Deer Springs Trailhead to PCT Halfmile 201.7
(22.3 miles, +4,300/-6,700 feet).
As I have slowly creeped my way north on the PCT, there has been a missing section that has nagged at me. On past trips I have explored all around San Jacinto Peak and the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but I never connected the dots, walking the PCT between them.
I think one reason I waited to do this section was because I hate the 10. What a miserable highway! I have driven up to an hour extra to avoid that stretch of hyper-competitive ex-urban Los Angeles.
And because I was avoiding that stretch, I also missed out on Fuller Ridge and the dramatic 6,000 foot descent from Deer Springs down to Snow Canyon.
Today my urge to complete things finally got the better of me, as I set out on a two-day trip to connect Jacinto and Gorgonio, the last of my miles in Sections B and C of the PCT.
I got my usual early start and hit the trail around 6am, well before the late winter dawn. I could barely see my steps at first, but it was bright enough to keep the headlamp in my pocket.
As the sun rose, it reflected on the beautiful manzanita forest.
I made quick work of the 4 mile Deer Springs Trail and by 8am found myself at Strawberry Junction and back on the good old PCT.
It was surprisingly cold, and also a little breezy. And it got colder and windier as I gained elevation. So in spite of the 3,500 foot climb, I kept my down puffy on (which is extremely unusual for me because I run so hot!).
I already hiked the PCT from Strawberry Junction up to the Fuller Ridge Trail two years ago, but it was snowed over then and I’m not sure we were even on the trail half the time!
I’ve read a lot about Fuller Ridge on thru-hiker blogs so I was eager to see it for myself. In some years there is still ice on this section of trail in April and May, making it very dangerous for people without traction devices or experience with snow travel.
The dense forest started to open up occasionally, giving me wonderful views to the north.
This part of the trail is extremely well-engineered, reminding me quite a bit of the John Muir Trail in some places.
Nearing 9,000 feet of elevation, I was out of water and in need of a refill at the trail’s only reliable water source for the next 20 miles, a small ravine that flows into the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. But when I arrived, I found no water—just ice!
I could hear water trickling under the ice, so I found a rock and started pounding near the sound. But it was to no avail. The ice was at least four inches thick.
I started climbing above the trail looking for thinner places in the ice and finally found one with a little open water and a pretty crystalline bridge that collapsed easily under the weight of my rock.
It was a cold 10 minutes getting 4 liters of water out of that little hole, but I was happy to have water so it was fine. I loaded back up and headed up one more little ascent before starting my long downward climb for the rest of the day.
I was eager to descend where I hoped the wind would go down and the temperature up! At my first water break after refilling at the icy falls, I discovered that the water had frozen in my water bottles. I guess it was really cold! I shook the less frozen one, drank some slush, and then gradually made my way down towards Fuller Ridge.
I started to get some nice views of San Jacinto Peak to the north and Castle Rocks to the south.
It sounded super windy, but fortunately Fuller Ridge is thickly wooded so it wasn’t too bad.
Because of the cold I was probably not taking enough breaks, and my knees started hurting me. I had to slow my pace and stretch a lot (and 3 ibuprofen also helped!).
Halfway through the ridge, the State Park comes to an end, and when the trail shifted to the north side of the ridge I started to get views of San Gorgonio Mountain.
At Fuller Ridge trailhead I took a long break on a nice picnic table in the sun, and then continued down the trail.
Below 7000 feet the forest started thinning out, giving me great views of both San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak.
Soon I was back in manzanita forest and chaparral.
Around 2pm I was musing to myself about not seeing a single soul all day when I spied two hikers headed towards me. They were two thru-hikers who had started at Canada! We chatted for a while and then I continued my descent.
With about an hour left before dark, I worried about getting to my planned campsite for the evening. As I turned a corner, I could see it right below, but the PCT headed off to the north along a steep traverse that didn’t look likely to have any flat spots to sleep. So I decided to head cross country, descending about 800 feet through easy chaparral. It was fun!
I made it down right at sunset, set up my tent, and texted Half Cookie to let her know where I was. By 5:30pm it was pitch black and time for bed! Gently hooting owls would lull me to sleep.