PCT 2019: Day 21, Mission Creek to Coon Creek Cabin

Let your tracks be lost in the dark and snow

The Pacific Crest Trail doesn’t always allow for a flexible hiking plan. That's different than the Appalachian Trail, where water and campsites are usually more evenly spaced. It's easier to hike enough miles to fill a day on the AT than it is on the PCT.

In the first three weeks on this trail, we've had to sometimes stop earlier than we wished because there were too many miles ahead to reasonably reach another camping spot or water source.

I’ve also discovered that hiking with a group takes away some flexibility. I might be willing and able to hike farther, but if I wish to stay with the Woo-hoo Crew I have to stop where they stop.

DateSaturday, April 13, 2019
WeatherClear skies with a high temperature in the mid 60s
Trail ConditionsSteep ups, but downs not so steep; some snow traverses in afternoon above 8,000 feet
Today's Miles10.9
Trip Miles246.4

Today’s mileage was limited by both circumstances. I could have easily walked more miles, but there were few options for water and camping.

Most of my tramily friends liked the idea of stopping early to camp at Coon Creek Cabin, so that was the other reason for not hiking as far as I might have preferred.

I woke up this morning at 5:00, but I needed extra time to leave camp because I had to collect and filter water. A few others, like Simple Man, did the same thing.

Normally I filter water in the evening, but I chose to put it off until this morning. I was too tired to do it last night.

I didn’t leave camp until 7:30 a.m. Right away, the trail left Mission Creek and made a steep, steady ascent to the top of a ridge. We hadn’t seen the last of the creek, but the trail no longer followed its course.

I wasn’t carrying more water than normal, but my pack felt extra heavy as I climbed the ridge.

The top of the ridge provided a long look back down the canyon of Mission Creek. It was also the beginning of a large burn section.

This section was bleak, with a lot of dead trees. More than once I had to climb over or around a burnt tree that had fallen across the footpath.

The trail went in and out of burn sections for most of the morning.

Everyone stopped at the last crossing of Mission Creek. Except for one spot that would require walking off trail, this was the last reliable opportunity to get water for about 17 miles.

I collected and filtered 4.5 liters. If I thought my pack seemed heavy before, there was no doubt now.

The trail was now above 8,000 feet. At this elevation there were a few patches of snow, but they weren’t lengthy enough to pose much difficulty. In some cases, it was easier to walk around them than over them.

I stopped for lunch at 1 p.m. with Tengo, Spamalot and MJ. So far, this had been a tiring day, so it was nice to stretch out and take a break.

After our 30-minute lunch we continued hiking. For a long while there was no snow on the trail, but we got nice views of snow-covered San Gorgonio Mountain.

At 11,500 feet above sea level, San Gorgonio is the highest mountain between the Mexican border and the Sierra. It has also been known as Old Greyback because it looks more like a high hill than a craggy mountain like San Jacinto.

The trail continued to climb, eventually going above 8,500 feet. The trail was mostly snow free because it was more exposed with fewer trees.

I was glad for the lack of snow, but didn’t like the large rocks that littered the trail.

After cresting the high point of today’s segment the trail was smoother but covered in snow.

As the trail descended on this snowy section I became confused by the direction it was supposed to take. There didn’t seem to be a definable path.

I then noticed some footprints, so I decided to follow them. Before long, though, I began to feel I was no longer on the trail. I could tell I was heading in the wrong direction.

Just then, I realized the footprints belonged to Tengo Hambre. He was standing several yards ahead of me.

He said he was lost too.

After some scouting around I discovered the trail was actually located about 20 yards above us. With some difficulty we climbed up the slippery slope to return to the trail.

Then we decided to put on our microspikes to give us more traction.

We didn’t have to walk on snow much longer because soon the trail went over the top of a ridge to the mountain’s southern exposure.

From here we were able to see a wide view of Coachella Valley.

We hit some more snow on our descent to Coon Creek Cabin, but the slope was not steep enough to warrant putting on microspikes again.

Tengo and I arrived at the cabin at 4:45 p.m. All of the tramily said they wanted to sleep inside, but that didn’t seem like a good idea to me. It was in bad shape, with holes in the roof and open windows.

If the wind picked up, sleeping in the cabin on a concrete floor would be cold and drafty. If that didn’t happen, it seemed to me this was a good haven for mice. I decided to set up my tent on flat ground nearby.

We relaxed outside on the cabin’s porch. This was a nice place to sit because the setting sun lingered here longer than some other areas and that made the spot warmer.

When it came time for dinner, we moved to a couple of picnic tables near the cabin. A hiker named Jigsaw joined us.

This might have been a frustrating day. Once again I didn't walk as many miles as I am capable of doing in a day.

Instead, I’ve been able to let go of those thoughts and not dwell on the miles I’ve hiked or not hiked so far. I’ve been able to take each day as it comes and then set it aside. Being with this group makes that easy to do.

It’s also been helpful to remember that no matter how fast or slow I go right now, a big pile of snow is waiting for me at the end of the desert section in the Sierra. Most likely, I will need to alter my hike because of that.

'Til we all fall down
It'll do you fine
Don't think about
What you left behind
The way you came
Or the way you go
Let your tracks be lost in the dark and snow

From ”Till The Morning Comes” by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)


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