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The Desert








The High Sierras

Day 8

Back in the mountains! After leaving the grasslands from yesterday we entered a totally different scenery yet again. In the morning it didn't feel like a desert at all, the air was pretty humid, and the vegetation around me was around 2-3 meters high, with winding branches and deep green leaves. It felt like walking in a jungle. The first 10 miles or so were just climbing back up to higher elevations. I wanted to make it to the famous (or infamous, I don't know?) Mikes place. Where there was rumored to be pizza!

Going uphill this morning, into the jungle!

Tall and green vegetation.

I crossed a creek and met Ben who was searching for his hat. You'll have to read Expresses story if you want to know what happened to it :) I took a short break and had a bar at around 10.00. My legs starting to get a bit tired of walking uphills all the time. I still had problems adjusting to the constant walking without breaks. I need my breaks. The Simon from Sweden that I met back on day 4 passed me (I had been bumping into him both in Julian and Warner Springs also), walking quickly as ever.

The nice creek I crossed early on.

Views during the morning.

Desert flowers.

The terrain changed again as we entered the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Lower bushes, a more arid feeling, and roundish cliffs and rocks. When I arrived at Mikes place, almost everyone else was already there, hanging out. Mikes place was definitely a special place. I don't know if I enjoyed it so much. Well, the company was nice, but the place itself had that breaking bad, drug factory feeling. Someone said that you couldn't go pee in a specific area on the side of the property because there were landmines buried there. I don't know if that was true. But I think it describes the feeling of the place very well. I stayed for a little more than an hour, but the pizza wouldn't be until later that night, and since I wanted to make some more miles I decided to head off again. All in all, it was a lot of fun to check the place out, and it's definitely something that stuck with me.

Just after crossing into the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

I set off together with Simon, Megan, and Prince. I think we gave Simon his trail name here - Strider. At first, he didn't like it because he thought it was some sort of a spider with long legs. But when he realized it was from Lord of The Rings, he happily accepted the name. Why Strider? Because he has super long legs and walks extremely fast! Prince and Strider took off after a while, in their super-pace. I walked with Megan, and we talked about our lives outside the trail, and what we wanted to do after. It was a nice afternoon, the sun was starting to set and the temperatures cooling off. After the mornings climbing we were now descending, presenting us with a view down into the next part of a billowing landscape, green desert bushes covering the small mountains off in the distance. And I think we got a glimpse of Mt San Jacinto far away with some snow absurdly covering its peak.

Strider trying out one of the attractions at Mikes.

Prince and Megan getting water before heading off.

Back out on the trail!

Prince, a little further along down the trail.

Views of the upcoming section.

We caught up to strider again who was taking a break, and we set off all three down the last part. We were aiming for a small creek where we could camp with water. But when we arrived it turned out to be an almost dried out bed of mud. So we decided to push on another half a mile, my legs feeling like lead. I know, half a mile doesn't sound much, but I was pretty tired at this point. After setting up camp, we had to go down another half a mile from the trail to get some water, and we found Prince, Nic, and Hummingbird in their tents. After chatting with them for a bit we went back up and cooked some dinner. I popped some blisters on my toes which had been flourishing during the day. Just when dark was setting, Express, Stats and Hefty showed up. They left Mikes a bit later than us and had been making good time. It was with a good feeling I crawled into my tent, passing out before I had a chance to write in my diary. There are not many things that beat the feeling of satisfaction after a long day walking!

Day 9

For once I think I was the first person out that morning. But I was very quickly passed by pretty much everyone after stopping for photos around every corner. It was an amazing sunrise! There were some small clouds that dispersed the sunlight and gave it that crimson glow. We were cutting through this mountainous area where the trail was changing from going down, to up, to traversing along low mountainsides, sharp switchbacks down a canyon and up on the other side. We had some trail magic, a really cool place, with large cutouts of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. There was a tent for shade and a PCT library, where you could take or leave books. I had a soda and some candy, which gave me a nice sugar rush to keep me going.

Almoste packed up.

Beautiful sunrise!

More morning views.

Prince enjoting morning hiking.

Prince and Megan passing me early on.

And there they go...

Sunrise, beautiful sunrise!

More sunrise...

Cacti in the sunrise.

Flowers in the desert!

Billowing landscape.

Traversing the side of a mountain.

The cacti are blooming!


Hummingbird enjoying some water at a cash.


Cutouts and library.

Sugar rush coming up!

The big goal for today was to make it out to highway 74 where Paradise Valley Cafe could be found, the supposed best burger on the trail. My legs were pretty tired from the day before. I did 24 miles which were a record day for me so far. I got to the road pretty beat up, and the road walk one mile down to the cafe felt like it would never end. But I got there, and that was 15 miles down already this day! The time was only around 13.00, so plenty of room for more hiking. Express, Megan, Stats, and Strider was already there, and I joined their table. I ordered route 66 burger, don't know if I would call it best burger on trail, but it was pretty nice, together with a beer!

Stats taking a photo shortly before highway 74.

