Cajon Pass to Idyllwild

Highlights: As we continue to hike the desert section of the PCT, we are enjoying the sections that are less desert-like, and melting in the sections that are at lower elevation.  We were surprised by personal trail magic; hiked up the Deep Creek area where weekenders trashed the area around the hot springs. We stopped in Big Bear, and lost most of a day waiting for our packages, then stopped at Ziggy and the Bear before hiking up into the San Jacinto Mountains.  We are now spending the night in Idllywild!

Day 107: Mile 363.5 to mile 342, 21.5 miles

October 16th-  We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and started hiking downhill towards Cajon Pass.  We are in the habit of picking up trash we find on the trail, and when I saw a beer can out of the corner of my eye, I pointed to Dirt Stew to pick it up.  He sighed, and picked it up as I hiked on.  “IT’S FULL!”  He shouted.  “Wow, who would have thought ‘trail magic’ would look so much like trash” I joked.  As the day grew warm and the trail was meandering a bit much, we decided to split the beer.  As we got close to Cajon Pass, I was surprised by how beautiful the rocks were.  They looked like the rocks at Vasquez Rocks- probably formed by the same tectonic plate movement of the San Andreas Fault.  Ironically, however, these rocks had power-lines running over them instead of being set aside as a State Park.  I’m sure if the Vasquez Rocks had not been preserved, they would have things built on them as well.

Rocks and powerlines

Rocks and powerlines

Dirt Stew and I made a beeline for the McDonald’s, and had some greasy food before deciding to stay in the Best Western across the street.  The Best Western had a hot tub, and I happily jumped in.

Did someone mention McDonnalds..?

Did someone mention McDonalds..?

Day 108: Mile 342 to mile 318, 24 miles

October 17th- We slept in and went next door to the Del Taco to order a few burritos for the trail.  The lady taking our order asked us where we were hiking, and when we told her we had hiked from Canada she said astutely “Wow, I’m definitely not envious… but I think what you’re doing is pretty cool”

We hiked out and were thankful for some fog for the first half of the day, and soon got to a lake.  What a concept!  A lake with water?  We hadn’t seen one of those in a while.
A lake with water in it? In the desert? Wow!

A lake with water in it? In the desert? Wow!

We took water from the lake, but were very sad to see that around the lake was mostly trashed. People had gone so far as to dump whole trash bags full of trash by the lake.  Disgusting.  We hiked past dark, which is now our usual routine, and I was very thankful that my hips were not too sore.

Day 109: Mile 318 to mile 290, 28 miles

October 18th- After a few hours of hiking we came across brown bag by the trail which had “Happy Anniversary Dirt Stew + Dormouse, SOBO thru’s” written on it.  I was so touched my voice started getting squeaky.  “Awwww! That’s so sweeeeeeeet!”  I squeaked.  We opened it up and there was a note inside from “Just Bruce” with a big bag of fun sized Snickers.  Bruce had read our blog and wanted to leave something for us.  There was also a gallon of water.  The thought that went into this gift was amazing.  It is tremendous to find something seemingly in the middle of nowhere with your name on it.  Thru-hiking, especially southbound is a very lonely experience, and sometimes you feel like there’s nobody but you for hundreds of miles. This reminded me that we weren’t alone.  People care about hikers, and care that we are successful, and are there to cheer us on!

Amazing trail magic

Amazing trail magic

We scratched “Thank you” in the sand next to where we picked up the magic, and took everything with us, so as not to leave any trash behind.  Soon we entered the Deep Creek area where many people hike up to the hot springs.  The area had more trash on the trail than we could pick up.  We were feeling down on weekenders and day hikers, seeing all the plastic bottles chucked next to the trail, and the graffiti on rocks.

And nature without graffiti..?

And nature without graffiti..?

It seemed ironic to me that the people most likely to carry that trash out were the people who would have to carry it the furthest.  Something that Adrian, another southbounder from France said to us several days ago came to mind.  “I just take two things that aren’t mine off the trail every day”.  He said.  That was probably the best way to deal with the problem.  We couldn’t pick up all the trash if we wanted to, but if every hiker just took two pieces of trash that wasn’t theirs, the place would eventually get picked up.  Now if only we could convince everyone to do this…  When we got to the hot springs, there were so many people that I wasn’t even interested in going down to the springs themselves.  A vicious dog came running up to us barking and growling.  Immediately Dirt Stew and I put our umbrellas in front of us like shields.  The dog looked confused.  “Don’t worry, he’s nice, he just is afraid of your umbrellas”  Said a guy sitting on a picnic blanket with a sunburn.  Well, I wasn’t going to put my umbrella away to find out, so we move on quickly.  The whole area smelled like human waste, and there was toilet paper everywhere to support the smell.  There had been a warning in our water report about the water there being contaminated with human waste, and that it could potentially contain a deadly virus.  I have no clue why people go there.  It’s not like in the hot desert you’re ever really craving a hot spring…?  I don’t get it.

