July 9, 2014
Miles hiked today: 25.4
Total mileage: 337.9
When I wake up in the morning, I have no idea what awaits me. And that’s a good thing. This day is going to be one of the hardest days of my life. Today, I’m going to cross the Hat Creek Rim, a high plateau between Old Station and Burney, CA. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through this rough desert area with no trees (thus no shadow) and there are no natural water sources for 33 miles. I decide on carrying only 1.5 litres of water, since I learned that there are water caches in the area. A water cache is where trail angels placed jerrycans of water for hikers to take. I’m counting on these caches.
If they are not there, then I’m in big trouble.
When I set out in the morning, it is cloudy. I’m very slow and start quite late, around 7am. I’m tired and I’m stumbling continuously over rocks. My breaks are longer than usual. Why is this, I wonder. I know I have a big day to hike today, and my goal is getting to Baum Lake, where there is a creek with fresh water. After the umpteenth break I finally find my power hike mode. I’m speed marching my way up to a communication facility, an odd looking building on top of a ridge. When I get there: Salvation! Water! Shade! I take another long break here. The temperature is rising, and the heat is sucking all the energy out of me. Energy that I desperately need to hike, to get to Baum Lake.
In the midday, together with two other thru-hikers, I reach cache 22, a water cache near Forest road 22. It’s amazing. Trail angels made an awesome hut out of tree branches and stocked the hut with gallons and gallons of water. Bless them, I feel so grateful that they do all this work for the hikers. I sign the register with a big thank you and I’m on my way again. It’s past 2pm, I’m setting out on the hottest time of day.
Not a smart move.
I still have to go another 13.4 miles to reach Baum Lake, I’m not even half way. The heat is overwhelming. I’m getting cooked, burned, deep-fried and toasted, on 2 sides. I fantasize about ice cold swimming holes and drinks. It’s a real torment. the only thing I want to do is just break down and cry. What the hell am I doing here? I have no idea. It’s so hot and the ridge is exposed. The wind is almost blowing me off the ridge. Again this realization: you could die here. I’m exhausted and I can’t walk any more. But I have to. I drag myself forward, my backpack feels so heavy, the straps are cutting into my shoulders.
I’m walking from landmark to landmark (for example a gate, a fence or a dirt road), as they represent little goals in my hike and I’m slowly counting down the miles. When I finally descend down from the Rim, I still have to do another 8 miles. I’m dusty all over, sweaty all over. I’m so done with this. I want to be there, instead of here. But the harsh reality is that I’m HERE. In this situation where I have to get myself out of. Instead of thinking about not wanting to be here in the moment, I start concentrating on my breath. It helps.
Hike. Don’t. Stop.
Walk. Don’t. Whine.
Just as I think my situation cannot get any worse, a rattle snake jumps right out of the bushes. And it’s a massive one. And it’s furious. And ready to attack me. I see its venom fangs and it is rattling its tail. From fright, I edge away. I stumble over some rocks and fall down on the trail, the snake still a few feet in front of me. I decide to backtrack quickly and make a massive loop around the snake, hoping I don’t meet any of its friends along the way which I, luckily, don’t.
The last miles are really hard. Everything hurts. I’m longing for fresh water, instead of the water I’m carrying, which is heated by the sun and tasting like plastic. Finally I see Baum Lake in the distance. When I get down to the creek around 9pm, the first thing I do is get water. I filter it with my Steripen and gulp the fresh, cool water down. It tastes so good, like champagne! When I’ve set up my tent, I fill my waterbag and strip down my clothes. I throw the ice cold water over me, to wash off the dust from the Rim. I’m so glad I made it safely.
Finally lying in my sleeping bag, I see the full moon, shining so bright. My muscles can relax now. I close my eyes. Almost immediately I fall into a deep, deep sleep.