From a few miles from Cajon Pass to cool views above Wrightwood
I don’t know why I bother setting the alarm. It’s a joke. I turned that sucker off and went back to bed. An hour and a half later and I regret it already – I’m overheated before even crawling out of bed. I can keep a committment to anybody else but myself. I’m always willing to let myself down, turns out.
It takes us an hour to pack up and now it’s really hot. I don’t know who turned up the heat on the sun today, but it was unnecessary. My feet hurt. My hair is in my face. I’m sweaty. I’m hot.
J and I finally get our cranky selves on the trail. It’s nice to leave the sounds of the cars and trains behind. The area here is really interesting – we’ll be crossing the San Andreas fault in a few miles, but the entire place is crunched up into overturned beds and ridges and mountains. “Too bad we have to keep walking over them,” I think. “Wait a minute,” I say back to myself, isn’t that kind of the point? If you want to just get there, take the road, not the trail.”
A few miles into our day, J and I come across a water cache – what a treat! Cat Stealins is sitting in its meagre shade, getting hydrated. An extra liter or two goes a long ways in a dry stretch. Even with the cache, this is the last water for 17.5 miles. There also looks to be no shade and it’s all uphill. It takes us a while to free ourselves from the vortex around the water cache and get back on our tired feet. We pop open our sunbrellas and get after it.
Without the wimpy breeze and my sunbrella I don’t know I could even hike today. The sun feels so relentless. I’ve been looking for shade for an hour and just found a scrap of it, where I immediately collapse and shuck my shoes off my overheated feet. Now I’m stuck in the shade vortex.
J and repeat this all day. Our goal is to not hang out in the shade for longer than we’ve hiked, which we mostly achieve. “We’re not making great progress,” I note, a little disappointed.
“But we need this,” says J. “The point of this isn’t to be miserable.”
“Maybe a little miserable,” I say. But J is asleep. If he goes by a trail name, he uses Dirtnap, and he’s keeping true to form today. Taking the breaks really does help. If it weren’t for our sunbrellas, and a tiny little breeze, and a few shrubs just tall enough for shade puddles, I don’t know that we’d make it up this mountain. It’s nice to sit there and look at the fields of wildflowers, keeping pace with our pilgrimage. The rocks changed as soon as we hopped the San Andreas fault trace, from soft, young sandstones to smeared schists and phyllites. (“Greenschist facies! Classic! Low-temp low pressure metamorphism,” expounds J.) The new rocks are sheared into sheets of shiny mica. The dirt filtering in my shoes and between my toes glitters.
The late start and naps slow us down, and we’ve only made 19 miles by 8pm. Two more miles to water. We’re thirsty, but we’ve still got a liter apiece. The shadow of Mt. Baldy stretches all the way out across the San Gorgonios to the east, and the forest slopes are lit up to gold. We can see the lights of Hesperia glittering in the plain to the north, and the whole sky is turning pink. We’re on a sweet little saddle with pines – “We could pitch right here,” suggests J. “Let’s do the miles to the water in the morning.” Sometimes J has great ideas. We find two pines trees perfectly spaced and string up our tarp with a two-tree pitch. We have seven miles to the highway tomorrow, then a hitch into Wrightwood. We can see Hesperia glowing from our view inside the tarp, framed by pines. “This is why I do this,” I think. “To be here, right now.”