Day 42: (32.85 miles, 12 of which we hadn’t planned)
mile 602 – 630.85 + 2 of road walk
The fact that the wind changed direction and our tarp blew down on us early this morning should have been our first clue we were in for another one of our unintended adventures. The second clue was the fact I was thinking that its been awhile since we’ve had a mishap or done something stupid…finally we’ve got our crap together. The third and final “clue” or rather nail in the proverbial coffin was Paul talking about what happened to the awful desert portion that everyone laments about. Did we “miss” it because we left so early and bypassed the uber heat? We were so lucky we thought, until…bum, bum, bum…we weren’t.
We had studied the mileage and the water report. 4 liters at Landers fire camp should be good to make it to Willow Spring (and the four day earlier reported 22 gallon cache). The plan from Willow Spring was then to drink a liter and cook dinner, then hike the evening till 9 or 10pm and get as close to Bird Spring road where Island Boy (a SOBO hiker we met just after Landers) had told us the cache had just been restocked. Good solid plan…unless a wheel falls off. Bum. Bum. Bum…Lugnut #1: When we round the corner of our climb out of Landers (mile 610.5) we spy what looks like desert.
Good thing we’re ahead of the “heat”. It’s only supposed to get up to 85, 90 tops. We were well hydrated as we had each consumed nearly 2 liters at Landers, no worries. Lugnut #2: We hit Kelso Valley road (mile 616).
Cache is empty but for half a liter. No biggie, we’re good and hadn’t planned on it. However if there had been water there we would have taken 2 liters and bypassed Willow Spring. It is now, however super hot with no shade to speak of. We sit out an hour and eat lunch. 4 miles plus another 1.9 of the Willow Spring alternate…easy peasy. Lugnut #3: 4 miles uphill in soft sand when it’s 85 degrees is NOT easy peasy. We drink water freely and embrace the breeze that cools our sweat soaked bodies.
Lugnut #4: The Willow Spring alternate is described as as an “easy walk” down a “gentle sloping gully with a few moderate boulder scrambles. It starts out easy, at least we are in the shade now, and then turns into near paralyzing terror for me who is NOT fond of heights.
Dilemma. Walk back up to the alternate turn off nearly 3/4 miles up…in soft sand, or breathe my way through the anxiety of clambering down, for all practical purposes, a dry waterfall with 20-30′ drops. Breathe and clamber it is…crap. This water better be worth it! We get to the bottom and to Willow Springs. Lugnut #5: WTF?! Where’s the cache? Spigot is off. Trough and cistern dry as a bone. Damnit. We kick ourselves cause we knew we should have carried more water. There’s green growy stuff under the fence, so there must be water flowing or seeping somehow but we can’t find it. Maybe we missed the cache. We walk a mile further. Nothing. Time to take stock and make a plan. The sun is setting. It’s cooling off…a bit, at least we’ve got that going for us. Assessment: Paul is COMPLETELY out of water. I still have a little water in my bladder…maybe a cup worth, and half a liter(500ml) combined in two one liter bottles I carry in the side pockets of my pack; two 3oz cans of chicken packed in water; and one PowerBar fruit “slurpy” packet. We now have 12 miles to walk, up hill at both ends and in what we are soon to find out, will be soft sand/gravel. If you want to know what it feels like, go to your local quarry with a 25lb pack on and walk up the largest (1/4-1/2 inch diameter) pile of gravel they have for 8 hours. That should just about do it. Oh wait, first you have to walk on a treadmill with the same pack for 8 hours as well. It’s 6pm and we walk up the dirt road from Willow Spring for 2.3 miles staying in the shade as best we can till we reach where the PCT crosses the SC103 road. Here we find the best placed picnic table ever. We dropped our packs, looked around to see if any water may have been stashed nearby…nope. Had a snack, changed our socks, took a sip of fruit slurpy for energy and thus began the trudge. It was like one of those Thanksgiving swim workouts of 100x100s where there’s no way out of the set so you turn your brain and body on auto pilot and tell yourself to just get through it… there’s a reward at the end. This time it’s water. There are times when we step over the ATV barricades where ATV roads cross the PCT and lay inside the barricades with our feet up and contemplate just going to sleep. We’re exhausted both physically and mentally…going on emotionally as well. We’ve been up since 0530, it’s going on 10pm and we still have 8 miles to go.
It’s a full moon and for most of the night we walk without our headlamps on and cast moon shadows. Sometimes it’s downright spooky, but mostly surreal. With 2 more miles to go we discuss our further contingency plan if the cache at Bird Spring road is dry as well. Not many options. The Delorme is looking like our best investment yet, but we’re just thirsty and no where near approaching a life or death situation…yet. Eureka! Gallons upon gallons of life sustaining water. The cache is flush…and it’s 2am. From behind a tree we hear, “Paul is that you?”… It’s Eng! He did that whole section in the heat of the day…with his umbrella. We eat and have no problems sleeping. God is good and so were all those coaches that pushed us to our limits and beyond in our younger years. Without faith, our training and experience as EMTs and those tests of our mettle, this snafu could of had a different outcome. Sweet dreams!