Day 17: The 10-hour descent

17.9 miles (187.8 to 205.7)

I’ve read that many hikers find nights in the desert to be the coldest part of the PCT. Hmm. They must be cowboy campers. At 8,500 feet, I’m still not zipping up my sleeping bag. I fantasize about shipping home my down jacket and capilene fleece hoody. But what if it does eventually get cold at night? There are still so many unknowns.

We’re out of camp by 7am. Today we’ll drop 7,000 feet over 18 miles, beginning at 8,566 feet ending at 1,729 feet. 

The trail takes us down, as expected, then immediately back up (unexpected), then meanders along, then finally gets serious and starts dropping. Our destination is visible way, way, way down below. 

Walking this part of the trail is like wandering through an Escher painting. Often we can’t tell which bend of the trail we just came from or which one we’re hiking toward, or even which end of that switchback over there is the high end. Around and around we go. We cross the mountain seemingly aimlessly. We can see where we’re going to end up, but the trail doesn’t go that way. 

I put up my umbrella to cut the heat. We arrive at the 200 mile mark and pause for photos. We pass Easy Rider, a hiker we haven’t seen for many miles. I photograph and rephotograph the view from slightly different yet ever-changing angles. 

My downhill muscles take a beating. I feel like I’m getting a blister on one of my toes, so I find a smidge of shade and sit and take off my shoe. I mess around for a few minutes, and when I’m finished I check the little thermometer dangling from my backpack. It reads 103 degrees in the shade. No wonder my feet think my shoes are melting. 

The trail goes on and on but we don’t get anywhere. This is most frustrating piece of trail I’ve ever walked. After hours of wandering over the mountainside we catch sight of hikers gathered below. At last! We’ve reached the faucet and the end of our descent. 

At the bottom of the descent sits a humble water faucet provided by the local water company. It’s a welcome landmark. By now Dad is out of water. I have about 1/4 liter. We each get some water and quickly drink it down. 

We decide to spend the night here, wake early, and start hiking before dawn in order to make it across the valley before things heat up again. Of course, that’s assuming things cool down. At 8:30pm the ground is so hot beneath my tent that I worry about the integrity of my thyroid medication. I don’t bother to remove my sleeping bag from its stuff sack. It’s as if the desert heard me musing this morning about the derth of cold nights, and decided to show me what heat really means. 

*More photos on Instagram


3 thoughts on “Day 17: The 10-hour descent

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