Death Valley Traverse: Day Two: liquid gold

March 25th, 2022

  • 23 miles
  • Buckwheat Wash to Gold Valley
  • Features: Salsbury Pass Water Cache, Tangerines, Greenwater Valley, Unnamed Pass, Gold Valley Water Cache
  • Temps: low 70 High 100

Last night I really tossed and turned. The breeze, though soft and lovely, brushed against my face all night, waking me up. I kept thinking that I had just fallen asleep, it was one of those nights. My alarm chimes at 5:30am, as I open my eyes it still looks like the dead of night in the desert. I tuck in for an extra 15 minutes but it’s no use. I’m awake. I force myself to get up in the dark and start packing up. I am franky shocked that I peed because I feel so parched. This does not stop me from wanting coffee, but I can’t sacrifice the little water I have for coffee. I eat a dry cookie and sip just enough water to wash it down and call it good. I’m walking at 6:20am, just as daybreak appears and I can switch off my headlamp.

Moving up the canyon

I calculated several times by looking over my maps how many miles to Salsbury Pass, figuring somewhere between 7 and 9.  Hoping to make it by 10am I set off with a solid pace. As I start my morning I find the space to enjoy the curves and stillness of the narrowing canyon, climbing gradually up washes in sandy footing before any sun would hit. I am elated to be walking in this comfortable 70F for the first few miles.

Eventually the canyon and wash hooks onto an old dirt track near the American Mine, which I do not take the optional detour to go see. I am singularly focused on getting to my water cache. The dirt track is probably 100+ years old and is quite overgrown and hard to follow in places. I see remnants of rock walls that once acted as embankments to prevent erosion, and wonder just how long ago it was that humans were here stacking such rocks and driving their old rickety vehicles out here to look for gold. It’s kind of wild. It’s like the wild wild west.

Once I’m on the track, I can let my navigational guard down a little and I begin to imagine what options I have whence I arrive at Salsbury Pass. Assuming that my water is there, I will still want to flag down a vehicle and ask for some extra water. I would have no shame in so doing. Or, there is the scenario where I stick my thumb out and just hitch to Shoshone and call it. Or maybe I would get really lucky and there will already be a car in the pullout. They would see me walk up and ask me if I need anything. Then they would not only give me some water, but they would also happen to have a cooler with ice cold flavored beverages to offer. My mind spins with excitement at the thought of a cold gatorade or coke. Hey, a girl can dream, right? These scenarios churn in my head as I descend into the valley below. Truly, if I just had one more liter of water, just one, all would be right in my world.

The overgrown track
A couple miles to the road
Dirt road with wildflowers

By the time I reach the paved road it’s 9:00am and I am stoked that I’ve made such good time. I only have 1.3 miles to get to the cache! Since I am now walking on a legit two lane highway I can speed up even more and I put on the burners. To accompany my good mood and my good pace, I do a rare thing I hardly ever do. I put on some music. The song that randomly plays from my phone is Nathaniel Rateliff’s And it’s Still Alright which fits my mood perfectly. I am walking along the road feeling very free and like everything is going to be just fine. And it’s still alright…

It ain’t alright, the hardness of my head
Now, close your eyes and spin around
Say, hard times you could find, it
Ain’t the way that you want
But it’s still alright

Standing out on a ledge                                         With no way to get down
You start praying for wings to grow
Oh, baby, just let go

When about the next song is underway, I see up ahead there is something colorful scattered across the road. My eyes are playing tricks on me, it looks like a bunch of fruit or something. Is this a mirage? Am I already hallucinating? …I approach closer to the glowing little orange dots and sure enough, somehow, there is a massive load of little tangerine cuties scattered across the shoulder of the road. What!?

At first I am not sure what to make of this. I instinctively collect all the tangerines from the road and place them off to the side in a pile. I consider taking about 4 of them and leaving the rest for someone else. Then I realize this is my liquid gold. This is my trail magic. The trail sent me tangerines!

Tangerine Miracle!

Oh my goodness, I am seriouslly so pumped about this. I count them, there are 18 perfect tangerines. I pull out an extra large zip lock from my pack and they all fit perfectly inside. I am so ecstatic I am laughing out loud and feel so much gratitude. These are for me! Whoo hoo!! I peel the first one and the skin comes off like a dream, when I pop the first little segment into my mouth and experience the bursting of the sweet, sour, tangy juices it is truly the best thing ever. I peel and eat two more until my tongue feels like it is going to blister.

Im saved!!

I add this extra weight happily into my pack and continue trucking along the highway listening to my music. I’m totally giddy walking alone through the remote desert on a highway laughing to myself with this bag of tangerines. I crest over Salsbury Pass proper just above 3,000ft and round the bend to my water cache with great anticipation, then I trace the steps in my memory to where I left this cache ten days ago. To my great relief, it is there, intact, exactly how I left it. Hooray! I now have 4 more liters of water and 18 tangerines. Its decided. I’m going forward. It was decided when I found the tangerines.

