18 miles (Miles 182.5 – 200.5)
(+2.8 extra accidental sidetrip miles)
Strawberry Junction – PCT Mile 200.5
We woke up to a cold morning. The tent was very wet from an overnight rainshower, and packing it up was a challenge with frozen-numb fingers. But it had to be done! Breakfast was Carnation instant breakfast mixed with water, instant coffee tossed in so we didn’t have to heat water… so we could get moving and warm up… or so we thought, anyway. Needless to say, it was a challenging morning.
So we got moving, and it started to rain. We had our raingear on as we cruised along. We came to a junction. Neither of us wanted to stop in the rain to double-check our maps or phone, so we agreed that a left turn was the correct direction. “Suicide rock. I saw that on the map. Must be right.”
Our first navigational error. We hiked downhill, then went downhill some more, still cruising along on our fresh morning feet. “Aren’t we supposed to climb to Fuller Ridge?” We opened maps and phones. Coordinates flew and so did a few cuss words. We were 1.4 miles off of the PCT on a stinkin’ side trail! Oops! Back UP the hill we went. We finally rejoined the PCT and hiked on, having lost one hour.
As we climbed it got colder. The pine needles and all the low vegetation was covered in a layer of ice. Clouds whipped past our faces as gusts of cold wind carried sprays of rain at us. All we did was keep walking, because it was all we could do to keep warm.
The coolest part was when the wind blew past the frozen trees and the ice started to break up. It sounded like pop rocks, and it was lightly falling down on us like hail. What a weird day.
We finally arrived at Fuller Ridge. Matt, a fellow thru, and his two sons, Sam and Joel were there. Sam and Joel brought water and fruit. We were too cold to stop long, and even turned down the offer to warm up in the car. We’d have stayed there all day. Joel handed us a warm mug of coffee that Rachel and I nearly finished. Then they explained how the weather would change drastically as soon as we hit the other side of the ridge. It was hard to believe them, but the thought cheered us up. Thank you, Sam and Joel!
They were right. We went less than a mile past that windy, cold, crazy Fuller Ridge, started descending on the other side and… SUN! I nearly cried from excitement. The rest of the day was all downhill, which was tough on our knees and toesies. But the weather was way better! It still rained off and on, but we got to watch the mountains create the crazy weather. Clouds rolled, twisted and curled off of the ridges. And then the rainbows came. We hiked along for a couple of hours watching them come and go. So cool.
This descent we’re on is known to be hot, dry and waterless. In 2012, three hikers were air-lifted out due to heat/dehydration. So we actually felt a little blessed to have the weather we did. And as cold as Fuller was, there have been years when hikers had to turn around due to snow. So it wasn’t an easy day, but it could’ve been worse. And… we pushed through it!
Now we’re camped on a sandy spot with the wind tossing sand into the tent with each gust. Should be another interesting night! Every day out here is so different! Southern California… you are a tricky one! :)
OH! We passed the 200-mile mark today! Woo-hoooooo!
Tomorrow – french fries. We hear there’s a McDonalds very near the trail about 10 miles from where we’re camped.