Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Part 61 - Bear Vaults

I ate my food on the picnic tables out front; I devoured everything and went back into the store looking for more.  While in the store, the cashier recognized me and told me she had my package, plus several letters.  The resupply box was a large one, as it contained my bear vault.  

The purpose of a bear vault was to keep bears from getting at a hiker’s food, thus, endangering the hiker as well as the bears.  Bears that take a liking to Snicker Bars, Idahoan Instant Potatoes and Top Ramen have to be captured and relocated, and in extreme cases, destroyed.  The vault added a bit of extra weight to an already-heavy pack and I would have to carry it for 450 miles, or until I crossed I-80 at Donner Summit where I would meet my wife who would then take it home for me. 

After sorting through the contents of the resupply box, keeping most items and putting excess food packets in the hiker box, I repacked my backpack and made ready for tomorrow’s departure.  Then, hoping there was still water available for the shower, I headed towards the plywood stalls that served as outdoor showers.  The problem with the water here at the Kennedy Meadows store was that the water came from a spring that was piped to a large holding tank.  After so many showers and batches of laundry, the tank runs dry, and the store owners have to padlock the faucet to prevent further use in order to allow the tank to fill again
I noticed that the faucets to the showers had not been padlocked, and there was still a trickle of water coming from the pipes.  Not wasting any time, I quickly stripped down to my birthday suit and showered as fast as I could, then lathered my clothes with soap and rinsed them out also.  Whew, made it just in time.  As I was rinsing out my socks, the pipes ran dry, but the job was done.  Only having one set of clothes, and not being able to wait for them to dry, I put them on wet and walked around until the sun dried them out, which didn’t take long. 

Over on the side of the parking lot, I saw that Dr. Sole had set up operations again.  He was the long-haul truck driver, alias self-taught foot doctor, who provided medical help for hikers.  I walked over to greet him and reintroduced myself to him.  After seven hundred miles, I still didn’t need his services, but there were a multitude of others who did.

Hector said he was cooking dinner tonight and invited any and all to join him.  At the appointed hour, I was inside the pop-up tent that served as Hector’s medical suite, sitting at my favorite place – the ice cooler.  There were seven others in the tent when I arrived, and more would come.  Of the seven hikers, three were former active-duty military personnel.  One, who I will call Zigzag, simply because I never knew his trail name, had been an officer.  He had leadership written all over him.  He was an intelligent man, the type that was quick to identify problems and suggest solutions; he looked to be a true leader.  He had been in Afghanistan and possibly Iraq.   Zigzag dominated the conversation in the tent and it all had sexual connotations to it.

He made repeated remarks about a particular female hiker on the trail, and his comments were always less than appropriate.  He engaged the two other military personnel in conversation and baited them with sexual-related zingers.  They responded in like manner, but they didn’t initiate further suggestive comments.  I think they would have been happy to drop the subject matter, but as former military, they might have felt an obligation to continue the conversation, because that’s what soldiers do and they didn’t want to look less manly in Zigzag’s eyes.  Zigzag was unrelenting; he never let up with his sexual-oriented conversation, and it only ceased when he finally left the tent.   
Hector said that he would be cooking breakfast for anyone who wanted to join him in the morning.  I told him I’d be there.  

From other hikers, I learned the sad story concerning two sisters, Bree and Jessica, from Montana.  They had hiked the seven hundred miles of trail to Kennedy Meadows, and once at the store, they asked the clerk for their resupply packages.   Upon opening their packages, they discovered that the contents – bear vaults, extra clothing for the Sierras, all their food, etc., had been stolen and had been replaced with motorcycle parts that approximated the weight of the original contents.
They filed a complaint with the postal service, and they were quite certain that the thief was a postal employee who worked at the post office where the packages originated – Montana.  They also felt certain that once they were home, and had a chance to review the security tapes of the facilities where packages were sorted, they would find their culprit.  But that didn’t help them at the moment, for they still had to repurchase the missing items, which meant hitching a ride to the nearest towns of Ridgecrest and Lone Pine, some forty to sixty miles away, out in the Mojave Desert.  Exercising patience and resourcefulness, they were successful in finding replacement food and equipment; it just cost them additional money and several days’ worth of time. 

Today, when I left Kennedy Meadows, I would begin a whole new chapter in the trail saga.  The desert was behind me, and the mountains with green trees, snow, lakes, springs, and rivers were before me.  At 5:00 a.m., I was ready to hike.  Supposedly the seven hundred miles of desert travel had toughened my body, had made it lean, muscular and fit and ready to tackle the difficult ascents of the high mountain passes and the dangerous river crossings. 

Actually, I think I was just skinnier, and in the back of my mind, I wondered if this healthier lifestyle had lowered my high blood pressure at all – it hadn’t.  I crossed the dirt parking lot to where Hector had his truck camper and medical tent set up and waited for breakfast.  The coffee was already on the stove and the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the tent enclosure.  Hector was busy preparing his breakfast burrito, which appeared to be eggs, chorizo (a Mexican sausage), refried beans, and tortillas.  

There were six or seven of us in the tent, including Zigzag and the two former military men from last night, plus others who strolled in and out of the shelter.  Zigzag didn’t waste any time in picking up the conversation where he left off last night, but now it was colored by his time spent at the bar with several of the female hikers who were present last night.  (The bar was a restaurant that served alcohol up the road apiece from the Kennedy Meadows store.)  

