Miles: 19 (17 on-trail)
From water cache at 143 to San Jacintos, mile 160
The sun rises directly into our faces, and Buckeye is rocking Queen on his smartphone to start the day. Time to get up. All these AT veterans are showing their thru-hiker chops – we may be keeping pace with them during the day, but they pack up their gear about three times as fast. We’re bringing up the rear again.
I had thought that the valley down to the west was where we were headed, but the trail winds us north instead. Suddenly we are hiking in and out of steep, narrow valleys with striking views. J and I are both feeling good this morning. This is the first time I’ve really walked the miles, instead of trudging, limping, or mincing them. We nearly keep pace with the AT crowd, and we’ve managed to hike eight miles by 11 am. Onpoint is waiting at the junction of the PCT with highway 74, hoping to find a hiking buddy for the day.
The junction with highway 74 has a well-travled side trail that takes you straight to burgers and milkshakes at the Paradise Valley Café. It’s a no-brainer of a one-mile side trip.
A phrase that gets tossed around a lot amongst PCT hikers is HYOH – hike your own hike. It turns out that there are as many different ways to walk a trail as there are hikers. When you come to crossroads, it helps to know what you’re hoping to get out of the trail. I don’t know that J and I do… but it’s decision time anyhow.
The crossroads today is the fire closure from mile 162.5 to mile 178. It’s a hard walk-around to Idyllwild. There a bunch of options and they all involve hitches, or extra miles, or road-walks, or all three. We’ve accumulated a group of 10 filthy hikers at the back-end of the café, but here’s where we’ll part ways in a while. Four hiker-buddies decide to hitch from the café (mile 151) straight to Idyllwild. The local sheriff stopped for a burger, gets interested, and they speed off in style.
Two hikers are committed to an orthodox thru-hike – every mile walked – but don’t want to do the extra miles to stay off Highway 74. This 18-mile road walk is HIGHLY NOT RECOMMENDED. I hope we see them soon.
J and I decide we’d like to do the miles from 151 to 162.5 that are still open. We’ll take a side-trail down and then hitch from Lake Hemet. Buckeye and Jin decide to join us, making us a merry band of four.
We start back on the trail bloated with half pound burgers and fries and milkshakes and root beer floats. It’s hot. We try to shake it off – we’ve got some climbing ahead of us. The trail winds us through a labyrinth of gargantuan boulders and outcrops. It leads us through patches of pine and one tiny patch of bright green ferns. Ferns! Brave little souls to unfurl in the desert.
We climb and climb. I’m in front, with Buckeye at my heels. He said he wanted to hike at our pace today, but he’s really bad at it. At five pm we finally stop for a break and to figure out the water situation.
Figuring out the water situation is actually a big part of every day, even with the water reports and Halfmile’s incredible maps. For this section though, we’ll be heading of trail – into the (possibly) dry unknown. There’s a water source at the junction to our detour (cedar spring – another hiker on the trail reported this water was good), but we won’t get there until tomorrow, and it’s a mile of trail. There’s a spring where we’re stopped, reported clear and cold, but it’s also a mile off trail (“a hell of a mile”). There’s a third spring, accessible from where we are, and it’s only a third of a mile of trail, but it’s reported to have very low flow and taste like sulfur. I don’t take any miles for granted anymore – sulfur it is.
I take my sawyer squeeze filter and stumble my way down to tunnel spring. It’s exactly as reported. In order to get enough water, I have to dip from the trough below the spring pipe. It’s filled with algae and every type of bug larvae I’ve ever seen. The water in the trough has had time to offgas, so it doesn’t take like sulfur. Unfortunately, it does taste like a pond. Mmm delicious.
J has come down to help, so we filter enough for the four of us to all have some and scramble back up the hill. Buckeye and Jin are not impressed, but they each take some.
It’s getting late, so we start looking for a place to camp. We’re not making good time – the views to the east have opened up and the afternoon is hard across the Mojave. “I’m so glad we hiked this section!” we repeat to each other. We finally stumble upon a grove of oak trees with miraculously flat campsites nestled inside. Jin brought a hammock for his hike, and two weeks into it he gets to try hanging for the first time.
We eat our pasta together under the trees. I’m totally beat. Bed.