The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 23 June 2012

day 19

Day 19 - Mile 760 to mile 775
Tuesday 19 June (0835-1400; 1600-1800)
Distance: 15 miles

It was cold in the night! All advice that I read said that a sleeping
bag good to -7 was needed for this walk, and until now I had seen no
evidence of cool nights. Maybe now those extra down items I've been
carrying for all of those miles will pay their dues - although last
night I got away with just putting my fleece on.

After yesterday's efforts, a lie in was had this morning, and even
when we did stir it took us 2 hours to get packed and ready to go (as
against our usual 1 hour). The good news is that the lower altitude
and the good rest had done the trick and my legs and mind were playing
ball again. I can't claim that I skipped up the climb, but it wasn't
the effort of yesterday.

The most notable point in today's walk was Crabtree Meadows, where we
paused for elevenses. Most PCT walkers take a side-trip from there to
go up Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. For a
few reasons, we opted out of that trip (and in the year that
conditions are best for doing it).

We should perhaps have extended our stay at Crabtree Meadows for
lunch, as it was incredibly pretty, but I like to get the bulk of the
walking done before lunch, so we pushed on for another 4 miles. What
we found in 4 miles was a very nice river, and a mosquito-fest. The
tent was once again used as lunchtime bug-protection. It'll likely be
put to such use on a daily basis from now on.

By four o'clock we were walking again, with just 5 miles to go. That
would position us right at the bottom of the final ascent to Forester
Pass (the highest point on the whole of the PCT).

The final bit of that walk was jaw-dropping. High meadows,
picture-postcards lakes and a backdrop of jagged ridges. I even had a
marmot pose nicely for me as I snuck up and took a photo of it.

The river/creek (when does a creek become a river?) by our campsite
for the night was a cascading delight and the view from the tent isn't
too shoddy either. It's been a couple of weeks since we had the sides
of the tent closed at night (we leave it with just the mesh between us
and the outside world), so if I wake in the night I get to appreciate
the stars and the view. I would appreciate the moon too, except for it
seems to have been missing lately.

Day 18 - Mile 738.25 to mile 760

Day 18 - Mile 738.25 to mile 760
Monday 18 June (0630-1300; 1550-1945)
Distance: 21.75 trail miles, plus detour to lake
Number of marmots seen: 1
Number of squirrelly things that tried to nick our food: hoards

That may go down as the hardest day of walking I've ever done!

Once again, it looked quite simple on paper. A bit of an undulating
day, topping out at 11600', but with no massive climbs jumping out at
us from the elevation profile. All of those little climbs do add up,
but it was either the altitude or 'just one of those days' (or a bit
of both) that made it so difficult for me.

I was knackered within the first mile, and by the time we got to the
outflow of the lake at lunchtime (13 miles in), I surprised myself by
insisting that we detour to have lunch on the shore. It was definitely
worth while, even for struggling bodies, as it was our first mountain
lake of the trip and it was stunning. A bit cold for swimming (top
marks to Xtra Credit for jumping in - she didn't stay there for more
than a dunking though), but a very pleasant lunch spot.

Lunch was a long affair, as they need to be when there's a meal to
cook (we're still having our main meal at lunchtime most days), and
aside from the view, entertainment was provided by a family of
squirrely-things which wanted to nick all of our food. The cheekiest
tried to get the lid off my cookpot - whilst it was about 2 feet away
from me!

Eventually (just after the posse caught us up) we had to make a move.
We still had 9 miles to walk, it was approaching 4pm and with my
levels of lethargy (plus some more ups) there was no way it was going
to be a quick walk.

I had to question why we were flogging ourselves on a 22-mile day,
when our schedule didn't require us to walk anywhere near that far and
when there were lots of good camping spots available, but I kept
coming back to the same answer. By walking 22 miles we would not only
get ourselves down to the lowest possible point on the coming section
of trail (back down to 9800'), thus ensuring a better night's sleep
than we would have had at 11000', but also it would position us nicely
for the next climb. Always better to attack a climb first thing in the
morning, I reckon.

I was almost dead on my feet with 4 miles to go and the trail seemed
to be stubbornly refusing to get down below 11000' (not to mention
turning to deep, soft sand every time it levelled out). When yet
another unexpected up appeared I was heard to whine "Not another
sodding up!" whilst dragging my poles petulantly behind me (now go
back and read that in the whiniest voice you can muster and you might
be getting close to my mood).

It's the little things that can turn a bad thing into a good thing,
and a minute later we found ourselves on a delightful, stepped bit of
trail going up through an enormous boulder field (enormous boulders
and enormous field). With a peak above us shaped like a huge
amphitheatre I was suddenly happy again - at least until I remembered
that the end still wasn't in sight and that all I wanted to do was to
curl up in the dirt and sleep.

The descent all came in the last couple of miles of the day, and we
almost ran down those switchbacks. With the shortest possible aquafaff
at a lovely creek to fill our bladders, we strode on, aiming for a
campsite* just half a mile further away.

Arriving at quarter to eight, we decided to divide and conquer. I left
Mick to put up the tent by himself, whilst I went a reasonable
distance away to prepare some noodles for tea. By half past eight we
had eaten two courses, cleaned our teeth, placed our bear canisters in
an appropriate place and were in bed.

There was no time for any blog writing, which means that as I type
this I'm currently a day behind.

(* terminology clarification: a campsite is a wild pitch; simply an
area where people have camped before, where there are already pitches
created (i.e. the top surface scraped back to the bare earth) and
usually a fire ring too. A campground is what I would ordinarily call
a campsite - a place that has been created for the specific purpose
for people to camp and usually with some facilities. All the
campgrounds we've come across have had pit toilets, but only 1 has had
running water.)

Day 17 - Mile 619.5 to mile 638.25

Day 17 - Mile 619.5 to mile 638.25
Sunday 17 June (0635-1240; 1430-1740; 1915-2000)
Distance: 18.75 miles (plus 1 mile water search for me)
Number of little shrimps Mick carried for 6 miles in water I'd collected: 1

When we come to our first mountain lake, I think I might pop at the
overload of beauty, as even without any lakes today was a day of
spectacular scenery. I'm loving the forests, and I'm loving the
meadows, I'm loving the rocky outcrops and the rocky peaks. I can't
say that I loved the effort of the first two miles of the day. They
were hard!

The ascent was nothing remarkable on paper. Certainly more sustainedly
steep than the PCT in general, but nothing compared to attacking a
hill in the way we do at home. Plus (save for a few diversions around
blow-downs), the trail was as well made as ever, so no comparison to
the difficulty of yomping through heather and bogs to attain 1500' of
height. The only thing I can attribute the difficulty to is the
altitude, as we were climbing our way up to 10600'.

Happily, we stopped for breakfast after an hour and a half (about a
hundred paces before a stunning view, as it turned out) and I took
some painkillers for a headache I had (altitude induced, no doubt).
Within half an hour not only had the headache gone but the caffeine in
those painkillers was doing wonders for my energy. I had no problems
with the ups for the rest of the day.

Progress was slow compared to previous days, though. Up to 10600' we
climbed from our camp at 8600', then back down to 9000' before going
back up to 10600'. In amongst all that we had a very sociable time at
elevenses, lunch and tea, as everyone chose the obvious locations of
the water sources for those breaks.

The lunchtime water source was a creek which wasn't flowing but most
people took water from one of the stagnant pools. I wasn't happy to do
that when there was apparently a spring just 0.2 of a mile away, so
off I went in search. Twenty minutes later I returned, having covered
the best part of a mile and having found no spring. I had built up
quite a thirst in the process, which was unfortunate as I still wasn't
prepared to drink the stagnant water.

After lunch I went better prepared. A map and compass were the notable
omissions on the first foray, plus this time I had Mick's iPhone with
HalfMile's PCT app. We didn't even know what the app did for the first
week and a half, but now know that it will lead you to a water source.
Ten minutes later I was back with clear, cold spring water (albeit
with a tiny shrimp-like thing that we didn't notice for some miles).

In the heat of the day we huffed and puffed our way up the next
ascent, knowing already that we weren't going to make our intended
night-stop, but wanting to make as much forward progress as we could.

In keeping with the plans of others, our evening meal was had at the
next water source, or at least, at the point on the trail nearest to
the water source. This time I sent Mick to find it (0.3 miles away)
whist I sat chatting to a chap known as Strider (he's 6'8").

Mick hadn't been gone long, and I was mid-sentence, when I caught
sight of movement out of the corner of my eye.

"Oooh, a bear!" I exclaimed.

A few minutes later Mick was back, empty handed to tell us he'd just
seen a bear. "I got a photo of it" I said.

With water finally fetched, tea was eaten in the company of the whole
posse who'd caught us back up, before we wearily set out just to cover
a couple more miles.

And that's just what we did. There were plenty of pitches within those
couple of miles, and eventually we settled on an area, where the posse
gradually arrived and joined us.

