Thursday, December 9, 2010

Attack of the Killer Mosquitoes

Overlook of Miller Lake.
August 15: In the morning, Red Head had his tarp set up. This surprised me because when he went to sleep, he didn't have it set up. I warned him the evening before that "possible" thunderstorms were forecast overnight, but it was a pretty low probability and both of us decided to risk cowboy camping. I was fully prepared to get up in the middle of the night and set up a tarp if it started to rain, but it hadn't. Red Head, however, said that he saw lightning to the east all night long and decided to set up his tarp after all. Despite sleeping maybe 25 feet away, I didn't see any lightening, nor even noticed Red Head setting up his camp during the night. I must have really been out of it!

That morning, the mosquitoes were absolutely awful, so it didn't take me long to pack up and start hiking. Despite my early start, I was still the last one out of camp. Just Dave broke down camp and was on the trail before the sun even came up. Double D wasn't far behind. Red Head was the most leisurely of the bunch, but even he left camp before I did.

I caught up with all three of them at Windigo Pass, however, where the water cache was essentially empty. I knew about this water cache and hoped to restock my water supplies on this dry stretch of trail with it, but my topo map also showed a permanent water source--a creek--a tenth of a mile off the trail. While I hoped I could fill up from the water cache, I still had the creek as Plan B.
The weather forecast called for a "chance" of
thunderstorms, but the storms held off. For now...

Except when I arrived, Red Head, Double D, and Just Dave told me they had hiked down the road and found the creek dry. One of them even hiked a ways in the opposite direction along the dirt road and came up empty. Checking with Erik the Black's book, I saw a small water source about 2 1/2 miles further up the trail and told the rest that, but Red Head shook his head. "No, Yogi says that water source dried up. The next one on the trail is another 12 miles away."

Hmm.... This was bad. Twelve miles is a long way to hike with no water. I still had 1 liter of water left in my pack--I always make it a point of carrying more than I expect I'll need on any given segment (better too much than not enough!), which left me with about 1 liter more of water than any of the other three. But still, 1 liter of water for 12 miles of hiking--not a good ratio. I let them drain the last drops from the water cache--they needed it more than I did.

When they were done, I shook the cache and could still hear water sloshing around inside. Why didn't they get every last drop? It wasn't much, but still, waste not, want not. I twisted off the nozzles completely and drained the very last drops myself, managing to squeeze out another 1/3 of a liter of water. I thought they were crazy for not taking it, but if they weren't going to, I'd be happy to have it.

The register with the cache included a phone number of the person who maintains it, so one of them with a cell phone (that actually got a signal!) made a call. He was a couple of hours away--it would take a couple of hours for him to resupply the water, but he did suggest an alternate route that would pass water sooner than the PCT. I wasn't interested in the alternate route--I had 1 1/3 liters of water. I could make it to the next water source. I'd be thirsty and miserable, but I could make it. So while they were talking on the phone trying to figure out what to do, I waved goodbye and headed up the trail... alone.

Turns out, Yogi was wrong. Erik the Black was right. After 2.4 miles, I reached a small, stagnant pond just off to the side of the trail. It was an ugly pond. Stagnant. And it looked like the shoreline was trampled by cows or something. The water was nasty, but as they say, beggars can't be choosers. I filled up my Nalgene bottle, threw in a pill that would sterilize the water (a rare thing for me to do), and was determined not to drink that water unless I absolutely had to.

Back on the trail, I wrote a message in the trail pointing to the H2O in case Red Head, Double D, and Just Dave decided not to take the alternate route. Heck, anyone coming after me would likely be needing water, and I wanted to make sure nobody missed it--nasty as it was.

The next water source, ten miles away, was another stagnant pond, not any better than the stagnant pond I did take water from, so I didn't bother to fill up there. And I started drinking the horrid water. I was out of the good water, I was thirsty, and I needed to drink some fluids. The water from the stagnant pond tasted fine, but I still didn't really trust it. I pushed on another few miles to Summit Lake where I planned to restock my water--it was an enormous lake and anything but stagnant. I could definitely get water there, I thought.

And the lake was beautiful. Clear, blue water, more than anyone could use in a lifetime. But upon stopping for about 10 seconds, I was bombarded with one of the largest mosquito attacks of my life. I walked around in circles, trying to outrun the mosquitoes, pulling out my water bladders, and I finally gave up. I just couldn't stop. I pulled out my bottle of DEET instead and applied great quantities of it all over the place, and I swear I heard the mosquitoes laugh at me when I did that.

I wrote my H2O message in sticks--there weren't
many rocks to use like I'd done with previous trail signs.
I gave up and made a run for it. The trail crossed a dirt road by the lake and just as I was crossing, a pickup truck came to a stop in front of me. A cute girl leaned out the window and asked, "Are you hiker trash?"

