May 18th, Sunday
394.3 to 411ish
It had been a lousy night’s sleep, and I woke up exhausted. Still, we found that we hadn’t strayed off-trail during the night, and had in fact camped at the junction of Burkhart Trail and the PCT. We moved in slow motion that morning. I took care of my dust-encrusted feet for once, washing them and drying them the way that backpacking books tell you to do twice a day, minimum. It had been a few days for me.
Finally, we got started. I felt like I was slogging from mile one. I was so tired! Zach was very patient with me, allowing lots of slow hiking and breaks. We hiked through the pine woods for a while, stopping for water every once in a while, following a nice sandy trail. After a couple hours we began a long zigzagging climb through the pines. When we neared the top, we stopped (I almost collapsed in exhaustion), and exchanged tiny sips of water. There was water in a mile or two, but we were down to one liter.
Another hiker slogged up next to us and fairly collapsed on a nearby log. He was middle-aged, thin-faced and very skinny with lean muscular legs. He had several tattoos on his legs, including an Appalachian Trail symbol. He pulled out a pipe and loose-leaf tobacco and began stuffing his pipe.
“All my AT friends who hiked the PCT said it was flat,” he said. He stared down the long ascent. “Well, they’re wrong! This is not flat!”
We had heard that from Appalachian Trail hikers as well, and it’s true— despite going through much smaller mountains and being 500 miles shorter, the AT has more elevation gain than the Pacific Crest. Still, this trail was not exactly what you’d call “flat.” And being from the Midwest, it was not anything I’d remotely categorize as such.
The guy introduced himself as Otto. He was gruff, but kind. He said he had been hiking on and off with a friend, who we now saw plowing up the switchbacks— named Mad Hatter. Otto gave us half a liter of water to help us get through.
(Months later, we ran into Mad Hatter and asked him what had happened to Otto. He shook his head sadly and told us that Otto’s lungs couldn’t take the elevation of the Sierra Nevada. He had to leave the trail at the 700-mile mark.)
From there, we left the alpine woods behind and returned to a brush desert. We saw a horned toad (a lizard that looks like a very spiky frog) and several black lizards that day. We had enough water to get to the next source: a boy scout camp complete with a cabin (that was locked) and an outhouse. We passed the 400-mile mark! It seemed that every hundred miles was zipping by faster and faster.
Several people were lounging on the cabin porch, out of the midday sun. Pesky and Godzilla were there, as well as half a dozen others.
“Good luck with the water,” Pesky said, nodding to a pump.
Unsure what he meant, I went to the pump and raised the handle. Water gushed into the bottle. When I held up the bottle to look, it was a pale yellowish-greenish color.
“Huh,” I said, grimacing. I screwed the Sawyer filter onto it and began filtering. At the end of the furious squeezing, the filtered water was still the same color.
Zach and I both stared at it, wondering if our filter was broken. “It’s still green,” I said.
“Seems yellow to me!” Pesky chimed in. “But yes, indeed.”
I looked around and saw everyone drinking water the color of Mountain Dew and grimaced. Whatever making the water that color was smaller than 0.1 microns! I closed my eyes and took a swig.
Surprisingly, it tasted just fine. A little warm, but again, not any worse than some tap water I’ve had (and definitely better than the “blood-water” we’d had a couple days before). I decided it was good enough to do sock laundry, and I walked over to a fallen log to wash our socks. The wind kept blowing them off the log where I was trying to dry them. Meanwhile, Zach found a cubbyhole out of the wind on the side of the cabin and attempted to cook us lunch.
While we were doing that, a group of Japanese people (from the same group we’d seen on Mount Baden-Powell) walked up. We assured them that the water was okay to drink. While some of them pumped water, one of the men walked up to me, ignoring the other (male) thru-hikers.
“Would you like a bar?” he asked in a thick accent. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying, so he just pulled a couple of Nature Valley bars out of his pack and held them out to me.
“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to restrain myself from snatching them and gobbling them on the spot.
He nodded emphatically. “Tomorrow, I go back to LA,” he said. “And you go to Canada.”
I laughed and gratefully took the bars. When the hikers had moved on, all the other PCT hikers razzed me about using my feminine wiles to obtain food. When I handed one of the bars to Zachary, I said, “After all, this is why you married me.” We had delicious shepherd’s pie for lunch, with energy bars for dessert.
From that point, we hiked into a large burn area. There were severe fire restrictions at this point. I worried about our (apparently) illegal alcohol stove, but didn’t know what else to do.
We were still hiking in a burn area near the end of the day, with little opportunity for camping. Still, there was no wind, so we weren’t too afraid of the dead trees. As we climbed a shoulder of a mountain, we found a nice flat spot with a view toward the mountains opposite. We debated for a while… after all, we were planning to walk an hour more! In the end, our desire for an assured good camping spot won out, and we set up. We made another meal, eating soup. I felt paranoid about catching things on fire. I looked across at the mountains and was afraid to see what I thought was smoke hovering in a blanket below the peaks. But then I realized it wasn’t smoke, but clouds. We were much higher up than I thought.