When you hear the word desert, you probably imagine the places Snoopy’s cousin Spike trundled through: almost completely barren, except for the odd Saguaro cactus and a vulture flying overhead.
Today we climbedthe equivalent of four Empire State Buildings — or, put another way, started at Yosemite Valley and went three-quarters of the way up Half Dome. This is unquestionably a desert, for there’s only running water every 15–20 miles or so, but it sure ain’t flat. It’s full of…well, I’d call them something halfway between “really big hills” and “small mountains”, and we just kept climbing, one after the next.
They’re actually quite beautiful: you’re always on one hillside or another, staring off across multiple hills, often seeing where the trail came from or is going to. We’d see little dots of people off in the distance, and sometimes could even recognize them: there was Etch-A-Sketch with her bright teal shirt, or Cara with her fluorescent-pink hat and umbrella with aluminum foil all over the outside. (Boy, can you ever see that coming a mile off!) By the time we came up upon that spot, of course, they’d be gone, but often we’d run into them another hour or two down the trail as they were taking a break. It was both impressive and a lot of fun to be able to see people so far away, and look forward to (maybe!) bumping into them again.
The climbing isn’t as intense as actually climbing up all the flights of stairs in the Empire State Building, of course; it’s much more gradual, although there are definitely some stretches that make you really, really wish you were hiking on flat ground right then. Still, the coolest moment came when we broke through some sort of “magic” altitude at about 5,500 feet, and suddenly the brush and small bushes gave way to full-on pine forest, with beautiful glades and mottled sunlight. (Not that the blaze of the noonday sun isn’t always welcome, but…OK, it definitely isn’t always welcome.)
And so, after hiking through another couple of miles of the pine forest, we came upon the Burnt Rancheria campground at the end of our day. It’s huge and completely empty, except for maybe twenty PCT hikers. Only trouble? The oh-so-glorious hot showers we were looking forward to were not to be had — everything’s locked and shut off for the season. Upside: it means we get to camp for free. Downside: we would gladly pay far more than any reasonable camping fee tonight for a hot shower.
Yet I write this, having just returned from spending an hour around a fellow hiker’s campfire that turned into a small gathering, and I am happy. The camaraderie and chatter at the end of a long day are deeply welcome, and it makes the next day all the sweeter. As I burrow into my sleeping bag (for it’s cold, tonight!), I’m a happy man.
A few notes from the day:
- The Easter Bunny is hiking the PCT! We came across one of those bright pink plastic Easter eggs sitting by the side of the trail. Inside was a note: “I’ll make Canada before you! Love, Easter Bunny”. I have no idea who’s leaving these, but they’re brilliant. We’re on the lookout for more!
- Unexploded Bombs, Ahoy!: Yes, seriously. We came upon a sign in the trail telling us not to stray off of it because there was unexploded military ordnance all around. We followed the trail rather carefully after that.
- Acorn Storage The trees at this campground are pockmarked with hundreds and hundreds of tiny holes. And, in every single one, an acorn, going all the way up. These are some busy squirrels! Anyone know if the squirrels make the holes, or if the trees just come with holes already?