Paradise Valley Cafe to Interstate 10
On Sunday the 10th of April, we went down to Paradise Valley Cafe and would exit the desert for what felt like forever.
As the state park was reopened on the 7th, we planned on at least trying to cross the San Jacinto Wilderness. Since the start of my planning, San Jac was the mountain range that scared me the most.
The plan was to organize our snow gear in Idyllwild and get going on Monday the 8th. Due to another drop in temperatures and heavy winds, we planned to make it through to Devil’s Slide trail until Wednesday and wait out the weather in Idyllwild, and continue to push through to Interstate 10 from Friday on.
Long story short: we made it.
We meandered slowly 14 miles out of the desert and came to heights I felt like I had never been before. The views were out of this World. Never before I could see down from a mountain on sea level. You cannot describe this feeling.
On Monday night, we set camp near Fobes Ranch Trail and prepared for a short night.
We already crossed the first snow patch and planned to start at 3 in the morning, to make some good progress through the iced snow. Unfortunately, temps were mild and the snow was slushy all the way through. At mile 167.7 microspikes became essential, a mile later, we had to use ice axes on the first steep slope. The group that went ahead of us the day before said that it was the sketchiest part, but boy, should we learn better.
On Tuesday, the 11th, at 6 in the morning, we reached and crossed Apache Peak. From that on, the trail conditions got worse. The trail on The North Face was simply not there. While the South Face was completely free and walkable, the North Face was smashed with a snowpack of at least 6 feet, also covered with dead trees.
We just followed the steps of the group before, navigating additionally with the Farout-App. The North Face was a never-ending steep traverse with a length of about 6 miles. As soon as we hit the walkable trail, we hoped for this traverse to end, but the next curve would bring snow again.
We had to use our ice axes all the time, luckily no one had to self-arrest, but til now, we heard of several self-arrests or close calls in other groups. It took us 13 hours, to walk 9 miles that Tuesday. Since then, days have become long and exhausting. But it didn’t matter, we made it and learned a lot.
Another zero in Idyllwild due to the weather
After waiting out the bad weather on Thursday, we went back up the Deer Spring Trail on Friday the 14th. (yes we skipped 5 miles on trail) shame on us.
Instead of the sketchy devil’s slide, this trail was a beautiful hike all until the strawberry junction, where the snow started again. We postholed on the PCT until the San Jac Summit Trail and decided to walk one mile into camp there.
On Saturday, the 12th of April, we left our tent with unneeded things and hiked up to San Jacinto Peak with light backpacks at 3 o’clock in the morning. The snow was frozen so much, that we could simply walk up there and were even too fast! We had to warm up in sleeping bags in the summit hut. Point 6 AM, we summited this beautiful mountain together with the sunrise. What a view. What a feeling to be up there in this extreme year. So far, this was my highest mountain and I will never forget the urge to squeak in pleasure as I looked down on Palm Springs and the desert, from this big frozen rock.
Afterward, we descended within an hour, packed, and went on to the Fuller Range. The first parts were sketchy again, as you walk across slushy snow and have a free trail and rocks beneath you, but as soon as we hit the North Face, it was just traversing and post-holing on a moderate Slope. It was exhausting though.
Again, this day was long. We hiked for 10 hours straight and took a long Siesta at the Camp Ground near Black Mountain Junction, where we Germans even sunbathed in the snow. Weird, I know, but it was necessary, to shake off the cold of the mountains.
Having taken this extreme experience, we now know, that the Sierras are possible. I am also happy to have left this mountain range behind, as it scared the big F out of me before. Nonetheless, it must be a beautiful trail up there, when it is snow free, as it meanders around many peaks. It was also very good training for the upcoming snow conditions. Big Bear felt like a nice powdered walk.
A big thanks goes out to Trevor “Microsoft”s Dad, Doug Laher, who does everything to inform hikers about the hazards of the mountains. Trevor’s sad story makes us carry and use microspikes from the first day.
Reminder: On our hike to Big Bear, we experienced the snow melting off quickly. So it might be way easier to hike this section now. Please inform yourself in the PCT groups on Facebook, as there are many reports about the recent crossings.
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