Strawberry Cienaga sounds like an exotic dessert with strawberries bathed by scrumptious creamy whipped topping, perhaps with sprinkles of chocolate, completed by a touch of Cointreau … except, it isn’t.
We passed through or by Strawberry Cienaga on our latest Section hike on the PCT. From the hot, windy desert floor to the snow obliterated trail on the high reaches of the PCT on Mt. San Jacinto we climbed. We found neither strawberries, nor a cienaga.
We Chose to Climb
I had yet to hike the approximately 38 mile stretch from Whitewater Preserve (mile 219) to the junction where Wellman’s Divide on Mt. San Jacinto splits off of the PCT (mile 181). Our decision was to either take the Palm Springs Tram up Mt. San Jacinto, hike the 5 or 6 miles to the junction and complete the Section hike (drops 8345 feet to the desert floor) to Whitewater Preserve … OR … go against the the flow of hikers going north to Canada and head south from Whitewater Preserve, climb the 8345 feet, and take the tram down.
We chose to climb.
Having left Red Deer in a snow storm our bodies were not acclimatized to the heat (mid 30 degrees Celcius) on our first day of hiking from Whitewater Preserve to the base of the Mt. San Jacinto. On the way we had to cross the desert floor through a wind tunnel (millions of windmills attest to that fact) where Doris got blown off course several times. Tired, hot, wind swept, and sunburned we arrived at our water source (Snow Creek water faucet) and set up camp. We expected the wind to die down like it does at home in the evenings … it didn’t. It got stronger, and as we tried to sleep our tent began to succumb to the forces.
With our tent whipping around, and threatening to collapse, my mind started to wonder about the safety of Doris on the ridges of the climb up Mt. San Jacinto. With wind that strong it could easily blow her off the trail, perhaps down the steep embankment, and I debated with myself about the wisdom of carrying on.
Things loom large at night and ones brain starts working overtime … every noise is exaggerated inside of a tent. I decided to take a look around outside and discovered that while the wind was very strong it was actually a very warm wind and was not bringing any other nasty elements like thunderstorms or rain. I envied the hikers who were cowboy camping, not having tents to contend with.
I returned to the tent , rigged up a hiking pole inside to buttress the tent against the gusts and we finally got some sleep.
The next day was another warm sunny day and we spent it on a steady climb of 5000 feet to our next campground at the PCT Hikers Coliseum. We had no wind to blow us off the ledges.
Off to Fuller Ridge in the morning.
In the weeks leading up to our hike Fuller Ridge looked like it was going to an insurmountable obstacle. I read a post of a hiker who had slid 1000 feet down the side of the mountain, arrested only by some brush … he felt lucky to be alive. I phoned the rangers station several times to check on conditions and was advised that crampons, an ice axe (and knowing how to use it), and a GPS were essential tools. As the days grew closer the reports relaxed as the snow melt removed some of the hazard but micro spikes were still a must have.
Even as we began hiking we weren’t sure if we would take a risk and hike the ridge or take the alternative Black Mountain Road alternative. We quizzed every hiker we met about their experience on Fuller Ridge. We got everything from treacherous to no problem. We had packed micros spikes just in case and decided to give it a try.
In the end, we hiked it with just our normal footwear and did not experience any difficulties. Nevertheless, I would not want to be too cavalier about it … a misstep could, in fact, be a big problem. Post-holing caused me more concern than slipping and we saw lots of evidence of feet breaking through the snow thigh deep … an easy way to wreak havoc on a foot, a knee or a leg.
Fuller Ridge was a great part of the trail with views down both sides of Mt. San Jacinto. I’m glad we didn’t miss it.
We spent our final night at Strawberry Junction and enjoyed a view of the sunset from some elevated boulders. In the morning we hiked by Strawberry Cienaga and didn’t really know where it was. Cienaga, as best as I can determine, is a swampy kind of area, or perhaps a spring fed area … we couldn’t distinguish either, but it was a lovely walk nonetheless.
Don’t Be in a Hurry to Retire into Your Tent
Inside your tent everything becomes magnified. Your mind works overtime when you can’t see anything besides your tent walls … every noise seems louder … every gust of wind seems like a gale force … rain sounds like staccato beating on your head … you hear scratching sounds from little creatures and you imagine them bigger than they are. Do a reality check … get out of your tent, walk around, check out the stars … get your perspective back. This is why you hike!