After all the late night birthday celebration, I was a little slow leaving Warner Springs the next day. The terrain was beautiful on the immediate stretch north of town. Draping trees helped shade the trail and the change of scenery kept my groggy mind entertained.

Trees are highly appreciated in the desert!

Because of my late start that day, I only hiked about 10-11 miles before making camp. I had been tempted to night hike in hopes of reaching “Mike’s Place” which I had heard about from past thru-hikers. Mike (who is basically a fixed trail angel) owns some property in the middle-of-nowhere desert and spends the weekends there as an escape from his main home in Los Angeles. He often cooks pizzas in a brick oven for thru-hikers, provides them with water and free camping. It sounded like a great place to be, but after talking to Perk (who was a couple days ahead), I decided I might not want to stay the night there. He didn’t suggest I shouldn’t, he just said he felt a little uncomfortable there and wanted to let me know. I decided I’d just call it an early day and check out Mike’s for myself the next day.

Side trail to Mike’s Place

When I arrived the following afternoon, there were a bunch of hikers piled up in the shade out front relaxing, napping, playing music, etc. Everyone was anticipating the firing up of the brick oven and the homemade pizza.

Hiker hangout

Pickin’ some tunes

Where the pizza cooking magic happens.

I met Mike who seemed to more or less keep to himself. I thanked him for the water, shade and helped make a couple of the pizzas. I think the only thing I didn’t really enjoy about Mike’s place was his caretaker. When Mike is out, he has a man who looks after the place. I won’t name the  caretaker, but from talking to any of the girls who stopped into Mike’s, I’m not the only one he propositioned to “sit in his hot tub/dishwashing station” later that night. After politely declining and telling him I wasn’t interested in his hot tub, he continued to announce to other hikers for the several hours I was there that he and Dixie were going to “hang out in the hot tub later.” So, I guess Perk was right–it really wasn’t somewhere I’d want to camp for the night, but I did enjoy stopping in. Mike’s Place is a well-known destination and experience of the PCT that I’m glad I didn’t miss out on.

You can’t beat homemade pizza on-trail.

A mural one of my fellow hikers painted.

I left Mike’s with a group of other hikers at about 4:30pm and we all decided to go 10 more miles. I suppose the pizza really put some pep in my step because I knocked out those 10 miles in about 3 hours and set up my tent just before dark. I didn’t know until the next morning, but I had set it up in a prime sunrise viewing location. The coffee was even sweeter that morning!

Sunrise coffee tastes better.

Coffee time came earlier than usual because I wanted to make it to Paradise Valley Cafe (in Anza, CA) before their closing time of 3pm and the road to the cafe was about 17 miles away. Once I hit the road I would have another mile if I couldn’t get a hitch. I left camp at 7am with thoughts of “The best burger along the PCT” dancing through my mind. I had been hearing of this restaurant since the second day of being on trail and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to judge the best burger claim.

Appreciative of this awesome water cache!

During the 17-mile stretch I ran across a cool water cache which was MUCH appreciated and then an interesting little spot named “Walden” which is a tribute to authors Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. There was a free little library and a picnic table for hikers to enjoy. If I wasn’t in a rush for that burger, I probably would’ve stayed longer!

Walden on the PCT

Hanging out with some pretty cool authors.

Little Free Library

After my quick break at Walden, I didn’t stop again until I saw the pavement leading to Paradise Valley Cafe. The group I had been hiking around for a few days arrived at the road around the same time. We all tried hitching as we walked down the road with no luck. It’s okay, though, because the burger, salad and beer were definitely worth the extra mile!

Walking to Paradise Valley Cafe

Paradise Valley Cafe Burger–rumored to be the best on the PCT

I always try to eat some greens in town.

I can’t in good conscience say it’s the best burger along the trail, because I haven’t finished the PCT yet. I will say that it’s the best burger I’ve had on the trail to date, though!

I was pretty excited to be at the cafe, but I knew this would be the place I would part ways with many of my new PCT friends. Just 13 miles or so north of the road leading to Paradise Valley Cafe (on the PCT) is the south end of a fire closure. Once hikers hit the closure they have to take a series of turns and extra miles to get into Idyllwild. Because of the inconvenience, most hikers just hitch hike from Paradise Valley Cafe. To me, that act alone forfeits the thru-hike because to complete a thru-hike you must complete every mile of the trail or an equal official alternate.

Although I decided to not skip that portion of trail, I went ahead and hitched into Idyllwild with the others. I wanted to enjoy a zero day before returning to Anza to pick up where I had left off. When I got to Idyllwild, I found Perk!

Perk punching the mountain lion wood carving in Idyllwild, CA.

He had completed the approach to the fire closure and detour the day before. We were excited to catch up and spend some time together in Idyllwild (which is on my list of favorite hiker towns of the PCT). While exploring the town, we got to pet the Mayor and deputies. The people of Idyllwild have it figured out–they only allow dog politicians!

Tony, Mayor of Idyllwild, Perk and I.

Perk giving some sugar so the deputy if Idyllwild.

Among the other exciting happenings in town, Perk and I tried corn nuts for the first time. We had talked about them on the road trip out to the PCT and how neither of us had tried them, so Perk grabbed some during a resupply and had been holding onto them until I caught up. I’m happy to say I’m a fan.

