PCT 2019: Day 19, Interstate 10 to Whitewater River

It trembles and explodes

Pacific Crest Trail marker

Maybe staying in a motel off the interstate made us feel far removed from the trail. Maybe we were still in recovery mode. Some of us had just finished hiking a tough section of trail and the rest were getting over the flu.

For whatever reason, we were in no particular hurry this morning to return to the trail.

For certain, the reason we were slow wasn’t because we lingered over a deluxe breakfast. That’s not to say the breakfast at the Rodeway Inn was bad. At least it was free with the room.

We’re thru-hikers and therefore not especially discriminating, so we did our best to fill up on cold cereal and prepackaged pastries.

DateFriday, April 12, 2019
WeatherClear and warm; becoming overcast, breezy and cool. Temperatures range from low 50s to low 70s.
Trail ConditionsLong climbs and descents with many switchbacks
Today's Miles10.0
Trip Miles219.5

After breakfast we called for two Ubers to take us back to the trail.

The Uber driver who picked up Tengo Hambre, Falls, Spamalot and me said he knew the way back. He should have known because he had picked up part of our group yesterday at the same place. On the way, however, he became so involved in conversation with us he missed the exit to the drop off spot.

If Falls hadn’t alertly noticed the mistake, we might have driven all the way to Palm Springs. Instead, the driver only overshot the exit by four miles, where he was able to double back to the drop-off spot.

We arrived at the overpass above the trail at 9:45 a.m.

Christine and Papers with Tengo Hambre

After making the steep but short descent to the trail, we made a quick stop at the spread of trail magic. Call it second breakfast.

Two hikers were there, Christine and Papers. They told me they were from Northern California, but Papers had an accent I picked up right away. It sounded very familiar. Then he told me he was originally from Sevierville, Tennessee, which is only about 40 miles from where I live.

Leaving underpass at Interstate 10

We finally began hiking at 10 a.m., which was much later than normal.

This part of the trail went through San Gorgonio Pass. At just under 1,200 feet in elevation, we were at the lowest segment of the PCT in California.

Flowers along the trail

As it was yesterday, the trail was surrounded by yellow wildflowers. Besides yellow ragweed and a few varieties of low-lying shrubs, there was nothing to obscure views of the San Bernadino Mountains that lay ahead.

Tengo Hambre walks past flowers

The trail was making a gradual climb as it continued across this desert plain.

It was a warm day and quickly getting hotter. Almost imperceptibly at first, I began to feel some discomfort, but it wasn’t caused by the heat.

I continued on, trying to ignore what I was feeling.

The trail makes a turn

Then I realized the cause of the problem. The Mexican dinner I ate last night was not sitting well. Without getting too graphic, let’s just say that within minutes, I knew I needed to find a spot off trail to dig a cathole.

A minute later I was frantic.

Unfortunately, there were no large clumps of trees or shrubs to use for privacy. There were only small bushes, no more than two or three feet tall. I quickly looked around for the least exposed spot where I could go, then dropped my backpack and desperately ran to it.

No more needs to be said about this incident, other than to reassure that no living thing was harmed in the explosion.

Approaching Mesa Wind Farm

Once I was able to continue hiking I had fallen far behind my friends. The trail was easy, and knowing how they like to take breaks I thought I could catch up to them soon.

The trail was heading to Mesa Wind Farm. This area is said to be one of the windiest places in the U.S.

The wind mills here seemed to be older compared to most I’ve seen in other parts of the country. The farm was constructed in the 1980s and there is now an attempt underway to modernize the facility.

Trail magic at Mesa Wind Farm

Just off the trail, wind farm employees had constructed near their office building a small canopy for hikers. They had placed under it a cooler filled with bottles of drinking water.

By the time I arrived here, some of the Woo-hoo Crew had already left. I stayed to cool off and drink a cold bottle of water.

a smooth but steady climb

Returning to the trail, it began a smooth but steady climb, rising nearly 900 feet in 1.6 miles.

Half-buried fence and gate

In several places I saw the damage done by a heavy rainstorm that hit this area last Valentine’s Day. An estimated eight to ten inches of rain fell that day.

The storm was reported to be the biggest disaster to hit the county in at least 10 years. Thousands of residents had to be evacuated, and several million dollars in damage was done to roads and structures.

At a spot where the trail crossed a fence, it and a gate were half-buried in sand, gravel, rocks and other debris, which had washed down from a higher elevation.

View of the trail ahead

The sky became increasingly overcast as the day wore on. This was a light layer of clouds, so I didn’t expect to see any rain today.

When I reached the top of the climb, I could see where the trail was heading next. It was a more gradual descent that included several switchbacks.

View of tramily eating lunch

The trail continued the twisting descent into a canyon. After a couple of switchbacks I could see to the bottom of the canyon. Sitting there along the trail were all of the tramily members. They had stopped for lunch.

When I caught up to them the time was 1:45 p.m. I could see why they picked that spot to stop. It offered a nice breeze.

Rippled hills of San Gorgonio Wilderness Area

Shortly after I began hiking again the trail entered San Gorgonio Wilderness Area as it made another big climb in elevation.

The wilderness area covers 96,595 acres. The next 20 miles or so of the PCT will be in it.

View of Whitewater River

After rounding the top of the climb, I was able to get the first views of Whitewater River. Spanish explorers called it Agua Blanco because a high amount of lime in the area’s rocks made the water white.

The riverbed was wide, but the flowing water within it was no wider than most creeks.

The trail then made a long and circuitous descent to the river bed.

PCT next to Whitewater River

At the bottom, the footpath became a mix of sand and rocks, which I found hard to walk.

Not far from here was a conservation center called Whitewater Preserve. Under normal circumstances, we could have walked there. Hikers are usually invited to stop and relax, but for the time being we couldn’t.

The facility was closed because a road to the preserve had been washed out in last February’s storm.

Tengo Hambre waits

Thirty minutes later, I saw Tengo standing by the side of the trail. He had thoughtfully waited there to make sure I saw where the others were camped. The campsite was hidden among shrubs and low-lying trees near the river.

MJ and Falls set up their tents

The time was now 4:45 p.m. We had only been walking since 10 a.m., but this was the best spot to camp.

We will next have to cross the river, and from there we won’t be able to find a satisfactory spot to camp for more than six miles. We decided to leave that to tomorrow.

Spanish lady come to me, she lays on me this rose
It rainbow spirals round and round, it trembles and explodes
It left a smoking crater of my mind I like to blow away
But the heat came round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.