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Day 13: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Day 13: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

hiker.dykes May 5th, 2024
hiker.dykes's 2024 PCT Thru-Hike

Tentsite (180.9) - Tentsite (197.2) | Mileage: 16.3

Breaking this day up into the many very discrete segments that occurred, it was literally like so many different days how did this all occur in one span of day I have really no clue it was honestly so looooong.

Nighttime (in our tent wide awake): We didn’t sleep at all. The wind was egregious. And by that I mean: we’d hear it howling high up in the mountains, the howling would get louder like a train approaching, and then it would envelope the tent and shake it violently back and forth. Sometimes the wind missed somehow, and we would have a point one second bit of relief before the next high up howling would start and we’d think ugh not again. For some reason the wind wasn’t consistent but rather there would be longish periods of silent peaceful night brutally disrupted by periodic 55mph gusts of evil wind that was trying to tear our tent out of the ground. It was honestly very similar to trying to sleep in our apartment in New York where the random disruptions to the silence (drunk people, garbage trucks, honking, unidentified metallic noises) were always loud enough to wake us up again and again. But worse, because sure enough the wind did get strong enough to rip the stakes out of the ground even though we stacked mega boulders on top of them, which then meant the trekking poles holding up the tent fell across us and our tent collapsed and all the freezing rushing wind attacked us and Maddie would hold the trekking pole in place against the wind while I would go out into the freezing sleeting ice hail that hurts night and try to smash the stakes back into the frozen ground and locate even more sizable boulders or vice versa because sadly this occurred on repeat until magically the boulder stacks were apparently large enough or we were just lucky and the tent stopped falling on us and we fell asleep at 4am which was laughably the time that we’d been planning on waking up to start our summit of San Jacinto which was now definitely not occurring (but kind of this was okay because it’s not on the PCT and skips some of the PCT and Maddie is a purist and wants to do all of the PCT).

But I should note that despite being aggravated at the wind and sad at not sleeping and a little scared about freezing, it was honestly not scary. It might’ve been, but the whole time I was remembering the first time ever we did hike-in camping in the badlands with Abby and that was way scarier so I think the bar is pretty high for bad weather now. For context, in the Badlands we walked a few miles away from our car and pitched our tent, saw storm clouds and thought hmm we didn’t think to check the weather and now there’s no service. And then it got super windy and very rainy and Abby’s tent collapsed and we were like omg is she alive but it was too windy to hear if she was responding when we called her name and we couldn’t get out of ours to check on her because and ours started trying to fly away with us in it so we were laying horizontal across the bottom trying to hold it down and barely succeeding and the rain was pouring in because it wasn’t waterproof and the hard clay ground turned into mud and then a mud river which ran straight through our tent and soaked us and our stuff and the thunder was really loud and close and the lightning was so bright and there was nothing taller than us and we wondered if the lighting would want to strike our tent poles and we got out of the tent and knelt in the mud and scooped it up to try to make mud walls around the base of our tent so the wind would stop rushing under it and trying to fly it away and this was our first time backcountry camping did I mentioned and we were not sure if we would survive and finally the storm abated and then the coyotes came out and that was also new and exceedingly terrifying and we did not sleep.

Morning (pre-exiting our tent): Woke up around 6:45 and shocker, it was still windy and sleeting. Honestly, it was actually a bit of a shocker because it was actually windier than before, though at least less frequent intervals. Laid there for a while wondering if we were supposed to get out of the tent and start hiking even though it seemed like the sort of weather where you would immediately get hypothermia and die. Peeked out the tent and saw Sweet Pea was packed up and gone and wondered if he was okay or if he got hypothermia and died. Did some more half sleeping.

Mid-morning (starting our hike through the gems): Finallllly saw some sun rays come through our ultra thin tent walls temporarily at 9:00 and decided it might be less hypothermic, so we emerged from the tent and did a kind of marvelling half circle looking around woah sort of thing because the tent and the rocks and the trees and everything was covered in a solid layer of ice so that everything looked like it got bejeweled. Absolutely stunning. Took forever to pack up our tent because it was still insanely windy and pretty cold. Chatted with the older couple who apparently had both their tents rip and their tent poles snap which sounded way worse than our night and gave us newfound respect for our tent which we’d priorly been berating for being not-so-durable. Started hiking for about 5 minutes before our hands froze even in their gloves and we spent a few sad minutes holding them under our shirts and feeling like crying. Then we came around the corner and we were out of the snow and there were expansive views of the hills and the valley and everything was covered with the shimmery ice layer and it looked magical and beautiful and we wondered what fake ethereal realm we’d entered.

Afternoon (snow hiking is so slow): But alas nothing good can stay and we soon turned the corner and were back in the snow and the trees and the cold cold shade. Microspikes back on, we postholed through some frozen snowpack and some slushy snow at a depressingly slow pace that made me purposely not look at FarOut because I definitely did not want to see our total mileage. Also, on FarOut the reviews made Fuller Ridge seem dangerous and exciting, a snow covered exposed ridgeline and steep cliffs and boot packs that deceptively led to perilous dropoffs that required exceptional navigation and was practically mountaineering. And sure, there was snow, and sure if you missed a step you might do a bit of a slide down a bit of a hill, but really this was just miles of forest snow hiking with none of the heart racing adrenaline level exposure that I was both excited and apprehensive about. Which was probably okay, all things considered but definitely overhyped imo. Still it was pretty, and we dutifully trudged through the snow and appreciated the pine trees which did smell absolutely fantastic and wondered why SoCal in late spring was more like Washington in winter.

Evening (finally out of the snow and cruising): Then finally, finally, we rounded another corner and the desert floor emerged far below us, sunny, dotted with houses and highways and wind turbines and scruffy stubby spiky bushes. It looked so out of place from where we stood, surrounded by pine trees and snow and fog and winter chilled wind. But there it was, our destination for tomorrow. As we descended the switchbacks down down down to the valley floor the snow slowly receded into patches and then disappeared and our pace rapidly increased, giddy with the excitement of being able to MOVE again and feeling kinda behind on miles and kinda alone on the trail (hadn’t seen anyone except a old guy with a really long beard going the other direction and a youngish looking fast moving guy but that was a long time ago) we careened down the tight turns and through the stabby bushes, wondering how many miles we could fit in before dark. We stopped briefly at a campsite for some cold soaked dinner but immediately got too cold because the sun was setting and Maddie proposed getting a few more miles in before dark and I was feeling not so excited at the prospect of camping at a site by ourselves so I was really happy to keep going down down down to the next site and the next, personally secretly hoping to find one with people camped there to feel safe and not so alone in the desert with the lonely ominous wind and the chirps that were maybe mountain lions. And finally with the sun slowly seeping behind the mountains we hit the last site we could reasonably expect to reach before dark and saw yay! one tent set up and we hastily checked out the other sites for the least windy spot and squeezed our tent up in a too-small site protected by what was basically a large hedge on three sides and brushed our teeth and looked at Mount San Jacinto turning pink in the sunset and chilly chilly ran back to our tent.

Nighttime (back in our tent but almost asleep): And the wind picked up and we thought oh no not again I want to sleep tonight but the hedge bush with its spiky leaves that I was worried might make holes in our tent if the wind ran them into each other was a pretty good wind blocker so our tent rocked and shook but not as much as the prior night and it seemed like it would hold and it was a more continuous wind and I started to fall asleep and then I was really asleep because it was a long day and I was so so tired.

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