40 days in the desert/that’s no moon

It has been a LONG time since we posted on our blog, and we apologize to the 3 people who read it. (Also, because of limited wifi, there has also been some difficulty uploading photos so there are fewer than usual). Because we have limited our zero days and increased our mileage we have had less time on our hands. Our last post was from Wrightwood around mile 369 and (spoiler alert) we are now at mile 700 after making a big push to get here on May 31 (but more on that later).

The last 340 miles or so have seen us through some of the most beautiful places yet. From Wrightwood we hit the peak of Baden-Powell in perfect cool, sunny weather before meandering the length of the Angeles National Forest.  We enjoyed days of wonderful weather with the notable exception of our day going up and over Mt Glieson (sp?) in a newly opened area of trail that had previously been closed for the 2013 Station Fire. Much of our day was spent under cloud cover, but as we ascended the mountain we entered the cloud. The rest of the day involved crashing through the overgrown trail in the hail, rain and snow while dodging the poodle dog bushes (a plant that grows in recent burn areas and induces a severe hypersensitivity reaction on contact). As we approached our intended campsite we realized it was right in the thick of the storm at the peak of the mountain. We made a quick unanimous decision to push another 7 miles down the mountain to. Ranger station to get out of it. It made for a long day but we were treated to good weather, water and pit toilets down at the station! 

Even better, it put us only 8 miles from the Acton KOA – a campground just off trail with a store, showers, laundry, and a pool! We spent an incredibly restful day at that oasis, before pressing on through the Vasquez Rocks (famous from Star Trek and likely other films) towards Agua Dulce. We didn’t linger in Agua Dulce long – only enough to gull some hashbrowns and buy our food for the next stretch of trail to Tehachapi. We had a long, hot climb out of town through rolling hills of tall, golden buckwheat to get back into the mountains. It was strenuous, sweaty, exhausting and glorious climb. It was on that climb that I had one of those brilliant moments of perspective; a moment of confidence where I felt assured I was doing the right thing at the right time. It reminded me of a quote from Robyn Davidson’s book, Tracks: “There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you know that you have done something correct for a change, when you think you are on the right track.” It is in moments like that I feel immensely grateful for opportunity and privilege I have been given to walk this trail and experience our beautiful world with my loving and adventurous husband. We are the luckiest.

A few days later, the cool cover of the forest eventually gave way to the edges of the Mojave desert. We spent an afternoon at a bizarre place called Hikertown preparing for our excursion into the desert. We ventured out in the evening for our first night hike and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Joshua trees and the California Aqueduct. It was a strange experience hearing the rush of water under our feet in the middle of one of the driest stretches on the trail. As the sunlight faded we watched the stars twinkle on one by one until they lit our way through the desert. We walked by starlight until midnight when we set up camp near the cottonwood creek bridge. We fell immediately into a deep sleep until the morning heat woke us at 7 AM. We retreated into the shade of the bridge, the only real shelter from the sun for miles around. 

We spent the day napping under the bridge and eating while we waited out the heat of the day. Around 6 pm some cloud cover developed and we set off for our second contiguous night hike with a plan: to hike through the entire night until we reached the next town. The other hikers looked at us skeptically, and with good reason. It started well with a beautiful sunset hike through a wind farm and into a river canyon. 

The sky darkened as we topped off our water in the canyon and we set into the night. We then had a big climb out of the canyon up soft-sand switchbacks that kept giving way under our uncertain steps. We were forced to slow our pace significantly and didn’t arrive at the peak of the climb until midnight. We stood shivering on the peak, desperate for a break, desperate for a nap, desperate for some warmth. We settled for huddling on our sheet of Tyvek and sharing a pack of gummy worms before resuming our walk. If the uphill was tough, the downhill was harder. Our bodies and minds were tired from lack of sleep and the mind-numbing monotony of plodding step after step in the dark. Eventually we came around a corner and saw a power station and a road! We must be close, we thought. Cute. As a tiny set of lights passed by the power station, its scale and distance from us dawned on me, much like Han Solo’s realization that the Death Star was, in fact, no moon. Unfortunately, our station had no tractor beam to pull us in. We spent the next 3 hours stumbling towards it in the dark wondering why we were doing this to ourselves. When we reached the road at 4 am, we spread out our Tyvek in the ditch and promptly fell asleep. 

We awoke to the first light on the horizon and began hatching a plan to get into Tehachapi, 8 miles down the road. It was 6:30 am when a man driving the other direction with a PCT bumper sticker pulled a U-turn and offered us a ride into town. He didn’t want to get to work on time anyways, he explained. We were eternally grateful when he dropped us off at Denny’s for breakfast. 

