Monday, May 7, 2012

7 May - Day 17 - To Jacinto's peak (10834 ft)

From Idyllwild to Saddle Junction (Mile 179.4) to San Jacinto Peak ( ... ) Strawberry Trail Camp (Mile 183.3)

Total trail miles: 3.9
Total miles today: 16 for Chris & Sean, 23 for Charles

Charles here. What a day! We hiked up Devil's Slide (steep 2.5 miles) to the PCT junction at Saddle Junction, then headed off right toward the peak. Lots of snowfields all over north-facing slopes as we get nearer, and we are walking on deep snow more than a meter high. It's pretty packed down, so we do little postholing, but it's greasy in the sun, and we slip and slide. Not good for Sean's leg, but he doesn't complain.

We hauled our full backpacks up to not far from the summit, then set them aside for the final ascent. We were looking for the trail that goes from near the summit across west to the PCT, but it was buried in snow so we had lunch on the top, and rested (and two hikers provided us with the trail magic of a can of beer -- because we were thru-hikers!). The views were amazing amazing amazing. All the way around, from the peak of San Gorgonio across (at 11,000+) to the north, the steep plunge to the desert San Gorgonio basin below us where the San Andreas Fault runs, to the sprawl of Palm Springs off to the west, the deserts to the west and southwest, the distant mountains of the Peninsular Range rolling off south to the far border -- and many of the mountains all the way to where we stand we recognize having hiked -- and the valleys. Tomorrow we will hike down the steep northwest side of Mt. San Jacinto down down down to the basin below. Ouch.

But from here, we can see our future: the scrawling line of the PCT zigzagging up into the wind farms on the foothills of the San Bernadino Range across the way, and then across into the Clear Creek River valley that our trail will drop down into, then the brown sage scrub hillsides we will hike up and over to get down to the Mission Creek canyon, which will lead us up up up up up into the San Bernadinos again. Hope it isn't too hot. It's nice up here at altitude.

Christo atop Mt. San Jacinto, with Mt. San Gorgonio behind him in the distance.

Sean nursing his leg and eating lunch.

The view from Mt. San Jacinto -- across the San Andreas Fault (8000+ feet below) to Mt. San Gorgonio

We hike back down to Saddle Junction and around onto the PCT in the tall fragrant conifer woods of the mountain.We are all the time turning right and left commenting to each other -- "Oh, look at that." and "Beautiful!" and "Woah!" (and other similarly evocative, insightful, and intelligent observations).

On the way to Strawberry Junction, we bump into one of our trail friends, the thru-hiker Peter from New Zealand, who with his son, Hamish, is hiking the PCT this year. Hamish we had bumped into on our descent of the peak (he was on his way up). We accompanied Peter then on around the trail to our campsite, then I walked Peter on for 2.5 miles to near his junction.

I was pretty tired by the time I got back to camp -- which Sean and Chris were setting up. They fed me, and infused me with some precious tequila. We "cowboy camped" ~ which is to camp under the sky without tents. We seem to be solidly in the Southern California rainless (more or less) season now. No bugs. But the wind picked up and buffeted us, and it got mountain cold. We were curled up in our mummy sleeping bags, our heads covered in balaclavas. I put in ear plugs as the stars came out since the trees were roaring so all around us. An entertaining night -- impressive and startlingly beautiful. Also one that brought groans throughout the night as we tried to adjust to the wind & weather.

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