10/9/14 – 10/17/14
Mileage driven 560
A Little Taste of a Thru-Hike
Our original plans to hike to Birdspring Pass, changed the moment we saw the sign. It was a map of the OHV playground of the Jawbone Canyon State Park directly off of Highway 14 in the Antelope Valley. The map was a picture of a web of roads with our destination of Birdspring Pass on the top and the “You are here” symbol near the bottom. In between was a maze of veins. The gateway was a dirt road and rutted out. We decided to re-figure things and perhaps save a few dollars on car repairs.Walker Pass is a known stopping point for many PCT thru-hikers. Often, hikers find trail magic there offered by Yogi, the author of one of the most respected trail guides of the PCT. In fact, when we did arrive eight days later to end our adventure, Yogi had left a note in the trail register there that she had left water at the campground “under the picnic table.” Gotta love the PCT and the wonderful people whose character and spirit are such a vital part of the trail.
After leaving one car at Walker Pass, we took our other car northward to Lone Pine and to Horseshoe Meadows, our starting part for our hike. Horseshoe Meadows is a campground at the top of a 15-minute drive up a mountain road. We pitched our tent in the dark and made dinner. After cleaning up, we got settled in and went to sleep. In the morning, we would be starting our longest hike both in terms of mileage and length of time. I started with 45 pounds in my pack. Patti carried about 30 pounds.We got a reasonably early start, waking up just a bit after sunrise. But it was cold at 10,000 plus elevation and, in fact, we found ice in the meadow below the campsite. By 8:00, the sun was bright and the air warmer. This pattern would play out most days through our hike, with the coldest of the days and nights at the highest elevations. After just a few miles, we frustrated ourselves by missing the very faded PCT emblem on a cut-off sign and took a wrong turn. Making the error wasn’t the worst of it as it really wasn’t too far, maybe a mile. But the back UP ruined our mojo, our momentum we built up until this point. During this first day, we heard an (invisible) plane, maybe two, that seemed to tear the sky open with its noise. No sight of it, just sound. Patti joked she had a flashback of the War of the World movie and expected aliens to appear. But we were safe, the safe ones always head to the mountains, don’t they?
We had lunch near Diaz Creek and filled up all of our water bladders. Our packs felt monstrously heavy. Water was scarce this trip, so we had to not just plan on the next reported water, but the one after that one, just to play it safe. If the next water was suppose to be in ten miles, but the one after that was eight, we had to carry water for 18. Rarely was extra water carried. Patti had to make a HUGE sacrifice, by forgoing her morning and afternoon coffee. Hmmm lets see, dehydration vs. Patti’s grumpy decaffeinated morning self. She truly is not a morning person. Never has been. Touch choice.
For entertainment we looked for art in the trees. One of the downed trees looked like a hand coming out of the ground, Carrie-style. We also saw a vulture and the face of a dog.We both had our new, lighter shoes out for a first major hike. I couldn’t tell much of a difference. Patti, however, really liked her new shoes. Instead of full-on boots, Patti is now using more a trail shoe and it has worked out well so far. The only disadvantage she found with her new gear was that because there was more mesh on the upper part of the shoe, her feet got dirtier than usual. And oddly, both days she wore hiking socks she got blisters. On days she wore regular socks, none.
We spent most of the first three days at or near 10,000-feet altitude. With our heavy packs and the altitude we both suffered. Patti complained a bit about a headache, mild, for two days. I couldn’t gain an appetite. But we ran into beautiful days and wonderful fall colors, which we don’t see a lot of in Southern California.
On the morning of the third day we saw two deer. But, regrettably, we also lost the Goal Zero battery pack. We had to conserve our recharging efforts for the remainder of the trip as we switched out our phones, iPod, and the batteries for the headlamps and lantern. Without the battery pack, we were dependent entirely on the sun and once we lost power in some of the devices we had to go without.Speaking of devices, Patti continues to use her old iPhone 3G (I’m slowly convincing her to upgrade, as I plan to do from my 4S), and that model doesn’t handle the Guthook PCT Guide app very well. Up until this portion, Patti had the app on her phone using the Southern California map pack. Now that we were hiking the Central California region, we needed to download the new maps, so I did that on my phone. Patti felt liberated that she wasn’t always looking up miles and directions, which I took over. I also enjoyed this change as I like using the app and prefer to be in the driver’s seat. Maybe that’s why I’m always driving. As for the real benefits of this, though, they were all in Patti’s comment that she felt so much more “in the moment” and that she was enjoying the trail like never before. She was able to hike without the constancy of math in her head.
We grew especially anxious and excited to be approaching Kennedy Meadows on the fourth day. We knew that there is a General Store that caters to hikers just a “short distance” from the trail. We were looking forward to anything fresh, hot and made-for-us. I could almost taste the hamburger I planned to order.
We worried we might not make the Columbus Day seasonal closure but prodded on hoping for the best. As we got closer, and for the first time in four days, we saw a young family of parents, two young boys and their dog. We exchanged pleasantries and stories. They were from Tehachapi and were on a school break. Just a short day hike. They were staying at Kennedy Meadows campground. We asked if they knew if the store was open. And sure enough it was. I’m sure we showed big smiles then. We said our goodbyes and moved on. At the campground we washed up, collected water from an actual spigot, then hiked the 2 more miles to the General Store. However, as always, nothing is quite as simple as it should be.
