Death March

I think these last three days should be covered in a single post, since it was all pretty much one big effort.

I woke up Thursday still on the lowest flank of Mount San Jacinto. I started hiking before sunrise and it took me a half hour or so to reach the valley floor, where I met the wind. Lots of windmills around here and I can see why.

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‘Mornin PCT!

By nine I was at Ziggy & The Bear’s (a Trail Angel house) to get some water. I didn’t stay long. I had an orange, got my water, signed the registry (hiker 319 this year), and hit the trail. I felt the need to get some miles in, and I was glad I did.

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About and hour later I entered Section C, and there was a sign with distances on it. I realized that despite the six miles I had already done, I still had 54 miles to go to get to Big Bear by Saturday. I haven’t been doing big enough miles the last two days. I need to do 20 miles today, and tomorrow, and the next day to make it. And if I was really good, I’d make it to Big Bear by two o’clock on Saturday to get to the Post Office before it closed. I didn’t think I could go that fast but I decided to give it a try, and thus began my race to Big Bear!

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Mission Creek

Thursday was pretty hot and the trail had a lot of elevation (up and down), and my feet hurt most of the day. A slow slog, especially the last few miles, but I got my 20 in. Camped in the streambed of Mission Creek not far from the water. My feet hurt really bad for a few hours after I stopped and I wasn’t sure how I would make it tomorrow.

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But when I woke up around six, a miracle had occurred and I could walk again! It was a nice morning and a gradual uphill up Mission Creek for nine miles or so. Then the climb began. The rest of the day was uphill, sometimes steeply so. Now my feet were hurting and my legs were tired and it was slow going. But I just kept walking.

Around three I was back up in the trees and there was a cold wind blowing. I put on my long johns and kept walking. Soon, I was in the clouds too, whispy fog blowing sideways through the trees creating fog-drip.

I passed a tent pitched right on the trail around 1600, which was odd. So, I asked if anyone was home and were they alright? Turns out they were not alright, having been puking for most of the day. An older hiker, he said he thought the puking was over but he was having trouble eating any of his trail food. I gave him some Nilla wafers, which I use to nibble on when I’m feeling sick, but need to eat. I saw him later in town and he said they were just the thing he needed. I was glad I could help him.

It began to get late, and I was very tired and stumbling down the trail. All I wanted to do was camp, but there was nowhere, and it was cold. Too cold to stop. I kept thinking, “Just go down! I don’t want to camp up here!” But the trail kept going up.

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Finally, after 12 hours of hiking I made camp right about 20 miles from where I started. It was close to freezing, winds 40 with gusts to 70, and not much cover, but I found a clump of bushes that blocked the wind at ground level pretty well. I don’t have a tent, so at least that wasn’t sticking up in the wind. I bedded down quickly and had a small meal.

The wind was COLD!

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It was really cold that night. I would say that my gear was “adequate”. I mean, I lived right? I certainly wasn’t that comfortable. The winds died down to 20 with gusts to 40 around ten and the clouds disappeared so I could see the moon and stars. But it was bitter cold.

The other problem I had was my feet and hips were hurting so bad when I lay down that it was downright distracting. I couldn’t find a way to lie that didn’t hurt, and it made it hard to get to sleep.

I woke up at 0535 and peeked through my little breathing hole and saw that the wind had picked up again, and the clouds were back with the fog drizzle thing. I had just one thought, “I need to get the fuck off this mountain now!” Fastest pack up ever. I just shoved everything in my pack (no stuff sacks) and I was on the trail by 0550. No gloves, my fingers were so cold and stiff. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with taking down a tent.

I walked about two minutes when I came upon a Forest Service cabin. It looked locked up and I was too cold to check it. But it would have been nice to know about last night. Maybe I could have got inside somehow, but at least I could have used it to block the wind. I’m sure it would have been better than the bushes.

My feet had rejuvenated again over night, which was good because even with all my clothes on, I was freezing and needed to hike fast just to stay warm. The PCT provided me with a nice early morning climb, although I was still thinking down might be good to. I wanted off the mountain bad, and I hiked as fast as I could.

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Please don’t tell me we have to climb that before we go down.

As I was pondering whether since it was very windy, yet there was still frost on the ground, that meant the air temperature was still below freezing, it started to snow. Not real heavy or anything, but it was snow, and it was blowing in my eyes, which was bothersome.

Twenty miles, around 4000 feet of climb and 7000 of decent today. Very cold and VERY windy all day with temps in the 40’s. Hypothermia weather. This more than anything made me move fast all day. I got ten by ten and 20 by 1440. That’s right, 20 miles in just under nine hours with one half hour break. I had to get out of there!

Had to hitch into Big Bear City, which sucked. As soon as I got to the highway this other guy showed up and then this woman, and I thought my chances of getting a ride were getting slimmer (a single hiker is more likely to get picked up than a group). The thing was, it was still in the 40’s with ripping wind, so it was very cold waiting for a ride. Plus my feet hurt like hell and I could hardly stand up. Finally, a local couple stopped for us. They only had room in the bed of their pickup, but it was actually less windy riding back there than where we were waiting.

So, I got driven to the Motel 6, where my Dad had made me a reservation, and am now safe and dry. Even here in town it is very cold and light rain, so I am very glad to be off the trail!

I can’t believe I just pulled three 20’s in a row! I’m not sure what this means for the future, because I can’t say the last three days were exactly fun. I pushed myself to my physical limit pretty much every hour for the last three days. All you folks back home thinking I’m on “vacation”, yeah, not so much. Something’s got to change.

I’ll have a more introspective post tomorrow. For now, I need to get cleaned up and get a burrito from the place across the street.

4 thoughts on “Death March

  1. Way to go man, I’ve been hanging on every word and it sounds like a phenomenal experience. I can’t believe you did 20 miles three days in a row under those conditions, that’s insane. Would the weather be better later in the summer?

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