The next big decision was also coming up. We were only about 30 miles from the first large town, Idyllwild. There was an old fire closure just before the town and there were three options of getting around it. You could either hitch right from the cafe, or you could hike up to the fire closure and then down to highway 74 and hitch from there. Or, the third option, when you get back to the highway you can road walk about 7 miles and then take a dirt road that takes you to Idyllwild.

At the cafe!

Me and Strider decided to do the third option, the road walk. But for today, we only wanted to get as close as possible to the trail junction that took us back down to highway 74, so that we wouldn't have to do a huge day the day after. We got a ride the one mile back up to the trail by another PCT hiker who was injured at the moment and was taking some time off in Idyllwild. Me and Strider were aiming to do another 8 miles up the mountain. From here the trail climbs up to new record higths, and if you continue on the PCT towards Idyllwild you will soon be higher Kebnekaise, Swedens highest point.

The terrain was pretty flat, high bushes growing thick around us. We couldn't see any views in the beginning, but the trail was really cool winding back and forth in between huge rocks and cliffs, something I hadn't seen so far. After a couple of miles, we met Prince, Nic, and Hummingbird who were taking a break. Stats and Megan who also came out in our car joined us shortly after. Me and Strider wanted to go a bit further than the others that night, so we didn't stay long and started pushing up the mountain again. The trail changed and started going more uphills, the vegetation around us dispersing a bit providing views down back towards the highway. I felt pretty good, and the last two miles or so, we increased the pace and caught up to Caroline just as we arrived in camp.

Cliffs on the side of the trail.

Strider, Stats, Megan, Humminbird (in front), Nic, and Prince.

The camp was really nice, located in some forest with low growing trees that sheltered us from the wind that had been picking up during the afternoon. Strider didn't want to raise his tent so he decided to cowboy camp for the first time. After dinner, I climbed the nearby peak with some truly amazing views, to the west I had the highway with trees and lakes all around. To the east, a steeper view down to a lower desert with the more traditional desert vegetation with its low bushes. The sun was setting and I stayed there until the wind was too cold for me to stay anymore. I headed back to my tent and warm sleeping bag and fell asleep with the sound of the wind through the trees around me.

Day 10

The climb during the end of the last day took us up to the crest of the mountain range stretching north towards Mt San Jacinto. The first three miles of the day followed this crest, with views alternating between east and west, and sometimes both. Palm Springs could be seen far in the distance on the foot of the east side. At the junction of a trail called Cedar Spring Trail, I waited for Strider who started a bit later than me. And we then left the PCT and began the steep descent down towards the highway.

Views to the east down in the desert.

The trail junction where we left the PCT.

The first section was in switchbacks down to an open area with some picknick tables. After a short break, we continued on a dirt road that took us to the Cedar Springs Trailhead. We joined the paved road, continuing downhill. On our right side, we had some sort of summer camp, and on our left, private property signs together with dense vegetation. It was fast walking, and even though my legs were taking a toll on the hard road we did the 5 miles down to the highway crossing quite fast. We took another short break at the roadside on the opposite side of a fire station, before we continued down the highway.

After the switchbacks looking back up from where we came.

Going down the paved road towards the highway.

Taking a break next to the fire station.

Walking the road wasn't so bad at first. There was a wide shoulder that we could walk on and the traffic wasn't bad at all. But after a couple of miles, I started to struggle a bit. I fell behind Strider, fighting to keep up with his fast pace. I think my legs were really feeling the two big days behind me, and I was looking forward to getting some rest in Idyllwild. We got to Lake Hemet and took a lunch break near the local camping area. There was this lady who drove by in her golf cart and started talking to us, asking us what we were doing. People didn't seem to be so well informed on the PCT this far from the trail. But she was funny and drove past us a couple of more times during the break, waving vigorously.

Strider doing that road walk with style!

After a short nap in the shade, we went to check out the bathroom and then hit the road again. This second part of the highway walk was definitely worse. The road was narrow and winding, the cars driving really fast. Strider was walking in front, shouting "CAR!!" every time one came flying down the hill. We jumped down into the ditch and waved happily. Another hiker came walking down the opposite way, he had dropped something and was going back looking for it. I felt really bad for the poor guy. We managed to do the three miles up the hill without any incidents and left the highway behind us heading up the dirt road.

This last section of the detour was not bad at all. It was actually very beautiful, especially when we were getting closer to the town. Views down back towards the highway and beyond. We started to leave the desert behind us and we suddenly had big old oak and pine trees all around us. The road kept going uphill all the way and when we entered the town, we were in a totally different climate. The small town of Idyllwild was beautiful. In the outskirts of town, there's this feeling of something from out of a story. You're in the middle of a forest, with idyllic houses all around in between the trees. We actually got a ride the last mile into the town center by a really nice lady who pulled up and offered us one. She helped us out and drove us to two different hotels, the first one being full. We ended up staying at the silver pine lodges, in the PCT dorm room. Really nice place!

Last bit on the dirt road before the town.

We found some trail magic water in the outskirts of town.

Welcome to Idyllwild!

