PCT Day 13 – Beauty and hardship

Week two on the PCT brought quite the adventures.


This is a long one. You might want to wait for a good-sized break to read it. Beautiful, wild adventures in store!!

One thing I’ve learned: pain is merely a tool of communication. The body uses pain to let you know that something is not quite right.

In most of our daily lives, pain is something that we tend to avoid. Sure, it sucks. But, I’ve learned that it’s not the end of the world. In fact, pain is oftentimes a good thing. It can tell you that something you are doing is not natural, or that your body is just not used to something that you are up against.

I have had quite a few pains on this journey thus far. The first were in my hips. Carrying a heavy load via a pack with a hipbelt can hurt for the first few miles. But, that doesn’t last long. Next, that pain moved to my feet. And then it moved all around my feet. Getting used to these shoes has been tough. Getting used to averaging 15 or so miles walking each day has been tough.

I’ve learned, however, that these pains are just my body attempting to communicate with me. So, when I start to feel a pain, I take some time to think about what would be causing that pain. If it’s on the inside of my ankle, then maybe I need to try to avoid stepping on ground that is sloped sideways a certain direction. If it is in my knee, mabye I need to focus more on how I am using my glutes and hips. Over the past week, I have typically been able to modify something small in order to relieve pains that I am beginning to feel. It’s quite an interesting phenomenon. I learn more about my body everyday.

Anyways, on to the stories and pictures.

Immediately after writing my last post, I went to leave Warner Springs, only to realize that I had a lightly sprained ankle. What to do for sprains? RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation.

I rested the ankle that night and most of the next day instead of heading back out to the trail. I grabbed some ice from the rec center that happily allows hikers to camp out and resupply there. I got a compression sleeve (actually 2 because they came in a package that way). And, I elevated that sucker all night long to make sure to fix it up right.

And, sure enough, the next day I was able to leave by mid-afternoon! And this time, with a few new friends: a couple called Vortex and Magic and their buddy Greg. Vortex was in the military for a long time, and has hiked a whole heck of a lot over the past few years. Magic was an electrical engineer, and now lives in a van with Vortex since they met on the Appalachian Trail last year. Greg is a travelling nurse who has taken some time off to walk from Mexico to Canada on the PCT. He’s never even been to California before!

We only walked a couple of miles that afternoon on day 8. And, sure enough, we ran right into Piney and Medicine Man (my trail angel friends from day 5 at Scissors Crossing)! And a few others, including a southbound section hiker named Prospector. We had a nice party in the woods with everything that we could all carry in (pizza, beer, and a bunch of snacks). It was a fantastic time in a beautiful setting!

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and thank yous to Piney and Medicine Man, and headed out into the desert hills north of Warner Springs. We covered about 15 miles that day. It was one of the nicest days on the trail to that point!

We camped at an interesting place that night. It’s called Mike’s Place. Mike is a guy that has a ranch in the mountains. He lets hikers stay in his yard. While he is not around (during the shoulder seasons), some others are allowed to take care of the place, make food for hikers, etc. There were about 10 people there, mostly hikers. All were there for the same reason: to enjoy a nice night in the mountains. And eat FOOD!

Day 10 was spent.. SURPRISE! Walking 18 miles through the Southern California desert. But, it was an especially good one for me because that was the day I got to watch Mount San Jacinto (the snow-capped peak in the distance) as I closed in on it and the town of Idyllwild! And, it was another absolutely gorgeous day.

Also, we found some fresh fruit at a trailhead along the way. And, I have had peanut butter almost every day on the trail. Yay!

That night I camped out in trail angel Mary’s backyard! She keeps a stock of fresh water in a big 500 gallon drum, and has a little free public library with literature and poetry for wandering passerby! This year’s theme is based on Walk Whitman’s poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”. What a magical place Mary has created in the middle of the desert, right along the PCT!

I wrote a note about the Grand Canyon in her trail register book, as my 19-day journey through the Grand Canyon is what started my search for a life better suited for me. That was just under 2 years ago.

I set up camp and watched a beautiful desert sunset to the West.

