I woke up to frost on my tent. My relaxing day at the Hiker’s Oasis was just what I needed. Kevin (now known as Jewel Thief) and I planned on tackling the 27 miles from Pines-to-Palms highway to the Devil’s Slide Trail. No small feat, this is a 4500’ elevation gain over some of the most challenging terrain yet.
We were dropped off at the trail at 7 AM. Knowing that morning miles were key to success, I set off at a brisk pace. The day was clear and warmed to a comfortable hiking temperature. After a few intro miles, the trail gained the Desert Divide ridge, and rewarded me with spectacular views at San Jacinto to the NW and the desert valley of Palm Springs to the east. Winding on, the trail alternated from desert scrub to coniferous forest. Mesmerized by the scenic beauty, I whipped out the first 15 miles by noon.
After lunch Jewel Thief and I hiked together. The steep hike out from Fobes Trail reminded me more of climbs on the AT than the gentle trail I had come to expect from the PCT. After the initial climb, the trail traversed a ridgeside on a path that had obviously been blasted out of the sheer rock face. On the left would be cliffs climbing high above and a deep drop to the canyon on the right. The amount of exposure made me careful to watch each step in sections.
Approximately 24 miles in, the trail meandered into a large, high valley and disappeared under several feet of snow. With no trail to follow, we set our sights on Saddle Jct. and began picking our way through the trees. Rather than be intimidated, we had a blast crossing streams and skiing down slopes on our shoes. We made it to Saddle Jct. with the sun still above the horizon.
We hiked the Devil’s Slide Trail down into Idyllwild, arriving just at dusk, and still feeling surprisingly good. We headed for a motel to crash. Tomorrow we’re spending gearing up for our hike up San Jacinto (10,000+ feet) and our crossing of Fuller Ridge – all snowbound. We both had our ice axes overnighted here as well as in-step crampons. Ninety percent of hikers this year have detoured around this section, but there is no way I’m doing that without at least an attempt.