Day 12- 20.8 miles from Idyllwild via Paradise Valley Cafe/Hwy 74 (151.8) to Spitler Peak Trail on the Mountain Fire Alternate (mile 4 off of 168.6)

In the morning we pack up. Drippy heads out first to the shuttle to Devil’s Slide Trailhead. We sit outside of our lodge and see Herk picking up a bunch of hikers and giving them rides to various trailheads. He’s a local who’s retired and was doing the same last year. He gave me and my friends a ride to Devil’s Slide. We ask him if he’ll give us a ride to the PCT on highway 74, and he says he’ll swing by in an hour. We settle down.

Maddy and I decide we are hungry, even after eating pasta for breakfast, so we walk down to the grocery store to get something. It’s closed so we get ice cream at a gas station and eat it on the walk back. Then we sit and wait. I catch up on my writing and Maddy makes up a game about sliding a rock down her shin without it falling off. More than an hour after we talked to Herk we decide he must have forgotten us and we just walk down to the gas station outside of town and start hitching. An older woman quickly pulls over and we pile in. OT talks to her as we drive.

We’re soon back on-trail and the sky is cloudless and warm without being too hot. The trail wanders through and by enormous piles of granite, and through pine and chaparral and dry meadows. It’s pretty. I get distracted talking and trip and fall flat on my knees, and scrape up my left one a bit, but it’s not too bad. The trail then starts climbing up the side of the hills, the valley green and full below us. 5-6 miles in we reach the junction for Tunnel Springs. There are other hikers sitting there. I bring my water filtering things down but Maddy brings her full pack on the steep quarter-mile descent.

The spring flows from a pipe into a bent water trough, the water deep and cold and clear. I fill up my dirty water bag and filter two liters, and fill it up again to filter two more up top. Two hikers join us, Sage and Pinion, and I leave Maddy to talk with them and finish filtering.

I sit up top and filter my water and eat things out of my food bag. I see Maddy coming up. She throws her hands in the air. “I just realized that I left my trekking poles down there,” she says.

Nooo! That sucks. She leaves her pack with me and heads down again for them. I sit and eat some more and talk with Artemis, a hiker sitting at the junction who has a cold. Maddy comes up again, reasonably in a low mood from having left her poles down there, so I leave her to rest and eat. She’ll catch up.

The trail just after the junction opens up into a view of the desert and Palm Springs. It’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful. I walk with a section hiker named Bud and a hiker with a kerchief around his neck named Woody. We stop at a rise where the view opens up on either side, impossibly distant desert brown on the right and high green mountains to the left.

I take a cathole break overlooking the desert and Maddy catches up to me soon after. “Picnic!” she shouts. She’s feeling better and we walk together and gush about the views, walking on the top of the ridge and winding in and out of copses of fir and pine. Spreading Phlox starts appearing, and in between are sections of desert plants, rabbit brush looking odd in the alpine terrain, faded blooms like festive pom-poms. I’m happy to see rabbitbrush.

OT and Ziploc passed by when we were at the spring and are somewhere ahead. We reach Fobes Saddle and switchback tightly around a rocky knob, and past the junction- for the first time I’m on trail that I haven’t hiked before, since this section of the fire closure opened this winter. It climbs up out of the saddle, Palm Springs being swallowed up by the shadow of the mountain as the sun lowers. I just manage to keep up with Maddy on the constant up, out of breath and sweating in the cool evening air. And it’s all beautiful, so beautiful, and how could anyone skip this?

When we reach the far side of the mountain we’ve been traversing and start dropping down, the sun is bright and large and sinking in the suddenly smoky-looking valley. Smog, we decide, from LA? We reach the saddle and sit and eat. We both feel really good. Should we hike down to the bottom of the mountain? We’re both indecisive. Yes, we decide, and pack up and pull warm clothes and headlamps out of our packs.

The switchbacks are gentle and the sun is setting in bands of smoggy color, orange and yellow and red. The burned trees silhouette themselves against the sunset and it’s ridiculously beautiful, and the trail switchbacks down tightly along a growing stream flow, and soon it’s dark enough for headlamps. The lights of the houses in the valley below and Lake Hemet turn on.

We talk and talk and laugh on our walk down, and when we reach the bottom of the mountainside where it’s flat enough to camp we set up our sleeping bags and quilts side-by-side underneath the widest sky I’ve seen, no trees to block our view, only the cradle of the mountains far off in the distance. The moon is still below the horizon. It’s the most beautiful section so far and my first 20 mile day of the trip, and I don’t even feel tired or sore. We’re going to swim in Lake Hemet tomorrow, and walk back into Idyllwild to resupply. It was a perfect day.

The stars are bright and just before I go to bed a shooting star streaks across the sky.

I wish to make it to Canada.