May 27, 2015
Tentsite near Sulphur Springs Trail Camp (408.1) to Messenger Flats Campground (430.6)
22.5 PCT miles today
446.3 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 5,225 ft, – 4,377 ft
I’m about to bash the desert a bit, so I feel like first I should offer a disclaimer. First of all, Pickles and I have truly loved every mile of the PCT so far. We often feel like we were made for this kind of adventure and we wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else in the world. Second, the desert has actually been nothing like we expected. It is incredibly mountainous, and some parts have been stunningly beautiful. But let’s be honest, it’s still the desert and it simply doesn’t hold up in comparison to the Sierras or anywhere else on this trail.
It’s starting to feel like all of the Southern California desert has been on fire at one point or another. Every mile of today’s hike was through burn zone, and with the exception of a few neat scenes, it is just not a pleasant place to walk. The desert seems to be a land of extremes, and if it isn’t blowing cold wind or snowing on us, it is blindingly hot. The heat has come back, and it makes it seem like the dry, cracked land all around might burst back into flames at any moment.
But today, heat was not the worst of our concerns. There is this plant called Poodle Dog Bush, that somehow neither Pickles nor I had ever heard of, that only grows in post-burn areas. It doesn’t just grow, it thrives. Which would be fine, except that this particular plant has the same properties as poison oak, and if touched, can cause sever rashes and even blisters. Just image-search the name of the plant if you want some photographic evidence of the havoc it can wreak. Of course, like poison oak, not everyone is allergic, but you certainly don’t want to find out the hard way whether you are exempt. Interestingly, it also smells and looks almost exactly like pot, but this is one plant you don’t want to smoke.
So all day, and especially the last 4 miles, where we chose to bypass a possible road walk “Poodle Dog Bush” detour, we were inching our way around this evil bush, incredibly careful not to touch it. It was everywhere and it slowed our pace down considerably.
Imagine this. You are hiking up a sandy mountain, the sun blazing down on you. You’re carrying 10 pounds of water, with nothing but burn all around you and a handful of gnats uncomfortably close to your face. Oh, and don’t forget there are rattlesnakes too. Now imagine taking every step with care as to not touch this large angry plant that could potentially put you in the hospital. And you’re allergic to some plant or another, so go ahead and imagine sneezing and sniffling your way up that mountain. That was our day today. But don’t worry, we’re not complaining, because in only 272 miles the Sierras will be waiting for us, their high alpine lakes and soft pine needle trails welcoming us with open arms.