Friday, May 4, 2012

Day 13: San Jacinto Crest to Deer Springs

The trail continued to follow the ridge.  Sometimes the trail dipped over to the west side where we enjoyed shady trail overlooking fog-covered coastal mountains. Sometimes the trail dipped over to the dry, rocky, exposed east side, with views of Palm Springs and the desert valley floor. And sometimes the trail balanced on the knife-edge of the ridge, affording beautiful views in both directions and providing gentle cooling breezes to counteract the hot desert sun.

Eventually the trail leveled out into a beautiful pine forest, with rugged granite boulders and soft, needle-covered trail reminiscent of the western Yosemite backcountry. Now at higher elevation (over 8,000 feet) we began to encounter more frequent patches of soft snow covering the trail.

As we walked, a familiar gurgling sound caught my ear. Looking ahead, I began rushing down the trail. "Water!" I exclaimed. We had finally reached Tahquitz Creek, the first on-trail water source for more than a day. We refilled our bottles and sat next to the creek sipping the delicious, fresh snowmelt water and talking to other hikers, including Trooper, Funk, and Chef.

The trail climbed steeply from the creek to the base of Tahquitz Peak, before gently descending to Saddle Junction, where most of our friends on the trail planned to exit to resupply at Idyllwild. Shortly before reaching the junction, we started laughing when we rounded a corner to find a tiny snowman parked in the middle if the trail. A parting gift from Funk and his friends?

Steep climbs, snowy sections of trail, and large downed trees all conspired to slow our afternoon progress. Even so, we could not resist stopping for a short break at a beautiful overlook with smooth granite benches, rugged pine trees, and an incredible view of the coastal mountains to the west.

By 7:00 we found ourselves on the side of a steep, snow-covered ridge, with brief glimpses of trail between long sections of crusty, hard snow. Occasional deep postholes marked where other hikers had fallen through the snow. And as the light began to dim in the thick, pine forest, navigation was becoming increasingly difficult.

Finally, we spotted a relatively snow-free section of ground just after the crossing of Deer Springs. A single tent already stood on the flattest section of ground, but we were able to locate another spot nearby. Already damp from the snowmelt seeping into the ground, next to a snowbank, hidden in tall pines on the west side of Fuller Ridge, we knew our camp would be frigid in the morning. But it was not safe to continue up Fuller Ridge across the icy snow when it would soon be dark. So we camped, grateful to have found another spot to call home.

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