With darkness almost upon us there was no messing around. The tent
went up, the bear canisters were placed a good distance away and
within minutes we were in our sleeping bags (finally my sleeping bag
is seeing some use - it's a bit cooler at night up at 10000'!).

Day 16 - mile 702.25 to mile 719.5

Day 16 - mile 702.25 to mile 719.5
Saturday 16 June (0720-
Distance: 17.25 trail miles; 18 miles total
Weather: fluffy clouds forming as the day went on - perhaps this is
the pattern for the Sierra? Still constant sunshine, though.

The Sierra was the prime reason for this trip and even though we've
barely got our foot through the door, I'm already bowled over by the
overload of beauty we've seen today.

The view two days ago suggested that the transition from desert to
mountains was sudden, yet somehow we had expected another couple of
days of desertesqueness. The first few miles were lived up to
expectations, and even when we went into a forest there was often
deep, soft sand underfoot. Then we popped over a pass, and before us
was a green meadow with hills beyond.

Green has been the colour of the day. It's not anywhere near the lush
green that our garden will be just now (except in the region of a
spring or creek), but it's remarkably green compared to everything
we've seen to date. And the meadows are just incredible; I find it
hard to believe they're so high up (8000' today - the coming days will
be higher).

Lunch was nearly had at a spring 12 miles through the day, but there
was nowhere nice to sit. So, having topped up our water we continued
on another hour to the south fork of the Kern River. A good decision!
What a fantastic place for a long lunch - an opinion shared by the
dozen people already there.

It was a bit of a strange day today, people wise, in that today
everyone set out from either Kennedy Meadows, or a few miles beyond.
That meant that we spent the morning leap-frogging and we're seeing
far more people than we have on any other day. The effect is
highlighted by our having set out at a more 'normal' time of day.

We didn't walk far after lunch. Just three more miles saw us to where
we intended to stop, having sworn that we're not going to walk more
miles a day than necessary on this section. We did give serious
consideration to another 2 or 3 miles, but the realisation that the
trail rises another 1400' in those 3 miles made final the decision to
stay put. In fact we didn't just stay put, but we backtracked about
100 yards - much to the amusement of the group we'd passed there
twenty minutes before.

They moved on after a while, but we were soon joined by more people. A
campfire has been lit and I reckon another handful of people will be
here by the time we wake up in the morning.

Day 15 - Mile 693.5 to Mile 702.25

Day 15 - Mile 693.5 to Mile 702.25
Friday 15 June (0620-0955)
Distance: 8.75 miles
Weather: some clouds were seen late last night! First clouds in 10
days. They'd gone by this morning.
The surroundings were irrelevant today. The sole focus was on Kennedy
Meadows, our destination. Everyone we've met has been excited about
getting to Kennedy Meadows, but in their cases it has been because it
marks the end of 700 miles of desert. In our case, it was purely the
thought of a shower and laundry that made us stride on, although I
confess that even after 250 miles, we're more than ready to leave the
desert. I'm glad that we did that section (it really has been
stunning, with more life than I could have imagined), but I'll be
happy to have water more plentiful and am rather hoping that the dust
and dirt situation will improve too.

We didn't have to walk the whole of the 0.7 miles from the trail to
the General Store, where everyone hangs out, as part way up the road a
pick up came along, turned around and offered us a ride. I can't think
of many places where I'd be happy to climb into the already-full bed
of a truck (full of petrol cans), with my pack still on, and just hold
on tight.

On arrival at the store we found lots of people in dresses - and not
just the girls. At first I thought it odd that all of these
lightweight backpackers (we're definitely not as light as most) had
packed dresses. Then we learnt that there were loaner-clothes
available so that laundry could be done. The lack of male 'bottoms'
explained the men in dresses.

Having obtained a very early-1990's frock for me, Mick borrowed my
shorts so as to avoid any frock-wearing himself, but did select quite
a loud shirt.

The showers were quite interesting too. Two stalls, outside, with a
saloon style door each, and with gaps in the slats which form the
sides. A peeping-tom's dream.

Most people take at least one zero here to sort everything out for the
Sierra. We were on a mission to get ourselves sorted within the day,
so within minutes of arrival we had picked up our (huge!) resupply
parcel and bear canisters, put our names down for laundry and worked
out the system for the showers. Then came the time consuming tasks:
fitting all of the food in the bear canisters and working out how to
fit the canisters in the packs (or 'on' as it has turned out, as ours
won't happily fit in our packs). We're very much in the minority in
that we have got Bearicade canisters, whereas everyone else has got
the Bearvault. That's probably because the cost of renting ours for 2
weeks is about the same as the cost of buying the Bearvault. But,
working on the basis that we have no need to own a canister, we went
for the lightest option (which also happens to have the larger
dimensions). On the plus side, we have managed to fit all of our food
into ours, although part of that is because we're only walking a 6-day
stretch. Many people walk the whole way to VVR (12 days on our
schedule; 10 days on most) without resupply.

Having the canister on board is seen as a burden to some people, but
I'm glad to have it. Statistically cows in the UK are far more
dangerous than bears in the High Sierra, but somehow it feels much
better to have the food safely stored elsewhere.

With the chores all done, and much socialising (it seems that we now
know most of the people here), we'll be heading out tomorrow.

thank you...

...for the reassurance that there are some people reading and that
you'd like the posts to continue.

I was thinking that, being a bit dull and repetitive in my posts
(heat, water, altitude, hard!) that you'd all wandered off to read
more interesting blogs!

I will continue to type daily blogs, but I run out of Blackberry
service on 30 June and it's probable that I won't find a mobile signal
again before then. So, after this glut of posts* there may be no more
until we get home (unless I find a library and retype some of them).

(*there may not be a glut of posts. My phone will receive email but
it's refusing to send at the moment, and webmail is too painful, time
and battery consuming)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Day 21 - in Lone Pine

I'm sitting in a Laundromat, in the town of Lone Pine, having walked out over the Kearsarge Pass this morning to resupply for the next leg. We have a bed tonight. And a shower! We definitely need both - perhaps the latter rather more than the former!

I have got a backlog of posts written (is anyone even reading?!) but have no phone signal and they're refusing to post over wifi.

I'll post them when I can...

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Day 14 - Mile 673 to Mile 693.5

Thursday 14 June (0430-1225; 1500-??1700)
Distance: 20.5 miles (plus the best part of a mile to-ing and fro-ing)
Number of bobcats seen: 1 (only by Mick)

A brief consideration of the map and of the elevation profile last night (it had to be brief; there was only time for food and bed by the time we got pitched) told us that this morning we had a bit more climbing to do, before we dropped down to 5500'. Another climb would see us arrive, 14 miles through our day, at the high point of the day, and of the walk so far: 8000'. We reckoned that a 4.30am start would allow us to reach the top of the climb before the midday heat, and that we could then sit under a tree at the top for a few hours before making our way to the next water source for our night stop.

The first water point of the day was at mile 681, where we found Bolt, Navi, Natty and Maverick just in the process of getting up. We also found the water source to be a good flow. It was no raging torrent, but we could hear it as we approached.

Even better, in the middle of the stream was found a metal basket full of cans of beer and of pop. Nowt like a can of fizzy orange for a bit of thirst quenching. An hour or so later, and for the second day in a row, Maverick (who was the first thru-hiker we spoke to, back in Agua Dulce) made me leap out of my skin as he suddenly appeared behind us.  My goodness, that chap walks fast uphill!

We took rather longer to get to the top than he had, and upon rounding a bend in the path, there ahead of us was suddenly the High Sierra. No gentle transition; it was brown and green in the foreground, suddenly giving way to white granite lumps beyond.

We would have stopped there for lunch, except for some time we had been in a burnt area, so there was no shade to be found (thankfully the start of the burn area coincided with the wind picking up; until then we had been in a forest). Onwards we had to go until we spotted three smallish trees a hundred yards or so off the path (which turned out to be the only live trees for about 8 miles). We scrambled up to them and gladly took the little shade offered (can't claim it was overly comfy, mind).

I frittered away most of my water on cooking lunch, on the basis that half a litre should see me through the four-and-a-half downhill miles to the next water source.  Timed to perfection, I finished my last mouthful about a hundred yards before the creek. Or maybe not timed to perfection, I realised, when Mick (walking ahead of me) announced that the creek was dry. Eeek!

Twenty-eight degrees in the shade, five miles to the next water, and nothing to drink! Hardly life-threatening, but certainly an unpleasant thought after being lulled into a false sense of security by the plentifulness of water over the last 24 hours.

Whilst Mick checked that we were in the right place, I wandered off upstream and, with great relief, found that not all of the flow had disappeared underground in the heat of the day. It may not have been what I would have chosen as my water source, but beggars can't be choosers.

Avoiding swarms of wasps, four litres were slowly gathered, but we didn't set up camp as planned. Instead we headed up the trail a way to some live trees we could see (the stream being still within the burn area). We poked around there looking for a pitch for so long that we probably covered the best part of a mile, before deciding to cut our losses and head back to the stream. Sitting in the shade waiting for the sun to sink low enough to pitch the tent, we put our time to good use - more water was collected and hands and faces were washed. The grime has hit unbelievable levels (no shower or laundry for 8 days now!) and it was nice to wash a bit of it off. Of course, the minging shirts had to be put back on. It's scant exaggeration to say that they're so stiff with sweat that they'll stand up by themselves (nice!), and the colour of them has to be seen to be believed.

