Day 35 (cont.)
Eventually we left town and said goodbye to Ed. It was harder than normal to leave creature comforts and our good friend.
Guthooks is the app I use for maps and general trail information, and today I had to download a new section. The Sierra.
The Sierra section has been the most talked about section both on and off trail. The winter in California brought record snow to the mountains, snow that is far from melted this late in the season. The rumors are rushing down trail fast and can be confusing to listen to.
'The snow is too intense and no one can make it through'
'The snow is melted now don't worry.'
'There are ice bridges to help you get across rivers.'
'The ice bridges are all melted and the river crossings are far too dangerous'
My plan is to get proper information, and gear, at a local outfitters once I get to Lone Pine and make sure our group stays together.
Our hike out of Tehachapi was a grueling uphill battle. My energy level was still low and I felt a bit slow. After many false summits I finally turned a corner and remembered once again why I am so happy to be here.
Mountains! Sunsets! Friends!
The smell of pine, the Sierra in the distance, the freeway far behind us now.
We set up camp at the top of the mountain tucked away amongst trees. We put in some tunes and shamelessly danced as the sun set and the light faded around us. Familiar faces passed by, trail friends we hadn't seen in a couple days, and we all chatted as we ate dinner (Oreos). Feels good to be back.
It felt like a slow hike to water for me today. My energy level was low and I couldn't get the miles out of my head.
'Just 8 more'
'Just 7.86 more'
'Just 7.52 more'
I needed a distraction. Thankfully Fresh Meat caught me during one of my many breaks and we hiked the rest of the way together. The mental game is much easier when you have a companion.
We finally arrived at the water source and found hikers sprawled out like beached whales. It was nap time at the water source, nobody was in a rush to get back to the heat. Myself included. Fresh Meat and I found Cosmo and sprawled out on the ground to join the herd.
I woke up feeling much better. I woke up feeling hungry! Eating some breakfast helped give me a boost to start my morning hike, but that boost was quickly melted by the hot sun.
We are in a heat wave.
I knew if I hiked faster I would get to water and rest sooner, but every corner I found shade and couldn't help but sit in it. Around one such corner I found Kaileigh, a Canadian woman. She was not doing so good. I sat next to her and we shared our woes and then helped each other up.
'We still have 5 more miles until water' She said with defeat.
I looked at my Halfmile app and responded with a grin, '4.86 actually! We got this.'
The two of us trudged along. And although we were still counting the miles, the companionship made it a little less painful.
We were so exhausted that we barely cared about the milestone we passed.
We were less than two miles away when we screamed at the sight of trail magic. Cosmo (who had been resting and waiting for hours) decided to hike down the last climb from Robin Hill Spring and look for us. He had water and an empty pack -- into which we put our food bags -- to share the weight.
Once again, I found a herd of hikers napping at the water (one couple had been there for days!). We stayed until 6:30pm and hiked out with the cool breeze of the evening.
The heat has melted our minds and made us all reconsider our hiking strategy. With temperatures rising to well into the 110s -- and little to no shade -- we have no choice but to siesta in the middle of the day.
We decided to wake up at dawn and get as far as we could while it was cool out. I set my alarm for 4:00am but couldn't get the energy to hike until about 6:00am.
We managed 10 scenic miles looking out upon the southern Sierra before emerging into an exposed desert landscape of scrub oak, sage brush, and yucca. The cloudless sky radiated heat and sapped the energy out of our sweaty skin.
We were grateful to find a much needed water cache at mile 616.
Around noon we could take it no more. We set up a tent under a lone yucca tree and waited the rest of the afternoon for the temperatures to subside.
The waiting period came with its own challenges. The air was stale and stagnant and I continued to sweat through every nap I took. The little shade we got from the yucca tree moved around throughout the day and we had no choice but to move with it, which brought Cosmo to lay under a single branch of shade in the middle of the trail itself.
By 6:00pm we left our spot thirsty and low on water. Despite our dehydrated and desperate situation, we found a sense of tranquility as the sunset hours began to fade over the desert. We felt our minds slowly return with the cool of the night, and hiked on as darkness fell, turning off our headlamps on occasion to watch the stars fill the sky.
Cosmo and I had 1/4th of a liter of water between the two of us, and five more miles till the next cache, but we could hike no more. We called it a day at 11:30 pm collapsing in the sand at a dirt road juncture.
I woke up tired and still thirsty, but with a strong motivation to get to that cache. We quickly gathered our things and silently started walking at 5:30am
By the time we made it to mile 631 it felt like stumbling upon a fortune. Water, snacks, and even a place to charge your phone. These volunteers really are trail ANGELS!
Slowly the herd began to trickle in. Chopstick, Sweet Feet, Pika, Laundromat, Eight Bottle, and Switchback.
Unfortunately, we couldn't relax too long at the water if we wanted to beat the midday heat and finish our 2,000ft climb (with six liters of water each).
At the top of a nameless pass we found more shade than yesterday. We dropped our packs and sprawled out on the ground.
Next to water, sleep deprivation may be one of the hardest challenges of this section. We walk late at night, and early in the morning. In the heat of the day we would ideally sleep, but our pools of sweat don't make for comfortable beds. Even in the shade the best we can do is listen to the incessant drone of flys, gnats, and mosquitos hovering around our heads.
We were able to venture out a bit earlier today due to our higher elevation. We were thankful to see trees lining our path down the mountain, and walked a few sunset miles before setting up in a small clearing of pine.
Our hike to water this morning was along a tree-lined trail, and much more enjoyable. We only had a few more hours to hike before we would make it to Walker Pass Campground.
With two more miles to go before break time, I saw a man with a camera and a trail running backpack, LA Aaron had come to save the day (and capture some of our desert misery). LA Aaron was in for a couple surprises this visit.
Today is June 21st, the summer solstice...and Naked Hiking Day. Most thru hikers didn't celebrate the holiday. LA Aaron learned all of this by running into Cosmo and discovering he wasn't most people.
After awkwardly chatting with a fully revealed Cosmo, LA Aaron ran up to find me. I was fully clothed, fully exhausted, and not able to show excitement for surprises.
We trudged on down the steep grade to Walker Pass as the midmorning heat gradually intensified, and though we were prepared with plenty of water, I again felt the toll of such a brutal landscape on my mental state. I needed rest and I needed shade.
Near the campground, we spotted a blue tarp hanging above a picnic area, and after Charlie put his clothes back on, an older man walked out, opened his arms and smiled. "Welcome to Walker Pass! We have cold beer, soda, watermelon, and plenty of it. Have at it!"
Not for the first time and not for the last, I want to give my greatest appreciation for the Trail Angels we have encountered along our journey. The idea of extending such generosity towards complete strangers, motivated purely by goodheartedness, is a profound takeaway of the trail, and something the world couldn't hurt to have a little more of.
Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the picnic bench, into LA Aaron's car, and headed to Lake Isabella for a much needed reprieve.
After 40 days and 40 nights, I will take my first zero.