Saturday, March 25, 2017

PCT Day 6 - Miles 84-93: The Third Gate

  • Started: Mile 84.5, 3310 ft
  • Stopped: Mile 93.2, 4052 ft
  • Miles: 8.7
  • Elevation Gain: 1124 ft

I did not wake up until about 9am. I was in a cozy little campsite that was shaded by the hills around me, and despite being in a 15 degree down sleeping bag in the desert, I was comfortable until then. Once the sun hit my tent, it turned it into an oven. That's usually what gets me up in the morning when I'm camping. If I want to wake up at a reasonable hour, I need to put my tent where the sun will hit it as early as possible.

Once I got up and got going, I saw what a pretty area I was hiking in. Like the night before, I was surrounded by flowers. Maybe even more so in the section I was hiking now. Entire hillsides were covered in lupines. The trail was gorgeous.

Like the day before, the trail hugged the contour of the hills, snaking around as it went. It felt like a waste of energy in such hot weather to walk the curves of the hills, around and around, instead of going anywhere in a straight line. I repeatedly had to convince myself that I would use more energy, not less, if I left the trail and climbed down the slope of the hill and back up again where I could see the trail on the other side.

Phacelia
Phacelia

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Nightshade

Lupines
Lupines

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Flower with mites on it (the red specks)

I did not take as many photos as I might have done because it was so dang hot. As much as I love wildflowers and photography, my interest in both goes down when it's hot out, particularly when I am carrying a heavy pack. Especially when getting a good photo means getting down on the ground in the dirt and perhaps taking off my pack.

Again, like so much of Section A on the trail, there was almost no shade. When I did find some, I sat. Usually I just sat right down in the dirt, because there was so little shade that it seemed to never coincide with the placement of good rocks to sit on.

Two hikers passed me as I went along. One spoke to me briefly. The other one spoke too, but unintelligibly. His words made no sense, and I resolved to stop attempting any conversation with him.

Another hiker reached me but, believe it or not, did not pass me. It's rare that I'm faster than anyone.

The goal for all of us was the Third Gate. This is a wonderful water cache at mile 92.1. Whereas every other water cache on the PCT should not be relied upon, the Third Gate cache is 100% reliable. It's 14 miles from the last water, the cache at Scissors Crossing, and 10 miles from the next water at Barrel Springs. I also knew from a PCT memoir I was listening to on audiobook that the Third Gate Cache has shade. Lots of it. You can sit there, or even lay down and nap, in the shade.

I had 6.6 miles to hike to get to the Third Gate, and I was single-mindedly heading for it all day. Not stopping to nap. Not stopping to eat. Not taking pictures. Just hiking on in the heat until I got there.

I wanted to use the liter of water I had left when I was nearly there to cool myself off, or to wash up with. But I forced myself to go all the way to the cache, to make sure I found it, and make sure it had water, before using up my last liter. And I did.

It's called the Third Gate because the section of trail between Scissors Crossing and Barrel Springs has seven pipe gates. The first one was at mile 86. The second one was at mile 88.2. And the third one was at mile 91.2.

Not long after going through it, I saw a fork in the trail. To the left, a sign marked the PCT. To the right, there was a sign that said "Water." I went right.

As promised, there were lots of shady trees! And campsites. Wonderful campsites. And even logs and rocks to sit on. But where the heck was the actual water?

I heard a few people talking and I called out to them and asked where the water was. A guy came out and pointed down the trail but said "It's quite a ways." So... just keep following the trail. Down, down, down it went. I did not look forward to coming back up this trail. But once I got to the cache, I did not plan to go anywhere fast. I was parking myself in the shade with some water and staying put until the weather cooled off.

The cache consisted of pallets of bottled water by the gallon, covered in tarps. A sign asked hikers to take only 3 liters, but I did not see that until I was leaving, after I had already taken more. I tried to use my water sparingly, to not be wasteful, but I used what I had to wash up a bit, and then I used the water from the cache to refill my five liters and to cook dinner.

Another thru-hiker, one who passed me earlier, was sitting by the cache in the shade. I joined him. His name was Joel. For the first time, I introduced myself with my new trail name, Nightcrawler. Once I cooled off a bit and felt a little better, I made dinner.

Then the weird hiker who I had resolved to avoid showed up. I'd passed him napping by the trail shortly before the cache. He came, went about his business, ignored the two of us sitting there, and left.

Last, the slow hiker arrived. He was planning a thru-hike, but this was a training trip for him. He was absolutely dying in the heat, and he had planned a 24 mile hike from Scissors Crossing to Barrel Springs that day followed by 8.5 miles the next morning to Warner Springs. He'd had a rough day, and he still had 10 miles to go. His name was Ken.

I ate Good To-Go Thai Curry, which was delicious, and he cooked Alpine Aire Pineapple Orange Chicken, which he said was so disgusting it was nearly inedible.

Joel left first, and soon Ken and I saw him on top of a nearby hill. I assumed he had done some crazy thing climbing up it for fun, and that the trail did not go quite so high. I found out later that the trail did go up there.

I left second, leaving Ken at the cache, but he said he'd catch up to hike with me. While I hiked back up to the trail, I met another man coming down. He said he'd seen four rattlesnakes in the last hour or so. Right after that, I saw this:

Third Gate Rattler

I counted, and it had 13 rattles. It was right in the trail, going nowhere, but not rattling either. Until I poked it in the tail with my trekking pole, that is. Then it coiled. I wanted it to get out of the trail so Ken wouldn't have to encounter it.

Third Gate Rattler, Coiled

After I started hiking again, I was of two minds. On one hand, I wanted to set up camp and get in my sleeping bag as soon as possible. On the other hand, I did not want another long hot day in the sun the next day. The more miles I did at night, the fewer I'd have to do when it was hot the next day. And, as Ken reasoned, it was best to get the uphill bits out of the way at night if we could. (I think his resolve to actually hike all the way to Barrel Springs that night was crumbling a bit... now he was talking about getting to mile 96 or so, to finish all of the uphill at night and go down to Barrel Springs in the morning.)

In the end, I made it two more miles and stopped at mile 93.2. If I had gone on, the next campsites, "may be hidden by brush" according to my map. Assuming I could not see them from the trail in the dark, I would have to hike to mile 95.2 or mile 95.9 for a place to camp. I didn't feel like risking it, so I said goodbye to Ken, set up my tent, and went to sleep.

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