Distance: 20 miles
Number of water-quantity errors made: 1
At first light this morning we discovered that at some point in the previous hour we had left the forest and were back into a completely barren desert landscape. With the change, the temperature dropped. Sheltered by the trees we'd been in shirtsleeves at 4am (unlike the previous two mornings when we've still had hat and gloves on at gone 9am).
Reaching the water cache just before 6am, it was with relief that we found it sufficiently well stocked to fulfil the water needs of 100 or more hikers. As it was to be our last water until the end of the day, we opted for a cooked breakfast. I can't imagine that I would ever opt for shrimp flavoured noodles for breakfast at 6am at home, but they went down well this morning. We also 'camelled up' by drinking lots, which turned out to have been a very wise move (albeit wisdom didn't really come into it at the time).
Having erred on the side of caution and carried too much water for the first week, the last couple of cool days have allowed us to cut back. I'm not sure whether this morning I was just suffering from the lack of sleep, or whether I was making some spurious assumption based on the last couple of days. Either way, we were a couple of miles past the cache when I did some calculations and started to fret.
It came to really hit me that not only were we crossing shelterless desert, but that we were going to continue is such conditions all day, with a significant amount of ascent. In those conditions, we can get through a litre of water every four or five miles. The next water cache (assuming it was stocked) was 15 miles away and we only had 2.5 litres apiece. We were a bit short anyway, and if that cache turned out to be empty then we had left ourselves with no margin.
The only thing to do seemed to be to add the extra distance to the day, drop 500' at the 622 mile point and detour to the spring that lies 1.8 miles off the path.
We took stock again when we got to the turn. We'd made really good time to that point, and had enjoyed a refreshing breeze. Added to the water we'd drunk over breakfast, that meant that 6 miles into the waterless stretch our reserves were almost untouched.
We did some more calculations and reckoned that if we kept up a good pace then we could make it to the top of the last hill before the day got unbearably hot, and thus make it down to the cache before our supplies ran out. We decided to go for it.
Well, that was a hard way to do that section of the walk! Walking uphill, through deep, soft sand, at speed and with minimal breaks, after very little sleep. 13.5 miles by 10am; 20 by a quarter past one. We did pause for fuel a few times on the way (and to empty sand and grit out of the shoes), but with an eye on the clock, no break was long.
The worst part of it was that I misread the map and thought that when we hit 6000', it was all downhill for the final 3 miles. The reality was another chunk of up (in yet more soft sand; our ankles must be so shapely by now) before the final couple of miles of down.
In spite of the speed, we did manage to take in our surroundings and pause for some snaps (sorry, no blog photo today - I didn't take the time to take the phone out of my bag). It may have been some of the most barren desert landscape we've passed through to date but it was stunning. Not stunning in a pretty way (no flowers seen today, muted greeness dotted around, but mainly a brown colour scheme), but an incredible place to be, with all the lumps and bumps of the landscape. There was even an occasional Peak District-esque rocky outcrop. I rather enjoyed the surroundings.
Dropping down to mile 631, it was such a relief to find that the water cache was stocked. Mary, who is the trail angel who maintains it, is currently my favourite person in the whole world (after Mick, of course). As it went, my fretting had been unnecessary on two counts; with the cooling breeze accompanying us all day, we still had plenty of water when we arrived (although not enough to camp and then walk the 12 miles to the next reliable source).
We've bagsied ourselves a good pitch here (the other three people who we've seen here so far are continuing on - we're an oddity at starting early and being prepared to end our day so early in the afternoon). It's out of sight of the road, but rather close to it. Hold on, haven't we been here before?
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