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

Let your tracks be lost in the dark and snow

Tengo Hambre crossing 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 the 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.

Simple Man filtering water at campsite

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.

Climbing to top of ridge

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.

View from the top of Mission Creek Canyon

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.

Burnt tree blowdown

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.

PCT and marker

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.

Snow across the trail

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. I'd had a tiring day so far, so it was nice to stretch out and take a break.

View of San Gorgonio Mountain

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.

Steep climb with rocks

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.

Begin another section of snow

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.

Begin another section of snow

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.

view of Coachella Valley

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.

Slushy snow

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.

Coon Creek Cabin

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.

Relaxing at Coon Creek Cabin

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.

The tramily at dinner

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 was able to let go of those thoughts and not dwell on the miles I’ve hiked or not hiked so far. I’ve worked on taking each day as it comes and then setting 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


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