Day 52: Beating the Heat

Ninety-five degrees is not what you want to see on the thermometer when you’re out here, pretty much any time at all. It’s especially not what you want to see when you have to hike, and doubly so if you have to climb. Today was the first day we made a pretty major modification to our plans just because of the heat. We’re in the middle of a pretty intense heat wave, and just about everybody on the trail has been affected in one way or another.

This morning, we hit the trail by 6:15 AM, which meant the climb we had first thing wasn’t too bad. We were up to the top just about the time it started to get seriously hot (which is around 8:00 or 8:30 AM), and walking on the flats or downhill is hugely better than having to go up. Even so, it got so hot today that we were pretty miserable even going downhill, and we were incredibly glad to make it to the campground that sat about twelve miles into today’s hike.

Along the way, we met quite a character. We were genuinely nervous upon our first encounter, because we heard him before we could see him — someone up ahead on the trail yelling fairly incoherently at the top of his lungs. I’m vastly more worried about the dangers posed by other human beings out here than those posed by bears or other wildlife, and we were kind of in the middle of nowhere. We approached cautiously, worried about what we’d find.

The person who turned around to greet us was a fifty-ish man hiking slowly: large boots, jeans (and nobody hikes in jeans), no shirt, wild grey hair, and a canvas pack that looked about forty years old. (He was also missing most of his teeth.) Fortunately, about the worst thing he wanted to do to us is ask us if we were Christians (um, absolutely, you bet), give us new trail names of “tough cookie” — we found out later that he gave everybody that same new trail name — and remind us that the Rapture was coming soon and that we should get ready. Hmmm. OK. I definitely expect this kind of thing in San Francisco, but out here on the PCT it is, blissfully, slightly more unusual. He clearly was harmless, although more than a little bit startling.

When we got to the campground at about 12:30, we’d already done twelve and a half miles — and it was just getting even hotter. More importantly, the elevation profile showed that immediately afterwards, we were set to climb about 2,500 feet in about six miles. That’s a pretty serious climb that’d push us in any weather, and, in this heat, there was just no way we were going to push on. So we decided to take a long midday siesta there instead, and decide later on whether to hike further or just stay at the campground for the evening.

It turned out to be not only a wise choice, but a very popular choice: as time went by, more and more hikers poured into the campground, either stopping for the day entirely or simply pausing until it cooled down. After another hour or so, our friends Dilly, Dally, Sarge, and Stump all showed up, too. (They were already planning to stay there for the night, as they’re taking this segment really slow.) We ate lunch with them, delving into the contents of our care package from our friends Sara and Dan with gusto: I had two different kinds of cheese, plus some delicious chorizo, on top of water crackers, plus hummus — it was wonderful. Much credit again to the two of them for coming up with great stuff to eat even without refrigeration.

An actual siesta — in other words, a nap — took up much of the rest of the afternoon. We looked ahead, and decided to actually roll out of the campground about 5:30: there was a spring and campsites about three miles ahead that would take us more than a third of the way up the intense climb, meaning we’d have less crazy ascent tomorrow morning. Even though we’d waited until 5:30, though, it was still incredibly hot, with temperatures in the upper 80s, and I was dripping with sweat after just a half-mile or so. We soldiered on, and actually made great time to the spring.

Along the way, too, I can tell that the mountains are rapidly beginning to look like the Sierra, and that’s really exciting to me. It’s kind of hard to explain…it’s something about the trees (more pine, more pine needles everywhere, less prickly brush), something about the rocks (more outcroppings and bare rock, less sand), and something I can’t quite put my finger on but that reminds me very much of being up in the High Sierra. I’m really looking forward to being up in them in just a couple more days!

We’re camped at the spring this evening, and I’m very glad we decided to continue. Being able to split an ascent like this over two days helps a lot, and camping up here is a whole lot more peaceful — and beautiful — than camping at the hot, dusty campground we came from. It’s also an interesting place to camp, with ruins of some kind of big building right here; the camp is filled with rusted old tin cans, buckets, containers, the foundation of some kind of building built on five stories up the hill, and even an old, rusted-out car across from the spring. It makes me wish I knew what went on here…where’s a ranger when you need them?

Tomorrow, we’re off to Kennedy Meadows — to resupply, to start the Sierras, and, most importantly, to celebrate our friend Hedgehog’s birthday!

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