Day 30: Cowboys and thunder…

Day: Tuesday, June 28th 2016

Miles: 709.5 – 730.8

Remote Camp 709.5 – Death Creek Camp 730.8

The excitement of an impending change in landscape and water availability on the Pacific Crest Trail can quite a buzz of excitement across the motley crew of thru-hikers after Kennedy Meadows. The desert is complete. We have collectively achieved something, if not entirely something tangible other than a line on the map. Regardless a renewed energy seems to have washed over everyone on the trail and the expectation of what’s ahead is hugely motivating. We have succeeded in beating the waterless, dry expanse of the Mojave. The fire zones, the unpleasant critters and wildlife. We have also completed hundreds of miles of trail and dialed in our gear, our routine, and our attitudes. Only for it all to be thrown up in the air as the challenges change. The weather changes. The critters change and the hazards change. It all lies ahead of us in the mighty Sierra Nevada.

Sticking to the idea of change, this morning was a change for me in that it was the first time I awoke to multiple people camped in the same spot. In fact I awoke to a gentleman from Hannover, Germany shouting in conversation across my tent at another camper some distance away. The realization that catching up to ‘the herd’ might not be a good thing in all respects dawned on me. Irrespective of the complete lack of camp etiquette, he was a good reminder that it was time for me to get up, so I decamped quickly and moved on before my new European camp buddy could become a full days irritation on the trail. The sun had yet to crest the valley and it was cloudy and calm ahead as the trail continued through a treeless burn zone towards the north. One notable difference as the elevation increased however was the incredible array of small cheerful wild flowers dotting the trail, no doubt satiated by yesterday’s rainfall.

Moving past the burn-zone, one of the greatest moments of the Pacific Crest Trail greeted me across a green Meadow – my first views of the distant peaks of the Sierra Nevada! In appropriate form I decided that a celebratory pop tart was in order!

The trail took a meandering course towards a ridge, the sandy trail indicating that all creatures great and small from critters to snakes to mountain lions have been sharing the PCT as it moves towards the large river ahead.

The trail skirted the meadow before reaching the Kern River and one of the large milestones of the area with a bridge crossing populated by busy swallows, flying and dodging the river structure in impressive feats of aerial showmanship. A number of hikers had rested on a sand-bar beneath the bridge, enjoying a bugless visit, but counting the cost of their new neighbors as a number of tents received a birds-blessing overnight (bird poop).

The trail then ascended the ridge ahead as storm clouds began to assemble to the south and west. As I stopped for lunch, it became clear that some rain and storm activity was certainly in the vicinity but given my elevation had increased, it was hard to tell whether it would stay on the distant horizon or start to impact the day. At one point I passed and briefly chatted to two horsemen/cowboys who (repleat with cowboy hats and lassos) were searching for some missing cattle in the range and similarly were not in the mood to get wet!

Eventually the storms caught up as I quickly haunted across a clearing at the highest elevation of the day. Thunder rolled overhead and in the distance some lightening struck the peaks to the west.

It was a beautiful sight if a little unnerving to be at quite such a prominent point. The light rain started and continued for about 30 minutes as I made use of my sun umbrella for the first time since the hots of the desert. I’m not sure why, but I just prefer the unbrella to my rain jacket. It gives more flexibility and I can shield my pack in addition. It may end up staying with my kit for longer than expected as a result.

As the trail dropped in elevation (just as the sun began to set), I crossed some mosquito riddled meadows close to Death Creek, an ominously named river with yellow colored water that I decided was my destination for the night. This was my first time experiencing large hoards of mosquitos on the trail and certainly an unwelcome development (a prelude of things to come). I camped with about 4 others by Death Creek, a tiring day of elevation and storm chasing complete, and a radioactive bottle of yellow water in hand! Surrounded by ragged granite ridges and a beautiful river canyon, it really did feel like I am getting close to the high Sierra today. Something I’m hugely excited about.

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