16.6 miles (652.1 to 668.7)
Outside my motel room, a mockingbird is going through his entire repertoire. I pack up my things. Dad and I leave the motel around 8am and walk a short distance to the Highway 178 on-ramp. There isn’t much traffic. This may be a difficult hitch. I hold up a piece of paper that says “PCT” in bold letters. Few cars drive by. But after only 12 minutes, a white pickup pulls over. Matt, a local firefighter, gives us a ride all the way to Walker Pass even though he’s only going five miles up the road. Thank you, Matt!
North of Walker Pass, the trail climbs immediately. We switchback up, then traverse the steep side of the mountain where there are long views out to the surrounding hills. Four miles in, we stop for a break at a campsite. I take off my shoes and lie down and immediately fall asleep. I sleep so hard that waking is a struggle. When I’m finally fully awake again, it’s almost noon. Four miles by noon. I guess sleep deprivation, ongoing mild dehydration, and a desert heat wave are catching up to me. This is going to be a tough day.
The next stretch is uphill through intermittent shade. The views are gorgeous. I stop to rest again, then keep going. Eventually I have to take down my umbrella because the wind is too strong.
We hike over the ridge and down the other side, and after a few miles I have to break yet again. Another break. I feel like I’m breaking. My right foot hurts. My body wants more sleep. We sit on the trail itself in the shade of a few live oaks. We eat snacks. I change into dry socks. Then it’s more downhill to a nice little creek, then another big climb. On a switchback far ahead and high above, I can see two hikers. They’re probably heading for the same creek-side campsite we are.
At last we reach the top of the ridge and start down the other side, our final descent of the day. The trail takes the longest route possible down to Spanish Needle Creek. There’s a nice view of rocky peaks at the head of the canyon.
Finally we reach the campsite. And…there are a lot of people here. Where did they all come from? I’ve hardly seen anyone for weeks, and now I’m in a pile of tents, and the place smells like a music festival. I pitch my tent in a little spot between some logs on the far side of the trail. Dad pitches beside the trail. I can’t get over how many people are here. Where have they been for the last few weeks? This is crazy. I don’t want to be part of a hiker traffic jam.
I go about my nightly routine. My right foot isn’t doing well. Blisters are forming on the outside heel at the rate of one per day. I cut open another one tonight. Tomorrow, there will be another. I went 500 miles with no blisters on that foot, and now blisters have become a never-ending problem to which I can’t find a solution. I hope I can get to Kennedy Meadows without doing any lasting damage.