PCT Day 14: San Jacinto

May 2, 2022

Idyllwild to Saddle Junction via Devil’s Slide Trail, San Jacinto Peak trail to PCT, PCT to campsite at mile 190.5

6.6 PCT miles

+8.8 non-PCT miles on Devil’s Slide and San Jacinto Peak Trails

15.4 miles

We start rustling much earlier than yesterday. We’re going back to the PCT today! Within an hour we have our packs back in order and the room semi-decently cleaned. We walk to town for our scheduled appointment with Mayor Max, the famous golden retriever mayor of Idyllwild.

Max is absolutely adorable. He wears a little tie and a harness that bears his name. His owner/Chief of Staff, Phyllis, opens the back door of Max’s decked out van and lets us take photo after photo with him. To get him to pose for the camera, we wave around a bag of potato chips (as well as the cucumber that is currently residing in the shoulder strap of my pack, which Max takes special interest in). Phyllis tells us that Max’s goal is to spread love and peace to all. We think he’s doing a pretty good job of it.

Yet again, Andy has been in touch with trail angel Jeannine, who arrives to pick us up around 8 and drives us back to the trailhead. I’ve been amazed by the generosity of trail angels so far on the PCT. Of course, we met a lot of angels on the AT as well, but this network seems so organized and overwhelmingly willing to help hikers with whatever they need. It would be so hard to complete the trail without them. Thank you, trail angels!

Back at Devil’s Slide, we start the long ascent to San Jacinto peak. I’m feeling really well rested from two days off, but it’s still a long water carry up and over the mountain, and I have a fully loaded pack. I start off trying to hike with Andy, Beetle, and DLT, but they shoot up the hill. I’m not trying to rush today, knowing what lies ahead, so I hike on my own for a while, enjoying the beautiful views on this peaceful morning. The forest smells so lovely. The sky is so blue.

We all meet back up at Saddle Junction, take a quick snack break, and then rejoin the PCT proper. By now I’m feeling pretty warmed up. I’ve had some water. I’ve eaten a few bites of the cucumber holstered to my shoulder. (Shout-out to AT tramily member KG for the cucumber inspiration!) I’m ready to go, and this time, I stay pretty close to Andy and Beetle, at least until we reach the San Jacinto Peak trail junction and the altitude hits me.

I stop to put on sunscreen and eat more M&M’s, and DLT catches me. We hike the rest of the way up the mountain together and talk the whole way in between increasingly frequent gulps of air. There are patches of snow and the world smells like pine. We have a lovely conversation about our favorite books, ideal places to live, what dogs and cats we want and what their names will be, places we’ve traveled, and, just as we reach the cabin below the summit, the story of how I prayed for a dog when I was a kid and a dog actually turned up at our door. (It’s true. But that’s another story. You can ask DLT.)

After signing the trail register at the little cabin, we continue, rock-scrambling between snow drifts, until we finally reach the boulder-strewn summit of San Jacinto, where Andy, Beetle, and Petra are chilling (Andy especially. See photo below.)

It is beautiful on the mountain. The sun is a warm delight in the windy afternoon. We can see so far down to brown valley dotted with wind turbines. It’s like a totally different world down there. Up here it’s a sky island of snow and conifer and rock.

We stay on the summit for a long time, eating lunch and drinking packed-out beer and taking cat naps in the sun. Then we begin the descent, which will last for the entire next day and a half. I lead for a while until we reach a gushing stream.

There’s another water source in two miles, and then it’s a 20 mile dry stretch. It makes more sense to get water at the next source, but Beetle, Andy, and DLT have their packs off and are already filtering, so I decide I may as well so so here too. Petra and Rob, making the logical decision, head on. Then I’m left carrying five liters of water in a pack very ill-equipped to do so over terrain that quickly becomes more treacherous than I was expecting. There are patches of snow that look like they could turn into ankle-breaking posthole city at any time. There are slippery trees and piles of rocks. I fall behind, cursing myself for getting so wrapped up in what the group was doing that I didn’t think about what would be best for me.

At one point, I step badly around a log and a branch swipes me on the inside of my thigh. At another point, I roll my ankle hard and then lose a water bottle from my pack, then another when I pick up the first one. I’m so irritated with myself at this point that I throw my poles on the ground and start crying. It’s stupid, but it feels really good. I haven’t had a good cry yet on this trail, and I think I needed to get it out.

A little while later I run into Andy waiting for me, like I knew he would be. He gives me a hug. I feel a little better.

We cross the beautiful water source where Petra and Rob are filtering, take a brief break, and then continue hiking more or less as a group for the rest of the lovely evening. DLT and I talk about music we like and concerts we’ve been to, then I tell Andy stories about mishaps while traveling in England, and before we know it, we’re at our campsite for the evening.

It is an expansive campsite nestled between two rocky hills and below a canopy of pines. I pitch my tent—badly—on a soft bed of needles. I mess around on my phone in my tent for a while, then make dinner and eat it quickly while DLT keeps me company in the fading daylight. Finally, I brush my teeth and crawl into my tent. It’s so cold. I’m wearing everything I have in my bag except for my rain gear. Today was frustrating, but it was also so beautiful. I love this trail and the friends who help me make it.

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