Gamble Spring Canyon (PCT Halfmile 545.2) to Tehachapi Pass (mile 566.5)
(21.3 miles, +3,400/-4,200 feet).
After my monster day yesterday I thought today would be easy.
Just 21 miles to Tehachapi Pass? Ha!
I was so wrong.
As it turns out, there was a lot more snow than I was expecting. I thought maybe there would be 2 or 3 miles of it.
And I was trying to get the last bus back to Lancaster before dark, so I didn’t even have what few hours there are in a December day.
So, if anything, today was an even bigger day than yesterday, especially with my calves screaming at me for a stretch at every fence post I passed.
I did have one thing in my favor: last night was probably the best sleep I have ever gotten in a tent. It was quiet and the air was perfectly calm, just the right humidity. It was a perfect temperature for snuggling in a sleeping bag, somewhere maybe ten degrees north of freezing. It was a moonless night. And somehow I didn’t even hear jets passing high overhead. It was as if a supernatural being had created a vast sensory deprivation chamber tuned perfectly to lull me to sleep.
I drifted off around 7:30pm and didn’t wake up until 3:30am! And after a quick pee I went right back to sleep for another two hours.
And I would need every minute of that beauty sleep.
By 6am I was packed up and on trail.
By 6:30am there was a rosy pink sunrise over snowy Mount Baden-Powell and the Angeles Crest.
By 7am I hit my first real snow. Only 2-3 inches at first, it had a thin crusty layer that would not support my weight (making the microspikes I brought useless!). With each step, I sunk in a little and it started to slow my pace.
But I was still in very high spirits. The contrast of snow and sand was stunning.
Above 5500 feet the snow started getting deeper. My feet were sinking 5 inches with each step.
I had not planned on working up such a sweat, so I was thrilled to stumble on some quite unexpected trail magic.
After gulping down a magic water bottle, I continued my trudge. The snow got deeper. But boy was it worth it!
I thought the going would get a little easier after I topped out at 6200 feet above sea level. In particular, there is a steep part where the trail drops down to 5500 feet, and that seemed to be where the snow started this morning.
But I soon figured out that the north facing slopes held snow all the way down to 4500 feet. And the PCT was basically winding in and out of canyons facing north. And that meant I had snow almost all the way down to Willow Springs Road.
I tried to pick up the pace, but that’s tough to do in calf-deep snow.
I sat for a long break at the first dry spot on trail. I felt hopeful it would get easier, but I also felt wistful because it was so beautiful and I didn’t want to rush it.
Even the Oak Creek Wind Farm was pretty in the snow.
By 11:30am I was back down in the Joshua Trees on dry trail.
It’s really lovely to have these extreme experiences. I would never have appreciated the last two miles to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road as much if I had not worked so hard to get here!
There was a lovely picnic bench awaiting me at Tehachapi Willow Springs Road when I finally finished the first 13 miles. I had just barely managed to eke out 2 miles an hour, and that was trying my absolute darnedest.
I took a long lunch. My calves were happy.
I did some math and realized I needed to go faster than my normal pace to finish out the day in time for the bus. So I put on some great climbing music and away I went.
The wind farm was sort of ho-hum, but I was focused on making good time and soon I had some nice no-wind-farm views.
I had about an hour to do the last three miles, but it was all downhill and then flat so I made it!
I called Kern Transit to request a stop, and just then a very loud train rolled by. The woman on the other end of the line seemed totally unfazed by the state of our conversation.
Maybe this is what conversations with my children will be like when I’m 80…..