It’s true, believe it or not — it really does get hot in the desert. OK, so that surprises nobody…and, in fact, it hasn’t even been that hot: today was the first day it got to be over 80° out there. But take your typical 87° day, and now add a few things:
- Put yourself out in it all day long;
- Keep the blazing sun on you, with almost no shade anywhere;
- Walk the entire time — oh, say, 14–16 miles over the course of the day;
- Do it while wearing a 40-pound backpack.
Turns out that if you do all this, 87° feels more like really, really hot. Most of the days so far have been in the 60s and low 70s, but we descended today — from 6,000 feet of elevation down to under 4,000 feet — and the difference is amazing. We hiked all morning sweating constantly. Around lunchtime, we finally found a little bit of shade in the crook of a dirt fire road, on the side of a hill. And then, all afternoon long, we just baked in it, sweltering as we soldiered on.
And I know this isn’t even the most intense it’s going to get: I’ve heard stories of it hitting 105° in the lower desert, farther along the trail. We carry scads and scads of water with us (more on that later), we’re about as ventilated as humans possibly can be, we take breaks often and find shade whenever we can, and we’re careful with our bodies. Still, there’s just no way around it: if you’re at point A and want to get to point B, and points A and B are both in the middle of the California desert and fifteen miles apart, well, you’re going to end up hiking fifteen miles through the desert to get from point A to point B, no matter how you slice it.
It’s hot and difficult hiking, but it’s a real part of the PCT, and we’re taking it in stride as best we possibly can. It helps that we’re running into still more people — tonight we ran into Stump and Sarge again, and met Dirt, Goat, Lucky, Beaker, Mountain Goat and Klutz — and everybody’s in the same boat. We all drink tons of water, we all are careful and plan our steps, and we all look out for each other.
And, frankly, the rewards are worth it. After soldiering nearly 16 miles through the desert today, tonight we’re camped on a rise overlooking a truly spectacular valley below. There’s a small tent city here — probably seven tents in our group, and another three over a nearby hill — and we all chat a bit as we make our dinners, relax after a long day, and climb into bed. It makes for another happy conclusion to a long day.