Pacific Crest Trail Journals

Idyllwild to Big Bear

May 14 – May 18, 2010

After leaving Idyllwild I hiked for several hours until I reached the Strawberry Junction Trail Camp, located just several miles before Fuller Ridge. There was a host of other hikers camped there when I arrived, none of whom I had previously met but most of whom I got to know somewhat after we built a fire and sat around it way past “hiker midnight”. The next morning I set out just before 8:00, after most of the other campers had already left. I left with the intention of clearing the snowy descent of Fuller Ridge at the least, approximately 10 miles of snow travel from where I awoke, and the hope of reaching a water spigot at the very bottom of the San Jacintos and just before I-10 Freeway, a full 25 miles and over 7,000 feet of elevation lower. As the trail wrapped from the west side of the range around to the north, I quickly lost track of the trail under feet of snow but also met up with several other hikers and joined forces with them. Together we traversed our away across steep and snowy hillsides, making our way through a combination of following existing tread worn in the snow and following the general route laid out in our guidebooks. Just before reaching Fuller Ridge proper we discovered the PCT and I abandoned my companions (sorry guys) in order to charge on ahead across Fuller and hopefully begin my descent to the water spigot at the bottom of the San Jacintos. Fuller Ridge ultimately proved to be far less challenging than other hikers’ descriptions had led me to believe it was – I was able to cross it in trail running shoes with neither traction devices or trekking poles to support me. Emboldened by my quick crossing of what I had expected to be a formidable day of snow travel, I pushed on continously for the rest of the day and reached the water spigot just after dark (and just after seeing a tarantula on the trail!).

The next several days of hiking took me from around 2,000 feet at San Gorgonio Pass back up into the 8,000 foot range in the San Gorgonio mountains. If other hikers on the trail can be believed, the temperature in San Gorgonio Pass hit 110 F the day that I crossed it, a possibility that I don’t doubt as I took an afternoon-long break at the Whitewater Preserve (previously a trout farm, now owned by the Wildlands Conservancy) to beat the heat. As the trail wound up in the San Gorgonios it followed and crossed creeks before entering pine forest, both of which offered shade and a significantly lower temperature than the direct sunlight in the lower altitudes. The Wilderness First Responder certification I received in April was very nearly put to use on one of my days in the San Gorgonios. I passed two hikers along the trail who, despite giving me no indication of trouble, were medically evacuated by helicopter just hours after I passed by them.

On a number of occasions while I was in the the San Gorgonios I had spectacular views of San Gorgonio Mountain, an 11,500 foot peak I climbed almost exactly a year before. The startling contrast between the amount of snow I could see covering the peak even from miles away and the amount of snow I remembered being there the year before was a frequent reminder that I am hiking the PCT in an outlier of a snow year.

From my last campsite in the San Gorgonios, I hiked 20 miles to a highway where I was able to hitchike into Big Bear. I had expected it to be a fairly uninteresting stretch of trail but was surprised by a number of things: 1) the animal cages. The PCT passes directly by what I’ve been told is a facility for retired animal actors. There are literally lions and tigers and bears. 2) A food and water cache complete with a sofa, right in the middle of the woods. 3) A terrific rattlesnake encounter. Terrific in that it neither bit me nor fled away, but rather just sat on the trail while I studied it from a distance that I deemed great enough to prevent it from being able to bite me in the face. From the highway I caught a ride with a PCT celebrity, Warner Springs Monty, to the Big Bear Adventure Hostel, a popular hiker destination. I took my second zero in Big Bear, during which time I bought food for the next couple of days of hiking, cleaned up, caught a movie, and consumed calories like it was my job. I had considered skipping a zero at the hostel because I knew I was leaving the trail in just a few days for my graduation in San Diego, but I can say in retrospect that I have no regrets about taking it there.

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