Day 43 – 50 Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows

Day 43 23.04.18 17 Miles / 27km

After spending longer than planned at the post office we eventually hit the trail at 10am, sad to be saying goodbye to Brenda who we were now attached too.

As usual after rest days the nerve pain returned to my right leg for the first hour of our climb until I came to rest under a Joshua tree with Four Eyes and Kyle. The day was much hotter than we’d have liked it to be.

Continuing to climb in the heat I soon become nauseous and headachy. Realising I’m probably dehydrated we break for 3hrs under more Joshua Trees to have lunch, drink electrolytes and wait out the heat of the day. On trail I usually find it hard to drink enough water so now I add Crystal Lite (a powdered flavouring mix) to my water to make it easier to drink a litre of water. I’ll probably come home with a serious Crystal Lite addiction but I’ll deal with that when it comes.

I make it to the spring and camp at 7pm. Just as I arrive Ray is leaving. Ray wants to get a few more night miles under his belt because of the longer water carries in the desert.

Day 44 24.04.18 19 Miles / 30.3km

Starting the morning at 7am we note it’s hot by 9am. Kyle pushed ahead to cover some distance before stopping at midday to wait out the heat in his tent. I eventually catch up and chill with him eating s’mores snack mix and drinking Crystal Lite (my addiction continues). I eventually stop procrastinating and continue onto my lunch spot where I’m joined by Pirate and another hiker. We stop and rest for an hour until deciding to take on hill number three for the day.

Right at 6:30pm I arrive at camp, a spring called Robin Bird Spring. I’m joined by everyone I’d hiked with throughout the day and I’m thrilled to see Four Eyes. I sit down but quickly notice a shooting neck pain coming from a knot on my shoulder. Kyle gives his best attempt at a massage but he was terrible and had no idea what he was doing. Four Eyes steps in and with her tiny strong hands made all my problems melt away. Kyle should take notes for future reference.

Later that night Kyle left to night hike trying to get as many cool miles in as he could and make it to the next tent site before the heat of day. He is planning longer hiking days so he can get to town sooner and be out of the heat.

Being a nice night I decide to finally try cowboy camping since it seems to be the most popular way of camping on the trail. Cowboy camping is camping without a tent exposing yourself to the elements. I lay out my mat and sleeping bag, use my pack as a pillow and spend the night star gazing until the cloud cover turns everything black and I fall asleep.

Day 45 25.04.18 18 Miles / 29km

Waking up cowboy camping is colder, but more relaxing. It’s a tricky trade off. I value the warmth of my tent. After refilling and filtering my water from the spring I head off. It’s warm already but we’re in the shade of a gorgeous pine section. After a few hours I catch up to Pirate and Four Eyes filling up water at the creek preparing for a long hot day. In this heat we are easily drinking 3 Litres of water while walking but still need to carry water for cooking and the following days hike. We stay at the creek for an hour drinking as much water as we can before heading out. We do this hoping to make our carried water last longer. We end up drinking 2Litres and I nearly wet myself while having a laughing fit with Four Eyes. I have a laughing fit daily between 4-6PM and I’m unable to breathe or speak while I have them. It’s fun for everyone involved.

The terrain changes back to desert again and I make frequent stops as I climb uphill then down an 8km (5mile) stretch. Even going downhill I frequently stop, shading myself from the blazing sun and giving my poor sore feet a short break.

Relieved I reach the water cache and find the others taking a break in the shade of their tent footprint hooked onto hiking poles. I drink another Litre and eat chips and cookies which had been left as Trail magic. Four Eyes debates with another Hiker if a Joshua Tree is in fact a tree or not, and Trail Angel Siri shows up to refill the water, give us bananas and take our rubbish. He hiked in the first half of the PCT in 2016, and now often returns to give back.

Two hours later I carry on with this exceptionally hot day. It’s 4pm and each step was a conscious effort to push myself further towards camp. My body is covered in a sheen of sweat and my shirt is stained with my salt. It’s gross. And hot. This is the biggest struggle I’ve experienced so far on the PCT.

I find Four Eyes in a ditch set up to cowboy camp a few kilometres before our planned campsite. “I just couldn’t do it anymore, you can go on and I’ll catch up tomorrow, I’m done for today”. Relieved I join her in my flyless tent and we spend the night stargazing and sharing our life stories.

