PCT 2019: Day 52, Walker Pass to Spanish Needle Creek

Listening to the night

I was anxious this morning to get back on the trail. Today was the start of the last section I would hike in the desert.

It's often difficult to leave town after a resupply stop and this day was no exception.

DateWednesday, May 15, 2019
WeatherSlightly overcast with a high temperature in the mid 70s
Trail ConditionsLong climbs and descents, with many rocks on part of one descent
Today's Miles16.6
Trip Miles669.9

As I left the motel to look for a place to get breakfast, I saw Captain. He said he and Gilligan had decided to skip the next section. Gilligan was still feeling pain in her feet and he decided to stay off the trail with her. They thought they might meet us at Kennedy Meadows.

A Subway restaurant was a few doors down from our motel, so I decided that would be the fastest place to get breakfast. I was wrong.

Placing the order correctly took an unusually long time because the woman taking my order lacked a strong command of English.

Actually, I don't think she understood any English, but the delay didn’t matter. It turned out most of the other members of the tramily were scattered about and slow to get ready, so until we regrouped we weren’t going to leave.

At this point, we also didn’t know how we were going to get back to the trail, but that problem was soon solved when MJ pulled up in a rental car. She was also feeling uncertain about her next move and said she was taking an extra day off.

With the rental car, she added, she could drive the rest of us back to the trailhead.

While waiting for the others to finish preparing to leave, MJ and I walked next door to a diner for a cup of coffee.

We were finally organized enough at 8:30 a.m. for a group photo. Then after saying goodbye to Captain and Gilligan, the rest of us squeezed into MJ’s rental car for the 30-minute ride back to Walker Pass.

It was a bittersweet moment. We thought we would all likely see each other again after Kennedy Meadows, but it didn't feel certain.

Falls, Spamala, Just Awesome, Rainbow Sherbet, and I began hiking at 9:15.

The trail going northbound from Walker Pass was a smooth trail.

Starting at 5,275 feet, the trail made a long but not difficult climb to about 7,320 feet over the next 7.2 miles.

After the first hour of climbing, I looked back to see nearly the whole section of trail I had just walked. The view extended to the pass.

At one point a fighter jet blasted by, going too fast for me to identify it, let alone take a picture of it. Presumably, the pilot was on a training mission from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

The base sits just outside of Ridgecrest and is used for researching, testing, and evaluating naval weapons programs. Several scenes from the upcoming sequel to Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise, were filmed there.

We had heard while we were in Ridgecrest that the talk of the town was supposed Tom Cruise sightings.

Farther up the climb, the trail went along the side of Morris Peak and Mt. Jenkins. It never crested either mountain.

A plaque was mounted on a rock next to the trail honoring J.C. Jenkins, an author and U.S. Forest Service ranger. Jenkins was killed in 1979 by a passing car at Tejon Pass.

Continuing up the mountain, I could now see a long way across the Mojave Desert. Most of this land was part of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. It is the U.S. Navy's largest base, covering an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

I stopped for lunch near the top of the climb.

Part of the way down the other side, the trail became very rocky. Fortunately, it didn’t remain that way for long.

After dropping to 5,050 feet, then immediately going back up to 5,850, the trail made one more descent to Spanish Needle Creek. I didn't realize it at the time, but at some point along this stretch I completed the first quarter of the trail.

There were several flat spaces for tents above the creek on a ledge that appeared to be man-made. This may have been part of a road at one time.

Our downsized tramily was joined tonight by two other hikers, Boulder from California and King from Michigan.

After crawling into my tent, I left my tent flaps open because it was a warm evening. There wasn’t a breeze where we were tucked into the ledge by the creek.

The creek gurgled and babbled nearby as I laid on my sleeping pad and under my quilt. I next heard crickets. Their singing was something I had not heard at any point of this hike until now.

Then I rolled onto my left side and I didn’t hear them.

This was a startling discovery, so I double-checked it a couple times by flipping my head back and forth on my pillow. I had long known I had a little hearing loss, but until now I didn’t realize I couldn’t hear in my left ear something so distinct as crickets.

I guess that explains why my wife complains when I say I didn't hear what she says she told me. That’s not to say she sounds like crickets, but this hearing loss seems like a useful excuse to employ when necessary.

Later in the evening, I heard another sound and there was no mistaking this one. It was the loud roar of a military jet plane flying over the canyon where we were camped.

I doubt the jet was flown by Tom Cruise, but you never know.

Listening to the night
Wishing we could hold and squeeze each other tight
I can almost hear the stars so bright
Do you listen to the night?
Listening to the sound of a highway through some distant town
I can almost hear the pale moonlight
Do you listen to the night?

From “Listening to the Wind” by Merle Haggard


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.