31 Oct

PCT – Day 123 (31 Oct 18) – Tehachapi

Miles 2074.0 – 2086.2 >>> 12.2 (19.6 km)

As expected, it was absolutely freezing in the morning. I packed up and followed Trouble down the dirt road. It was a lot easier for her in the daytime apparently.

Following the 4WD track.

By about ten, we made it to the other side of the mountain and could see down into the valley where we could see the Mojave Air & Space Port (this is where Virgin Galactic operates out of).

The Mojave Air & Space Port on the right.

Trouble saw a tarantula on her way down the hill. I was being stupid and didn’t bother to walk back up to her to have a look. I thought I’d easily see another later on on the trail. Well, guess what: I was wrong.

Anyway, Trouble contacted the coordinator of the Tehachapi trail angel group (how cool’s that!) and he replied shortly after that there would be Rachel waiting for us at the trailhead of the Cameron Canyon Road, where it crosses the Barstow-Bakersfield Highway 58.

The trailhead’s in sight.

And what do you know, the moment I came over the crest, I could see a car parked there with the trunk open and a lady waiting next to it. We waited for Trouble to arrive and then Rachel drove us into town. Thanks a million.

We were in town by half past twelve. Perfect time for lunch. So Rachel dropped us off at Henry’s Cafe on Trucker Road. What a great place. Some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across on this trip, and the food was excellent as well.

Eggs Benedict for a change.

We went to the Albertsons grocery store after that and resupplied. Another trail angel approached us there and gave us his number in case we needed to be driven anywhere. How nice. We still had a few other things to do (I got myself a cheap buzz cutter from the Dollar General to give myself a haircut at the hotel).

When eventually we were walking into town proper, yet another trail angel pulled over in front of us on West Tehachapi Boulevard across from Walgreens and offered us a ride into town. Incredible. Thank you Tehachapi.

We booked into the Santa Fe Motel on W Tehachapi Blvd. It was surprisingly quiet. We’d expected Armageddon, because it’s Halloween after all. But it was all very civilized and almost sedate.

We went to the nearby Burger Spot for dinner. The view out the window was very photogenic, but the burger I got was probably the worst I’ve every had. Mind you, I still ate it all and licked my fingers afterwards.

The Burger Spot with terrible food.

In the end we returned back to our hotel room and pigged out on our snacks we’d got from the grocery store. Then it was bed time.

30 Oct

PCT – Day 122 (30 Oct 18) – Morning Fog

Miles 2049.9 – 2074.0 >>> 24.1 (38.8 km)

The morning was cold, but the wind had died down. Since I’d run out of gas the night before there was no coffee for me this morning. Trouble mixed hers with some hot chocolate powder and drank it cold. I passed on that. Despite the lack of caffeine, we were on the trail before eight. Trouble left me to pack up, as usual these days, but I caught up with her pretty quickly.

The morning was absolutely amazing. We had ground fog everywhere and the sun’s rays shone through with amazing patterns of god rays.

Early morning fog.

Occasionally the sky would cloud over and immediately the landscape looked a lot more foreboding and mystical.

Fall forest without the sun.

Our first stop was the Robin Bird Spring to top up our water supply. When we arrived we were greeted by a muddy puddle, full of hoof prints and cow patties. The pipe coming out of the ground looked nasty as well and neither one of us wanted to take water from this mess. At first, Trouble wanted to move, but I decided to jump the fence and get water from the cow free side of the fence. It took a bit of digging in the dirt, but eventually I had semi clean water trickling into our bottles. Still filtered it though.

The Robin Bird Spring.

In recompense for the nasty water source, we continued to have the spectacular light show through the fog. It was still cold though, especially because the air had so much moisture.

Spectacular light show.
Mystical tree scene.

The weather began to clear up by nine o’clock.

Clouds lifting off the ground.

We continued to walk through deciduous forest that was draped in the most beautiful fall colors.

Nice colors.

