Started: 07:10 @ MM 652.0 – Walker Pass (Elevation 5,121ft)
Finished: 17:30 @ MM 672.8 – Saddle Camp (Elevation 6,752ft)
Elevation Gain/Loss: +6,579/-4,938ft
Food: Oatmeal, Lara Bar, Cliff Bar, Tortilla w/cheese & salami, Tortilla w/Nutella & Dates, Trail Mix, Goldfish, Instant Potato & Jerky, Gummi Bears
Health & Hygiene: 0 Blisters, Days since last shower 1, Days since laundry 2
Camp started to stir around 6am. I enjoyed a very relaxed breakfast with coffee and still managed to be on the trail slightly ahead of my usual schedule. Everyone seemed keen to be back on trail. This was the very last section of desert. In less than 3 days we would walk triumphantly into Kennedy Meadows … 700 miles of Southern Californian desert would be behind us and 400 miles of the snow covered Sierras were just ahead. However, before all that we had the small matter of 50 miles and a few big waterless climbs to deal with.
The first order of business was Mount Jenkins … an 8 mile, 2,500ft climb! The morning air was cool and I started strongly. By 10:30 I was at the top and enjoying a second breakfast and the most amazing views. I could just about make out the snow covered peaks of the distant Sierras. While I had been busy climbing, so had the temperature. By the time I set off again it was hot but thankfully at almost 8,000ft there was a refreshing breeze. I chugged some more water and began the long descent to Spanish Needle Creek.
As is so often the case with hiking, the descents are harder than the climbs … this one definitely fell into that category! Not only was it steep, but the surface of the trail was really rocky. I had to concentrate on every single steep to avoid tripping or rolling my ankle. It was impossible to get into any kind of rhythm and the terrain was starting to play havoc with my knees and feet. It was really hard going, both physically and mentally.
Eventually I made it down to the uranium enriched Joshua Tree Spring. This should have been a much needed watering hole but everybody avoided it because of the dubious enrichment. It was still another 5 miles to water and another annoying 1,000ft lump stood in the way. I decided to just put my head down and get on with it.
I had to dig deep to grind out those 5 miles. It was hot and the tread of the trail made for slow progress. Not even the “1/4 of the way to Canada” point on the trail could rally my spirits. When I finally reached Spanish Needle Creek I was hungry, thirsty and exhausted. I wanted the day to be over but the trail had other ideas. There was nowhere to camp near the creek. My map suggested a small camp about half a mile further up the hill. I decided to head for that but I needed to be quick, there were about a dozen hikers either already here at the creek or on their way to it. Camp space was going to be at a premium. I filtered my water quickly, scoffed a couple of bars and headed on up the hill.
I reached the camp spot indicated on the map but it was a hopeless pitch and almost right on the trail. I looked at the map again … Next camp was 3 miles away and a further 1,100ft of climbing! The trail left me with no option, I took a big breath, put my head down and started the long, slow upward grind. After about 30 minutes I was totally spent. My legs were so tired and I would repeatedly stumble and trip on the loose rocky ground. The switchbacks were ridiculously steep and the whole thing was starting to make me really angry. My “hitching sticks” kept getting stuck between rocks and I was in constant fear of breaking one. I had to keep stopping and every time I checked the map it seemed like my forward progress was getting slower and slower. I wanted to just stop but stopping wasn’t an option, the trail demanded that I carry on. Deep down I knew that I was physically capable, I just had to summon the mental tenacity to keep going. Somehow, from somewhere, I found the strength and determination and then, not a moment too soon, the trail finally reached a saddle and at last the ground was flat enough to find a place to camp.
I took my pack off and explored the pitch possibilities. About 50 yards off the trail I found the perfect spot. It was sheltered, secluded, bathed in late afternoon sunshine and the views were absolutely stunning. I hurried back to fetch my pack, made camp and collapsed into my feathery nest. It had been a tough day but the trail had rewarded my effort with the perfect camp. The trail is such a metaphor for life … The path is not always smooth and straight and it’s not always easy to keep your chin up when your head is down BUT if you find the strength and determination to keep moving forward, the rewards are always waiting for you at the top of the longest and hardest climbs!