In the hotel room, Flash's alarm bubbled happily and we leapt out of our beds. Time to hike! I peered outside. "It's so DARK at five thirty," I marveled. "So different than where I live!" However, this was Reno, the same time zone. I shrugged. It was a mystery...or was it? As I packed, I caught a glimpse of the hotel alarm clock. Four thirty! Flash's phone alarm was still set to Mountain Time! Well, what can you do but laugh and go to Denny's.
Our expensive shuttle showed up right on time and we rode in silence to the I-80 rest stop at Donner Summit where our 215 mile hike would begin. Minus a minor delay of game while we hunted for the trail (if you start on the north side, you walk through a culvert which is harder to find on the south end), I was feeling confident. We had pulled off 23 mile days in the desert with no problem. Our packs were light, since our next resupply was in only four days. We've got this, I thought, as we ascended switchbacks, doubling back towards...Donner Lake?
Wait..what? Why were we heading back to the highway? We stopped to consult the map. As we did, a group of day hikers bounded toward us. "You've still got a long way to go to Canada!" they hollered. It slowly sunk in that we were, in fact, heading north, which would have been fine except we were supposed to be going south. As we slunk back down the trail to find the junction we both had missed, the ongoing theme of our hike would be revealed: the PCT is much better marked for those going north, the prevailing way that it is hiked. Time and again, junctions and signs favored the northbounders, while those going south had to keep a careful eye out in order to be sure they were in the right place (this temporary misplacement would happen to us once more before we were done).
Back on the right path, we walked along a high ridge dotted with flowers and characterized by volcanic outcrops. Not for the only time, we wished for a geologist to accompany us. What even was this place, with its craggy cliffs and knobs? How had it come about? Without answers, we walked on to Tinker Knob, obviously a place day hikers climbed to a high point. There we discovered our next rookie error: we were critically low on water, having somehow missed the fact that we were in a 13 mile dry stretch.
Checking the water report, we saw that there was supposed to be a seasonal stream four miles ahead. In this drought year, seasonal streams were suspect, but it was our only option. Bearing half a liter each, we headed for it. Why is it when water is low, you feel more thirsty? Only an hour and a half, I told myself. The seasonal stream was running strong, the benefit of a week of rain prior. We filled up our platypuses (platypii?) with a sense of having been let off easy.
As we walked, a stream of bearded men passed the other way, bound for Canada. We were in the herd, a bubble of thru-hikers trying to beat the weather and fire season. Not yet in the destination march we had observed in Washington, most of them took a few minutes to chat with us and to gleefully accept the jellybeans we offered. I wondered who would make it and who would not.
Another strange phenomenon marked this day, that of the ski resorts. We passed under lifts of various different ski areas, stilled for the season. Our campsite perched just below one. A thru hiker paused to accept a burrito from us. "You have about 20 minutes before that storm gets here," he said, pointing at an ominous sky. Though the thunder rumbled, we only got a few sprinkles. We had covered seventeen miles, eighteen if you counted our temporary misplacement, and we had started at eight thirty. I went to my tent feeling smug. This was going to be a cruise, I thought, full of swimming and relaxing and big mile days. We had our rookie mistakes behind us and this would be a walk in the park. Little did I know how wrong I would be.
to be continued....