Monday, July 26, 2010

A Lonely Day on the Trail

June 7: Sticky Fingers and I were on the trail hiking by 5:30 in the morning. It was already surprisingly warm for how early in the morning it was, and we wanted to hike while it was still cool. Well, I did, at least. Sticky Fingers was putting on big miles to get off at Walker Pass to meet her husband, and needed to pull off some big days. Me, I'm just lazy. I don't want to hike in the hottest part of the day.

By 8:00 in the morning, I was sweating bullets. It was hot! I felt like taking a lunch break already, but I refrained. If it felt this bad at eight in the morning, the noon day sun was going to be even worse. No, now was still the time to be hiking. But damn, it was hot!

Sticky Fingers and I largely hiked at our own pace, crossing paths multiple times throughout the morning. The trail followed a creek for a few miles, and water was plentiful along this section. By late morning, however, we passed the last of the water sources. The next surface water close to the trail would be over 30 miles away, but there were a couple of water caches on the trail. Hopefully, knock on wood, they still had water.

I reached the first water cache shortly after Sticky Fingers, but most of the bottles I saw looked empty. "Anything left," I asked.

There were a few gallons of water left, and I help Sticky Fingers hold her water bottle steady as she poured water into them, then she did the same for me. Between the two of us, we finished off about half the water that was left in the containers. Sticky Fingers, who'd been hiking a lot faster than me, had filled me in on all the hikers she passed, and from the sounds of it, there was a significant group not more than about five or ten miles behind us. Some of them, clearly, would not be getting water from the cache.

I was thankful I got to the water cache before it ran dry. It was almost certainly going to be dry by noon.

Sticky Fingers and I stopped in the shade of a Joshua tree for a half hour or so, preparing mentally for the next stretch of shadeless and waterless trail. My topo map showed a bit of green about five miles up the trail, but it looked pretty desolate until then. It was a bit late to hike five miles for a possible shady spot in the trail, but it also seemed a little too early to quit for lunch as well. So on I went, figuring to hit the shade sometime after 1:00 in the afternoon. It was going to be hot.

And it was hot. The air was stale and stiff. Heat rose off from the rocks and even the cactus. The trail climbed upwards, but it the gain in elevation didn't help cool the air. It wasn't enough. Not even close. But it was still up a slope steep enough to make walking a real effort, putting one leg in front of the other.

From a distance, I could see the green splotch on my topo map. Trees. There would be shade there. Somewhere. I just had to reach it. And on I pushed.

I saw a tree on the side of the trail. The hillside was steep, but the trail itself had been flattened a bit, and I thought, "That tree. That tree is where I want to stop." I could only see the top of it from my angle, but it looked large enough to provide a good amount of side. There might not be anywhere to sit under the tree, but it was adjacent to the trail, and I could sit on the trail if I had to.

As I got closer, more of the tree came into view, then I found Sticky Fingers sitting at the base of it as well. She must have had the same thought I did  upon seeing this tree. It was The Tree. The Tree of Life. The Tree of Shade.

I stopped, and we rested and ate for an hour or so, before he got up to push on. She needed to do big miles to meet her husband. Me, I needed to do little miles. Slow down, to meet Amanda. So I laid out on the trail and read my magazine. Then I napped.

The sun moved, and twice I had to pick up my stuff and move six feet more down the trail to where the shade had moved, but I had no desire to walk back into the heat. This green oasis was small, and there would be no more shade for miles ahead.

Nearly four hours went by, and I was kind of surprised nobody from the back of people behind me had caught up by now. I expected someone to have reached me by now, but Sticky Fingers was the only person I'd seen all day. Then I heard a voice, behind me. "Hey."

I was a little surprised. I hadn't expected to see anyone hiking southbound. I can't remember the last person I saw hiking southbound on the trail. I expected anyone who found me on the trail to be hiking northbound. I looked at the 'intruder.' It was a young girl, who looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't really figure out why.

"Sorry about blocking the trail," I apologized, trying to move over a little bit to allow her to pass. I really had set up my lunch camp directly on the trail. She got around me, and I introduced myself as Green Tortuga, and she introduced herself as Nitro.

Ah-ha! That's how I know her! She had a PCTA hat on. "The same Nitro that works for the PCTA?" I had seen her give a little spiel about the water and snow report at the kickoff. Yep, that was her.

She seemed a little tired from hiking, and sat down on the trail in the shade and talked with me for about a half hour. I asked about the water cache ahead--I really didn't want to hike off the trail to fill up with water, and I knew there was a water cache ahead, but I didn't know if there was still water in it. Nitro reported that there was some left when she was there, but not much, and she passed eight people going in the other direction, so it was probably empty by now. Drats. I pretty much told her the same thing about the water cache she was approaching.

Nitro was on a five-day backpacking trip, a trip she's required to do by the PCTA each year. I wish all employers required their employees to go on five-day backpacking trips each year! So she was just hiking a small section, noting places that needed trail maintenance along the way.

Eventually she continued on her way, and I continued to sit in the trail, waiting for the heat to subside. Did I mention that it was hot outside? By around 5:30, I was finally tired of sitting, and the heat had actually subsided quite a bit. Time to push on.... After stopping for more than four hours.

Good times!

The news that there was almost certainly no water at the water cache was enormously disappointing to me, and it also meant that I now could not waste so much as a drop of water in my possession. The next available water source was a spring seven miles past the water cache, which itself was 0.6 miles off from the trail. Over a really big mountain. Frankly, I only had enough water to get me to the cache. I knew I could make it to the next source if I had to, but I'd be thirsty when I arrived. And now that I knew the water cache could not be counted on, every drop mattered even more than before.

I stopped for the night about five miles later, having done 20 miles that day, but still five-or-so miles short of the water cache, and twelve-or-so miles short of the next reliable water source. With only about two liters of water left. Grrr....

I didn't have enough water to cook dinner, so I ate snacks. Then I didn't have enough water to brush my teeth, so I didn't. A short while after I stopped for the night, Graduate arrived. Finally! Someone had caught up to me on the trail! I didn't do a lot of miles, but it was apparently enough to keep ahead of everyone else.

And that was it for the day. I assumed Sticky Fingers probably stopped at the water cache, and was probably disappointed to find it empty of water. I expected that there were a number of people not far behind me, and Graduate told me that he thought Morph and Moonshadow might make it into camp there that night, but they didn't.

The wind was picking up again, so I set up camp behind a Joshua tree as a partial wind break. It wasn't especially good, but it was better than nothing, which is what Graduate had. I hoped a strong wind gust wouldn't blow an arm of the Joshua tree off onto my sleeping body during the night, but I was willing to take the risk. (I'm happy to report, none of it fell off onto me.)

In August, I'll be participating with Amanda in the Washington Trail Association's Hike-a-Thon. If you haven't already, please consider sponsoring us. (Especially me!) The folks do great work helping to fix up and maintain trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail and help make thru-hikes such as mine possible. If you enjoy reading this blog, consider giving something back to the trails that make it possible. Thanks!

1 comment:

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

That section of the trail must be more remote and not as accessible to trail angels.
Scary to be without water and have such a long way to hike.

That last photo is striking! The sky is gorgeous!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers