Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section B, Days 3-4: Survival Situation on the Mountain

As we packed up, neither Wing It or the Flying Nun stirred. The ebb and flow of the trail meant we might never see them again. As we wound along the cliffs above Anza, I dared to believe that the ominous weather forecast might be wrong. This was to have been the worst day of rain, but so far it had held off.
A lot of the day looked like this.

But not for long. As we began a long descent toward Highway 74, I conceded defeat and put the rain pants back on. An insistent drizzle followed us as we put our feet on pavement. It was a mile road walk to the Paradise Cafe, and I really didn't want to go there, but I knew Triscuit did, and the lure of real food eventually made me give in. It was early for lunch, since we had hammered out 10 miles in only a few hours, but I dreamed of a grilled cheese sandwich. Triscuit yearned for her only vice, a Diet Coke. The rain increased to a torrent as we hiked the busy highway, nobody stopping to pick us up.

"We aren't in the Pacific Northwest anymore," I said. There, someone would have stopped to offer us a ride. Not in California!

Staring at the Paradise Cafe in the distance, I began to get a sinking feeling. The parking lot was empty. No lights were on. Committed, we continued to find a closed up shop due to a water problem. Shivering, we perched on the porch eating not a grilled cheese sandwich, but cashews. A few disappointed cafe goers approached, stared at us, and left. "Are you hiking?" One man asked, perhaps disregarding the obvious clues of backpacks and lack of a car. To their credit, they asked if we needed a ride to Idyllwild, but unlike 99% of the hikers this year, we were not going to hitch around the fire closure.  Our trailhead was only a mile back up the road but despite our blatant hints and (perhaps because of) our drowned rat appearance, we couldn't get a ride back there. Grilled cheeseless, we trudged back to the trail.

In rain too cold to stop and break, we wound back up into the mountains, passing little rock gardens and ephemeral streams that were running strongly. The footing was  rocky and the grade had steepened to something un-PCT-like. This was my vacation? I thought. This was why I had worked 50 hour weeks? But I could still feel the magic of the trail, even through the rain. Once again, it was not the flat, cactus desert I had expected.

Yard sale! A successful dry out has the trifecta: wind, full sun, and helpful bushes.
When we reached the ridge and turned the corner, the full brunt of the wind hit us. The fog thickened. We were walking in a whiteout, rain pelting our faces. Without saying anything we knew that this was classic hypothermia weather--in Southern California. We had to keep going. If we stopped, I doubted we would have the dexterity or ability to even put up a tent, if the wind would allow it. Scrambling to check our compass, we ascertained we were still on track.

As if there was any other trail...

Finally we reached the fire closure sign, which meant a switchbacking descent down the Cedar Springs trail. The wind receded and the urgency of the situation subsided. We had made it. Stumbling into an abandoned campground, we searched among the cow pies for suitable tent sites. The trail today had mostly been deserted but Man in Black was already in his tent there. As we passed he declared that the ridge situation hadn't seemed bad to him. Triscuit and I exchanged glances. We knew how much on the edge it had been. After 21 miles, it was good to stop.

Pictures were unfortunately scarce on this day.
Waking to a foggy world, we packed up our wet tents again and headed for a combination of paved road, mountain bike trail, and powerline to reach a roadside campground. Pausing to have a yard sale, we checked the weather forecast and were disheartened to see 100% chance of rain--again. This cemented it. We would do a "nero" hike today (nearly zero miles--it would be ten) and stay in the campground. On the way we stopped by a convenience store for some necessary Fritos. Outside, a man regaled us with tales of mountain lion killing and also that he had set up a game camera at the abandoned campground. I calculated the location and figured it was probably aimed right at my tent's location.

Peeping Tom, Man in Black and Triscuit: Hikertrash at the store
It was hard to curb my desire to make more miles, but it made sense. Besides, hot showers!

Except, no. Lukewarm showers!  I shivered as I sprinted for the tent. I was regretting my decision to go stoveless on this trip as I observed Triscuit and Man in Black sipping hot drinks. Who knew that it would rain this much? But there was hope. A hesitant moon peered out through the clouds. Would we have sun for our last few days on the trail? I fervently hoped so, not realizing that I would later have cause to change my mind. Soon the windswept and slightly desperate ridge situation would take on a different hue as the weather drastically changed.
To be continued.....

13 comments:

  1. The ebb and flow of trail life. The heartbreak of not getting a ride in the rain AND reaching a closed restaurant. Stay strong, safe and positive. Sending vibes for some highs in your future!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was all pretty great regardless. If it were easy, everyone would hike!

      Delete
  2. Stoveless! I simply cannot imagine. Backcountry travel without warm food or coffee...no I cannot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When you aren't a coffee drinker it becomes so much easier. In winter for survival purposes I would always bring a stove. Recall that this was supposed to be the blazing hot desert.

      Delete
  3. For once I don't envy you. Rain, hiking to a closed store and lukewarm showers, but I know that there are still rewards to keep one going.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I wish we had better weather. But I feel proud that we persevered. It got better!

      Delete
  4. Boy sounds like this section hike was a true adventure!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hoping your next report adds a little sunshine and blue sky. It seems like the odds are against you! You have been going to that place inside you where there is strength, determination and tenacity that you know exists. You have proven time and again that you have what it takes to beat the odds!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, I think in modern life many people do not have cause to visit that place except in our recreation, thus you see outlandish expedition attempts at times. It's always good to face a little adversity. I don't mean to say that I am downplaying the lives of those facing illness or tragedy. Just us healthy folk who right now work at a desk...me....ugh!

      Delete
  6. This is the part of long distance hiking most people don't understand. It's hard to convince many that you're going to have to hike and camp in inclement weather. Your going to have a good percentage of that Type II fun. That's what makes memories and good stories. That's what makes you appreciate the amazing days, views, trail conditions and yes MAGIC! You know because you have plenty of miles on those feet. Helps to set expectations low. Looking forward to next installment. PS love the nickname "peeping Tom" so very appropriate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agree! And we gave many people secret trail names. Not sure the peeper would have been amused by his! Haha!

      Delete
  7. Is Paradise Cafe along the Pines to Palms highway? I'm trying to piece together the location, but it seems like this may be a similar spot to a closed cafe I arrived at during the Stagecoach 400 in 2012. This was a huge disappointment, as I was nearly out of food. The rest of the day was this frantic sprint to get over a cluster of hills in 90 degrees temps, knowing this tiny RV park store — the last food before Idyllwild — closed at 6 pm. I made it by five minutes. It was more of a triumph than finishing the race. Fun to think back on that after reading your report.

    I also visited Big Bear Lake after a snowstorm in May, and my impression of the Southern California mountains in the spring is it's either hypothermia cold and rainy, or unbelievably scorching. Sounds like you may have experienced both, based on your foreshadowing. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This could be the same place, it is at an intersection on that highway. Very disappointing!
      I have been reading blogs by people up near Big Bear this year and the weather sounds similar--snow and cold.

      Delete

Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!