The next couple days were spent in preparation for both our next leg of the journey, which would take us through the last of the desert section of the PCT, and for the Sierra Nevada. When we departed in the evening a couple days later, we were leaving from the exact place that Cheryl Strayed started her PCT adventure (now famous in the book and movie, Wild) almost 20 years ago. 

The next section highlighted the extremes of Southern California as we woke in a cloud of cold mist the first morning out. We were down out of it shortly and later that afternoon had to endure the usual heat of the desert. In spite of the extremes of weather, the section from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows has been one of my favorites. The scenery varied between high desert, slopes of joshua trees, pine forests and high meadows. Even the blisters from my new shoes couldn’t dampen my spirits for long. Our hiker hunger also hit a new level, forcing us to bail out at Walker Pass to get more food at resupply. We spent less than 24 hours there but ate in true hiker fashion and over-resupplied at the Stater Bros there. When we got back to Walker Pass we were greeted to a long uphill with inappropriately heavy packs. We took our time on the way up, enjoying the scenery and digging into our new delicious snacks. I reveled in the last of the desert, and eagerly looked forward to the mountains. 

In what was to be our second-last day before reaching Kennedy Meadows, we were taking a leisurely lunch at a spring 14 miles into our day when Everett announced that he would like to do a 30 mile day before reaching Kennedy Meadows. With less than 30 miles left to KM, it was now or never. The idea was not particularly well received by our group of hikers, but luckily the weather helped to persuade. As we reached the high point of our climb at 8000 ft, it began to rain hard. We donned our rain gear, and scampered down the hill alternating walking and cruising (a sort of speed walk/run hybrid) to make better time and get out of the cold. As we reached the bottom and our intended camp spot, we were only 5 miles from the 30 mile goal and only 9 miles from reaching Grumpy Bear’s restaurant and bar in Kennedy Meadows. The rain had stopped but the cool weather persisted into the evening hours. The restaurant closed at 9 and we decided we would need to arrive at least 1 hour before to make it worth our while. So, we had 3 hours to do 9 miles for a reward of burgers and beer. We decided to go for it.
I set the pace to ensure we were doing at least 3 miles/hour. Although we were already 25 miles in, we felt strong somehow and arrived at the 700 mile mark ahead of schedule. Shortly after we turned onto the dirt path that would take us away from the PCT and towards the restaurant. Dirt path led to dirt road and finally to the main road. After about half a mile on the road, a nice local offered to take us the rest of the  way to the restaurant and we arrived by 7:30! Let me just say, burgers have never tasted so good. The wonderful owners of Grumpy’s treated us so well and even let us set up camp on their property.

Since then we have been hanging out in KM, eating our fill, organizing our cold weather and snow gear, sending forward our warm weather gear and checking snow/weather reports. We are excited and apprehensive about tackling the Sierra in this high snow year. The first section from here to Onion Valley via Kearsarge Pass has been reasonably well travelled this season already so we are have some reasonable reports on the conditions and likely some tracks to follow over the high passes. We are also well prepared to turn around or bail out if the conditions have changed to be less favorable or beyond our skill level. Wish us good luck everyone!

“The mountains are calling, and I must go…”

10 thoughts on “40 days in the desert/that’s no moon

  1. Such an amazing journey! Love reading the blog… maybe I’m #4 🙂
    Looking forward to hearing about your next section… Take care, Nicola


  2. I’m exhausted just reading! Sounds like an awesome adventure, now I must go watch the movie Wild!! Best of luck!!


  3. Always enjoy your blog Katherine. I believe you do have more than 3 followers, as my sisters told me they enjoy reading your blog as well. Your adventures sound amazing. So happy you guys are able to create this memory.


  4. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. No not really. In fact it was great to read you were still on the trail as initially was developing a bad feeling that something might be askew.


  5. Yay! Ron found your blog address on fb – so glad! I’m lying in bed on a windy cool Sunday morning with my 8 week old bionic hip! I’m thrilled you are truly doing this. Now off to read your earlier posts.


  6. Hello from one of your three readers! It actually looks like we are a few more than three…
    Really enjoying reading about your fantastic adventure – I’m very jealous too!
    Hope you are both well

    – Gabby, London, England

    PS you (and Gryffin) are very welcome to pitch your tent in my sitting room if you ever fancy a trip to the UK 😉


  7. Enjoying your account of the pacing and tactics required to navigate storms, find showers, enjoy burgers, etc… Great reading!


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