Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day 36: San Francisquito Canyon to Sawmill Campground

The ranger station loudspeaker crackled to life at seven in the morning. Already packing up, we left a few minutes later, hiking the short distance back up the road to the trail.

The day warmed up quickly, with only an occasional cooling breeze to carry with it our memory of last night's cold weather. Climbing up the ridge we passed scrub oak, manzanita, chemise, yucca, and a handful of other plants that thrive in the sandy desert soil. Damper ravines held live oak trees, thick poison oak, and colorful wildflowers. Equally colorful butterflies flittered among the flowering shrubs. Many of the butterflies were bright and showy, with deep orange wings, but one was a soft, delicate gray, with only a bright orange outline on the bottom of its wings and a deep blue outline around its small body to catch your eye.

We briefly dropped into Elizabeth Lake Canyon, where my parents provided delicious cold drinks, before climbing the next hot, dry ridge. But after the initial climb, the remainder of the hike was not as miserable as the elevation profile had suggested it might be. Instead of meandering up and down over a series of separate, steep ridges, the trail followed a series of ascending ridgelines, staying high rather than descending in between each ridge.

Reaching a grove of oak trees, we stopped to enjoy the shade. With several low hanging branches, the trees proved good for climbing as well. Most of the trees were randomly scattered, but several groups of trees were arranged in perfect circles, like Daisy's mythical fairy rings in Wilson Rawls's Summer of the Monkeys.

The ridgelines were mostly exposed, but the trail also dipped below the ridge into shaded mixed forests with several varieties of oak, pine, and fir. Between the trees, we caught glimpses of the desert below and the windmill farm in the distant hills, a sign of blustery days to come.

The high desert hills here do not have a year round water source. We passed several dry stream beds, but no water. Late in the afternoon, we reached a grassy ridgetop where several other PCT hikers were already setting up camp. Nearby was a large concrete water tank used for firefighting, although unlocked and available for drinking. After someone left the cover off one year, hikers discovered dead rodents floating in the water. Thankfully, this year there was nothing more disturbing than wind blown plant material floating on the surface of the water.

We reached our own grassy camp near Sawmill Campground a short time later and settled in near Shutterbug and Anna (later named "Northstar"), who we met yesterday. Long after Hiker Midnight passed, I looked out of the tent to see the night sky. A sea of bright stars swam in the dark, moonless sky, collectively illuminating our camp with enough power to hike by. I located the Big Dipper, Orion, and other familiar constellations, and looked with wonder at the bright, creamy expanse of the Milky Way. Reluctantly I crawled back inside my down cocoon and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

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