April 6, 2018
The wind whirled above while we slept peacefully in a protected spot at Strawberry Camp Tentsite, high in the San Jacinto Mtns. Little did we know what the wind was bringing as we slumbered!
Morning dawned with blue skies, the sun sparkling through pines across the ridge top. Spectacular views lured us to walk slowly, stopping often to look out across steep drop offs as the trail meandered along the top of the ridges.
We stopped to fill and treat water from a spouting stream, the headwaters of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. It boggled my mind to think of this cheerful dancing rivulet flowing 42 miles, collecting more streams but never reaching the Pacific Ocean, instead emptying into Lake Elsinore, a part of the land-locked Great Basin.
The wind, a cold and persistent presence all day, gained even more power in the afternoon. We were descending Fuller Ridge, hiking miles and miles of switchbacks, making our way down the armpit of the mountain slope. This half circle in the landscape caught the wind in a giant eddy, swirling around us, sending me staggering across the path, first one way, then another.
As evening loomed, we found a flat spot, partly protected by bushes. Jay laid out the tent, pounding stakes deep into the soil. As we lifted the roof of the tent, a gust gleefully ripped tent stakes out of the ground, turning our shelter into a sail.
We consulted the map and decided to hike on, hoping the tent site in half a mile would provide more shelter. It was a vain hope. As we rounded the slope, the wind whipped wildly across the landscape, threatening to shred any fabric we might try to put up. We kept hiking.
A mile later, with dusk taking serious hold of the day, we came upon another campsite, slightly sheltered with a couple of boulders. Once again we laid out the tent. This time Jay weighted our tent stakes with huge hunks of rock. The wind teasingly backed off long enough for us to get both tent poles inserted, then, with a powerful puff of air, lifted the tent like a balloon, trailing tent stakes wildly behind.
We decided to dig out our flashlights and keep on hiking. Jay saw several rats. Twice I spied fat mice scurrying across the dark trail. Then one mouse ran straight up a boulder beside my shoulder. I am convinced that rodents know no fear, and these mice exemplified that opinion.
Suddenly, around a corner, my flashlight beam caught the form of a three foot yellow rattlesnake. I stopped, hoping the light would scare the snake. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop, slithering down the trail as if he owned it. I backed up, bumping into Jay.
“What is it?” Jay asked.
“S-s-s-snake!” I stuttered, my hands flapping in agitation, my feet trying to levitate me off the trail completely.
“Do you want me to go first?” Jay asked kindly.
I didn’t want either of us to go, but since Jay was volunteering, I cravenly stepped behind him.
The snake continued its chosen course toward us. We hugged the outer edge of the trail, our heels hanging in space as we strove to let the rattler have most of the path. As the snake came upwind, it suddenly smelled us, and let out a warning rattle. Despite the fact that the snake was behind me, my feet took charge of my body and began running. Jay didn’t run, which quickly caused a collision between us. I wanted to ask, “Why aren’t you running?” But Jay already knew my status as a scaredy-cat. The Dutch saying, “een kat in het nauw maakt rare sprongen” (a threatened cat makes odd jumps), definitely described me at the moment!
After descending 8,070 ft, we passed a water faucet at the base of the mountain. Several hikers were cowboy camped on the pavement, gear strewn nearby. We continued, hoping to find shelter from the wind. The further we progressed on the valley floor, the stronger the wind became. By now it was near gale force, beating against us incessantly.
At 11:00 p.m., after hiking 23.5 miles, we gave up and lay down in a sandy ditch with just our sleeping bags. The wind could have been jet engines roaring overhead. It pulled and tugged at my sleeping bag, threatening to sail away with it, but I tucked the edges firmly around me and just dared that wind to part us! It was a long seven hours until sunrise, and I didn’t get much sleep, but at least my legs got to rest.
April 7, 2018
I viewed the sunrise through sleep deprived, sand-crusted eyes. Gladly I shook the sand out of my sleeping bag. Only 2.7 miles to Interstate 10 and civilization!
An hour and a half later, Jay and I were hitching a ride to Banning, CA. A school principal with the trail name of Anonymous dropped us at a Travelodge. It was truly amazing how, once again, our circumstances had swung from peril to luxury in a matter of hours!