Day 46 26.04.18 18.5 Miles / 30km

Who knew such a hot dry desert could have so much condensation? We wake up at 5am to make the most of a the cool temperatures and find ourselves totally soaked. We pack our wet sleeping bags and tent into our bags and start on the trail while watching first light hit the mountains around us.

The scenery for the day was amazing, perfect blue skies, fields of blooming wildflowers, mountains in the distance and joshua trees offering shade. I was on top of the world with my soul being fed by this gorgeous place.

Alone I cross the 1000km mark and reflect on the last 46 days out here. Finally I feel the total freedom I’d come here for, walking out of life back home and onto the PCT. I am so true to myself out here, I laugh often, I’m a grub, I’ve built friendships to last a lifetime, and I’m not even out of the desert yet.

Making it to the water cache at midday I take a 4hr break with Four Eyes. Our wet gear is dry in 10minutes, we eat lunch, nap and I write this blog. It was perfect.  We make a pact to stay together through the Sierras, and looking back this was the day our beautiful friendship properly started.

Feeling refreshed we start up the brutal hill and climb for an hour. Four Eyes pushes ahead and I meet her at camp around 7pm just as I’d planned covering my usual 4km (2.5miles) per hour. Strangely this camp was populated by beetles. They were quickly everywhere, all over my bag, myself and tent I was rushing to put up. Within the safety of my mesh I catch as many as I can and evict them, then cook dinner inside my flyless tent and go to sleep.

Day 47 27.04.18 14 Miles / 22km

Starting at 5:30am I walk with my head torch for only 10mins before first light was enough to see.

Planning a nero we had a lot to do in town so agreed on a morning of hiking hard to reach the highway by midday. Headphones went in and we did just that reaching the road at 10:45am.

There were rumours of hikers being fed at a side trail cabin but we decided not to visit since we didn’t need a water top up and needed the time for town day. Later Four Eyes pulls ahead and another hiker, Biscuit, catches up offering me a spare breakfast sandwich she got from the cabin. My day was made, there was so much cheese on the egg and sausage english muffin, it was everything I’d hoped for and more.

By the highway we hold out Four Eyes’s hand drawn PCT Hiker sign (Four Eyes is an excellent artist) and give big cheesy grins while sticking out our thumbs for a hitch. The sign worked like a charm! We were greeted by a nice couple in their 40’s who pulled over because Carol didn’t want to leave two girls by the side of the road. Carol and her husband were extremely accommodating, stopping at the Onyx post office for Four Eyes to pick up her package. After the post office they drove us an additional 30mins to a trail angel named April’s house. At April’s we shower, catch up with Ray and Gandalf and say goodbye to Kyle who leaves to go on another side trip.

I finally get to meet Lady Bruce, a middle aged female hiker who I’d heard lots about and seen in all the trail registers. She is local and got off trail the day before to help hikers with rides until her group is ready for the Sierras. Lady Bruce gives us a lift to shop for our resupply and to binge on pizza, making the most of a town day.

Back at April’s place, some sleep outside on the couches while the rest of us lay out our mats and sleeping bags cowboy style on her lounge room floor.

Day 48 28.04.18 17 Miles / 27km

After a long night of tummy pains I wake up feeling mostly better and get up to eat some fruit and left over pizza from the day before. Immediately I bloat back out and after April dropped us back on the trail all the wind pains started. After a few hours it settled so I eat a cliff bar at midday. Immediately pain starts back in my stomach and works it’s way down again. To avoid any additional pains I skip lunch and keep push on to get the day done.

Feeling like crap I keep walking and catch up to Four Eyes who waited back and Ray who passes me after making a trip to the spring.

Four Eyes “yeaahhh you don’t look well,”

Ray “you really don’t feel good, do you”

Deciding to stop at a closer campsite I drag my tired body to camp, set up my tent and cook some mashed potatoes. The others comment that I perk back up a little and I take an early night to sook and recover.

Its nice that while feeling sick it was my tent and sleeping bag I wanted, rather than my bed at home. Perhaps it’s because I knew that’s where I’ll end up, or maybe this has really become home now.

Day 49 29.04.18 20.5 Miles / 33km

After sleeping through the night I wake feeling much better so have breakfast and pack up ready to start a big day. Ahead of the others I collect water from the stream and start walking trying to find a poop spot for my grumbly tummy. 1 km down the track I can’t hold it any longer, I scramble up an embankment to hide behind a bush, do my business and scramble back down right in time for Four Eyes to see me slide down the embankment and land it by jumping over my pack. I remind myself I’m not Spider-Man as I feel the shock run through my body from the epic move.

