Mile 602.4 to 628.1 + 2 miles on an alternate trail to water.
We woke up in the rocky and pine covered foothills of the Sierra believing we had left the desert behind. There were pine needles to cushion our feet and shade overhead as we walked down the trail in the predawn light. We relished in the easy miles as we crossed flat ground and descended over the hills towards the first water 7 miles away.
As we turned off the PCT onto the short side trail to a water trough, we saw a car with an open trunk. There was a couple, and it looked like one had a beard and the other was wearing a hiking skirt. Trail magic? We skipped the water and walked over.
We caught Beard-O and Sweet Pea cleaning up from the trail magic they served up last night. Luckily, they still had one Dr. Thunder and cookies which they served with whipped cream. We sugared up and chatted with them. Beard-O hiked the trail in 2012 and again in 2016 with Sweet Pea. They both also design their own packs and the finished product looks like it could be sold in a store.
We moved on from the magic after a bit because we had an 11 mile waterless stretch to cover. We began to lose elevation steadily and the horror of heading back into the desert on a 90+ degree day slowly unfolded before our eyes. The pines gave way to Joshua Trees and the bushes to sage. The brown dirt changed to a sandy tan and the sun rose high in a cloudless sky. Bedazzled and I walked ahead chatting as we went. We rounded a bend and saw a dirt road. On the side of the road were jugs of water! An unexpected water cache!
We sat down and filled up as Burnout, Valdy, Vipr, and Shades rolled in. Surprisingly, there were two groups of Germans totaling about 6 people. They out numbered us Americans by 1. As we rested we were surprised to see the Germans taking 7 liters each from the cache. The whole point of a cache is for you to take just enough water to get you to the next source. You should only take a liter or two and leave the rest for other hikers in need. To fill up so you can bypass other water sources is a big no no, and a completely selfish act. We asked Bedazzled what she thought and she confirmed what we were thinking, “they were assholes.” Sadly this type of hiker exists on the trail.
We were waiting for Fun Dip, but she never came along and we started walking again, eager to get to the off-trail water source by noon.
We descended further toward the desert floor and the Joshua Trees increased in number and size. Soon our sweat had soaked through our shirts and we were checking our maps for the turn off.
The unmarked turn off came into sight and we made a sign in the dirt for Fun Dip to follow. The trail to the water turned out to be more of a gully than trail and we soon found ourselves scrambling down bolders and dryfall. The trail reminded me of scrambling through a slot canyon or coming down the Siphon Draw trail in the Superstition Mountains.
We continued on for just over a mile and finally arrived at the water, which was a faucet, and some lousy shade on the other side of some barbed wire. Luckily there was a section of the fence with plastic tubing over the wire that allowed us to squeeze through. We arrived at 12:15, cooked our lunch and tried to hydrate ourselves.
At around 1:15 we began to wonder where Fun Dip was. She is usually the last one to arrive, but this was getting to be a little late. We thought she might have missed the turn off for the side trail. Vipr also seemed a little worried and revealed that Fun Dip had no navigational aids besides paper maps. Since she has a Blackberry (I know, right) there aren’t any apps she can use for navigation and for some reason, she doesn’t have a copy of the water report either!
Vipr said she would give it until 2:00 and then she would go back to the spur trail to lool for Fun Dip. 2:00 rolls around and Vipr heads out. We all try to play out likely scenerios in our heads. Fun Dip missed the arrows by the trail. She ran out of water and went back to the cache. She got lost coming down the gully. The theories were running wild.
Forty minutes pass and Shades decides to walk down the road in case she took a wrong turn when she came down the gully. Forty-five minutes after Vipr left, Fun Dip walks up smiling with Vipr and Shades in tow. “Where were you? We were all assuming the worst,” we cried. She responded with a big smile, “I got double trail magic at the water cache! There was watermelon, popsicles, beer, and…” Oh my god stfu was our unified response. We did not want to hear about all the goodness. I started to think of alternate trail names that started with “dip” and ended with “shit,” but before I could rename her, she pulled out two melted packets of peanut M&M’s and tossed me one. Fun Dip gets to keep her original trail name for another day.
The shade at this siesta spot was pretty shit and by shade, I mean patchy spots of sunlight scorching our skin. We tried hanging our ground sheets above us and hiding under our sleeping pads. Finally, we jumped onto the otherside of the cattle fence and packed in under the one shade tree. Once we finally laid out, Shades yells snake. A huge King Snake was making its way right for us crawling through the bushes and under the grass. It circled us, or so we thought, but it turned out we were actually sitting on a bed of King Snakes. Too lazy to move, we tried to remaining still, which was pretty easy since it was 90+ degrees and we had hiked 19 miles by noon.
The temperature finally started to cool around 5:00 and we saddled up with 5 liters of water and started to climb the 800 feet vertical feet out of the gully to the PCT.
As we crested the hill, an expanse of rolling green mountains extended to the desert floor and groves of Joshua Trees dotted the sides of the trail. The temperature dropped to the 60s and a breeze picked up. As the sun slipped toward the horizon, the mountains cast every growing shadows across the desert floor and the Joshua Trees became silloheted shapes against the setting sun. Idyllic conditions for the start of a 25 mile water carry.
The sun died a firey death on the horizon, and we stopped on the trail to watch the last of its death throws play across the sky. The desert had finally shown us it’s true beauty and it touched our souls.
The miles came slow as the trail degraded to sand and each step became labored. The uphills turned into trials of patience and willpower as we bent our heads and backs with the effort of moving forward. When I was sure we must be at the campsite, Vipr checked the map and we were only halfway. Not keen on hiking 4.5 miles more, we started looking for flat spots. It took us 2.5 miles to find some semi-flat spots with some Joshua Trees to serve as a wind break. Vipr, Bedazzled, and I set up our tents, but when Burnout and Valdy arrived, they didn’t find a suitable spot and continued on. Fun Dip and Shades were the last to arrive and setup their cowboy camps.
We were exhausted at the end of our longest day, but still set our alarms for 5:00 ready to face whatever awaits us tomorrow.
Wildlife: Jack Rabbit