Day 46: (21.3 miles)
mile 652 (+2) – 671.3
Got up early to try for a morning hitch to Walker Pass…after coffee at the coffee shop of course, and maybe work on a patron or two for a ride. We stand on the shoulder of the on ramp of Hwy 178, just before the “Pedestrians Prohibited” sign and stick out our thumbs. No takers for about 20 minutes… we must be losing our touch. But wait for it…a truck pulls over and it’s one of the guys (Bob) from the Barber shop, a Forest Service Ranger.
He’s going to his moms in Onyx and can give us a ride as far as there. He tells us we’ll have no problem getting a ride from there to Walker Pass, and he’s right. No sooner does he drop us off and we start to hitch, a small sedan pulls up and asks if we are hiking the PCT and need a ride. Why of course we are, and yes we do.
John Michael a retired road engineer and hiker has us load up. He’s another interesting fellow. He was a homesteader in Alaska till he got sick of being poor and part of the food chain so he decided to go back to college and became an engineer who designed and built highways all over California and Nevada. He reckons though he traded his “piece of mind for financial security”. He had hiked sections of the PCT over the years and seemed like he had been quite the adventurer. He dropped us at the Walker campground where we watered up at a cache left there and re-hiked the 2 miles up to Hwy 178 where the PCT crosses, and there is a monument. There we briefly met Kimchee who was going into Lake Isabella to meet her parents. We hear her parents provided some awesome trail magic when they dropped her off the next day. Up we hiked…yet again fully stocked. Legs are feeling good for the most part and it’s not too hot yet as it’s just past 9am and there is a slight breeze. We do the first 4 miles or so climbing 1600 ft. and have an awesome view of the Owens Valley below. Ahead we can see small glimpses of the daunting Sierra mountains with snow capping the tallest peaks. We take a break after 7 miles, check for phone signal. Yes. Finally, signal on the trail…during a break. I check our email and it looks like our tent (Big Agnes Angel Springs UL2) has been shipped and should meet us at the Kennedy Meadows General Store. I talked Paul into a tent for the Sierras…and beyond (weather is unpredictable, with a forecast of rain/snow about the time we arrive near Mt. Whitney). We will still mostly cowboy camp, but being wet AND cold is really no fun in the middle of nowhere with restrictions on building fires. With phone signal I call my friend Sandy who had recently been in a car accident to see how she’s fairing (broken wrist and ankle) and leave a message. Somewhere out there is Mt. Whitney all 14,500 ft. We hope to summit in about a week. We mention this to each other and decide not to think about it , we have too many miles ahead. The trail wrapped around deep rocky canyons with Pinos pine trees growing on the higher elevation slopes. The air temperature was soaring into the high 80’s and we began thinking about that next water source. Joshua Tree Spring was 13 miles from our starting point and was a natural spring that had tested positive for uranium. We had worried about this days ago when we ran into Island Boy who worked for the local water company. He told us it was true, but not to worry as it was a very low reading, parts per billion, and a one time exposure would not be a problem. We felt better, but had decided only to take what we absolutely needed to get to fresher water. We arrived at Joshua Tree Springs and met Angry a young hiker drinking gobs of water. He said he wasn’t afraid, and the water tasted good to him. We took a liter each, lunched and had a short siesta. My darn shin is starting to bother me again and I worried this could become a bigger problem. Just after the spring we reach another milestone… 1/4 of the way done.
Wow! We continue hiking into the late afternoon as the trail climbs and then descends down to our next water source and hopefully a place to camp.
Thank God as my shin is killing me and my soles hurt as well. Angry had left us about forty five minutes earlier and we saw his foot prints in the soft trail dirt. Paul was leading the way when he stops abruptly and says “we have a problem”! He explains or should I say shows me the large BEAR tracks on the trail. ” Are they fresh” ? I ask.
He explains that Angry has left good tracks and the prints are on top of his… meaning the bear is between us and Angry. We both conclude that the prints are big and have a solid outline. This means the bear is Big, and heavy. It’s about an hour before dark and a mile to water. Being hunters we know animals go to water right before dark and it looks like this one is too. We shift into high alert and walk with eyes forward and clank our hiking poles together saying “hey bear” loudly. Normally, I say we would have walked the other direction, but we need water and Canada is straight ahead less than 2000 miles away! When we reach the water source it’s a small spring tucked up into small ravine, it’s dark and we are wearing head lamps. Paul gathers the water and filters it as quick as possible while I talk loudly about nothing just trying to make noise. It seemed like a long time and I thought the bear would show up any second. Finally we skinned out of there and were back on the dark trail. We spy a perfect campsite only a few hundred yards away…hmmm. We are tired and consider it briefly but quickly decide, No Way, we are not going to sleep anywhere near this place. Onward!! We walked an additional 1.5 miles and were now in another pickle. The only place to camp was in the trail. We were traversing a large canyon and the terrain sloped straight up and straight down. No flat areas, so down we went, signal file. Tired, hungry, and shin sore as hell we made camp for the night hoping we had walked far enough from the bear. Whew!!!