As we looked at the map in preparation for our ascent up Mount San Jacinto, we planned three distinct days – an up day, a down day, and a flat day. The up day was going to be from Idyllwild up to the summit of San Jacinto, followed by the down day as we would make our way to the desert floor, and than finally the flat day as we crossed the desert to the next mountain range. We were excited at the idea that each day would be a little easier then the last.
Boy were we wrong.
It’s a Long Way Up
Idyllwild to San Jacinto was over 6000 feet of straight uphill hiking. That’s not including any small up and downs that we did, that’s just the net gain from Idyllwild to Jacinto. Most of the trail was on alternate, non-PCT routes, as sections of the trail in that area were closed due to a forest fire several years ago and Jacinto itself isn’t officially on the PCT. So that meant the whole “incline designed for horses” was not in existence for this section. Instead it often felt like we were going straight up, similar to the hiking I get back in the White Mountains.
To add to the difficulty, it was very cold. Like wear-all-your-layers cold. With the constant incline we’d be sweating and over heating like crazy, and then as soon as we stopped the cold air on our wet clothes would send chills through our bodies.
The difficulty did not come without it’s rewards though. The hike up lead us through gorgeous pine forests where the smell of pine and the sounds of birds chirping provided a sense of relaxation through the pain. And then came the view from the summit- standing at 10,834 feet, we could look straight down to the desert floor, over 9000 feet below us. It was absolutely breathtaking, and something I highly recommend to anyone who finds themselves in the area. There is also a tramway that takes you part way up the mountain.
After taking in the view we made our way off the summit to find a campsite. We descended back into the pine forests, and this time we were treated to the evening sun bathing the trail in orange as it peered through the branches of the trees. We reached a small boulder field and pitched our tents as we watched the sun set over the desert 9000 feet below us, knowing we would be heading right behind it as soon as we got up the next morning.
All Downhill From Here
After a grueling uphill day, we were excited for a day of all downhill. “No cardio”, we thought, “that’ll go by so fast!” The only problem was there wasn’t any water for the next 20 miles, so our goal was to go the whole length to the next water source so we wouldn’t have to carry water for cooking and cleaning that night.
At first it was everything we had hoped. We were cruising down quickly with the coolness of the early morning temperatures. But as the miles went from 3 to 5 to 10, our feet and legs started to feel the effects of losing nearly 500 feet every mile. Soon we were out of the shade filled forests and back into the exposed chaparral. The morning cool made way for the hot desert sun and our quick, excited pace turned to a sweat-filled and foot swelling tromp as we continued our descent.
When we finally reached the desert floor, we were even more sore then the day before. Ready to pass out, we setup our tents, cooked our dinners, and headed to sleep. Sleep that would only last a few hours.
Desert Winds: The Sequel
A few hours after hitting the sack, the desert winds started to pick up. At first they were small gusts, ruffling the outside cover of my tent. But the gusts got bigger and bigger as the relaxing breeze quickly evolved into hurricane force winds.
I was awakened to the top of my tent wacking my body. It was still standing (I learned to put rocks over my stakes after the last time my tent collapsed), but the force was so strong the poles bent inwards and flattened the tent over me. The gust would pass after a minute or two, then there were would be calm again for a little while. Then I would hear what sounded like the shrill cry of a banshee in the distance and thirty seconds later my tent would be inverted into my face again.
When morning finally came, I packed my stuff up (with my tent still routinely falling in on me as I did) and made my way over to Dennis only to find his night was significantly worse then mine. Not only did he suffer the same tent flattening winds, the winds caused one of his poles to pop out and ripped a hole through the top of his tent. He told me all of this while the wind pushed the tent into a Dennis shaped silhouette around him.
Desert Winds: The Sequel Part 2
After a hard climb the first day, a draining downhill the second, the third day was supposed to be our flat and easy day. But the winds from the night only got stronger as the day went on. What should have been smooth walking turned into a wrestling match with the weather.
When the wind wasn’t knocking us off the trail from the side, we were walking straight into it. You know when a dog sticks it’s head out the window of a car and it’s face gets all stretched and pulled back? That was how our entire day was. Several times I had to stop and lock my hiking poles in the ground and just brace myself until the gust passed by.
That afternoon we came across a literal oasis in the desert. We descended down into a canyon where we reached a small nature preserve with a river running through it. There were palm trees and green meadows and wading pools. There was a visitor center for us to charge our electronics and bathrooms with running water. After the crazy weather we had been battling all day, it felt like a place out of a fairy tail. We decided to call it a day and stayed in the grassy meadow, sheltered from the storm above.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
The next few days on our way to Big Bear Lake went a bit smoother. After leaving the oasis, we followed the same river for about 20 miles. All around us in the distance were barren mountains, yet right along the river was filled with beautiful deciduous trees and tall grasses. We could hear insects and birds and life.
As we were nearing the town, we suddenly found ourselves face to face with a grizzly bear. No, two grizzly bears! Wait, there was a Tiger as well! These animals posed us no harm as they were actually behind fences inside of a private zoo. Each animal sat alone in a cage about the size of a bedroom, it was actually rather depressing.
We eventually reached Big Bear Lake where we enjoyed some good eating and rest and relaxation. It gets it’s name from all the bears that live there. Or rather used to live there. The last grizzly in the area was hunted down back in the 30’s, leaving the town name more as a memorial to what it once was. Sadly the lake has also been shrinking due to the drought, so hopefully they get some rain before Big Bear Lake becomes both bear-less and lake-less.
It was a cool little tourist town with lots of trinket shops and restaurants. We didn’t spend too much time there. I picked up my resupply box full of treats from my girlfriend and we were back on the trail again, this time with our sights on the town of Wrightwood.
I want to again thank everyone who has donated to Hike For Mental Health! As of reaching Big Bear Lake, I am just over 10% done with the hike, yet we’ve already reached 75% of the fundraising goal! If you haven’t donated and would like to, you can do so here.