Still, eight and a half miles will see us to Kennedy Meadows where apparently there is a shower and a washing machine.

(Incidentally, I'd be prepared to wager that we had an evening meal duplicated by no other PCT walker tonight: kippers and oatcakes. Very tasty it was too, even if unusual trail food on the PCT. We didn't earn the names Fish & Biscuit for nothing you know...)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day 13 - Mile 651 to mile 673

Wednesday 13 June (0350-1205; 1600-1825)
Distance: 22 miles
Number of times we enjoyed the luxury of dipping our hats in (the novelty of) running water: 2

Within yards of setting out this morning, and before we even set foot on the trail, we got ourselves on the wrong path. That was remarkable because in the last twelve days there has only been one junction where there was any uncertainty as to which way we should go and even then we didn't have to resort to the map. The only use the map has had has been to track progress and see what terrain is coming up.

We didn't have to use the map this morning. When we found ourselves going up a steep track (bearing no other footprints) we backtracked for thirty yards and found where we should have picked up the trail. Our excuse was that it was dark and there are a million paths and trods in the vicinity of the campground.

Once we'd got ourselves back to Walker Pass, where we got to on Day 11 before we backtracked, we were faced with a 7.5 mile uphill pull. Gentle as always, we clung to the side of the, often steep, hillside as we wended our way from 5100' up to 7200'. It was part way through those 7.5 miles that we started to notice a change. Ahead of us was a rocky ridge, and we found ourselves walking on stony terrain rather than sand or grit. There were even boulder fields and rocky seams, although there was no clambering over either. The trail builders did a good job of clearing all such obstacles out of the way so all we had to do was walk over relatively even terrain.

The elevation profile was cruel to us today (or to put it a different way, maybe we should have walked a few miles last night to have positioned ourselves better), as having got up to 7200' we then descended quickly to 5300' only then to need to regain 600'. That may not sound like much, but by then it was gone 10am, and it had already been hot by 6.30am.

It was probably be the hottest I've been since day 2.

Dropping back down the other side, our sights were on the next water source. Suddenly there's a plethora of them, with five within 6 miles. We'd been dithering over whether to stop for lunch (and to sit out the midday sun) at the 668.6 mile stream or the 670 mile nicer-sounding stream. The decision was made when we reached the first one, looked at the map and found that the 1.4 miles to the nicer stream involved another 500' of ascent.

We retreated a few paces to some camping pitches under some trees where we were soon joined by Navvy, Bolt and Nada. Hot meals were cooked all around (so it's not just us breaking out the stove at lunchtime) before the others moved on for another 12 miles. We had already walked as far as we needed to, so we hung around a little longer before heading back out for a few more miles. There was no reason for those extra miles other than that noon seemed too early to camp after a zero preceded by two early finishes.

Sanity was questioned as we slogged 1500' up a hill when it was still 30 degrees in the shade. Sanity was questioned even more when a couple heading the opposite way told us that the next campable land was 10 miles away. The map suggested otherwise, so having soaked our hats in the next stream and stocked up with 3 litres of water apiece, onwards we went.

With relief, we found two existing pitches not far off the track in the very place we had earmarked. We're right up on the ridge, in amongst trees. We're ready for a good sleep now, after quite a hard day.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Day 12 - Mile 651 to Mile 651

Tuesday 12 June
Distance: about 300 yards to the Trail Magic tent and back

In keeping with the last couple of weeks, I woke up at 3am this morning. Then I remembered that we didn't have to go anywhere and I went back to sleep. When I woke at 7, I hadn't even heard Mick get dressed.

'Best sleep of the trip?' Mick asked. 'Best sleep ever!' I replied.

By quarter past seven we were over at the Trail Magic tent drinking tea (most tea bags have been thrown away; Gatorade has taken the place of tea on this trip), soon after which we were served a vegetable fritata for breakfast. To me, doughnuts aren't a breakfast item, but that didn't stop me from eating them this morning.

When Okiegirl said she'd take us to Onyx to pick up our parcel, I could have hugged her. She was going on to Lake Isabella, and given the choice between trying to hitch back from Onyx or taking a trip into town, it was a no-brainer to go along for the ride. It's not like we had anything else pressing to do today.

It's an eye-opener seeing what trouble and expense these trail angels go to. Just refilling the twenty or so gallon water bottles (from a 'buy your purified water refills here' machine in the supermarket at 39c per gallon) was quite a task, and that was with four of us working on it.

Twelve-inch Subway sandwiches all around had us salivating on the drive back to the campground (it's a 70-mile round trip they're doing each day to cater for the hikers), and as soon as all of the food, drinks, water and ice were unloaded, we tucked in. The day has involved much food and much pop (and clean pants and socks and a strip-wash in the 'restroom' at the supermarket - people have been commenting on how clean we look ever since!).

In hindsight, I'm glad we didn't get a hitch into town yesterday afternoon. We've had a far better time hanging around here, meeting lots of new people and just relaxing.

In fact, it's been so good that we've been sucked into the vortex and today has turned into a zero. Our plans to hike out tonight were scrapped as soon as we realised how hot the day was. Much better to do the eight-mile ascent, which starts from here, at 4am.

The only downside of the remaining at the campground is the toilet facilities. One long-drop toilet per gender and they're a bit ripe - and I'm not that good at holding my breath for that long!

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 11 - 2 points of clarification

1) Trail names: for those who aren't familiar with the US hiking scene, most people walking the big trails go by a trail name. Some name themselves, but the done thing is to pick up a name on the trail. On Sunday we were sitting under a Joshua tree (what fine trees they are (although actually part of the lily family and not a tree at all)) and I asked Mick if he wanted fish and biscuits or fish and rice for lunch. A chap called Hollywood was nearby and thought it was the oddest, most revolting lunch he'd ever heard of. He was much relieved when we pulled out tuna and crackers. Seems it was a 'separated by a common language' issue. And hence when the group huddled at the Trail Magic tent yesterday decided we needed a name they settled on Fish and Biscuits. After a vote, I became Fish, because apparently Biscuits sounds more masculine.

2) I should clarify that when we were given ice-cream yesterday we were in the desert, 35 miles from the nearest town, without even running water, never mind electricity. Each day the trail angels do a run to town (which is where I am, typing this - we got a door-to-door ride to the PO, plus a bit of a road trip on the daily resupply round), and amongst the many supplies they get ice and ice cream which they pack in newspaper in some cool boxes.

Responses to Comments:

Conrad: I think of a Land Rover Track as an even-surfaced made track. The jeep tracks are rutted, thoroughly uneven, dirt tracks. So, although they are both vehicle tracks I wouldn't say that they're the same. Experience to date suggest that our LRTs are more akin to the US Forest Roads.

Alan: thanks for the trail name suggestions, but as you'll have seen, other hikers beat you to it! Hope you had a good time, wherever you've been!

Maike: the surroundings are stunning. I'm loving the views. Seen lots of wildlife, but no prairie dogs - which are quite similar to meerkats!
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Day 11 - mile 631 to mile 652

Monday 11 June (0425-1320)
Distance: 21 trails miles plus 1 mile back to campground
Number of incredible trail magic incidents: 1
Number of failed hitch attempts: 1
Number of parcels languishing at post office due to failed hitch attempt: 1

A peaceful night was had with some good quality sleep. Somehow that made it even more difficult to get up at 3.30 this morning (a lie in!). But, we reminded ourselves how big a climb we had to start the day, which incentivised us to get moving before the day got too hot.

Gosh, it was hot going up that hill at 4.30am! But, as always it was a gentle climb and when we saw the pitches available at the top we thought perhaps we should have gone on yesterday. Not that we had a bad pitch where we were - the best of the trip so far, in fact.

The pull up the hill wasn't as bad as it looked. What appeared to be a massive height was only 1500', taking us up to our highest point to date as we brushed the 7000' contour for the first of three times today.

Once we were coming down the other side of this hill the surrounding became less lovely. Scrubby woodland, followed by another burnt area, but this time burnt so long ago that there was scarcely evidence left as to why all of the trees were dead.

Despite being well supplied with water today, we were again making a good pace. Today's incentive was to reach Walker Pass in time to hitch into Onyx for the PO, before catching a bus into Lake Isabella to get a motel, a wash, some cleaning of the clothes and a proper meal.

We continued with that aim even when we ran out of any shade and discovered that the day was roasting. Had we had any ascent left by that point we would have been forced to sit out the heat of the day, but as we were heading downhill we trucked on as it got hotter and hotter.

Fantasies were in full flight, about ice cream and cold pop, as we approached the campground just before the road at Walker Pass. And what should we find when we got there but Trail Magic? Greeted with a big cheer, within a minute we had cold pop and ice cream thrust into our hands.

