PCT Day 101: Swimming with the Salamanders

July 28, 2022

Campsite at mile 1602.9 to campsite at mile 1625.5

22.6 miles

The sunrise is so orange it looks fake. It drips over the world and wakes me, though I am still very groggy. Will I ever get a good night’s sleep again? I need one. I stay horizontal for as long as I feel like I can get away with it. Then it’s time for breakfast and putting my contacts in, the latter of which I can do just fine now, thank goodness!

It’s a beautiful morning, and for a while, we’re on the side of the ridge where the sun doesn’t hit us. We might actually cover some miles before it gets stinking hot. I’m a bit behind the boys, but not too far back, listening to an audiobook and warming up for the day. We stop at a water source and chat with Cathole for a while, then it’s back to following the ridge and listening to my book. The views are lovely today. It feels really remote, like a drier, more burnt version of the Sierras.

When I get to Fischer Lake, I drop my pack and go over to inspect the salamanders that are making such a splash in the Guthook comments. Sure enough, the pond is full of them. They’re so cute! They have dark bodies with bright orange undersides, and they range from what looks to be about four to six inches. They’re chilling near the surface of the water right at the edge of the pond, looking relaxed as they meander around.

I decide immediately that I’m getting in. I put on my Tevas and shed my hoodie and skirt and walk right into the pond. It’s a little pond-y, with bits of dirt and such getting turned up when I take a step, but it’s worth it. The water feels amazing on my skin. I paddle around for a bit, and although most of the salamanders scatter when I get close, there’s one right near me that doesn’t seem bothered at all. I watch as its smooth, graceful body glides through the water. “Hi friend,” I say, delighted.

I join the boys on the bank for lunch after that. I’ve definitely overpacked on food, but this means that I can go a little crazy with my turkey, cheese, Chex mix, and Nutella. It’s not a very comfortable spot and the shade isn’t lasting long, so it’s not the relaxing break I’m hoping for. But on the bright side, it encourages me to get moving sooner.

It’s so hot when I start hiking after lunch. Tribute and Jumbo are ahead, and it’s just me and my book and the sweltering day. There are a few ridiculously steep hills for no apparent reason. Then there’s a beautiful lake down in a distant valley that gives me big Sierra vibes. A few more evil hills, and at a campsite I spot T and J and I take a break with them for a bit. I’m so wrecked. My feet feel a lot better in my new shoes and insoles, but I am just so tired. I feel like I could fall asleep right here and not wake up until the morning. We decide to do a shorter day today and tack on a few more miles tomorrow because we’re all feeling really punished in this heat.

For the remaining five miles, I listen to and finish my audiobook. It was pretty good, very character-driven, which I enjoy, even if the plot was a bit bland. Jumbo and I stop for water at an off-trail sprint that requires some creative route finding and adds an annoying extra half-hour to the day, but I’m totally dry and need some more.

After my book ends, I listen to some music, including “Change” by Big Thief, which I play three times in a row and end up sobbing. We’re so close to Oregon now, and the thought is propelling me into memories of the last third of the AT and how beautiful it was, but also that looming and omnipresent sense of ending. I’ve started to get a plan into place for after the trail, which makes me feel a lot better, but what am I going to do without these huge, beautiful days in the mountains? I’m hot and tired and desperate for a good night’s sleep, but I’m trying to take in every second while I have it.

The last few miles are lovely and green and cool. As I’m heading up a steep hill to the last water source, a bear bounds across the trail maybe twenty yards in front of me. The only one I’ve seen on the actual PCT! I stop for water and finish the climb, ending at a campsite nestled among some funky rocks at the top of a cliff.

I set up my tent and then join Jumbo and Tribute for the tail end of dinner. Tribute goes to bed, and I end up eating my dinner in the dark outside Jumbo’s tent. “Yay! It’s like a slumber party!” he says while I wait for ages for my Backpacker’s Pantry pad Thai to rehydrate. When I finally finish the gargantuan meal, I crawl into my tent and get ready for sweet, sweet sleep.

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