PCT Desert Days 23 & 24: From Zero to Summit

Day 23: 0 miles

Day 24: Mile 369.40 to 379.49 — Today’s miles: 10.09
I wake by habit a little before 6am and kind of lounge around, opening my resupply box — too much food as usual — and noting with delight that I shipped myself two new pairs of socks! I trash the old pairs immediately. I walk two blocks to the Evergreen Cafe and order waffles, eggs, and sausages. The wait staff keep my water glass filled at all times. I leave a healthy tip. Diner breakfasts have never been as incredible as they are now.

Back in my room, I write postcards, try to catch up on blogging, hand-wash my hiking clothes in a big bucket. (There is no laundrymat in Wrightwood and I decide that someone could make a killing if they opened one here.) I nap for an hour and get up to read the news obsessively. The federal government is imploding and Chelsea Manning is released from prison today, and I cannot stop beaming/crying-from-joy about the latter. As I bounce between news sites, I realize that this is much the same as my life before starting this hike, only now I’m doing it while soaking my feet in a garbage can and eating enough food for three people.

At 3:30, when the pizza place opens, I call in an order: pizza, salad, soda. It will take half an hour, so I soak my feet again. That toenail finally falls off, painlessly. Farewell, toenail. You were very good to me for 39 years. Overall, my feet are much improved. I eat and talk to Cyn on Facetime. Later I eat more, and realize that I cannot drink enough water — I’m perpetually thirsty tonight. I decide on a late morning start tomorrow, and am grateful to fall asleep quickly.

In the morning I have many chores: wash my food jar, backflush my water filter, tape my feet anew, and pack all my things, which are strewn about the hotel room. I leave a little before 9:30am to drop some extra food in the hiker box and mail postcards. Now it is time for my first true hitching experience. Up until now I’ve just been offered rides like magic. I stand near the grocery store with my thumb out. After a while a truck pulls over, but the driver is only going a few streets down, and I need to get to the trailhead. After 25 minutes or so, I walk down the road a bit more. I remember my “hiker to trail” sign that I wrote on my Tyvek, and pull it out. A few cars pass. I see an SUV turning onto the road. “This is my hitch,” I think, willing it to be true (or as Scissors would say, manifesting it). And it is! The driver pulls over. “You need to get to Inspiration Point?” Yep. I climb in, and on the drive she tells me that her family moved to Wrightwood in 1977, and used to host hikers. As we approach the trailhead I offer gas money and am immediately refused. Thank you, Rose, for your generosity! I have now officially hitchhiked.

I start hiking around 10:30am and my calves are like, “Are we seriously doing this again?” But they give in pretty quickly and it’s a nice rolling first few miles. I am stopped a few miles in by an elementary school field trip. The docent wants the kids (maybe six years old?) to hear about PCT hiking. It is a pretty adorable experience. When I explain that I sleep in my tent on the ground one kid gets really excited: “I think me and him saw your tent!!” I am sad to inform him that I slept in Wrightwood the night before. When I mention that I’m a teacher, a whisper goes through the group: “He’s a teacher!!” They all cutely say “Bye, Apple Juice!” as we part ways. Wonder how my life might have been different if I’d been introduced to long-distance hiking at such a young age…

I hike down to Vincent Gap and eat a big lunch at the trailhead parking lot. Mt. Baden-Powell is up next — four miles of hard climbing. It is tough. My body is more rested from the zero day, but it’s also slower to get back into the rhythm of hard hiking. I meet a few day hikers on their way down, including an elderly man who tells me to have a great day. He’s going at his own pace, focused on his hike, and he’s carrying a Spot device (another type of emergency beacon thing). I imagine that I’ll be like that when I’m older, just summitting a local mountain when the mood strikes me.

Another day hiker near the top tells me to have fun with the snow fields coming up. They’re not that bad — I’m still carrying my microspikes but don’t put them on — they just slow me down. Soon I arrive at the junction near the top. One way to continue on the PCT, the other way to climb another 0.1 mile to the summit. There’s a 1500 year old tree at this junction, the Wally Waldron tree. I see Ping and Nemo here, and chat briefly before heading up.

The summit is beautiful. 9399 feet, according to the marker. Views all around, slightly marred for me by the U.S. flag up there too. Soon the rest of the folks I’ve been hiking near arrive — Speck and Ten Gallon and Space Jam and Mowgli, and a bit later Sprout, Cowboy, and Whiz Kid. I’m keeping to myself, feeling introspective and quiet, and eat my snack a little apart from the group while I read on my Kindle app. Sounds like they are all thinking of camping up here, but it’s way too exposed for me, and I want some shelter from the wind that I’m sure is going to pick up soon. There’s a campsite just a mile and a half down, and because I had a late start and a long tough ascent today, I decide ten-ish miles will be plenty today.

There are more snow fields on the way down, a few that make me nervous about slipping, but I take my time. The snow is already starting to harden up as the temperature drops. I spy my campsite from a few yards away and say out loud, “Oh, you’re perfect.” Tucked away in the pine trees, with the mountains all laid out behind. There’s a breeze, but the trees are mostly shielding me from serious wind. I lie in my quilt and watch the sun set through the trees, unbelievable colors. And when it’s dark there are city lights far below, a sudden reminder of how little removed we really are from the world beyond this trail.

Starting out in the morning.

Lunch view at Vincent Gap, before the climb.

On the way up.

Wally Waldron tree.

On the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.

I mean, wow.

Campsite in the pines.

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