After downing three of Hector’s breakfast burritos and several soda pops, it was time to leave.  Zigzag and the two former army soldiers left just moments before I did.  Zigzag was a fast hiker, and I never saw him again on the trail.   

Monday, April 29, 2013

Part 60 - Kennedy Meadows at Last

There was a lot of activity at Kennedy Meadows, and most of it centered on the store.  Kennedy Meadows was a small community of about two hundred souls spread out over several hundred acres of sagebrush land.  There were a number of summer homes scattered around the perimeters of the store and some folks actually lived here year-round, although the winters could be pretty rough. 
Ranchers ran cattle on the open ranges, and the Kern River, just blocks from the store, had a loyal constituency of avid fly fishermen.  The store accepted resupply packages for hikers, and virtually every hiker on the trail had a package sent to this location.  Before claiming my resupply package, or browsing the store shelves for junk food, I walked through the dirt parking lot to a location adjacent to the store that had been designated as a camping area for hikers. 

I selected a shady spot under a tree, dropped my pack and spare water bottles, and headed back to the store.  I would guesstimate that there were no less than twenty-five hikers in and about the store, all intent on completing the chores necessary before departing Kennedy Meadows. 

They were crowded in the store aisles looking for additional food items, or they were out on the side patio enjoying a double cheeseburger and beer courtesy of the short-order cook.  A small number were congregated on the front porch enjoying a beer, or sitting at the picnic tables in front of the store.  

For me, my first priority was to find something to eat, which I did in quick order.  I selected two bottles of red Gatorade, two pints of Ben and Jerry’s banana split ice cream, a banana, and a small bag of dried prunes.  I waited patiently in line to pay for my purchases, and when it was my turn I handed the cashier my credit card.  She swiped the card and then looked up at me in bewilderment and said, 

“Your credit card has been declined.” 

“Great,” I thought to myself, and wondered what the problem was.  Fortunately, I had a debt card, and I handed that to her.  She swiped it and it passed, but the mystery of the declined credit cards only got murkier.  While I had her attention, I inquired about showers, laundry, and my resupply package. 

“Showers,” she says, “are out back; the laundry is in the back of the store and you have to put your name on the list.” 

“Give me your name, and when I have time, I’ll go into the back room and find your package, and bring it here to the front counter.  You can check back with me later.” 

Before exiting the store, I walked to the back of the building where the laundry list was tacked to the wall.  I put my name on the list; I would be number twenty; however, from others who were still waiting their turn, I was hearing that the store was running out of water, and the laundry, as well as the showers, were going to be shut down for the day, meaning that even if I stayed all day tomorrow, my number for doing laundry still wouldn’t come up.  I decided to bag the laundry and scratched my name off the list.  I would wash my clothes in the shower.

Coming into Kennedy Meadows, a community of approximately 200, if everyone showed up for dinner.

An abandoned home on the edge of Kennedy Meadows. It looked like the well went dry.

This was a Sears brand vacuum cleaner.

As always, someone will make note of important landmarks.

No comment needed. Hikers have arrived at a significant landmark in their quest to hike to Canada. The California desert is now officially behind us, and the mountains lie ahead.

Tom's place. A trail angel who provides sleeping accommodation in trailers; wi-fi is also available.

 Hikers playing chess at Tom's place.

Hot Wings with her two Malamute dogs.

The first order of business while I wait for the store employee to find my resupply box.

The showers.

The clothes line.

 The restrooms.

Bear vaults are now mandatory for the next several hundred miles, and every hiker has one waiting to be picked up at the store.

Mudd was a Whiffle ball affectionato, and was always looking to get a game going.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Part 59 - Test of True Love

Leaving the parking lot of the Kennedy Meadows Campground, the trail followed a wide, well-worn path that began an upward climb.  It followed the Kern River that had its origin high up in the Sierras.  As I began the steady upward climb, I found that I walk more than a hundred feet without having to stop and rest. 

“I can’t be that out of shape,” I told myself.  “Surely it will be easier if I keep going.”  
And I did; I kept moving, and still every hundred feet I had to stop and rest.  

“What’s going on,” I demand of myself.  “Is there something wrong with my heart?  Why is it so difficult for me to walk?”  

I don’t know the answers, but what I’m experiencing is not what I expected; I felt that something was dreadfully wrong. 

“Just because I’m approaching seventy didn’t mean that exercise had to be hard,” I told myself.

“Get a hold of yourself and move on; don’t be a wimp; you’ve driven six hundred miles to start this hike, and come ‘hell or high water’ you’re going to see it through.  After all, if you can’t do this section of trail, how do you expect to begin the hike next year?” 

 I pushed on, and still I had to rest.  I made it to the first bridge that crossed the Kern River and a little beyond, and then I stopped.  I prayed; I needed guidance; I needed to know what to do.  I began to realize that the harder I tried to push into the wilderness, not really knowing what lay ahead, the greater was the pushback.  

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was attempting to bull my way through one of the most dangerous and difficult sections of the entire Pacific Crest Trail, some 450 miles of towering peaks, dangerous river crossings and remote wilderness, and I was alone.  It was August and near the end of the hiking season for the Sierras.  One slip, one fall, and I could be in serious trouble.  I also didn’t know it at the time, but physically, I was not prepared to enter the Sierras and have a successful hike.  The overall impression that settled over me was to turn around, hike back to Kennedy Meadows and try to get hold of Jodie and ask her to come back and pick me up.  

