April 8 (~07:05 – ~20:30)
Before Mesa Wind Farm – Mission Creek (16.8 mi / Total: 228.4 mi)
Weather: Searing hot from the start, at 8am.
My first stop today is only a few miles ahead. It’s already warming up when I leave just after seven, and I walk straight to Mesa Wind Farm, where a small shelter has been erected for hikers. There’s little shade or water for miles around, so it’s amazing to have these people do all this for hikers. Although it’s still early, we sit in the structure and I eat one of the grapefruits from the cooler. It’s delicious. While Speedy and Black Water set off, I fill up on a little more water before continuing the day myself.
When I leave the structure the warmth has turned to heat. On top of that, I’m thrown into an immediate ascend, a brutal climb up in sandy, soft soil. It’s a pass of some sort, and when I reach the top and view the other side, everything is different. I feel like I’ve been transported back to New Zealand, the mountains spacious and grand, the only difference the amount of switchbacks.
The path is easy but my feet feel like sandpaper. Every step hurts. I wish the soil would change, but it doesn’t. It never changes in the desert. I walk from mountainside to mountainside, until I finally reach the river floor, and the trail follows it for several miles before crossing it. When I approach the river a group of hikers is already there, and I watch them cross some time after. I take some water for later, and filter some to add my daily electrolytes, and enjoy the quick riverford. It’s so fresh in this heat.
The opposite side is covered in rocks and it takes a while to find the trail again. Just as I’m going back up a mountain, I hear voices, and see Speedy and Black Water hiding in a collection of trees further off trail. I join them and they tell me they’ve decided to sit out the heat, and hike out again later in the day. It seems as though the desert heat has caught up with us, and we may need to do some night hiking for the first time.
We sit in the shade and chat for hours. It’s around noon when I join them, and we talk mostly about our next resupply stop of Big Bear and the food we want to eat. I think about that grapefruit from this morning and pine for another one. I tell the story of the frozen lasagna I ate during my first hike around Tasmania, and suddenly we all have stories of our favourite lasagna. We all agree that lasagna is the food we crave the most, and once we get to Big Bear, we need to hunt down lasagna.
The heat stays but we set off again at four. For a moment it feels better, then the clouds disperse and it’s back to the way it was. We go up the switchbacks, and it seems as though all we need to do is go over the one pass, but instead we switchback around three quarters of the mountains all around us, just to reach the top, where we meander to the other side to switchback down again. It feels as though the PCT is really king when it comes to switchbacks in this area.
Still, the views from the mountain top are marvellous. The mountains around rise high and I can even see one of the San Jacinto mountains still reigning in the distance, haughty, covered in snow.
When I finally get down the other side Speedy and Black Water are preparing dinner in the rocky riverbank, and a little further up are some of the people that passed us earlier, eating dinner and setting up camp for the night. I make mashed potatoes, a portion the size of a child’s head, and when we are done we are on our way again. We are not yet done for the day.
It’s seven and it’s quickly getting dark. Night hiking was a fun idea but we quickly find out that this is the worst section to do it in – Mission Creek entails numerous river crossings and the trail is mostly eroded, and covered by fallen trees. We struggle to find our way, rockhopping and delayed by the thick, soft sand. I find it even more difficult as the others walk too fast for me – I’m not enjoying running behind them whilst trying to stay safe and not misplace any steps on one of the many rocks.
Still, we manage to hike another three miles, and it strangely doesn’t feel like we did that much. The darkness must’ve been a good distraction, keeping us focused on the task at hand. We set up on the grindy grass, and I finally get to cowboy camp for the very first time. I look at the sky and watch the tiny stars cluster.
We’re anticipating the heat to prevail, so we plan to get up at four and be out by five in the morning. We’ll rest during the hottest hours and night hike in the evening again. Let’s see how this goes.