Lake Hemet to Strawberry Fields Trail Camp
Detour Mile 8.6- 18.8, PCT Mile 178- 182.7
I am not sure what I did but walking the rest of the Mountain Fire Alternate today felt like recompense for some unpaid debt long forgotten. I set out from Lake Hemet elevation 4364 walking the shoulder of the uninspiring Highway 74, through a campground and along rocky mountain bike tracks until reaching a dusty road that led me back into the foothills.
Along the way, I encountered some of the largest pine cones I have ever seen. These pineapple sized behemoths lay strewn about the pine straw and apparently tempting fate, I had one don my kangaroo bush hat for a picture. It wasn’t 30 minutes later when ‘click, tick’, “Hey”, I thought to myself, “that sounded like a pine cone coming loose. What are the chances… “ Wham! It was either fantastically crazy timing or a very adept (and evil) bombardier squirrel. In any case, I caught a glancing blow to the head that punched a small hole through the leather hat and left me with a pretty good bump and scratch.
Bloodied but unbowed I continued my trudge back up the hill. Steep and seemingly endless switchbacks took me up Tahquitz Peak and at long last I rejoined the PCT at Mile 178, elevation 8618. It was physically demanding but mentally difficult too. Working so hard and not making forward progress on the PCT was demoralizing.
But ‘praise all that is good and righteous on E Street!’ rejoin the trail I did and my mood lifted. I was pretty spent but the rugged beauty of the San Jacinto Wilderness pulled me into its remote embrace.
Some of the east facing slopes still held a bit of snow as I climbed to just over 9000 feet before descending and traversing the western flanks of Mount San Jacinto.
There was an optional route off the PCT that led to the summit at 10,834 but by then I had had enough for one day. I tucked in to a sweet little tent site called Strawberry Fields at 8382 feet. This made boiling water for dinner take almost twice as long as the night before but after a big bowl of spicy veggie chili, it was lights out for this tired, contrite, but satisfied penitent.