I quickly discovered the pain of walking on a paved road. Roads are uniformly flat, and they force the feet to make repetitive motions. They also don’t “give” as much, which causes pain in the shins. Give me a bumpy trail any day! Luckily, the road out of Warner Springs only lasted a mile.
Soon after returning to the trail, I came across Meadow Ed. He was camped-out just bit north of town. Ed is a fixture on the PCT. He keeps people entertained and informed with endless stories, and keeps track of where everybody is. He also helps people out and stashes water (usually in old liquor bottles) along some dry sections of the trail. I was having problems with “something” getting the inside of my pack wet. I discovered that my large water container had a slow leak. Luckily, Meadow Ed was there. He gave me one of his 1.5 liter water bottles. I got rid of my water container and headed out into the hills north of Warner Springs.
When we were in Warner Springs, it had appeared that the weather was clearing up. But, as we climbed up, we were greeted by increasing clouds. After a little while it started to drizzle, then rain, then lightning, then hail, then snow… all this in the matter of a couple hours. By about 5 PM, everything had a dusting of snow on it. It was beautiful, but since I was cold and my camera had stopped working, I was pretty miserable. Finally, just before sunset, the clouds over the horizon lifted and we were treated to a surreal sunset. The orange sun made the snowy hills glow. The snow line was plainly clear, and we camped on a saddle right at the same altitude. I shivered myself to sleep and hoped for a hot desert day tomorrow.
Unfortunately, tomorrow came and it was cold and misty. The best way to keep warm was to hike. I wanted to get to the little hiker oasis called Kamp Anza as quickly as possible that day. After hours of whacking ice off the trailside plants, the trail slowly got lower. The sun started to peek through the clouds. We made it to a road which headed toward Anza, CA. We tried to hitchhike a ride to Kamp Anza. The first person who stopped said “well, maybe some nice person will stop and pick you up”. I guess HE wasn’t that nice person. Finally, we got a ride in the back of a pickup truck to Kamp Anza. It was truly an oasis, and more than lived up to its billing. We all had our first shower and laundry of the trip, and were treated to the hospitality of two of the kindest people I met on the trail. Paul and Pat live in Kamp Anza. They let PCT hikers camp out on their lawn, and hang out in their home. Every morning, there was a big pancake breakfast, and every evening, a full diner. All the hikers were truly grateful for all that Paul and Pat offered. The next day, Paul drove us out to the trail to let us “slack-pack” (hike without full packs) a 12 mile section. He then picked us up at the end and we spent another night at Kamp Anza. Finally, he drove us all to the trailhead the next morning. I’ll never forget all the good times at Kamp Anza.
North of Kamp Anza, the trail startsclimbing up the San Jacinto mountains. The terrain changed to one of round granite boulders and more lush plant life. As I got higher, I was treated to beautiful views of the eastern slopes of the San Jacintos and Palm Springs in the distance. We camped in the flattest area we could find – under a forest of Coulter Pines, high above the sprawling populated valley below.
The next day, we worked our wayaround and over the San Jacintos and finally down to the town of Idyllwild. We quickly accosted a sweet little old lady who drove us downtown. We stumbled into the Tahquitz motel and decided to take the next day off. Ah… a full day off, and a small mountain town to explore. I found that Idyllwild is really a weekend town. Most of the stores were only open on the weekend, and we were there in the middle of the week. Still, I had a good time. There were plenty of places to eat, and little else really mattered. By the end of our day off, clouds had rolled in, the air cooled and it started to snow. It snowed on and off all evening and night. By the next morning, there was 4-6 inches of snow on the ground. We had already made up our mind to head out that day, so we all got ready for a cold walk in the snow… this included raiding the local outdoor store for some warmer stuff. The tiny little outdoor store in Idyllwild did a lot of business that day.
The nice manager of the Tahquitzmotel drove us to the trailhead and we started our ascent to the PCT. The PCT is about 2000 feet above Idyllwild on the crest of the San Jacintos above it. As we climbed, the snow got deeper and deeper. None of us had waterproof shoes, so we made do with cold wet feet. Snow covered the trail, and in places it was difficult to figure out just where the trail actually was. We had to spread out, and look for signs like cut trees, trail signs, organized rocks… basically anything that was man made. After getting turned around a few times, we managed to make it part way around Mt. San Jacinto. We were on the north side of the “big” mountain. There wasn’t any inviting place to camp, so we just camped on the snow at the flattest place we could find. The snow and cold made everything more difficult and miserable, but at least I had enough warm stuff to prevent freezing.
Snow came down throughout the night. We awoke to snowy tents and flurries. I threw my stuff together and headed out about a half hour behind some of my compatriots. The snow didn’t let up quickly, we were treated to snow showers on and off for the next 4 hours. It was a long way down the San Jacintos, about 22 miles to San Gorgonio Pass, and the first third of that through snow. As we got lower, the trail broke out of the trees, out of the snow, and back into desert chaparral. Finally, we hit the bottom right next to a lonely little water spigot. The clouds around Mt. San Jacinto began to lift, and we were treated to a beautiful snowy mountain rising almost 10000 feet above us. It felt good to be down the mountain, but we were all tired and wet, and there wasn’t anywhere good to camp. The area was flat and open enough, but San Gorgonio Pass is the main thoroughfare from LA to Palm Springs. The area was littered with all the junk that humanity produces. It was ugly and didn’t feel safe.