Days 30 to 38 of Yeti’s Pacific Crest Trail PCT blog 2017: From Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows.
The desert slog continues: searching for water, escaping from bears plus first glimpses of the snow-covered high sierra that lie ahead.
This is the last week of slogging through the dry, windy desert before Kennedy Meadows, which is a tiny town that famously marks the end of the desert and start of the high sierra. Throughout winter, the sierra had the heaviest snowfalls in 22 years, much of which still hasn’t melted. So 2017 is a challenging year for hiking the PCT with treacherous icy snow crossings and navigational issues, but the biggest hurdle looks set to be the river crossings as the snow melts and rivers swell. The snow conditions have turned a lot of hikers off doing the PCT this year and many are skipping this section.
But there’s one more week of blustering desert winds and sands first! I had thought the biggest challenge in the next section was going to be the long distances between water sources, but the trail also had another challenge waiting for me in a few days time!
5 – 6 June 2017: zero miles
A group of us are planning to tackle the sierra together, so I took a couple of zero days to rest and catch up with the rest of the crew to discuss sierra plans.
I spent hours shopping for 18 days worth of food and supplies: 6 days for the next section; 8 days to post to Kennedy Meadows; and 4 to post further up the trial. I also ordered snow gear online for the sierra, which should hopefully be waiting for me at Kennedy Meadows.
7 June 2017: Mile 560 to 573
Pretty easy day just getting gear organised and resting up whilst also eating up! I’m trying to get lots of food in to stop losing so much weight.
A local trail angel drove me to the trail head mid-afternoon. I ran into Copper Tone again and we chatted for a while, before I headed out onto the trails.
My pack is by far the heaviest yet with 6 days of food and 5 liters of water. I kept pushing up to the top of a hill after Highway 58 which is apparently where Cheryl Strayed – aka Reese Witherspoon in Wild – started her hike. I spent a couple of hours hiking by the moonlight trying to find a camping spot out of the wind.
8 June 2017: Mile 573 to 593
I slept in after a late night hiking, so a few of the crew went past. I caught back up with them at a water point at Golden Oak and ran into a pretty big bubble of hikers. No signs of Reese Witherspoon though.
I pushed on again but my feet were getting sore. I stopped shorter than planned and ended up cowboy camping with 4 others under a big tree.
9 June 2017: Mile 593 to 617
Up and away pretty early. I arrived at a spring where there was lots of discussion about the next little section, which looked like 34 miles without water. There could be caches of water left by trail angels or local community groups but I don’t like relying on these. The other option was a detour to another spring, requiring extra miles of hiking. In the end, we decided the water cache at Mile 615 was pretty reliable and we also got confirmation that the cache at Mile 631 was full, so we decided to skip the detour and pushed on.
10 June: Mile 617 to 644
I got away nice and early after camping in a dry creek bed with a few others. I hiked 14 miles in one push to make it to Mile 631 to get to the water cache.
It was a really rough hike with blustering wind and sand. We regrouped and relaxed for a couple of hours, trying to get out of the wind behind Joshua trees – not the best wind breaks but that was all that was on offer.
Got going again after lunch, fighting against the wind and sand, to make it all the way Mcivers Spring and Cabin, which was meant to be the next water point. I first started to get worried about 5 minutes out. I ran into an Italian hiker who said it was all dry and there was no water. His English wasn’t great though and there were reports a few days ago that said there was water there. I kept going, made it to the cabin and couldn’t see the water either.
I hiked on another couple of hundred meters, to see a pipe with water absolutely gushing out. I filled up a couple of liters and headed back to tell the Italian guy.
11 June: Mile 644 to 664
I woke up from cowboy camping absolutely soaked from dew. Some dew even made its way inside my sleeping bag. Once again, it was cold and windy.
I got off to a slow start toward Walker Pass which is essentially the only road we cross in this 145 mile stretch between Tehachapi and Kennedy Meadows.
Near the road, a trail angel had dropped off a huge amount of day-old bread and pastries! I chowed down heaps of donuts, so good!
I pushed on part way up a big climb through crazy wind. Found a nice spot to have lunch and relax. Ended up staying there for 3 hours and some of the group caught up.
We made our way to Joshua Tree Spring to camp for the night in a fairly big group. Nice early night with only one or two more days to Kennedy Meadows. There were reports from previous years of a bear at this campsite, so I’m hoping that he’s not still around. We’ve had our first glimpses of the snow-covered sierra mountains over the last 2 days. Getting close and real.
12 June: Mile 664 to 694
It was so cold this morning, I had to dig out my gloves and beanie. There were some really nice sections on the side of the mountain with rock chutes and falls. So pretty, but there were a couple of really big climbs to get through.
At the top of the last big climb, I got an awesome view of the sierra mountains. Looks so close and kind of daunting. I’ve been thinking about it so much and it’s finally happening.
To top the day off, I decided to push on to next camp with water, only to hear a bunch of shouting when I was a few hundred meters away. A black bear had just wondered into the camp and stolen somebody’s food bag. Rather than running off, the bear just sat nearby, tore the bag open and ate its contents! Everybody just stood around and watched.
Plenty of people stayed camping there but given the bear was not moving on, we decided to camp another mile up the trail.
13 June: Mile 694 to 702
No bears bothered us in the night so great news.
Slept in and gradually made our way in to Kennedy Meadows. Felt surreal that I’m finishing the desert and am about to head into the Sierra.
We made our way up the road to the Kennedy Meadows General Store to a round of applause and cheers, as is tradition at this location. Caught up with heaps of people from the walk that I’d spent time with earlier. Quick trip to Grumpy Bears restaurant for burger and beers.
Nothing really in the town other than a general store, Grumpy Bears and a gear shop which is just a room in somebody’s house. There’s no power supply into town, so they rely on personal solar wind and generators.
I picked up my 7 boxes/satchels of gear and re-supply food which was an overwhelming amount of stuff! Spent the afternoon having beers – the chores can wait for tomorrow!