Day 11

I slept in this morning! Great to just wake up in a bed and not have to worry about making miles. Me and Strider went to the Red Kettle for some breakfast and met Simba, a really cool guy with a great big mane of hair. After breakfast, he joined us back at the hotel to charge his stuff, and we hung out and talked about the Sierras, what kind of gear we should get and stuff like that. We also got two new roommates in the PCT dorm for this night Sante and Clocks, two super nice guys I will be mentioning lots further on. The rest of the day was mostly just taking care of stuff, buying food, mailing maps ahead along the trail and stuff like that. My next planned stop was Big Bear Lake, coming up in about 80 miles.

PCT dorm room, with TV and fake fire!

There was a lot of talk about snow the last bit before and in town. During the upcoming section, for the first time, we were going to climb up to over 2000 m in elevation, and would most probably be encountering snow. The reports were very mixed, but I thought this would make for some good practice to test snow conditions before the Sierras. So me and Strider decided to do the side trip to Mt San Jacinto and climb the peak of the mountain.

Strider an Sante.

Simba showing how dangerous the Sierras is going to be.

Day 12

We got up early to give us time for the 1700 m long climb up to the peak of the mountain. Heading out of town we had a nice calm start of the day, everything was quiet in the little town, no cars, no people. We left the road and took the Earnie Maxwell trail back towards the PCT. The climb went through the forest with large ancient looking pine trees, some of them with trunks spanning more than a meter in diameter. The trail was crossing up on the side of a large valley, the town located in the bottom. On the sides, the large granite peaks Suicide Rock and Tahquitz Peak towered up.

Leaving the lovely Silver Pine Lodges.

Walking through a quiet town.

The trail through the forest.

Old trees.

At the end of the valley, we switched over to the Devils Slide trail, climbing up to the ridgeline where the PCT connects from the mountain range. We got back to the PCT at Saddle Junction and followed the trail for two miles of switchbacks up to the San Jacinto Peak trail. We hit our first snow, but being morning it was nice and firm to walk on, no problems at all. It wasn't long before I had to put on my sunglasses though, to block some of the light reflecting in the snow. It was tough climbing, the trail was steeper than the PCT and with snow covering most of the trail. So when we reached the last trail junction just half a mile from the peak itself we happily left our packs and slack-packed the rest of the bit to the top.

Entering the Devils Slide trail.

Climbing towards Saddle Junction.

We found some snow, thats photo-worthy!

Junction towards the peak of San Jacinto

Snow everywhere

Strider is doing good in the snow

Walking on the trail.

Beautiful views down back in the desert.

Palm Springs, down in the desert.

At the junction to the last trail going to the peak, where we left our packs.

We found the small cabin where you can spend the night if you are in trouble. A nice stone made shelter in good condition and bunk beds that looked pretty decent. From there we only had a short climb through the snow to get to the peak. And the view was magnificent. Straight down into the desert 3000 meters below us. A huge valley between us and other mountains stretching away into the horizon. Far in the distance, we could see Mt San Gorgonio, where we would pass beneath in a couple of days. We started to feel cold and after a photo session where Strider took his mandatory "naked on a mountain peak picture", we headed down back to our packs.

The cabin, on the last bit up to the peak.

Views down in the desert

Me on the peak

3000 meters down, and a totally different climate.

The day was going well, and we took a long lunch break in the sun, the temperature up here was perfect. After feeling rested again, we took off down the trail on the other side of the mountain, back towards the PCT. We had some really fun snow skiing, and the way down was much easier than the climb up. However, rejoining the trail again we got a taste of that afternoon snow, or maybe slush is a better word. It was definitely tougher walking now, and we had some semi-sketchy places where we had to take it easy. Melting snow is so much worse than frozen snow (note for Sierras). We saw a rescue helicopter, and I got a bit worried, knowing that all our friends were ahead of us somewhere. Circulating around Fuller Ridge a couple of miles ahead of us, it went around and around trying to locate someone. But after a while, it took off in the distance and all was quiet again.

Lunchtime, my favourit food back then was peanutbutter wrap.

On the northern slopes there were still snow to be found.

The rescue helicopter circulating around Fuller Ridge.

The trail was as beautiful as ever in between the snow patches, I thoroughly enjoyed this new environment, that gave us a taste of what was to come, in the Sierras. We got to Fuller Ridge and had that amazing view over the pointy peaks that I had seen multiple times while dreaming of this journey from my computer at home. The trail, cut out in the mountains, well maintained with built-in stairs of stone slabs. We passed Tall Paul, the first time I met him, an Australian whom I hiked with quite a bit with throughout the desert.

Fuller ridge in front of us. San Gorgonio can be seen in the distance.

Crazy well maintained trail!

Just after Fuller Ridge, we found everyone else. Literally everyone else. Express, Megan, Stats, Hefty, Prince, Caroline, Russ, Emi, Ben and I probably forgot someone now, it's hard when it was nine months ago. So if you read this and I forgot you, send me an angry message :) There was also a rescue team there, and we learned that the helicopter had been searching for a man, but wasn't able to locate him from the air. They managed to find him during the night though, so it all ended well! Strider decided to go a bit further that night since he wanted to go into the town Cabazon in the morning, where he had a package. I stayed and pitched the tent with the others, we ate dinner and fell asleep, happy with the amazing day.

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