Walking away from the parking area was pretty lackluster, no fan fair, just me quietly setting out across the playa. The time was 4:22PM. I was smiling to myself, imagining what all those people must’ve been thinking as they watched me walk off with my backpack and trekking poles. Lots of folks were staring, but no one seemed to want to ask: Where are you going? What are you doing? Are you crazy?
I took a bearing and off I went. “Here I go, finally,” I thought to myself as I settled into my hiking rhythm. A shin splint in my right leg set in pretty quickly. I hadn’t even made it across the playa, or even to the true lowest point, and it was already coming on strong. I’d originally gotten it a couple days ago during my challenge hike on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. Guess three days wasn’t enough rest for it to heal. Can’t say I was surprised, but I also wasn’t willing to turn around. I figured I could at least make it to Whitney and finish the L2H. At that point, I’d have to decide whether to end my trip there without doing the High Sierra Trail. With that plan in mind, I chose to keep going and re-evaluate at Panamint Springs.
Rather than take the standard route, or the easier alternate, I set a bearing for the true lowest point in North America. It meant a little extra distance, but it was important to me to honor the namesake of the route. There was a little cairn to mark it, which I thought was pretty cool.
From there, I just b-lined it straight across the playa for Hanaupah Canyon and my first water cache. The playa north of the official route was a perpetually changing landscape of saturated, thinly veiled mud and razor-sharp, Mars-like terrain that looked like breaking waves frozen in time. There were long sections where I broke through the crust with each step and slipped and slid through the mud. Then there were other long sections where I had to pick my way carefully through the latter to avoid tripping and getting cut up or injured. Difficult walking either way, and beautiful.
The sun set beautifully as I moved westward into it. And the moon wasn’t up for very long before it also set. Eventually I lost my landmark in the black sky, so I resorted to GPS navigation rather than cumbersomely following a compass bearing. Cheating, sure, but it was just easier. Totally stoked on this Suunto Traverse watch. It’s certainly imperfect, but the coordinates and GPS navigation are spot on, which makes it a great little insurance policy for orienteering.
I reached my water cache and took a break. First leg done. It was about 830p when I left with hopes of making it nine more miles along a 4WD road. Normally, that’s a pretty easy order for me. Not tonight. Since the ranger wasn’t able to give me any information about Hanaupah Spring and Tuber Canyon, I was carrying nine liters of water to get me all the way to Trona-Wildrose Road. Eleven-thirty rolled around and I’d only covered six miles, so I called it a night. It’s midnight and I’m curled up in my sleeping bag. I’ll get up in three and a half hours, which should get me hiking by 4a tomorrow. Hoping to make up some time and get back on track.
God, I love this stuff. Nowhere else I’d rather be.
Miles Hiked: 14