I don’t think a single one of us actually got any sleep last night. It was so incredibly cold in the shelter- I think I would have preferred my tiny flappy tent. The tree next to the shelter kept dropping chunks of ice on the roof, which would then slide down and eventually fall, making a good amount of noise. At some point someone noticed that it was getting light out and it became a mad dash to get out of bed, get our hiking shoes on and climb the last 100 feet of steep, ice-covered snow to the peak.
We missed the beginning of the sunrise but Julia, AnnKristen and I sat together on the rocks at the peak and watched as the sun cleared the horizon and its rays snuck over all of the lower peaks to the east. We were mesmerized by the colors and the grandeur of it all. To the west you could see the shadow cast by Mt San Jacinto in the clouds.
Once the sun was well above the horizon, we carefully clambered backdown to the shelter, kicked off our shoes and climbed back in our sleeping bags, shivering and exhausted but fulfilled. Cyndi eventually got up and we all got moving, albeit slowly in the frigid air with essentially zero sleep. We started our descent and immediately lost the trail no more than 50 yards from the shelter but knew generally where we needed to go. We got to the trail junction and had to decide whether to go back down the way we came up (more miles but potentially safer) or continue on the Jacinto alternate trail until it meets the PCT (shorter, potentially more snow or route-finding). We all felt confident and just wanted to get off this dang mountain so we pressed ahead.
Again, almost immediately, we lost the trail. There were huge sections of snow, frozen and thawed and frozen again so that they were rock hard in the early morning temperatures. The trail switchbacked all down the mountainside but the snow covered the land indiscriminately, showing us a tiny glimpse of the trail here and there. We all followed Cyndi since she is the most experienced of us all, and through a combination of following other (also sometimes lost) footprints, bushwhacking and general navigational sense, we found our way down the mountain. I think we were only on a trail for maybe 20% of our descent, but it was some of the most fun and challenging terrain thus far. I never felt scared about being lost with Cyndi leading us and our little group worked well together, watching each other as we crossed the icy, rocky, relentless mountainside.
We finally reached the junction where the Jacinto alternate met the PCT and basically all collapsed to the ground. The mental challenge of the morning’s descent was welcome but exhausting. We reached the next water source to discover a new challenge: real water crossings. Up until now, we have had little trickles crossing the trail which could easily be avoided by stepping on rocks. It was possible to stay dry here too, it was just a bit tricker. We all made it across, filled up, and hiked off individually. We had been together almost constantly for 48 hours- out here that is a LOT of time- so hiking alone for a bit was a welcome change.
The terrain was lovely- huge rocks amidst giant pines overlooking the desert valley in the shadow of Mt San Jacinto. There is a wind farm down there which I believe we will be walking through very soon. After no more than 2 hours of solo hiking, I caught up with Cyndi and we pressed on together. The trail climbed until it meandered out of the San Jacinto Wilderness, and then began a long gradual descent which will continue even into tomorrow as it winds its way out of the mountains. We kept trudging in a bit of a fog, not talking, trying to protect our knees from the strain of the constant downhill while not tripping over the rocks, slipping on snow, or getting stuck on a downed tree. Our brains were fried when suddenly we heard loud hissing, almost like a tire getting punctured. We instantly snapped out of our haze to see a large black rattlesnake coiling next to a bush near the trail. Cyndi spun around and came running back toward me and I backpedaled as quickly as I could while the snake writhed and rattled menacingly. We had a minor freak out moment and when we reapproached the area, it was gone. Phew!
We continued on until we found the next water source, marked by sticks on the ground. Julia’s pack was here and we were happy to have caught up. I got water, had a snack and rested a bit. I was the last to leave and took my time through the last few miles of descent.
When I arrived at camp, Julia, Cyndi and Annkristen were already set up and having dinner. I set up and joined them, and then many others trickled into our camp area, including Sarah and Andy! It was good to see them after so many days. It got cold quickly and we all tucked into our tents early. Tomorrow we will finally be completely out of this mountain range and crossing some flat desert before entering some different mountains. I am looking forward to the change!
Trail magic: 0
Hiked with: Cyndi, Julia, AnnKristen
Camped with: Cyndi, Julia, AnnKristen, Sarah, Andy, others I don’t know