April 29, 2022
Campsite at mile 155.9 to campsite at 170.9
15 PCT miles
+2 mile accidental detour
+1 mile to Apache Spring and back
My alarm goes off at 4:45 and I am off and running. I put Leukotape on my feet, change into hiking clothes, shove my sleeping bag in its dry sack, and toss everything in my pack on top of my sleeping pad. I’ve never deconstructed my tent faster. I even have time to brush my teeth. I am winning this challenge. I take my pack and poles over to the designated spot that DLT and I agreed on: a huge pinecone on top of a dead log. The first person to have all their hiking gear on and ready to go has to touch the pinecone. I trip over Beetle’s tent as I head for the cone. I hear DLT’s incredulous voice: “Are you fucking serious?” I touch the cone a full seven minutes before he comes over. Victorious!
We all stand around waiting for everyone to finish packing up. I suddenly feel bad for always making Andy and Petra wait for me. It’s cold out here. Once everyone is packed up, the six of us get back on the trail and head north.
I walk with DLT, Andy, and Beetle for most of the morning. We have to stop for water at Tunnel Spring, which is annoying because it’s a steep downhill and then an equally steep uphill. But what can you do. It’s going to be a tough day, and I need to stay hydrated.
Back at the top of the hill, I start walking on the PCT again with Andy and Beetle. Andy and I get into an intricate chat about airline experiences, and before I know it, we’re at the bottom of the hill. We talk to some women camping there, and they say there’s water here, which is confusing because there wasn’t supposed to be water directly on the PCT today. A realization hits me. “This isn’t the PCT.” We walk a little further and realize that we have gone a mile out of our way all downhill.
“I trusted you!” I say to Andy. I’m a level below irate. We start rocketing up the hill. Soon, Beetle is far ahead. It’s an exhausting climb, and I have to stop to take breaks. I meet Andy again at the top. “Are you mad at me?” he asks, contrite. I can’t stay angry for long when he’s making that face.
I lead for a while, heading uphill, but this time on the actual PCT. Then I continue on my own for a bit and put in some music. It propels me up the rocky switchbacks. I’m dancing! From the top of the ridge I can see so many mountains around me. I continue up another series of hills, then take a break on a rock until Andy catches up. We walk together for a while with our headphones in, absolutely cruising. It’s so beautiful today, sunny with a nice breeze, and even the uphills aren’t so bad.
We have a little break with Petra and Beetle when we catch them, then we keep going through pine forests leading to a hot, exposed burn area with twisty spines of trees. Finally we end up at a beautiful viewpoint across from the towering San Jacinto mountains. It’s only 10:45, but we are all exhausted already from the hills and the detour, so we take our lunch break then.
We all leave at different times, so I’m hiking alone for the next couple of miles downhill. I enjoy the quiet. I sing some songs to myself. I get very dirty trying to go under some blown-down trees. Soon I come upon Petra, and not much later, the whole crew from last night is there at the junction. We sit and stand in the shade for a few moments before working up the motivation to do the huge climb up Apache Peak.
I start up with Andy and Beetle, but soon Beetle rockets ahead. It’s a brutal climb, with over a mile of steep ascent unlike anything we’ve seen so far on the PCT. We take a lot of breaks. It starts to smell like pine. These are proper mountains now. Finally, after what feels like forever, we reach the end of the first climb, go downhill slightly, and then turn straight back up again. We get a good view of San Jacinto again then, towering above the valley where Palm Springs sprawls below.
Another downhill takes us to Apache Spring. Most of us have to get water here. It is an absolute haul. So many switchbacks down and back up, and I’m carrying my three liters plus one and a half of Andy’s that I offered to fill up for some insane reason. I have to recover just from that climb for a moment. Eventually, we start on the 1.7 miles left to camp.
It is so beautiful in this section. We walk along a ridge line where some snowy patches still stand, and where the air smells crisp and coniferous. We cling to the edge of a cliff while San Jacinto faces us, not far away now. Beetle joins us for the last approach to camp. It’s slow going: Andy’s Afternoon Cruise Mode™. Finally, we hear voices and pull into camp.
At dinner everyone looks absolutely knackered. It’s hard to even summon the energy to cook, pitch my tent, and brush my teeth. We all decide to go into Idyllwild tomorrow instead of doing San Jacinto. We are all just pooped and need a rest. I am looking forward to that ice cream from DLT, a shower, and town shenanigans with my friends.