The stars were amazing last night, after working on my blog, I turned on my back and relaxed all my muscles, the sky above was so enormous and wide. There was nothing around us to make us feel enclosed, it was the ultimate feeling of freedom. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be out here, and in the moment it was the perfect example of “what else really matters”, and “this is why we do what we do.” This is why we come out here, to be totally free. I lay there with my eyes open, gazing, gazing until I could hold my eyes open no more…and then I slept.
I slept completely through the night. At first light, I poked my face outside of my sleeping bag and saw the pale dawn world barely beginning to wake up. Hurlgoat was not up yet, or not that I could tell, so I curled back into my bag and slept a little longer. Eventually I heard him rustling around and knew he was up for the day, so I painfully forced my eyes open and sat upright. The sun still had not yet risen above the mountains we were facing, due East, and I sat there comfortably outside of my bag, letting the fresh morning air touch my face. I made tepid coffee in my little plastic bottle, shaking it vigorously, making coffee bubbles. It tasted amazing and just as I was taking my first sip, the rays of golden sun came streaming in, reaching out to us with their laser beams of light. Within minutes it was already considerably hotter. Fascinating how quickly this happens out here with nothing to interfere. There is so much space.
We began walking at 7:15 am following Hanaupah Canyon Road further up the wash for a few miles, gradually climbing, gradually getting warmer. By 9:00 am it was legitimately hot, and the sun was baking the back of my neck and legs and I wondered if sunscreen would be enough. By 9:30 am, we found some shade near a big wall of rock and took our second breakfast break there. I was surprisingly hungry already. In that shade, I absorbed the coolness as much as possible, leaning against the rocks, knowing it may be a long time before we get any shade again. I ate, drank, wet my neck band and attached a white linen dinner napkin to my visor for some neck shade. Just to be sure, I slapped on some more sunscreen too. We took off again by 10:00 am, continuing up the wash.
Walking in a wash is definitely not complicated when it comes to route-finding, but it is work getting through all the deep sand. There are side canyons and washes within them that come in from the side, and at a certain point I wondered which one we would find the clues to turn off to the Spring. I walked in the deep sand and over small boulders, dodged cacti and noted several lovely flowers, from cactus to lupine of all things! After walking for over an hour, I saw a narrow canyon off to the South and thought it might be the turn off for Hanaupah Spring, so I meandered in that direction, climbing out of the main wash I’d been walking in. Once I was up and out of the wash, it was much slower going, and I started to realize that when on the actual route, the idea is to take the path of least resistance. I was suddenly climbing over larger boulders and zig-zagging around even more prickly plants, so much so it had become quite inefficient. This can’t be right, I thought. I decided to check my GPS to get my location and I was, in fact, not on the route. The actual route stayed in that same big wash. I’d turned off too soon.
I turned back toward the route and made my way across the rocks and cacti, dropping back down into the wash. There was a faint foot trail leading up the wash still, so I followed that for the next 45 minutes, until I came upon….water!
Remarkably, we found Hanaupah creek running with clear, beautiful water, what good fortune! In the notes for this route, the first natural water source was supposed to be at Hanaupah Spring, up to 1 mile off route, in a side canyon. I had a completely different vision of how we were going to locate water. I’d thought it was going to be more like a scavenger hunt, and here I was, crossing water right on the route! Hiking this route in Spring, as opposed to Fall when most people hike it, is the only reason we have water, this is very encouraging! This was going to save us a lot of time. Lower desert temperatures and the possibility of finding water was a big reason I wanted to hike this route in the Spring. Going into it, there was obviously no guarantee of water, so I was constantly rationing anyway. Now, we could drink cold, pure water to our heart’s content. Also because of the water, the wild flowers are in bloom, there’s still snow on Telescope, and it’s sub 100 F and absolutely beautiful. I am loving this!
Hurlgoat was sitting in a tiny spot of shade when I got to the first creek crossing, and we were tempted to stop there for a lunch break but there was not enough shade for the both of us, so we pressed on. We’ll find something, I thought confidently.
