Date: Thursday, June 23rd 2016
Miles: 592.9 – 623.4
Remote Camp 592.9 – Remote Camp 623.4
I had no idea that today would be my longest mileage day to-date. But then I didn’t realize that today I would also have to deal with the realities of forest fires and not simply their visual after-effects. Today was eventful, and it illustrates just how fluid a day on the Pacific Crest Trail is. You have to be resourceful, change plans, adjust, repeat and flow with what’s thrown at you. And that’s when things go well.
Waking to the sound of a bird chirping it’s little head off, 45mins before sunrise seemed as good a reason as any to get up this morning. The persistent little fellow did evoke a grumble or two initially but I quickly got over myself. I think his 2 bar tune may just be ahead of its time. I just needed a little extra variety for my tastes or maybe some more experience of his art to truly appreciate his mastery. Regardless I was off to an early start as I woke up in a glorious Meadow of oak trees and long grass.
This morning the tail rapidly entered an area of high green coniferous trees. It was cool and pleasant and exactly the kind of terrain I like the most – alpine forest. This was unexpected but very welcome this morning as I aimed for Landers Meadow about 12 miles distant. The views were glorious and once again I met some sociable (or indifferent) deer along the way.
I hit the 600 mile marker just before Robin Bird Spring and although it was nice to hit another milestone, at this stage I think the 1000 will be the next meaningful one for me! The trail ascended a ridge after the spring and things became hot very quickly. The alpine meadows were gone and it was back to singular trees one sandy soil through to Landers Meadow at 608. The Meadow at that spring however was everything it was cracked up to be – a huge green meadow just off trail with a generous flowing pipe, shade, toilets and blue-skies lining out an idyllic spot to enjoy an afternoon shielding from the sun.
Around 5pm I had to bow to the inevitable and hit the trail. Unfortunately around 20mins hike out of Landers Meadow I was confronted with a gut wrenching sight – there right before my eyes a little ways north, the blue skies were replaced with plumes of smoke reaching high into the sky. There was a forest fire and it seemed like the winds were bringing the smoke southwards towards my position.
I had no idea if the fire was close or far and whether I was in any danger. The logical course was to backtrack to Landers Meadow however the only road close by was a dirt road called Piute Mtn Rd. If I kept going eastbound on the PCT I would get to Kelso Valley Rd in 7.5 miles. I ventured that was the better option as its a busier road, would have a water cache and presumably was further south than the fire appeared to be. I’m not sure I could have walked that 7 miles as quickly as I did – half running and half walking – I made the journey in a little over an hour. The fire during that time seemed to die down and then explode back into life far larger than before. The plume expanded to cover the entire northern horizon from my position.
By the time I reached Kelso Valley Rd it was clear that the fire was quite a distance north and I was not in any danger, however the southeasterly winds were pulling acryd black smoke down the valley and across the alignment of the PCT on the next ridge. With few options but to continue (the fire was north of my position and Kelso Valley Rd might even be closed for all I knew), I restocked water from the Kelso Rd cache and continued over the next ridge hoping the winds would change or I could find an area sheltered from the smoke.
Using my headscarf dabbled with water, I was able to work through the smoke. The best way to describe it is like sitting on the wrong side of a bonfire for an evening whilst completing a gym cardio routine. Once night fell I continued walking, the ashfall appearing like a snowstorm in my view ahead with visibility down to a few feet. I eventually ascended a ridge that provided an oasis of calm – no wind and less smoke and after 31 miles decided to shelter for the night, again beneath a little Joshua Tree! It had been an eventful and stressful evening. I knew I was safe but this fire was obviously large and with the lungs of a 60 year old chain smoker after the evening hike, I’m not sure the experience did me any favors. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.