PCT Day 37 : The Tehachapi Tornado

April 30 (~10:45 – ~18:00)
Tehachapi Willow Springs Road – mountaintop after Highway 58 (14.4 mi / Total: 572.9 mi)
Weather: Warm, then… storm!

After a zero in Tehachapi, we’re in no hurry to leave. We have breakfast at the hotel, then slowly gather our things and walk across town to find a good spot to hitch from, and we get picked up quite easily by a local and are dropped off at the Willow Springs Road trailhead.

Our packs are heavy, as they usually are, after leaving town. I still have a punnet of strawberries and discard them into a ziplock bag which I carry in my hands as we commence the trail once again. We have a long water carry as well – there’s no water until later in the day tomorrow, so we all carry as much as we can, which is about 3 litres for me, and lots more for the others.

The first part of the trail is not too interesting. We finish the 8 mile section between Willow Springs Road and Highway 58, which is quite flat, and cross another wind farm. This one is not too scenic, but the final few miles are nice – the switchbacks down to the Highway 58 overpass are quick and fun and the smell of purple wildflowers is overwhelming.

After the overpass we follow the trail next to the highway for a while, until we begin to move up, and we sidle higher and higher, a steep climb that exerts me. As I get higher in elevation, the wind gets stronger, and it gets to the point where the wind is so forceful that it seems to blow all the oxygen away before I can even inhale it – and I have trouble breathing, making me cup my hands around my mouth in an attempt to draw in air.

It doesn’t take long for the wind to turn to an absolute force. Several times I’m almost blown off my feet, and I run across ridge lines to get across before the wind can fling me off the mountainside. It must be hitting me at more than 30 mph, and it gets to a point where I realise it’s quite dangerous to continue, and then I meet Speedy and Prince again, at the top of the mountain.

We decide to hunker down and find a spot for the night. There’s a tentsite in the trees, although the wind is raging past, so we cowboy camp in a row, the setting up quite a fun ordeal with the freezing wind blowing everything away. Then we lie down, ready to try and sleep. As long as the tree branches right above us don’t get torn off the tree and fall right on top of us…

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