I sit in a hotel room in Warner Springs Ranch Resort. Three of my hiking fellows are packing food and planning for this next leg which will take us to Idylwild.It is hard to believe this all began only a week ago.
One week and one night ago I was checking gear and planning to head out from Scout and Frodo's home in San Diego. My pack's basic weight was 16.3 pounds according to their hanging scale. With food, consumables, and 4 liters of water it weighed 43 lbs. There were over a dozen of us aspiring thru-hikers in varying stages of preparedness, who gathered around the tables for a delicious Mexican supper. I spent the rest of the evening and night in a limbo state of torture. I could not lay still, much less sleep. In the throes of my torture, Rif-Raf, who was sharing the living room space with me, piped up, "You are likea 5 year old at Christmas! We might have to call you Fidgit." I liked it, I kept it, I am getting good at responding to it.
About 15 of us were at the Mexican Border the next morning, after a delicious breakfast of french toast, fruit, and eggs. I rode with Scout, another fellow called JJ, and RifRaf. As we drove through the desert hill fogs and the sun finally nibbled through, Scout put in The Tabasco Donkeys album and we listened to 'I Don't Mind'. It was so perfect, my heart was swelling, as tears brimmed in Scout and I's eyes. And so it began.
I tripped within the first 1/8 mile out of excitement and again about 6 miles in. Nothing big. The landscape was typical desert, although wind kept the temperatures very pleasant. Temperatures got as high as 90 and at night, low 30s. Over the first 3-4 days, desert landscape alternated with low, green, lush valleys. Wonderful alternations, always just warm enough to make stream crossings a very pleasing ordeal.
By the fifth day, we came upon a tented outpost of snacks and trail gear, run by an old cowboy fellow named Wayne. We sat and chatted a few of the morning horus away before rolling into straight desert mountainsides.
I will now interrupt the trip narrative to introduce you to the clan in which I have been blessed to find myself.
RifRaf is an ER nurse from Columbus,Ohio. he hiked the AT some years ago and made it 1700 miles up the PCT last year. Being of the "I will keep my word to the letter" variety, he is starting over this year. His trail and medical knowledge has been invaluable and as my most frequent hiking partner, his political and social awareness, as well as similar humor, has made many an eternal ascent pass much more quickly.
Terrapin and Granite met on the AT three years ago and have been married some six months now. This is their honeymoon. Granite is a chemistry degree bearing carpenter with a wilderness EMT license, while Terrapin is also an ER nurse. Trail wisdom and experience effuse from them, with the upbeat level-headedness to match.
Frog, or as I like to think of him, 'Frog the Filming Frenchman', is from San Francisco. he hikes with a handheld video camera, recording his trek for the sake of a school whose PE funding had been dramatically cut back. His deadpan humor and wide array of travels and experience trully round out our motley little crew. It is so perfect and wonderful for me.
Now we are at Scissor's crossing, our planned evening stop and it's only 2:30 in the afternoon. Rumors of free pie and (for me) more Ibuprofen and foot wraps, lured us into hitching into Jolian, a town where we found tourist quaint meets rural poverty. We stocked up, pied up, and headed out post haste, hitching in pairs of male/female for safety.
The next morning we climbed into the San Felipe mountains. Exposed hillsides of red lauburn sand, held together by the roots of cacti ranging from Teddy Bear Cholla, to Barrel Cactus. Tiny, colorful flowers dot the grounds surface, complimenting one another's colors and efforts at sustaining life. Erstwile the Yucca and Agave spires stand sentinel over the whole of their ecological commmunity.
Our clan ended up camping at a water cache called 3rd Gate. Gusts of wind plagued our afternoon and coated everything from our tent floors to our teeth in fine desert sand. Relying on the old 'wind dies down at night' rule, we all tucked away for bed. The wind did not, in fact, die down. Rather it tore up every fly stake and caused me to worry for the safety of my tent seams. By six the next morning I was ready to be out of that devil wind. I bandaged the crop of blisters on my feet, packed up and bounced out as quickly as possible. Dark clouds roiled about above and between the ridges and peaks. Certain turns in the trail exposed me to ripping, howling winds, others tucked me away. Some clouds spat rain, others hail, still others snow. Scrub oak and other growth alonf the trail soaked my pants, it was the kind of environment where stopping begot hypothermia. I pressed on 10 miles through this, although every time despair came too near, the clouds would break and the sun cast a rich, thick snow-bow from the cloud cover to the green valley below.
I made it out of the mountains and pitched my fly and climbed into my sleeping bag and ate a bit so as to ward off the hypothermia which I felt threatening. An hour later the rest of the posse began passing and by the time Rif-Raf (at the tail) rolled by, I was packed and ready to move. While we had planned on camping some four miles out of town, the threatening cloud cover pressed us on, past Eagle Rock, through idyllic valley pastures adorned by yellow poppies and on into Warner Springs, population 203.
We five are splitting a hotel room and enjoying the opportunity to clean clothes, dry gear, and converse with other arriving hikers. This morning we awoke to a wet snow coating the ground. Reporst are that someone behind us was medevac'd off the mountain. Others arriving report having been stopped at Scissors Crossing by Border Patrol and were driven here. I am sure even more stories will be passed around at dinner tonight!
Unusually high water levels have meant plenty of stops for loading up on drinking water, although runors are already flying as to what that means for snow passes from here on out.