In Which I Do Exactly What I Plan Not to Do – Day 17: Idyllwild to Mountaintop Campsite

Pct miles: 179 to 190.5 (+2 up Devil’s Slide to get to the trail)

Miles: 13

A few random things before I get started:

1) the laundry was so good at Silver Pines that my clothes are actually clean – and one armpit of my shirt no longer reeks of armpit.

2) because I did laundry, and because I am lazy, I walked around Idyllwild for two days/nights without a bra and realized bras are overrated. Can’t wait to bring that back with me to real life. 

3) the elevation was killer today. Im too lazy to count exactly but I’m pretty sure the accumulated gain was more than 4000 feet. Ouch. 


It was really hard to leave Idyllwild this morning. We were so clean. Our bed was so comfortable. Food was so plentiful. And the climb out was going to be a bitch, and we’d have to find a ride to the trail head, or add extra miles to our day to get to the trail. Can’t we just stay here foreverrrrr?

Around 930 we saw Herk giving rides to hikers and asked if he would take us to the Devil’s Slide Trailhead, which would be a 2 mile hike back to the PCT and pretty close to where the fire closure ended. He agreed and an hour later he was back from his last run. We gave him some cash and piled in his car.

We got to the Trailhead around 11 and started hiking. The snow from the day before was being blown off the trees and into us. The trail went up, up, up 1600 feet over two miles. When I got to the junction with the PCT, Amelia, Karma and Rawhide were all sitting having a snack so I joined them. I’m trying to be better about eating more calories so I sat down and ate, too – some crackers and a bag of peanut m&ms.

And then we hiked on. The trail gained another 1000 feet in elevation to the junction with Mt San Jacinto (pronounced Hasinto, even though I keep saying it wrong). We were going back and forth about whether we wanted to try to summit the mountain but when we got there it was 2 pm – it had taken me three hours to go four miles. That math wasn’t in my favor to be able to summit and descend, so I continued along the official PCT instead. Almost as if the trail was trying to make me feel better, we instantly got some amazing views.

From there the trail descended almost 1000 feet, only to have us climb back up 1000 feet. When we reached another junction, Amelia and I sat down for more food – this time I ate a bagel with cream cheese, tuna with Fritos, and a snickers bar. I really am trying! I ate quickly and then we started walking again. It wasn’t long before Amelia got ahead of me, even though I wasn’t really taking breaks. 

There were several patches of snow that were on the dangerous side – slippery, exposed, a little iced over. I tried to take them slowly but still ended up falling on my ass several times, luckily with no injuries. Each time I would say aloud, “thank you body” for catching me. It’s the little things!

Still, the snow is rough and I’ve still got miles to go before camp and I am running out of daylight. I tell myself that I absolutely don’t want to end up walking in the dark on this snow, and to keep that from happening, I decide I’ll camp 2.5 miles before where the group was headed if I’m not there by 7pm. 

Of course, I get there and it’s only about 6 pm and I think, I can totally do 2.5 miles downhill in two hours! That’s a no brainer! So l keep going. At the last water source before camp, I bump into A-Game who tells me she’d gotten off trail descending from Jacinto and that she’d spotted me and I’d led her back to the trail. Finally, my slowness comes in handy for something.

Not long after that the trail gets sketchy again. I mean my left hand into the snow while balancing with my trekking pole with my right and still I fall onto my ass several times. Eventually I come to a clearly icy snow patch and just sit down to slide, but the snow is more tilted than I think and I almost slide, on my butt, right off the mountain. This spooks the hell out of me and I want to cry and be home in my warm bed or even in a tent surrounded by other tent-bound people, but instead I’m on the side of a mountain with no one around and still a mile and a half to go before camp. The sun is quickly setting so I swallow my terror and start moving with more purpose, and at the next patch of dry dirt I pull out my flashlight and attach it to my hat and get to walking. One mile until camp, I tell myself. One mile until camp. One mile until camp.

I’m nearly to camp when I bump into two hikers I haven’t met before, Roxie and Roland. Roxie is having a very shitty day and the icy snow has really gotten to her. I try to chit chat with her. “Are you thru hikers?” I ask.

“That was the intention,” she says, “now I just want to get off this mountain.”

Within a few minutes we see headlamps from campers and are setting up our tents. As I’m setting mine up I realize it’s still wet from condensation three nights before, particularly the rain fly. “Is it supposed to rain tonight?” I ask aloud. Cate, a friend of Scissors’s who I’d met in Idyllwild pulls out her phone and checks the weather: no rain. So I tie my rain fly to a tree and climb in my tent and make myself dinner (a single serving beef stroganoff Mountain House, 200 something calories). I realize I’ve forgotten to go pee but the need isn’t urgent so I say fuck it and try to fall asleep. 

I can’t sleep. I’m cold and the campground seems noisier than average with people snoring and talking and snow falling off trees. I try earplugs. I try music. None of it is working. All I want to do is sleep, but I can’t. Then I remember that in order to be warm, you need to 1) empty your bladder and 2) eat. It’s been about two hours and I decide to see if my rain fly is dry which might also help keep me warmer. I finally give up the battle and go pee by moonlight. My rain fly is dry so I quickly cover my tent. As I crawl back in my tent I smell something foul. Is it my rainfly? I’ve never smelled mildew like that. It takes me a minute before I realize I’ve stepped in dog shit. Oh well. A problem for tomorrow’s Colleen. I put my flip flops outside my tent and eat a snickers bar and out on my puffy and poof, I’m out like a light.

6 responses to “In Which I Do Exactly What I Plan Not to Do – Day 17: Idyllwild to Mountaintop Campsite”

  1. Ellen Jacobsen Avatar
    Ellen Jacobsen

    The pictures you posted are breathtaking. I really look forward to reading your posts every day. You are doing great.


  2. Dude. Dog shit. Gross.

    I could never keep up with Amelia and I always felt bad I was bringing her down. You’re doing good. All these challenges are making you stronger. You are a total rock star!!!

    Sending you positive thoughts!


    1. Thank you! Amelia is super fast and it seems pretty effortless for her most of the time. The few times we keep pace she’s usually in a funk, haha.


  3. Elizabeth Frazier Avatar
    Elizabeth Frazier

    Well, that was one of those days when you actually expand. My first adult camping trip the only reason I didn’t sneak out in my car by night was because they chose my car to put the food in.
    The point is: YOU DID IT!
    May not be fancy, may not be fast but YOU did it. You are a wealth of strength my wonderful neice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha yes! The nice thing about backpacking is I very rarely have a choice in what I’m gonna do – I gotta get through it some how.


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