A week ago Friday afternoon, if you had driven down one of the innumerable dirt roads intersecting the PCT between highway 58 and Walker Pass, you would have come across myself and three other hikers laying in the shade. It would have been 106 in the sun and 97 degrees in what little shade was offered by the Joshua trees and anemic pines. I probably would have quit right then; ten miles in and nine mountainous miles from the nearest water with only two liters of piss warm water in my possession left from the five I started with. A hair drier would have cooled us down better than the wind that day.
At 2 pm, a legendary hiker named Lint walked by the four of us, half naked and slumped sweating in the shade, as if nothing was wrong. His pack weighs 6 pounds without food or water and he averages somewhere around 35 miles a day. This is Lints 10th through hike. I asked how much water he took for the 19 mile dry stretch and he said three liters as if it was normal. I don’t know how that’s humanly possible in the heat we had that day with 2,400 feet of climbing just around the bend. 5 pm rolled around and we managed to get out of our heat comas and start walking. We all made it to that next spring, none of us with a drop of water left and all severely dehydrated. Cold water never tasted so sweet. I never saw Lint, he must have pushed on.
Friday came after Thursday, only 103 degrees for 24 miles. That day started out cool, I did the 8 miles between highways over easy terrain in the morning. Unfortunately I had to get out of town and the earliest ride I could arrange from a trail angel left town at 8 am. The late start meant I got to the base of the days first big climb close to the heat of the day. My pack was the heaviest so far with 6 days of food and 5 liters of water for the remaining 16 miles that day and 5 and a half days after that. I thought I was more hydrated than I was and made the mistake of not drinking a huge quantity of water at the start. Near the base of the climb I stopped, covered in sweat and decided to take a long siesta until the weather started to cool. With 14 miles left I wanted to get to camp at a reasonable hour and started moving too early, at only 4 pm. It was still incredibly hot and I sucked down two liters in only a handful of miles. There was no way to keep going like that, so I stopped again until 6. The climbing and the remaining heat ate away my water and I was on the verge of running dry eight miles from the spring when a friend gave me most of a liter. Even so, as darkness set in, I was out of water with an unknown number of miles to go. When your mouth runs dry your mind starts to wander in the dark space around your headlamp light.
Around 9:30 I passed a friend, Tee-Cozy, camped on a flat spot just off trail and asleep. I kept moving, thirsty. At 10:15 I started to question where I was and whether I had passed the spring; it was 18 miles to the next one. My thoughts went something like this:
Where’s the spring? Did I pass it? I can’t see the ridge when its this dark. Tee Cozy started 8 miles ahead of me, why did he stop there? Was that the spring? Did I look at him and miss the water? I think the trail was narrow there… No the topo didn’t match. I’m supposed to hit a switchback right before it. Maybe that was a hairpin back there? 15 more minutes and I’ll stop to… reconsider? 15 more minutes. Let me check the map again. Why am I on top of this ridge when the topos show me on the side of it? Is this the PCT? Yeah there’s a sign, thank fucking god. Ok there’s a dirt road a mile after the spring and I definitely haven’t crossed one. Just a little while longer. The switchback! This is it! Wait, why am I on a dirt road?
At that moment I looked to the right and saw two hikers asleep on the road. One woke up and told me not to camp at the spring because of the cows. It was right around the corner. I didn’t bother to wait for a bottle to fill under the cold trickle falling from the pipe, I just drank straight from the falling water. After drinking two liters and eating dinner I tried to sleep under the whine of nearby windmills. Up at 5 am for another hot day.
Sunday was much cooler with less climbing. There was still 20 miles between water sources but a cache was well stocked so I filled up there. The next water was 2 miles off trail and the cache would save me almost two hours just for water. I dry camped seven miles from the next cache which broke a 30 mile dry stretch. I would have been thirsty that night but two friends pushing all the way to the cache each gave me a half liter. I bought them a beer here in town as thanks. The next day I felt frustrated on the way to the water cache, tired of the dry desert and ready to get out of the Sierra. The long downhill to the cache was rocky and didn’t seem to end. When I got there the 75 year old woman who stocks it rolled up in her pickup with the bed full of gallon jugs. It’s incredible how many hikers come to rely on her two caches that make our lives so much easier. I started to help her unload when another hiker caught up and helped. Between the three of us the full jugs were unloaded and tied up and the empty jugs put into the truck in only twenty minutes. She said sometimes there would be no one here and she would have to do it alone. Amazing.
Immediately after the cache is a 1,600 foot climb, rolling flats and then downhill to walker pass over twenty miles. The day went by but my mood was shit. I was sick of the dry heat and the long distance between water. I just wanted to get into the Sierra and out of this hole of a desert. Around 5 pm I finished the 27 miles to the campground at Walker Pass only to find the last day of a 14 day barbeque for PCT hikers! A trail angel was still there, grilling hot dogs and making pasta. Not only that but one of my old friends I hadn’t seen in over 300 miles was there with his dad. I gorged myself on food and caught up on the last few weeks. I had taken 3 zero days in Big Bear and finally managed to catch up when he took some days off. The next morning was breakfast burritos and more fruit. It was like someone hit the reset button on my mindset and I was back to loving the trail again, surrounded by amazing people and good food.
The 50 some miles to Kennedy Meadows were hilly but not as hot. They rolled by in two and a half days. I’ve spent the last day and a half recuperating here after hiking 184 miles from Hikertown in 9.5 days with no rest days. I hope it prepared me enough for the Sierra’s 12,000 foot passes and Mount Whitney – the highest peak in the lower 48. I’ll be carrying a 2.5 lb bear can but won’t have to carry more than two liters of water because of all the lakes and streams.