PCT Desert Day 8: Crashing

Mile 109.51 to 123.81 — Today’s miles: 14.30

I sleep surprisingly well at Warner Springs, even with folks up late laughing and chatting, and lots of snoring all around me. In the morning only a couple of my blisters are still painful, and I take a liter and a half of water from the spigot as I head out. It takes about a mile for my feet and ankles to warm up, and by that time I have to stop to tape a blister spot I’d forgotten about. I am frustrated by how much time foot care is taking — at least 20 minutes every morning to tape everything.

The trail winds through more meadows today and then eventually begins a rocky climb. I cross a creek called Agua Caliente multiple times, often in thick beach sand that’s really pretty but super annoying to hike in. I stop at the last crossing to filter water — a little more than 3 liters — and drink almost a whole additional liter with my second breakfast. It’s a beautiful shaded spot with lots of big rocks and fast flowing cold water, and it’s hard to leave. But I’m using up my cooler morning hours here. I decide I’ll go four more miles before midday break.

Those are some tough four miles. Shade is hard to find, and there’s only an occasional hint of wind as the day gets hotter. It’s mostly uphill. After 11am I’m really struggling to keep moving. I play some mind games: when I reach the next shade, or there’s a breeze, I can stop and have a water break. At one spot there’s a giant boulder throwing some shade on the trail, and I turn to face it, to get as much of my body in the shade as possible. I rest my forehead on the cool rough stone. “Thank you,” I say, and hike on.

Finally, the break spot at mile 119. There’s a water source off-trail here, called Lost Spring, but the water report lists conflicting information for it, with several people reporting that it is disgusting. There are a few hikers here already, lying in the patchy shade. I throw down my Tyvek and collapse next to them, saying a weary hello. I feel a little rude for not chatting more, but I’m exhausted and the conversation they’re having isn’t one for me. Some of them go down to get water and come back repulsed by the smell of it. I’m glad I tanked up at Agua Caliente and can get by without this source. I doze on and off, periodically moving my bare feet out of the encroaching sun, and then prepare my lunch. Ode to stoveless hiking: I just dump my ramen in a plastic jar, add about a cup of water, and let it sit in the sun for half an hour or so. The noodles rehydrate perfectly. No stove or fuel needed, no hassle. So great. I also have zero desire to eat hot food out here, so room temperature noodles are just fine. My appetite is still iffy most days.

When 3pm rolls around, the afternoon winds start to join us too, and one by one we all take off for the afternoon/evening hike. I am last to leave. I feel very tired today, just completely sapped of energy by the sun. I’ve been careful to eat and drink enough, but I have no pep this afternoon. Everyone is headed to “Mike’s Place,” around mile 127 — this guy Mike apparently has a water tank on his property just off the trail, and rumor has it he also provides beer and sodas and sometimes food for folks who hike down to his house. No one is sure if hikers can camp there, though. I am desperate for a cold soda, but I’m not going to Mike’s tonight — I don’t want to camp amongst a crowd or a party, and I won’t have the energy to hike further after having a soda.

I don’t even have the energy to hike to my initial goal, a campsite around mile 125. I stop just about a mile short of that, for a little spot tucked behind some large boulders. I’m utterly depleted. I’ve pushed it pretty hard this first week, but might have to zero in Idyllwild to get some recovery time. This is a bummer because I have a limited time to get to Kennedy Meadows — but even if I run out of time to get there, it will still have been an incredible trip. I resolve to pay better attention to my body’s needs instead of always pushing for more miles.

I set up my little tent on the granite, using my guylines-and-rocks trick from the JMT last summer, and try to rig the front pole with extra rocks to prevent collapse in the night. It’s beautiful here, and even though I’m exhausted, I feel a sense of calm as the ravens caw over head and the sun sets behind the boulders. Tomorrow I have 3.5 miles to water at Mike’s Place, and a little less than one liter to get me there. In the cool early morning this should be fine. We were spoiled by unusually plentiful water sources in the first few days, but at this point on the trail, water (how far away is it, how hard is it to access, what kind of quality is it) occupies most of my brain space.


Where we all camped at Warner Springs.


Morning meadow walk. My shadow, and hikers and cows in the far distance.


Afternoon.


Raven on the rocks. This area reminded me a bit of Joshua Tree.


My beautiful campsite for the evening — no stakes required!


View for the night.


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