Date: Saturday, 6 May 2017
Start: Campsite by small creek near Mile 194, 6340 ft
Finish: Campsite in Whitewater Preserve near Mile 219, 2208 ft
Daily Miles: 24.7 PCT, 0.6 to Whitewater Preserve
Total PCT Miles: 218.6
Weather: Partly sunny, mild and extremely windy
Accommodation: Tent in Whitewater Preserve Picnic Area
Dinner: Rehydrated chicken and pasta
Aches: Very tired legs and feet
Highlight: The extremely windy conditions made the day memorable, because they were as strong as I have experienced in the outdoors and added another dimension to the day’s hiking experience.
Lowlight: Literally being blown off the switch-backing trail by a sudden powerful gust of wind. At the moment it happened, and I began crashing down the steep crumbling slope, I thought this is going to end very badly. However, after about five huge bounds during which I managed to stay upright, I landed on the trail below unharmed, but very shaken up.
Pictures: Click here
Map: Click here for Google Map
It didn’t rain overnight, but it was definitely a bit cooler than usual when I started hiking soon after 6:30am. The trail continued its descent down from San Jacinto Mountain, and dropped about 5000 ft over the next 12 miles. The scenery was spectacular, but the legs and feet were taking a hammering. Spread out below was the valley of the San Gorgonio River (dry) with vast wind farms and a major freeway and rail line. It seemed to take forever to get there on the switch-backing trail and as we neared the bottom the intensity of the wind swirling through the valley grew immensely. I was hiking near a number of trail friends, and we were all having trouble staying upright, which was particularly dangerous given the steep-sided trail.
Presumably it is always a windy place, given the number of wind farms, but a cold front was also clearly impacting the weather, with huge clouds building to the west and then dissipating as they hit the warmer drier air of the desert.
Once on the valley floor, Octane and I set out for the crossing under the I10 Freeway, four miles away, where there was rumoured to be “trail magic” (goodies provided by volunteers for PCT hikers). The headwind was intense, picking up the dust from the parched river valley and sandblasting our faces as we struggled to make forward progress. It was a dour 90 minutes with me leading, struggling to follow the trail, conversation impossible and shelter non-existent. When we reached the gloomy dry river underpass, we found half a dozen PCT hikers recovering from the experience, and savouring the cold drinks left by a trail angel. While we enjoyed the drinks and some snacks, other hikers arrived, similarly shell-shocked from the experience.
By this time it was early afternoon, and Octane and I decided to head for Whitewater Preserve for the night in the absence of any nearer viable alternatives, even though it was another nine miles away. As we climbed out of the valley, the wind didn’t seem quite so bad and we stopped for a drink of water left out for hikers by one of the windfarm companies, before starting on the remaining six miles. There followed more climbing, steep trails and swirling powerful winds, which blew me off the trail at one point. We finally descended to the awesome Whitewater River valley, surrounded by imposing rocky mountains and reached the Preserve, an oasis-like area in the dry and treeless landscape.
It was cold and occasionally drizzling, and we set up camp, had dinner and got into bed as quickly as we could, hoping for calmer and dry conditions in the morning.