Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Water! Water! My Kingdom for a Drop of Water!

June 8: I woke up earlier than ever, hitting the trail before the brutal sun baked me. Despite my early start, Morph and Moonshadow passed me in camp. They must not have camped very far back, I thought, and wow, what early morning risers!

After eating breakfast and packing up camp, I checked my water supply. About 1 1/2 liters. Not much, and I'd probably need to cover 12 miles to fill up. It wasn't an ideal situation. I needed an early start, and needed to get to that water source before the day heated up too bad. Heaven forbid, I just couldn't wait out another long lunch break, and I couldn't go that far in the middle of the day.

So I tore up the trail, quickly passing both Morph and Moonshadow, finally catching up with Graduate at the water cache. I could see Graduate shaking the milk containers, frowning. It didn't look good.

"So what's the verdict?" I asked.

"It's dry. Nitro was right." Drats. I signed the logbook, something about not being a desert tortoise and that I actually needed water, and rested for a few minutes. But I didn't rest long. I couldn't afford to. I didn't have enough water to rest. I checked what was left. A little less than a liter, by the looks of it, with seven miles and over a 2000-ft mountain before the next spring. It was time to start rationing water.

I had been conservative in my drinking of water already, but I took it to a new level, this time telling myself that I would not be allowed to take more than one gulp of water from my Platypus every 15 minutes. I could still reach the spring, but I'd arrive very, very thirsty.

I started climbing up the mountain. A great deal of the trail was still in the shade. The slope was steep enough, and the trail followed the west side of it for much of the distance, so the mountain itself created its own shade. At least as long as the sun was still fairly low in the sky. The longer I waited, the less shaded the trail would be. If I had to hike uphill for several miles, I wanted to do it in the shade, and in the cool of the morning. So I pushed on, not taking any breaks.

When I started getting thirsty, I'd pull out my watch to look if 15 minutes had elapsed. Five minutes?! $#!^! The thirst started growing, and I looked again. It seemed like an eternity, but finally fifteen minutes elapsed, and I sucked in a mouthful of water. Most of it I drank immediately, but I left a small bit in my mouth, which I pushed around with my tongue, enjoying the sensation of water in my mouth. Then the water started getting warm, so I gulped the rest and the hike continued.

After a couple of miles, I started approaching what looked like a top to the mountain. I had my doubts, though. I'm quite familiar with false summits, and it didn't feel like I had climbed enough in elevation to have already made it to the top. I hoped I was wrong and it really was the summit, but a nagging voice in my head told me not to get my hopes up. It was probably a false summit.

And it was. I went up the saddle, and saw a chain of ever higher mountain tops stretching out. Crap. I broke my water rationing rule and took a swig of water anyhow at this point. While I was not yet at the top, the trail looked much less steep at this point. It shouldn't be quite so hard to go up as before. So I hoped.

I pushed on, as the morning grew warmer and warmer, but largely kept to my one gulp of water every 15 minutes regimen.

I finally made it over the peak, took another celebratory swig of water, and started the long, slow drop down the other side of the mountain. There was a lot more sun now, and the temperature grew increasingly warm, but at least I was now heading downhill and making better time than ever.

Graduate caught up with me at the turnoff for the Yellow Jacket Spring, and we started the steep 0.6 mile off-trail hike to the water supply. Once I reached the turnoff and knew the spring was just 0.6 miles away, I ended my self-imposed water restriction and started sucking down the water a lot faster.

On the way down, we spotted Sticky Fingers, climbing back up to the trail, who was also quite annoyed about the off-trail hunt for water.

She also told me that she was finally able to use her cell phone and figured out what was going on in the outside world. She had told me the previous day that she got a message from Warner Springs Monty asking if she was okay and to check in. She was hoping to get a ride from him from Walker Pass to Mojave where she was going to meet her husband, but that there was something strange about the message. He'd try calling a couple of times, and I joked that he must be stalking her.

She was finally able to use her phone and finally got the full story. Someone had gone to the Andersons looking for her, a suspicious character, and word went out to warn Sticky Fingers about the shady character. But then nobody was able to contact her (she was off hiking, in the wilderness, where cell phones didn't work), and then friends started to worry about her safety. Was she okay? The hunt for Sticky Fingers was on, and messages streamed around the Internet trying to find her whereabout.

"Too bad they didn't contact me," I said. "I could have told them you were with me." Some people might even consider me a shady character. =)

She said she was a little embarrassed about all the fuss made over her, while she's hiking completely unaware about the frantic search going on for her. But she assured everyone that was okay, and the hunt was finally called off.

Sticky Fingers continued on--she was trying to get off of Walker Pass that afternoon--and Graduate and I hiked down to the spring. Actually, calling it a spring is a rather generous. It's actually a seep, a wet patch of ground that mostly requires digging a hole to collect any water from. Sticky Fingers and the water report said if we walked down it far enough, there is a small trickle of water that doesn't require digging a hole to get to, however, so Graduate and I went in search of it.

It was only a trickle, but I never felt so happy to see such a lame water source in my life. I finished drinking the last of my water, then filled up a one-liter bottle with water. When I looked in it, it was a solid brown color. Bleh! I poured out the water and tried again, this time using a cloth to pre-filter the water first. The water looked a lot better this time, and I drank the whole thing within minutes without any further treatment. It was only a little after 10:00 in the morning, but it was time for a lunch break. The next water source was a long way off, and I needed to rehydrate anyhow. I wanted to stay near the water for hours and hours, resting in the shade. So that's what I did.

About a half hour later, I heard some people talking upstream. Probably Morph and Moonshadow, since I knew they were immediately behind us, and I shouted down for them to keep going--there was free-flowing water nearby, and those two joined our water club as well.

I waited for a good four hours, drinking three liters of water before hitting the trail again. It was the first time I had a chance to chat with Moonshadow on this hike, and it was nice catching up to her since I remembered her from our 2003 Appalachian Trail hike. Morph also hiked with us in 2003, but I had seen him several times starting in Idyllwild. Moonshadow I kept seeming to miss all the time. A bit later, another hiker I'd never met before named Danny caught up with us around the spring.

All all eventually headed back up to the trail. We all swore that the spring seemed like it was 1 1/2 miles off the trail, not a mere 0.6 miles, so Morph checked the distance on his GPS and I timed my walk to calculate the distance, and we all concluded that yes, it really was only 0.6 miles off the trail. It seemed a lot longer than that on the way down, but then we were all severely dehydrated at that point which probably affected our sense of distance.

I hiked another seven or eight miles to a shelter--one of the few shelters along the PCT--for the night. It was a wonderful, fast-flowing spring, a nice stop for the end of a 20-mile day. I didn't stay in the shelter, electing to cowboy camp outside where the air seemed less stagnant. Another day, another adventure.

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:

wassamatta_u said...

Your "Kingdom", eh? *rubbing chin in contemplation*