Encouraged by the water, I had visions of a nice shady spot near the flowing creek and a leisurely lunch break, getting all cooled off, like on the PCT. Not the case. It was really difficult to find shade and it seemed to be getting hotter. All the areas near the creek had dense vegetation that grew straight up out of the creek and on the sides were stacks of rock, mounds of sand and clusters of cacti. We even had difficulty finding an easy place to access the water and fill up our bottles. We make-shifted some sun protection with my sun umbrella and Hurlgoat’s rain jacket draped over a bush. The sun had become harsh and if you sat directly in it, it felt like it was burning your skin. Our little shade contraption was actually pretty effective though, and it gave us the respite that we needed. We took about an hour break, filtered water, ate well, hydrated well, and rested up a little before the real climbing began.
From here, the route takes a hard right, sending you straight up a 1,500 ft vertical slope of scree, loose shale and some dirt. Dirt, I learned, helps you gain ground. The slope is roughly a 25+ degree incline over 1 mile or so, up to a ridge where it evens out for a stretch, then climbs more. I’d been anticipating this whole climb up to Telescope to be one of the more difficult climbs I’ve done. From where we camped, to the ridge just below Telescope Peak, you climb close to 10,000 ft. in about 11 miles. On the PCT, there were days where I hiked 25 miles and gained about 8,000 ft or so, plus descended the same, so I had a rough idea what this was going to be like. However, this was definitely different than the PCT. This was not on a nicely graded and well maintained trail. This was also while carrying 5L+ of water. This was also completely exposed. At lunch, my thermometer read 85 F in the “shade”, so I think it was around 95 F out on the exposed slopes. It was a sweaty climb and I tell ya, any breeze at all, was pure heaven!
I was prepared mentally for the climb, if not a little intimidated, but mostly, I was excited. This was a big challenge, and I wanted to take it head on. Right before setting off, I ate some cold brew coffee chocolate (from Trader Joe’s). Not gonna lie, not only was it quite delicious, I think it really helped! I was surprised that I ended up feeling strong, even while carrying 5L of water. My legs did not let me down, I found a good pace and rhythm of breathing, I choked way up on my trekking poles and dug them in deep, kept a steady pace all the way up to that first ridge. I was determined.
I would stop from time to time to let my heart rate slow down, and give my muscles a break, taking in the views. Oh my goodness, the views were spectacular. They kept getting better and better, and being able to look down and see where we had just come from already gave me such a sense of accomplishment. I could see the rich cluster of chlorophyll from all the plants in the Spring, and part of me wished we’d gone up there just to cool down and enjoy the oasis. But no, we’re here to hike!
I passed by so many beautiful flowering cacti and would use admiring them as an excuse to take small breaks. There were several false summits as I got closer to the ridge where the route veered to the left. I kept thinking I was there and I would get a break soon, but it was not the case. Finally, after maybe an hour and 15 minutes of climbing, I found a flat area in a saddle to sit and rest. I hadn’t wanted to stop until it was relatively flat. Hurlgoat was down below a little ways, and I took advantage of the 10 minutes it would take him to reach the crest and plopped myself down. I opened up my umbrella for shade, wedged myself up against my pack, and leaned back. It felt extremely good to sit down, and the shade of my umbrella once again saved the day. Wow, this umbrella was definitely worth bringing, I thought. Soon, Hurlgoat was cresting the ridge, and he made a beeline right past me, for the shade of a nearby pinion pine. That first mile of climbing took some work for sure, and we still had a long way to go. It was definitely getting hotter, so we rested silently for about 30 minutes, allowing our bodies to cool down.
It was really hot. Did I mention that?
From there we continued to climb a few more ridges and slopes to the point that we’d gained more than 4,500 feet since our lunch break in a matter of a few hours. The climbing was definitely intense, and the sun was raging hot, the route was still quite exposed and I was thankful for my “chilled” neck band and I drank as much water as I could allow. We had to make it all the way to Tuber Spring over the other side of the mountain range for our next water. And we had to actually find the Spring. The dry desert air makes your mouth so dry when you are exerting yourself and you constantly feel the thirst. Fortunately, as we gained elevation, I began to feel the cooler air mixing in with the stifling hot air, providing moments of relief and sparks of hope for a cooler, more comfortable evening. Along one of the steep slopes, nestled in some pinon pines, I found a small rusty sign that said “L2H” on it, stuck in the branches of an old tree.