I found there’s nothing like a tummy ache to put a great day into perspective, so finally feeling fine I was loving the trail. The scenery was gorgeous, my playlist was great and I found myself in a daze as I climbed the hill completely unaware of how much time had passed.

Stopping for lunch at the creek I shared my salami and cheese with Ray who was uninspired by his peanut butter wraps. We were also extremely please the avocado I carried survived the first day and was 100% worth it.

We carried on to climb over 800m elevation across the next 10km (6miles) bringing us to a windy ridge line to then peak and do the same downhill. Halfway back down we found a flat spot to camp after the long day. My tummy had starting hurting a little again after tightening my waist belt to carry 3Litres of water from a spring half way up the climb. I was starting to feel average on my great day. I set up my tent in what Ray calls “the longest time ever” after battling with wind, changing from a lumpy site and generally sulking with cold hands as I struggled to find rocks to reinforce my pegs and guy lines. I got there eventually.

With an unpredictable tummy I eat half a packet of Frittos (corn chips) for dinner and fall fast asleep. Note: Frittos are now my most desired trail food.

Day 50 30.04.18 13 Miles / 21km

Waking up I find frost on my sleeping bag and inside the fly of my tent. Looking outside my water is frozen and all the surrounding plants are also frosty. I knew it had been a cold night after waking few times with cool legs, but had laid my fleece over myself and gone back to sleep. Dam I love this new sleeping bag.

Slow to get up I drag the chain trying to put off touching my frozen tent for as long as I can. Eventually I take it down, shaking my fly to make it “snow” as I keep myself entertained. I put the now dripping fly into a large ziplock (Four Eyes recommendation) to avoid it getting everything wet in my bag and wrap the tent in its footprint.

With numb fingers we continue downhill until I warm up enough that I need to take off my jacket. Four Eyes started ahead of us then Ray and Gandalf took the lead while I stopped to take my jacket off. Not wanting to fall behind I run down the hill to catch up with the others. I feel strong as I run with my pack holding hiking poles while I flail my arms. I catch up, now one of those crazy people I often see running past me. Life is much easier carrying little food and water.

We cross our final desert flat surrounded by the mountains we’d just climbed, and the mountains next to come. We pass the Kern River, an abandoned old hut and the 700mile (1125km) marker. We wave goodbye to the desert for the last time and walk up the road into Kennedy Meadows, we crack a beer at the general store to celebrate the journey so far and binge on burgers at Grumpy Bears Retreat.

Visiting the Triple Crown Outfitters I splash out on new gear to set myself up for the upcoming snow. An ice axe, a bear canister, waterproof gaiters, snow gloves and a waterproof sack to put my wet tent into since I sent home the original tent bag now using the scrunch and stuff method to pack it into my bag.

The Sierras are looking fierce at the moment. We are taking a zero tomorrow to wait out a storm and chat to the few hikers ahead who have tried to enter but exited due to challenging conditions. We’ve got some big decisions to make, taking into consideration time, conditions, safety and our skill level.

(2) Comments

  1. Hobbes says:

    I’ve seen Ray’s IG photos of snow hiking in SEKI, so you’re in good hands with someone with alpine experience. With perfect weather for the next few days, Cottonwood is an easy opt-out point if you decide to not continue to Forester/Kearsarge.

    My buddy and I are heading to Whitney tomorrow for a weekend ascent. One consideration would be to exit Cottonwood, pull a Whitney permit and head up from the Lone Pine side. It will give you a few more days of alpine experience, let the snow further consolidate, and give you a place to consider options. When you do return to Cottonwood, you can save 2 days by skipping the detour from Crabtree and just head for Kearsarge.

    Alpine Sierra are all about stages: Cottonwood, Kearsarge, Bishop, Mammoth & Tuolumne – all are good exit points if situations arise. Good luck, and as others have noted, don’t let anyone talk you out of going. Figure it out for yourself and have an exit strategy ready.

  2. Mike B says:

    Good luck. I love the Sierra, but have never hiked it when it is buried in snow. I hope you have some experience with an ice axe and crampons, or someone to teach you on the smaller slopes before you reach the big ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *