PCT Desert Day 27: The Relentless Sun

[First I’m gonna interject here and say that as of the day I’m posting this, Toby has just another week on the trail and he’s turning 40 next weekend! I think an awesome birthday and trail-finishing present would be to try to at least double the amount that he initially intended for his fundraiser for Border Angels. We’re only $245 away from that goal! Please consider donating if you can and/or spreading the word. –Cyn]

Mile 414.69 to 436.08 — Today’s miles: 21.39
[Sorry for the long delay. Cell service hasn’t been strong enough to upload photos for a while!]

There is an incredible, just unbelievably gorgeous sunrise that I can see from my tent without even lifting my head. I am too lazy to fish my phone out of the bottom of my quilt to take a photo of it, but I also know that the photos of sunrises/sunsets never capture the beauty as I want them to. So I just take it all in, enjoying the shifting colors, and then start my morning camp routine. Every little piece of gear has its own particular place in my tent and in my pack, and I pack and unpack in the exact same way every day. I’m out of camp by 6am, noting that it’s already a pleasant temperature, which is unfortunately rather ominous for the rest of the day.

I pass the more exposed site that Whiz Kid and Sprout must have camped at, and it’s already empty. I hurry along — maybe I can catch them at the morning water source, a fire station about four miles down. The Poodle Dog Bush continues from yesterday. I pass several trail runners heading up, and approach the fire station a little after 7:30am, making good time. Whiz Kid calls my name — she and Sprout are here, but just finished getting water and are heading back out. Sprout says it may get up to 104 degrees today, yikes. We discuss taking a long lunch break to wait out the worst of it, maybe at the next water (another 7 miles or so). They point me to the side trail for the fire station (“there’s a pit toilet and a water faucet that sprays in the air!”) and are off.

At the fire station, I meet Just Bob, who tells me it is already 85 degrees out. It is just now 8am. Oh god. He heads out into it, umbrella already deployed against the sun. I filter water, sign the trail register, and get out of there, not wanting to waste the precious morning hours. The air feels hotter with every passing minute. Not far from the fire station I see a single Croc on the ground. It’s the same color as Whiz Kid’s, so I pick it up and attach it to my pack. If it is hers, she’ll be glad it wasn’t lost forever, and if it’s not, I can dump it in a hiker box or a trash can at the KOA tomorrow.

And now there is an uphill. An entirely unshaded uphill, for 1.5 miles, mostly in deep beach sand. This is a nightmarish combo for me. Every step feels like sliding back half a step. It is exhausting work, which makes me even warmer. Sweat is already dripping down my face and arms, and it’s not even 9am. It takes me a long time to finish this climb. After, I find myself in a little stretch of tree-lined trail, on easier terrain, but it’s still mighty hot. The terrain changes again: now the trail is slightly sloped to the right and also overgrown with plants. Much of the time, I can’t see the trail at all, and force my way through the thick bushes growing over it with a continual plea in my head: “Please don’t let there be any snakes or Poodle Dog Bush plants in here!” It is a leap of faith every time, and the closeness of the plants makes me claustrophobic.

At around 11 miles for the day, I arrive at the water source. I’d hoped to find my two pals here, but no one’s around. This could still be my lunch break spot though — I spread out my Tyvek in the shade. I text Whiz Kid: “Did you lose a Croc?” And now I realize there are bees here. So many bees! They are obsessed with my pack. I move to a different spot, on the other side of the little stream, but they follow me. Okay then. I gather and filter water amidst the incessant buzzing, gently pick up my pack and walk a few steps to make sure they’ve all vacated it, buckle it quickly and get out of there. I’ll just hike until I find the next shade and park myself for a few hours.

But some days the trail just has other ideas. It winds around and around the mountainsides, so where there is the rare bit of shade, the only place to sit is right on the trail itself, and that won’t do. I climb another two miles, maybe, until finally at 12:30pm I find a flat spot next to the trail. It is unshaded, but I hunker down under my umbrella and eat. I have marginal cell service up here and text with Cyn — there’s no point trying to climb more until 2pm at the earliest. I see movement out of the corner of my eye. A silvery snake is crossing the trail right next to me. “Whoa!” I flinch. The snake likewise flinches, shifts its course away from me a bit, and slides into the bushes behind me. Well, I guess there will be no napping for me in this spot.

A little after 2pm, I hike out again, determined to finish this last real climb of the day. I put in my earbuds for the second time on this trip, and let the music push me through the hot climb. At the top, the landscape shifts from dry and brown on one side of the mountain to cool greens with trees on the other. The wind is here, the wonderful cooling wind. I put my earbuds away and enjoy the downhill for a while. But my right pinky toe is killing, so I stop to retape it. This helps only very slightly. Will my toes never toughen up? I have a message from Whiz Kid — it is her shoe! They just arrived at the ranger station, the next water source, and are setting up camp. I’m two miles away. My toe hurts, I’m tired from all the heat today, and I want nothing more than to be there already.

I hike as fast as I can, trying not to jostle that toe. On the final brief (but steepish) uphill, I stub the other foot’s toes on a rock, hard, and have to stop to curse on the empty hillside. I pass a lizard that runs into the shrubs, then hear a sound that must be a rattlesnake rattling in those shrubs, but don’t see the snake. Finally, I spy the ranger station below and race down the final descent. Suddenly I hear a fierce rattling next to me, but I’m going so fast that now it’s already behind me, and I turn back to look. I’ve scared a huge rattlesnake, which is rattling away as it backs into the shrubs, looking at me with what can only be deep disdain. I apologize to it, marvel (from a safe distance) at its fluid movements, and keep going.

At the campsite, I rejoin my friends, who already have their tents set up. Whiz Kid happily informs me that there are sodas in a cooler here, and they cost a dollar (on the honor system, it seems, and I never saw anyone cheat it while I was there), and she’s going to buy me one for carrying her shoe all day. I drink my cold Sprite, set up my tent, fill my water bottles from the cache. There’s a group of four hikers nearby playing cards. One is teaching the others how to play euchre, I believe, and his accent and general manner of speaking make it sound like Werner Herzog giving euchre instructions. We three are all planning a very early morning to beat tomorrow’s heat. Today wiped us all out, and we’re in bed early, but kept awake by hikers talking and laughing fairly late into the night, or at least past backpacker midnight.


Dry morning heat.


This is Poodle Dog Bush. It also has purple flowers, but I haven’t seen any flowering ones. It smells very, very strongly of weed and can grow quite large. Sometimes it is basically dead, all grey and dry, but its brittle stems still reach out over the trail as if even its last dying wish is to poison some passing hiker.


Afternoon beauty.


I’m so lucky to be here, even in this heat.


Never a bad view, no matter where you look.


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