PCT Thru-Hike, Paradise Valley Cafe in Idyllwild (Days 13-15): Danger Zone

Day 13: Paradise Valley Cafe to Mile 161.9 (10.1 miles)

The enchantment of a restaurant breakfast kept the tramily locked in the Paradise Valley Cafe until 10:30 a.m. While everyone was gorging on eggs, hash browns, and platters of meat, I nibbled on my dry, plain bagel. Unfortunately, random isolated diners in the middle of nowhere don’t offer a vegan breakfast option!

I took advantage of the incredibly hot day with one of our new tramily members, James. We ascended from the desert floor into the San Jacinto wilderness, climbing steep unmarked trails to reach springs countless times throughout the day. Nothing beats a 6 liter water haul like having to roll a monstrosity down a hill to get it!

Day 14: Mile 161.9 to Mile 175.9 (14 miles + 6 miles off-road)

I left camp at 6:45 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m., but only because today was the “danger zone.” I quickly fell behind the peloton, feeling sick from my lack of breakfast. A few miles from camp, I remembered that I had forgotten to send my “starting my trip” message on my garmin, but when I went to grab it on my shoulder strap, it was non-existent. Nothing makes your heart skip a beat like knowing you left your $400 graduation gift 5 miles away at camp. It didn’t take much intuitive thinking to start running. I thought it was either that or accept that my parents could disown me. I hid my bag and started the 3 mile jog over countless bumps. There’s nothing more frustrating than climbing the steep hills you’ve just come down. And there’s nothing more depressing than going back to Mexico! Also, why was it so much harder without a backpack? It proves that everything here is mental. When I reached the top of the mountain where I had camped the night before, I found him nowhere. Tears were flowing when I saw the orange box glowing at the bottom of a crack between two rocks. I started running, feeling a little better holding my inReach Mini in my hand, but still shattered from having to run the extra six miles. The tramily was planning a 15 mile day, which would put me at 21 miles. I hesitated to know if I could put the miles that the rest of the tramily had planned to put.

The climb to Apache Peak was horrible, I could only walk about 0.1 miles from stopping to soaking up electrolytes, I was literally melting. When I reached Apache Spring, the whole town sprawled out, completely defeated. There was absolutely no shadow to hide under, we all looked like fish out of water, scorching in the Southern California desert sun.

We pushed towards the portion of trail where another PCT hiker died in 2020. I knew immediately I had reached the dangerous portion of the trail when I looked to my right at the thousand foot 70 degree dropout towards the bottom of the valley. I was filled with a weirdness as I crossed the icy part of the trail.

Hikers cook on the exposed terrain next to the only water source for miles. Many hikers brought extra water for others as the spring was a mile away.

Day 15: Mile 175.9 to Saddle Junction (4 miles + 2.5 miles off-road)

Yesterday kicked my ass! I slept like a rock. I was the last of the tramily to start the arduous four-mile trek to Saddle Junction, where we would exit towards Idyllwild. A minute’s walk and I had already lost track in all the windfalls. I circled around for five minutes looking at my FarOut trying to find the damn trail. I finally realized that the fucking trail had been reversed a very long time ago, and when I managed to get back on track, I was warmly greeted with a sheer slush trail down my side from a hill.

When the whole tramily reached Saddle Junction, we all descended in packs, marching happily behind Safety Jim like his six dwarfs. We ran into a ranger, but instead of asking for our permits, she asked for our trail names just for a laugh and wrote them on a post-it. I’m glad the license is taken seriously here.

Melting snow coast. A San Jacinto specialty.

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About Ethel Partin

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