As much as I loved Jodie, and as much as I know she loves me, I knew she was going to be highly agitated to have to turn around and drive all the way back to Kennedy Meadows to retrieve me.  
I hadn’t hiked more than six miles before I deemed it wise to turn around.  The return trip put me back at Kennedy Meadows at 1:00 p.m.  The Kennedy Meadows store was open and has to have one of the few remaining pay phones in existence.  I didn’t have my cell phone with me and I tried to call Jodie using the pay phone, but I couldn’t get it to work.  Only later did I learn that I was supposed to dial a "one" before dialing the area code.  

The lady in the store took pity on me and let me use her cell phone.  Fortunately, Jodie had her cell phone with her, and fortunately I could remember her number, for when I call her using my cell phone, all I do is touch her photo on the phone list and it rings through to her.  

Sheepishly, I tell her my situation and ask her if she’d be willing to turn around and come back and get me.  For a moment there was total silence, and then, without any humor in her voice, she said, 


 She had made it almost to Mesquite, Nevada, and was planning on spending the night with family in Saint George, Utah, and then visiting with friends the next day.  Now all of her plans were totally disrupted, and she had to turn around and make the grueling 250-mile drive back to Kennedy Meadows to fetch me.  She was not happy, and I could tell it.  She arrived around six in the evening, and just let me say that our return trip back to Saint George and Salt Lake City was not the most pleasant time we’ve spent together, but we still love one another.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Part 58 - Prep trip Into the Sierras

Trying to Get a Head Start on the High Sierras 

I  had been to Kennedy Meadows before; to be exact, it was last August 2012.  The fall from the ladder and the injury to my elbow prevented me from starting the hike in April of last year; however, by June, my elbow had healed.  Not wanting to waste all the preparation I had made for the journey, I suggested to my wife that I’d like to at least hike one or more difficult sections of the trail while the weather was good and the trail was free of snow.  

I had two choices – the Fuller Ridge section in the San Jacinto Mountains or the Sierras.  I chose the Sierras and planned to be gone for at least a month.  I stuffed my backpack with seven days of food and mailed two resupply boxes, one to Independence, California, and the other to Mammoth Lakes, California.  My wife agreed to drive me to Kennedy Meadows and then return a month later to pick me up at the I-80 rest stop on Donner Summit.  

It was close to six hundred miles from our home in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Kennedy Meadows, via Las Vegas, and it took us a day and a half to reach our destination.  It was dark when we arrived, and not knowing where the Kennedy Meadow store was, we drove to the end of the road and camped for the night in the Kennedy Meadows Campground.
Early the next morning, we drove around until we located the store, which was closed, and the point where the PCT crossed the paved road and continued on through sagebrush meadows to the Kennedy Meadows Campground.  After a long hug and a tearful good-bye, we parted ways and I started up the trail.  Periodically, I would turn around and wave at Jodie, as she was still standing on the trail, but soon we were out of sight of one another.  

After five minutes of walking, I heard the sound of a horn.  I turned to see Jodie’s robin-blue Camry barreling down a dirt road that paralleled the trail.  Where the road crossed the trail, I stopped and waited for the Camry.  She stopped the car, got out, and with tears streaming down her face, came towards me. 

“I just needed one more hug,” she said.  What a sweetheart she is, and I love her so very much.  
Again we parted, and an hour later I was in the campground where we camped last night.  There were water faucets in the campground and I stopped to wash my face, drank a liter of water, and filled my depleted water bottles.  This was the first serious hike I was about to take since 1994 – eighteen years ago, when I was fifty-two.  I could only hope I was up to the task I had set for myself.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

Part 57 - Sponge Bath in the Kern

It was too far (five miles) to make it to Kennedy Meadows last night, so I camped in a thicket of Pinyon pine trees, not far from the Kern River.  Knowing that I didn’t have to hurry today to make miles, I didn’t set my internal alarm clock and subsequently didn’t wake up until 5:30 a.m.  I got up from my bedroll, stumbled around for a few moments trying to fully wake up, and then wander over to a tree to take my morning whiz.  Just as I was zipping up, a female hiker came marching along the trail.  A little embarrassed, I waved and said something to the effect,  

“You’re up and moving awfully early.”  

She laughed and said she couldn’t sleep and wanted to get to Kennedy Meadows as soon as possible.  I asked her trail name and she said “Bree,” or maybe “Breeze,” I wasn’t sure. 

I ate a snack for breakfast and headed up the trail.  Within a mile the trail began to parallel the Kern River.  As soon as I could find a convenient spot beside the river, I dumped my pack, took off my shoes and socks and stepped into the water.  As the trail was close to the river, I was hesitant to strip down to my birthday suit and take a bath, so I settled for a sponge bath instead. 

 I rolled up my pant legs to reveal the dirt and grime on my legs, then using my neckerchief as a washcloth, I scrubbed hard to remove the dirt.  The water was cool, but not cold, and after washing my legs and feet, I splashed water onto my head and face.  It was so refreshing, I couldn’t stop splashing. 

At last, I had arrived at Kennedy Meadows, a milestone on the Pacific Crest Trail.  This meant I had hiked seven hundred miles from Campo on the Mexican border; I was officially through with the desert portion of the PCT, and tomorrow when I leave Kennedy Meadows , I will be heading into the Sierra Mountains. 

Hiking the trail and dirt go together.

Catching  my first glimpse of the Kern River.

Inviting swimming holes.