We tarried too long chatting (during which time we were Christened 'Fish and Biscuits'* - I'm Fish; it was either that or Gnarly Burps, which was also suggested...) and it was 1430 before we headed off to the road to hitch.

After an hour on the roadside with no shade and with the thermometer reading 41 degrees we decided to give it up as a bad job. Not wanting a bout of heat stroke, back to the campground we went where more pop was followed by a fantastic meal, not to mention more chatting. Okiegirl and Jackielope are my favourite trail angels of the day.

With the continuing need to pick up our parcel, we'll be here now until tomorrow night. We'll resume attempts go get into town in the cool of the morning, but won't then be able to walk out until the day cools down.

There are certainly worse places to be!

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Monday, 11 June 2012

On Walker Pass

Trying to hitch a ride to town. At a rate of two cars per half hour, we could be here a while (or headed back half a mile to the campground for the night, to try again tomorrow).

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Day 10 - mile 611 to mile 631

Sunday 10 June (0355-1315)
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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A Sleepless Night

Saturday night/Sunday morning

I've said many times that I don't do camping by roads. If cars come by and loiter in the night then my imagination goes into overdrive as to what harm they may do me. I'd much rather be somewhere where it takes some effort to reach.

Yet, last night we camped by a road. Mick had been complaining of tiredness (which is not like Mick at all) and didn't look too with-it either, so when we finally cleared the burnt area and found a viable pitch we took it. Any other day we would have walked on another mile (which is where the map suggested the next campable land lay).

A few vehicles passed as we were eating tea, but all they did was drive straight past and we were well concealed, so I wasn't concerned. We were asleep by just gone 1930 (it's these 3am starts that do it!).

Just before 11 another vehicle passed. Nothing alarming there, but then the disturbance started. Five minutes later a car horn started blasting away. On and on and on it went. Then the shouting started.

Had the vehicle met with an accident and they were trying to attract attention? Or were they just hoodlums out on a Saturday night? In the dark of night, the only reason I could see for cars to-ing and fro-ing on such an out-of-the-way little road, in the middle of the night, was because they were up to no good. And if people are up to no good then I don't want to be near by. I didn't hold out much hope for more sleep.

Eventually, after sternly telling myself that we were well hidden and that a car horn and shouting didn't mean that the bad boogey men were going to get us, I did drift off. That must have been about 1am. The horns sounded further away by then.

At 2am another car passed, which woke me up, and within minutes there was lots and lots of shouting, sounding quite close and the horns were getting closer again too (in retrospect, the voices could have been a mile away such was the lay of the land and the stillness of the night).

I lay there watching the minutes tick by until 3 o'clock came. I was then packed and ready to go in record time (and without even putting my headtorch on).

So, what was all that noise and palava about? We'll never know, but in the light of day, I doubt very much that it was anyone up to no good. My money would be that someone had been out walking during the day and lost their dog. I suppose it could, equally, have been a missing person, although in that case I would have expected whistles rather than just shouting.

I did swear this morning that I'll never camp by a road again...

...guess where we are tonight? Yep, another road. It's clear that a lot of people camp here and the road doesn't look much used. Finger's crossed...
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Day 8 Photo

I tried to send this with Day 8's post, but it kept failing. Let's see if it will get through by itself.

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Day 9 - Mile 590 to mile 611.25

Saturday 9 June (0440-1230; 1510-1725)
Distance: 21.25 miles
Number of lizards found sitting on my sock: 1 (but I wasn't wearing it at the time)
Number of other people seen: 0

For the first mile of today I pondered whether I had forgotten to pack my sleeping bag. My pack just seemed too light. The volume was right, so I had to put it down to having only 4 days' food, <2 litres of water and wearing so many of my clothes (cool morning again).

In the second mile my attention was drawn elsewhere, as I marvelled once again at the sunrise. Layers of hills going off into the distance, all backed by a red sky - gorgeous!

Once day had fully dawned, we came to notice that our surrounding had changed. No longer did we appear to be in the desert, but instead we were crossing grassy meadows (still on the steep side of a hill, but definitely meadow-esque). Some of the grass was even alive and green.

Then we entered a forest. Now, when I think of a forest I think of a British commercial plantation, with the trees crammed in in rows, making it inpenetrable except on the made tracks and paths. This was a whole different kettle of fish and was really attractive. The trees were very spaced out and every now and then there would be rocky bits (sometimes just random rocks that made me wonder 'how did that get there?). Then there were the lush green stream beds and hundreds of good-looking potential pitches. We were still walking on sand, mind.

A very lengthy aqua-faff was had at the first good spring we passed, but we only picked up enough to top up our drinking water as we knew there were other sources (albeit not as good) as the day went on.

We were sixteen miles through the day (and it was turning into a hot one) when we stopped for lunch at one of those sources, where it took quite a while to collect enough water from the dripping moss!

A good long break later, out we set for our final four miles of the day - or that was the plan. The plan went awry when we found that our intended stopping point was in a burn area. It's an old burn, and there were plenty of flat pitches, but the problem was that it was only 1700 and the lack of living trees meant there was a lack of shade. So, we had little option but to carry on.

With Mick having been lacking energy today, when we did finally find a flat, shady area we took it even though it's very close to a road (just a very small forest dirt road).

Like last night, it's not going to win any awards for the most attractive pitch, but we'll soon be asleep anyway, at which point it's pretty irrelevant what it looks like.

Having surveyed the water situation, we now have our fingers crossed that the cache in 5 miles time will have water. We just about have enough to get ourselves to the next natural water source, but it's 2 miles off route, down hill. We'd rather not have to make that detour.

Talking of water, first test of the superglued platty suggests that it will hold water again. Not sure how durable the repair will be, but there's not much further to go before water becomes plentiful.

(Geoff - we're liking the Double Rainbow! It's got plenty of room for the two of us plus bags, is easy to pitch, stands up to wind far better than I'd thought it would, and gives the option of tying both porch doors back on each side to give an airy bug protecting nest. For this climate, it's working well. I'm not sure it's really suited to UK conditions, though (mainly because it would be too drafty and there's a lack of room in the porch to cook).

Toadie - now you mention it, I see what you mean!

JP - having never done any walking like this before it all interesting - even the bits that other people are finding more mundane. Certainly a bit of a departure from the UK to look at a 10-day weather forecast and see a zero percent chance of rain for every day!

Martin - it's so easy, under these blue skies, to imagine that everyone's enjoying weather like this. Hope you get some dry spells for your Torridon trip.

Louise - at least you'll have plenty of time between Christmas and May to wear them in! I'll try to keep up the blogging, but the phone's not enjoying the dust and seems to be losing even more functionality. Fingers crossed that it limps on through to the finish.)

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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Day 8 - mile 569.5 to mile 590

Friday 8 June (0400-1105; 1315-1610)
Distance: 20.5 miles

What a good morning we had! I suspect that the chap who told us how ugly the trail was until it reaches the Sierra was basing his opinion on what he can see from his kitchen window (Mojave desert flatness), rather than on having walked the trail. Bits of today were incredibly pretty.

We didn't see anything of the first couple of miles of the day, as it was still dark, but we can report that they were exceptionally windy miles as we made our way up, up, up. Part way up, as we really battled to stay upright and on the path, I became glad that we had stopped short last night. It seemed that would have been impossible to pitch in that wind. Then we got to the area we had originally earmarked and found that there were plenty of big bushes behind which people have obviously camped before.

Shivers and Bam won the award for best pitch, completely sheltered in a nook in some woodland, an hour and three quarters into our day. We did try to rouse them (they had said to when we saw them last night), but all we got was a very sleepy 'morning' in return.

An attractive trail through woodland filled the next hour, whereupon we joined a jeep track. The last week has been almost exclusively on trail which is twelve to eighteen inches wide, so it was a bit of a departure to follow the jeep track (which is just like the trail, only bigger, less even of surface and has steeper gradients).

Back on a narrow trail we got to the highlight of the day. Rather than a barren desert landscape, we were in an area of shapely red rocks, with outcrops and slopes that looked like planted rockeries. We've not seen any cacti to speak of until today, but here we found little ground-hugging ones aplenty, and all in splendid pink flower.

With water sources still so far apart we couldn't afford to miss the only one we would pass today, so when, at what seemed like the right location, we found a seep crossing the path, we went in search of the spring.

We eventually found it another quarter of a mile further on, and had to laugh as it was the most blazingly obvious water source to date. A big concrete tank adjacent to the path collected the spring water, and you really couldn't miss it.

Unsurprisingly, water sources tend to be gathering points, as people loiter there a while, so we chatted to a handful of people as we rested. Our cooked bean and vegetable curry seemed an oddity compared to what everyone else was eating, but it was certainly tasty.

Loaded up with water to see us through the afternoon, overnight and into tomorrow (it being 19 miles to the next water), we hit the trail again right in the heat of the day. Either we're dealing better with the heat, or the cooling breeze made all the difference, but either way we were swayed by the knowledge that most of the afternoon was downhill.

