May 7 (~07:00 – ~18:00)
Before Joshua Tree Spring – Fox Mill Spring (20.7 mi / Total: 682.8 mi)
Weather: Mixed! Cold in the morning, then increasingly warm in the sun. On top of the mountain it’s overcast and grey and a little bit of rain falls. Then it clears up and goes back to being warm.
We all wake from our cowboy camp and take it easy. We’re covered by thick grey clouds and the sun is still far, illuminating the mountains in the distance. All our gear is covered in dew. My quilt, my pack, everything has gone damp. Prince and Speedy were both cold during the night, but I wasn’t – I’m so happy I upgraded my quilt before this trip. Annoyingly though, I find sap from the tree above me on the fabric and I struggle to get it off. I just hope it doesn’t harm the material while it’s stuffed into my backpack.
Before we leave, Speedy gives me some of her water. I’ve run out, and although there’s Joshua Tree Stream nearby, it’s said to carry traces of uranium, so I’m glad I don’t have to go there now. I’ll be able to last the six miles to Spanish Needle Creek instead. I head off a little after the others, and continue the route through the mountains, the trees, the sun slowly obliterating the clouds and carefully turning everything soft and pale, as it should.
Then the trees make way for a small desert again, and Joshua Trees mix into the landscape. The trail sweeps. It goes over and around the mountains, disappearing over low passes as opposed to forever sidling and switchbacking into the mountainsides in the distance. I take my first break around the first streams, and dry out my damp quilt, spreading it out in the sun. I love the smell of sun-dried quilt.
I take enough water to last me a little over ten miles and begin today’s big ascend. I don’t actually know what’s happening until I’m doing it, and I check the elevation chart – it’s a huge climb. I wasn’t expecting that. I look up onto the mountains around me, the rock faces and forests and I can’t even figure out where this trail is going up to.
The ascend is tough. A continuous steep grade, just up and up and up and into the unknown. When I reach the first high point I break. Finally, rest. Just as I get up and walk away I see the first fellow hiker of the day arrive for his own break. The elevation is a bit jagged now, and takes much longer than expected. I already think I’m descending but then the trail goes up one last time, just a little bit, pushing me a tad more.
Then the long, steady descend begins. It’s desert-like here again – a desert forest. Grey clouds roll in and suddenly it’s chilly. I hope it will all blow over but I have a feeling it won’t. Then I feel raindrops. Rain for the very first time? But after a smattering it stops, although the sky remains dark and threatening.
I continue down. I’m in a lush desert forest now, the landscape changing a little bit once again, unsure of where it stands, what it is. It’s so much easier going down but I’m spent, and I stop at the bottom, taking a little more water from Chimney Creek. I wish I could call it a day, but I reckon Speedy and Prince are camped at Fox Mill Spring, which is halfway up another steep ascend.
It’s only it a little over two miles, but I can hardly manage my way up. Just as I get close to the stream, I find a hiker who introduces himself as Ninja cowboy camping next to the trail, and he tells me Prince asked him to point me to their camping spot, off trail. He left a message, apparently, and when I backtrack I see the ‘C’ written in tiny rocks on the trail – I thought it was an old sign that was once an ‘O’. I now see the twig arrow as well and I find Speedy and Prince up the mountain and next to a dirt toad, an odd place as there should be camping next to the river.
Somehow I’m annoyed. I have no water and Speedy has to give me some of hers, again. I also realise I bought the wrong couscous and the thick pearl type I have won’t rehydrate. I have to eat crackers instead. So much happened today.