PCT Desert Day 15: Socked In

Mile 223.36 to 241.50 — Today’s miles: 18.14
In the early morning hours, I am awakened by a group of coyotes nearby, howling at the nearly-full moon. Some of the howls are clearly from little pups. This is probably the cutest thing to ever wake up to.

I have a beautiful ridge walk to start the day — my favorite, when the weather is good. I pass a few tents with people just waking up. A few miles of downhill finds me at Mission Creek, where I’d intended to camp last night. But I’m glad I didn’t, because there are tons of people here. I fill two water bottles and eat second breakfast, and consult my maps and the water report. There is a burn area coming up. It was closed last year — this year it is open for hiking but there’s about five miles of no camping allowed. So today will either be a short day or a long day. I check the elevation profile, and it is a whole lotta gain. I decide to see how I’m feeling at the last camping spot before the closure.

All morning the trail crosses Mission Creek over and over and over again. Sometimes I can rock hop, but often I have to get at least one foot wet. Sometimes the trail crosses the water only to cross back again ten steps later. Often the trail is just a layer of thick mud and goop near the crossings. My feet mostly dry out only to get wet again at the next crossing. I feel heretical for thinking it in the desert section, but there is too much damn water.

Clouds move in, ominously grey. Will it rain again? I am forced to dunk both my feet in the creek and stop to take off my footwear and try to dry out while I have a snack. As I sit there, a massive fog rolls in. Soon I can only see a few yards all around me. It’s eerily beautiful, but unsettling. I feel very, very alone suddenly. I think I may even feel a bit lonely, which is an emotion I only very rarely experience. I miss Cyn, who loves fog, and wish I was with her now. It is too cold to sit here — in just 20 minutes my toes are already turning purple, so I put my wet shoes and socks on and try to hike fast.

All afternoon the fog stays. It is beautiful and gloomy all at once. There are no views. It is cold, but this is nice because it means I can hike all day, and don’t need quite as much water. I pass the last legal campsite before the closure and hike on, committed now to an 18 mile day. The climb goes on and on. Climbing now in the burn, charred trees all around, ash on the ground, the obstacles made from rockslides and uprooted trees that must be negotiated.

Soon I’m approaching the last water source for another 18 miles. It is a steeper climb to this point. But here, remarkably, the fog lifts and I can see blue skies, the outline of the mountains around me, and eventually a full view of the burn area, which breaks my heart. Green is already coming back, but everywhere there is ash and char.

At the stream, I filter four liters, and then a little more for some electrolyte drink and to rehydrate my ramen noodles, which I put in the back pocket of my pack to soak as I hike. Only about two more miles until I can look for a campsite. I leave the stream at the same time as Proton, so called because “I’m always positive!” I like him immediately. He tells me he’s nearly 60 — like everyone else out here, he cannot believe I’m nearly forty, and turns back to scrutinize my face — and thru-hiked the PCT last year. He’s just doing this small section now, since it was closed to him last year.

We finish the last two miles of climbing together, and the chatting helps it go by faster, though my lungs are starting to feel the elevation gain (a little over 8000 feet now). About 20 minutes before we can camp, the fog comes in again, and with it the cold. I can see Proton’s breath when he talks. We walk a half mile or so past the edge of the closure and find some flat spots near pine trees. I’ve done over 18 miles today, the most I’ve ever hiked in a day, and almost all uphill! We bundle up and chat during dinner, then retreat to our tents, too cold to sit out anymore. I wear my puffy jacket to bed again. The fog is thick and low, and though it is pretty, I hope for clear skies tomorrow.


View on my morning ridge walk.


The fog rolls in as I eat lunch.


This is the trail.


Pretty fog. [This picture is making me die of jealousy a little. –Cyn]


Burned.


Today’s elevation gain.


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