A Detour Undone … Partly
Bottom line: Don’t let the moss grow under your feet.
As I had planned to do, I returned to the scene of the detour. Call me a purist, but I want to walk every foot, if not inch, of the PCT!
When first there in 2017, I'd bypassed the section of the PCT from Hwy 74 junction (mile marker 151.9) to Saddle Junction (mile marker 179.4) due to trail closure as a result of previous fire. Instead, I'd hiked the detour along Hwy 74. Most thru-hikers would've considered that sufficient, out of necessity and with their bigger goal in mind, moved along. But not me.
So, “Wrongway” Mark and I planned to hike this section, north to south, with one overnight camp somewhere along the way.
8/17/23, Day 0, “Meet You at the Bunkhouse” -
Mark and I met at the Idyllwild Bunkhouse. We dropped my car at the Hwy 74 and PCT junction, then had a good meal and beer at the Idyllwild Brewpub before early retirement for the night.
8/18/23, Day 1, “There’s A Storm A’comin’ ” -
Yay, Prim8 said as I hoisted my backpack.
Don’t start celebrating just yet, dude. We haven’t carried this much weight in a while.
We started up Devil’s Slide trail from Humber Park about 7AM, our hike plans already shifting per Hurricane Hillary’s projected arrival. We’d noted the good weather window the evening before at the Idyllwild Bunkhouse, with the major impact of the storm arriving Sunday. And blue sky above provided encouragement.
Though slow, we hiked the 2.5-mile Devil’s Slide Trail to the Saddle Junction, carrying additional water weight, about 3 liters worth, for our overnight. Plus, I carried a small stove with fuel and a “Bug Hut,” while Mark carried his two-person tent. My pack didn’t seem that heavy, but hauling the overnight gear had an immediate and cumulative effect.
Prim8 prepares to head south from Saddle Junction, mile marker 179.4
Our thoughts turned to completing the 27.5-mile hike to my car as early as possible, Saturday evening the latest.
"Wrongway" Mark takes a short break near Tahquitz Peak
Mostly clear sky allowed distant mountain and desert view. However, I paid the price of hiking in full sun by perspiring continuously.
Too hot, Prim8 complained.
This ain't no fun for me, either, fella.
Looking northward to Coachella Valley
Evidence of fire, the reasons for previous trail closures and my necessary detour, pervaded our views as we advanced south along the trail.
Prim8 takes in the view.
A number of fallen trees blocked the trail, requiring a cumbersome climb over or an awkward squat under, and at times an outright detour. To say the least, the trail’s poor condition slowed our progress. At one point, we missed a switchback turn and lost half an hour re-acquiring the trail. The combination of sun, fallen trees, trail brush, and the additional weight I carried beat me down.
Prim8 constantly complained of being miserable. Can’t say I blamed him.
Though slow, I slogged on towards Fobes Ranch Trail Junction, at mile-marker 166.5 and 12.9 miles south of Saddle Junction. We had expectations to reach my car before the heaviest portion of Hurricane Hillary would reach us. It came down to a matter of time. Could we out run … er, out hike Hillary?
Mark checked the weather forecast periodically. Early afternoon, he said, “The forecast moved the arrival from 1PM to 9AM morning tomorrow.”
“I guess, we’ll be hiking out in the rain,” I said.
“I don’t want to get caught in the lightening,” Mark said.
“Not a good idea,” I said.
Both of our phones squawked at the same time.
“An emergency alert, “ I noted. Riverside County had sent an emergency alert warning of potential flash flooding, high winds, heavy rain, etc, etc. “Whoa, I suppose it’s going to get serious,” I said.
“If we can make it to a campsite near Cedar Spring today, which is beyond the highest points south of Fobes Trail Junction, we can avoid the worst of the storm. From there it’s all downhill.”
I had my doubts about reaching Cedar Spring at mile-marker 161.0, another four-and-a-half miles beyond Fobes. “Yeah, nothing like being at 6,500 feet on a trail in a hurricane. We could start out earlier in the morning, too. You know, like o-dark-thirty.”
Try as I did, I couldn’t go any faster, however. Wanted to ... but couldn't. I paused numerous times to catch my breath and rest my legs. Despite my awareness of the effects of fatigue, I'd slipped and tripped a half-dozen times over the course of the day. My brain couldn’t will my body to do its bidding. As the hours passed, Mark’s goal of reaching the long downhill portion on the trail, beyond the 7,000-foot plus high point, melted away. By default, Fobes Trail Junction became our camp location for the night.
Snake! Prim8 yelled.
I’d expected to see a snake on the trail, so wasn’t surprised. It’s not poisonous, Prim8. The 18-incher checked us out for a moment before slithering away.
Shortly after, and with Fobes Trail Junction in sight down slope about two-hundred yards distance, Mark waited. As I approached, he said, “Stop there. Leave the trail and walk towards me.”
On alert, What? Prim8 said.
Maybe a rattler. I took a beeline towards Mark, then turned to look as he pointed at a coiled rattlesnake aside the trail in ambush mode.
Mark explained, “I spotted it as I walked up, and said, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Ooh, Prim8 whispered.