The bags had been awfully heavy all day, and with having re-filled the water at lunchtime, we only made it an hour along the trail before our hips needed a break (actually, what they really need is some padding!). It was at that breakpoint that the Great Platypus Disaster occurred. As Mick heaved his pack back to his shoulder, out slipped the Platty which was strapped to the top, hit a sharp pine cone and incurred a gash. Eek!

Quick action salvaged most of the water (fortunately we weren't full to capacity at that point), but it was a sad loss of a big chunk of our water carrying capacity. I'll be seeing what I can do with some tape and some superglue later.

Going through some less-attractive scrubby stuff, the last couple of miles of the afternoon dragged on a bit, but time did of course pass and when we found a half-decent pitch at the 590 mile point (atop a pass) we decided to take it. It'll not go down as the nicest pitch of the trip, but it'll do the job, and at least we're quite sheltered from the wind that's whistling overhead.
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Day 8 - mile 569.5 to mile 590

Friday 8 June (0400-1105; 1315-1610)
Distance: 20.5 miles

What a good morning we had! I suspect that the chap who told us how ugly the trail was until it reaches the Sierra was basing his opinion on what he can see from his kitchen window (Mojave desert flatness), rather than on having walked the trail. Bits of today were incredibly pretty.

We didn't see anything of the first couple of miles of the day, as it was still dark, but we can report that they were exceptionally windy miles as we made our way up, up, up. Part way up, as we really battled to stay upright and on the path, I became glad that we had stopped short last night. It seemed that would have been impossible to pitch in that wind. Then we got to the area we had originally earmarked and found that there were plenty of big bushes behind which people have obviously camped before.

Shivers and Bam won the award for best pitch, completely sheltered in a nook in some woodland, an hour and three quarters into our day. We did try to rouse them (they had said to when we saw them last night), but all we got was a very sleepy 'morning' in return.

An attractive trail through woodland filled the next hour, whereupon we joined a jeep track. The last week has been almost exclusively on trail which is twelve to eighteen inches wide, so it was a bit of a departure to follow the jeep track (which is just like the trail, only bigger, less even of surface and has steeper gradients).

Back on a narrow trail we got to the highlight of the day. Rather than a barren desert landscape, we were in an area of shapely red rocks, with outcrops and slopes that looked like planted rockeries. We've not seen any cacti to speak of until today, but here we found little ground-hugging ones aplenty, and all in splendid pink flower.

With water sources still so far apart we couldn't afford to miss the only one we would pass today, so when, at what seemed like the right location, we found a seep crossing the path, we went in search of the spring.

We eventually found it another quarter of a mile further on, and had to laugh as it was the most blazingly obvious water source to date. A big concrete tank adjacent to the path collected the spring water, and you really couldn't miss it.

Unsurprisingly, water sources tend to be gathering points, as people loiter there a while, so we chatted to a handful of people as we rested. Our cooked bean and vegetable curry seemed an oddity compared to what everyone else was eating, but it was certainly tasty.

Loaded up with water to see us through the afternoon, overnight and into tomorrow (it being 19 miles to the next water), we hit the trail again right in the heat of the day. Either we're dealing better with the heat, or the cooling breeze made all the difference, but either way we were swayed by the knowledge that most of the afternoon was downhill.

The bags had been awfully heavy all day, and with having re-filled the water at lunchtime, we only made it an hour along the trail before our hips needed a break (actually, what they really need is some padding!). It was at that breakpoint that the Great Platypus Disaster occurred. As Mick heaved his pack back to his shoulder, out slipped the Platty which was strapped to the top, hit a sharp pine cone and incurred a gash. Eek!

Quick action salvaged most of the water (fortunately we weren't full to capacity at that point), but it was a sad loss of a big chunk of our water carrying capacity. I'll be seeing what I can do with some tape and some superglue later.

Going through some less-attractive scrubby stuff, the last couple of miles of the afternoon dragged on a bit, but time did of course pass and when we found a half-decent pitch at the 590 mile point (atop a pass) we decided to take it. It'll not go down as the nicest pitch of the trip, but it'll do the job, and at least we're quite sheltered from the wind that's whistling overhead.

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Friday, 8 June 2012


The snap doesn't show what a lovely bit of trail it is that we've been walking this morning.

It's 6.15am and we've stopped for breakfast in a bit of shelter from the brutal wind.

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Day 7 - Mile 566 to Mile 569

Thursday 7 June (1615-1730)
Distance: 3 miles
Number of times we caused a waitress to say 'you're welcome' to us: 19

Today was, in American hiking parlance, a nero day. A zero is when you don't walk any trail miles. A nero is when you have most of the day off. I think most neroes are longer than this one, mind!

The day started, after a good night's sleep, with a quick modification to the tent. There's a short carbon pole which runs perpendicular to the ridge pole, just to hold out the sides of the tent, and we like to remove it to pack the tent such that it will fit in the top of Mick's pack. The problem we've had is that when that carbon pole gets warm, it expands such that we can't get it into or out of its pocket. A needle, some thread and a small piece of the webbing from my hipbelt saw an extension added to its pocket - which was the only solution we could see in the absence of a hacksaw to shorten the pole.

A huge breakfast and supermarket shopping took up much of the morning and it all became a bit of a rush to vacate our motel room by the noon kick-out time (having established that a late check out wasn't possible).

We then had a few hours to kill as the day was hot and we didn't want to be getting back to the trail until about 4pm. Denny's proved to be as good a place as any to sit for a couple of hours or so (bottomless glasses of pop, free wifi, tasty salads), until the time came to find our bus.

Well, they don't label their bus stops well (or at all, actually), and none of the 17 people waiting there could confirm that the bus we wanted went from there. That it was 40 minutes late arriving didn't help our fear that we were in the wrong place, but eventually it did come and half an hour later we were dropped right at the trail.

Anyone paying great attention to the miles will notice that we've omitted eight trail miles. It's something that we will only come to regret if we find, at some point in the future, that we've walked all of the rest of the trail and have to come back here just for that 8 miles. Today it made sense to omit them for two reasons: 1) doing so turned a 25-mile waterless stretch* into a more manageable 17 miles; and 2) even though it's hard to get into town from mile 566, it's the easiest place to get back to, thanks to the friendly bus company.

As you'll notice, we didn't walk very far once we did get back on the trail. Mick's plan had been to do five miles, but after 3 we came across a flat pitch, sheltered by a big bush and I convinced Mick that we should take it in case there wasn't anything as good in 2 miles time (which almost guarantees that there will be something idyllic). At least we don't now need to carry such heavy packs up the hill ahead of us - some water will have been drunk and food eaten by the time we set out tomorrow. The bags were very heavy today as we set out with five and a bit days of food and too much water.

Since we stopped, thru-hikers Raisin and Shivers and Bam have passed by. I'm not sure who is who of Shivers and Bam, but she's wearing the same shoes as me and I bumped into him in the laundry yesterday, at which time he was wearing a down jacket and a rain skirt. They're the only other couple we've come across so far.

It's now just gone 7.30pm and that's bed time so I'd best get some shut-eye, ready for an early start tomorrow (when it's forecast hot again).

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Thursday, 7 June 2012


Time to catch up on a few comments. Sorry to anyone that I've missed - it will have been by accident.

Louise - welcome back from your travels. Any joy with the boot shopping you were doing?

Martin B - nowt wrong with the Tarptent. In fact, with some relief, we find that we really like it. The only reason we didn't use it on the first night was because we were staying with a trail angel whose entire 'yard' is taken up with pre-erected tents containing camp beds. No trail names yet - I think we may avoid getting any. Lots of thru-hikers we've met haven't picked one up yet.

Martin R - it's funny how we come over all American between ourselves (caught myself referring to a 'parking lot' yesterday), yet become awfully British when talking to others!

Geoff G - we did wish for an umbrella, but it's probably too windy for one now. If I was to do this trip over, then it would certainly be on our kit list.

Robin - we did shun a brolly (not a Chrome Dome - we would certainly have taken that) in a hiker box, but we had seen the wind forecast by then.

Conrad - Glad to hear the knee, and your walking range, is improving. Hope it's coming along in leaps and bounds now.
I do like the 'bonne continuation' salutation - it's exactly the right sentiment.

Geoff E - hmmm, now you put it like that, maybe I've not been accentuating the good stuff enough (which way outweighs the negatives). The jetlag is now over. We're accustomed to the heat enough to be able to eat again. The flat desert/aqueduct only lasted 3 or so hours. But the packs are awful heavy at times (like right now - five days food; four litres of water). Definitely looking forward to when water becomes less scarce.

JP - have you finished your Welsh walk now? Got anything else in the pipeline?

David A - small world - we won't be far from Bishop. As for the eggs/bread options, they're just confusing (really, six bread options!).

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Is it possible... order a meal off a menu in the States without getting a barrage of questions/options in return? Never has ordering breakfast been so complicated (Mick's steak and eggs far more so then my omelett [sic])!

