The Hoppy Okapi

Occasional posts about hiking and other stuff

Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows: last days in the desert June 23, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 11:42
Tags: ,

I really wasn’t looking forward to the seven day hike from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows: I thought it was all really hard desert hiking, and it was psyching me out, so i decided to get out of town and hit the trail as soon as possible instead if staying in town and getting more nervous about it.

I got a ride back to the trail from local trail angel Jo Walker on the afternoon of June 6th, and walked ten miles between the roads that lead to Tehachapi. Most of the hike was beautiful, around more wind farms and through cattle pastures. After a less beautiful two mile road walk, I found a mostly flat spot in a rocky wash about two miles from the freeway, and cowboy camped under the stars since it was too windy to set up a tent.
The next day started as so many do – with a big climb out of town into the mountains. Once I reached the top, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a pine forest for most of the day – so mush nicer than the seven days of exposed desert that I had feared. At much lunch spot that day I met Young Geezer, Caesar, Skeeter, and Platypus – except for Platypus, who was quite speedy, I would see the other hikers several times over then next week or so. I hiked about twenty miles that day, camping in a pine grove where I found a flat-enough spot around 7pm – my campsite criteria definitely become more lax the later in the evening I hike!

On June 8th I was reunited with Test, challenger, Green Machine, Skeeter and Caesar at the lunchtime water source (if there’s water an shade, you’ll find hikers there!), and Young Geezer came along just as I was leaving. There was moderate elevation gain that day, but I was feeling really sluggish and slow – the highlight was passing the 600 mile marker along the way; Test and I camped at Landers Campground with Mellow Yellow and some of the other hikers we’d met a few days before, under the bridge near the aqueduct. Despite guidebook warnings about noisy off-roaders using the campground, we had it almost to ourselves, and slept peacefully.

The following day was the quintessential Mohave hiking day: the only on-trail water sources were caches maintained by a trail angel named Mary, ad if those were empty we’d have to hike several miles off the trail for water, so my pack was heavy with five or six liters of water heading out of the water sources that day. I was happy to see that the first cache had water, but since there was no shade I filled up and headed out quickly, narrowly missing Mary as she arrived to replenish the cache a few minutes after I left. The afternoon’s hike was crazy-hard: uphill, hot, exposed, sandy trail with mogul ski course-like bumps, and strong side and head-winds that threatened to blow me over, and a heavy pack because I wasn’t sure if the next cache would have water. Caesar and Skeeter passed me in the afternoon, and we leapfrogged a bit as we took turns resting in the shade of Joshua trees and boulders. We all ended up camping at the second water cache at Bird Spring with Test, Mellow Yellow and Gut Feeling, happy to find it full of water. That was a 22-mile day for me, and I was feeling energized by my ability to face the harsh desert conditions and fight through them.
The next day featured a long raid wall and only a little shade, and most of the water sources were either off-trail, contaminated with cow poop, or both, so I was carrying a heavy pack again, and powered through twenty miles by 3pm, getting to Walker Pass in the early afternoon. There I found trail magic hosted by Okie Girl, Jackalope, and Jackalope’s four year old son Julian Walker, named for the pct town of Julian and Walker Pass. Instead of hiking on that evening, I stayed to enjoy the company (and wonderful food) at the trail magic tent – what a welcome break in the middle of a tough seven day stretch of hiking!

The next day I headed up out of walker pass around nine am, after enjoying a delicious egg and sausage breakfast thanks to okie girl and Jackalope. Julian tried to tell me that it was too hot too hike, since most of the other hikers were using that as an excuse to stay until evening, but I actually enjoyed the climb out of walker pass in the morning sunshine. The afternoon was an entirely different story: I stopped for about an hour around four pm, started hiking again for ten minutes, then decided it was still too hot and found another shady spot to sit in until 6pm, when it was finally a bit cooler. I made seventeen miles that day, and camped near the first trail crossing of Spanish Needle creek, which was barely flowing buy ha a pool deep enough for me to get a couple liters of water from.

The next morning I was facing a four mile climb, so I woke up early and kept moving until the sun came over the ridge and my shade disappeared – j made it almost all the way uphill before that happened, so I was pretty happy with my morning’s hike! I descended from that ridge, then took a two-hour lunch break in the shade of a pine tree after meeting section hikers (and recent MIT grads) Isaac and Tzipporah at a stream around noon, then started a seven mile climb, which took me until about five pm because I needed so many shade breaks – it was definitely hot! I promised myself I could camp in the first campsite I came to after 7pm, and found a flat spot in the crook of the trail that was just big enough for one person to cowboy camp. I was a little worried about bears and other critters, but so tired that I didn’t care too much!

