Stretches 7 and 8

It’s been a good while since our last post and not for lack of happenings to relay. We have just done our two longest stretches so far–Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (134 miles) in 7 days and Kennedy Meadows to Bishop (86 trail miles + summiting Mt Whitney) in 8 days– without any usable wifi or cell reception in between. So many days, many our hardest days on the trail, and unfortunately this resupply in Bishop has been so involved we have not had the time to describe our journey in usual detail. So here’s the abridged version and as many pictures as I can upload on this hostel’s spotty wifi before we head back to the trail.

The first leg after Tehachapi was one of the dryest we’ve done, in terms of distance between water sources. There were a couple 17 mile waterless stretches and a 35 mile one with two unreliable caches in between. We did 24 miles of this hot dry day in loose sand carrying 5 liters of water to get to the second cache and see how strictly we’d have to ration our water. Arriving at 8:30 there was no water. Bummer. We had enough water to not be dangerously dehydrated but we were thirsty and had to save our remaining 2 liters for the 13 miles the next day. We were making dinner (one of our lunches of packet tuna so as not to use water) when a car pulled in nearby. It was Devilfish the trail angel with water! I’ve received some great trail magic on the trail but this was definitely the most exciting. 

Other things certainly happened on that leg to Kennedy Meadows but after our first taste of the high sierras past stretches seem paler in comparison. This year has been a crazy year for planning a PCT hike. The conditions are requiring gear that usually is not necessary- ice axes and crampons. And many people are skipping until later this year.

But we decided to give it a try, entering last week loaded down with all our new gear and 8 days of food in a group of 9 people. The fist couple days there was no snow and we were able to do 17 miles, still difficult with the weight of the packs and gaining lots of elevations. After the second day we stayed above 10,000 almost the whole time. After that, we were slowed down in terms of mileage but each day felt like a huge accomlishment.

There’s a few things that make travel difficult right now. First, and what causes everything else, is that there’s so much snow. Miles of travel through sloped forest where we’d see scant patches of trail between 15 foot high snow banks. Or vast sun cupped snow fields. Or terrifyingly steep mountain passes covered in snow. It is now warm enough that the snow is soft and it takes immense amounts of energy to travel over it. And it makes it so we often can’t travel on the trail. We wind around snow banks and boulders and downed trees and check our phone gps often to make sure we’re not too far off track.

The big thing right now is the stream crossings. The snow is melting and sizable streams are monstrous and small streams are still not trivial to cross. We have to do every large crossing as early as possible in the day to get it when the water is lower and even then take time to scope out a safe spot to cross.

Both of these difficulties, snow and streams, are best handled earlier in the day so we must wake up to get going on some days as early as 4:30 and push to make enough miles, getting to camp between 1 and 3 without taking any major breaks. This is mentally and physically exhausting. 

But we are in the most beautiful part of trail we’ve seen yet and are seeing amazing things. On the 5th day we got to Crabtree Meadows and summitted Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Two days later we went over Forester Pass, the tallest point on the PCT at 13,153 ft.

Louise, here! In other news, I have a trail name now. It’s Bamm-bamm! Apparently Morgan thinks my love and excitement for many kinds of rocks and boulders makes me a child of the Stone Age. 

Another think that is important in the Sierras is grouping up, or in thruhiking terms, forming a trail family. We’ve got a really good one, so I’ll give a brief description of each person in the group. We started out with nine, but Hitch and Woodstock were traveling at a different pace due to a knee injury, so we became 7 two days after leaving Kennedy Meadows. 

First we have Frosty and Sunbeam, a newlywed German couple who are hiking the PCT as maybe one of the coolest and most long honeymoons ever. Frosty is tall, blond, and had a corncob pipe sent to him in Kennedy Meadows… thus the name Frosty. It’s also a perfect name since Frosty melts in the sun, and his wife Sunbeam is such a bright light on the trail and in our crew. Frosty is a huge person and could go really fast, but at the most crucial points on trail, he decides to walk in the back to steady and support some of the less experienced hikers like Moonwalker or myself. Sunbeam is SO amazingly fast and strong too, and I think it’s really inspiring to be along with such a strong woman on the trail.

Moonwalker is closer to Morgan and my age and is hiking the trail alone. Though she is physically pretty small, she is SO strong. It’s so cool to see her facing fears of water and pass crossings day after day, and it helps me to face mine as well. Moonwalker is best known for her great ability to snack, her love for her dog back home, and her love of being the caboose. 

