You have to allow for the impossible to be possible. – Lupita Nyong’o
I’m pleased we found a site to cowgirl camp at the bend in the switchback, but it’s not completely flat and we wake up cranky and sore. The three sets of night hikers park themselves close by also on sketchy terrain. We pass them still in their bags not yet ready to face the crisp, cold air. One places a tent nearly in the trail and we float quietly. Another spring comes down in beautiful faucet-like falls just a small distance in the wrong direction from the peak. I collect for our climb, but soon my fingers are numb as I filter.
Such a success yesterday climbing in tough conditions and this morning proves a frustration. I tell myself, “This too shall pass,” and to try and not let things get the best of me.
But they do anyway in spite of my good intentions, as the climb begins in earnest over granite boulders flanked by sharp scrub oak and thorn bushes. The sun does not reach this side of the mountain for hours and I’m freezing cold – well, my hands are. I hope climbing warms me, though it’s fingertips that need to hold walking sticks, not my core. Maybe I should have stayed in my bag a little longer, or skipped the peak like the other hikers do. But I’m in it now, rising slowly to a flat area filled with designated campsites, a ranger station and a rushing stream. Hmmmm, could we have gotten here last night? Everything is silent now way past hiking season. Bright purple lupine blooms like it’s early spring, ignoring the coming snow. No, we would not have gotten here and the climb surely would prove a misery, or worse, in the dark.
Another steep uphill on switchbacks brings us to a saddle, Ted begging to take five and my yelling down to him to keep going l just a few more meters to the junction. I feel like a drill sergeant, but it turns out to be a good idea as the sun is bright and warm shining on a large log begging for us to sit on. The mood lightens a bit, and lightens even more when Ted pulls out the last of the smarties.
We leave our packs on the log and head up to the peak, scrambling on huge granite boulders like glue for our sneakers. And suddenly, we’re at the top looking at a 360-degree view of yesterday’s huge slog, Palm Springs, the layers of mountains we crossed coming from Big Bear, the rocky braid of Whitewater River spitting out towards the interstate and the blue ridges ahead to Idyllwild and beyond. John Muir said, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!” I repeat what I wrote yesterday – from here, it feels as though I’m in an airplane. ‘San Jack’ is number six in the world of highest mountains from base to summit, just shy of 9,500 feet. I feel a bit dizzy and out of breath from the altitude, but full of joy and light realizing we climbed every step of it. A day hiker passes us on our way to the summit likely having come here from the aerial tram out of Palm Springs. I considered that option, but feel delight challenging myself to not skip the hard parts. There is truly a sense of accomplishment and ownership having walked it all, putting up with a less-than-ideal night’s sleep, freezing my fingers to collect water and pushing my tired body to take it all in. I know this day will stay with me all my life.
We snap pictures and soak in the view, polishing off a few gummy bears before heading down towards the stone shelter. Built by the CCC in the 1930’s, it gives me pause wondering what it could be like up here in a storm. Inside, it reminds me of New Zealand with four wooden bunks, a fireplace and emergency supplies. Someone has posted a small description of the building’s history alongside an admonition not to wreck the place. It’s neat right now, free of garbage, but dark and I long for the sun.
Heading down on an alternate route is steep, but affords tremendous views from a sunny balcony. White firs appear marching up the cliffs alongside granite outcropping. When we reach a saddle, their enormous pinecones litter the forest floor. It’s easy walking to our last water source, beautifully falling in single streams. Ted breaks out his filter and gives the process a try. Our grumpy moods are lifting, mine especially when he offers me the final gummies.
The trail heads up, then over with a view of Suicide Rock and its stunning towers. The name apparently comes from native lore, no rock climbers have acted on it as far as I know. We head down on gentle switchbacks, leaving the PCT for another grimly named feature – the Devil’s Slide. It’s possible to simply walk into Idyllwild, where we’ll resupply and rest up, but we’ll pass a parking lot in a few miles and would much prefer a hitch.
Ted tells me I’m the greatest hitcher he knows, having been with me in a few far flung places when I manage to get us a much needed ride, but right now I’m dubious. We plod downhill quietly, thinking of the waterless days ahead and how we’ll manage when seemingly out of the blue, a hiking couple appears behind us carrying several enormous pinecones. I say hello and ask if they might offer us a lift once we reach the carpark. Andrew and Lynda say of course and we all head down together talking the entire way about hiking and their home-state of Michigan, as well as a trip they took one time to Ted’s home of Yorkshire, England. Along the way, I pick up a few very sticky pinecones to add to their collection. Andrew names our quartet ‘Pinecone Pals’ then drops us at Silver Pines Lodge where Richard has booked a stay.
The folks here are lovely, offering some loaner clothes as ours gets laundered, and sending us with a map to the village where we get a big meal. I am absolutely exhausted, unsure if it’s these last days or the culmination of miles over months. Ted and I figure out our mileage and Richard encourages me to take a rest day, hiking one more week before he arrives and Ted heads home, leaving me just 75 miles to walk alone to the end. Although my secret weapon is Richard ‘hiking’ those final days with me by car, meeting up at night and ensuring I’m well fed.
The other day, I saw that many of the friends I’ve made are about to or already finished. I feel slow and plodding as I reach the end, but both my husband and my friend tell me to enjoy going slow and savor it. Once the PCT is over, it’s over and I stop getting to live in this wonderfully unique space I’ve carved for myself of simply walking. Life awaits me at home and I’m eager to make my dreams and plans a reality, but I have the time to ease into them. What luxury! What a gift. I am truly and deeply blessed.