"YES!" My arms flailed, trying to swat the mosquitoes.

"Do you want trail magic?!" God, I'd love some! Did it include jumping into her vehicle?

There were actually two girls in the truck, and they stopped the car and jumped out. The driver told me that she worked at Crater Lake maintaining trails and had thru-hiked the PCT in the past. And this story started sounding very familiar to me.

"What's your name?" I asked.


"Yes! I thought so! I met you at the general store in Old Station!" She had given me a ride in that very pickup truck back to the Heitmans. With all the mosquito swatting going on and completely out-of-context and unexpected run-in, I hadn't recognized her or her truck.

The girls weren't out of their truck for more than two seconds before they started flailing their arms around like me. It was a strange little conversation....

Water, so close, and yet so far...
Coyote had the day off and her and her friend decided to hike up Diamond Peak--a short way ahead for me--for the afternoon. We only talked for a few minutes, though, before the mosquitoes drove the two girls off. Quite literally. Coyote said she wanted to stay and talk longer, but the mosquitoes were terrible. (And they had shorts on! Suckers!) I could already see streaks of blood on their arms and legs where they killed mosquitoes that had already gotten some of their blood. Coyote did give me a few food items, but I didn't examine them especially closely. "I'll eat this stuff further up the trail where the mosquitoes aren't as bad!" I explained. It was horrible. Trail magic, and I couldn't even enjoy it. Not yet, at least....

Coyote and friend drove off, and I practically ran up the trail trying to escape the mosquitoes. It was turning out to be a miserable day, despite the trail magic. Bad water, bad mosquitoes... what else could go wrong?

I should know better than to ask questions like that, but I did. Miraculously, nothing else went wrong that day. Occasionally, I'd see what would look like a viewpoint ahead on the trail, and I'd take out my camera while hiking, then take a photo at that point--without even stopping. I couldn't stop, not for a second, before a swarm of mosquitoes decided. So most of my photos that afternoon are a little blurry. They were taken, quite literally, while I was on the run. I cussed the things out, which made me feel a little better at first, but it didn't last long.

I finally did fill up with water--another stagnant pond, though not as bad as the first ones I'd come across--just beyond Emigrant Pass. It was, according to my maps, the last water source available for 10 miles, and I was completely out and already dehydrated. The mosquitoes were still there, but seemed to be weakened at this particular location. Perhaps because it was in the sun. The mosquitoes seemed much more active when I was in the trees and shadows, and this particular little pond was fully exposed to the sun at the time.

I set up camp near sunset at an exposed section of trail on East Diamond Peak, hoping the wind would help drive them off. The wind did help--a little--but the mosquitoes didn't give up. I ate a few snacks but decided to skip a full dinner. I couldn't handle the bugs anymore. I'd rather starve than expose my arms and fingers by cooking dinner.

No, it wasn't until after 10:00 that evening when the mosquitoes finally decided to leave me alone. I turned on my headlamp and started cooking dinner. I was famished!


Anonymous said...

One of the episodes Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls, he says when you have a camp fire, burn dried cow dung. The smoke will keep the mosquito's at bay. Not sure how that would work if you can't have a camp fire, but use a stove.
Kinda rude welcome committee since leaving California.


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Hiker Trash???

Is that what you are called while hiking? That's the first time I've heard you use that term. Weird!

When I read about the horrible mosquitos I am so grateful to live in a zero-low humidity state such as New Mexico. We rarely ever see a mosquito around here.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Anonymous said...

Went hiking with hubby a couple of days ago. Hegot all fired-up and wants to hike every Saturday now. Said he'd like us to hike the Appalation Trail (sp?) when he retires. (What?!) Thinking that would be colder than this Pacific Rim Trail, I suggested we stay local, for our first try. (Forgot you hiked through snow, here, in July.) I did consider that you're younger than we are and HE'S talking about doing this after retirement! I told him YOU'D hiked 20 miles a day, and I was sure I couldn't do that. His answer: we'll be retired -- we can hike 5 miles a day, and take as long as it takes! You know, I stopped reading this blog after I knew you were already home. So here I am, trying to figure out where I left off. What do you think of this idea -- retirement is 10-15 years from now.

~ Outdoor Adventurer
(fka: Hansenclan)

Ryan said...

There are a lot of retired folks on the trail, so as long as there aren't any major health issues to worry about, I don't see any problem with it. =) Many from the older generation hike (and succeed!) long-distance trails. They might be a little slower, but those who enjoy it don't let it stop them!

As for miles, even 20 miles per day is tough for me at the beginning. You gotta work up to the big miles. Splitting a hike like the PCT or AT into two or three years has the advantage that you can hike sections during the best part of the year. Going through the High Sierras later in the year would be a heck of a lot easier.