san jacinto and idyllwild trip report…

Last Thursday, Sunshine and I loaded up our new backpacks (mine is a Gregory Z65, hers is a Gregory Jade 50) with a bunch of new gear (MSR’s Hubba Hubba tent and PocketRocket stove, his & her‘s REI Lite-Core sleeping pads, GSI Pinnacle Dualist cookware set, and Black Diamond’s Orbit lantern) and some borrowed (Garmin GPSMap 60C and SPOT, the satellite personal tracker, both courtesy of TadG), and we headed up to Idyllwild to test our legs and shakedown our backpack selection.

We left Spring Valley early in the morning, and hit Idyllwild just in time for breakfast. We had a long, leisurely feed at the Bread Basket–mostly because the service there was mind-numbingly slow–and didn’t really hit the Deer Springs trailhead until 11:30.

By that time, the sun had really started pumping, and the temperature was climbing a lot higher than the originally-forecast 80.  When I finally thought to check at around noon, it was up over 90.

So, lesson #1: pay attention to the actual weather, not what you’re hoping the weather will be, or what you were told it was going to be. We went to Idyllwild because it was forecast to be much cooler than the rest of the surrounding areas.  That didn’t turn out to be true, and it kicked our butts.

But we’d damned ourselves a couple other ways: we’d way over-packed for the planned 4-day trip (my pack was over 45 pounds, and Sunshine’s was over 35), and too little of that weight was water (I had 6 liters, Sunshine had 4).  The other way was that we hit the trailhead with a plan to go 6 miles (including a 2-mile side trip out to Suicide Rock) and gain over 2400 feet in elevation, thinking we could do it in just a few hours, 3-4 tops.

Ha, ha-ha, ha-ha.

(BTW: this image really needs to go to FAILblog, as a RESPONSIBILITY FAIL…)

We hit the trailhead running. Or as close as we could get with our overly-heavy packs.

Within 20 minutes, we were winded, overheated, and almost puking.  Here we are at our first (of easily a DOZEN) rest stops on our way to the peak.

It got ugly not long after this shot. Because of the almost constant uphill haul, we were sucking down our water at an alarming rate.  To be sure, there was a lot of beautiful scenery to be had, but pretty soon, the whole trip dilated down to just focusing on keeping one foot in front of the other, for as long as possible, and then stopping to rest, lower our heartrates, nap when possible, suck down water, and steel ourselves for picking the increasingly-heavy-seeming packs to stumble a few hundred feet more.

For example, one of the things we definitely over-packed was food:

  • 3 separate dry/boil dinners: Peasant Pasta, Indian Spiced Couscous and Harvest Quinoa
  • 6 potato pancakes
  • 6 pumpkin pancakes
  • 6 cookies
  • 6 two-piece packets of cold fried chicken tenders
  • 6 frozen Snickers bars
  • 4 whole bagels
  • 6 cream cheese packets
  • Trail mix
  • Dried banana chips
  • Dried papaya
  • Dried spiced pineapple
  • Tea, powdered milk & sugar
  • …and a bunch of stuff I can’t even remember right now.

Before the trip, we laid out all of the food, and even culled some before we left.  We’d written out our entire meal plan for the four-day trip, and packed only a little beyond the meal plan, thinking that we’d be a little hungrier for all of the effort and exercise.

As we soon figured out, the heat prostration and effort didn’t make us more hungry, it made us less hungry.  But by the time we figured this out, the whole trip profile had changed, because the other thing the heat proved to us was that while we’d over-packed on clothes and food, we definitely didn’t bring enough water.

As we reached the campsite (almost six hours after we hit the trailhead), I had only 2 liters of 6 left, and Sunshine had just a little more than that.  Clearly, we were in no position to continue on in this manner: we were carrying too much crap we didn’t need, and not enough of the water we did need.  Further, we had no water filtration tools, as we’d originally planned on using local resources that we’d read about from books.  Alas, when we hit the ranger stations and asked there, they confirmed that our intended water sources were usually flowing, but were currently dry.

The likelihood that we were going to make any destination that had flowing water was sufficiently slim, especially considering our condition just getting to the campsite. So, before it even really got started, our trip was over, and it was obvious that we were going to have to turn back the next day and go get more water.

Still: that one night up on San Jacinto was wonderful.  Because it was a weekday, we weren’t fighting crowds, and in fact had the whole campsite to ourselves. We got our wonderful tent up in just a couple minutes: when we bought the Hubba-Hubba, every clerk at Adventure16 looked at our purchase with equal amounts of awe and jealousy, assuring us “That is an awesome tent.”  They weren’t wrong: this tent goes up so easily, and it fits my huge frame really well.  The walls are very close to vertical, so I’m not feeling like I’m wedged in a corner. The only solid complaint I could offer about the tent is the lack of any kind of vestibule, requiring us to put all of our gear inside with us.  Nevertheless, we had it up and appointed and ready to go within 20 minutes of our arrival at the camp. We love our Hubba-Hubba!

