Saturday, May 5, 2012

Day 14: Deer Springs to Snow Creek

The morning was cold, and the ground underneath our tent had frozen during the night. We started hiking wearing all our warm clothes, but on the shady, snowy west side of Fuller Ridge we were still cold. Our hiking developed a new rhythm.  "Crunch, crunch, crunch," accompanied every step, whether due to icy snow patches or the sand, already damp from snowmelt, which had refrozen overnight. The first sliver of sunshine did not offer much warmth, but we could not help rejoicing at the promise of it.

We soon reached a snow covered section of trail that ended abruptly at a creek crossing. Icicles hung from the rocks where the water cascaded over them, testifying to the icy temperature of the water. Balancing precariously on rocks, we attempted to cross without letting any of the frigid water enter our shoes. But halfway across the creek I stepped on a rock covered with a sheet of smooth, clear ice. I fell into the creek, smashing my knee against a sharp rock and drenching my right shoe and pant leg with ice cold water.

Reaching the top of Fuller Ridge (8,725 ft), we were relieved to discover that the ridge was sunny, warm, and snow free. But our relief was short lived, as the trail soon dipped into a tall pine forest and began descending the other side of the ridge on shaded, icy patches of snow. Patches of clear, dry trail began to appear more frequently as we descended, however, and after a few miles the trail was completely snow free.

Continuing past the Fuller Ridge Trailhead remote campsite, we began our long, hot descent to the valley floor. A thick, brown haze of smog had settled in over the valley, obscuring the beautiful views of San Gorgonio Peak and the San Bernadino mountains we might otherwise have enjoyed. But the trail compensated by providing incredible views of San Jacinto Peak, looking impressive as it rises up to 10,834 feet, towering over the 1,200 foot valley floor.

Hiking along, I almost stepped on a carefully arranged rock message before I realized what it said: 200. Our first 200 miles on the PCT. Of course, that also meant we had more than seven and a half miles to go before we could stop for the day, and it was getting late.

The final descent to Snow Creek was tortuous, largely due to the trail's failure to descend. Instead the trail meandered with long, sweeping switchbacks that lost very little elevation or, in some cases, actually gained it!

Despite the lateness of the hour, Sierra still found things to marvel at: the full moon rising behind the mountains and the special white flowers that only open at night. Sierra was further encouraged when both grandpa and dad met her on the trail. Eventually we made it to the trailhead, where we will be stopping for a well deserved "zero day" before continuing up the the trail.

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