Day 16: The 12-hour climb

Approximately 14.6 miles (PCT miles 179.4 to 187.8) and 5,000+ feet elevation gained

The day’s first 4 hours, 6.5 miles, and ~4,000 feet of elevation gain are spent getting back to the PCT. We leave the campground at 6:15 and walk through neighborhoods until we reach the Ernie Maxwell Trail. We take this trail for several shady miles to the Devils Slide trailhead at Humber Park. Now we face 2,000 feet of elevation gain in only 2.5 miles. 

Loaded with food for five days, our packs are heavy. The climb takes a long time. A very long time. We’re finally in trees, though, and the views are beautiful. 

At last we reach the PCT, and there are four or five other hikers there resting after completing the same grueling feat. We say hi and move along to a rest/snack break just up the trail where we have a nice view of the climb we just completed. 

A curious chickadee shows up, probably looking for handouts. It comes closer and closer, then perches on my socks. Sorry, chickadee. I don’t feed wildlife. I get a few pictures. The chickadee gets nothing and flies away. 


Real Irish, the only hiker we saw on the Mountain Fire alternate two days ago, wanders over looking for cell reception. We chat for awhile. He didn’t see any other hikers on the alternate, either. 

Back on the trail, we continue climbing. Dang. I neglected to check the elevation profile, and had wrongly assumed the climbing was over. Nope. We’re still going up. The trail will top out at just over 9,000 feet. 


Up ahead, someone is sitting on a boulder, back to us, hunched over a phone. As we get closer I recognize the guy’s hat. It’s Rusty from Utah. We haven’t seen him for almost a week. I’d assumed he was far ahead of us by now. He, too, took the long fire detour. He, too, didn’t see other hikers out there. 

We hike with Rusty for the rest of the day. I enjoy hearing about his experiences on the trail. We talk about food and gear and the ups and down of trail life. 

We eat lunch at a cold little stream where the water is delicious. Rusty realizes he lost his spork somewhere in Idyllwild. I’m carrying an extra spork (in case I lose mine!), so I offer it to him, and he insists on giving me a few bucks so I can buy a replacement. I have to remember to make an order once we get reception. 

After lunch we cross many cold little streams, many more than indicated on our maps and water reports. There’s a lot of water in these mountains. We’re still in beautiful high elevation forest, meandering in and out of shade. And we’re still climbing. I’m struggling. My pack is entirely too heavy. I have too much food. My legs are near their limit after the endless climb. The elevation may be taking a toll, too. 

At the headwaters of the North Fork San Jacinto River we stop to fill up on water. The trail is dry for the next 19 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation loss. As usual, I take 7 liters. Wow, I thought my pack was heavy before. Now it’s downright unwieldy. I can hardly get the thing onto my back. How in the world am I going to hike with this belted to my body?


Near sundown we separate from Rusty. He needs to press on in order to reach Big Bear by the time the Post Office closes on Saturday. 

Dad and I set up camp at 8,560 feet among pines and firs, our first forest campsite. I hear wind ripping through the trees all around us, but we’ve pitched our tents down in a little sheltered spot, and for once my tent doesn’t even flutter. 

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