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PCT 2019: Day 16, Tentsite at Mile 176.4 to Stealth Tentsite at Mile 187.3

And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills ‘til the landslide brought me down

Hike with Gravity

After a difficult day of hiking yesterday, I thought today might be a little easier. Nearly all of our discussion about snow in the San Jacinto Mountains was about the segment of trail along Apache Peak, which is what we walked yesterday.

I thought, and I think everyone thought, the snow we might see today would be relatively limited.

Date
Weather Variable cloudiness, low temperature in low 40s and high temperature in low 60s
Trail Conditions Nearly six thousand feet of total elevation change with long stretches of deep snow
Today's Miles 10.9 miles
Trip Miles 187.3 miles

This was completely wrong. We saw more snow and fewer sections of dry trail today.

To compound the difficulty, the trail made big elevation changes, totaling roughly 3,000 feet up and 3,000 feet down.

Rainbow Sherbet wasn’t ready to leave camp this morning with the rest of us as we headed out at 7 a.m.

We started the morning with Cardinal, who must have camped nearby because he met us just as we were leaving.

MJ, Tengo Hambre and I walked with him down to Tahquitz Creek.

Our campsite wasn’t on snow, but as soon as we started walking we hit our first long stretch of it. We descended on snow for eight tenths-of-a-mile to the creek, which is where we had originally considered camping last night.

We had a little trouble finding the creek because it was almost completely covered with snow. There was only one small spot open enough to reach flowing water.

We thought Captain and Gilligan had camped here last night, but by now they were gone.

I was glad we stopped early last night and didn’t continue down to the creek. There wasn’t much room for tents that wasn’t covered by snow.

A sign was posted near the creek saying the trail segment we had just walked across was closed. The trail had actually been reopened last December, but a Forest Service ranger hadn’t yet returned to take down the sign.

Leaving the creek, we became confused about where the trail went. It seemed to go up, but that direction turned out to be on a different trail. It was heading to Tahquitz Peak and was not the PCT.

We never saw any signs to point out this trail.

Once we realized our mistake, we turned around and went down the correct path. The descent was more gentle now, but still snow-covered.

Within an hour, the trail began to make another big climb. This was long and steep.

Before long, Cardinal was unable to keep up. We never saw him again.

As the trail climbed we were able to see some views of Tahquitz Peak. This mountain was named for a demon, which the Soboba Band of the Cahuilla/Luiseño Indians said lived in this region.

At the top of the climb we stopped for a break near the junction of a side trail that led to the top of San Jacinto Peak. Some hikers take this trail to the summit, but because of the conditions we elected to stay on the PCT.

Captain and Gilligan were taking a break here, and soon another hiker arrived. Her name was Jukebox, though it seemed to me that "Chatterbox" might have been a better name. She liked to talk and had an infectious laugh.

Our main topic of conversation during the break was Rainbow Sherbet. No one had seen her since we left Tahquitz Creek and that made us a little concerned. She was a strong hiker, so it was surprising she had fallen behind.

On the descent from the top we hiked as a group for a while, but then Jukebox got a burst of energy and took off.

After about an hour more of walking we finally reached a segment of trail that was clear of snow.

In the distance we could see Suicide Rock, which is a popular climbing area. There are roughly 300 routes to climb there.

As the trail continued to descend, the trees were noticeably taller. This area had suffered less damage from the 2018 Cranston Fire.

We neared the bottom of this descent shortly before 3 p.m. Strawberry Junction Camp was located there.

If we hadn’t arrived there so early in the afternoon, this would have been a good spot to camp. Instead, we only took a short break.

Leaving the campsite, the trail began another long climb. Captain and Gilligan now seemed to have extra energy because they powered up the mountain faster than MJ, Tengo and me.

This climb was made easier by some switchbacks, but it was still a substantial climb.

It didn’t take us long before we were hiking on snow again. The trail conditions weren't as dangerous as yesterday, but we decided to put on our microspikes to help with traction.

In the fading light of late afternoon I noticed that below us the valleys were filled with clouds and haze. Distant mountains appeared above the clouds as if they were islands on a calm sea.

I knew I was losing ground to the rest of the group, but I didn’t care. I wanted to stop and soak in this view.

Our last opportunity for water was another gap in the snow, which otherwise covered a stream. This was the headwaters of the north fork of the San Jacinto River.

Captain and Gilligan were there when we arrived, but they had already collected their water and soon departed.

I was last to arrive at the stream, so I decided to wait until MJ and Tengo had collected and filtered water.

I could tell the snow-covered slope made standing at the stream tricky. I didn’t see any good coming from all of us trying to get water at once. Someone was bound to fall into the stream.

After they left and while I was filtering water, Sherbet arrived. It was a relief to see her.

She said she was doing well, just a little slow today.

By now, the trail was more difficult to walk. The snow had softened in the afternoon sun. Sherbet and I slipped some as we attempted to catch up to Tengo and MJ.

When we reached them, they were struggling to find the trail. Foot tracks were going in multiple directions and it was difficult to see the right ones to follow.

As the sun began to sink to the horizon, I began making mental notes of possible spots to pitch our tents. It seemed we weren’t going to catch Captain and Gilligan, and we might need an alternate spot to camp. The trail conditions and fading light might soon make that imperative.

And minutes later, they did.

I was at the front of the line as we walked through a small gap among large boulders, then turned onto a steep, snow-covered slope.

We had only crossed 20 yards or so of this sketchy section when Tengo slipped and fell a short distance off the trail. His water bottle tumbled down the slope, never to be seen again. While trying to prevent himself from following it down the mountain, he broke his trekking pole.

When I saw this I called for a retreat. We had done enough risk-taking for the day.

I suggested we turn around and go back to where the boulders were. We should be able to find enough spots to pitch our tents, I said. No one disagreed.

Sherbet and MJ set up their tents almost directly on the trail. Tengo and I backtracked a little farther to a spot I had seen earlier, which was a narrow, almost flat shelf.

It was a tight squeeze for our tents among rocks and trees, but we made it work.

In fact, we made the whole day work, another challenging but rewarding day.

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
’Til the landslide brought me down
 

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