Distance hiked today: 14 miles / 22.5 km.
The day started gloriously, waking up from our cowboy camp by the Paradise Valley Cafe, and getting endless coffee and breakfast. More hikers came in early from where they camped some miles back and joined any table with open chairs - there's a built-in camaraderie with thru-hikers.
The word was that there was a storm coming, but we planned to be getting into town tomorrow night so it was perfect timing to dry out if we did get some bad weather. Most hikers hitched into Idyllwild from the cafe to wait it out rather than going into town farther up trail, but we pressed on, planning to do 16 miles today.
The trail was a continuous steep uphill so it was slow, and I fell back from the other two I was hiking with. The last water source for the next 20 miles was off trail, quite a long steep downhill and it took more than half an hour to get water and come back up. Another hiker I'd seen a few times and met at the cafe was there and left before me, Karl, an older man from New Zealand with a minimal ultralight pack who uses boxed wine sacks as his water bladders - "and you have to drink the wine first!".
I kept hiking, now with 11 more pounds of water in my bag, and I could feel it with every step. I eventually stopped at 4pm for lunch - I had to eat something to keep my blood sugar from plummeting the next 9 miles that I still had to do. I didn't realize it was so late. I ditched a litre of water and drank some more to lighten the load, and started walking as quickly as I could up the mountain, doing the math in my head on how much longer I'd be hiking and figuring I was going to roll in after dark.
As I got to the peak of the ridge the wind was insane, pushing me over and howling over the rocks and trees. I remembered a hiker mentioned an extreme wind warning in the forecast, but I didn't realize the trail was so exposed. It was actually terrifying - it's weird how intimidating strong wind can be, especially when walking alone on the top of a mountain, knowing there was no one coming up behind me, seeing the dark storm clouds rolling in, and I still had 7 miles to go (more than 3 hrs).
Then I entered a section with more trees, but these were dead, half burnt, and branch debris was strewn everywhere with lots of blow downs and huge trees snapped in half. Widow makers... Dead trees in strong winds falling over, and this was definitely one of those wind storms. So I started running, trying to minimize my exposure, and trying not to let the fear turn into panic while getting blown around. It's hard to run with a heavy backpack but the adrenaline erased the foot and knee pain and I crammed a cliff bar into my mouth to keep my blood sugar up. Still more than 3 miles to go.
I crawled under and over blow downs for a while longer, exhausted mentally and physically until suddenly I saw Karl walking backwards on the trail towards me. It startled me, and I was so relieved to see another person. He had reached the next saddle on the ridge which only got more exposed and windy, so he turned back to go to the last tent site we passed, and I decided to camp with him.
The site was next to a huge boulder where there was 1 small tent spot and a little cave. Karl doesn't have a tent, only an ultralight tarp he strings overhead, so he opted to sleep in the cave. There was a tree down right in the site - I guess it couldn't kill me now if it had already fallen. The other trees around were smaller, less likely to be fatal if they did fall. This spot was miraculously out of the wind, directly on the opposite side of the ridge but still at high elevation. The clouds rolled in and we were right in them, feeling the humidity and cold air.
We hunkered down for the night. The wind sounded like plane jets crossing overhead close to an airport. Our site was eerily calm and I hoped the wind wouldn't change direction, we were only protected from one side. Every hour or so there was a huge gust that swirled on the mountain and came back towards us, threatening to knock my tent over, but then calm again. I didn't get any sleep at all, nor did Karl, listening to the wind crashing into rocks and the trees cracking. Then the snow started around 3 or 4am, heavy and wet. I had to knock it off my tent every few minutes to prevent the weight from collapsing it.
Total trail mileage: 165.8 miles / 266.8 km