Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Idyllwild, CA

Dear all-

Well, my last email ended a bit abruptly and I apologize. Some rambunctious youngsters on the computer next to me accidentally kicked the power supply, leaving me with just enough time to reboot and press send.

I left off mentioning that we have been glad to have warm sleeping bags for the cold desert nights. In fact, our first night we camped cowboy-style under the stars and awoke under a layer of frost! We're still not sure where all of that dew came from in the dry desert, and we haven't experienced any since then. Other nights we have used our ultra-lightweight sail cloth tarp. It turns out to be quite windy in the desert, however. Something to do with those very hot days and cold nights... At any rate, one night after setting the foot of our tarp into the wind, we settled down to read about the next day's trail section when the wind suddenly changed directions and the tarp dramatically EXPLODED off of us. The wind and stars suddenly revealed to us made me think we had been catapulted into outer space. Sadly, three of our ultra-light titanium stakes were never to be seen again, rendering our ultra-light shelter even lighter. We've since learned to position large rocks on top of the stakes and sleep through the incessant flapping. In higher winds we've forgone the tarp, but I still dream that my gear is blowing away... and also, one night, that a fine restaurant served me a burger garnished with poison oak leaves!

Since then we've hiked through some very hot desert stretches. We find shade where we can, often cramming ourselves under bushes to wait out the hottest of the afternoon heat. Recently, we entered the San Jacinto Wilderness and higher, cooler elevations.

We arrived last night in Idyllwild, CA, which is nestled on the western side of the San Jacinto mountains. Palm Springs is on the east side. Yesterday was quite an exciting day.

We had camped at Apache Spring, overlooking the sprawling lights of Palm Springs, at about 7500 feet. (The highest point on the AT is Clingman's Dome in the Smoky Mtns at about 6500 feet.) We had heard reports of impassable snow in this area from April 9th. We received this info from the extremely useful PCT Water Report, a user-detailed account of water source and water cache conditions encountered along the trail. We make all of our decisions about how much water to carry from point to point based on this report. However, five days after the report of snow, we did not encounter any snow on our way to Apache Spring.

Coming around the bend and onto a north facing slope in the shade of conifers at about 8000 feet was a different story. Suddenly it did not seem so silly to have lugged our ice axes all the way through the desert! Cutting steps into the icy snow, we safely crossed this section. Unfortunately, there were a few more such sections on shady northern slopes where the sun has less chance of melting the snow. A few miles later, we came to a several-mile section of trail on a northern slope packed with several feet of icy snow. Rarely is the PCT blazed, and this made it nearly impossible to follow the trail here. Using our tiny topo map and our very rudimentary compass skills, we bailed out of the trail and followed a drainage (where water would flow down the mountain) to a saddle where we picked up another trail that reconnected with the PCT. I give my wonderful husband ALL of the credit for making this work. Hacking steps in icy snow without crampons and while balanced on one leg is scary. And brutal on the quadriceps!

We plan to spend a few days in Idyllwild resting and thinking. We've stopped in at the Forest Service station to get more info on alternative trails, jeep roads and what else lies ahead. I am most anxious to skip Fuller Ridge, a several-mile long north-facing knife-edge slope above 8000 feet. We'll have good company with the other ten or so thru-hikers also in town. We'll all be at the in-town campground mulling over what to do, and eating town food!

Best to all,


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