Day 17-20: Chutes and Ladders
The Pacific Crest Trail, as the name implies, follows crests of mountain ranges, so we have come to expect ups and downs. But when we looked at the elevation graphs for the upcoming section of trail, we knew we were in for a doozy.
Day 17: Saddle Junction (Mile 179.5)-Fuller Ridge (189.5) + 2.5 leaving Idyllwild; 12.5 miles
From Idyllwild we walked up the Devils Slide trail to Saddle Junction. The trail snakes up the mountainside, climbing 1700 feet in two and a half miles. After reaching Saddle Junction, we walked a few miles then stopped to heat up ramen at a nice spot with a view.
We climbed further to Fuller Ridge at 8800 feet. We encountered significant snow there which slowed our progress. While the trail was passable, the snow was icy and slippery and we each fell. We wished we had our Microspikes. We were carrying 9 days of food, and the extra weight caused our packs to work against us when we shifted our weight on snowy slopes. This was a rough day mentally for Anna.
Finally, losing sunlight and tired, we found a small meadow (half snow covered) suitable for camping. We ate cheese and dried cherries and camped there.
Day 18: Fuller Ridge (Mile 189.5)-Snow Canyon Road (206); 16.5 miles
We woke to frost on the tent and found the water we’d stored inside the tent partially frozen. We walked to a tiny ice-cold creek where we filled most of our water containers, as we were about to begin a 15-mile stretch without water.
It was quite cold at 8000 feet where we began our daylong descent. At first we hiked in our puffy jackets. As we descended we shed those, as well as our thin nylon jackets, hats, and zip-off pant legs. Soon we found the pine forest transitioning to desert, complete with snakes and yucca.
In the next ten miles we saw two rattlesnakes and (likely) a tarantula, and Anna got stung by a bee on her nose!
We also found two really cool frogs that had perfect rock-like camouflage.
In addition, we saw several other snakes, a dozen horny toads, and probably a hundred lizards.
Amidst this bevy of wildlife, we passed the 200 mile mark! And as a fitting way to celebrate, Anna noticed that she had worn two holes in one of her socks!
After even more descending, we arrived at the Snow Canyon Road water faucet. We had walked our longest mileage yet (16.5 miles), and completed our greatest descent (6000 feet). We ate a bit, set up the tent and watched bats swoop and dive after insects.
Day 19: Snow Canyon Road (Mile 206)-Uphill from Whitewater River (221.5); 15.5 miles
The day began with a flat desert walk which led us under the I-10 freeway and near the town of Whitewater. There were massive wind turbines all around us. Due to our fast pace, Chris almost stepped on a gopher snake, which was large but not perturbed. We stopped at the Mesa Wind Farm office and bought five ice cream bars!
Today Chris also treated his first blister. Our feet and bodies are doing remarkably well, especially compared to many other hikers we chat with. We should also note that Anna’s shin splints grow less each day and have almost disappeared.
The hike just after the wind farm was steep and very hot. We didn’t see a single shady spot for miles so we took a break in full sun and ate a melted snickers bar. After a few more miles of walking, we confirmed a total lack of shady spots. However we did find butterflies.
Finally, feeling well done, or at least medium rare, we reached the Whitewater River and dipped our feet in. It felt wonderful.
About a mile past the river we found a flat camping spot. After 3000 feet of climbing in heavy heat, sleep came quickly.
Day 20: Uphill from Whitewater River (Mile 221.5)- Creek side Camp (235.5); 14 miles
All the wonderful downhill walking during Day 17 took its revenge today. On the PCT, what goes down must certainly come back up. The guidebook we are using describes the climb accurately: “long, slow, hot uphill slog. Bring your big boy/girl pants.”
We woke at 5 and made great progress on the uphill in the morning.
By noon we were wavering in the relentless heat.
The heat was taking its toll on Chris so we decided to call it an early night and camp after 14 miles of walking. We knew we’d need the extra energy to tackle the remainder of the mountain the next day.
At our shady, cool campsite, other hikers began to join us as evening approached. We chatted for a couple hours with Rick, who told us funny stories. Eventually Jaunty and Caveman showed up, and they were both quite friendly as well. As the sun set, we all slept.