Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mount San Jacinto, 7 July 2012: Part I

Mount San Jacinto
Devil's Slide Trail
16 miles: out and back from Humber Park on the Devil's Slide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, San Jacinto Peak Trail
Around 4,833 feet from about 6,000 feet in Idyllwild to the summit at 10,833
About 6 hours walking and one hour for lunch

I'd made the campsite reservation months in advance. Stone Creek Campground, site number 7. It would be me; Marisa, Jacob, Reed, and Birdy; and Chelsea, Kurt, Mona, and Moxie for four days of mountain sun and breezes, three nights of campfires, and a walk to the summit of Mount San Jacinto, a walk I'd been wanting to take for years. First, the Hartmans dropped out; camping with a toddler and a puppy can't be easy. Then, Kurt decided he'd stay behind with the dogs, and Chelsea begged off for the first night. So, I embraced the change of plans, got a permit for Chelsea and I to walk the Devil's Slide Trail, over-packed the car, and lit out for Idyllwild and my first ever night of camping alone.

Checking in with Jim and Cec (short for Cecilia and pronounced like "cease"), the gregarious task-master seasonal hosts at Stone Creek Campground, I let them know I'd be alone for the night and bought some fire wood. Though site number 7 is a wonderful campsite for a big group, it looked so big and open for the likes of me on my own. I crossed the road to see what 8 was like, and I found a lovely little site, surrounded by a thick grove of manzanitas. Cec told me it was open and switched my car marker. I was set. After I arranged my tent and kitchen, I sat down to some tequila and Infinite Jest. As the sun set, the air grew cooler. I built a fire and made some tacos for supper. I read by the light of my headlamp until I was dozing off and then, thoroughly covered in mosquito bites, retired to my tent.

I lay there looking up at the stars for a while and wondered why I'd worried about being there alone. I hadn't worried much, but I had worried. I've discovered, though, that the fears I have about some things aren't really my fears but are the fears of others, or of the culture; they are fears that have been instilled in me through familial and cultural socialization. I've found that our culture insists that women be afraid of being alone, being alone anywhere, alone in the world, unattached. A woman alone is vulnerable to danger and is herself a threat. But the thing is, I am alone. The other thing is, I'm not in danger. Nor am I dangerous. And as it turns out, I'm also not afraid. There are things I want to do, and I've decided that I'm not going to wait around until I'm not alone to do them. And once I do them, I usually realize that I'm not afraid. While there are indeed dangers in the world, there is no need to allow fear to impede my desire or drive to do things alone that most people do with others.

I woke to the dim dawn light, steely blue through the canopy of pines. I looked outside and saw the white disc of the moon. It was cold and still. No one else was awake yet. I put on a lot of clothes, built a fire, and cooked the most delicious sausage and eggs I'd ever eaten. I browned some corn bread in the sausage fat and dipped it into the bright yellow egg yolks as ash drifted up and onto my plate. Campers began to stir, and the air grew warmer. I took off a few layers and drove into town with my windows down listening to "Cowgirl in the Sand" really, really loud. I felt just fine.

At the Idyllwild Ranger Station, I met Judy, the woman who had helped me reserve my hiking permit over the phone. I thanked her for the permit and went outside to call Chelsea to see what time she expected to get up to Idyllwild. There was already a message from her; bad news, she said. I figured that meant she wasn't coming, after all. I called her to confirm. Indeed, she was ill, and there was no way she could hike or camp. I wished her well and went back inside to relinquish my permit for other hikers. I said to Judy, "I really shouldn't do this hike on my own, right? I mean, that's what a lot of the guides say. Do you think I should give up my permit for another group?" "Well," she said, "I think that's probably a good idea." Another ranger nearby said, "Which trail?" I told her that I'd planned to take the Devil's Slide up to the summit of Mount San Jacinto and wondered if it was a bad idea to go alone. "You'll be fine," she said. "That trail is well-traveled, so if anything were to happen to you, there would be someone to come along and find you. But I don't think anything will happen to you." I wanted to walk around the counter and hug her. I can't ever think of a time when someone told me that it was fine to do something alone, especially something as challenging as the summit of Mount San Jacinto. I'd mostly relinquished whatever disappointment I'd felt at the gradual erosion of my original plan for this trip, but her endorsement rinsed any remaining residue of that away, lickety split.

Walked over into town and browsed in the western-wear shop. I came pretty close to buying myself a showy Stetson belt but decided to save my money for the weekend, when Mountain Mike would open his shop of handmade leather goods. I poked around in the thrift store and looked at a couple of day packs at Nomad Ventures and then went back to camp. By the time I organized my kit for the next day's walk, it was late afternoon. I'd heard that a trail led from Stone Creek to Marion Mountain campground. I figured it would be about five miles round trip. I had some energy to burn and time till supper, so I strapped on my gaiters, put on my hat, and crossed the little campground road to the trail. A most beautiful and fragrant white flower was blooming all along the trail at first, and then the terrain grew drier. Scrub, rocks, and pines. I went right at a fork and was led down onto the main road into town: a two-mile detour, at least. Once I got back onto the right path, it was beautiful. The fire road soon disappeared, and I was on a barely legible single track. I crossed streams and passed enormous boulders. A sandy path led through a small open meadow. At one point, the trail seemed to end, but then I spotted a cairn and scrambled up the rock. Based on my usual speed, I was starting to wonder why I hadn't reached Marion Mountain yet, but then I heard voices and what sounded like a game of horseshoes in the distance. I walked toward the happy sound until I came upon a carved wood sign reading "Private; no trespassing". It wasn't the campground after all. Back down on the trail, it was only maybe two hundred yards before I reached Marion Mountain, a much more secluded campground than Stone Creek. A trailhead at the campground leads up to the summit of Mount San Jacinto; apparently, it's the most difficult route. Another leads to the summit of Marion Mountain. When I saw a couple coming down the path, I realized that I hadn't seen a soul on the whole trail until then. Heading back, I was grateful for the cairns and mindful of my wrong turn.

Continued in Part II

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