By about ten we came out of the forest and could enjoy more open views.

Looking into the valley.

By noon we were back in the desert and it was warm again.

Wind turbines everywhere.

Our wilderness experience was a little spoiled by the thousands of wind turbines strewn around the country side. But hey, I guess it’s better than an oil refinery, right?

Civilization everywhere.

We decided to hike into the night to get a few more miles in. The sunset was beautiful.

Fading light.

Eventually the trail followed a rough 4WD track, with plenty of loose dirt on rocks. A surface that Trouble absolutely hated, because the tread of her sandals couldn’t cope with it. She was just slipping and sliding all over the place.

Eventually she was over it and asked me to find a campsite. As usual, I was a bit too picky in my choice and walked past a few that tired Trouble found to be sufficiently good. Eventually she called me back to a camp site that had been used by 4WD campers. There was a fire pit with rubbish and burnt tin cans. Usually a big no-no for us, but Trouble was really over it and we set up. It was already freezing cold and we could tell that the night would get even colder. Not that I mind. My sleeping bag is amazing. Just the prospect of getting up in the morning … Oh well.

29 Oct

PCT – Day 121 (29 Oct 18) – Racing Clouds

Miles 2026.9 – 2049.9 >>> 23.0 (37.0 km)

It was still very windy when we woke up, but it eased off during the morning. It was quite noticeable that it was getting later in the year, because sunrise was happening later and later. This morning was at 7:12 am, so by a quarter to seven, it still felt like we woke up in the middle of the night.

6:47 am and the sun’s not up yet.

We made it on to the trail by about eight and continued our track through the cattle ranch.

Morning in the desert.

We hiked through some gorgeous scenery with a lot of Joshua trees peppered around the countryside.

Trouble hiking through Joshua tree country.

At around noon we came to a water cache that was almost dry. We stopped, camelled up, and once we’d filled up our bottles, there were still a few liters left. It wouldn’t have felt nice to take the last.

Water cache at Kelso Valley Road. Thanks so much.

The rest of the afternoon was uphill. We were going back up to 6,500 – 7,000 feet (2,000 – 2,100 m). It was quite remarkable how the landscape changed again, once we were a bit higher up. Suddenly we were not in the desert anymore. There were pine trees and deciduous trees and it felt almost like we were going back to the Sierras.

There’s trees again.

We ran into a northbound section hiker named Tea Man, who we chatted to for quite a while to exchange trail gossip and water status. Then it was time to move on. It was getting cold … and clammy. It felt weird that there was so much moisture in the air. It was actually a bit foggy.

It’s getting a bit overcast and foggy.

The wind picked up as well and the higher we got, the more blustery and freezing it got. The picture below shows a cloud hanging on the right side of the mountain. Well, in real life, it wasn’t hanging there at all. The clouds were actually racing down the mountain side at an amazing speed. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked really spectacular.

Racing clouds.

The temperature dropped even further and we decided that it was best to find a sheltered spot somewhere soon. It was hard to find anything even remotely even up there, but eventually I managed to find a somewhat level spot next to a giant fallen tree trunk. We set up camp and quickly huddled together for warmth. I barely managed to boil some water for our apple cider, before I actually ran out of gas. No coffee tomorrow. Oh god.

28 Oct

PCT – Day 120 (28 Oct 18) – Water Cache

Miles 2000.5 – 2026.9 >>> 26.4 (42.5 km)

It was relatively warm in the morning and we felt quite cozy and had a bit of a lie in. After coffee, breakfast, and packing up, we were on the trail a little after eight.

Morning view from Walker Pass Campground.

Thankfully there was actually a water cache located at one of the picnic benches and we could fill up even after our coffee. Thank you.

West of Scodie Mountains HP.

The trail was good and the weather was nice and warm – at least for me. Trouble found it way too hot and complained about being too sweaty.

Time for second breakfast.

We had second breakfast at the top of our first climb of the day and relaxed a little.

