May 3 (~06:25 – ~18:45)
Before Kelso Road – after Yellow Jacket Spring turnoff (23 mi / Total: 638.4 mi)
Weather: It’s a good hiking temperature, although it gets very shot once I go up the last mountain. It’s still chilly in the morning and evening.
I set my alarm early, but I can’t help but snooze. It’s still dark. I think about the mountain lions I was scared of before drifting off to sleep, and the rustling of grass against my tent that sounded like footsteps throughout the night. I’m still apprehensive about what I’ll find outside, but of course – there’s nothing. Just my tent in the vast desert landscape. I set off at 6:30 and I’m happy, this is much earlier than I usually leave, and the sun has only just emerged from beyond the mountains to illuminate my camping spot. It’s a great way to start the day, just as it was amazing to finish the section I began last night during dusk. Everything still quiet and veiled in emerging light. When I continue the trail I spot a tent nearby, it was just the two of us up here.
It’s only one mile to the first of many dirt roads I’ll be crossing today, and this one has a water cache. Many gallons of water in huge containers I couldn’t possibly lift are siting next to the road. I’m happy enough one of them is already open and only contains a few more litres, and I struggle to dispose it into my water bottle. I couldn’t imagine everyone being able to take water from these heavy containers.
I try to figure out how much water I’ll need. It’s 15 miles to the next water cache – I can probably make it with my two bottles and the tiny bit of water I have left in my pack. It can’t be more than two litres altogether. I know I should take a little more, but these containers are just too heavy. I don’t want to go through the motions of lifting one again. I head off instead.
The morning turns out to be unexpectedly stunning. I thought I was done with it, but once more the desert shines. These dry, faded landscapes remain some of my favourites. The barren land dramatically dotted with scarce vegetation and shades of rugged mountains in the far distance. There are Joshua trees everywhere. I just need to avoid a flock of cows on the trail. One of them is too stubborn to move so I have to detour around, and then run – because cows are terrifying. After that I find one imprisoned by Joshua trees aggressively snorting at me. I’m happy when I cross the next dirt road and I can leave the cows behind.
Despite my marvel around the landscapes, it doesn’t take long to realise I didn’t pack enough water. I definitely need more than two litres for 15 miles. That’s almost 25 kilometres. It was still cold this morning at the water cache which made me think I didn’t need much at all, but once the sun came out the temperature rose, and now it’s pretty warm already. And I’m thirsty. I plan to divide the 15 miles into three parts, and I’ll have two quick breaks in between, which will help me keep an eye on my water intake and conserve it.
The desert keeps changing today, and it goes from dramatic rocky views to some sections that are a little more monotonous with lightly undulating hills. Then the sand underfoot thickens and a long uphill await, which turns into quite a slog.
Then, views onto the bare valley floor open on the other side of the mountain, and I look down, onto those thin paths carved into the land, and I wish one of those small dusty trails could be ours, but it’s not, it never would be. Instead I go up and up until the trail steadies and meets another dirt road and the next water cache. Water. I made it.
The next spring isn’t until tomorrow, in thirteen miles and a little off trail. I’ll probably get there in the morning, so I don’t bring too much water – it’s just too heavy. I plan to stay at the water cache for a while so I can properly rest but suddenly a host of other hikers show up, and I decide to keep on going, and break somewhere else a little longer. Now all I have to do is commence the final uphill for the day.
The ascend is not what I’d thought it would be. It’s hot and steady and I climb up huge sweeping switchbacks. The sun seems to burn more than it did before. It’s as though the heat lingers and swells around 3 to 5 pm, even though the sun is supposed to weaken. Immediately I’m thirsty once again and wish I’d brought more water. If it wasn’t for the numerous flowers lining the trail and panoramic views onto where I just came from, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this.
By the time I reach the top, I’m done with today. I’m exhausted although the scenery is perfect in every sense: everything looks like it’s from a movie, big views, rocks and cute campsites. I want to sit down for a break but when I check the time it’s already after 5 and I’m shocked. I’ve only done 3.3 miles since the water cache, and I’d wanted to walk another 7 before camping. I slowly realise this isn’t going to happen. I snap my hip belt together again and instead of breaking I continue to walk.
Just a few more miles, I think, but when I’ve done those the woods around me just look like the perfect place for bears to come out and play, and I keep on walking and walking, until I hear a loud noise and see… three deer! I continue through the forest for what seems like hours, until I reach a tentsite annotated on the Guthook app, where I assume other people may be. I’m right. Speedy is there, and a few others. Although I generally prefer to camp alone, I’m happy not to be on my own tonight, and on top of that I even get the luxury of setting up my tent in daylight. What a day.