PCT Weeks 8ish through 9ish: Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows
We made it to Kennedy Meadows! And passed mile 702! This past stretch had all the extremes that the desert could muster for our last desert hiking- big rattlesnakes, many other snakes, pokey campsites, brutal exposed climbs, heat, long dry stretches, scorpions, crazy wind, and Air Force jet demonstrations. It was also gut-wrenchingly beautiful and we spent 8 days climbing up to the pines and back down into the Joshua Trees. We were able to see the desert slowly morph into the start of the Sierras and felt like we really started getting our trail legs.
I also hiked this entire 140+ mile stretch with a ruptured ovarian cyst and a UTI, one or both of which caused intense sharp pain in my abdomen right under my waist strap. But more on that later!
Day 49: Tehachapi to Tucked into Oaks Campsite, 7.42 miles
We rode the bus back to the highway from Tehachapi with huge packs. We had decided to pack food for the entire stretch to Kennedy Meadows instead of hitching into town from Walker Pass for a resupply. Water sources were also few and far between in this stretch. All of this combined meant a lot of food and a lot of water and very heavy packs. I had what I thought was a town-food-induced persistent, sharp stomach ache but figured it would fade once I was back on trail.
The trail followed the highway for a couple of miles and passed by a small bee farm. It was neat to see how many bees were in that immediate area due to the collection of hives.
Thank you, person who painted this rock!
We passed through an isolated burn area that smelled pretty fresh. It had been awhile since we had hiked through the large burn scars in the San Gabriels.
The climb out of Tehachapi was steep and made harder by our heavy packs but we were feeling good! This would be the start of our climbing speed increasing quite a bit.
The sun was starting to set so we decided to camp at the first campsites near the top of the climb. The views were beautiful and we watched several trains pass along the highway that was now very far away. The wind was starting to pick up a lot, which I guess isn’t surprising since Tehachapi has bunches of wind farms, so we were hopeful that the campsite would be sheltered.
Towards the top of the 2700 ft climb, we were able to see the Great Basin extending out forever and some familiar Mojave sites including the plane gravesite, wind turbines, and the Silver Queen Mine. We’ve passed by these landmarks so many times driving up to the Sierras so it was pretty special to see it all together from the tops of these mountains.
We were in luck because our campsite was indeed very sheltered. We were tucked into a grove of oaks and the low branches were literally hugging my tent. We heard loud wind all night but my tent barely moved. This was one of my favorite campsites so far on the trail.
Day 50: Tucked into Oaks Campsite to Campsite, 21.16 miles
This was a long day and with our packs making our feet sore, it was a lot of heads down hiking. Regardless, we continued seeing sweeping views as we continued to climb up and down through the mountains.
In addition to see rock faces that looked like baby Sierras, we started to see Sierras-style afternoon thunderstorms. These are so welcome on hot afternoons!
Long days mean hiking into golden hour, which is in my opinion the prettiest time to be hiking.
We continued to come across wind farms, even as we got further into the backcountry. These are such impressive feats of engineering and construction.
We made it into camp just before it was too dark to set up our tents without headlights. Quick dinner and straight to bed!
Day 51: Campsite to Landers Meadow Campground, 16.82 miles
We decided to skip a very steep, long hike down to the spring at the campsite and instead make our water stretch until the next water source, which was waiting for us after several steep climbs. The climbs were very hot and ridiculously steep…and I definitely had to ration my water too much. The dehydration headache that I got by lunchtime was no surprise at all but eventually we made it to the next source and I chugged a bunch of water. Lesson learned!
At the water source, the afternoon thunderstorms started in the distance and we started hearing near-continuous thunder with an additional almost electric sound that I’ve never heard before in a storm. We had sustained thunder through the afternoon but it only barely rained.
This stretch had a bunch of the original trail markers nailed into trees and the trees were all eating them.
There is such comfort in reaching treeline after long desert stretches. Trees = shade, water, wind protection, yummy smells, and cooler temps.
Another diabetic has camped at my campsite! Tester strip is the tell-tale sign…
My earlier dehydration left me feeling pretty yucky at night with the start of a migraine, so I took some meds and got to sleep as soon as possible.
Day 52: Landers Meadow Campground to Joshua Tree Campsite, 15.60 miles
We were hiking into a 35 mile dry stretch and relying on two water caches that were supposedly very well-stocked by trail angels. Since we didn’t usually count so heavily on caches, we were a bit nervous but had no other choice.
Unsurprisingly, the trail angels were continuing to keep this huge cache extremely well stocked. Trail angels are the best!
We had a climb out of the cache, up through some beautiful Joshua Tree-studded hills. The desert is so unwelcoming and unforgiving but oh my goodness it is gorgeous. A light sprinkling of rain with the afternoon thunder gave us some natural air conditioning for the rest of our climb.
