Tuesday, March 17, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 35: The Desperate Thirst Begins

DAY 35
May 29th, Thursday
596.5 to 616ish

Mile 600!
After packing up our tent at Hamp Williams Pass that morning, we returned to the trail and started a steep climb through the open pine woods and past little meadows. We didn’t see any more cows for a while, but their pies were everywhere! Zach and I decided that we needed to put a public service announcement in the PCTA journal that cows needed to be instructed in the Leave No Trace principles, starting with properly disposing of their waste in a hole 6-8 inches deep at least 100 paces from the trail and water sources.

We also saw a beautiful patterned snake— not a rattler, but we gave it a wide berth anyway.

As usual, the trail through the woods eventually kicked us out into the desert again. We got a little reprieve when we took a detour down a dusty road, back into a grove of trees, to one of the few water sources in this area: a piped spring that gushed into a trough next to a meadow. Since a lot of our water sources lately had been trickles, this one was a beautiful sight. There were several hikers gathered around, filtering water, airing out their feet, taking lunch breaks, and chatting.

In this section of trail, where the water sources were few and far between, most hikers recommended “cameling it”— drinking huge amounts while at the source, then carrying as little as possible in the dry stretches in between. This never worked for me. Whenever I drank a liter in one sitting, I had to pee five minutes later, and I felt like all the water was flushed out of my system. There wasn’t a private place near this water source, so I didn’t drink as much as I should have. And so the cycle of dehydration began.

In the meantime, there was plenty of conversation to listen to. Pesky was there, although I didn’t recognize him since he had shaved his silver beard (although he still wore a bright orange shirt). He was talking to a British guy— the same guy who had fixed his backpack with flip-flops at Ziggy and the Bear’s. The British guy was saying that his pack weighed about 60 pounds.

“Yeesh!” Pesky said. “What are you doing, packing out your poop?”

The British guy replied dryly, “Ah yes, I heard that Brits weren’t allowed to shit on American soil, so I’m packing it all out to Canada.”

It was unreasonably funny.

With every bottle full of water, we returned to the sparse, desert-like groves of pine. Our report said the next several sources of water were all caches, and it’s not wise to rely on caches. We decided to get to the smaller cache tonight, see if there was any water, and figure out our plan of attack accordingly.

We hiked for a while through another burned forest. The scraggly, scorched trees were black and white, but the ground was a carpet of feathery gray-blue flowers, interspersed with little yellow blossoms. And then we turned a corner around a mountain, and saw that the landscape ahead was a desert of deserts: wide, sprawling hills with only barren scraps of scrub on them, with mountains in the distance that appeared to be massive piles of sand dumped over craggy rocks. The sky was large and the land was large and it all looked dry and overbearing, a total wasteland.

Zach and I found the cache: a group of about twenty gallons of water, all dry but one, which was about half full. Zach suggested we take some, but I said that no, we should leave it for someone who really needs it. We hiked on, winding along the barren hills. The sun was setting, painting the whole landscape in deep gold.

Unexpectedly, we came across another cache, with a lawn chair. It had one tiny box of orange juice in a cooler of melted ice. We checked the trail register next to it, and gathered from the appreciative remarks from hikers earlier in the day, that the cooler had been full just a couple hours ago. We must be pacing a huge group.

We sat for a while, feeling anxious about water. There were a couple gallons next to the cooler, so we topped off our bottles before moving on. 

In a few minutes, we found a flat spot on a little knoll along the trail, shielded by low bushes. We cleared some prickly sticks away and set up our tent. Zach made chili, because it required half as much water as our other meals— but it was a particularly spicy batch, so we ended up drinking a lot of water with it.

I took stock of our water, and we only had a couple liters. It seemed like a decent amount at the time, but we had about four miles to go tomorrow to reach the next water, and that was via a complicated detour. I felt really anxious. As if in sympathy, my mouth felt dry and my body seemed shriveled and parched, despite having just drunk a cup of water.

We laid down next to each other, and I stared at the sky above, not quite dark. My mouth felt horrible and dry, but I didn’t want to use any of our precious water. I drifted off into a dry, uneasy sleep. In my dreams, I alternated between dying of dehydration, and drowning in a flood. When I woke up in the night, I believed my dream that we had no water left, and so I never quenched my thirst all night long, despite the water bottle sitting right next to my head.



  1. Did you and Zach make the rock/brush 600 mile sign and the others before it?

    1. We'd find them along the trail... sometimes in multiple places. It was always fun to see them!