As soon as I could, I stripped down and entered the warm water of the Kern River and commenced to scrub off the thick, encrusted trail dirt.

A selfie, after numerous dunkings in the river.

One last look at the river before heading up the trail.

After 700 miles of desert, the mountains and pine trees loom ahead.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Part 56 - Hello Little Bear

Passing the Fox Mill Spring, I decided to fill my water bottles here.  The spring was off the trail a bit, so I unloaded my pack, collected my water bottles and scurried down the side trail to the small, gurgling stream flowing from underneath a pile of willow and sagebrush debris.  This water I treated with bleach.  The spring lay adjacent to the ruins of a barite mill, and according to the Southern California PCT guidebook, barite is used in drilling mud and was mined and processed here until the early 1950s.  

Drilling mud is an essential element in well drilling.  It helps to cool the drill bits and removes cuttings from the borehole by suspending the sand and rock particles, then floating them to the surface.  At the surface, the cuttings are separated from the drilling mud and the mud is returned to the mud pit to be recycled.  

Not far from the Fox Mill Spring, I came across a low-volume stream meandering through the grass and bushes beside the trail.  Actually, the trail crossed over it, and in one stride I could step across it.  However, before crossing it, I stopped to look at the flowing water.  There is something about water that fascinates me, and for some reason, I enjoy observing it.  Maybe it’s because it’s so vital out here in the wilderness; it’s just not something to be taken for granted.  Unlike at home, where a turn of the faucet will get you all the water you need, here I’m reliant on ponds, lakes, springs, and streams to meet my daily needs, and even then, I have to carry enough with me to get me the next source.

And so I watched the water for a few moments.  Presently, I heard a rustling in a tree a few yards from the stream; I turned my gaze from the water to the tree to see if I could locate the source of the disturbance.  To my delight and amusement, I saw a small bear cub sitting in the crouch of the tree, peering around a large limb watching me.  I called out to him/her,

“Hello, big buddy; how’s it going up there?” 

The cub just continued to watch me.  I pulled my camera out of my pocket and clicked off a few shots.  I then began to think, where there was a bear cub, there was likely to be a mama bear around also.  I pocketed my camera, said “Good-bye” to my little friend and headed on up the trail.  Hikers who caught up with me later on said they also encountered the little cub, which by now had come down out of the tree and was walking on the trail.  They, too, were concerned about a mama bear, but said they didn’t see one. 

I had walked through a number of burn areas, but the one I was entering now had to be one of the most devastating and destructive fires Southern California had seen.  It was called the Manter fire, and it destroyed upwards of sixty-seven thousand acres of brush and timberland.  At this point on the trail, I was about fourteen miles from Kennedy Meadows, and the burn area extended from here to there.  

It was started in 2000 in an area called Manter Meadows, a popular camping area for hikers and backpackers.  It consumed much of the timber in the Domeland Wilderness off to the west of the trail, and advanced far enough north to threaten the structures of Kennedy Meadows.  Eight buildings were lost to the fire and the residents of Kennedy Meadows had to evacuate the area.  

The fire was so hot that it baked the soil, making it virtually impossible for anything to grow, except invasive weeds.  It will take many, many years for this land to recover.  I also passed by another burn area called the Woodpecker Meadow fire that burned in 1947.  Since that time, trees have been unable to replace themselves and the land has been taken over by sagebrush and other shrubs.  

The sign pointing the way to the spring.

 Dingo's companion - Mudd.

Little bear cub in the tree. Where's there's a little one, there's usually a Mama bear around. I didn't stick around to find out.

 The well maintained trail as it continues upwards.

This is actual spring at Fox Mill and where I obtained my water.

Water from the spring eventually entered this trough, but I chose to take water from a running source.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Part 55 - The Sego Lily

Meadow Ed, in conversation with several other hikers, recommended an early start from the campground, as the trail heading up the mountain on the other side of the highway, ran in an easterly direction, meaning one will be walking with the sun in their eyes for many miles if one were to leave the campground any time after six in the morning.  I knew I was going to be on the trail early, so that wasn’t going to be a problem for me. 

As usual, I was up at four in the morning and ready to start hiking by 4:30 a.m.  I consumed one of my three sandwiches for breakfast, plus a soda pop, and snagged another soda pop from the cooler as I departed the campground.  No one else was even beginning to stir, and again I felt proud of myself for being the first one out of camp, but it won’t make any difference; half of the group will pass me before the day is over with. 

I had five liters of water with me, enough to hike up to twenty miles if need be; thus, I’m not focused on getting to any one particular water source, but will take water when I find it.  I’ve hiked 650 miles so far, and have only fifty-two miles to go to reach Kennedy Meadows, my next resupply point, the end of the Southern California desert, and the beginning of the High Sierra Mountains. 

Walker Pass and Highway 178 is a route across the southern Sierras originally used by Native Americans for centuries.  It connects the Mojave Desert on the east to the San Joaquin Valley to the west.  Native Americans befriended Joseph Walker in 1834 and showed him this route through the mountains.  Explorer and mapmaker, John C Fremont, proposed that the pass be named in Walker’s honor.  

After I crossed the highway named in tribute to Walker, the trail began a gradual ascent of a sandy slope that in the springtime was covered in blue chia, the seeds of which can be roasted and eaten.  Six switchbacks later, I was walking through groves of Pinyon pine trees mingled with golden oaks.  The trail, true to its name, climbed to the crest of the mountains and maintained this position as long as geographically possible. 

