Devil’s Slide trail to mile 193, 16.2 miles
Cost: camped, free
** Also not in a nutshell! **
I woke up at my usual time of 5am, checked the weather forecast for today’s ascent of Mt San Jacinto and saw that the weather on top of the peak at 10,834 feet was supposed to be clear in the AM and cloudy in the PM. This was according to a mountain forecast website. I knew there was supposed to be strong winds later that day but also that the weather here was very unpredictable as it was originally forecast to rain on the Wednesday & Thursday but the rain had never come until yesterday, Friday, when I was up hiking along to mile 162!
Rowan was still in town and staying with a friend’s friend so we arranged to go up to the trailhead at Humber Park together at 7am in the morning. At 7am when I met Rowan and his friend Mitch outside the outfitter, it was a lovely cool morning with blue skies. Mitch was driving a tiny MG so he drove me the few miles up to Humber Park first, then went back to get Rohan. Thank you Mitch!
We started the 2.6 mile climb up the Devil’s Slide Trail which meets the PCT at Saddle Junction, mile 179.4. It was cool but not cold… Until we got to Saddle Junction at over 8000 feet and there was a light sprinkling of snow.
I put my Patagonia Houdini wind pants on under my skirt and my OR Helium waterproof jacket on over my hiking shirt, put the gloves on that I’d been using to protect my hands from the sun, put my beanie on, and we continued on.
There were two alternative options to get the peak of San Jacinto at 10,834 feet. I was planning to take the 4.06 mile return trip off the PCT at mile 186 (via Little Round Valley) rather than the Wellman Divide route which branched off the PCT at mile 181.
When I reached the Wellman Divide split in the trail, Rohan had left a note behind saying he was heading up to the peak and I continued along the PCT with “Eyeore” who I had met about half an hour before. We hiked slowly past patches of snow, in the cold rain and I marvelled at the ice on the ground that was being shaken off the trees with every strong gust of wind.
Once I arrived at mile 186, I said goodbye to Eyeore as he continued along the PCT and I branched off to start the 4 mile return trip up to the peak. It was cold, I was wet and my only motivation was clear skies ahead.
After climbing up for a mile, I was passed by 3 day hikers on their way down from the peak who were frozen to the bone. There were two girls and 1 guy and all their hair outside of their beanies that was exposed was frozen. They told me straight up not to continue as it was freezing rain up there, gale winds and hardly any visibility. I certainly didn’t need to be told twice and I definitely didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s white out conditions and driving hard rain.
I turned back around and started heading down to 9000 feet. Rohan caught up to me after reaching the peak and he was also trying to discourage day hikers who were still trying to head past us up to the peak.
By now I was freezing because I was drenched through and just wanted to get down to lower elevation. We walked fast, filled up our water at a stream on the way and I changed from one pair of wet gloves to my dry pair and then had two pairs of wet gloves within minutes.
I was trying to get to a campsite at a lower elevation around mile 195 and I was now at mile 186 about 2pm in the afternoon. I was on a mission and I was too scared to stop because I was so cold and wet and the wind was picking up.
At one point, Rowan stopped and I kept going and I found myself in a repeat situation of the day before… Hiking by myself through terrible weather on top of a mountain. The only thought I had was to get off the mountain and I was even trying to convince myself I could hike another 20 miles to ensure I did this.
I wish I could describe how cold I was, how wet I was and how scared I was. Like yesterday’s drama was just a dress rehearsal for today’s big event.
I was having trouble holding my hiking poles because my hands were frozen and once again I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything because I didn’t want to stand still in the freezing rain.
“Must keep going, must keep going, you’re going to be fine, everything will be ok, please sun come out…” Was my mantra as I sped down the mountain with water now squelching out of my shoes with every step.
I thought I heard a helicopter or plane overhead but I couldn’t be sure because of the noise of the wind and rain and the heavy fog that had set in. I did think that if the clouds broke and there was a helicopter above, how much I would like to be winched up out of this nightmare I was stuck in.
I walked on, I looked behind, no Rowan, just me. I looked at my maps for the campsite locations and each one I passed was completely exposed. I started looking at boulders, wondering if I could fit my tent under each one and whether there would be enough protection from the 70 mph wind and rain.
I was panicking even though I knew it was useless to do so and the tears were streaming down my face. I actually thought this was it. What was I being punished for and what lessons did I need to learn? (I had checked the weather forecast before setting out!!)
I came around a bend at mile 193 and out of the corner of my eye I saw the edge of someone’s tent in what looked like a semi-protected area. I walked up to the tent, I maybe said hello or something of the sort and Eyeore answered back. I was so happy to have found another hiker.
I pulled out my tent and while fighting the wind and sand with it, I managed to set it up. I don’t know how through the tears and my frozen fingers.
Rowan appeared while I was in the process of setting up my tent and started to set his up also.
I didn’t know what to do next because my pack was soaking but I needed to get in my tent without wetting the most important things I had: my base layer sleeping clothes, my down jacket and my down sleeping bag. I really wasn’t thinking straight but at least I did decide to leave my pack out of the tent for the night. I put it inside a spare trash compactor bag I was carrying, pulled out a plastic bag and my stove, climbed into my tent and tried the hard task of pulling wet clothes off and putting dry clothes on, without trying to make too many puddles in the tent. I piled all of my wet clothes into the plastic bag and kept this in the tent with me. I got into my sleeping bag straight away and dragged in my electronics bag and camera, hoping they weren’t wet. My passport and purse were in ziplocks in the brain of my pack which had been hammered with rain all day and was now sitting outside my tent in a trash bag and I decided rather than risk getting my dry clothes wet in retrieving both items, if they were wet there wasn’t much I could do about it now.
I was shivering uncontrollably but knew that shivering was a good sign, as opposed to being this cold and not shivering. Both Eyeore and Rowan shouted out to me from their tents asking if I was ok… I was cold, wet and miserable but so much happier knowing that we were all together. We talked for as long as we could above the noise of the wind and rain until we could no longer hear each other.
I undid the zip on my tent, put my stove outside, poured water in and got it boiling as soon as I was changed and in my sleeping bag. I had a choice of ramen, a pasta side or a mountain house dinner and I decided the mountain house dinner would be the best meal to console me after a long cold and wet day.
I was still shaking and only noticed the shaking had stopped sometime after I had finished my dinner.
I pulled the hood on my sleeping bag as tightly closed as I could get it, curled up into a ball and wished for morning and sunshine. The rain got heavier and the wind got stronger.