Today on paper: 1,500 m elevation, through fire ravaged country with intermittent poodle dog bush affected areas (note: poodle dog bush is a plant, it smells and looks like marijuana, and when it makes contact with your skin causes a rash which turns into blisters and welts, then scabs up). Good day huh?
After our lovely evening by Mission Creek we woke well rested and headed out of camp leaving two (tamika and Joe) of our party of six horizontal. The trail initially follows the Creek up a valley. I (meg) begun to count how many times we rock hoped across the banks but lost count at 8.
Sometimes the pink and grey granite boulders would guide us, and sometimes we would wade into mucky mud flanked by saplings. It was the first time on the trail it had felt anything other than dry (albeit San Jacinto). The Creek babbled around boulders and under tree roots, oaks mainly. Other times we would move up and away from the Creek into boulder country. The granite here is beautiful. Big chunks of grey stone marbled with the loveliest soft pink or white. We breakfasted on an old log by the Creek. Everyone felt tired so we made a large pot of coffee and anticipated a short day of about 20kms. Looking up the dry valley we began walking again crossing the Creek several more times. Eventually the trail leaves the creek and continues to gain elevation.
Our old friends the cacti, manzanita, yukka and various other familiar desert plants returned along with an abundant array of lizards. They splay themselves out of the rocks warming their bodies in the sun, then run hell for leather across the path away from you at the last minute. Their long legs and toes paddling out to the side lifting their seemingly heavy bodies in a quick sprint for survival.
I listened to my Spotify, I seem to have a collection of offline songs I didn’t know I had. Some good, some bad, all are a great way to make miles when you’re feeling the heat. Dave and I pulled into some minimal shade and took further refuge under his umberella. These unlikely gadgets are a popular tool on the trail for giving savvy hikers shade. We waited for Harriet who was also feeling pretty spent, and then phoebe who also agreed that today was extra tiring. Maybe it was the collateral of San Jacinto, or maybe it was the long days coming off the ridge and then the long ups we’ve done since the i10. This break was 6.5 kms from our final destination, and it seemed easily accomplishable. Alas, we stopped only a few kms later to refill our depleted water supplies and look another lengthy break. The next 5 kms or so was exhausting and long. We hit the fire affected area which was interesting for about a km and then quickly became frustrating and tedious. Just when you think your close to the top the switch back flicks around and you’re faced with another incline, another ridge line.
On top of this the trail at times crumbled away as you walked along it. The death of the trees wreaks havoc on the ridges. The soil is left unprotected and without binding from the roots. There is evidence of land slides and it is obvious just how much everything is struggling here. The brightest signs of life are some sweet succulent type purple flowers. We passed some south bound hikers who were completing this section as it had been closed last year.
Eventually, after much huff and puff, a little swearing and much sweating we rounded out final ridge to the creek crossing. In such a desolate landscape I had been slightly worried up until this point that there might not be any water. Something about valley after valley of grey black soil and charred pines is very lonely and a bit spooky.
As we came upon the Creek we would eyeball the blackened pines. Huge trees lifeless and beaten by the Lakes Fire. The creek was sweet releif, we flopped down on its edge not caring how filthy the black soil was making us. A lunch of rivita, tuna, cheese, hummus and ranch dressing pilfered from yesterday’s breakfast at Burger King.
After an hour or so we saddled up again and walked to last 2 kms up to tonight’s camp. We are still in the fire zone, behind an old car park. The wind blows through the camp, where there are at least 10 tents pitched. Behind some old horse yards Mission Creek runs over some mossy boulders and we washed our dirty bodies and filtered enough water for tonight and for the next 17 miles (over 20 kms) tomorrow.
Tamika and Joe just arrived as we scraped the last of our packet mash potoate, beans, and some Aussie dehyradted veggies with salmon out of our bowls. Everyone felt it today. We all struggled together which makes it easier. Dave says he is beat and it’s a good description. Your body feels broken in some ways, muscles ache and don’t do their job properly, or you just don’t have your regular get up and go. It will pass, and these feelings of weariness are always overwhelmed and pushed to the background of your mind by the ever changing landscape, or the camp jokes and laughter, or washing by a cold creek, or seeing a chipmunk for the first time, or eating your 10 th piece of chocolate for the day. You get it right? The struggle of hiking is part of the satisfaction you gain. Our bodies are no longer things for which we must simply look after, they are vessels, our means of transport and our greatest allies in completing the next hour, the next day, and the PCT.