The next morning was an exciting one – I was only twelve miles out from Kennedy Meadows, my next “town” stop. I hurried though the morning, passing by the Kern River and through the last if the dry desert landscape, and made it there around noon. I found GipC girl and Hamburger and the store, and hung out with them until they left that afternoon, at which point I pitched my tent, collected my resupply boxes, and settled in for a relaxing zero day before heading off into the mountains.

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Casa de Luna, Hikertown, and Tehachapi: The Desert Continues June 14, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 12:40
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Thursday, May 31: I was on the trail by 6:25 with one goal in mind: The Andersons’ Casa de Luna, the next trail angel stop on the PCT. I knocked out the first four miles of the day, a 2000-foot climb, fairly quickly, stopping to watch the ravens soaring on the thermals. There was a small water cache under a tree before the next climb, so I stopped there to enjoy half an hour in the shade – it was already quite hot by 10am! I reached the next water cache around 1:15, but it was empty; luckily there was a small stream still running nearby, so I was able to get water there, and relax in a lawn chair in the shade for another two hours before braving the heat for the final seven miles into Casa de Luna – the shadows were lengthening, but the temperature didn’t seem to be getting any cooler. I passed a leaderboard for a 50-mile trail run that apparently takes place on the PCT in that section, and thought about how crazy it would be to actually run 50 miles there, when walking twenty that day was quite enough for me! I got to Casa de Luna around 6:30 in the evening, found a spot in the maze of manzanita trees to set up my tent, and enjoyed a delicious dinner of taco salad – the Andersons’ signature hiker dinner. I took a very restful zero the next day, lounging in the shade in the front yard and doing basically nothing.

I set out again on June 2, around 9:15 am – after breakfast, since there was no way I was going to pass up the chance for pancakes and coffee! The first eight miles of the day flew by, as I avoided stopping for breaks because the flies would swarm any time I stopped. I did take a two hour break at the next (nearly empty, again) water cache with Lunchbox (who had skipped the Andersons to power on to Tehachapi) and the Canadians. We all camped for the day near mile 493, under some pine trees close to one of the desert water sources – a concrete guzzler that was so full of debris that we had to strain the water before filling our bottles. The water tasted more like pine needle tea than water – not all that refreshing, but we take what we can get.

June 3 was a 24-mile day, with the goal of getting to Hikertown near Lancaster, CA.  I was looking forward to passing the 500-mile mark that day, but was not looking forward to anything else about another long, hot day in the desert. I started out the day without my sunglasses, as I couldn’t remember where I’d stashed them the night before (in the compartment where my sleeping bag goes – a very odd choice), and then I tripped over a rock a few miles into the hike and landed on my face, coming away with a swollen lip, bloody nose, and black eye. Passing 500 miles was definitely the highlight of the day – there were three separate markers, and at the last one we took pictures, drank some rum that Lunchbox had brought for the occasion, and played “I will Walk 500 miles” to celebrate. After that it was more slogging along, trying to tolerate the flies during shade breaks, and trying to make the miles for the day. We chatted with some Sierra Club dayhikers at a campground about five miles from Hikertown, and then wound our way up and down an endless set of low ridges before finally finishing for the day around 6:30. Hikertown is kind of like a Hollywood set version of an Old West town, and Test and I shared one of the train cars-turned-cabins whose facade was decorated as the City Hall. We also indulged in dinner there, and for $10 each had a salad, pot roast, garlic bread, corn on the cob and strawberry shortcake – so much tastier than eating the food we packed in, even though it meant we’d be carrying more food than we needed the rest of the way to Tehachapi.

I was sooooo tired from the 24 miles into Hikertown, but the next day was a long walk along the Los Angeles aqueduct, a section notorious on the PCT for its lack of shade, hot temperature, and high wind. To avoid the heat as much as possible, Test, Lunchbox and I hiked out at 4:30 in the morning – surprisingly, waking up at 3:30 wasn’t as painful as I expected, and it was kind of fun to be hiking before sunrise. The uncovered section of the aqueduct was quite pretty to hike beside, but after a few miles we were just walking on a sandy road along a concrete cover, through an under-construction wind farm, moving back and forth from the road to the concrete as we got tired of one surface or the other. We did end up hiking 17 miles by noon that day, and then spent the next five hours resting under a bridge with about fifteen other hikers. Every half hour or so a group of hikers would have to move from one side of the group to the other, chasing the shade as the sun moved across the sky. Twice I was run over by some tumbleweed, as the wind picked up and blew debris under the bridge. We set off again around 5pm, and by then the wind had picked up considerably – we hiked about 3 miles in the first hour with a tailwind, but then it took about two hours to make the next three to the Taylorhorse Canyon campground. At one point my sunglasses were blown off of my head, and I sat down to avoid the wind after chasing them down, only to realize that the wind was just blowing up dirt which then covered my face, even with my back turned – not actually relaxing at all. I set up my tent at the campground because there were a few raindrops and some threatening clouds, but the strong winds blew away the weather – and almost blew away my tent! By morning only one guy-line was still staked to the ground, and I was just glad that my tent stakes hadn’t blown away.

Having a collapsed tent was good motivation for an early start the next morning – it’s no fun to linger in your tent when it’s collapsed around you! I was awake around 5:30 and on the trail by six, ready for the push into Tehachapi. The threatening clouds had given way to a cool but breezy morning, and I actually really enjoyed the hike into Tehachapi – there were more wind farms, burned out trees, and bright blue skies with fluffy white clouds. There was a surprise water cache about 10 miles before town, where I stopped to relax with Drop Zone, BAM and Shivers, and then I cruised into town around 2pm and set up base camp at the Best Western – glad to have a shower and a clean place to relax out of the wind.

 

Three Points to Agua Dulce: Road Walks, Rocks, and Trail Angels June 6, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 14:23
Tags: ,

After I left camp on Sunday, May 27, my morning of hiking seemed to fly by. I was energized by my day off, and glad to be hiking in nice weather again. After eight and a half miles I came across The Canadians settling in for an afternoon nap, and we traded stories about the weekend of wild weather – they were appropriately jealous of my lucky hitch, having taken the same wrong turn i did, they then camped in cold weather two nights in a row and woke up with ice in their tents. Shortly after leaving them I began the Station Fire detour, a long, exposed road walk around a burn area – not the most fun part of the hike! I arrived at the Mill Creek Fire Station around 3:30pm, and was whisked away to the home of Jane and Jim Klosterman, where Only a Test had been staying for the past three nights. The Klostermans showered us with hospitality and kindness, providing amazing home-cooked meals, comfy beds, the use of their jacuzzi, and showers and laundry, the most fundamental of thru-hiker needs.
The next day, after an amazing gourmet breakfast, Test, Challenger and I started out around 8:15 with the goal of hiking to the Acton KOA campground, 26 trail miles away. We’re not sure how far we actually walked due to more road-walk detours (to avoid the eeeevil Poodle Dog Bush plants that spring up after fires and can cause severe skin rashes) but it was a long, hot day of hiking, and it was good to have the company. We passed a memorial for two fallen fire fighters, and walked through the burnt out remnants of the station, which was quite eerie. We had a nice, shady lunch break at Messenger Flats campground, then pushed on to the water cache at the next ranger station where we met Texas Chill, who had started the trail the first week of May and is going fast. The last eight miles of the day were mentally tough. I would have gladly stopped somewhere before the KOA for the night, but there weren’t any good camping spots near the trail – it was all ridge walking, as is often the case. I was happy to finally arrive at the KOA though, and meet up again with The Canadians and the other hikers who were cowboy camping on the lawn.
The long day on Monday had set me up for a nice 12 mile hike to The Saufleys Hiker Heaven on Tuesday, and I had a great morning. Vasquez Rocks County Park was a big highlight of the morning, and I slowed my pace to meander through the rock formations and take lots of pictures. After the park, the trail became a road walk through town, and I was just about to turn onto the Saufleys’ road when I noticed a bakery on the corner. I headed there for a perfectly flaky cherry turnover and glass of iced tea before walking the final mile to Hiker Heaven – what a place! There were tents set up in the back yard with cots for hikers, a shower and air-conditioned trailer for hikers to lounge in, plenty of shade, loaner clothes to wear while waiting for your laundry, and bikes to ride into town for groceries or food. I picked up my resupply box, settled into a cot, and relaxed and socialized for much of the afternoon. Only a Test and I rode to the Sweetwater Cafe for an early dinner, then I picked up some Guinness and Oreos to take back for dessert, and spent the rest of the evening hanging out with the other hikers. The next morning I went to the bakery again for breakfast, then set about organizing my gear so I could hike out a few miles in the evening – i had intended to zero there, but was feeling so well-rested after 24 hours off that I wanted to get an early start on the next stretch trail instead. Test went on an REI run and brought back burgers and fries from In’n’Out, so we were well-nourished when we hit the trail again for a four mile evening walk. I was so thankful that the Saufleys provide such an amazing place for hikers, and amazed at all of the effort it must take to set up and run such a place – they really are trail angels extraordinaire!

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Leaving Wrightwood, finding the spirit of the trail June 1, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 13:59
Tags: ,

I probably should have stayed in Wrightwood on Friday May 25. The weather was supposed to be bad: cold, with winds gusting to 65 mph at the high elevations, and possible snow down to 6500 feet. But I was getting antsy to hike after my zero in town, and figured I’d be down to just about 6500 feet that night, and a forty percent chance of precipitation meant probability was still on my side.

I got lost once in the morning, losing the trail in the fog for two miles, until I reached a stream that I knew was not supposed to be on the pct. I reached the base of Mt Baden-Powell at about 12:00, 2.5 hours after I’d hoped to be there. The cold wether worked partially in my favor, as I climbed the 2600 feet of switchbacks in just about 2 hours, but I started shivering if i sat down for more than five minutes, and the wind would knock water and ice out of the pine trees onto me. I climbed the last 200 feet to the summit (9399 feet) because I was there, struggling against the winds and being pelted by ice chunks, reaching the wind-scoured, fogged-in summit just for the sake of being there. The wind practically pushed me off the summit, and as soon as I was back in the non-windy side of the ridge, I took off my gloves and tucked my hands under my armpits for a few minutes to warm them up. After a couple if miles I finally started descending from the 9000-foot ridge, on the sheltered side of the mountain – I was so relieved to me descending! I got to the road in about two miles; first I noticed that it was wet, and then I realized that I had completely missed the campground i was supposed to have passed – I had taken the wrong trail again! There was no way I was going to climb back up to that cold, windy ridge, so I sat down behind the guardrail to figure out where I was and what to do. I had taken the Dawson Saddle trail down from the ridge instead of the PCT, and could get back on track by getting a ride about 5 miles down the road to Islip Saddle.

I stood up and flagged down the next car that drove past. I noticed with some dread that the back seat was full, but I explained my dilemma and the ladies were sympathetic, making enough room for my pack and I to squish in. Vicky and her mother Fran were headed to the camp Vicky works for, Angeles Crest Christian Camp, for a volunteer work weekend, and I told them about my hike as they drove to the trailhead. When we reached Islip Saddle, Fran asked incredulously whether I was going to just put my tent up under a tree for the night; when I answered affirmatively, Vicky offered to take me to camp instead, for a night in a heated cabin instead of the freezing weather. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and twenty minutes later we pulled into camp an I was situated in a cabin full of empty bunk beds. Later at the dining hall (they were feeding me too! I felt like the luckiest hiker in the world that night!) i met brothers Bill and Alan Doll, who were volunteering for the weekend, and other members of the camp staff and community.

I woke up the next morning thankful to be cozy in the cabin, packed up my backpack and diligently checked my maps for any side trails that might cause me to get lost. As soon as I walked into the dining hall again and saw all of my new friends and perused the project lists, I realized that I’d have many more opportunities to hike 18 mile days on the trail, but only one chance to be at camp, and I felt like staying to help out would be an appropriate way to repay the hospitality that Vicky and everyone else at camp had shown me. So it is that I spent the morning varnishing giant bear statues and the afternoon painting boards, and was Vicky’s only “kill” during an evening game of Crossfire. Everyone at camp was as interested in my PCT hiking adventure as I was grateful to be rescued from the storm, and I chatted with them throughout the day, sharing info about my hike and the equipment I was carrying.

Sunday morning breakfast was the best of all possible send-offs, with omelets and waffles for breakfast, and good-bye hugs all around before I was dropped off at the Three Points trailhead for my day of hiking. I missed eighteen miles of trail because I needed to meet a friend later that day, but I was full of good memories from my weekend at camp.

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