Day 110: Mile 290 to mile 266, 24 miles
October 19th- Today we hiked up into a nice forested area.  My hips were sore, but I hiked fast to get to Big Bear in time to do our chores and get to bed at a reasonable hour.  After waiting at the road for a while, a nice couple finally picked us up.  They stopped at a store for us to buy a few things, and we were grateful because we could now cook ourselves a pasta dinner at the hostel.  Once we got settled in the hostel and introduced ourselves to the myriad of strange characters there, we cooked 2 pounds of pasta and gobbled them up with a jar of pasta sauce and some apple turnovers for desert.  I fell asleep very early, probably before 8pm, and didn’t wake up again until 11 hours later.

Day 111: Mile 266 to mile 254, 12 miles

October 20th- After sleeping a ton, I was ready to get going again.  The only problem was that our packages had not yet been brought to the hostel by the owner.  Nobody was up, and we hadn’t done our laundry the night before, so we decided to do that while we waited.  We waited and waited.  Once other people started go get up, we asked about our packages.  We were assured the owner would arrive by 10AM.  We reluctantly waited.  10AM passed, 11AM passed.  Apparently this guy didn’t value our time.  Eventually around noon, our packages showed up.  We got a great care package from our friend Mike who sent us cookies, removable tattoos and pages of facts, song lyrics, poems, etc.  Finally we would keep our minds more active while we hiked!
Care package from Mike!

Care package from Mike!

We started eating the cookies and then we realized we were actually hungry again.  We decided we may as well find a place to get a decent meal before we left town.  We found a burger place and Dirt Stew ordered a chicken pot pie while I ordered a burger.  The waitress was impressed that Dirt Stew finished his dish.  Apparently most don’t, but of course for him it wasn’t a problem.  He was soon munching on Mike’s cookies again.  We got a ride from a very nice lady who happened to be originally from Virginia back to the trail, and soon ran into a couple sitting eating snacks, looking a lot like long distance hikers.  We asked them what their story was, and they had flip-flopped from Big Bear and were finishing up their hike.  We were pretty surprised to see new hikers.  We finally found a nice spot under a cedar and set up camp.

Day 112: Mile 254 to mile 230, 24 miles
October 21st- The temperature at night was perfect, since we were at higher elevation.  In the desert the tree-line is reversed from the rest of the planet.  Instead of there being no trees above a certain elevation, there are no trees below a certain elevation.  Below a certain elevation (maybe around 6000ft), it just feels like desert.  Above that elevation, there are trees, and it feels more like forest.  At some point we went around a corner and the trail looked like it was covered in diamonds.  There were white crystals everywhere.  I’m not an expert on rocks, but I’m guessing they were probably quartz.  The whole trail was covered in a layer of them, and they all sparkled.  I felt like a princess walking on them.  We continued on, and were singing Moby (badly) at the top of our lungs when a heard a gigantic ROAR. I stopped in my tracks terrified.  Then I saw cages not far ahead and remembered that we were supposed to pass an area with animals in cages that are being kept as stunt animals for the movies.  The roaring stopped soon after we stopped singing.  As we approached, we saw a lion, grizzly bears, a cougar, and even a raccoon in the cages.  They looked unhappy, pacing about in their tiny cages.  I felt bad for them.

Cages with animals

Cages with animals

We continued on down a valley where the trail had quite a bit of poodle dog bush, and was washed away in many spots where it crossed a stream.  Normally this wouldn’t be so frustrating, but we were losing the trail frequently, and we were supposed to be mapping it for Halfmile’s project.  Every time I tried to go ahead to find where the trail went and then summon Dirt Stew with the GPS unit to follow me.  It took much longer than had we not cared and just followed the stream bush-waking wherever we wanted.  We kept ourselves entertained by learning the state capitals, one of the pages of facts that Mike had printed out and put in our care package.  I liked spending some of our hiking time learning, and wished I had thought of this earlier.  We continued by learning the lyrics to “Let It Be”.  We decided to camp before dark so as not to try to find the fairly missing trail in the darkness.

Day 113: Mile 230 to Ziggy and the Bear (mile 211), 19 miles

October 22nd- As we walked down the creek further, it became hot as hell.  We were descending into the hot, hot desert, and it felt like the hot, hot desert.  I constantly felt like I was just over heating and covered in sweat.  We came across a wind farm that let hikers fill up water.  We went to get water and they invited us into their air-conditioned office building and offered us cold bottled water.  This was the best kind of trail magic I could have asked for.  We sat there long enough to cool off and rehydrate and then carried on a few more miles in the heat to Ziggy and The Bear, a couple of trail angels who let hikers camp in their back yard.  We chatted with Ziggy for a while and she gave us cold sodas, and then The Bear arrived with Chinese food and we were so thankful to eat some real food and chat about The Bear’s career collecting marine animals in Seattle for aquariums and Universities across the USA.  I was exhausted and we needed to get up early to put some of these low elevation miles behind us in the coolness of the early morning.  We slept under the stars in their backyard.

