Landers Camp, Mile 609 to Trailside Mile 627
Landers Camp was so lovely, and we were so comfortable under the pines, we forgot we were still technically in the desert and slacked on the waking up portion of the day. It felt so mountainous, it was hard to remind myself that would soon change. But change it did! We only made it 7 miles before hitting a water cache that marks the beginning of a very long, exceedingly dry section. We were in the middle of some of the most barren desert we've seen yet. It was only 10am, but we had to seek shade under the solitary Joshua Tree in sight with Viking. Soon, the Wolfpack arrived, and all of us spent the entire day curled up under the minimal shade of the spindly tree. Surprisingly, it was a really fun day - perhaps because our tired bodies and brains were heat addled - but whatever. We set up tarps for shade, and passed around the Jameson from my last care package - just enough for everyone to have a little nip!
During the hottest part of the day, two ladies and a dog drove up the dirt road in a van and were dropped off at the cache. It was clear off the bat that they weren't thru-hikers, as the first thing they did was fill every last one of their water bottles with water from the cache, and then washed down their dog - a serious no-no considering they'd clearly come from civilization (and water!) They packed up and then got ready to hike in the middle of the hottest part of the day, in an area with absolutely no shade. It was well over 100. We were all confused and a little annoyed by the selfishness of using SO much of the limited cache supply when they'd just arrived from town to trail. Hours later when we finally started hiking again, we ran into the mom no more than a mile down the trail and she seemed to be showing signs of heat exhaustion. She was already exhausted and I checked in with her to ensure she had enough water and recommended she get under some shade. I felt bad leaving her but thought it more important to catch up with her daughter and dog and send them back. When we caught up with her daughter, she didn't seem too concerned, but when I asked her if she had a water report (fairly essential guide on how/where to find water on the trail) she looked at me with a blank stare and just replied that she had the Halfmile map. Lighthouse was able to convince her to turn back, and I think was successful in convincing them this wasn't the best section to start your hike in. None of us are sure how or why they decided to attempt a section hike where they did, especially when we're so close to the Sierra, but we do know they were seriously underprepared and it was nerve wracking to see people try and set out in such conditions. This portion of the desert is incredibly remote, so they certainly didn't wind up here on accident. The whole experience was unsettling, as it reminded me of just how easily things could go wrong out here, and the sheer brutality of the place we're hiking through right now. Any of us are just one wrong turn away from serious trouble, so it was a good reminder of how important it is to remain vigilant in these kinds of conditions. It also reminded me of how much I've learned the last month and a half, and how far we've all come.
After much debate, the Wolfpack decided to only hike 6-10 miles more instead of the full 15 to the next cache. I was just hoping to get as far as possible - the plan was to hike until I couldn't hike anymore. I was so tempted to stay with everyone at a nice flat spot we found about 5 miles past the Joshua Tree, but knew I'd regret it if not - a huge climb is looming tomorrow, and I wanted to get as close as possible in hopes of completing it before the heat sets in. Managed to make it about 6 miles farther, then had a quick dinner and set alarms for a mere 5 hours later to get up and do it over again!