An Icy Traverse

Cougar Crest Trailhead to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp (PCT mile 294.1)
(19 miles, +1,700/-3,000 feet).

So here’s the thing.

My pal Barnfinder loves the PCT so much that he has a personal goal not just to section hike it, but to travel each section both northbound and southbound.  Meanwhile, I have been trying to thru-hike as much as possible (north or south makes no difference) so I can see new trail all the time.

So what are two hiking friends to do?

We hatched a plan to meet both our goals.  Barnfinder would drop me off at the Cougar Crest trailhead so I could pick up where we left off last June, and then drive to Splinters Cabin and hike towards me.  He would hike far enough so that he could return some time and do a there-and-back day hike to fill in the part he is missing from Cougar Crest.

We would then hike together until a similar point halfway between Splinters Cabin and the Mojave River Forks Dam, where he would turn south and I would keep heading north.  When he got back to the car, he would drive around to pick me up at the finish.

Confused yet?

I know it sounds crazy, but it seemed really perfect for both of us, and today it was really nice to spend half the day on a solo hike and the rest with a friend.

Although we were expecting temperatures near 30, they were closer to 20 when Barnfinder dropped me off at Cougar Crest.  I hiked fast to try and regain the feeling in my fingertips!

Cougar Crest Trail
Puddle, solidified

It only took about half an hour to make the ridge, where there were amazing views of Big Bear Lake and San Gorgonio Wilderness in the distance.

Gorgonio in the distance
Big Bear Lake

A short bit before the PCT, the Cougar Crest Trail bends around to a north facing slope, and that’s where the real fun started.

A snowy trail

At the intersection with the PCT there was a short break in the snow, but soon enough I was on north facing slopes again with no footsteps to follow.

Yes, that’s the trail
A manzanita, drowning in snow
Guess I’m on the right track
A beautiful tree

By about 9am I got on a south slope where I could, shall we say, take care of business.  I pulled out my trusty trowel to dig a hole, and in the first huge chunk of duff and dirt came a hibernating lizard!

Sorry little buddy

It hardly moved at all, and it didn’t seem right to put it back, so I left it in a sunny spot and hoped it would warm enough to find a new hiding place….

After my break I headed back into the snow.

Animal tracks leading the way
This is amazing!
Stately stump
Still on track!

The snow was pretty easy to walk on until about 10am or so.  Crunchy on top with about an inch of give most of the time allowed me to walk in just my trail runners with a little help from my trekking poles.

And then came the traverses.

I put on my microspikes and took my time.

An icy traverse
Well this is exhilarating
The way down
Looking back on my footprints

Slowly dry trail started to return now and then and I got my first views of Mount Baldy and its neighbors to the west.

At last some dry trail
Mount Baldy in the distance

After a brief respite I headed back to my last north facing slope of the day, which I could see for quite some time.

Wonderful wisps ahead
The PCT slopes down and to the right below a forest road cut in the middle

Alas, just before I was done with the challenging part, I stepped on and snapped one of my carbon fiber poles.  An expensive mistake!

At about 6600 feet near Little Bear Springs I lost the snow.

All dry here

I stopped to get water at the first Holcomb Creek crossing, where icicles clung to overhanging bushes.

I guess it’s still pretty cold

Further on, the creek became more still and had some beautiful sections where algae flowed below a tree-reflecting surface.

Holcomb Creek

Along the creek there were A LOT of blowdowns from the recent 20 year storm that swept through Southern California.

A ponderosa parked right on the trail

And then, from nowhere, Barnfinder appeared.


Barnfinder originally wanted to get a little closer to Cougar Crest Trailhead so he left me to rest while he picked up some miles to the south.  But he was tired and the blowdowns were pretty annoying so he turned back after just a short time.

After another short break, we continued north along Holcomb Creek where there were beautiful views of snow-covered Butler Peak and Crafts Peak.

Trail, with snowy ridge
This trail is beautiful!

Barnfinder warned me that there were several challenging river crossings ahead.

After fording
Maybe some trail maintenance is in order?

Our shadows grew long as we approached the final ford and our home for the evening, Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp.

Shadow Selfie
Home sweet home!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lydia says:

    Hi Jimmy great post. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am doing this section of PCT next weekend. You mentioned there are some challenging river crossings. If you could give me more information about it that would be very helpful. Also, how long did it take for you to reach the campsite from Cougar Crest?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      Hi Lydia! I would be *very* surprised if those crossings were bad now. The winter we had made the streams pretty high but I bet they are all just rock hops now. I think it took me 9 hours of hiking time to do the 19 miles, but it’s probably a little easier without the snow (lots of gentle downhill) and I hike a little faster than average. Hope you have a great time!


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