Soon after that, we cooked dinner: the PocketRocket is an amazing thing, boiling our chicken stock within seconds of firing it up. The couscous steeped for 10 minutes, and Sunshine broke up some of the chicken into the mix towards the end of the steep. There was plenty for both of us, and a minor lesson within it: we both ate out of the pot, instead of using our excessive bowls and other accoutrements. Less to carry, less mess to clean up. So, the Dualist cookware set is cool and all, but basically too much added weight and hassle to be worth the long haul (but the pot worked out great and will remain in our bags for good!).

Around this time, the sun started setting, and I took a couple of good panoramics, including the one at the top of this post, and this one:

Here’s another sunset shot:

And one of my favorite shots of the whole trip:

As night fell, there was some hubba-hubba in the Hubba-Hubba, and then I took some time to really enjoy the bright night sky with no light pollution. I tried a few long exposures with my Nikon P6000, but couldn’t really get the dust of the Milky Way that was visible to us. This is a 30-second exposure at ISO 400:

I probably should have tried this duration at 800 or 1600, but I couldn’t really tell how good my results were, and decided to pack it in for the night.

Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well at all: I got a serious allergy attack sometime during the evening, and had to give in and take a benadryl in order to sleep. (Sunshine had similar problems sleeping but didn’t drug up.) Still, we didn’t wake up until almost 8am, and didn’t get back on the trail until almost 10am:

This, by the way, is only the third time we’ve been on a segment of the actual PCT: it’s always a gas to us when we can get even a little bit of it in.

The way down the mountain went much faster, but it was equally brutal: the constant downhill meant our feet were mashed into the front of our shoes, so badly that Sunshine may lose a toenail or two. I was quite happy in my Merrell Mocs (the foot pain I’d been experiencing all last week was brutal Thursday morning, but thankfully had all but disappeared going into Friday), but even those mashed my toes quite a bit.

As we made it back into Idyllwild, we toyed with a couple of different plans. First, we thought of picking up a car campsite for a night, retooling our packing approach and going up Devil’s Slide into the National Forest section east of Idyllwild, but our scout of a couple of car camp sites was bad. This was the last weekend of the summer for many folks, and they were out in force.

We ended up getting a hotel room, which we though would afford us some quiet, where we could focus on repacking our gear (and shedding some importantly unnecessary stuff) and getting a good night’s sleep.

Ha, ha-ha, ha-ha.

I spent most of the night being woken up by my screaming calf muscles, as one, or the other, or both, would seize up in cramps. Even the shortest walking trips, like to the bathroom or the car, became excursions of pain and shame. And it rained sometime during Friday night (making me doubly-glad we’d decided to get a hotel room).

So, waking Saturday morning, it became clear that we were in no condition to continue hiking, and that we should take our lives, and our over-worked muscles and go.

So as to not immediately turn tail and run, we drove north, to scout the San Gorgonio trails we’d considered around Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake.

Lake Arrowhead is UGLY. Really, the whole of San Gorgonio is very grey and dull compared to the San Jacinto area. It was crowded, crawling with cops, and in general did not impress us much. So now we know.

In general, the trip, even though cut very short, was definitely a success. We got to use all of our gear, we got to learn several important (and potentially deadly) lessons with a minimum of bruising (really, only our egos). Considering the amount of stupidity we took up the mountain, we were lucky to get away with as little damage as we did. And some great photos!

As a gear shakedown, we learned that the new stuff we bought all fit the bill exactly as needed, but we also learned that we have investments left to make:

  • Sleeping bags: our car camp, 7-pound, non-compressible bags were a distinct liability. We definitely need backpacking-suitable bags before we go off on our next trip.
  • Water filtration: this seems stupid to say out loud, but there it is. It is impractical to carry all the water one needs, so it is imperative to have a way to filter what water you can find.
  • GPS & SPOT: we didn’t know we needed these until we got out on the mountain. I learned a lot about navigation just from using the GPS coords I got from the device, and I know that I only barely scratched the surface of what can be done with the GPS device. Equally as important as the GPS was the SPOT, which broadcast our ongoing position, and was a lifeline that could get us help (even though I managed to maintain coverage from AT&T on my iPhone for almost the entire journey). We didn’t know we needed these until we got onto the mountain.

Still, all-in-all, it was an awesome trip, with great company, and I can’t wait to get back out there again.

(BTW: for those who are interested, a GPS-tagged photoset and trip map are available. The map is really cool!)

2 Comments

  • Clint says:

    “Local watersources currently dry.” That has to be a pucker factor. I’ve always been a little nervous about filtering water, but it would make up most of your weight if you tried to carry it all. The logistics of something like this facinate me to no end. I look forward to seeing more.

  • Heather says:

    I am going on the next trip…these pictures are amazing. I am envious that you both experienced such escape!