Our first bag of corn nuts–ever.

When the day began to draw to an end, Perk told me that he was thinking about double zeroing so that we could hike out of Idyllwild together. Of course I was pretty happy with his decision! Knowing Perk was waiting on me definitely put some pep in my step the following day.

Fire closure detour sign

I really hate it for the people who missed the 13 miles of the PCT south of the closure; they were some of the most beautiful miles I had seen up to that point. It went from desert to pine forests and it seemed each turn brought a new terrain. Even the burned area had its charms.

Me at the south end of the fire closure.

Green grass, trees, and mountains–smelled like Christmas!

After my long day of getting around the closure, I returned to Idyllwild. Perk and I discussed how we would get to the north end of the fire closure. There were a few side trail options for returning to the PCT, but the only one that would lead directly to the closure area was South Ridge Trail. All of the locals warned us that the trail was impassable due to the amount of snow on it and suggested the more popular option, Devil’s Slide Trail, which would cut off a 2-mile section of the PCT. Perk and I were determined to touch the north end of the closure and get that section of the PCT, so that’s what we did.

Tony, Perk and I set up at Tahquitz Peak.

When we reached the sketchy snowy section, we decided we would camp and tackle it the next morning. It was a tight squeeze, but Perk, Tony and I set up camp at Tahquitz peak right before sundown. The sunset that evening from 8,800+ ft was the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen on the PCT thus far.

Sunset from Tahquitz Peak

The next morning, we decided to boulder hop the ridge line rather than battling the snow since none of us had much experience in snow. We ended up having to make our own path down the snowy slope, anyway, but the boulder hopping was fun nonetheless.

Perk playing mountain goat.

In addition to the snow on the side trail, we had also been warned against summiting Mt. San Jacinto due to the level of snow. We decided we would see for ourselves and, anyway, it would be great practice for the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the base of Jacinto until afternoon, so the snow was rather slushy. We really didn’t even think about timing because, again, we weren’t experienced in the snow.

“The snow ate my leg!”

“It’s so cold!”

Post-hole after post-hole, we slowly trudged our way up the 10,800 ft mountain. Expecting to summit and descend the same day, we quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. Luckily, we knew there was a hut up top that hikers could stay in, but it was mainly for emergency use. After several pretty sketchy slopes, we finally arrived at the hut around 6pm.

The emergency hut on Mt. San Jacinto – a sight for sore eyes after a long day.

As I cooked my dinner in the hut that night, I thought about how thankful I was that I hadn’t slid down any of the slopes. Sure, I had an ice axe, but I had never practiced using it. I realized quickly that I needed some serious practice before the Sierras. I didn’t want to be that girl who had an ice axe IN her pack as she fell down the side of a mountain making no efforts to self-arrest.

A snowy slope on Mt. San Jacinto

The three of us fell asleep in the bunks of the hut pretty early that night; we were all exhausted. At about 1 am I found myself awoken by the howling of the wind outside. I was thankful to be in the shelter rather than stuck attempting a descent. In mid-thought, and while half asleep, I heard the faint sound of a person yelling outside in the distance. I thought maybe it was the wind again, until I saw a flash of light come through the window. Someone was screaming that they had found the shelter. It took a minute for me to realize what was happening: there were people outside who were stuck in the snow and chilling wind and had by chance found this shelter. “Perk! Tony! Wake up! There are PEOPLE outside in this,” I shouted.

The door flung open and two men appeared. Their headlamps spotlighted us, turned back around and shut the door quickly. I heard them murmur to one another about the people inside. I realized they were questioning whether or not to go in. “Guys! Come in,” I pleaded. They slowly opened the door and stumbled back in. I could feel the cold air rush in behind them and they had to push hard to shut the door behind them.

There were only 4 bunks, and now 5 people, so I more than willingly forfeited my bunk and moved to the floor. I wouldn’t even feel the stone under my sleeping pad and these poor day hikers needed a comfy spot more than me. We found extra sleeping bags in the hut and they soon settled in. They told us they had been out for about 23 hours and had lost their way sometime during the trek. They knew of a shelter on Jacinto, but their GPS and phones had died hours ago. They were out of food and water, so we happily shared some of ours. We gave them a charge from our back-up chargers and were able to send communication to their families so the search parties wouldn’t be sent out.

The two day hikers that sought shelter at the hut.

The next morning, I learned that both men were actually quite experienced in the snow even though they typically only went for day long treks. They were more than happy to give us a quick lesson in self-arresting and filled us in a bit on how to traverse snow and ice more safely. After some sleep and a bit of nourishment they were ready to head back down to the road. We all thanked each other and said our goodbyes.

We finally summited!

Perk, Tony and I climbed the remaining 0.1 mile and officially summited Mt. San Jacinto. As we looked out at the view from the top, we kept recalling how crazy the previous night had been with our early morning visitors. I’m sure they would’ve been fine without our food and water, but we were even happier with our decision to climb the snowy mountain so that we were able to help the two strangers. In turn, they had passed along priceless information and additional confidence to us. I really shouldn’t be surprised at how it all worked out, because as the well-known saying goes in the backpacking world: THE TRAIL PROVIDES.

Here are some additional photos from this stretch of trail:

Until next time–

Happy Trails!