Miles - 16
I can’t believe that it is nearly the end of June! I get up at half 5 after dosing and I’m on the trail for 6am. It’s all down hill through the valley as I meet deer and eat my final poptart in an open space trying to avoid the mozzies….. They are relentless. I make my way through Mcclure Meadow and cross my first thigh-deep river. I quickly remove my shoes, wade through and as I bend down to put my shoes back on the mozzies swam. I thrust my feet into my shoes, dirt and twigs still clinging to them as I speed on. I bash out ten miles by half ten and sit on the trail junction to Muir Ranch. I’m debating going there or if I should just crack out the last 15 miles on the trail straight to Vermillion Valley Resort.
I sit there eating the last of my crushed cereal bars and read through my guide book which mentions the hot springs there. Then a hiker comes up the trail from Muir Ranch.
“Is it worth it” I ask sitting in the dust.
“Definitely, the hiker boxes are individual organised and you can weigh your pack which is interesting.” I’m sold.
I get there and he’s right. There are loads of plastic buckets - the same as hiker bouncer buckets and they’re all labelled. Trail mix, instant meals, rehydratable meals, sweets, first aid, clothes, shoes. I get some trail mix, some red twistie sweets, smash (instant mash potato) and some porridge which later turns out to be gross and not porridge... I end up sitting there for quite a while as I waste 2 hours watching hikers come and go. A mother and to teenagers arrive. They’re section hiking and are collecting their resupply buckets. They have so much stuff which turns out to be too much stuff. They offload mini gatorade bottles to me which I gladly except. I watch as tourists who’ve paid to be here for the weekend ride out horseback and ranch hands tend to the animals and run the tiny shop on site. I buy some deet, it’s expensive. Dogs run about excited by all the commotion. About a dozen or so wooden cabins and lodges are dotted around the grounds offering expensive accommodation.
After an hour I slowly move and head down to the hot springs. I leave my bags on one side of the river and wade across bare footed. It’s refreshing. I wander through the tall grass and find a stoney deep pond. I dip my hand in and it’s warm. It’s clear at first but as soon as I get in I disturb the bottom and the natural dirt rises. I strip down and get in. Its feels amazing to be fully immersed in warm water on the trail. I scrub all my dead sweaty skin away and chill. Enjoying the simpleness of being naked in nature. Tall grass surrounds me and ever greens surround the grass. I can hear the faint sounds of humans, others enjoying the warm of the natural hot spring.
I then hear two voices and two ladies appear. They spot me and wander over and ask if they can join me. They strip down to the nude and join me pleased by its warmth as we all squeeze in the little pond together. I think one was from Germany or Switzerland and the other was American. They say that the lake is a little cooler and that they’re pleased to have found this hotter bathing area. We chat about hiking, the PCT, the ranch which is where they are staying to night and then they go. I ask them for a quick photo of me and smile politely.
“Show us your teeth” the German/Swiss lady says and I do my smile turning into a grin. “That’s better” and then they are soon gone.
I eventually clamber out, get dressed and walk back to my pack. It’s a cloudy day again but still warm. I brush my teeth, hair and clean my feet, then I get on the trail and this is the part where I take a wrong turn…..
I hike out feeling replenished and clean and nod at people on horseback as they return to the ranch. It’s amazingly starts to rain and I put my waterproofs on as a precaution. The drops are big but not plentiful. I hike along merrily then something starts to feel wrong. I sit under a tall dark-green pine tree waiting for my GPS to kick in on my halfmile app. When it eventually works it does confirm where I am and that I did take the wrong path. Instead of taking the trail back to the PCT I ended up taking the Florence Trail down to the lake….
I sit on a large stone and ponder my choices, I can either hike back up the trail and get to the PCT and hike about 18 miles to VVR. I have to be there in two days as I’m being picked up by a friend and her family to enjoy two weeks off the trail. Or I can decided to just follow it for 8 miles where I will hit a road where I can roadwalk or hitch to VVR in about 14 miles.
Then suddenly a crack of thunder booms overhead and the rain falls harder. I hike on and head to Florence lake. It feels wrong to be off the trail. I pass a few weekend hikers. I pause on a rock and eat my last mars bar and stare at a deer down below. It’s amazingly quiet beside the lake and so still. It is so low, I can see a 3m white rim around the edge of where the water should be. The dam looks pretty cold and cool. I catch glimpses of it through the trees as I hike along.
I follow the trail and come out at the road. This is the first road I’ve seen in over a week! I follow it round and pass bear boxes with benches and a lone camper discretely camped.
A few houses are dotted here and there with real cars parked outside. I pass a mini store beside the jetty and reach the edge of the dam. I head up the rocks to the dam and perch myself there overlooking the gorgeous lake. The dark clouds move over the sun which shines briefly over the mountains tops on the left as the valley falls silence. It’s not raining so I’m good to cowboy camp.