The trail followed the sandy, rocky ridge, then dropped into a fir and pine forest, then climbed back onto the ridge once more. We passed through a field of lupine and mint, then a field of yellow flowering mule's ears and red paintbrush.
We reached the A Tree Spring by mid morning. The clear, icy cold spring water tasted delicious. We sipped the cool water, snacked, and talked to other hikers before finally heading up the trail.
From the spring we climbed up to a breezy saddle for lunch. It seemed an ideal lunch spot. Unfortunately, hundreds of hungry deer flies thought so too. The flies swarmed overhead, buzzed in our ears, crawled over our arms, and nibbled on our exposed flesh. I tried to relax, but couldn't. We hurried down the trail as soon as we finished our lunch.
Our final climb of the day illustrated the weakness of relying on the Data Book, rather than Halfmile's maps and elevation profiles. The Data Book indicated a gradual climb, ascending 750 feet over three miles. But the reality was that we gained almost that much over the first steep mile, then lost and regained it several times before finally topping out on the ridge.
Reaching a sign -- Whiskey Spring 0.3 miles -- we realized our water supplies were depleted. Miles from the next water source, we dropped our packs and hiked to the spring, the farthest off trail distance hiked to water other than in the Anza Borrego desert. Relieved of her pack, Sierra ran to the spring and had her water container filled before I even got there. Chili and Pepper hiked down at a more leisurely pace, and the four of us filtered water together.
Loaded with fresh water, we continued to follow the ridge until we reached an exposed camp with a view of the surrounding mountains and the smoke filled valley below. We watched the smokey, colorful sunset, the setting sun a fiery red ball as it disappeared behind the mountains.