16.7 miles (341.9 to 358.6) with 4,000 feet elevation gained, plus 0.8 mile from hotel to PCT
The hotel starts serving breakfast at 6am. We’re downstairs a few minutes early, and the food is already out. There may be garlic in the sausage, so I skip it and I eat a plate of eggs with crushed potato chips sprinkled over the top to simulate hash browns. Not bad.
We walk nearly a mile from the hotel down to the PCT. Immediately, the trail passes under I-15. Four hikers camped out down here last night and are just getting up. We wave and walk by. Next we go under the railroad tracks, and then the trail sort of winds up and back on itself, and we go under the tracks a second time. After that, it’s all uphill, all day. We’re still in a recent burn, so there’s no shade except for that cast by my umbrella.
Anticipating a nonstop, sun-drenched climb, I’m carrying a back-breaking 8 liters of water (plus a little more in a pot to soak my lunch). I hope this whopping amount will get me to Wrightwood, 27.4 uphill miles and one dry camp away. Unfortunately, these 8 liters come with a bad taste. It’s going to be tough to get this water down, even though I’m already thirsty enough to chug a full liter, if one was available.
The water cache in Swarthout Canyon is stocked! I go ahead and down that liter of water (with three packets of crystallized lime to disguise the flavor) and refill my bottle from the cache. When we walk away, I’m once again loaded with a full 8 liters.
We climb. And climb. The trail isn’t steep, but the climb is nonstop, and I’m carrying a monstrous amount of water. My shoulders ache. My legs are already tired.
Ten miles in, we stop for lunch. Off and on, as we traversed the mountainside, we heard strange noises that could have been either distant gunshots or bizarre gusts of wind. Now, at our lunch spot, the mystery sounds come uninterrupted, nonstop, and rapid-fire. Gunshots accompanied by a weird echo from the mountain? Weird.
After lunch, we come around a bend and the echo disappears. We’re definitely hearing gunfire; it’s coming from the next canyon over. Dad climbs to the dirt road above the trail at the top of the ridge. In the next canyon, a man is giving orders over a megaphone. Is this some kind of contest? Military training? The rapid shots sound like the finale of a fireworks show on repeat. We hear them for hours as we continue our climb.
In early afternoon the wind picks up. My umbrella goes down. It’s nice to have a breeze, though: evaporative cooling is a wonderful thing. I drink and drink and I’m still thirsty, and the water still tastes terrible. I throw a hibiscus tea bag into half a liter and drink it down. I eat and eat and manage to not feel starving.
We climb so high that we climb out of the burn and into live pines and firs. Around 16 miles in, my foot starts broadcasting little warning signals. The next campsite listed in the trail apps isn’t for another 3.5 miles – well over an hour away. That might be too much for my foot. Still, we have to keep going. Once again, we’re walking across steep slopes with no flat ground in sight.
But just half a mile up the trail, Dad spots a semi flat area between two knolls. There’s one tent site by the trail and two small side-by-side sites a little farther in. We can make this work! We eat, then set up our tents. I pitch mine by the trail because ants have congregated in the lower, more private site and I’d rather not have to pick ants off my tent in the morning.
We’re at the end of our fourth week on the trail, and we’re now more than halfway through the desert section. Kennedy Meadows, at mile 702, is widely considered to be the end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra Nevada. We’re halfway there.
*More photos on Instagram.