Fuller Ridge – Big Bear
Mile 191.2 – Mile 266.1
The descent from Fuller Ridge down to the crossing beneath Interstate 10 defies comprehension. Starting at an elevation of ~8500 feet, the next 15 miles or so take you down to less than 1200 feet. You can see where you are headed the whole time and it becomes a mental game that benefits from having done it last year. Looking down through the clouds should be a clue. Fortunately I knew enough this year to tackle it early and carry plenty of water.
Always good to see progress
Beware the killer bees
Two thirds of the way down marks mile 200 and though it slipped my mind at the time, it is also home to a particularly fierce nest of bees. The hue and cry within the PCT community, many reports of 20+ stings and frantic runs down the trail, should have made me at least cautious. I chose oblivious instead and passed by unnoticed and unscathed.
After reaching the valley floor and refilling water at the miraculous Snow Creek fountain, I trudged 4 miles through deep sand and strong headwind to reach the otherworldly underpass of I-10. There I met Walkabout Jim who was either camped there or living there. The line between homeless and thru hiker blurs at times. Someone had left cold soda which kept me there longer than I would have stayed otherwise.
Looking back at San Jacinto from Snow Creek
After a quick look back at Mt San Jacinto and whence I came, I set forth. My legs were saying ‘time to camp’ but the wind was saying otherwise as I headed back up into the hills of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. It was almost 5pm when, lo and behold, my pal Stormin Norman appears doing trail magic with his dog Silky. I had met the 82 year old Korean War vet last year in much the same spot. It was great fun taking a load off and catching up with Norman while enjoying cold water and a snack. As we were chatting, another group of hikers walked up apace and Norman bellowed his welcome and invitation. “I‘ve been walking 24 and a half miles!” came the non sequitur from a harried young woman who apparently could not spare the time. I think she misses so much of what makes the PCT experience magical. I for one came away from my visit with Norman sustained by more than food and water.
A beautiful if spare landscape
The start of California Section C starts with a walk up and past the Mesa Wind Farm. It turns out there is a good reason why they chose that location. Good farming! In one of my poorer decisions I chose a camp spot that showed 2 bars of signal on my phone (I wanted to call Katrina) and set my tent into the wind. The trail gods laughed at my folly, cell service died with the sun, and the wind changed direction. Sounding like a freightliner approaching on steel wheels, the wind darn near blew me off the hill and the trains ran all night.
Only 2444.9 to go!
After a less than restful night, there was no reason not to head off early for the long slow climb up Mission Creek. At the Whitewater Preserve I encountered my first sign for Canada ensuring me I was headed the right direction. I climbed slow and steady about 5000 feet over 20 miles to camp just below Mission Springs. I found a great spot to camp, flat and close to water, where I slept snug as a bug.
Trying to avoid being flocked
A last look at distant San Jacinto
Hinting at what was to come, I was surprised to wake up to a light dusting of snow. Having seen the forecast for winter weather I had planned to spend Wednesday night in Big Bear. I walked through moderate hail and snow up high (far better than rain) and somewhere along the line I decided to accelerate my Big Bear schedule to include Tuesday night. It made for a long day but also a great decision. I beat the 8pm winter weather advisory for Big Bear and enjoyed my first bed in 2 weeks. Hot shower, cotton!
No school today!
Peeking out my door this morning at the luxurious Motel 6, it would seem I planned my first zero day wisely. 10% of the way home!