By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 179
Completion percentage: 6.77%
Hiking days: 14
Zero days: 2
Total Ascent: 30204 ft.
Total descent: 24999 ft.
Blister count: 3
Notable injury count: 0
Large gains in elevation and steep uphills made the trek to Idyllwild significantly more difficult than the first leg of my journey. I have been treating each day as a training session for the Sierras, and it has been producing good results. The ’training’ involves taking as few breaks as possible when walking uphill, while making sure I keep my heart rate in check. It was particularly challenging the last few days into Idyllwild as the trail ascended over 8,000 feet. The perceived lack of oxygen (roughly a 20% reduction from sea level) is noticeable and it was nearly impossible to keep my heart rate from spiking when scaling a steep section. Even so, I feel stronger every day.
Leaving Julian after my first real zero was difficult because I knew what lay ahead. Straight out of Julian there is a somewhat steep climb with no water sources snd extreme sun exposure. The group hit the trail at 10 AM and we pushed through it. Along the way we were witness to a series of military jets doing some sort of training exercises in the valley. It was odd seeing the juxtaposition of untouched nature against the highly engineered unnatural machines; but it made for spectacular viewing. The terrain for the next day would be much the same, so we decided to camp at a small creek a few miles out from Warner Springs and then take a nero (nearly zero day). At the creek we were surrounded by other hikers. War stories were traded and bucket showers were had. In Warner Springs we added three hikers to our group: a mother/daughter team of Anna and Greta, and an unbelievable 75 year old solo female hiker named Jill.
From Warner Springs we set out for a three day trek to Paradise cafe. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the social interaction, so I hiked this section by myself and met up with the group at the cafe.
Along the way to Paradise, there is a famous stop called “Mike’s place” It’s a small haven in the middle of a dry stretch. Not only does it offer a critical water cache, but the owners offer soda to hikers, and if you catch them at the right time they will even make a pizza for you in the oven. Sounds pretty great, right? Well as it turns out, the place is run by some pretty questionable characters. Someone I know who is hiking a few days ahead sent me this text the day before I got there:
Obviously, this was pretty concerning and I mentally committed to skipping it. The next day I met a pair of sister SOBO (South bound) hikers in their 50’s and asked if they had stopped at Mikes. They in fact had, and said it wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. At this point I was pretty torn and decided to play it by ear. That day ended up being brutally hot, and I was running low on water. Another hiker and I decided that we would stop at Mike’s solely to get some water, and then head right out. Much to our surprise, the water tanks were a couple hundred feet from the house and we were able to fill up there with no issue.
Also at the tank was a German prison guard that went by the name ‘dirk’. We all took refuge in some of the highly sought after shade by the tanks and relaxed for a while. After about half an hour, some hikers walked by us who had come from Mike’s and let us know that it seemed to be pretty chill. The hikers also mentioned that they were giving out beers. Dirk immediately perked up and started to head down. Think beached whale transforming into cheetah. The other hikers and I decided to follow and were met with the following scene:
Not exactly the most inviting of places. This is actually only a small part of the property and doesn’t show the main ‘house’. I failed to get a photo of it and am really regretting it, as it was quite the scene. After dropping off our packs and putting a few dollars in the donation bin, we were given beers as promised. We joined a circle of other hikers where there were a few pretty lively conversations going on. ‘Strange, the caretaker, sported a clip-on fox tail and was clearly pretty high on weed. He basically talked pseudo-gibberish to me and Dirk for 15 minutes. The most tangible thing I was able to pick up on was the following idea: Memorize every line in you favorite movie, and then watch the movie in French while also having German subtitles so you can learn two new languages at once. I had a pretty skeptical look on my face at that point, and a man sitting next to Strange offered me a bowl freshly packed weed and said “it’ll help”. I politely declined. While all this was happening, there was also a semi-heated debate going on between ‘CIA’ and a European man whose name I did not catch. CIA is a retired IT specialist who set up secure email systems for government agencies. He and the European were sparring over different tax policies and how effective they were. CIA staunchly took the position that taxation is nothing short of theft, while the European claimed that he made more money than he needed and was happy to give 40% of his money to the government. Behind them a heavily bearded man who often hung around Mike’s cheered on the debate and emphatically claimed that ‘real discourse is finally coming back!’.
Feeling a little uneasy about the situation, I finished my beer and decided to hike a few more miles before I made camp for the night. I had just completed my first 20 mile day and was beat. I ended up setting up camp in a nice saddle, knowing full well that it was not a great spot. I was surrounded by a few other hikers, and we ate dinner together. We caught a nice sunset and I fell asleep to calm weather around eight. At about nine I was woken by intense winds contorting my tent. It was pretty clear that the strong gusts were going to destroy my tent, so I decided to remove my rain fly. With my tent now significantly less susceptible to the wind, I went back to bed. At around midnight I woke to the sound of my teeth grinding which is quite odd, considering I don’t usually grind my teeth. It turns out that the intense winds had blown a large amount of sand and dirt into my tent, and an ample portion of it had entered my mouth and nostrils. The sand was getting caught between my teeth and abrading them as my jaw moved. After cleaning out my mouth and sinuses, I headed back to bed. At roughly 1:30 I was awoken again unexpectedly, but not because of dirt. This time my knee was sitting in a puddle of water that formed in the base of my tent. It turns out the winds had brought quite a bit of precipitation with them and we were basically camping in a thick cloud. Naturally, the forecast had predicted no rain.
Everything I owned was absolutely soaked, and most of it was covered in a thick sand slurry. After seriously contemplating my decisions over the last 12 hours I decided to break camp at around 2 AM and hike to a better spot. As I exited my tent, I was met with the scene of about 5 other hikers doing the same. I descended down about a thousand feet and made camp in a much calmer spot. It was a hell of a 24 hour period, but I made it out unscathed. When I woke up the next morning, I was met with the most crisp and pristine rainbow I have ever seen.
From that point on into Idyllwild, the trail was mostly uneventful, yet challenging and beautiful in every way you would expect. The elevation brought with it beautiful vistas as well as our first snow. The Paradise Cafe came as advertised and provided us with delicious food to consume. We ended up eating there for dinner and breakfast the next morning. The owner and staff were unbelievably generous and welcoming through our time there. It was Lt. Anne’s birthday and they gifted us a bottle of wine to drink and even let us sleep on their patio overnight.
The next leg of the journey is one I am looking forward to immensely. I’ll be taking the alternate route that summits San Jacinto peak which comes in at 10,800 feet. My next stop will be in Big Bear, where I have it on good authority that there are some homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting for me.