PCT Desert Day 25: Road Walking for Frogs

Mile 379.49 to 395.21 — Today’s miles: 15.72 (but probably more like 18ish, due to the road walk detour)
It is a very cold and windy night. The pine trees do block me from some of the wind, but I have to put on my puffy in the middle of the night and am still cold when my watch beeps in the morning. It’s so hard to get out of my quilt. I have a late start. My hands are numb again as I hike, even though I’m wearing my overgloves. The wind just keeps coming. I want nothing more than wind on hot days, and want nothing but still air on these freezing mornings. There are beautiful views, though, as the trail winds up and down (but mostly up) along the ridgeline.

Finally, down down to another trailhead parking lot. It’s time for serious climbing now, up to the junction to summit Mt. Williamson. Looks about half the distance of the Mt. Baden-Powell climb, so I begin with some confidence. But where are my switchbacks? The trail just goes up and up — I depend on switchbacks to plan my rest! This is a tough slog. I stop every now and then to breathe, turning to point my feet downhill so my legs can rest in the opposite position. Just at the first switchback I finally see, there’s a hiker sitting with a tiny kitten! Like 5-6 weeks old tiny. Wearing a Darn Tough brand sock made into a sweater. Her name is Manzanita (perfect), and the hiker got her in Wrightwood and is carrying her in a wire box around the hiker’s neck (at least it looked that way). She is extraordinarily cute, but I’m not sure how practical it is to thru-hike with a kitten. Just thinking about how rambunctious my cats were starting around 2-3 months old, and also how fast kittens grow, which means that neck-carrier won’t work for long. But I keep these thoughts to myself. This kitten is very cute. Very.

Fortified by kitten sweetness, I make the final push to the top, where I find Sprout having a shoes-off snack break. I throw down my Tyvek beside her and we commiserate about that climb. There is a stunning view in front of us here, though. Whiz Kid arrives and we all eat many calories and head downhill together. Sprout stops to kiss a tree — or at least I think that’s what she’s doing, but actually she’s smelling it. EarlyBird told her that Ponderosa pines smell either like chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. We all smell the tree. Yes, vanilla. We try a few more on the way down — none are chocolate but I get another vanilla and a strawberry. Pretty cool.

We have to take a detour here to protect an endangered frog that lives along the next couple of miles. There’s a 20-mile alternate route on a trail, or we can roadwalk for a shorter distance (none of our maps and trail notes seem to agree on mileage for this — somewhere between 3-7 miles, it seems). We opt for the roadwalk, which is not that bad because there aren’t many cars and we have good conversation to keep it from being boring. It is really nice to chat with them about how the trail is never outside of politics as we make our way through the detour. We turn off the main road and wind through a car camping area (sadly, no trail magic to be found). We see Mowgli, Space Jam, and Speck down at a creek, soaking their feet. They are planning another seven miles or so, but the three of us are ready to camp sooner than that.

We rejoin the PCT and head uphill in the heat. This last push is rough for me, and I drag behind. Finally around 4pm I arrive at the campground, which seems to mostly be a spot for weekenders who hike in a few miles from a nearby trailhead. But we find a cozy spot further in, near the creek, and get to eat dinner together at a picnic table. I eat a lot of calories and am in my tent by 6pm, falling asleep to the sound of flowing water. This is one of my favorite sleeping sounds, and such a rare, special thing in the desert portion.

Morning view with freezing hands.

I think this is on the way up to the Mt Williamson summit junction.

Very cute kitten.

Mountains to infinity.

Whiz Kid and Sprout order cocktails before our roadwalk. (Random bar table!)

One thought on “PCT Desert Day 25: Road Walking for Frogs

  1. Really hoping all goes well with that kitten. I feel slightly unnerved by it, but I also think I’m being judgemental.

    I love ponderosas, but I have never thought that about the smell! I rested my back on a big beautiful one just yesterday after a big climb ❤


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