PCT Day 33 – Thunder Bolts and Lightning … Very, Very Frightening Me!

Started: 08:40 @ MM 534.9 – Cottonwood Creek (Elevation 3,092ft)

Finished: 17:00 @ MM 549.7 – Camp in the pines (Elevation 6,197ft)

Water: Drank about 3L and morning coffee.

Food: Oatmeal, Granola Bar, Cliff Bar, Figs, Trail Mix, Jerky, Couscous with Veggies & Tuna

Wildlife: 1 Snake, 0 Bears

Health: 0 Blisters, sore feet … Shoes need to go!

Almost on the strike of midnight God switched off the fan … The ridiculous wind suddenly stopped as quickly as it had suddenly started. I was most grateful. Even with my heavy duty earplugs, the tent flapping and general commotion outside was disturbing my precious slumber.  I decided to sleep in and try to make up for some much needed beauty sleep.

Trail meandering through the wind farm.
I was just finishing up my coffee when the Colorado Hiker Flash came strolling into camp. They had night hiked the aqueduct and camped a bit further back. They stopped for breakfast and we caught up on trail gossip. We were now all heading for the same camp, about 15 miles up the trail and almost exclusively up hill. Once we concluded our little breakfast reunion, my day finally got underway.
No cathole digging here then!
Today was one of those straight forward, easy trail days. The 15 miles were conveniently broken up by a reliable water source about halfway, which is where we would reconvene for lunch. The hike climbed and meandered its way through the giant wind farm. Thankfully the gradient was kind and before I knew it, I had gained nearly 2,000ft! Looking back, just a month ago it was almost inconceivable that I would be able walk up hill for 3-4 hours without stopping. Now it was becoming a regular occurrence! I marvelled at how amazing and adaptable the body is. The desert section of the trail is the most perfect training ground for the mountainous Sierras that are now just a little over a week away … Gulp!!
Storm clouds gathering!
When we stopped for lunch at Tylerhorse Canyon is was warm and sunny with a few white fluffy clouds floating past. Less than an hour later storm clouds had gathered and there were ominous rumbles overhead. The final climb of the day would take us above 6,000ft and into the heart of the darkness. With some consternation I started heading upwards. The rumbles of thunder grew louder and I felt the first few spots of rain. Typically my waterproof jacket was somewhere towards the bottom of my pack … It was the very last thing that I expected to need when I set out this morning. The desert was once again bewildering me with its artful ability to provide all four season in as many hours!
Then it was gone!
As I continued to climb the storm intensified. The rumbles of thunder became a barrage of claps and cracks. The sky was illuminated with flashes of lightening and my trepidation was fast becoming a full blown terror. My knowledge of lightening … what to do, where to go and how to avoid being struck was really not what it should have been … Yet another missed memo it seems. I had a general perception that the tops of mountains was not ideal. I looked at the carbon trekking poles in my hands and thought to myself, lightening rods! … I had no idea if this was a good thing or a bad thing. I vowed to Google lightening when I next had service. Next I was being pellted by giant boulders of hail, this was definitely a bad thing!
Free Tail and Pine Cone … Collectively known as the Colorado Hiker Flash.
I pressed on through the storm and then, almost as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone! The blue skies returned, the sun shone and I was roasting again. I swear I’m going to develop Botulism out here! I caught up with The Flash who were drying out on a log. I held Pine Cone squarely responsible for the freaky weather. Just at lunchtime she was saying how much she missed a little rain … I have learnt to be very careful of what I wish for on the trail!
Bingham, Titicaca and Skittles enjoying the luxury of a plastic chair!
There are always so many positives to be found in even the least favourable of situations. The storm had kept me cool on the climb and now all of a sudden the desert had a whole new quality that I’d never experienced before … It had a smell. At first I thought it was me (it had been quite a few days since my last shower and things were getting a little funky) but soon I realised it was the desert flora that was wafting through the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the aroma, but it certainly wasn’t a bed of roses. The best I can do is probably moth balls. I plodded on through the annoyingly soft sand … two steps up the hill and one sliding back.
Camping amongst the pine trees.
Eventually the climb plateaued and I knew we were close to camp. About half a mile before our overnighting point there was a fabulous spot of trail magic. It was the best 45 minute sit down in a plastic chair I have ever experienced. The trail certainly makes you very grateful for the simplest things in life. I reached camp around 5 o’clock. It was a delightfully sheltered spot amongst the pine tress with great views over the desert floor below. I dined with The Flash before retiring to my tent … tomorrow we would reach Tehachapi, tomorrow I would take that much needed shower!

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