I immediately finish the remaining swigs of my rationed water till it’s dry. Then I take a seat near a faint swatch of shade and start eating more tangerines. I have some granola too, and then indulge in 4oz of instant coffee, strong and dark like a European espresso. It tastes amazing too. Everything does. I mix electrolytes and fill my bottles to the brim, then stash 2 liters of water inside my pack. Then I study my maps again. How far is it to my next water cache now?

Caffeine dream…

I calculate this water has to last me roughly 16 mi. It seems the temps are better too, or is that my imagination? or the elevation? I check my thermometer, it is 80F in the shade right now at 10am. Thats good right?

I continue a mile down the paved road until its time to leave the highway, returning to the sounds of birds, sand and wind. I see a Raven on a highway post right where I turn off and take this to be a good sign that I am being looked out for. It’s as if the route description says “step off the pavement into the desert where the Raven sits”. Just as I step into the soft sandy terrain, the Raven takes flight, his job is done, I am on my way. My objective now is to point my trajectory toward a giant monolith for the next two hours and stay the course. Distance is always deceptive in this desert and I can’t quite tell how long it may take to get there.

Aim for that knob in the center

There are the teeniest little yellow wildflowers scattered across the valley floor like a carpet. I pick my way through them at a painstaking pace. What to do? I treasure these little beauties and honor their life force and yet, I cannot walk normally witthout stepping on a few. I pretend I am a wild animal passing thhrough and trust that the little flowers are resilient enough to withstand my momentary tromping.

Carpet of wildflowers

It’s 1:00pm, I have passed the edge of said monolith. It is hot hot hot and I need shade but there is none to be had. I’ve been slowly nursing my electrolytes and eating ricola throat drops which are amazing in this scenario. I force myself to pee, it’s been several hours. My urine is a dark yellow and scanty, but it’s something. I drink more electrolytes wondering will I ever get hydrated again?

I keep pushing to the next bush hoping it may produce a little more shade than the last. Finally, I give up the search, I have to stop and make my own shade. I prop my umbrella around the branches of a shrub and plunk down under it. It’s actually not bad, especially when I take off my shoes. The wind is picking up, there is a slight cloud cover moving in, and when the breeze hits my wet sweaty back it feels like air conditioning.

Making shade!

I see I have a giant blister on one toe. I drain it, tape it, and move on to just relaxing for a few minutes in an attempt to cool down. I manage to eat a little bit of my salty snacks and eat three more tangerines, that’s 6 for today so far. I need to ration these too. I drink a little water but not liberally, just enough to make me feel less anxious about all the rationing. The desire to guzzle never abates. I check my thermometer, it’s 90F in the shade here now. Could be worse.

My next objective…

I’ve been sitting for over an hour, it’s 2:30pm and I’m ready to move. My next objective is ~8 miles to the unnamed pass, which will drop me into Gold Valley, then 1-2 miles to the water cache. From here there are very few landmarks and I break the next chunk of miles into two four mile sections. For now, I aim loosely at a prominence in one of the distant mountains. The walking is no longer smooth or flat, but instead on rocky tedius terrain that dips into little washes and climbs back up, following the curves of the mountain slope which fans out into the flat desert. I wonder if there is anywhere I could walk faster? I look further down hill, but nothing looks promising enough. Alas, I trudge along the tedius terrain. I stop to take in the scene, my surroundings are stunning. 

Beauty surrounds me…
Walking across Greenwater Valley

By 4:00pm I’ve made the four mile goal and I need another cool down break. I find a little bit of  shade, and praise the whisps of clouds which are moving in on me. They aren’t much, but they sure do help. The slight breeze has continued too, which I am ever so grateful for. I check my water supply, pour some into my Talenti jar to hydrate my dinner, re-check my maps to calibrate the next 4 miles which now curve Northwest, leading up to the pass. I believe I am on track!

Faring well!

The exact spot of the pass eludes me as I approach it from about a mile away. Getting closer and closer to it, I become aware of my ankle really hurting from all the uneven terrain. I’m going through more water and still have a deep desire to guzzle but still can’t, not until I’m at the cache, then I will drink. Before I start climbing, I pop a few Honey Stinger gummies to give me a little zip for this last stretch. Looking up from the base of the climb, it’s pretty dang steep, but in the greater context of passes I’ve climbed in my life, this is miniscule. Time to dig in.

I start climbing and flash back to the L2H when we climbed up Telescope Peak from Hanaupah Canyon. Now that was a climb. What’s similar about this is how you loose tracking in the sandy, loose terrain. I must be tired or something because I feel frustrated that it’s not clear exactly what I am aiming for and think I’m wasting prescious energy.

