Miles: 23.5 + .5 for water
Total: 109.5 Warner Springs
Water: Just under 2L from 3rd gate cache and again from Barrel Springs.
I keep waking in the night, camped out on top of one of the San Felipe hills. Each time I begin to fall asleep a burst of wind hits my back with a big FWAP! startling me back to consciousness. Later, there are otherworldly creaking sounds, night hikers going through a nearby gate. Later still an ant is crawling on my eyelid. The sunrise from our high vantage makes it all worthwhile.
In this long dry stretch everything is organized around water. The famous Third Gate Cache breaks what is otherwise an dangerously dry stretch. Though we have been told that it is stocked, I think everyone is relieved to see it is true. A wooden sign points the way, and down a trail sit fresh gallon jugs, piled up and shaded from the sun. There are signs hanging from the bushes with all kinds of instructions from order to use them, to how to crush and store the empties.
I stay too long. The sun is hot and the hills are exposed. The trail winds around and around. First up, and then down and around in giant crooked hairpins. The lack of trees means you can see the way far in advance, the path laid out in plain view. Just when you think you have caught up with someone, you turn the bend to see a half mile squiggle in and around a ravine.
Some hikers pass heading southbound. They are part of a trail crew out for 9 days of maintenance. I thank them in advance. There is a pack train too, 20 or so mules and horses laden with supplies for the team. I notice the impact of the hooves on the trail, as it goes from packed to sandy, and some parts collapse on steep hillsides. Horses are legal on the PCT, but I can’t help see the irony in the damage done by horses bringing in people who fix trails.
The middle of the day seems to take forever and I begin to lag behind the others. My feet are sore much sooner than the day before, but this should not be surprising. They will have carried me over 65 miles in three days.
Finally I can see trees in the distance, the intense green surrounds of Barrel Springs. On the way I pass Mile 100 all marked out in stones and with a little sign to remind us we only have to do this 26 more times to reach Canada.
At the springs, a pipe dripping cool water slowly but steady into a concrete tub, my friends lounge in the dreamy shade of a giant oak. Chong shows me a photo of a huge scorpion he saw night hiking right past where I slept. He and Cheech, Canadian teens I meet on day two, were the ones who opened the gate late last night. Apparently they also shone their lights into the faces of all the hikers sleeping in various rocky nooks all along the exposed trail, talking loudly all the way “Hey, there’s someone sleeping there.” But the pair are young and generally hilarious and forgiven.
Late in the afternoon, Audrey and I peel ourselves from the shade and head the last miles into Warner Springs with hopes of being first in line for morning laundry and showers. My clothes, light colored for the heat, are now streaked with dirt and zigzag lines of salt.
The trail changes dramatically again, passing now over rolling hills of golden grass. It is windy, and early evening and glorious. We cook dinner in the shade of Eagle Rock, a formation that does very much resemble its name. And then we walk finally in the shade of giant oaks beside and actual creek. With flowing water.
At Warner Springs we head to the community center where we are allowed to camp. A traveling city of mini tents sprouts in the shade of a giant tree. Trail angel Doug is here too, with more veggies and soda. And there are even a few people here who I have not yet met.
I fall asleep to coyotes yipping in the distance, thinking how strange it is to hear them on trail for the first time while in town.