Shortly after the trail joined a rough dirt road for about five miles (8 km). Not exactly dream trail, but at least it wasn’t asphalt.

Hazy day.

Later in the afternoon, somewhere south of Skinner Peak, we got our first glimpse down into the large valley towards Red Rock Canyon State Park.

The desert floor.

Trouble was so thirsty that she almost ran out of water. I checked our Guthooks app and the cache was still six miles away, but at least appeared still to have water. So we made our way down there and, even though I offered Trouble some of my water, she wouldn’t touch it. When we arrived at the cache site, we couldn’t believe our eyes. So much water! Thank you so very much.

The water cache at Bird Spring Pass.

We had a bite to eat as well, but were keen to get a few more miles in.

Fading light.

As it was getting dark we seemed to have entered a cattle station. There were cow patties everywhere.

Beautiful sunset. Again.

We both saw desert pocket mice and a little later I also saw a bunny rabbit hopping alongside me. It was clear that we would have to set up somewhere here, but we weren’t too keen on having mice rummaging though our stuff at night. Even if they are really cute.

Under the Joshua trees.

In the end there was no choice. The wind had picked up and was gusting. We found a little shelter under a grove of Joshua trees and I set up camp. For once, I also tied up my food bag and hung it in between two branches of the Joshua tree next to us. Just hoping that it will hold up in this wind.

27 Oct

PCT – Day 119 (27 Oct 18) – Lake Isabella

Miles 2000.5 – 2000.5 >>> 0.0 (0.0 km)

Our night was surprisingly good. However, our inner clock didn’t let us sleep in and we were out and about by seven.

Morning light over Lake Isabella.

Thankfully, Trouble had found a nearby diner that was open this early, so we walked across the highway to Dam Korner.

Damn good breakfast at Dam Korner.

The breakfast was excellent and we took our time and had plenty of coffee refills, before we went to the grocery store to resupply. Seems like that alone took away all our energy, for we decided to stop at Dam Korner for a second breakfast, even before we returned to the hotel to repack.

When we got back to the hotel to check out, we looked up Baram to see how our lift back to the trail was going. Apparently the two hunters were actually out hunting so either we’d wait for their return or we’d have to find our own transport back. Hmm, after a quick chat to the hotel owner, who allowed us to stay until two in the afternoon, we decided to wait. So we hung out in our rooms and by the pool and did some honest to god procrastinating.

The hunters still weren’t back by two, so we actually checked out of our rooms, but were allowed to store our bags in the office. This freed us to go back down to Dam Korner for another meal. This time Baram joined us for the fun.

It wasn’t until a quarter to five for Ruben and his hunting buddy to return. We helped unload Ruben’s truck and stored his guns in the hotel room. Then it was time for a quick photo shoot, before Ruben was kind enough to drive us out to Walker Pass Campground.

Baram with Ruben on the left and his hunting buddy on the right. He’s holding a poster with all 304 victims of the MV Sewol.

Ruben’s a really great guy and is thinking about hiking the PCT one day himself. So he asked us a ton of questions on the way out and we swapped phone numbers. He lives in Agua Dulce where we will be coming through later and we promised to look him up.

Awesome trail angel Ruben, after dropping us off at the campground.

At the campground were also Amanda and Frank her dog, who we’d met in Washington. It was great to see that they’d made it down here.

Thru-hikers socializing.

Trouble and I set up under a tree nearby and went to bed fairly quickly. Even though it had turned out to be an unexpected zero day, it had been quite enjoyable.

26 Oct

PCT – Day 118 (26 Oct 18) – Cross Country

Miles 1982.5 – 2000.5 >>> 18.0 (29.0 km)

It was actually almost warm when we woke up. For the first time in a long time I packed up camp without my fingers turning into icicles. Nice.

View from our campsite.

We stopped for second breakfast and considered our options to get to Lake Isabella.

Looking west towards Canebrake.

It didn’t take us long to decide to do a bit unorthodox hiking. We actually left the trail and walked cross country, straight towards highway 178.