As we approached the well anticipated mile 702, where we were to turn off for the store, we saw a building with a green roof. “That must be it!” we assured each other, often. As we approached, there was even a sign that said “Welcome.” The chain at the end of a long driveway was down. This has to be it! It’s the only building we could see. The chain at the other end was up, however. This stopped me cold. We couldn’t see any activity but it was a big building with a big wrap around porch. Looked like a good size building for a store to Patti. So she trekked on. She was encouraged when saw an outdoor shower. In the end, this wasn’t the General Store. It was a home under construction. So where the hell is this store? How can one possibly miss a store in the middle of nowhere! Well, it was another quarter-mile up the paved road. Took a wrong turn again. Maybe we should change our trail names to Wrong Way Feldman and Felice.
Kennedy Meadows is really an awesome place. It’s very obviously owned by people who love the hiking community. While there, we met our first SOBO (Southbound) thru-hiker, Swept Away, an environmental science major. She mentioned seeing large cat and bear prints nearby and wanted to hike with us. We were happy to have the company but warned her that we are slow hikers. We have two speeds, slow and slower. But Swept Away put her pack on when we did, and off we went. We filled up on hamburgers (me), a veggie burger (Patti), a couple of Cokes, a Sunkist Orange Soda, a lime-green Popsicle, one can of pineapple juice, one packet of Alka-Seltzer, and one bottle of Pepto Bismol, just to be safe for the hours that followed. We were full and happy and feeling stuffed by the time we got to hiking again. We hiked on until dark, some 15 plus miles for the day in all. We skipped dinner still feeling full from the wonders of Kennedy Meadows.
Once Swept Away, Patti and I got started the next morning, we hiked a relative short distance to our first water source. It was a small stream that was mostly dry. But about 200 yards down from the trail, I did manage to find a flow strong enough to collect from. The water was green and had lots of debris in it. But as the sun beat down, the air got warm, and the hour or so it took to fill our bladders passed on, it became an increasing larger concern that water might be more scarce later in the hike. Immediately after collecting this water, we started a long ascent on what Patti and I affectionately came to coin Suck Mountain. It was a burn area, likely five years or more, but was completely exposed to the sun. As we moved on, up that horrible mountain, the weight of the water and the heat of the day really battered us. I was especially winded along the way. We stopped frequently. Swept Away finally admitted that she wanted to “put on some miles” and moved pass us. I secretly was happy to see that, as I worried we were slowing her down. We are on different timelines, I told her. We weren’t in any hurry.Five days into our adventure we must have been getting a little slap happy. Up Suck Mountain, Patti decided we needed to play the Alphabet Game. So, A was ASH, for all the ash we were seeing, B was BRANCH and so on. We must have been brain dead as it took an unbelievably long time to come up M was for MOUNTAIN! When we got to O, I quickly came up with ODORIFEROUS, as we both had to admit that after five days of no showers that we both more than qualified. Of course, when we got to S, that was easy, we were climbing SUCK Mountain after all. If I hadn’t been carrying about 170 ounces and Patti about 130 ounces of water, this day wouldn’t have been so hard. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon (128 ounces per gallon). So, we were weighted down at the worse time going up as we were.
Early in the morning of the sixth day, Patti’s phone dinged that a voice message was awaiting her. It was from our son, Adam, that a local women’s gym wanted to do a book signing. All day long we tried in vain to respond. No go. At all. Couldn’t get a signal.On the seventh day of our hike, we skirted a long and deep valley by hiking on the ridge line of the mountains above it. Water was especially scare in this area but we did have reports that indicated water was available in possibly up to three places. However, other known water sources were likely dry. We started with a lot of water just be sure. The hike was amazing. We walked through a lot of forested areas which we enjoy. The weather was perfect, too. But knowing that we had to keep an eye on our water, that remained the main drive of the day. In some ways, I like depending on finding natural water sources. But in another way, I don’t like my concern about water weighing me down and making my hike a pain.With that said, it’s hard to express my amazement and excitement when we came across the second source on our report and finding beautifully clear, cold, fresh water flowing off a limb resting on a rock, as if it were a faucet. I bet we drank nearly a liter each, just taking it in. For the first time in a long time, I could feel the magic of nature and quite literally, and audibly, I thanked the stream as we left.We learned a term from Swept Away, “bonking” (not boinking ). We bonked at a place that isn’t really great for camping. But we couldn’t go another step. We stopped one other night on top of a ridge. It was cold up there. So, bonking refers to just being too tired to care and settling where you are, good or bad. Anyway, we are up on top of this mountain and the winds are strong and sustained and we plop down at the first flat spot for our tent we could find. The view was fantastic with city lights to the east and the colorful sunset over the mountains in the west. But it’s kind of hard to enjoy when you are standing there freezing. Yes, freezing. This transplanted Iowa-to-Southern-California duo, are wimps when it comes to weather. But the sunset that evening just hit Patti and she commented about feeling very emotional and grateful. I couldn’t help but feel the same way.
On our eighth and final day of hiking, we awoke excitedly and got started hiking before 7:30 am, early by our standards. It was a mixed day – looking forward to a warm soft bed and a better dinner than trail mix and jerky, but also feeling like we were going to miss the trail. It’s a strange feeling. My body tells me it’s tired, wants to be clean and needs a good meal. But my head is telling me, hey, this is what it’s all about, enjoy it, embrace it, let it take over.
Lynn & Patti