The mountains were high and the peaks were higher; before the day was over, I would pass Morris Peak, Jenkins Peak, and Owens Peak.  As I walked along the crest of the mountains, I saw off to my right, Indian Wells Canyon and a road by the same name that led down to Highway 395 and the town of Ridgecrest, while off to my left, the bumpy dirt Canebrake Road came into view, a road that I will cross farther up the trail.  The men of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built much of the trail in this section and they gained access to these high mountaintops via these dirt roads, some of which have been taken out of service. 

I passed Joshua Tree Spring, but bypassed it as it was a quarter mile off the road.  However, I did go for water at Spanish Needle Creek.  This water source was off in a meadow, but it was not obvious exactly where to find it.  I followed the trail leading into the meadow, but quickly lost it as footprints scatter in all directions.  I made my way through the calf-high grass to a marshy bog that abutted against a tree line, but found only small trickles flowing through the weeds and grass.  As I backtracked through the bog, off to my right I spied a small ravine and concluded that if there were water anywhere in this meadow, it would have to be in the ravine – and it was. 

It was a small stream with crystal-clear cold water flowing through it, and to my amazement, I found small fish darting in and out of the shadows formed by the overhanging sod banks.  I could not imagine how these fish ever found their way to this remote location.  I was sure the Forest Service would never plant them in such small streams, which could only mean that their predecessors had been here for eons.  I filled my bottles and pushed on.  

The trail stayed on the crest of the mountains as it continued north.  Occasionally, it would dip into a valley to gain access to flowing streams, but would immediately climb again to maintain its position along the ridgelines.  There were a few patches of pine and fir trees on the northern side of the slopes, where moisture lingered longer, but in this dry climate, the vegetation was mainly scrub oak, rabbit brush, sagebrush, and Mormon Tea.

Of great interest to me was the small, white, three-petal flower called the Sego Lily, whose white petals were tinged with lilac (occasionally magenta) and had a purplish band radiating from the yellow base.  At the  bottom of the stem was a small bulb that was said to be eatable.  Native Americans utilized the bulb as a food source, and it helped to sustain the Mormon pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Basin in 1847-48 when food stuffs were scarce.  In 1911, the state of Utah adopted it as its state flower. (Sego)     I decided to try them and gathered a handful of the bulbs, brushed the dirt off of the bottom ends and popped them into my mouth.  They weren’t bad; in a pinch, they would do just fine as a food source.  

The Sego Lily. Utah's state flower, and it's tiny, starchy bulb can be a source of food during times of drought.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Part 54 - And Yes, There was Ice Cream

 I was so grateful, so very, very grateful; it was humbling to be treated with such kindness.  I found an empty camp chair and settled in to enjoy my spaghetti bowl.  I just happen to be sitting next to the camp host, a fellow named Meadow Ed.  He invited me to partake of everything that was on the table – salad, fruit, drinks, cake, sandwiches, nuts, candy, etc.  He didn’t have to say more; I was like a little dust bowl tornado as I quickly moved around both sides of the tables, picking up everything that caught my eye.  It was far better than an all-you-can-eat buffet. 

 Back at my camp chair, I balanced the booty in my hands, placing some of it on the table benches in front of me and some on the floor.  I was sitting next to the drink coolers, and over the course of the evening, I dipped into them no less than five times to pull out an ice cold soda pop or Gatorade.
It was now dark and gas lanterns were lit and hung from poles that held up the blue tarps.  The light of the lanterns cast a soft glow on the faces of the chatting hikers that illuminated their tired and weary features as they conversed with one another.  I could tell they were as happy to be here as I was.  In addition to the camp host, Meadow Ed, Yogi and Jackalope were also present.

I presumed they were co-hosting the trail magic with Meadow Ed.  I didn’t learn a lot about Meadow Ed, other than he had hiked the trail sometime in the past and has been hosting this trail magic for many years, first at Kennedy Meadows and now at the Walker Pass Campground.

 Before leaving the outdoor buffet table and heading for my campsite, I made myself three whopping big sandwiches piled high with meat, cheese, lettuce and pickles, filled Ziploc baggies full of cookies and candy, stuffed a couple of apples in my pockets, and grabbed two sodas.  After I took my goodies and backpack to my campsite, I returned to the tables to refill my water bottles and, as a last gesture, placed my twenty-dollar donation in the donation can.  I hope the hiker donations Meadow Ed receives is sufficient to replenish his supplies for the next group of hikers that will be coming in tomorrow. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Part 53 - Have Some Spaghetti

The sun continued its passage across the sky; there were no clouds this day to offer shade, so the heat was intense.  As it began its descent to the west, I was only seven miles from possible trail magic, and the thought of food and drink was a real motivating factor in hastening my footsteps. 

During the last few miles of the day, I was walking through heavy forest, with a steep forested canyon off to my left.  It was quiet, and then I heard rustling and voices in the bushes.  The sounds were coming from the underbrush of the forest off to the side of the trail.  I waited and watched.  Presently, two Hispanics emerged from the underbrush and stepped onto the trail.  I was surprised to see them; I’m not sure if they were surprised to see me.  They were in their late teens or early twenties, well dressed, and carrying no packs or water bottles.  It was very unusual to see them in this relatively remote terrain, and my first thought was that perhaps they were checking on a marijuana grow, which would not be unusual in these mountains.  I asked them if they were hunting, although I could see they had no firearms with them.  They answered in Spanish.  I then spoke to them in my high school Spanish and asked if they spoke English.  They mumbled something.  Not wanting to waste time with them, I turned around and headed on down the trail, but their presence on the trail was disturbing. 