Beautiful Joshua trees.

It was really good fun to be off trail and joked around that the rescue helicopter was quick to have been dispatched, when a chopper flew wide circles around us.

Trouble not lost in the wilderness.

I just had to teach Trouble how to check for snakes while travelling cross country. Not that we encountered any, but you never know.

Even found some Juniper berries (on the right).

We made it down to the highway by 11.15 am. We didn’t put our thumbs out straight away, because there was nowhere for a car to pull over. So we did a bit of a road walk due west, towards Lake Isabella.

Isabella Walker Pass Road (State Route 178).

Even when we found a spot, nobody seemed willing to even slow down for us. So we hiked on even further. Eventually, we saw a car passing us, slowing down, and turning around. Me, being the eternal pessimist, was convinced that the turning around had nothing to do with us, but as usual, Trouble was right. It was Rebekah, who’d never stopped for hitchhikers before, but felt like we didn’t look like ax murderers. So in a split second decision she’d stopped, turned around, and offered us a ride into town. Thank you so much!

Trouble and Rebekah in the Vons car park.

She dropped us off at the car park of the local supermarket and we said goodbye. Thankfully, there was a Pizza Factory next door – so guess where we went first.

After we were sated, we made our way over to the Kern Motel to check in for the night. We walked around and eventually found the manager, who told us we couldn’t check in yet. We were quite grateful for it, because the place looked pretty sketchy and the manager seemed a bit shady too. So we went over to the grocery store, loaded up on snacks and drinks for the night, and began the long, long, long one mile (1.6 km) walk to the Lake Isabella Motel across the highway.

Lake Isabella Motel.

As we were checking in, Baram arrived. He’s a Korean triple-crowner and was on a mission to make it a double triple crown, in honor of the 304 people that had drowned in the sinking of the Korean ferry MV Sewol in 2014. We’d met him a few times before on the trail and it was a happy reunion. The two hunters that had given him a ride into town were also staying at the Motel and offered to take us back to the trail the next day. Excellent.

The rest of the day was spent showering, procrastinating, and willfully lying in bed. Ahh.

25 Oct

PCT – Day 117 (25 Oct 18) – Night Hike

Miles 1955.7 – 1982.5 >>> 26.8 (43.1 km)

The morning was surprisingly chilly and we got cold hands packing up. As became normal procedure, Trouble left early and left me to pack up the camp. I usually caught her pretty quickly anyway, but at least for the one or two miles she was having the wind in her face and could enjoy the empty road.

Looking towards White Dome.

The moment we got a little higher up, the landscape turned very barren. It looked a bit like an ancient burn. But the tree trunks were also blown over and seemed to have been strewn around like matchsticks.

Barren land.

Despite the desolation of the landscape, it did have its own beauty. At least in my eyes. Trouble wasn’t too convinced and didn’t really enjoy herself. Maybe also because she felt hot again.

Only a few rugged sections.

It was mostly up and down today and it felt like were doing a lot of PUDding ([hiker lingo] PUD = pointless up and down). It was pretty awesome to see the grey granite Sierras in the far distant background. It always amazes me how far one can walk in just a few days.

The lone peak in the center left is Sherman Peak in Sequoia NF.

Due to our last water source being dry, we utilized the last of a small water cache to bottle up. Then decided that it would be a good idea to do some night hiking for a change to get some miles in that the stretch to Walker Pass and Lake Isabella would be a bit shorter.

Treading trail.

The setting sun gave us a first taste of what sunsets would be like for us in the desert. The colors were just gorgeous.

Gorgeous sunset colors.

We had dinner and hot apple cider on top of a mountain, before we shouldered our backpacks again and moved on.

Good night sun.

We enjoyed the last bit of daylight, as we were getting higher up. Amazingly it still wasn’t cold at all and it was really pleasant to hike.

Desert colors galore.