We passed some incredible Joshua Tree groves. Joshua Trees look like people. Ever since learning about the Joshua Tree migration, I think of Joshua trees as extremely slow-moving sentient things that briefly observe me rushing past. Every time I blink they might be getting microscopically closer to me.
We camped tucked into two Joshua Tree bunches. It was gorgeous.
Overnight we heard ear-piercing military jets doing some shenanigans above us and then had hours of near-constant lightning. I’m talking every couple of seconds for HOURS. And the weirdest part was that there was zero thunder or rain. Is this a thing?! Were we almost abducted by aliens?!
Day 53: Joshua Tree Campsite to McIver’s Spring, 21.84 miles
The sun umbrellas came out early with the heat building quickly. Thank goodness for sun umbrellas! I can’t recommend them enough for the desert.
The wind picked up and we sadly had to pack away our umbrellas. The rock formations were starting to look very Sierras-y.
We hiked towards some dirt roads that led to another beautifully maintained water cache. This section would be brutal without them!
Water! This cache also had power banks to charge, toiletries, first aid…what more could you ask for?!
We had a very long, steep climb out of this cache but had afternoon entertainment from several jets doing all sorts of crazy shenanigans like stall maneuvers. I’m lucky I didn’t walk off the cliff with how much I stared up at them.
The afternoon thunderstorms threatened loudly but never broke into rain.
The last couple of miles were on a dirt road through tons of California Flannelbush and we were swarmed by crane flies. Every 5th one was a couple mating in flight! It was pretty impressive.
We camped by an old cabin with a spring nearby. We got there in time to set up camp, cook, scarf our food down, and pass out as the sun set.
This campsite felt like I was in the Sierras. The sunset was beautiful!
Day 54: McIver’s Spring to Windy Saddle Campsite, 12.09 miles
A couple of miles from the campground we encountered a very big, very angry rattlesnake who did not want to let us by. I will not miss these aggressive rattlesnakes once we’re done with the desert.
At the campground, we met WoMo (wolf mom) who was going to section hike with a friend. She gave us cold water and fresh veggies – both things we absolutely do not get on trail. She and her cutie dog were so sweet.
We had reception briefly and I called my husband, needing some advice on the sharp pain I was still feeling in my abdomen. We were crossing a highway, so I wanted to make sure that continuing back into the backcountry was the right choice. We decided that if I felt worse by the morning, I could always turn around and hike out.
The climb out was very windy, which kept it pleasantly cool. The views were breathtaking. We encountered a SECOND rattlesnake in a bush a mile from camp. This one didn’t want us to pass either. Enough with the rattlesnakes!
We camped on a saddle most of the way up the climb. It was pretty exposed and very windy all night but the view was gorgeous and it was worth it.
Day 55: Windy Saddle Campsite to Windy Saddle Campsite, 19.58 miles
The wind this morning was INSANE. At some points I was running across saddles, leaning 45 degrees into the wind!
25% done! It’s almost going too fast.
It was a pretty hot day and we had some big climbs, but the umbrellas helped make it manageable.
The water sources were surrounded by bursts of intense green in an otherwise very exposed, dry stretch. Poison oak was present.
The constant sharp pain in my abdomen was becoming a concern. It was clearly not a stomach ache from food and not period cramps. It was getting very hard to rotate my core or use any core muscles. I was looking forward to seeing a doctor in a couple of days once we got home!
Day 56: Windy Saddle Campsite to Manker Creek, 22.11 miles
Today was gorgeous! We were excited to get to Chimney Creek campground for lunch. Early in Covid, Nik and me and my husband took a road trip that for many unforeseen reasons and challenges, led us to discover this campground and we loved it.
It was a bit of a detour, but we enjoyed a luxurious lunch at a picnic table at the campground. We even cooked ramen for lunch!
We crested and then descended as the sun set. We started entering the most beautiful valley, surrounded by granite formations and cut by a wide creek.
We camped next to Manker creek with beautiful views of the sun setting over the valley and mountains behind us.
Day 57: Manker Creek to Kennedy Meadows, 9.75 miles
We had cruisey miles left to get into Kennedy Meadows. After a week of hiking up and down mountains multiple times a day, this was magical.
700 miles and many more to go!
We followed the creek through the valley and eventually started following the Kern river, which was positively overflowing.
Kennedy Meadows! We made it through the desert!
Well with the desert behind, we now set our sights much further North. With the Sierras entering an unseasonable wet avalanche season, we will be flipping up to Northern California and continuing north.
Once I got home, I went to urgent care, which then sent me to get a CT scan. Turns out my sharp abdominal pain was the result of either a UTI or a ruptured ovarian cyst or a large fibroid or a combination of all of the above. This meant that we took several more days before flipping north to let my body attempt to heal. All I know is that I hiked 140+ miles and 10s of thousands of feet gain through a dry desert with this intense pain and my body fighting an infection. Girls rock.
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