14.8 miles (151.8 to 166.6)
Once again I’m carrying 7 liters of water. I probably carry more water than any hiker out here. They say you carry your fears. I drink lots of water, and I fear running out in the desert. We’ll pass a few springs today, each a hike away from the trail. What if they’re down to a trickle, or lower? I don’t want to risk it. I have 7 liters of good, heavy water in my pack. We stashed a few gallons on Forbes Valley Road before Scarecrow dropped us off. I’ll be fine.
Except it’s already blazing hot. At 10am, I’m dripping sweat. I expect evaporative cooling to kick in at any moment. But there’s not even a breeze. We walk through hot, still air. Ok, then. I bust out my silver umbrella, put away my trekking poles, and lurch along the trail.
I can’t find my stride. Before our day off, I’d settled into a comfortable, efficient, reasonably quick stride. It’s gone. Worse, I’ve lost my climbing gear – that low gear I can usually shift into that gets me up the steep stuff. I’m struggling today. The time off, the heat, the uphill grade – and the 15+ pounds of water in my pack – all weigh me down. My body feels like it has no idea what it’s doing.
Lunch happens early in the shade of huge boulders. Afterward, I still feel hungry. Around mile 8.5, Dad and I stop for another break before we both overheat. I check my water levels. I’ve already sucked down nearly 3 liters of water. Well, that’s good, that means I’m drinking enough even in the heat. But 3 miles per liter will be prohibitively heavy on waterless stretches longer than 20 miles, especially when a dry camp is required. I need to moderate my water use. I experiment with slowing my already slow uphill pace.
We grind up the mountain, Dad in the lead. We leapfrog with another hiker, an Irishman. To the west, the view toward Indio and I-10 gets better and better. I take photos. I keep my umbrella pointed toward the sun. Well into the afternoon, there is still no breeze. The little thermometer on my pack claims we’re about to hit 90 degrees.
We enter the recently re-opened section of trail that was closed after the Mountain Fire swept through this area in 2013. Burned skeletons of what might have been manzanita line the trail. The view of San Jacinto is beautiful.
Just inside the burned area, we pass a day hiker coming the other way. He’s…naked. That is, except for a backpack and a hat, which he holds over his crotch as he passes by and says, “It’s a lovely day.” Yes it is.
Occasionally we enter patches of unburned trees. Inside one grove of live firs, we find a reasonably flat place where we can set up our tents. But then I consult the map and discover we’ve only hiked 12 miles. By my calculations, it’s 31.6 miles from Highway 74 to Idyllwild. We need to get farther than 12 miles down the trail today in order to comfortably cruise into Idyllwild by tomorrow night.
We abandon our sweet smelling fir forest and continue on, back into the burned area, where I pull out my camera again and again. Around one corner, wind smacks us. Where have you been, wind? We could have used you earlier to cut the heat.
Finally we start heading downhill. The climb is over; now we’re looking for a campsite. The last site shown in Guthook’s app before the detour down Forbes Valley Road is snapped up just ahead of our arrival by the Irish hiker. He seems to be the only other thru-hiker out here today. Did everyone else road-walk or hitch to Idyllwild?
We press on, pointing out potential campsites to each other. At the intersection with Forbes Valley Trail, where the closure for the Mountain Fire begins, we find two nice tent sites and quickly throw down our things. We each have about 1.5 liters of water remaining, enough to get us another few miles down the trail to what should be a flowing seasonal stream. I crave a long drink of cool water, but tonight I have to ration.
The wind that was so shy this afternoon is on full force tonight. Potato chips fly out of my pot as I eat dinner. That’s never happened before. Oh well. Another windy night on the trail. Hopefully a little of this wind will stick around tomorrow to cut the heat.
*More photos on Instagram.