PCT Days 51-53: The Last of the Desert, At Last

After three glorious zero days in Lake Isabella, it was time to get back on the trail. Rally’s husband is joining her for the Sierra section, and their nephew gave them, me, Fancypants, Dilly, and Dally all a ride back to the trail at Walker Pass. Seven people, six packs, and one dog all transported—safely and legally, of course.

Mile 651 and we are definitely still in the desert. Two-thousand feet of uphill to start the day, along bare burned mountainsides overlooking circles of green agriculture on the valley floor below.

Our one water source for the day was a spring (in)famous for its high uranium levels. Cause that’s a thing. We drank from it, of course.

Our several days’ delay in Tehachapi and then Lake Isabella means that we’re seeing more unfamiliar hikers—”The Herd” catching up to us. They’re generally young and moving really fast, so we’ll probably only see most of them once. It feels good to have a group of friends who we’ve known since Mile 70, 40—even Mile 0—who we keep seeing on trail 650 miles in.

The afternoon was a hot hike headed uphill. We passed both the 1/4-of-the-way-there mark, which felt good, and also Mile 666, which felt appropriate given the weather. A warm night became a warm morning when we started hiking at 6:15AM the next day.

My new shoes, the Hoka One One Cliftons (in size 10.5, one and a half sizes larger than my normal shoe size), paired with Superfeet Berry insoles, are amazing. The Altra Lone Peaks that I wore for the first 650 miles were slowly but surely crippling me—apparently zero drop shoes do not agree with me for hiking. They’re great for some people, but not for me. The Hokas have given me my first real blister of the PCT (which I named Fred—after Fred Astaire, for the way I feel like I’ve been dancing up the trail), but it’s a price I’m happy to pay for relief from the constant heel and ankle pain. I’m finally able to hike fast enough to bump up against my leg and lung capacity, rather than being limited by my tolerance for extreme foot pain. I realize, Oh! Maybe people can hike 20 or 25 mile days so easily because they aren’t in excruciating pain every day starting at mile 10!

Day 53, our last official day in desert, starts off warm again. The desert has to get one last punch in—it’s in the 90s, and we’re walking through massive burn zones. Barren hillsides, charred trees—the sun is hot, and there’s nowhere to hide.

We even meet our second angry rattlesnake of the trip. I’m walking along the dusty trail that curves slowly down dry hillsides and then suddenly I’m backing up as quickly as I can—animal instinct taking over immediately when the rattling starts. It’s a small rattlesnake coiled on a pile of rocks directly next to the trail, and when we slowly move back towards her and she rattles again, we decide to made a wide circle down the steep slope below the trail.

And then: Mile 700! And then—finally—Kennedy Meadows, where every arriving hiker is greeted with a round of applause from the crowd at the general store: Welcome! You made it through the desert! We eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream each, and then celebrate over beers with Rally & Clint when they arrive. I have a massive heat rash on the back of my legs and a blister to drain, but we’re finally done with the desert and next comes the Sierra Nevada and the John Muir Trail and it’s going to be amazing.

Day 51: 17.9 miles, Mile 651.4 to 668.8, Spanish Needle Creek + 0.5 roundtrip to Joshua Tree Spring
Day 52: 14.8 miles, Mile 668.8 to 683.2, Fox Mill Spring + 0.4 roundtrip to Chimney Creek Campground for water
Day 53: 20 miles, Mile 683.2 to 702.4 + 0.8 to Kennedy Meadows

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