Yeah. And we could've walked right up to that guy without seeing him. At that point, exhausted and fixated on getting to Fobes Trail Junction, I had no energy to maintain focus on anything other than not tripping over my own feet.
Said rattler takes a slither from it's ambush position aside the trail
(Note the circular depression)
When we reached Fobes Trail Junction, we had run of the place. We set up Mark’s tent in a site snuggled between two trees. Scrub oaks I believed, though I wasn't sure what kind of trees they were ... not that I cared. They’d provide a welcomed wind break, of sorts, if it came to that.
Mark joked, "We could get hit by a falling branch in a strong wind. Wouldn't that be ironic?"
"Yeah, I suppose we could get clobbered," I replied. What are the odds?
Neither of us suggested moving to a different campsite, however. Too tired to even boil water for a freeze-dried dinner that I’d carried, we snacked lightly on dry food as we prepared for sleep.
An occasional wind rustled the nearby brush and trees. A few scattered rain drops fell. The temperature remained warmer than I expected at 6,000 feet as the sun set.
“Maybe, we can start early and get beyond the high points before the worst of the storm arrives,” Mark suggested.
“Are you going to set your phone alarm?” I said.
“No,” Mark said. “I’m a light sleeper.”
I didn’t have the energy to insist he do so. And besides, wanting to save my phone battery, I’d turned mine off. The colors of dusk that I could glimpse from under our tree-covered campsite encouraged me to take one last look before I tucked in for the night.
Ooh, pretty! Prim8 said.
Yeah, but don’t judge a hurricane by it’s looks, fella. I stood awed and humbled by the sight, and wondered what lay in store for Mark and I.
Hurricane Hillary's approach as seen from Fobes Junction, PCT
“Hey, Mark, you ought to check out the clouds,” I said as I clambered into the tent.
Mark didn’t budge ... didn’t even make a sound.
8/19/23 – Day 2, “Uncle Joe’s Moving Kinda Slow At the Junction” -
We spent the night without signs of a storm—no downpour, no gusting wind, no lightening, no thunder. In fact, eerily, the air remained calm and the temperature unusually warm.
Half-awake, I heard Mark rustling, then say, “It’s 6AM.”
We broke camp as quickly as possible, snacking on dried food as we packed up.
"I didn't expect it to be so warm last night. Didn't need to cover myself with my sleeping bag," I said. "Never would've guessed it." Perhaps, the unusual warm temperature wasn't a good omen.
"I didn't either," Mark said.
Headed south on the trail within thirty minutes, we started up the two-mile stretch with a one-thousand-foot elevation gain leading to Eagle Spring Trail Junction, hoping to beat the worst of what Hillary might dish, but figured we’d get deluged no matter what.
Bushwhacking through overgrown trail in warm, humid air didn’t help matters. Reminded of a jungle, I prayed for any slight breeze that might help cool me, though what air moved provided little relief. My pace remained slow, my legs not recovered from their previous day’s beating. And, as usual, Mark hiked on ahead.
Slogging my way up trail, I saw Mark’s approach as he descended..
“We’re not moving fast enough to get beyond the high points before the storm hits," Mark said. "It doesn't look good from farther up."
Not faster, Prim8 whined.
We won’t ... we can't, anyway. “If I try to go any faster, I’ll burn out altogether,” I replied to Mark.
“I think we should head down from Fobes Trail Junction to lower elevation. It’s better to bail now, and live to hike another day. We can always return for a day hike to complete this section,” he said.
Yes, tired, Prim8 said.
I agree, fella. Mark had me at we’re not moving fast enough. “Okay,” I said. I didn’t have a counter argument in me. Knew he was correct.
We descended to the saddle at Fobes Trail Junction, then turned toward Hwy 74 on the shortest, quickest descent route available to us.
Once on the dirt of Fobes Ranch Road, some two-and-a-half miles hike from the PCT, and per our agreement, Mark took my car keys. The plan? He'd hike ahead, then drop his pack at some point where I would wait for his return in my car.
Stop, Prim8 insisted.
No, we need to keep moving. We’ll get there … eventually.
Long before I reached Hwy 74 or Mark’s pack, however, a pickup pulled alongside and the driver offered me a lift.
Yay, Prim8 said.
I accepted with gratitude. Trail angels still exist, guy.
Maybe, a mile farther down the bumpy and rutted dirt road, she stopped for Mark, then dropped us at my car. The three of us chatted a few minutes, before she headed on to Anza. In the meantime, she'd mentioned Mark and I should consider grabbing a bite at the Paradise Cafe. I figured she thought I was on my last leg, though I couldn’t have argued any differently.
After she’d pulled away, I said to Mark, “Yeah, maybe we could get breakfast or lunch at the Paradise. What time is it?”
“9:30,” he said.
“Then, breakfast it is,” I proclaimed.
I consumed a fantastic three-egg omelet, probably, the best I’ve ever had!
Though the sky's overcast looked ominous, Mark and I drove away from the Paradise Cafe well ahead of Hurricane Hillary’s fury.
I shall return to hike the section of the PCT from Fobes Trail Junction to Hwy 74, if for no other reason than stubbornness.