From high on the ridge, I caught my first glimpse of Highway 178, and I strained my eyes to see if I could see any movement of people.  From my vantage point, I couldn’t see people, but I did spot a speck of blue, which I felt sure was the blue of a blue tarp/canopy, which most likely meant people were congregating under it.  It was getting late, and I found myself walking as briskly as I could force my legs to walk, without breaking into a jog.  At last, I passed a BLM trail sign that said Walker Pass Campground, with an arrow pointing the way, and attached to the sign was a handwritten note that screamed - Trail Magic!  

The Walker Pass Campground was partially hidden from view by shrubs and other foliage, but when I finally stepped out of the bushes and onto the gravel parking lot, I beheld a sight like I’ve never seen before, and I knew I was going to be happy for the rest of the evening.  Clustered under two massive blue tarps that protected the contents of several picnic tables was a throng of genuine Pacific Crest Trail hikers engaged in eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and resting in soft camp chairs – about twenty in number.  I unbuckled my waist belt and slid my pack to the ground, adding it to a pile of other smelly packs, and then walked towards the group of happy campers.  Some called out my name and said, 

“Hello, Rabbit Stick, welcome.” 

I waved, acknowledging their salutations.  Even before stepping onto the cement pad containing the picnic tables, someone thrust an ice cream bar into my hand and said, “Enjoy.”  In a moment, Happy Feet was standing in front of me, offering me a huge bowl of spaghetti.  He said, 

“I saved it for you; there’s not any more.”  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Part 52 - Some Dreams Must Die

I was very curious as to the volatility of the black powder, so I reached into the can and grabbed a handful of it, and carried it all the way back to our rubber rafts waiting at the river. 

The term black powder may be a misnomer, for the material in my hand didn’t resemble powder, rather it had the consistency of rock salt that one spreads on the sidewalks in winter. 
Letting the powder slip through my closed fist, I made a long trail on the smooth rocks we had been sitting on, and which ended with a small pile of powder, over which I placed an empty soda pop can.  With everyone standing clear, I lit the end of the powder trail, and before I could blink my eyes, the powder flashed and exploded under the can sending it to an enormous height in the air.  That was a volatility I had never expected; I’m only glad the powder didn’t spontaneously combust in my hand as I was carrying it back to the rafts. 

Recounting these long-ago memories of the Indian cliff dwelling, the uranium mine and the black powder, helped move me many miles along the trail.  Eventually, the trail moved out of the desert and back into forested terrain, with Pinyon pine becoming the dominant tree species. 

 This tree produces a three to four-inch pine cone containing the nutrient-rich Pinyon nut, which is harvested in the fall.  For Native Americans, this nut was an important food source, as the nut could be eaten raw or dried, and then ground into flour.  To extract the nut from the cone, the cone must first be heated, which allows the nuts to fall free from the cone matrix.

I passed a number of long-abandoned mines – some were just tunnels in the hillsides, while others had extensive cement assemblages which formed the foundations for mining machinery used to process the ore.  These abandoned mines reminded me of the title of one of the books in my library entitled, Some Dreams Must Die. 

The elevation for today’s hike has averaged around sixty-five hundred feet, but as I approach Highway 178, the elevation will drop to five thousand feet.  When driving in a car, one pays little attention to whether the elevation goes up or down, but a hiker’s body definitely recognizes the difference. 

On the trail, Happy Feet passed me.  I tell him that if perchance there is trail magic at the Walker Pass Campground at Highway 178, to please save me a bowl of spaghetti, as I know I will be coming in late, and as an afterthought and in jest, I requested some ice cream also.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Part 51 - Black Powder

The cliffs surrounding us were composed of fine grain sand, called the Navajo Sandstone Formation.  This formation formed sheer, vertical walls that could be hundreds of feet in heights.  As luck would have it, only a few hundred yards from where we stood, the cliff face had eroded away to form a rubble-strewn corridor that lead to the top of the cliff.
We maneuvered in and around the giant boulders and eventually climbed to the flat mesa above; here we discovered a road and followed it.  The road led to a long-abandoned uranium mine that had been active in the 1950s.  From the road and ledges overlooking the mine site, we could see the remains of timbered buildings, old discarded trucks, and assorted odds and ends of equipment used in hard rock mining.  We scrambled down the jumbled rocks of the cliff to the mine entrances and peered inside.  There were three tunnels, all in close proximity to one another, and none of them extended very far into the hillside. 

On the ground in front of the tunnels was an odd piece of equipment, one that one would never expect to see at a mining operation.  It was a WWII ten-man neoprene assault raft, the same type of boat my group of rafters was using on the river.  Sun rot had destroyed the neoprene fabric, but its shape was still fully intact.  Thirty-five years later, when I brought my wife back to this same location to show her the mine tunnels, the only thing left of the raft were the metal valves, to which air pumps were once attached to inflate the raft. 

In the 1950s and '60s, Moab was a beehive of mining activity for uranium.  The U.S. government needed to restock its supply of uranium, so it increased the buying price dramatically, which lead to the uranium boom. 

