PCT Day 24 : A Leisurely Day On Trail

April 17 (~07:25 – ~17:30)
Swarthout Canyon / Water cache – Guffy Campground (17.4 mi / Total: 364.4 mi)
Weather: Warm, but I can feel the chill of the snow at higher elevation.

I wake up multiple times during the night, and everything is covered in thick layer of dew. My sleeping pad, the outside of my quilt, everything is wet. Everything, except for the inside of my quilt, which remains warm and snuggly. Meanwhile the sky above me keeps changing – sometimes it’s clear, the stars shining bright, then it’s overcast with a heavy blanket of clouds.

When I wake up the wind has increased, and it’s dried out everything. I’m amazed, I never knew the wind would be able to do that. I’m the last to leave – after our intense day in town we’re all looking for some solo hiking time, and we spread out naturally to spend the day walking alone. As I head off I find a water cache just around the corner, and I take about 2.5 litres, which is all I can carry – on top of the disappointing resupply from Walmart, where I bought way too much food. Then I hit the trail, and it immediately starts to go up, and it won’t stop going up.

The views are widespread and varied, a pale and dry valley below me with large motorways and built areas. It’s strange to see this landscape mixed with roads and houses, but it’s nice for a change. Then there are the burnt forest sections and I recognise some snowy mountain tops in the distant. But the constant ascend is tough with the heavy pack. My backpack really isn’t made for carrying this kind of weight, and it’s pulling in all the wrong directions.

When I sit down for my first break I take out the heaviest thing to eat – the Chinese food I ordered in town yesterday. I eat out of the ziplock bag but apparently, at one day old the noodles have gone soft and gooey and it’s disgusting. But as it’s about the heaviest thing in my pack, I don’t have much choice but to eat it, and I finish as much as I can, until the bag has shrunk enough for me to bear carrying to weight of the remainder.

I quickly decide on an easy day. I don’t want to go too far with such a heavy pack, especially considering this continuous uphill, and if I have to, I can always make up for any lost miles when I’ve eaten the bulk of my heavy food and the trail goes down again. Annoyingly though, I’m crazy thirsty. I’ve never had this problem before – I do well with little water. Today however, I can’t stop drinking. I try and restrain myself until I walk around a corner where a dirt road intersects the trail, and I see trail magic!

Tom and his nephew Paul have parked a van on the side of the road and are just packing up, but they tell me I can take whatever I want from the cooler that’s sitting on a foldable table. I pull out a Starbucks drink that is heavenly – it’s absolutely amazing to drink something so cold and milky. I fill up my water bottles with enough water for the rest of the day and I’m so intensely happy. This is the best trail magic yet.

I continue. The views keep changing as I go higher and they keep getting better. More trees, more desert valley, more snow covered mountains fazed in the far distance. I move into a magnificent pine forest and watch the snowy tops grow near – but I never get closer to them. I curve around and follow a different route, towards a different ridge.

I’m getting close to my intended campsite on top of the mountain, when suddenly the last three miles get chilly with the elevation. Although it seems as though I’ve only done a slow and short day, I’ve still walked a decent distance, and it’ll all gone up, with over 4500 ft elevation gain. As I get higher I can feel I’m getting close to snow and I put on my hard shell for warmth. Soon the snow patches start, and I find Speedy siting on the trail, out of the blue.

She’d promised to wait for me if there were any sketchy snow sections, so she did, and I feel bad because I’ve been enjoying an extremely leisurely day, and wasn’t expecting snow at all. She must’ve sat there for an hour waiting. We continue together but the snow isn’t too bad – some careful sidles and larger snow fields that are tricky to navigate. I would’ve managed to get through alone, but I appreciate that she waited – after all, the three of us are sticking together because of the snow, and there’s no use being a snow gang if we don’t wait for each other when it pops up.

The campsite is high up at over 8000 ft, but the sites are clear of snow, and we find Prince already setting up his tent. Speedy tells me that Tom had said the upcoming summit of Mount Baden-Powell would need to be done before 11 in the morning, as it’s covered in snow, and it all starts melting in the afternoon, making it very difficult to get through. We were going to begin the ascend tomorrow afternoon, but this means we’d have to cut tomorrow short, do a ten mile day, and go up Baden-Powell the following morning.

This also means that tomorrow afternoon we could hitch into the town of Wrightwood, which is close to the trail. We were going to skip this town as we just resupplied at Walmart, but with this extra time on our hands, it’d be nice to relax in a cafe or get some food in a restaurant. It’s a great idea but also hugely annoying – did I just lug a stupid amount of low quality food up the hill for nothing?

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