Mile 668.7 to South Fork of the Kern River at Mile 699
When I put up camp last night it didn't feel like I was on a slope, but all night I kept slipping to the end of my footprint and had to scoot back to the top. Still, not a bad night's sleep. I woke up before my alarm went off ready to beat the heat. First thing in the morning was a long climb and I wanted to do as much of it as I could before it was hot, and it starts getting hot as soon as the sun touches you.
I was out of camp before 6 and was at the next water source in just over a mile. I had thought about camping at the spring last night, and it would have made for a pleasant spot. It made a nice breakfast place instead. I drank a liter of water and refilled. The water report sounded very iffy so I wanted to camel up and take as much as I could. Four liters of water feels so much lighter when the food bag is so close to empty.
It was almost cold enough for mittens on the climb, but I'd rather be a tad cold than hot, so I hurried onward. I felt like I was making good time and maybe I could get thirty miles down the trail to the South Kern River if I stayed focused. The climbing was going great. I was well over halfway up before my hands were warm. The sun was coming up behind the ridge that I was climbing so the trail was completely in the shade. I reached the top before the sun showed its shining face.
The trail crested the ridge and went down the sunny side and cold hands were no longer a concern. My concern became snack and I stopped and ate a package of peanut butter sandwich crackers and drank some of my valuable water. Then continued to slowly make my way down around 9:30 already thinking about lunch time.
At the bottom of the ridge a small creek flowed just before a dirt road. In the creek was a create with a few sodas and a few beers, and a bag with a couple of grapes so mushy not even thru-hikers would eat them. I helped myself to a Sprite and more water. This water was unexpected--it hadn't sounded like it was flowing on the water report, but I'm glad t was. I took close to four more liters in case I ended up dry camping.
After another snack I left the creek not feeling all that ready to climb a few thousand feet in a few miles as the day worked its way to its hottest hours. There were enough pine trees that it wasn't that bad. Some of these climbs the desert blends with the forest and there will be pine trees with cacti growing at the base. I enjoy the mix, especially when it brings about more shade.
At 2:00 I was still climbing, slurping on my drinking hose trying not to drink too much, but needing the water. The trail crossed a rutted jeep road and set off into a burn zone. I knew after a quarter of a mile that I had made a mistake by not eating lunch in the shelter of the trees. There was no shade and no prospect of shade for as far as I could see. The trail followed the ridge, and would give a view of nearly a mile of more burned ridge. It felt like lunch was canceled.
At quarter of four when I had given up on lunch and was roasting I found a small pine tree that had a nice little patch of dense shade. I dropped my pack, kicked off my shoes, re-hydrated some lunch and mixed it with my last tuna packet, and ate. It was just short of wonderful.
It was a short break--I still had far to go if I wanted to get thirty miles to the river. Each time I came around a bend in the trail and saw more trail on the burned ridge I started to get annoyed. I couldn't believe I was still so short on the day's mileage. It felt like I was pushing and moving along, but it was five o'clock and I still hadn't done twenty miles. Dry camping was seeming like a sure thing, and I wasn't happy about it.
Finally just before 5:30 I saw trees and the trail came off the ridge into a valley. There was a nice little creek that was bubbling away and ice cold. I stopped for a snack and to drink another liter of water and to pack another liter. While I ate my last Snickers bar I looked over my maps. Numbers started to fall into place as I looked at where I was and where I wanted to end up. If I had just five miles to the river, and the river was thirty miles from where I camped, than I had done twenty-five miles, and when I was getting annoyed at not having yet done twenty I had probably done about twenty-three. I blame the hot desert sun on my failed math.
With five miles left I decided to hustle and get the thirty miles done. I only took one liter of water from the stream to insure that I had to make it to the river and I set off across the valley. The valley was beautiful: full of shrubs with yellow flowers, pine trees, ringed with mountains, and I could see an occasional glimpse of sliver water in the distance. I felt like I was flying, too. The sun was hot, but the trail dipped into the pines every so often. My pack was light. I was going to get my thirty.
The trail followed the river for nearly a mile. It was green and everything was lush and smell fresh--better than fresh cut lawns. The river sounded wonderful to me--it sounded like it did in the dreams I've had in the desert about water. It looked cold and dark and it would have been a great place to swim, but not with night on my heels and an empty stomach crying for attention. The trail started to climb away from the river, and I stopped, realizing any further and I'd have gone too far. On a small knoll overlooking the river I was home for the night.