Once it was dark, we pulled out our newly acquired Petzl Tikkina headlights (purchased at Elevation Sierra Adventure in Lone Pine), and were pleasantly surprised that they were quite good for night hiking.

Last light of the day.

I love night hiking – on trails that I know. Hiking at night on trails that I don’t know always makes me feel that I’m missing out on the scenery and therefore I generally don’t do it.

I did enjoy the night hike today though. It was nice to look up at the trees and down into the dark abyss of the valley, to stumble over the loose rock, and to see the lights of the settlements in the valley come on and sparkle in the dark.

We only hiked for another four miles (6.5 km), before we decided that we’d done enough for the day. We found a flat platform at the mountain end of a gully going down the flank. It was directly next to the trail (something we’d usually avoid at all cost), but it wasn’t actually a bad place and we were happy to settle down and go to sleep.

24 Oct

PCT – Day 116 (24 Oct 18) – Kennedy Meadows

Miles 1936.2 – 1955.7 >>> 19.5 (31.4 km)

We woke up to ice in our water bottles. It was cold and we were a little sluggish to peel ourselves out of our sleeping bags. Coffee and breakfast were next and then it was time to hit the trail.

Looking back to the South Fork Kern River.

About an hour later we came to an old burn and things warmed up quite nicely. It was so nice to not be cold for a change.

Between Deer Mountain and Crag Peak.

We were following the long valley alongside Crag Creek and it was remarkable how different the color palette of the landscape was compared to the Sierras. Welcome to the Mojave Desert.

Landscape peppered with yellow flowering Rabbitbrush.

At noon we crossed the South Fork Kern River once more via a small bridge.

Amazing fall colors.

By one o’clock I was on the road to Kennedy Meadows – the unofficial end of the Sierras. Perfect time for lunch!

Welcome to Kennedy Meadows.

The road to the General Store seemed longer than expected, even though it’s less than a mile (1.6 km) off trail.

Town food beckons at the General Store.

I was probably twenty minutes ahead of Trouble and arrived as the only customer at the General Store. I expect Northbounders have a different experience of the place.

On the deck at the General Store.

The lady behind the counter was really nice. I gave her my credit card and opened a tap and went straight for root beer, Dr Pepper, and real beer until Trouble arrived. I welcomed her with a can of root beer and soon we ordered burgers, recharged our phones and got comfortable on the deck. We also spread out our sleeping bags to dry in the sun.

Burger with chips as a side dish.

It was three by the time we were back on trail. We kept following the South Fork Kern River and the afternoon was beautiful.

Well defined vegetation around the water way.

Initially we’d planned to do another five miles (8 km), but it became clear that we were walking into a longer dry stretch. So we bottled up at the river, before turned off to the south-east.

Last water source for a while …
… with amazing colors on the river banks.

We hiked for another mile (1.6 km), when we came across a flat section a little off trail among some trees and shrubs. It was six o’clock and dark soon anyway so it was okay.

View from next to our campsite.

We had our apple cider and dinner and then were in bed soon.

23 Oct

PCT – Day 115 (23 Oct 18) – South Fork Kern River

Miles 1917.2 – 1936.2 >>> 19.0 (30.6 km)

We woke up early and I left the relative warmth of the tent to take a few pictures, because the sunrise was so pretty.

Sunrise over Owens Valley.

We hadn’t taken any water the evening before, so there was no coffee. It was freezing cold and we refused to get up before the sun showed some muscle and warmed us up a little bit.

Savoring every ray of sun we can get before getting up.

Trouble’s water filter froze over night and she may have to get a new one for the desert.

Back on trail.

Apart from the scenery that was changing around us, it was the scarcity of water that really brought home for us that we were entering the desert now. We actually had to get off trail to fill up from a trickle of water. Very different from the abundance we’d encountered just days before.

The Gomez Meadow.

The terrain was exceptionally easy, because it was pretty much downhill all the way.

Kern Peak on the left and Mount Kaweah on the right.

