Ridge below Mount Hawkins (PCT mile 381.6) to Vincent Gap (mile 374)
(7.6 miles, +1,400/-3,200 feet).
Well today had some surprises in store for us!
Overnight the wind shifted from blowing up one side of the ridge to blowing up the other, but it was never much above 10 miles an hour so our tent stayed put. After a wonderful and surprisingly warm sleep, we were both in a much better mood to tackle the last bit of uphill to Mount Baden-Powell. We packed up in the pre-dawn and hit the trail.
After about an hour we reached a sign that said Little Jimmy was 1.6 miles behind us. Someone had (correctly) scratched out 1.6 and replaced it with 3.7.
It was a little chilly (about 50 degrees) so we were actually happy to see the sun for a change.
We started encountering big snow fields whenever the PCT went on the north side of the ridge, so we avoided them by just following the ridge straight up. We had micro spikes with us but it was easier to stay on dry land.
The marine layer covered the LA basin far away, making the mountains look like distant islands.
By 8am we made it to the summit.
The summit is this big flat sandy area that is a little anti-climactic, but at least it was nice to know that our climbing was done for a while. After a good break, we began to search for the trail on the summit’s snowy north side.
Not too far below the summit, the famous Wally Waldron tree sits on a ridge where it has lived for more than 1500 years.
Then the real fun started. It’s about 3,000 feet down to Vincent Gap, and ordinarily we would have been able to do that descent over 4 miles on 40 well-built switchbacks. But the switchbacks were covered in patches of snow, and most of the footprints we followed just went straight down the mountain.
Fortunately, the warm weather had softened the snow so we didn’t worry too much about a fall and we kept our micro spikes off. Maybe three quarters of the time we found paths on dry land, but the soil and rocks could be slippery and I fell twice and got a pretty big gash in my hand (good thing I packed a very large band-aid!).
About half way down the snow had melted enough that we could stick to the switchbacks. We got some water at Lamel Springs and took a bit of a break before finishing up the last 1,000 feet of descent. As we dropped down we could see our next big climb out of Vincent Gap.
But just before we got down to the parking lot at Vincent Gap, Half Cookie stepped on a rock and badly rolled the ankle she had been worrying about. It was immediately obvious that we needed to get her off her feet. We were lucky that we were so close to the highway where we could hitch a ride.
A very nice couple drove us to Wrightwood where we got an Uber back to our car, and thanks to the Best Western in Big Bear, we were able to change our reservation and show up a day early to rest and recover.
It was definitely a little sad to end the trip early, but I think we also both felt relieved that we were no longer under time pressure to make big miles. We’ll be back, and next time I think we’ll plan things better to make sure we can fully enjoy every last second.