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  • Emily Hayes

The missing ice axe

First published on The Trek.

San Jacinto mountain has been a beast. I've been exhausted every day. The weather had been building up for another storm which means lots of wind and temperatures near freezing at night. The mountain range runs up and down to about 3,000 meters of elevation. I was finding everything very difficult at that elevation. Gillian and I were now hiking with Mountie and Gus. The 4 of us covered some challenging terrain in this region. Of this 50 miles of trail, a lot was covered in burnt fallen trees along mountain sides with the occasional sections of snow. It was like an obstacle course only without a safety net. Gillian got her trail name "Detour" during a particularly confusing part of this mountainside obstacle course.

View from San Jacinto mountain

Although challenging, for the few days we traversed the San Jacinto range we were building ourselves up for bigger days later in the trail. I learnt how hard I found some of the snowy sections. I had been carrying my ice axe and microspikes since mile zero in anticipation of snow. They were both put to the test about 180 miles later there on the mountains. Microspikes attach to my trail shoes and are used a little like crampons, adding traction to hard snow that would be difficult to walk over. This gave me confidence in my stride, even if many people decided not to use them. I was more excited to use my ice axe because it just seems cool and I knew how to use it for self rescue. I'd spent some time researching which one to purchase and was quite happy with my not-so-lightweight model. But unfortunately the mountain had other ideas. At the San Jacinto summit my ice axe mysteriously disappeared. There was no one there yet it vanished while I detoured to take photos. I really would have liked to have used it on the Fuller Ridge trail, the hardest snowy section yet.

Using ice axe in some light snow

As if we hadn't done enough for a summit day, we had to keep walking more miles to find a camp spot near enough Palm Springs for our impeding rest days. The best we got was an exposed bushy mountain top with 40mph winds, 3 of us in a tent made for 2, attempting to hold the tent down throughout the night.

San Jacinto Peak

After resting in Palm Springs we joined the trail again near Cabazon. We found the beautiful camping area at the Freshwater Preserve. Then came a section along a creek that is notorious for hikers loosing the trail and bushwacking. It was a frustrating day as the trail would just disappear. I've heard the trail was washed away in 2019 (a high snow year) and now there is just the occasional marker or cairn to point you in the right direction. Some scrambling back up the dry creek bed once we'd realised we were off trail would result in scratched hands and disturbed ants nests. I was glad to get to our campsite that night but the spot at mile 235 was limited in space as some large trees had fallen. We managed to find some space inbetween rocks, the spring and the trees.

We were getting close to Big Bear, a popular resupply town, so made a decision to hike our first 21 mile day. I set off at 5am without my trail buddies who I knew would be able to catch up. Sure enough by 10am I was behind them both, lagging behind because I stop to take photos a lot and still haven't figured out the quickest way to visit the wilderness toilet. That night we camped 10 miles out of Big Bear and were on a high as those 21 miles where a lot easier than anticipated.

I'm feeling my ankles getting stronger, I am no longer as concerned about the uneven ground and my knees seem to be able to handle the downhill better. I'm also appreciating the purpose of trail switchbacks as steep mountains are not fun and nor is a scree slide.

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