions.

About 500 feet from the top the snow appeared in force and a thick fog started rolling in. Sparky had paused on the trail to wait for me and asked how I was feeling about going on. He was ready to head back down because of poor visibility. I looked at the distance we had to go, considered the climb we’d already made, and said we should go for it. The snow was slushy enough that I felt confident my shoes had enough traction to grip it, and I had a lot of experience walking on snow and ice at home. I was tired, but we were so close I didn’t want to quit.

We made it to the summit just in time to take in the breathtaking 360 views before the fog rose up around us. It was spectacular. We even had time to take a few photos! After we climbed back down to check out the shelter we sat with Ghosthiker to take a snack break. We weren’t sitting there long before the temperature started dropping noticeably and the fog started getting thick. We munched our Clif bars and scurried back down the mountain. 

It was about 5.5 miles from the first Trailhead to the summit and then down the trail until it connected back up with the PCT. It meant we missed a bit of the PCT but it was still a continuous footpath so I was fine with that. We made it back to the PCT by 12:30pm, which was fortunate for us because that’s about when the inclement weather really set in. We hiked 2 miles to the next water source and each got about 5 liters because the next reliable source is 20 miles away, which meant dry camping tonight. The fog had been settling heavily on the mountain then, and shortly thereafter the wind and rain began in force. We hiked in it for several hours, covering 6 mountainous miles to our intended camp. There were a few closer spots, but with what little sleep we’d all gotten the night before, we really wanted to camp somewhere off the mountain and out of the wind. 

Those first two days hiking with Sparky and Ghosthiker were the most physically challenging days of my life, and I knew there were many more to come. The wind and rain that day were sometimes so strong I was almost knocked over. My blisters seemed alright, but hiking down for almost 6 miles was brutal on my feet and ankles. At one point, when the wind and rain were fierce and we’d been going down for a while, suddenly we were going up! Up and up and up, back into the clouds and the wind and the thunder!! I was furious and a little panicked and had a few moments of almost crying. My legs screamed for it to stop but I had to keep going. I had to get off this mountain.

“Seriously, God, wtf??” I thought.

At some point, after I’d accepted that this was the PCT and I needed to just put one foot in front of the other and go, I thought, “Thank you, Lord, that it’s still early in the day. Thank you that we aren’t going to be stumbling around on this mountain in the dark” and almost instantly I rounded a corner and there was no wind or rain, just stillness for the longest time. Whatever belief or faith you adhere to, this was not something that missed my notice. It was incredibly humbling. 

Shortly after setting up camp and cooking dinner we were joined by Lady, a hiker known by my two trail companions, and Jay, one of the hikers I’d met back at Lake Morena! He smiled brightly when he saw me and we chatted for a while as he set up his camouflage Zpacks Duplex, a tent I would come to know well. 

The Zlite Duplex was one of the most popular tents on trail that year, or so it seemed to me. I couldn’t help but be jealous of how spacious they looked. Ghosthiker said she was able to do all kinds of yoga in her tent! I’d picked up my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 at REI during a huge Black Friday sale and so had gotten it for a steal. It’s an older model, but, its easy to set up and extremely durable, and I love it. The only downside is that it’s a very small tent and I’m a very tall person, so it was JUST big enough for me to sleep in. What I loved was that the peak was high enough that, with my sleeping mat deflated, I could sit up straight and my head didn’t hit the top. I learned how to do yoga and stretches that kept me close to the ground. 

While we were making our dinner, Pusher appeared briefly to say hello and chat about how crazy the hike up San Jacinto had been, but then he “pushed” on. Thankfully no sign of the Cling-On. I’m hoping he decided to zero in Idyllwild. I decided some comfort food was in order so I rehydrated a pack of 3-Cheese Mac & Cheese and added some of my freeze-dried and repackaged ground beef. It was delicious, but way too much food for me, so I gave the rest to Sparky.

Published by rogerssj23

I'm a long-distance hiker, an audiobook producer, and an amateur writer. I live in the woods in a renovated 1972 Airstream with my Golden Retriever Zoe. Read more about my hiking adventures at sarahhikes.com.

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