And then, I was graced with Mary’s presence!! She came in with her horse at dusk, back from a day’s ride on the trail. While we didn’t get to chat long, I was thankful for the opportunity to get to thank Mary in person. I sure do hope that I will get an opportunity to chat with her more one day. What she does for hikers is incredible, and the theme and the poetry and the library tell me she is probably someone I’d get along well with!

A little later, a southbound hiker named One-Piece showed up with her cat, SPOONS. So, I got to walk around with a cat on a leash while she set up camp. He is one curious and adventurous 6-month old kitten!

In the morning, I took a selfie with Muir, Whitman, and Thoreau using Mary’s convenient, little selfie shelf!!

I can’t stress enough how amazing that little haven was.

Day 11 was my chance to experience the best burger on the PCT, at Paradise Valley Cafe! I walked about 7 miles to get there and was there around 10 AM. They even have a back gate just for hikers, haha.

I ordered breakfast, as they weren’t serving burgers till noon. A few more hikers showed up while I was there, including Vortex, Magic, and Greg. In addition, Don (Magu), an older hiker with whom I’ve crossed paths a few times also showed up. Long story short, I stayed long enough to get the burger and some AMAZING sweet potato fries.

It was hefty, and I fit it all in there. By 2, I was back on the trail. It was a gorgeous afternoon. But, unfortunately, I started to have some tummy issues a few miles down the trail.

I ended up throwing all that precious food right back up in a cat-hole along the trail. Poo.

Luckily, I was able to quickly put some more food and water in me to replace that which was lost. R.I.P. best burger on the PCT. I felt better by nightfall after walking about 5 miles from Paradise Valley Cafe. The walk was gorgeous, I just wish I had been feeling better to better experience, capture, and remember the beauty.

The next morning would bring a massive climb up to 7000 feet of elevation followed by a nice, long ridge traverse.

I was in the company of friends that night: Vortex, Magic, and Greg. I rested well, thank goodness. I would need it.

Day 12. What a day.

It started with that big climb I mentioned. Breathtakingly, stunning views all the way up and from all along the ridge.

After walking about 5 miles with the group, I decided that I was more motivated to make it to Idyllwild that night than they were. Idyllwild was about 15-20 miles away, depending on which trail I took to get down to town from the ridge. So, I took off by myself.

There were multiple options for trails to get down off the ridge towards Idyllwild, but I decided to walk right on by the first couple as the conditions seemed to be manageable. Then, there was a steep snow crossing.

And then another, and then another. And soon enough, I was traversing whole fields of snow, way more of it steep than I liked. Especially as I didn’t have my ice axe on me yet. Although it was slow, I was kicking steps, and, with my trekking poles, I felt safe enough that I wouldn’t end up going sledding unexpectedly on my butt down the side of the mountain. After crossing a few snowfields and exhausting my last options for going down the easy way, I realized that I was in for a long night. Running out of battery, and cell service, I was able to get messages to friends and family that I felt safe enough and that I might be unexpectedly spending the night on the mountain. And boy was I right.

I ended up walking almost 25 miles that day. 8 of the last 12 miles were accross snow. Several of those 8 were spent carefully making my way across steep snowfields where one wrong move would mean a painful slide down the side of the mountain. It. Was. Grueling.

Mostly mentally.

Here’s a view back along the ridge that I traversed.

And, yes, I was on the snowy side. That was WILD. I was able to grab some water from a dripping rock wet with snow melt, so I had plenty of water on me for my long night.

Once I made it to the safety of flat snowfields behind Tahquitz Peak, I continued trudging. I now had about 4 miles of snow walking to get to Saddle Crossing, the easiest way down the mountain to Idyllwild at this point. It was dark about halfway through that trudge.

I was too tired to find my headlamp, but luckily the moon has been bright enough that I didn’t need it. At this point, I was extremely tired. I was so exhausted because it was dinnertime and I hadn’t yet stopped to hydrate my quinoa and beans. I tried to put a candy bar and some dried fruit in my stomach, but my body was so off-put by my continued exertion that it rejected it soon after. I could hardly pick my legs up to continue walking. My sopping wet feet felt like cinder blocks. A zombie in the night. All I wanted was to get off that mountain. I knew I could camp safely up there, but I didn’t want to leave too many miles for the morning so that people who knew I was up there alone wouldn’t get too worried not hearing from me all night and then all morning. I didn’t try to put any more food in me, knowing that my body would reject it again. I have never felt so weak before in my entire life. And yet, I was still in control. I was making rational decisions, so I decided to keep moving, to get as close to town as possible.