While I was inspecting some mining machinery, a group of boys shouted to me to come and see what they had found.  As I walked towards them, I could see them kneeling in the dirt peering into the blackness of crevice between two large flat rocks, one which had fallen on top of the other, forming a triangular-shaped cave.  As I knelt beside the boys and peered in, I saw hand tools stacked neatly against one side of the cavern wall.  There were shovels, picks, buckets, lanterns, crowbars, and spring-loaded animal traps.  There were a lot of them, and judging from several inches of windblown debris that covered the items, it looked like they had been there a long time.  It was as if a miner had placed them there one day, with expectation of coming back the next week to begin work, but he never came back and the items were forgotten.  Years later, when I returned to visit the area with my wife, I could never find that same crevice which held the tools. 

 The coolest part of the items we found was a large can of black powder used for blasting rocks apart, and a small wooden box of blasting caps used to ignite the black powder.  It didn’t seem like a good idea to have these two items in close proximity to one another, especially if I brought other youth groups to this same location, so I asked one of the boys to take the blasting caps and go hide them somewhere in the rocks.  I told him I didn’t want to know where they were hidden.  He did as instructed, and to this day, I have no idea where they’re buried.

My wife Jodie stopping for a rest, on our climb to the top of the cliffs, looking for the source of the junk we had found at the bottom of the cliff.

The Navajo sandstone forms a sheer cliff, creating an obstacle to cross country hiking.

The remains of the 10 man military assault raft that I discovered in the mid 70's on an early exploring trip.
There were four tunnels in the immediate area, none of which extended very far into the hill side.

Rummaging through a trash dump, I discovered these antique bottles, deposited in the mid 1950's.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Part 50 - Exploring the Cliff Dwelling

Several years later, sitting on a large rock at the edge of the ledge, I was able to discern a path that the ancient inhabitants had carved out of the rubble to reach the ledge, but which was now mostly eroded away.  Likewise, thirty-five years later, in my early sixties, I brought my wife to this same spot, but no longer had the courage to scramble up through the rock debris and rubble to reach the ledge.
I couldn’t tell for sure, but it was possible we were the first ones to visit this location since it had been abandoned.  It didn’t look to be disturbed.  The area was quite isolated and unless a person had a specific reason to enter this section of uninhabited land, one would never come here.  On the sandy floor of the ledge were the remains of numerous fires.  We discovered pot shards, arrow shafts, arrowheads, corn cobs, cordage made from bark, animal bones, etc.  We took nothing with us, but what we did find, we placed on a large flat rock for others to see. 

In years to come, as river trips became more popular on the Daily section of the river, and as dirt bikers and ATV riders would descend into the backcountry, this location would be discovered by others.  Over a period of twenty years, I would continue to bring groups of rafters to visit this unique, hands-on museum in the desert, but the site eventually became desecrated.  Large holes were dug in the floor as looters would sift through the sand looking for anything of value.  After awhile, I stopped bringing people to visit the site; there wasn’t much left to see. 

On this first visit to the cliff dwelling, as I stood on the floor of the ledge looking out at the surrounding terrain, I spotted, at the base of the cliff of which the ledge was a part, car parts and other automotive debris.  I saw old rubber tires and metal rims, discarded oil filters, a truck axle, spark plug cables, and other assorted metal objects that I couldn’t identify.  As there were no roads into this area, the debris must have come from over the top of the cliff high above us.  I decided to go in search for the origin of this junk, and invited the rest of the group to join with me.  Almost in unison they said, “Let’s go.”  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Part 49 - Cliff Dwellings

Walking was monotonous, especially alone with no one else to chat with, so I let my mind wander to past experiences and tried to recreate them in my mind.  It helped to pass the time, sort of like listening to a book on tape.  For this section of the desert hike, I chose to think about water, which as a professional whitewater tour operator, I had plenty of options to choose from. 

Cliff Dwelling, Uranium Mine and Black Powder

In the mid-1960s, in my late twenties, I was often the lead guide for youth groups on the Colorado River outside of Moab, Utah.  The stretch of river was simply known as the Daily section and started approximately thirty miles upriver from Moab.  In those days we would run multiple day trips on this section, which meant we had a lot of time to kill before getting into camp in the early afternoon. 

 A favorite stop for swimming, cliff diving and cliff jumping was just below Dewey Bridge, a wooden bridge constructed in 1916 to provide a link between Moab, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado.  At the time of its construction, it was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River.  Unfortunately, it met its demise in 2008 when a brush fire, started by a young boy playing with matches, burned it to the ground, in this case, into the river. 

On one trip, after playing in the water for a while, I proposed to the group that we explore a side canyon that channeled flood waters into the river where we were stopped.  They were game, so off we went.  I had never been in this canyon before and had no idea where it went or what we would find. 

 Small cottonwood trees and willows lined the dry streambed, and it was obvious from rusted barbed wire fences that we passed over and under that the canyon had, at one time in the past, been open to cattle grazing.  The farther we hiked, the steeper became the grade, until we were climbing small ledges above water pour-offs that formed shallow pools of stagnant water in the sand.  