We are hungry walkers, on a mission to gain some pounds, but these portion sizes are defeating even us.

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Day 6 - Mile 545 to Mile 558.5

Wednesday 6 June (0430-1035)
Distance: 13.5 miles
Weather: normal service of wall-to-wall sunshine resumed, but still cool at just 20 degrees by 10.30)
Number of wind turbines seen: hundreds!

At 5.15am day has just started to dawn and it's just about light enough to see without a headtorch. At 4.30am today, the moon was bright enough to achieve the same thing, so we started our day with a moonlit walk before the sky to the east turned red. It's not a bad hour of day to be out walking - particularly when you're up high for sunrise.

Up high is exactly where we were for sunrise, as we warmed up through the chilly start by zig-zagging our way from our campspot at 4700' up to 6200' - the high point of the walk so far, but only half the altitude we will reach in the Sierras.

I was huffing and puffing, but the ascent was (of course) gentle and it took us over an hour and a half to get to that high point. Even then, there was still lots of up to do - but nothing as sustained as that first one.

We've been through a couple of burn areas already, where it's evident that at some point in the past a wild-fire has taken place. Some of these obviously happened long ago (mature live trees along with the remains of the burnt ones), some more recently. On our way to the top of that first rise we passed through one such burn area where new growth was taking firm grip.

It was whilst we were taking in these surroundings that we spotted what looked like a tarp strung up in a tree. That turned out to be the completely unexpected trail magic. We hadn't seen a road for miles, and didn't see one for 10 miles more, and yet there on the trail was bottled water and apples.

Another chap, Jacob, was just about to leave as we arrived and from his comments and those scribbled on bits of paper left for the trail angels, we weren't the only people to be absolutely delighted with the kindness of Daniel and Larry, who had apparently placed this magic.

Having paused there for breakfast (I wasn't going to pass by the opportunity to sit in a real seat for a meal!), on we went for our last 10 miles to Willow Springs Road.

In getting there another burn area was crossed - this one the most recent and the saddest of all we've seen so far. Big, old trees, all blackened and dead, some toppled, and only the smallest hint of new plants and flowers starting to spring up. That one must have been quite recent and it'll be many decades before the area can possibly again look like it did before the fire.

So, rather than passing through some nice woodland, it was more barren desert landscape, albeit this time with blackened tree skeletons.

Then we came to the windfarm. Well, we though yesterday's was big, but it seems that it was just a tiddler. Turbines could be seen here in every direction for about as far as the eye could see. It was incredible.

We skirted, rather than passed through the turbines today, dropping ever downwards until we met a road. According to the trail register there we were only the second through today (arriving about 30 seconds after Jacob had signed).

It was then just a few paces to Willow Springs Road, from where we were to hitch into Mojave. I hate hitching and within twenty minutes I was convinced that we were going to be there all day. I was also convinced that we'd chosen the wrong town, as the other hitching option from this road is Tehachapi (Teh-hatch-a-pea is a pretty close approximation to how most people seem to say it), which is slightly closer but in the other direction. All of the cars seemed to be going there, rather than to Mojave.

Of course my pessimism was misplaced as well within the hour someone didn't just stop for us, but took us right to the door of our motel.

Hopefully getting out of town will be easier. We're rejoining the trail at a different point, to where we can get a bus. It's not a scheduled stopping point, but Mick has spoken to the bus operator, who has confirmed that they will drop us at the trail.

I should probably also give mention the going underfoot, as they are currently far from what we are used to in our UK walking. Today the sand/grit underfoot was often soft enough to be considered ankle-shaping and to slow us down a bit (not that we're going fast anyway). It probably goes without saying that the ground is hot, but I hadn't anticipated how hot it would be. Even on these cool days I can feel the heat radiating through my shoes, and each morning the ground sheet of the tent is warm to the touch.

Here in town we're also walking on grit and dirt. They're not big on pavements around here, and it's either that or the road. We've done a bit of walking too (as Mojave is a spread out place) although only for the purposes of eating and eating some more. We'll tackle resupply in the morning, before eating more, before heading back to the trail for about 4pm.

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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Just a small lunch in Mojave

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Flat desert and windmills

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The Day 5 Campspot We Shunned

I forgot to take a photo of the camping area itself, but this is just along the valley, looking back down to the rarity that is a running stream. Even on this small snap, I think you can make out the trail running down on the other side of the valley. Having descended (gently, as always) all the way to the stream, we then made a gentle ascent, all the way back up the other side.

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Did I mention the dust and dirt?

I haven't managed to get myself quite as filthy as I did lying under the shady tree on Day 1, but dust and dirt is everywhere and everything is ingrained with it.

The above photo is the sink after the first rinse of my socks, after just 2 days of desert wear. Now that's some dirt!

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Things you don't expect to find at 6.30am in the desert

Trail magic! Water (unexpected water!), apples, a chair and some shade.

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Day 5 - Mile 521.5 to mile 545

Tuesday 5 June (0515-1355; 1630-1800)
Distance: 23.5 miles
Weather: overcast start, VERY windy
Number of wind turbines seen: hundreds

Never did I think that I would cross the plain of the Mojave desert (where at this time of year the temperature is usually at least in the high thirties) wearing a hat, gloves and three long sleeved tops. I can't say that I was always warm even then.

It was noticeable right from the alarm, at 4am, that the day was cooler. Just 11 degrees in the tent, compared to 20 degrees most mornings thus far. The wind was still whipping us too, but we were very impressed with the performance of the tent. Despite being pitched on sand, where no firm ground could be found for the pegs, she shed the wind admirably and didn't even flap noticeably. I had been afraid that flapping would keep me awake, but in the quiet that prevailed I achieved the closest to 8 hours sleep on the trip so far. I awoke feeling spritely and 'human' for the first time since last Tuesday.

The first 11.5 miles of the day, following a branch of the LA Aqueduct (giving a choice of walking on the concrete cover of the aqueduct (hard on feet) or the adjacent track (grit in shoes every three paces)), was about as flat as a walk comes. At breakfast time, three hours into the day, the altimeter said that we had accumulated 40' of ascent!

Things then got hard-going. The terrain was still easy, but we turned north and suddenly had a 30mph wind (gusting 45 or more) in our faces as we headed uphill.

After stopping for elevenses in the shelter of a building (13.5 miles down at 10.30am), we then entered the area of a massive windfarm (however big you're thinking, think bigger), which it appears is still under construction and hasn't yet been commissioned. For five miles we walked through that wind farm, and for those five miles we had no shelter and thus no respite from the wind. It was a battle, and a tiring one. After an hour I felt like I'd been for a run, not just a walk on gentle terrain (although it wasn't as hard as those two miles I mentioned on the afternoon of Day 1!).

Meeting a thru-hiker known as Cowboy, he said that this was the coldest day he'd had on the trail so far (11.30 - 18 degrees but with quite a windchill). We had to count our blessings really - given the choice of walking across the plain having an arduous battle with the wind, or in silly-hot temperatures, I'll take the windy option. Fingers crossed that the next time we're in one of these exposed, windy areas we don't have both heat and wind!

Finally we got a bit of shelter as we started ascending from the plain, but my legs were tired and I was slowing. The thought that we were within an hour of our night-stop kept me going and by and by at our night-stop we arrived. It was a spectacular area with something we've not seen anywhere to date - a running stream. Running strong too. No idea where all that water's coming from, but it filled our bottles and gave some lovely surroundings for us to while away the afternoon.

After a cooked lunch and a nap, four o'clock had come around and we decided that as idylic as the spot was, we would walk on. We're going to spend a night in town tomorrow, so the earlier we get there the longer we have to eat, run errands, eat, sleep and eat.

It was a good call. We finished the day in the bottom of what the locals would no doubt call a canyon*, but to me is just a valley. Quite why we became such purists to get down here, and followed the official PCT with its huge switch-backs, I don't know. There was clearly a much more direct path. But the end result is the same: we have a good pitch in a gorgeous place (in a barren-desert sort of way).

(*there are few place names on the map, but looking now I see that we're in Gamble Spring Canyon)

(Sorry about the days/dates being all over the place - I've been a bit confused for the last week. I think I know what day and date it is now!)

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day 4 - Part 2 - Mile 517.5 to Mile 521.5

Tuesday 4 June (1655-1815)
Distance: 4 miles
Distance for the day: 17 miles
Weather: some cloud; v windy; dust storms

A relaxing day was had at Hikertown. It revived me no end, even though I didn't get a nap and it was so nice to leave wearing a light blue, fresh-smelling shirt, rather than a mud coloured one. Bet that won't last long!

It was also nice to find upon leaving the huge garage in which we'd been sitting all afternoon (kitted out as an apartment, not full of cars!) that it had partly clouded over and that it wasn't too hot at all. If the forecast for tomorrow is right, then we are hugely lucky, as it's predicted to be in the low-to-mid-twenties tomorrow, rather than a more seasonal mid-to-high-thirties. It is windy mind. The Mojave desert is full of windfarms, and they're here for a reason.