I made it to Saddle Junction by about 8:30 PM, and started down the 2-3 mile trail down to the trailhead outside of Idyllwild. In the dark, the trail was rough, but I kept myself moving slowly enough, in control enough, that I could make it to a quarter mile from the parking lot safely. I tiredly set up my bivy sac, took off my sopping wet shoes and socks, had to evacuate my stomach one last time from sheer exhaustion, and curled up in my sleeping bag. That was not the first time I was in the fetal position last night, but finally, it was the last.

I have heard of epics before. I have heard the stories of adventurers and explorers unable to cross raging rivers of snow-melt. Of bush-whacking for days just to cover a couple of miles back to a car. Yesterday was my first epic.

I was rewarded with some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen.

And, I was rewarded with a humbling experience. I at no point was worried about my safety or my life, at least no more so than driving a car or crossing a busy New York street. But, the sustained mental fortitude that I needed to hold onto to get through that harrowing evening, wow.

Knowing when to turn around is an art. I apparently have not yet learned it. It is easy for me to imagine myself conquering every obstacle that any other human has been able to. I am competent in many situations. However, there are apparently some situations that are better left alone. I shall try to be more aware of when one of these might be coming in the future. For my sake and the sake of my friends and family: all those who care about me.

I followed a couple of sets of footprints along that ridge. One had snowshoes. One had an ice axe. I had neither. The mountains are woundrous, incredible landscapes abound with natural beauty. The rocks, the trees, the unending skies above. The mountains give so much. But, we must be careful in order to not let them take everything from us.

The goal was to get to Idyllwild last night, and rest up for a summit attempt of Mount San Jacinto today, day 13, before some weather blows in and drops more snow on the mountain tonight.

But, yesterday was enough excitement for a couple of days. I picked up my food box, and am currently waiting for laundry to dry. My food box had the most incredible assortment of love I have ever seen in one place. Emily, you will always have my heart. Thank you for taking such good care of me from 3000 miles away.

I have no idea what the next few days will bring. There is a lot of snow ahead of me on the trail, apparently making for worse conditions than what I experienced yesterday. Even with the right equipment, that doesn’t quite seem worth it right now. I’ll catch up with you guys soon.

Love and adventure to all. Ta-ta for now!

On an unrelated note:

Congratulations to my brother who has well-deservedly been accepted into grad school at the University of Illinois to study conducting!

Mom, Dad, I miss you guys. You’ve raised quite the competent, overzealous hiker. So, thank you.

Emily, I hope the surgery goes well. I love you much.

6 comments on “PCT Day 13 – Beauty and hardship”

  1. My dearest Justeen,

    I only figured out this morning that there were actual blog posts, and not just one thumbnail and a title. Oops.

    The plus side is that I have had a wonderful time reading about your experiences, and now get to eagerly anticipate additional posts.

    You are having cool adventures. I am sad to hear your feet hurt, but happy to hear that you are listening to your body. I agree with your biologically-driven perspective on pain.

    Miss you Justin.


  2. wow, those days are really ticking by! I remember 14 days on the JMT feeling like an eternity. For the pains, make sure you are stretching in the mornings before dawning the pack and setting off. I was particularly fond of the calf stretching. Helped out with my Achilles a ton. Also, stop at cold streams and soak the feet/legs for 20 minutes, it counts as icing it.

    For the snow, that’s a bit of a concern that there is no solution for except to carry heavy gear. I know they had a heavy snowfall season in the sierra nevada mountains so I expect you will encounter more snow as you go. Try to slow down and give it time to melt, take a few rest days.


    1. Thanks for the suggestions and reminders!! You’re totally right about me needing to stretch more out there. As of now, I’m back home (per my next post that I have drafted). Unfortunate circumstances. But hopefully I’ll be back out there at some point soon!


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