Day 48: Walker Pass

18.8 miles (633.3 to 652.1), plus ~1.5 miles to/from Yellow Jacket Spring 

Wind shakes the tent all night and wakes me repeatedly. My feet cramp as I drift to sleep, waking me. I get too little sleep but still wake before my alarm. There are a few clouds in the sky. Sunrise lights them up in pink and orange. As I hike, I get great views of the magic. 

Sunrise

The trail meanders through a forest of live oak and pine. Five miles in, I take off cross-country for Yellow Jacket Spring. From a campsite at mile 638.4, the spring is a 0.7-mile cross-country hike. I don’t actually need water now; I can fill up later (and easier) at McIver Spring. But Yellow Jacket is going to have a starring role in a hobby project I’m working on, so I need to check it out. Shortly into the hike, I see a gray fox. Cool! 

The spring itself is easy to find; a faint trail (made by hikers and/or wildlife) leads most of the way there. Water seeps from the ground and trickles into a little pool, then down into a thick patch of rushes. I take notes and videos, then sit and let my feet air out. While I sit, Northern Flickers, Chipping Sparrows, Bushtits, Mourning Doves, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and a Scrub Jay visit the spring. I’m shocked to see a Lawrence’s Goldfinch come in for a drink. There are other species, too, flitting around in the willows and nearby trees, but I can’t ID them. This is a birding hot spot!

Yellow Jacket Spring

I top off my water for the 14 miles to Walker Pass, then reluctantly stand up and walk back to the trail. As I near the campsite where I started this side trip, I see bear tracks. Bear tracks! The first hint of bear I’ve seen on this trip. The trail continues through live oak-pine forest. I don’t know the name of this pine. It has single needles rather than clusters. Single leaf pinyon? 

Near mile 642, the view suddenly opens. I see snowy peaks on the horizon. Am I finally looking at the Sierra? I get an even better view three miles later after the trail joins a dirt road. The road follows the ridge through an old burn where dense shrubs line the way. Thunderheads build to the north. Puffy clouds build overhead. After a few miles, the trail leaves the road. I stop for a quick lunch break, then continue on into the heat of the day. This is the first time since Tehachapi that I haven’t stopped for a long afternoon break. I’m meeting Dad and Uncle Pete at Walker Pass and I don’t want to arrive late in the day, so I keep walking. 

The trail drops onto the north side of the ridge, out of the old burn. A spectacular view of clouds and mountains opens. I can see across to the mountain range on the far side of Walker Pass and beyond. Despite many dead pines, this is a truly gorgeous stretch of trail; unfortunately I’m not enjoying it as much as I should. I’m running on way too little sleep. I should have had a nap by now. My feet hurt. I’m hungry. Even though I have “enough” water, I don’t really have enough water. I gulp warm water out of my Platypus bladder and still feel deeply thirsty. 

A gorgeous stretch of trail.

I send an update via satellite letting Dad and Pete know my best guess for an ETA is 3:00-3:30. Afterward, I realize how ridiculous that is. That’s why I’m so tired: I’m trying to finish 20 miles by 3pm. I’ve never done that before, and I probably shouldn’t; it’s too much, especially in this heat. No wonder my feet hurt. No wonder I can hardly stay awake. I need to stop and rest, but there’s no shade. The angle of the sun and the angle of the trail create a shadowless corridor through which I trudge, until finally the sun goes behind a cloud and a little rock outcropping appears beneath a pine. I fall asleep in the dirt, halfway into the trail. 

I wake in a thunderstorm. Whoa. When did this happen? Quick as I can, I pack up and start walking. Thunder follows me down the mountain and overtakes me. Thunder booms from all directions. I’m a little nervous, but so far I haven’t seen any lightening. So far there’s no rain. 

Thunderstorm in progress.

At the fork that leads to Walker Pass Campground, I quickly sign the trail register, then keep moving and hike to where the trail crosses Highway 178. Dad and Pete are there. They’ve brought me a fresh salad and cold water, which I immediately devour. 

Empty trail magic ice chest.

The thunderstorm passes. We decide to go down the hill to spend the night in Lake Isabella, 35 miles away. Dad’s foot is better; he’s going to hike with me from Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows, where he left his car. Uncle Pete drives us to a motel, then heads for home. He’s been a fantastic trail angel. Thank you, Pete!

The motel is old and funky but clean. The swamp cooler keeps my room at a reasonable temperature. I take a shower, eat, and organize my resupply. It’s 50 miles to Kennedy Meadows, probably a little over two days by the time we get a ride back to the trail. For once, I definitely have too much food. I have 3-4 extra breakfasts, 1 extra lunch, at least 1 extra dinner, and an abundance of bars. I can finally eat as much as I want and not run out, a huge relief after going hungry since Tehachapi. 

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2 thoughts on “Day 48: Walker Pass

  1. You should turn these into an ebook when done! It’s really great than you have gotten back to health and are in this journey!

    Like

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