Wednesday, February 25, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 21: Thirst

DAY 21
MAY 15th, Thursday
342ish to Guffy Campground

We both woke up extremely well-rested— which was odd, considering that we’d slept right next to an interstate. Even though it was only 7:00am, the sun already seemed impossibly high in the sky, a reminder that we were hastening toward the solstice. We laid in our tent for a moment, listening to a truck weigh station about a hundred yards away yelling at the semis that they were too heavily loaded. Then we rolled out of the tent and began packing up.

That’s when we saw a set of railroad tracks. About twenty yards from our tent. That explained the noise last night— we had been camped literally right next to an active railway! Still, we had both slept great, and couldn’t complain.

Our packs were weighed down to the point of exhaustion, due to a huge stretch without water that had begun at the McDonald’s and would end at Guffy Campground, over 22 miles away. And the sun was already promising a sweltering day.

Fortunately for us, we found a water cache a couple miles from our campsite. As usual, a group of hikers was gathered around, filling up. The water was limited, so we only topped off our bottles, then continued.

Immediately afterward, we hit an uphill climb. It wasn’t necessarily that steep (although it felt so at the time), but it felt never-ending, taking us up into the mountains through a merciless shadeless patch. We had a lovely view of the railroad tracks and massive boulders rising up next to us, but Zach and I struggled through it, and began sweating like hogs. We took our water in tiny sips, but our mouths felt parched all the time. At last we reached a point where the trail left the barren rocks and cut along the side of the mountains through scrubby desert trees.

Here, in the dappled shade, we stopped to take a break. I sucked on the Camelbak and realized it was dry. We took stock of our water.

Two liters. And we were still ten difficult, dry miles from the nearest water source.

“Oh boy,” I muttered.

Our only option was to sit down and try to wait for the heat of the day to pass, which would mean several hours of idle time. I found cell phone reception and called my mom. I made the mistake of telling her that we were nearly out of water, and she was worried that we’d die of dehydration like the kid we’d heard about on the first day. I tried to reassure her, but my mouth was so dry that talking was painful.

After about an hour, another hiker caught up to us. His name was Neil, and we’d met him a few different places along the way. With tousled brown hair, a perpetual smile, and the brightest twinkling eyes I’ve ever seen, he seemed in a constant state of cheerfulness and goodwill. He was dripping with sweat, glistening and grinning. He stopped to chat with us, and naturally asked us about water.

We told him we only had two liters, and he gasped. “For both of you?!”


He paused only a split second. “Here, I can give you a liter. But promise me that you’ll wait for the heat of the day to pass before you go on. Don’t want you guys getting helicoptered out of here!”

We thanked him profusely and dumped one of his water bottles into ours. He wished us luck and continued on.

After a little while, we realized that the Camelbak wasn’t dry— it just had a kink in the hose. It didn’t have much in it, about half a liter, but we were feeling more confident now and the heat of the day had passed. Armed with three and a half liters, we continued on.

We were both pretty hungry, but all we could eat was candy bars because all our food required water to eat. I knew that if we ever hiked in the desert again, we would pack ourselves more snacks that didn’t require rehydration, no matter how heavy they were!

The sun was dipping toward the mountaintops as we raced along, trying to avoid night-hiking as much as possible. There was nowhere to camp even if we had wanted to: the trail cut through vast steep slopes of scree. 

(“Scree” is a word that means “a mass of small loose stones that form or cover a slope on a mountain.” However, the word also sounds like, “kree,” which is what the Goa’uld always yell at the Jaffa in Stargate: SG-1, one of my favorite shows. By this point, every time I saw a scree field, I’d exclaim, “Jaffa, scree!” in Apophis’s voice, and giggle. If you are a Stargate fan as well, you may start muttering “Jaffa, scree!” to yourself every time I talk about scree fields hereafter. It was one of those little inside jokes with myself that kept me sane on the hard days.)

The sun was set, and we walked in twilight for a while before switching on our headlamps. The scree fields gave way to pine trees. There were a couple places to camp, but now we were determined to get to the water, because, after eating our last two Snickers bars, we had almost no food left that we could eat without water. My legs felt like jello but I forced myself to keep going. Zach and I were both breathless, exhausted, and silently grumpy.

I glanced down and, in the circle of light from my headlamp, saw a scorpion. Excited, I yelled at Zach to stop, and he rushed over to see it with me. We were both in awe of this little creature that we’d never seen before. It made me happy that, even though we were exhausted, we could still appreciate the little things.

We passed a trail junction that signaled to us we were almost to Guffy Campground, a backcountry site where we could camp for free. The trail turned murderously steep, but we slogged on determinedly. I’ve always been bad at pushing my body to do things it doesn’t want to do, but I managed. In my memory that last bit of trail is a dark blur.

Then, just like that, we were at the campground. I began setting up our tent and pads while Zach searched for water. He searched far and wide but turned up nothing. We did an inventory and saw that we still had a liter left. It was good enough. We crawled into our tent, used some of our precious water to soak our cold oatmeal, then ate it like we’d never eaten before. Still armed with half a liter for nighttime hydration, we fell into a deep sleep. We’d find the water tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. I've experienced thirst on kayaking trips in over 100 deg temps but never to this extreme that you and Zach experienced. I've read that they-hiking is as much mental toughness as much as physical fitness, but ya gotta have the liquid elixir H2O!