Day 11: Mission Creek (First Crossing) to Mission Creek (Trail Camp)

Trail miles: 226.2-239.9

May 13, 2019

After spending a glorious half hour in the Whitewater River yesterday, we hiked six hot miles before camping at the first crossing of Mission Creek. Riley (whom I’d met on the trail earlier in the day) and Fire Socks (whom I’d met when she arrived late in the evening at the summit hut on Mt. San Jacinto, a few days prior) were already spreading out their Tyvek groundcloths in a sandy wash near the creek. Although they attempted to persuade me to cowboy camp with them, I decided against it after sustaining three bites from three separate species of insect while eating dinner.

After the hot afternoon, I figured an early start would help ease the climb from just over 3000’ to just under 8000’ the following day. Just as I was setting my alarm for 4am, Danish picked his way barefoot across the rocks to inform me that he and the rest of the group were going to get up at 4 to beat the heat. We joked about the “hive mind” that had led us to the same wake up time, and then he said goodnight and wandered back toward his tent.

When I poked my head out of my tent in the morning, the Milky Way was still visible as a bright band stretching across the cloudless sky. I packed my things, and when we realized that only Danish, Hiccups, Hot Hands, Brightside and I had heeded the agreed upon alarm, we set off up Mission Creek.

The maps of this section of trail are out of date as of Valentine’s Day 2019, when a massive flood tore through Mission Creek Canyon and obliterated much of the 10 mile stretch of PCT that follows the creek up its drainage. In many places, the swollen creek eroded a new channel for itself, washing away trail tread in the process.

Immediately after leaving camp, the trail disappeared from the bank into the dark creek. I plunged my feet into the water, making the first of what would become dozens of crossings.

Making our way upstream turned out to be (mostly) quite enjoyable. It was challenging in the pathfinding sense, but the routefinding was easy: we knew we had to travel to the head of the drainage to connect with the next intact portion of PCT; the only question was how best to get there. We took turns leading over boulder-strewn alluvial deposits and through stands of dense riparian brush, making our way steadily up-valley.

A couple hours into the morning, I began to feel very dizzy and drained of energy. I figured the symptoms might be side effects of the antibiotics I had been taking for my infected bug bite and ate a second Clif Bar and some fig bars, remembering that the pharmacist had advised me to take the pills with something in my stomach. When we stopped for a break, I leaned against a boulder and nearly fell asleep sitting up.

Over the next few hours, the dizziness went away, but the exhaustion remained. When we finally arrived at the section of the PCT that had escaped the wash out, I stopped for a shade break, filtered some water from a small creek, and ate an obscene amount of peanut butter in anticipation of the major climb ahead.

I memorized a few more Whitman lines as I worked my way up the exposed switchbacks, grateful for the cloud cover that kept me relatively cool. The next 4.5 miles felt unreasonably draining, even considering the 4,000 feet of elevation gain. When I finally arrived at the logical camping spot – the last water source for 15 miles – I promptly ate a large lunch and retreated to my tent for a nap.

I woke to the happy sound of friends chatting outside my tent. I joined them in the late afternoon sun to cook a 4:30pm couscous dinner. My hunger has really been picking up the last few days, and it feels as though I’ll barely have enough food to get into Big Bear the day after tomorrow. Running out of food as you walk into town is ideal; it means you carried the lightest possible food load. But there is a fine line between achieving this ideal and running out a bit too early, which can leave a hiker ravenous and grouchy. The next few days will reveal which side of that line I’ve fallen on during this section.

A bear cub near the trail. No mama bear in sight…

Heading to Mexico!

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