Yay, we’re not lost, we’re on the route!
We wound around curved hillsides, stepping among small boulders now made of granite. Eventually we were forging lines through junipers and pinons. The mountain was getting greener, and the change from desert to sub-alpine environment was a beautiful transition to witness in a matter of hours. We pushed on, staying closer together now. We were both drenched in sweat. I wasn’t so sure if Hurlgoat was doing ok. He was stopping a lot and saying he was kind-of nauseous, I wasn’t sure if it was elevation or heat, or both. By 4:oo pm, he abruptly stopped and took off his pack under the shade of a large old Juniper. He was quiet, and I could tell he didn’t feel well. I was A-okay with taking another break, so I followed suit and took my pack off and sat there in the shade next to him. He was staring off into space for a while, until finally he uttered the words “I think I might throw up.”
But he didn’t. We lay there in the shade, doing nothing. My shirt was soaked with sweat and believe it or not, I started to get the chills, so I moved over to the sun. I laid down directly on some pointy rocks, but I didn’t care. The warmth of the sun on my sweaty back was the perfect combination for a cat nap. I used a rock and my neck bandanna as a pillow, which worked perfectly fine. I drifted in and out of a light sleep.
An hour went by. I thought about Hurlgoat’s transition from Winter in Canada to this extreme desert heat practically overnight. It is indeed an extreme change and the sheer demand of the hike itself is a lot to expect of the body. After the rest, we’d both cooled down and then talked about hiking on further still that evening. Even though it would have been a lovely evening to hike, I didn’t think it was a good idea given how Hurlgoat had been feeling. He was willing to push on, and was humbly apologetic to me for slowing us down. We’d planned on hiking further today, but things happen. Our original plan was to shoot for 20 miles each day, not including day one. That way, we would reach the Mountaineer’s Route by day 7 and have a cushion day in case we got slowed down by the snow. So far, we’d hiked 8.5 miles on day one, and this being day two, we’d made it only 9 miles, but climbed close to 6,000 ft. Sure, we were already short of our goal, but what can you do?
I suggested we stay there and call it a day, there were a couple flat enough places to sleep and if he pushed himself more that day, who knows what would happen then, it could get worse. Tomorrow could be worse. We talked it over and decided we’d put in a good day’s hiking already. We’re good, we’ll make up for the miles. Plus, hanging around camp and getting to bed real early sounded just fine to me. We agreed on it and settled in. We decided we would get up really early and take advantage of hiking in the much cooler, more comfortable morning temps. Maybe we can even summit Telescope!
We set up our beds on the two flat spots we found and watched the sunset from our ridge, which boasted a view of the valley below where we had just come from. The temperature dropped considerably, and we both got changed into dry, sleep clothes. I made my dinner of couscous with vegetables and a tortilla. Hurlgoat was not hungry but forced himself to choke down some cold Ramen. He was not happy about being stoveless that night. And I understand, feeling shitty as he did, I couldn’t blame him for wanting a hot cup of tea or some hot soup. He loves to cook big, hot and hardy meals, and this was clearly a big sacrifice he was making for the sake of this hike. It was my idea anyway, to go stoveless, and I somehow must have convinced him to try it as well. But it’s not his thing at all. He loves to cook on trail. I felt bad now. I wanted him to eat and feel better.
Journal entry: There is a nearly half moon above head, settling into a deepening blue sky. We are camped at about 6,300 ft. There is a large rabbit in our camp, it has tall ears that are black on the ends and it has a longish tail that is also black, never seen one like that. It probably weighs about 10 pounds, decent size of a rabbit! We have seen zero people today, and don’t expect to see any, until we reach Panamint Resort the day after tomorrow. The air temp is a luxurious 63 F right now and I expect it will drop another 20 F tonight. Yesterday I was contemplating the concept of “point of no return” on this hike and wondering where exactly that would be. Even as of this morning and even as of our lunch spot, we could have turned and gone back without much resistance. Now, I think forward is the only way we can go. Forward. Upward. Onward.