Day 10 – April 13, 2022
Mile 140.2 (Nance Canyon Tentsite) to 158.4 (Live Oak Spring)
18.2 trail miles | 20.6 tracked miles | 4,051 ft elevation gain | 68 F / 20 °C
We almost bagged our first 10-before-10 today! That’s thru-hiker speak for 10 miles before 10am, or roughly the equivalent of a day hike for breakfast. The key is to start early—we hit the trail at 6:30am this morning, and we plan on sticking with this schedule going forward.
The day started with a fair bit of climbing, but the promise of a hot lunch at Paradise Valley Cafe kept us going. The scenery was mostly the same as yesterday—rolling hills and desert shrubs—with the auspicious sight of the valley in the distance.
Soon, we arrived at Mary’s Place and refilled our water bottles. Like Mike’s Place, which we visited yesterday, Mary’s Place is private property at the edge of the trail. The owner maintains a reliable water supply for hikers out of kindness of her heart.
A retired philosophy professor, as well as a nature enthusiast and equestrian, Mary has built a hiker oasis with camping spots, picnic tables, and (presumably) the trail’s only ‘Little Free Library: “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” In addition to various PCT guidebooks and literature, the library features Mary’s own writings and poetry.
Hikers can draw inspiration from quotes by writers and pioneers Walt Whitman, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau, whose life-size cutouts greet visitors.
We didn’t stay long as we really just needed water for the next 5 miles to Road 74—and dare I say calories more than poetry—but I really enjoyed the vibe. Mary’s Place is just the opposite of Mike’s Place—tidy, inspiring, and serene.
The trail continued to climb gently but steadily. Shortly before 11 am, we reached Route 74, which is also known as the Pines to Palms Highway. It brought back memories—I drove on this highway as a college student on a road trip to Palm Desert and Palm Springs.
We left the trail and made a sharp left towards Paradise Valley Cafe, an obligatory stop on the PCT and the focal point of the day. The roughly one-mile road walk went by in a breeze. It’s as if the weight of our packs had dissipated in anticipation for earthly nourishment, despite the fact that walking on concrete is quite uncomfortable.
Paradise Valley Cafe proudly caters to hikers, bikers, and horse riders. To describe the atmosphere as relaxed would be an understatement. We showed up, grabbed a seat on the patio, promptly took off our shoes, and humongous platters soon materialized in front of us. At Paradise Valley Cafe, there’s no “sir” and “madam”, just “baby” and the occasional “darling.”
After a full-size salad and a gargantuan burger, I started to slip into a food coma, but I heard the words “apple pie” and, recognizing that there’s always room for dessert, I decided to indulge and wash it all down with a beer.
I was so stuffed that I couldn’t move anymore. It was not my finest hour, but I’ve earned it. Straddling a fine line between pleasure and pain, we rested a few hours to recover from our
Strategically located near the boundary between the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the San Jacinto Wilderness, Paradise Valley Cafe is not just a popular hiker hangout, but also a crucial resupply point.
The San Jacinto mountain range is the first major obstacle for northbound hikers. While the PCT does not reach the top of the 10,834 ft (3,302 m) San Jacinto Peak, the trail can be treacherous early in the season. In 2020, hiker Trevor Laher slipped at Apache Peak and tragically fell to his death. He had just landed a job at Microsoft.
Trevor didn’t have microspikes. His family has since partnered with the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation to educate future hikers on the need to carry snow gear through the San Jacinto range. The “desert” is, after all, blanketed in snow through early spring. Paradise Valley Cafe supports the initiative and holds hikers’ packages at no cost.
I located my ice axe and spikes in a precarious pile of boxes by the bathroom. The axe is definitely an overkill this year, but the spikes may come in handy as there is still a fair amount of snow at higher elevations.
Weighed down by a full belly and snow gear (which still feels oddly out of place), we hit the road again and walked back to the PCT junction at Route 74, then headed back north. The scenery shifted immediately. We walked through a sort of garden of Eden, a magical landscape dominated by green and golden hues and dotted by enormous boulders. We had to crawl in between boulders and through narrow passages a few times—a testament to the power of avalanches that obliterate the area every year.
We hiked another seven miles, then after careful deliberation decided to spend the night at Live Oak Spring, one mile down a relatively steep side trail. Water is still scarce on this section, and I’m happy to walk an extra mile in order to avoid dry camping.
We were rewarded for our side excursion by a large and spacious campsite, with plenty of space to spread out and a comfortable amount of privacy. There is a trough fed by a pipe, which makes it easy to collect water and freshen up.
Today is day #10 (my first round number!), I almost hit my first 10-before-10, I climbed 4,051 ft.—more than any other day so far—and hiked a total distance of over 21 miles (side trips included) despite taking a long break after lunch. I’m starting to feel like a legitimate thru-hiker!