A local chap stopped us for a chat as we wandered down the road towards the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the line of which we will be following. On hearing which section we are walking he commented that aside from the Sierras, we had chosen the ugliest part of the whole trail - a comment made as he gestured out at the flatness we were about to cross. I would disagree. To me it's a fascinating landscape, with a massive swathe of flat desert bounded by mountains.

We didn't experience much of the desert today, as after 4 miles we got to an area which offered a bit of shelter from the wind and decided to call it a day. It's generally acknowledged to be folly to try to pitch a tent on this section (not that many people pitch tents anyway; the majority cowbow camp), but we thought we'd give it a go. We wouldn't hesitate to pitch Vera or Susie in this wind - although admittedly we wouldn't usually find ourselves on sand.

Fortunately (if you ignore the environmental viewpoint), there's a bit of a dumping area not far from where we're pitched and we managed to aquire some lumps of concrete to anchor the pegs. Who knows whether they'll hold. I wouldn't be surprised if we find ourselves decamping sometime during the night.

Tomorrow's going to be a bit of a departure from the going to date. Over the next 14 miles there is almost no ascent. Flatter than a flat thing.

(Incidentally, if anyone wants to see the context of where we're walking on a map, then Google 'Halfmile PCT'. The maps are free to download and we're currently on Page 9 of California Section E.)

(The photo: that's the Los Angeles Aqueduct, although we only followed the open, canalesque section for a mile. We're now following a pipeline)

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Monday, 4 June 2012

Day 4 - Part 1 - mile 504.5 to mile 518

Tuesday 4 June (0500-1020)
Distance: 13.5 miles
Number of unnecessary hills: 52

It was cool this morning! With a wind having picked up, the 14 degrees per the thermometer felt much cooler. In fact, I spent the whole of last night in my sleeping bag, compared to none of the night before. That we were 5700' up may have been the main difference, rather than a significant change in the weather.

With sleepy heads and weary limbs we set out rather later than planned (sleepy heads = slow packing) thinking that it was just going to be a gentle walk down to Hiker Town. Disappointment comes with not looking at the map, and I confess that I hadn't looked at the map.

Below the hills on which we had camped is the dead-flat desert, but before that is a range of lumps which look like oversized sand dunes (well, I suppose that really is what they are). You'd think (or I thought) that we would descend, walk over a pass and then make our way over the flat plain. But no, instead the route gently traversed up one hill and around a spur, traversed back down the next little side valley, back up the other side, around the spur and repeat. We could see a track below us which would have taken us straight to our destination without any lumps, but the PCT planners obviously thought we needed some extra miles and ascent.

At 1030 we arrived at Hikertown (the home of some Trail Angels), having walked 13.5 miles. I've just measured, and we're a whole 3.25 miles, as the crow flies, from where we camped. Now that's a meandering route!

Once again, it was a route with stunning views, and thanks to the wind and a bit of a let-up in the heat (not to mention the hour of day), it wasn't unbearably hot. I only got through 2.5 litres of water all morning (talking of water, I was carrying 5 litres as well as five days of food when we left the water source yesterday - that was the heaviest pack I've ever carried!)

Since arriving at Hikertown, aside from doing lots of chatting, we have showered for the first time since last Thursday (I have never been so filthy - the dust has to be experienced to be believed), washing has been done (dried in about 3 seconds outside) and we've been trying to remedy a little bit of the calorie deficit.

In a few hours, we'll head back out for another few miles before camping. Really could do with a nap before then.

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Day 3- Part 2 - mile 500 to mile 504.5

Sunday 4 June (1615-1915)
Distance: 4.5 miles
Total for day 3 - 18.5 miles
Number of rattlesnakes seen: 1

As it transpired, we could have tackled the climb at noon, as after the initial exposed bit of trail, there was quite a bit of shelter. There was also quite a bit of overgrowth, which makes things interesting when you've got an extra-wide load (big closed cell mat, strapped to the back of each pack).

Our 4.5 mile walk was broken by the need for an aqua-faff, and as aqua-faffs go, it was a prolonged one. Even more time was lost in trying to find the water source. The directions of 'behind oak scrub by trail marker' wasn't overly helpful as, suddenly, after miles of no markers, there were a plethora in the vicinity of mile 502, and every one was surrounded by oak scrub.

As for the water source when we got there, well, imagine this scenario: being in need of a drink, you go out into your garden, go to your water butt and find that someone has left the lid off and that there's plenty of leaves floating in it. Fortunately, on this day, there's not a dead rodent too. So, you brush the leaves aside and take out a glass of that rainwater which, having drained off your roof, has sat in that butt for an unknown period.

That's pretty much what we did at mile 502.9, where a corrugated metal 'roof' channelled water into a tank which had considerable amounts of dead foliage floating in it. We didn't spot any dead chipmunks in this one...

We went belt, braces and then some, first pre-filtering the water, then treating it with chlorine dioxide and then putting it through our inline filters. I'm sure there will be worse water sources to come.

Eventually, we did make it to Bear Campground, which was our intended overnight halt. However, I wasn't overly happy with the name of the place, the accessibility by vehicles (still have horrors about the third night of our K2CW trip) or with the scattered bullet shells all over the place, so after considerable dithering, we opted to carry on.

We stopped at the first spot that looked sleep-on-able. It was already later than bedtime and we still needed to eat lunch (having already had tea at lunchtime). For the sixth consecutive night, that meant not enough sleep. Calculations were made and we declared a lie-in until 3.30am.

Food was eaten in superfast time (that's the cheese all gone; can't say it travels well in this heat!) and within minutes snoring was to be heard.

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Day 4 - 9.5 miles in

Pausing in the shade, on the edge of the flatness of the Mojave desert for third-breakfast.

Wiggling around and up and down so much today that we must we walking 3 miles to cover a single linear mile!

(Crap photo, but I can't doing with moving out of the shade for a better one!)

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Day 3 - Part 2 Photo

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Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 3 - Part 1 - Mile 486 to mile 500

Sunday 3 June (0400-1120)
Distance: 14 miles
Number of chipmonks seen: 1

The PCT was designed not just for walkers, but for horseriders and, as such, it doesn't attack hills. Instead it very gently traverses their sides, going in, around and out of every little side valley until it wends its way up to the high point. Then it gently traverses and wends its way down. Our experience to date has borne this out, except that as we set out in the dark this morning the gradient did seem steeper than any we walked over the last couple of days. As visibility was limited by the range of the headtorch (one was adequate between us) we couldn't see the big picture and I couldn't decide whether it really was steeper, or just such a sustained uphill, as we made our way from 3000 to 5200'.

Despite the early hour, it was a warm climb. The lovely breeze which had blown through the tent overnight was lost as we started uphill. Even though well before sunrise, it was 20 degrees - but better to attack the hill then than after the day started warming up.

Having spent a couple of hours walking across golden-sand coloured land (variously fine grit or sand, but usually firm), with an incredible green covering of shrubs, the surroundings suddenly changed and we were walking through woodland. Shady woodland on dirt tracks - it was lovely!

Then we left the PCT for half a mile. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl and a cheat. I get the impression that everyone is intent on walking every step of the waymarked PCT, without deviation, but I'm not such a purist, so we took to a forest track for a while, giving us a view of masses of hills to the south. Our view for the rest of the morning (where the trees allowed a view) had been of the immense flatness of the desert-proper. If the PCT just ran along the ridge, rather than off to one side, then we perhaps could have seen both views, but the trail does seem to avoid undulations.

Four other chaps (three of whom we met yesterday*) were already at the fire service water tank, 11 miles into our day, when we arrived, and were just finishing up filtering their water supply. We followed suit. The good water supplies are getting fewer and this one looked, on the water report, like one of the better ones (being full, not stagnant, and not needing a rope to reach the water).

With more shady woodland, Mick was hoping that we would be able to walk straight through to our intended night stop, but then we ran out of shade and a 1000' ascent without shade at noon sounded foolhardy to me (girly wuss that I am). We retreated and popped the tent up (our protection against the flies - pesky little blighters) in some woodland to wait out the heat.

Various others have passed since we pitched (obviously more heat-resistant than I am!). Quite a few have been using Go-Lite Chrome Dome umbrellas. We are very envious. It's an item we intended to buy in LA, and didn't realise we'd forgotten until we were on the train to the start point. If we had remembered, we could likely have carried on into the midday sun ourselves.

Anyway, we're about to have our evening meal (it's 1430 as I type this - our meal times are all over the place - it was Snickers for breakfast yesterday as it's the only time of day it was going to be in a solid state), then at 1600 or later we'll head back out for part 2 of our day and see how far we get. When we arrive, it'll be lunch and then straight to bed for another early start tomorrow.

(* I'm struggling to distinguish those we've met from those we haven't. So many of the chaps look the same to me, all sporting dark hair, dark beards and sunhats.)

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Day 3 - 5.20am

Been walking since 4. Now at 4200' so views are extensive. Sun is about to come up and it's stunning.

