PCT Day 26: Baden-Powell and the Frog Detour

May 14, 2022

Campsite near mile ~376 to Eagles Roost (mi 390.2), then alternate along Highway 2 to Buckhorn Campground junction (mi 394) to Cooper Canyon Camp at mile 395

~15.2 PCT miles

+ ~5 miles of road walking to avoid endangered species closure

~20.2 mi total

The alarm goes off at 3:55. I immediately hear DLT rustling around. Ugh. Morning already. I dread getting out of my cold sleeping bag until I remember that we’re summiting Baden-Powell today! And I’m trying to catch Andy and Beetle! I rocket upwards, hastily throw my contacts in, pack up my bag, and try to eat my Complete Cookie but DLT is already ready to go. The cheek. He’s usually the slowest one!

We start hiking at 4:20. The grade is just as steep as it was last night, if not worse. We run into a few sketchy snowy and icy patches and have to detour around them. I’m not moving well this morning. I’m tired and hot within half a mile, and I have to keep stopping to take layers off, adjust my shorts, and drink water. It starts to get light, and we arrive at the turn-off for the summit and take it.

Catless, Petra, and Chicken are there, along with the hikers we saw at the road crossing yesterday. They’re sitting at the top of the hill looking towards the sunrise. We join them and watch as the world slowly gets lighter. It’s pink and orange and deep blue, and it is so beautiful over this mountain range. LA is visible in the distance, planes taking off and landing at LAX. Somehow, it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the mountain but rather adds to it. Nature and humanity: both cool, not so different.

Once the sun is up, we take turns taking photos with the flag and the sign, then I have a tea and proper breakfast back at my sunrise spot. DLT finishes up his time lapse and we pack up to leave, but not until after a communal teeth brushing session.

The trail is a beautiful ridge after that. It goes up and over some rocks and back down the other side, then coasts along a coniferous slope. I eat my cucumber because (a) it’s refreshing in this already-hot morning, and (b) I am tired of carrying it.

Before long I reach Little Jimmy Spring and fill up my water bag. I check the clock and realize that I could make 10 miles before 10 if I leave right now and rocket down the hill. I really wanted to witness the inevitable Little Jimmy photo shoot with DLT, whose real name is James but who refers to himself in the third person as Jimmy, and who will definitely be very excited about the sign for the spring, but I am determined to make good miles… and to make it to the pit toilet at the trailhead 2.5 away.

The trail descends gradually into a live forest and then into a fire-burnt one. I pass tons of day hikers and heaps of backpackers who look like some kind of scouting group. Despite pulling over for them repeatedly, I still make it down the hill and to the trailhead before 10. I make use of the pit toilet and then have what is meant to be a short snack. It turns into a very long break when Petra, DLT, and Catless join me, and it leaves me feeling extremely sleepy.

For whatever reason, the trail climbs the ugly, hot, fire-scarred Mt. Williamson right after that. I try to stay with DLT but simply cannot. He is in Lord of the Rings land and apparently feeling very good. I have to resort to Sleigh Bells again to get me to the top of the mountain, which does not have very impressive views and which is absolutely boiling. At the summit I immediately turn back down the hill and cruise to another crossing of Highway 2, where DLT is waiting in the shade. I collapse there for a minute until Petra and Catless turn up, then we hike another hot up-and-down mile to Eagles Roost picnic area. We have a long, luxurious lunch, throw away our trash, use another lovely Forest Service toilet, and take a nap on the tables.

Sleepy Daddy Long Toes

We have to take a detour after that because of an Endangered Species Closure. Apparently the Yellow Mountain Frog lives in this area, so about four miles of trail are closed. The alternate is a long, steamy road walk on Highway 2 followed by walking through the Buckhorn Campground and the Buckhart Trail to get back to the PCT. On the road, we play my three standard walking games: the Word Game, 20 Questions, and Ketchup or Mustard. Wiggs taught me Ketchup or Mustard, and it goes like this: one person starts by saying “ketchup or mustard,” and the other person has to choose which one they would keep. The other one disappears from the world. Then they have to add another option. For example: “Ketchup or mustard?” then, “Ketchup or ranch?” It continues like that ad infinitum and goes to some wild places. Petra, Rob, and Catless get really excited about Ketchup or Mustard, and it spurs some conversations that leave me feeling exhausted. By the time I get to the campground, I feel like I am incapable of participating in human conversation. I get water and then shoot ahead alone on the trail.

Snow plants!

Earlier in the day, I got a text from Andy saying that he was either camping at the Cooper Canyon campground or a campsite right before the 400 mile marker. Considering that I’m now about a mile from Cooper, I’m really hoping that he will be there. It would be 4.5 more uphill miles to the other site, and I just don’t think I have it in me. I’m exhausted, cranky, and so tired of these bugs in my face. I follow the alternate trail down into a canyon, across a lovely creek, and finally, FINALLY meet back up with the PCT. I’m relieved to see that logo. I feel like I’ve come back home.

The last mile is intolerable. It’s objectively beautiful with the creek, heaps of purple lupine, and the soft evening light, but the bugs are driving me up a wall and it’s uphill and I just want to stop hiking and go to sleep. I have to take so many breaks on what is not really that large of a hill. By the time I get to camp, I’m just begging the universe to let Andy be there so that the tramily can be together and I can stop hiking.

When I finally get to the camp, I put my pack down against a tree and walk around inspecting tents. I see the kind of tent that Andy has. Could it be? No way. I walk a little closer, trying not to be creepy just in case it isn’t him.

It isn’t. He’s moved on. Dammit. I don’t have four and a half more miles in me, and he might not even be where he said he’d camp. Oh, well. At least there’s a privy here. I walk towards it, and then read the sign. It’s closed.

I sit down by the tree and just let the waves of exhaustion and disappointment roll over me. Petra joins, then DLT, then Catless. I tell them neither Andy nor Beetle is here, and they ask me if I’m going to keep hiking. I don’t think I can, but I want to catch up so bad. DLT and Catless go to set up their tents, but Petra, seeing how upset I am, stays behind. I start crying, and she puts her arm around me. This is the first day of the whole trail, the first day since April 19th, that I haven’t been with Andy for at least part of the day. Maybe it’s stupid to react like this, considering that I didn’t even know he existed a month ago, but we’ve seen so much together and grown so close in these past four weeks. It just feels weird not to at least see him today.

I go over to camp and pick out a spot. DLT suggests that I eat first and then see how I feel and maybe keep going, but I know I’m done. I cry some more, and he hugs me. Then I have to go find a place to dig a cathole because the privy is closed and the sriracha tuna is doing something terrible to me. I wind up having to climb a massive hill of loose sand to the one tree that provides a passable amount of cover across the trail from the camp. I’m even more exhausted after that, and I trudge back to the tent site. I cook my dinner and set up my tent, then stretch with DLT (Jimmy T’s Stretchy Fun Time™) before crawling in my tent.

It wasn’t my favorite day on the PCT, but let me think of some positives before I go: sunrise on Baden-Powell and the ridge after, a slow and luxurious lunch, picnic tables, Forest Service toilets, playing games to make the road walk go faster, and sweet friends who listen well and comfort me and make me feel at home. Yeah. I’d still rather be out here than anywhere else.

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