Braving Weather in the California Mountains

Mt. San Jacinto is a gorgeous hike. Just watch the weather.
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Mt. San Jacinto is a gorgeous hike. Just watch the weather.
hiker huddling in a forest

(Photo by Amanda Jameson)

Apparently, I tempted fate in my last update by talking about my side trek up Mt. San Jacinto. Getting up and down the mountain was more of an adventure than I'd bargained for.

The night prior, a hiking partner and I checked the weather, and saw there was a 40% chance of thunderstorms around 3 p.m. But we figured we'd be all right; at the very least, we'd make the call at the PCT-Peak Trail split.

We started at the Idyllwild Campground at 5 a.m. After nearly 6 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain, we were back on track, not a cloud in the sky.

The trail to the mountaintop really makes you appreciate how well-cared-for the PCT is. We squeezed through bushes and clambered over rocks, analyzing every step to make sure we didn't turn an ankle. It was slow going, but by noon, we were snacking on the summit.

But mountain weather changes quickly. As we gathered our things at the saddle for the hike down, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in a matter of minutes. We raced down to lower elevations amidst rumbles of thunder and scattered hail.

The thunder began again right before we got to the last water in 20 miles. We filled without treating and rolled down until we found a divot in the ground with a bunch of evenly spaced, approximately same-sized trees around it, and sheltered there while we waited for the rumbling to peter off.

We scurried out, but before long, the thunder forced us into cover again. Then, abruptly, it was over, and we were heading down trying not to slip on melting hail.

Every day really is a new adventure out here, though some go more smoothly than others.