The Pine House Café is an oasis in the Mount Laguna wilderness for most visitors, but it usually closes after the dinner hour.
Friday night was different, however. With gusting winds, freezing temperatures and snow on the ground, the café became refuge for some three dozen weary hikers.
Pine House Café employee Nica Knite had her hands full.
The bathroom tissue refills weren’t the half of it. She had hikers in the restaurant, hikers filling the bar. Hikers – and their gear – filled the lobby. Hikers were even in the kitchen, lending a hand.
“We're basically having a giant slumber party,” Knite said.
The dinner rush was spending the night. The café posted an open invitation on Facebook to Pacific Crest Hikers passing through who were not prepared for the surprise spring snow storm.
“We started 20 miles down the trail this morning and half-way through we were like, ‘We gotta make it there,’” hiker Chloe Lalonde said.
Lalonde and friend Tara Cooper are first-time hikers on this trail. It took years to plan this trip, but they definitely didn’t expect or plan for snow.
“When I saw this place [the café], I wanted to start crying tears of joy,” Cooper said.
First-timers and veteran hikers, some from out of state and others from out of the country, shared 1200-square-feet of restaurant floor. Each guest was asked to pitch in any way they can to help the others.
The roof over their head, warm fire and sing-along tunes from the band Barb Wire were free, adding to the slumber party feel of the impromptu event.
“I am amazed by the snow. I am grateful for it, otherwise we wouldn't be here for this party,” hiker John Benson said.
Knite said she hasn't seen May snow in five years on Mount Laguna but the hikers come every spring. And kindness itself goes a long way.
“We don't want them sick and beleaguered, we want them happy and healthy and enjoying the heck out of The Pacific Crest trail,” Knite said.
More than 30 hikers Friday night, 20 of them Thursday night.
Snowy conditions are expected to improve but if not, look for the light at The Pine House Café.