From robin bird spring to willow spring
It’s so nice to wake up in a lovely spot, surrounded by trees, with a flowing spring. Luxurious, even. Spike came in late last night, and we chat over breakfast and filtering water for the day. Purple and Carnivore come in while we’re chatting, looking tired and thirsty.
We get off to a leisurely 10 am start, but everyone else stays at the spring to nap a while longer. This stretch of trail will wring you out. Today isn’t looking to bad though, with water in three miles, then in another four. After that it’s thirteen miles to willow spring, our goal for the night. Willow spring is the last reliable water source for 43 miles. We’ll be getting off the trail at walker pass, so that cuts the stretch down to 35 miles. They are some water caches in there, but with so many thirsty hikers, and the roads to the caches so difficult, I’m nervous about trusting them.
I’m feeling good for about the first five minutes, then I get hit by the freight train of exhaustion. J is ambling along through the forest and I can’t keep up, I’m so dizzy. “Maybe this is just hunger,” I hope. We’re almost to the first water, I can eat in a minute.
Nope, I can’t. I have to eat right now. I sit and eat a whole peanut butter serving cup, some fig newtons, and clif shot bloks. It takes the edge off. I catch up with J and we split a clif bar. In a mile we hit the next little spring and I make a cup of power breakfast mix. We have two English muffins left and we make two open face tuna and cheese sandwiches, and two peanut butter. We have a fudge packet and I put that on the peanut butter sandwich too. I eat some more fig newtons and some gummi bears. I feel kind of sick, thinking about all that tuna and old cheese and chocolate all mixing around in my gut. But not hungry.
I think with all the heat and being so thirsty I haven’t been eating enough – I’ll have to watch that. I sure crashed fast.
It’s easy forest walking from there to the next water. It’s hot even in the trees – these desert forests don’t manage much for shade – so it’s a disappointment to walk up to the spring and see a huge metal tank. “Oh man, the water’s going to be boiling!” I lament.
“I was hoping for a river,” J answers glumly.
I walk up to the pipe over a trough where the water is gushing out, and it’s mountain spring cold! Oh man, what a great surprise. We hang out there for a couple hours, soaking our feet (using my bucket) until our feet bones ache from the chill, washing out our socks, cooling of our heads, taking naps.
We water up and finally move on. You can dilly dally for a while, but your emptying food bag will get you moving back down the trail eventually.
The trail takes us into another burn. “Aw, man! Another burn!”
“C’mon,” says J. “It’s sort of lovely.”
He’s right. This is an old burn, all the black char sloughed off the bone white skeletons of trees, the undergrowth green again, the sky perfectly blue behind it all. There’s still no shade though.
Instead of getting out of the burn into trees, we go east and leave the forest entirely. We top a ridge and there’s nothing but sagebrush. We stare in shock at the expanse of gray hills ahead of us. We have to cross this.
It’s evening, so we hike in the mountains’ own shadows while the sun sets. “You remember all those bad things I was just saying about the desert?” I ask J.
“I might have to take them all back.” There’s a cool breeze and a big moon rising and the smooth desert hills are pink. We finish the hike to the spring with moonlight scramble down a gully to willow spring.
The spring itself is a big scummy pond with a broken pvc pipe flowing water into it. It looks like it flowed to a tap at one point – ten to one it was a desperate PCT hiker who broke the pipe. This is the last spring for 43 miles. I’m setting up camp while J gets water for dinner. I hear a bunch of swearing, then nothing. “J? J?”
He’s standing next to the pipe, watching a rattlesnake slowly uncoil and slither away. “Damn thing was right next to the pipe,” he says. “Scared the hell outta me.”
The snake is too cold to be bothered with us. It doesn’t even rattle, just moves away. I sit down next to the pipe to start filtering and can still see the rattle, just a few feet away. Eventually I look up and can’t see it anymore. I’m jumpy as an antelope at the watering hole, telling myself that even squirrels sound loud at nighttime.
When I finally finish filtering, J has finished dinner. We’re set up on an ant hill again, surprise, surprise. The plan is to get up early tomorrow, we’ll see if that happens.