It was fascinating to see how quickly the landscape changed from the pine forests of the Sierras to the grassy meadows of the high desert.

The valleys looked very much like desert, even from above.

In the afternoon, I came across a small group of deer that was rather curious about me.

Deer oh deer, what are you doing here?

At around five, we were down in the valley and the character of the landscape had changed completely.

Welcome to the desert.

We hiked down to the South Fork Kern River and stopped by the bridge for water.

South Fork Kern River.

Initially we’d wanted to go further, but there was an up ahead and we both didn’t feel like tackling that this late in the day. So we hiked on and after just a few hundred yards (a few hundred meters), I found an existing campsite on the side of the hill above the river. We set up camp and were quite glad that we could have our apple cider and still had water left for coffee in the morning. Life is good.

22 Oct

PCT – Day 114 (22 Oct 18) – Horseshoe Meadow

Miles 1907.3 – 1917.2 >>> 9.9 (15.9 km)

I woke up to coffee in bed again, but it was clear that we were both pretty keen on getting breakfast asap.

Seven o’clock on a Monday morning in Lone Pine.

We decided to try something new and went over to The Grill on South Main Street. The breakfast was quite good, if not quite as scrumptious as the one the morning before.

Breakfast at The Grill.

After breakfast it was time for resupply and we made our way over to the grocery store. I was pretty good with my resupply cost this time and only spent a little over fifty dollars for five days. We packed everything away at the hotel and went out for second breakfast at the Mount Whitney Restaurant.

Looking down East Bush Street.

We stopped for lunch at the Totem Cafe, of course, before we headed out to get a ride out to the trail again. We walked west on Whitney Portal Road to the edge of town (which isn’t far at all), and stuck our thumbs out. After just a few minutes we heard a nearby home owner shouting at us and beckoning us over. Pessimistic me was worried that he was annoyed by our presence. Optimistic Trouble was convinced that he wanted to offer us a ride. Of course, Trouble was right. He’d recently moved to Lone Pine from LA to retire and loved driving around the countryside. We asked if he minded taking us up to Horseshoe Meadow Camp instead of Whitney Portal (a much longer drive), since we didn’t want to climb the mountain again without proper snow gear. He didn’t mind at all and was happy to explain the sights along the way.

Driving towards Lone Pine Peak.
Looking down into Owens Valley, with the Inyo Mountains in the background.

When we reached Horseshoe Meadow Camp, Trouble and I were very happy that we’d decided to hike out via Whitney Portal and not via Cottonwood Pass. The trailhead was completely deserted and we probably would have had to hike many, many miles on the road to get to the nearest town.

Thanks so much for giving us a ride.

We said our thank yous and goodbyes and were back on trail by a quarter past two. It was very cold up here, much colder than down in the valley, but it felt good to be back in the wilderness. We felt a bit bad for having cut out a chunk of trail through Sequoia NP, but it was probably the wiser decision.

It’s good to be back on trail.

We spent the afternoon mostly hiking, with hardly any stops. The zero had done us good.

Somewhere west of Muah Mountain.

From about 5:30 pm, the evening light bathed everything in golden colors and it was absolutely gorgeous hiking through the landscape. I stopped frequently to take pictures, because it was so beautiful.

Gorgeous evening colors.

The clouds were light and fluffy and were lit by the setting sun.

Sun’s going down.

It was breathtaking. It also felt a bit weird, for we knew that these were the last few miles of the Sierras, before we’d enter the desert.

Sierra landscape with desert sunset colors.
Blue hour’s started.

It was already six o’clock and I began looking for a good night spot. There was nothing really that tickled my fancy though and I kept hiking another thirty minutes, before I found an awesome spot, high up above Owens Lake. I’d left markings on the trail for Trouble to find me and I’d set up my tent already when she arrived.

Overlooking Owens Valley.

Stupidly, we’d forgotten to pick up water and had to dry camp. No apple cider tonight and no coffee in the morning. Oh well, the views made up for it, I guess.