Dormouse, The Bear, Ziggy

Dormouse, The Bear, Ziggy

Day 114: Ziggy and the Bear to Mile 188.5, 22.5 miles

October 23rd– Our alarm was set for 5AM, and I reluctantly got up and started packing up.  I was surprised to see The Bear was up to bid us farewell.  We headed out in the darkness and hiked across the valley to the next mountain range.

Desert Valley

Desert valley at sunrise

The trail was washed out in many sections in this valley, and we eventually gave up on trying to follow it, and just walked on dirt roads that appeared on our map.  Just as it was getting light I was about to step on what I thought was quite a unique looking rock, when I decided to step to one side and take a closer look at it.  Thank goodness I did, because what I thought was a rock was actually a rattlesnake curled up in the sand almost flush with the ground.  Had it been any darker, and I would have stepped right on top of him.

Rattle snake disguised as a rock.

Rattle snake disguised as a rock.

We took some pictures, and continued on, studying our steps more closely.  As it got light and we started climbing, it soon became hotter than hell.  Maybe you haven’t checked your elevation profile map of the PCT recently, but if you look at the elevation difference between Mile 211 and Mile 188.5, you’ll notice that there is almost a 8000 ft gain to get up San Jacinto Mnt.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, let me tell you– that’s A LOT.  I don’t think I’ve ever climbed that much in one go before in my life, to be honest.  For the first 3000 ft or so, it was hot as hell, and there was no shade.  The next 1000-2000 ft climb there were short oak trees.  These are the kind of oak trees that will leave you covered in scratches without providing an inch of shade.  At about 6000 ft, real trees started to appear, pine trees and cedars, and the temperature dropped significantly.  The trail was poorly maintained until we got close to the top where they had obviously had started doing something about the poor conditions.  A few miles before we were ready to camp, we saw another hiker named Mark who was out for a section hike.  He told us there was a very small water source up ahead, which was news to us, since we had carried enough water to make it to Idyllwild.  He had thought that since he had found water there, some of the other sources would have water too.  No such luck.  His mistake meant that he only had around 2 liters of water to make it to the next source, which was only a few miles before Ziggy and the Bear.  He was also intending on taking 2 days to do the trek.  It was obvious to me that this guy was in trouble.  I had just taken one day to do that section, and as a small woman, I had drank probably close to 4 liters.  Since there was now water before Idyllwild, I turned to Dirt Stew and said “Do you think we can spare a liter?”  He agreed, and we transferred a liter into one of his water bottles before walking on.  A minute later I stopped and looked at Dirt Stew again.  “I still don’t think he’ll make it, can you go back and give him more water?  He needs it more than we do”.  Dirt Stew agreed, and we gave him more water to hopefully make it to the next source.  We also gave him our contact details so that he could let us know that he made it safely.  We have had so much help from strangers- from people leaving us trail magic to hikers offering us food when we were low in the Sierra to being offered someone’s condo to stay in!  It was certainly time for us to give back.  “You guys are angels.”  He said.  It really was the least we could do.  Us hikers have to look out for each other.

Wonderful trees at high elevation!

Wonderful trees at high elevation!

Day 115: Mile 188.5 to Idyllwild, 14 miles

October 24th– We got going with some energy since we knew we’d be getting to town today.  The San Jacinto mountains were absolutely beautiful, and we really enjoyed hiking through the trees and the cooler temperatures.

Beautiful trees!

Beautiful trees!

We found the water source that Mark had told us about, and spent a good half hour or more collecting a few liters.  It wasn’t the easiest water source to collect from.  We had to take a side trail to get down to Idyllwild called the Devils Slide Trail, followed by a road walk into town.  We got to town quite early and stopped by a Mexican restaurant in hopes of getting an inexpensive big meal, but in this touristy town even the Mexican restaurant had small portions and the prices were kind of high.  Idyllwild is really cute.  It’s a mountain town at about 6000ft with tons of little log cabin vacation rental homes and cute touristy shops.  We found ourselves a hotel room and did our usual chores before watching a movie and falling asleep.

4 thoughts on “Cajon Pass to Idyllwild

  1. Sorry for the mess up there, that’s the main reason I hike the other way in that area. It’s amazing how clean & considerate hike trash can be and how the weekenders can just come along a trash it up. Thanks for packing it out .


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