I discover it’s actually more like a ridge than an actual pass when I look at my GPS to micro navigate. I just want to know where to aim and get it done. I push and push up the steep slope until I am finally there on the crest and I can see Gold Valley below me. What a great sight to behold! What I can’t see, however, is the the dirt track with which I need to connect, but my GPS shows it’s not too far away. I calculate a little over a mile and a half to my water now. Yay, I am on the home stretch!

Heading toward the pass

From the ridge/pass I practically float down the easy slope to flat land again. I am walking through sage brush clusters and the sun is sinking closer to the horizon. Relief is beginning to wash over me as I realize I have made it through the day. The road is tucked into the folds of the Earth and I can’t see it until I am literally on it. It’s amazing how these little moments of victory bring so much relief and cause for celebration. Happy dance, whoo hoo! Now it’s only .6 miles to my water. I am feeling more and more optimistic. The energy in this valley is quite peaceful and this is my favorite time of day. I begin to contemplate whether I want to night hike since it’s going to be dirt track walking for a chunk of miles now.

By 6:20pm I’m at my cache and I’ve hiked 22 miles. I scout around to find the shrub I buried my water under and start digging. Beneath the sand, I feel the rippling surface of my hydrapack, inside of which my water is perfectly intact. Oh my goodness, thank you, thank you!

Water Cache #2

I guzzle the remaining piss warm water I had left from the day, then lay all my containers out on the ground to get a good understanding of what I have now. A grand total of 4L has to get me to my next cache by tomorrow afternoon, about 17 miles away. I think I’m good. I pack up and decide to hike further up the dirt track before looking for a place to plant myself for the night.

Heading into Gold Valley
Peaceful evening walking

Within less than a mile I spy a good location to make camp. It’s away from the road and out of the wind and there is a small shrub on which to drape my sweaty clothes. I decide to pitch my pocket tarp tonight to block the breeze in hopes for a better night’s rest. The clouds are creating an opaque film across the sky that makes for less stellar stars tonight but through a perfect opening in that gauzy blanket, I can see the full constellation of the Big Dipper.

I pitch my tarp, drape my sweaty clothes over the adjacent shrub and do the same wipe down method as last night. Again, I stand naked in the dark, feeling the cool breeze caress my drying skin and it is the most amazing feeling. I now have a good apppetite and devour my dinner of cold soaked refried beans with curry couscous. I add a packet of coconut oil and hot sauce and it tastes amazing. Man oh man what a day! It’s tougher than hell at the end of days like these to try to write about all that happened, it feels like there’s so much, and that’s what I love about being out on these adventures. Time slows down, life is so simplified, yet intensified.

The elevation here is ~ 4,000 ft, I’m certain I will sleep better in the cooler temps. The thermometer says it’s 60F, hallelujah! And would you believe my feet actually feel cold? It’s 8:30pm and I am fully tucked in and ready for bed. This would normally be when I am sipping my tea. Tea or no tea, I welcome the cozy and protected feel of the pocket tarp, it really is a great little shelter. I am so happy to be horizontal, I am beat. But, I am still on the trail, I made it here. The chirping of the crickets is insane music to soothe my weary soul, thank you crickets for the evening chorus!

12 thoughts on “Death Valley Traverse: Day Two: liquid gold

  1. A very informative and illustrative play my play or I should say day by day account I’ll be latest adventures in paradise with that other kind of paradise. Mary Merry Poppins,  indeed! Dr. Rich

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS

      1. Nice read can’t wait until the next one. Caught you hiking with wander women pct

    1. Thank you. On my foot travels over the years, I have been reminded over and over again that the Universe truly has my back, my job is to do my homework and stay present, be connected with the flow, which results in so much support and gratitude 🙂

  2. Your descriptive prose is at once entertaining and informative. You are amazing. I have planned to backpack the Arizona Trail, but I am not sure I could carry enough water to stay hydrated. Enjoy reading about your adventures, thanks for sharing. Be safe and hike on!!!

    1. Thank you so much for the great feedback! AZT is totally doable, best time for water is a Spring Northbound hike. I did that hike in 2019 and the blog posts are in the archives. If you want to hike the AZT it is very well set up in sections too 🙂 I encourage you to go for it!

  3. Splendiferous chronicle. Your descriptions are so vivid, I had to grab my water bottle and take a gulp. Your hiking blogs, text and images, are the best on the net. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You are too kind! You know I feel like people are so into videos these days, I appreciate it so much when someone has read my musings and enjoys it!Thanks for the commentary 🙂

  4. I love reading your descriptions of the trail and how your day unfolds! I feel like I’m right there with you!

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