April 30, 2022
Campsite at mile 170.9 to Saddle Junction, then Devil’s Slide Trail to Idyllwild
8.5 PCT miles
+2.5 miles on Devil’s Slide Trail
179.4 total PCT miles
Today it’s light when we wake up. We didn’t set an early alarm because we decided we aren’t going to hike San Jacinto today—we’re going to Idyllwild!
Andy and I are the last out of camp, and it’s slow going. It takes me a long time to warm up, and it’s already hot outside on the side of this mountain. It’s another morning of precarious ledges meandering over a fire-scarred landscape. The live trees thin out and give way to the dead—and many of the biggest dead trees are lying across the trail. The first few are annoying but manageable. Then the blowdowns get really frustrating. Some are high enough to go under, but some require wild traversing over the top. Between this, the already hot sun, and my exhaustion, the morning feels interminable.
It gets better when we go to the other side of the ridge. There the sun isn’t so hot. We take a break on a rock, where I somehow manage to accidentally shower water all over both of us while trying to get an electrolyte tab into the bottle.
The shade doesn’t last long, though. We’re climbing in the baking sun through more charred forest. Up, up, until we finally make a turn down into a verdant world that smells like fir and pine. Clearly, this is what the other side of the mountain would have looked like had it not been impacted by the fire. The difference is staggering.
A few patches of snow cling here and there to the sloped trail, but nothing so intense that it would require microspikes. It definitely feels cooler here, though, and we cruise the smooth and pleasantly shaded trail to Tahquitz Creek, where we meet back up with Petra, DLT, Rob, and Beetle. I filter a liter and half of water after accidentally chucking my bottles down the hill multiple times. As Andy would say: Absolute creature.
There is one more steep uphill for the day, and then it’s all down to Saddle Junction. We hike as a group to that point, fueled by the thought of showers, laundry, and town food. After the junction we turn left on the Devil’s Slide Trail, which is nowhere near as dramatic or knee-breaking as the name suggests. This is obviously a frequently hiked and well loved trail; it is wide, groomed, and evenly switchbacked.
We soar down it, giddy and ready to be in Idyllwild. We have our town legs on, and we’re in full gear. At the parking lot, Andy gets in touch with Jeannine, the trail angel who is allowing us to do laundry and take showers at her house. Half of us get a hitch, and the other half walks the 20 minutes down to the house. I’m in the walking group with Rob and DLT, and we get there first. We later find out that Andy, Petra, and Beetle were invited into a local’s house to view their blooming lilacs. Trail magic! In the meantime, I take a shower and almost die from delight. The feeling of scrubbing off five days of dirt and grime is a relief unlike anything else I have experienced.
The others are there by the time I’m finished, and after everyone takes their shower, we pool our laundry and put it in the washing machine. It’s almost every item of clothing in the packs of six grungy hikers, so it takes forever. While we wait, we sit on the back deck in our rain gear, drinking sodas, beer, and cider provided by our gracious hosts. It wasn’t exactly our plan for the day, but the laundry facility at the hotel we’re staying is broken and the coin laundry is closed, and there is no way we could have gone without. So we sit and wait and talk, enjoying relaxing, watching the birds, and resting our feet.
When we’re finished, Jeannine drives us to the Idyllwild Bunkhouse. Our room is a suite of sorts, with two bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a bathroom that opens to both rooms. It is amazing to set our packs down and walk to town without them.
Our first stop is the Lumber Mill, where we are joined by a few other hikers who have been around us recently. I get the Juicy Lumber burger, which is massive and cheesy and imposible to eat without a knife and fork.
After that we discuss going to the brewpub, then decide that getting alcohol and drinking it in the room would be cheaper. So we go next door to the convenience store and get beer and snacks and walk back to the hotel. Feather Blue, one of the hikers who has been around us since the beginning and is staying in the adjacent room, joins us for games: slaps, vroom, charades, Heads Up. Eventually we revert to high school and play Never Have I Ever. I am laughing so hard and feeling so relaxed. What is it about the trail that makes you so comfortable around people who were strangers two weeks ago? How can I already feel so happy and at home? I don’t know. It’s magic. I’m just a little creature with my friends drinking beer in a hotel in the mountains. I’m completely present. I want nothing else.