A mile up the canyon, the terrain opened up, and we found several primitive roads that were suitable only for four-wheel Jeep travel.  Off to the right were several expansive cliff overhangs that we thought might contain Indian cliff dwellings, so we went to explore.  At the base of the cliff, perhaps a hundred feet above us, was a substantial ledge accessible only by scrambling over rock debris that had once formed the face of the ledge.  A path up to the ledge wasn’t obvious, but we persisted and finally obtained the rim of the ledge and clamored over the last obstacle to stand upright on the sandy floor of the ledge.  It was, indeed, a cliff dwelling.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Part 48 - Life Saving Water Caches

From the high vista points along Saint John Ridge, I could see the north-extending arm of the Mojave Desert as it snaked its way up into the Owens Valley, the source of water for the Los Angeles Aqueduct.  If I squinted hard and concentrated long enough, I could just barely make out the slender white streaks of eighteen-wheelers moving along Highway 14, which in a few miles would merge with Highway 395, the major thoroughfare along the east side of the Sierras.  

Running parallel to and eventually crossing over the PCT was Jawbone Canyon Road and Kelso Valley Road.  I crossed over these access roads, which lead into the Piute Mountains to the west, and took note that if I needed to exit the PCT for any reason, both of these dirt/paved roads would channel me down to Highway 14, some twenty-six miles to the east. 

Additional springs and streams continued to pop up along the trail as it stayed high in the mountains, assuring hikers a plentiful supply of water; however, a long hot stretch of desert terrain some twenty miles before crossing paved Highway 178 leading to Bakersfield, was dry and waterless. 

 Fortunately, a local trail angel named Mary maintained two water caches in this section, which enabled hikers to make it to Highway 178 and additional water.  As I approached the first water cache, I found Kumquat, Tour Guide, and Happy Feet filling their water containers.  The cache consisted of approximately 40 one-gallon water jugs, loosely tied together, to prevent them from blowing away once they were empty, and two dozen green and yellow plastic Squirt soda pop bottles.  Knowing the generosity of trail angels and their willingness to provide liquid other than water, both Happy Feet and I had to sample the soda pop bottles to make sure the contents were water and not the more refreshing Squirt soda pop.  The Squirt bottles only held water.

The water cache was adjacent to a dirt road, which allowed Mary to service the cache.  Across the road and up the hill about a hundred feet was a very large Joshua tree, under which lounged several hikers, looking a lot like a bunch of lizards seeking shade from the unrelenting heat.  The four of us moved towards the tree to see if there might be room for us also.  

Under the tree was Shark Bite, Faucet, Walkie Talkie, and a hiker I didn’t know.  Kumquat and Tour Guide elected to continue hiking, while Happy Feet and I joined the others under the tree.  Several of us tried to rest and catch some Z’s, while Shark Bite and Faucet read using their Kindle notebooks; ants and pestering flies prevented me from getting much rest.  Within an hour, Cuddles and Phil joined us – it really was a large Joshua tree, and we all stayed until about four in the afternoon. 

I left the shade of the tree first, but within two miles, I was passed by all the others.  Several miles farther on, I found all of them resting again in the shade of another Joshua tree, filling their water containers from supplies at the second water cache maintained by Mary.  I pulled off my pack and sat it in the dirt alongside the others, filled my water bottles, ate some snacks and then moved on.  Everyone else just stayed on the ground as I left.  They could afford to; they weren’t in any hurry, and it would be only a matter of time before they passed me again. 

This was true desert I was now hiking through.  Treeless except for Joshua trees, waterless, dry, hot and barren; the trail was filled with sand and loose gravel, and little dust clouds would form around my feet as I climbed upwards.  Always upwards; I swear, the trail always went up, never down.  For the rest of the day, the trail traversed along the sides of steep slopes; the wind was beginning to blow, kicking up sand and nowhere was there a decent place to camp that afforded any protection from the wind.  After a few more bends in the trail, I spotted Cuddles camped in a small valley underneath a lone Joshua tree.  As I approached, he invited me to stay.

It was late in the evening and the prospects for finding anything better were slim to none, so I accepted his offer.  On the other side of the tree was a flattish place, that with a little help from my bulldozer boot, I was able to carve out a space large enough for my bedroll.  The ants were tolerable that night.  

It was a clear night and the moon was full.  I set my inner alarm for 4:00 a.m., and by 4:30 a.m., I was on the move.  The lone hiker I met yesterday under the Joshua tree at the first water cache had hiked through this area about this same time last year.  He indicated to Happy Feet that he encountered trail magic at the Walker Pass Campground at Highway 158 - spaghetti dinner with all the trimmings.  That got me and the little band of hikers I was with to thinking that maybe we might be so lucky this year.  

The first water cache maintained by trail angel Mary.

This is the road that runs through the desert country which trail angel Mary uses to resupply the water caches.

Across the road from the 1st water cache is a large Joshua tree that offered substantial shade. Several of us waiting here for the heat of the day to pass.

Faucet enjoying some down time in the shade of the Joshua tree.

This was my view from my campsite this evening.

Filling up at the 2nd water cache maintained my trail angel Mary.

British national Walkie Talkie resting at the water cache. Many months from now, he would become famous for his standoff with a mountain lion, and his iconic utterance, "When the mountain lion jumps down, the pants fill up."

Another desert dweller who didn't want to yield its territory on the trail. It needed a little persuasion.

 It seems that the trail always goes up, never down.

Dingo modeling her new CamelBak. She and her companion Mudd both had these Camelbaks that they carried on their chests. They were quite practical as it allowed them to carry 2-3 extra liters of water without adding weight to their packs. Additionally, they had storage space for items a hiker always needed immediate access to - sunglasses, regular glasses, notebook and pen, maps, camera, iPod, and treats. I liked the idea so well that I had my wife ship me a three liter pack that I wore for the balance of the trip.