Radio is known on trail for his radio-announcer voice, but more specifically in our group, for his speed. Radio is most likely to be at camp three hours before Morgan, Moonwalker, Atlas, and I, having gone fishing, taken a nap, and already eaten lunch. His speed is so helpful during periods of heavy snow navigation, because he can walk with a phone in one hand, poles in the other, and keep from slipping on the snow. 

Atlas just might be the first Hungarian to complete the PCT! Atlas is known for the ungodly size of his pack and his insatiable appetite, and also his relaxed, kind attitude. Since Morgan studied abroad in Hungary, she has been excited to relearn and learn more Hungarian, and so she and Atlas have a language lesson every night. 

Our apalogies, these photos are in no particular order.


Stretch 6, Agua Dulce to Tehachapi

We were told before the start of this stretch that it was known as one of the least scenic and hottest portions of the trail. Huh. We’ll see, I thought. I always hear stuff about each section and I try to leave my expectations broad.

The first day started with two miles on the side of a lightly-trafficked paved road which, for a very short stretch, serves as the Agua Dulce’s main strip. This was not to return to the trail. That was the trail. It goes straight through Agua Dulce. 

I have not read an extensive history of how the PCT was pieced together but I imagine it was quite a task. The last time I flew across the country I looked down periodically and was struck by how nearly every flat spit of this huge country shows signs of human use. Over what was probably Montana or Wyoming little dirt roads would split valleys and branch and end at the base of low barren mountains. Considering this, that even the most vast and desolate places in the contiguous United States are marked and divvied up for human use (and over 60% privately owned, even including AK) I almost can’t believe that a continuous path between Mexico and Canada that barely uses roads can exist. 

With that in mind I am not in the least bit bothered by road walking. In fact, the civilization stretches get me a little excited. They remind me that I am not just on a long wilderness vacation, I’m walking across the country! I’m sure though after days of road walking my enthusiasm would wear off. Pavement takes a toll on the feet. I traveled for a few days with a man who hiked the PCT in 1977, long before it was officially completed. back then, most of Southern California was road walking. He would marvel at each stretch of trail and point towards the dirt road or highway that he had used 40 years ago.

Anyway, that’s all to say that I’m incredibly grateful to the PCTA for the remarkable 18 inch dirt highway they’ve created. Which we rejoined when it materialized on the side of a road 2 miles past the center of Agua Dulce. One mile later we were out of sight from the houses and farmed fields and could no longer hear tractors. 

We would have planned to walk a full day- and at this point a full day is 18 to 20 miles- if it weren’t for the placement of Casa de Luna, a renowned trail angel house, 24 miles ahead. If we did the whole thing, we’d get in late and tired without time to enjoy the magic. So we did about 15 miles, just enough for Weez to reach her 100th mile and camped at mile 469. The next day, 8 miles and we were enjoying ice cream and Gatorade at the gas station by Casa de Luna at 10:30, with the rest of the day to relax.

After Casa de Luna, I began to see why this section had a reputation. The next 50 miles were very hot, mostly without shade, buggy where there was shade, and dry. What got me, though, was that it yielded nothing new. Traversing and climbing and descending similar small mountains, looking out at the same view of the Mohave, the same dirt and brush and burnt trees all around… Until now at least a new plant showed every 10 or 20 miles. It’s ok though because we were approaching one of the most novel sections of the trail yet.

Around mile 515 the trail descends the Angeles mountains for the last time before it clips the corner of the Mohave for about 20 miles and enters the Tehachapi range. For most of those 20 miles, it follows the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This ironically waterless 17 mile stretch is so infamously hot and shadeless that most people do it at night. 

We arrived at the last water source before the aqueduct the evening of the 4th day. Since the forecast for the next day was cloudy and unusually cool, we decided to start early the next morning rather than night hike. I knew that it would probably get hot and boring eventually but I was excited. I had experienced very little flat trail and definitely no aqueduct. I knew this would be the kind of section that would give me that excited I’m-walking-across-the-country feeling. 

Oh and it did. Rather than me using words, you can look at the pictures and gather what the aqueduct looked like. Most of the time, a road half paved, half dirt. And I might have gotten bored except that we started walking with another pair early on and spent most of the time making friends. 

When we got to the water source 17 miles into the day, a faucet courtesy of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, we had plenty of water left. And with the clouds and the wind, we were even kind of chilly. And very tired and hungry. We found a spot out of the wind to put our groundsheet, ate some delicious hummus cheddar tuna wraps, put on our puffy coats, laid down very full and cozy, and a half hour later opened our bleary eyes realizing we had fallen asleep. And then… we felt rain drops. Unbelieving we looked up at the overcast sky. But we’re in the Mohave, I thought. Nonetheless, the rain came down and for the first time we used our umbrellas for rain rather than sun. 

