Seventeen hikers shipped off from Scout and Frodo’s to the trailhead in the morning. We took our photos, signed the register, and walked on. The first five miles were easy. I walked at the front of the pack with Doug, a sixty year old hiker also from B.C., and another younger hiker with an overloaded pack that included a backpacking guitar. Once we hit an incline I slowed down and walked on my own for the rest of the day, occasionally leapfrogging other hikers.
The desert heat was relatively mild but combined with the constant sun exposure and my forty pound pack, it quickly became a real struggle. I took a lot of breaks, obsessively checking my millage and watching more and more hikers pass me by. I didn’t really expect to make the 20 miles to Lake Morena Campground, but could not help but feel disappointed with my pace. I walked faster than most, but the inclines and hills absolutely killed me. I took a break before each rise, sitting on rocks for just a minute, and then switched to breaking at the top of the inclines, as a kind of reward.
I started to feel sick. I was careful to drink lots of water, but combined with the exertion and the elements I don’t think there was much to be done. I knew I wouldn’t make the steep climb at mile 15 that day – I wouldn’t make it to Lake Morena with the power hikers.
On the way in to the canyon I passed guitar guy who I started out with. He had gone three miles off trail, was out of water and hurt his knee. He said he was going to hike out of the canyon so he could get to water at Lake Morena. I felt bad for him.
I got to Mile 15 around 4:00, having been walking since 7:30 that morning (with an hour-long siesta at noon). There were a few middle aged hikers there with big packs and expensive gear. The tent site was riddled with poison oak. I set up my tent, too sick to eat, and layed down for half an hour before deciding that I’d rather climb out of the canyon now than in the morning.
The climb was excruciating. I had to break once every couple of minutes. Dark started to set in, and looking back down the switchbacks I could see that I would probably be the last one out of the canyon that day, aside from any night hikers.
At the top of the climb I found a couple tenting. I had seen them earlier ascending the canyon about a mile ahead of me. After a brief chat I set my pack down in a small clearing about 50 feet away. My morale was low, and I was still nauseous. Knowing I wouldn’t want to deal with it in the morning, I skipped my tent and slept the night under the stars to the sounds of foraging animals and patrolling military helicopters and dreamed about anger and failure.