21.3 miles (612.0 to 633.3), plus ~3.3 to/from Willow Spring
I’m up before the mosquitoes; however, there are ants in my food bag. After I clear them out, eat breakfast, and pack my things, it’s 4:45. This appears to be my new designated start time. I only need my headlamp for the first 15 minutes or so. Sunrise brings crazy colors to the desert; for a little while, everything glows.
There’s a large water cache at the paved road at mile 616. Since I don’t rely on water caches, I have more than enough water, and I only pause long enough to snap a picture. Then it’s onward through Joshua trees, sagebrush, and other shrubs, weaving between OHV routes, climbing slowly but surely out of this basin and into the next.
Rock outcroppings are scattered across the land. There are pointy peaks. The views are beautiful. I take lots of pictures. I make good time, finishing the 10 miles to Dove Spring Road around 9am. Now I face a 1.6-mile hike down the road to (and 1.6 miles back from) Willow Spring.
There’s a hiker at the road-trail intersection, one I’ve never met. I step over to say hello. He’s from Germany and he started May 3. (Hey, I’ve finally caught up to somebody.) He says there “should be” another water cache in 9 miles. Yeah, I know. Should be. He bypasses Willow Spring and continues up the trail while I head downhill on the road. When I arrive at Willow Spring, there’s another hiker here, another guy I’ve never met before. His name is Cucumber. He’s finished filling his bottles and takes off up the road, heading back to the trail. Bummer. I finally found another hiker as serious about carrying water as I am. I’d like to get to know him, but he’s already gone.
My friend Dave stashed a few gallons of water for me in the rocks just above the spring. I hike up to find them, then carry the jugs down into the shade of the willows and fill my bottles with 7 liters of water. I drink at least a liter straight from the jug and pour the rest over my head. I crush the jugs and strap them to my pack. Now I have to get myself and all of this water back to the top of the mountain. It’s a long, slow, hot climb.
I arrive dripping sweat and find Cucumber at the intersection. He’s taking care of a few tasks, so I do, too. I eat lunch in the shade of a Joshua tree and do a little texting (we actually have reception here!), then Cucumber and I hike out together. It’s noon and it’s really hot. I hike under my umbrella. I only go for a mile and a half before I see the perfect afternoon rest spot below a massive Joshua tree. I’m hot and tired. I need to stop. Cucumber keeps going. So much for finding a hiking partner.
I spread out my tent’s footprint and immediately fall asleep in the shade. I don’t sleep long. It’s too hot to sleep. Once awake, I can’t decide whether to stay or go, so I stay by default. There’s a wind now, hot like a furnace. I don’t want to hike in this. But I usually feel hotter sitting around than I do when I’m walking, so I really should start moving. Plus, I’m getting thirsty sitting here in this heat, and I’m not getting any closer to my next water source (Bird Spring Pass cache, Yellow Jacket Spring, or McIver Spring, depending on who you believe). I really should get moving. Even going slow, I’ll break a sweat and catch the wind and feel cooler than I do now.
It’s so hard to force myself up, to put my socks and shoes back on and get my gear in order. When I try to plug my external battery into my solar panel, I discover that the outlet where the charging cord plugs into the battery is broken. Dang. I plug my phone directly into my solar panel, not the most efficient arrangement. Worst of all, I’ll have no motivational music on the coming climb. The iPhone 7 famously lacks a headphone jack, so I can’t listen and charge at the same time. Until now, this has merely been annoying. Now it’s ridiculous. Bluetooth headphones would be fantastic. Oh well.
At 2:00, I finally get moving. Occasionally it’s really windy. It’s hot. Really hot. I walk slowly uphill and do a lot of photographing. The trail drops, then begins another climb. I pass Cucumber resting in the shade of a Joshua tree. The trail goes up and the wind gets stronger. I stop to change socks and start my dinner soaking. Cucumber isn’t far behind me. Finally we reach the top of the climb and begin descending to Bird Spring Pass. I hope there’s a cache down there. I’m thirstier than I thought I’d be. I could drink a whole liter on the spot.
On my way down to the road, I meet the German hiker. He’s already set up his tent nearby. He tells me the cache is full. There’s even food! I make my way down and set my backpack in a shaded spot that’s somewhat sheltered from the wind. The three guys who dropped me last night are here. I’ve been leapfrogging with them since Tehachapi. Cool; I can more or less keep up with the fast guys. I walk across the road to the cache. I get a few liters of water, a mini serving of peanut butter and one of Nutella (I’m eating things I never eat at home!), and head back to my pack to eat dinner. I’m starving.
Cucumber joins me and we eat together. He got his trail name when someone gave him a bag of cucumbers as trail magic. I explain where Eowyn came from. Cucumber is going to camp here tonight. Normally, I would, too (finally someone I want to hike with!); however, tomorrow I actually need to hike alone: I need to do some reconnaissance for an extra curricular activity, and it would be good to get a little farther up the trail tonight so I can goof around tomorrow. I’m going to tackle the climb that awaits and see if I can get to the campsite at the top of the ridge.
At 7pm, I bid Cucumber farewell and head out. The trail is well-graded. On well-graded switchbacks, anything is possible. I’m fast, even at the end of the day. Higher and higher I climb, in and out of wind, in and out of sun, as the trail takes me up the mountain. Below, the sun sets. Only the tops of the mountains are lit, and that’s where I’m headed. Up, up, through shadow, and when I break over the edge, I step into sunlight. I’ve out-hiked sunset.
On the ridge top, there’s a campsite with room for several tents. I choose a spot and begin setting up my tent. I have the front stakes in and begin the securing the rear when a gust takes the tent sideways, ripping out one of the front stakes and sending the tent into a shrub. When I get the tent back into place, I notice a huge hole in the mesh. Damn. Two broken pieces of gear in one day. Now, instead of getting into my tent and beginning my nightly tasks, I have to repair my tent. Luckily this didn’t happen last night! My tent would have been full of mosquitoes.
I thought this site was relatively sheltered from wind, and maybe it is, but the wind is whipping. Gust after gust rattles my tent. I hope I can sleep tonight. With my out-and-back to Willow Spring, I hiked approximate 24.6 miles today, finishing with an uphill climb of 1,100 feet. I’m doing well, but I need solid rest. Please, wind, let me sleep.