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Day 2 - mile 470 to mile 486

Saturday 2 June (0500-1200)
Trail miles: 16
Total miles walked: 18.3
Number of horned lizards seen: 2
Number of exceptionally pretty flowers seen: countless

Night hiking is popular in the current heat, and I don't mean just early starts like we're getting. Three chaps passed the tent at 1.30 this morning. Given that we were pitched so close to the trail that we were practically on it, we said hello as they went by.

Other than that very minor disturbance, I had a fantastically good night's sleep for the 6 hours that it lasted. We didn't get a particularly early start, though, because the starting plan was that we would walk just 10 miles (8 trail miles and a 2-mile detour) this morning, over to the house of some trail angels, the Andersons, which is apparently a can't-miss experience. We would then wait out the heat of the day there before walking another 8 miles this afternoon. That would leave us with a need to get into Lake Hughes in the morning to buy a few supplies, which would mean a late start tomorrow.

It was gloriously cool for the first hour and a half of the day and we made good progress, with just a few faffs. In fact, such good progress did we make that we were at the road to the Trail Angel's house at 8.20. That would have left us with 8 hours before we could set back out again, whereas it struck us that we had enough 'not silly-hot' hours left to make it over the next hill. We ummed and arred, detoured to a ranger station just along the road to top up our water, and opted to skip the Andersons house.

It was a good decision. The early hour meant that we were shaded at times on our way up and, comparing it to yesterday afternoon, I couldn't believe how quick and easy the 1000' ascent was.

Marvelling again at the immense variety of wild flowers as we went (Martin - Sue would be stopping every few paces for a flower photo), we didn't just make it to the top, but all the way down to the road to Lake Hughes. 16 miles covered by noon.

I would very much have liked to pause on the way down for a decent break, but flies were being the bane of our day, and as soon as we stopped in any shade we were set upon. All of the other people we met made the same comment.

Needing to go into Lake Hughes, and not wanting to walk the 2.3 miles in the midday sun, we tried our luck at hitching, but in the 20 minutes we waited only 8 cars passed and we couldn't help but think that we could have walked there before we got a lift. It was another good decision as only 3 more cars passed us on our way.

The pub in Lake Hughes is a biker hang-out, so it was full of Hell's Angels, but we were met with a friendly reception and the food was good and plentiful. They also have rooms and I confess that part of our plan in going to town was to take a room in a quest for a good night's sleep. Their 3 rooms were available, but they are right above the bar and being Saturday night they have live music on until 1.30am. That didn't seem compatible with an early night for a 3am start.

The shop was our next stop for a few supplies, and then we needed to get back to the trail - and with me struggling so much with tiredness and the heat, I really *really* couldn't face the walk. So, I accosted a woman coming out of the shop and asked if she was going our way. She wasn't, but said she would take us anyway. What a saviour!

What I didn't know when I begged the lift was that her son (9 years old) was asleep in the back. He didn't wake up until I was installed next to him, with my pack on my lap. The look of horror on his face to wake up and find a complete stranger next to him was priceless. I'm giggling again at the thought.

Back at the trail, we found Orney, Snowflake, Waffle and someone whose name I can't remember (we also found the cache to be dry, making us pleased to have filled up all of our containers in town). They were surprised to see us, as they'd also been here when we passed through a few hours earlier.
We sat around chatting until at 6pm they set out for their final 8-mile stint. Five minutes later, we had the tent pitched, where we are now installed. Bedtime is at 7.30 tonight, so I'd best prepare some tea (cheese and crackers, so not much preparation).

(As an aside: most PCT hikers are, of course, male. When hitching they like to pair up with a women where possible, as drivers tend to stop more readily for a woman. Such women are known as 'ride brides' (although Mick thinks it should be 'hitch bitch'). Alas, he came to realise today that I may not be useful to him as a hitch bitch, as this morning he was asked if I was his son. Seems that the pretty blue (and now very grubby) low-cut blouse isn't having the desired 'I'm a girl!' effect to counter the short hair and absence of curves!)

(Comments: sorry not to respond. We really enjoy getting them, and please keep them coming, but I'm not finding enough time in the day to respond.)

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Saturday, 2 June 2012

Day 1 - Part 2

Trail miles covered on Day 1: 16
Distance walked on Day 1: 19 miles (me), 21 miles (Mick)

So, 1600 came and the temperature was feeling a little more manageable (30 degrees under our shady tree), and a nice breeze had sprung up. A good time to try the hill again, we thought.

The first three-quarters of a mile were okay, but the temperture was still outrageous and soon I was overheating and questioning why I ever thought this walk was a good idea.

The next two miles were the hardest two miles I have ever walked and I hated just about every step of them. We adopted a strategy of 20 minutes walking followed by 10 minutes sitting in the shade.

By 5pm the sun had moved enough to give some shade on the trail every now and then, and by 6pm not only had we crested the hill and were coasting down the other side, but the temperature had dropped to a slightly more manageable level.

Spunky Canyon was where we were walking at this point, and our objective was simply to get down to the water cache at the bottom and find somewhere to camp.

It's stange the way that really low points are followed so rapidly by a high point, or vice versa. Reaching the water cache we found not just water, but a cool box full of iced water containing cans of pop and a 'room' under the trees containing a few deckchairs, a library of books for hikers' perusal, and various decorations. It was a fantastic way to end what had been a very hard day (heat + jetlag + sleep deprivation + lack of food don't create the best hiking conditions!).
Having enjoyed cold pop (I cannot describe how good it is to find an unexpected cold pop when you're in the middle of nowhere) we walked all of 5 yards further before pitching the tent on the side of the trail. We would have gone into some woods off to the side, so as to be out the way, except that seems to be where people 'use the restroom', and it was apparent that not everyone carries a trowel to bury their waste.

It's probably not generally advised to go out on a 5-week trip with a tent that you've pitched before (in fact, we'd never even seen one in the flesh before!), but it was straightforward and everything was present and correct. True to the advertising it went up quickly and our initial verdict is that although it's a bit narrow for two of us to sit up at the same time, it looks like it will be eminently suitable for this trip. We particularly liked the ability to tie back the porch doors, leaving the mesh sides of the inner exposed. And that's how we spent the night, with a gentle breeze blowing through the mesh. It must have been comfortable, as Mick tells me that within 30 seconds of lying down, I was snoring (and I don't usually snore!).

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PCT Day 1

Friday 1 June (0430-1130, 1600-
Weather: just assume that it's wall to wall sunshine every day unless I say otherwise

Yesterday afternoon we stepped out of a cool-box (a big double-decker train) into a fan-assisted oven. LA had lulled us into thinking that the heat wasn't too bad. Half an hour of sitting in the shade in that heat had me fretting about the thought of walking in it.

Sundown brought a bit of respite, but it didn't get cool enough to get into my sleeping bag until just before 2am (and we didn't sleep in the van in the end, we took a mesh-sided gazebo tent thing, as it was cooler). After a woefully small amount of sleep (I really need to crack the sleeping thing), we got going at 4.30am. We weren't the first to leave - Lunchbox had a 1 hour headstart and another couple were half an hour ahead of us.

Talking to people it seems that yesterday's weather was the peak of a hot spell. Hottest day on the trail so far some have opined. That was a little comfort, to help my fretting.

After Mick's extra 2 miles to retrieve his sunglasses (found exactly where he thought he'd lost them, about 3 yards from his bed - lesson - don't wear sunglasses on your head when also wearing a headtorch) we walked until we were about to lose the shade and step out into the sunshine before stopping for breakfast. There we met Jeremy from NZ and another chap whose name escapes me.

The morning, as we made our way gently up to 4500', didn't give much variety in terrain and surroundings, but it's all new to us and I marvelled at number of different flowers and plants and even some interesting animal life (including three snakes in the first 2 hours, but none since and the most enormous butterfly I've ever seen).

I expected lots of plants in the desert, but I didn't expect them to be so green! I also expected the trail to be a bit more of a motorway, rather than a narrow path which is often overgrown (not that I'm complaining, it's rather nice).

Water is the big issue on this section, but we were assisted in spotting the first spring we passed by the three people already there filling up. So, just as our packs were feeling more reasonable, having already drunk 2 litres each of our load, we topped them back up again. The next two water sources are caches, and you shouldn't rely on a cache having any stock.

With the day really hotting up, we reached the cache to find that it did have plenty of stock and after a brief pause for elevenses (where we were inducted in the identification of poison oak), we decided to push on for an hour before finding shade. It was a really bad decision for two people not acclimated [sic] to this temperature. We got about half a mile before we came to that conclusion, whereupon after some consideration we opted to turn around and walked back to the cache, under a big shady tree. Obviously our day for repeating bits of the trail!

After a very brief nap, and much lying around, liberally covering us and our clothing in the desert dust (my light blue shirt already looks like I've been wearing it for a month and my hands are filthy; I haven't looked at my feet yet!), we decided to try one of our dehydrated meals for lunch. What a relief to find that it was entirely edible (hardly gourmet cuisine, but it tasted fine). That's one less thing about which I need to fret.

To be continued...
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