After a few hours we rallied enough to go 6 more miles to the next campsite. I haven’t mentioned yet that we had already entered a wind farm. Well, we continued through this wind farm. And it was very appropriately very windy. Hold-onto-your-hat wind. Hard-to-walk straight wind. Tear-the-contact-out-of-your-eye wind. Yep, my contact flew out of my eye. But It was ok because we were walking through a wind farm. Dozens of massive, magestic, alien structures towered around us, blades tirelessly swooping down. It sounded like wind whistling around buildings and many planes flying above. 

That was only the first wind farm we encountered. The next day we came across an even larger one after topping the mountains. By the time we reached highway 58 14 miles later I felt I had my fill of walking through wind farms.

I’m very pleased to be in Tehachapi now hosted by an incredibly generous trail angel. I picked up my first set of resupply boxes sent by Cameron (thank you!) which contain 7 days of food for our next 136 mile stretch and another pair of trail runners! Which I sorely need, mine have so many holes they are nearly better sandals than shoes.

Anyway, there’s much more to tell, there’s always more to tell. Maybe Louise can fill in some gaps.

Louise here! This past week we have encountered some really generous trail angels. Casa de Luna is run by the Andersons, renowned for Hawaiian shirts, taco salad, pancakes, bandanas, and painted decorative rocks. As soon as we arrived, we went through an informal orientation, picking out our favorite Hawaiian outfits from a large rack of bright clothes and following our guide around the winding property to find a campsite nestled in the backyard jungle. We soon found the painting table, decked out with every color of acrylic paint you could imagine and brushes of every size sticking up out of cloudy cups of water. Each of us painted two rocks (these “rocks” are broken up slabs of cement) and got to place them anywhere on the property. Morgan made puzzle and pancake-themed rocks, and I made a moustachioed man as well as a colorful, more abstract-type rock. 

That night we had to dance for our bright red PCT bandanas, which were complete with hitching directions “Town to Trail,” “Trail to Town,” a map of the PCT, and listed mile-markers for each stretch along the trail. So if someone didn’t already know that they were headed towards Canada, they could figure it out from these handy bandanas! 😉

The first leg of the hike leaving Casa de Luna the next morning was hot and steep, but I was determined to test out my limits and try a 20-mile day. We were successful, and slept that night at a campground 20 miles out with trail magic! A hiker who is currently off-trail healing from a knee injury was visiting her partner on-trail and brought oranges, chips, salsa, water, and beer for all of us. So we didn’t have to hike up a hill to refill our water, and we ate fresh oranges as the sun sank down over the horizon.

The next two days we hiked 20 and 23 miles, amping up my hiking speed and keeping up with our new friends, but also causing some pain in both my arches and Achilles. As a result I take stretch breaks quite often, and I’m hoping that the problems will fade in the coming days and weeks. Luckily two of our new friends are doctors, so we can ask them questions about useful stretches and get their opinions if either of us begin experiencing new pains of any sort. 

Right before getting off the trail, we camped under some trees at Willow Springs Rd and were lucky enough to receive trail magic from a man named Legend. Morgan had met him before, 400 miles ago, and knew the drill. Legend lives in his RV and trail angels all-day-everyday. He is known for his spaghetti dinners and can you guess it . . . Pancake breakfasts! He will stay in a certain location for about 2 weeks, feeding and getting to know each hiker that passes through, then he moves on to another location further up the trail. We might be seeing Legend again in Kennedy Meadows or further on down the line. So we really have been dining in style, thanks to Morgan’s well-thought-out resupply boxes, and the generous trail angel community. 

Lastly, the trail angel we cannot forget is Fran, who picked us up at Hwy 58 and has welcomed Morgan and I into her home for the past two days. She knows everything there is to know about Tehachapi, and brought us to the Cesar Chavez museum and monument, along with the famed Tehachapi Railway Loop. She took us to the post office not one but two (!) times, and has crushed us in Jeopardy both nights. Morgan, my feet, and I are very grateful for the rest, and are excited to head back to the trail, packs stuffed with food (including our mama’s amazing ginger snaps!), at 6:30 in the morning. 6:30 is not too far away now, so we must be heading to bed. We’ll catch you in Kennedy Meadows next week if all goes according to plan!