The Golden Arches

Jun 9, 2024

Written By Riordan Cicciu

The alarm tone woke me violently from my sleep and I shot upright, still in my sleeping bag. The others had also begun to stir with the sudden noise. One by one, our headlamps flicked on, and we began to prepare ourselves for the upcoming climb. It was 3: 00 AM, and we were planning on summiting San Jacinto by sunrise. The night was still. Considering that we were 9,000 feet in the air already, it was quite cold and the act of crawling out from under my covers was uncomfortable. Once packed, we grouped together without a word and began our strenuous hike in darkness.

I’ve hiked to the summit of a few mountains in my days. However, at 10,830 feet, Jacinto is undoubtedly the tallest in my experience. Whenever I reach the apex of a mountain, I’m always taken back by my sudden and apparent shift in demeanor. I find myself anxious and cautiously aware of the freezing temperatures as the howling wind threatens to nudge me off balance. The hard pack snow is slick and challenges each footstep. The air is thin, and even the smallest of movements can leave you out of breath. All that being said, I wouldn’t go as far to say that Jacinto is inherently dangerous. Rather, my inexperience at altitude is likely the culprit for my anxiety at the summit. After a few deep breaths, some photos, and an ice cold poptart for breakfast, I began to settle in and enjoy a beautiful sunrise over the neighboring peaks.

The steep slopes and lush pine forests lasted for roughly another day as we scrambled back down to the desert after our summit. The mild temperatures throughout the day quickly became sweltering as a “punishing heat dome” pushed into our area. That’s what the local news station was calling the heat wave that made us cling to the tinyest slivers of shade as we passed by. To avoid the heat, we began taking extended breaks during the hottest parts of the day, and hiked longer into the evenings. It has become somewhat regular for us to wake up at 4:00 AM and hiking 12-15 miles before noon.

On one day, we passed by a McDonald’s near a highway underpass in El Cajon. Being the ravenous hiker-trash that we are, we stumbled into the building, ordered our fill for breakfast, and then sat around for six hours in the dining area as we waited out the heat in the A/C. After lunch and a late afternoon snack, we headed back out on trail to finish off our mileage for the day. The sudden influx of calories carried us another 30 miles or so to our current location in Wrightwood, California. We spent the night sharing a small cabin that we rented, and plan to resupply before heading back out tonight for a few evening miles. It’s a quick turnaround, but at least we got some good food, a shower, and clean clothes out of the ordeal. Only 350 more miles before we are out of the desert and into the Sierra!

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