The PCT bridge over the Wind River was built to survive spring floods, and it shows. Too bad the government can't finance more of these strong trail structures on the PCT.
Once you cross the river you soon come to the Wind River Road. If you want to resupply at Stabler, you turn right at the road and walk half a mile to the Stabler Country Store.
We passed more stunning old growth. Rick called them "Ent" trees like the characters in Lord of the Rings. They were massive and old, and it was good for me to appreciate their beauty through Rick's eyes. As a long-time resident, I had become rather jaded about the size and age of our trees.
We reached Panther Creek after an early five-mile walk. The guide book warned that this could be the last water for seven long, hot miles. We rested up by the rust-colored bridge. I thought about all the PCT hikers who skipped the section of the trail we had just covered, instead turning right after the Bridge of the Gods and walking along a road to this spot. The shortcut was only 14.7 miles-an easy day's walk-to this point. We had just traveled 35.5 miles. The guide book recommends the short cut, but I think the authors are wrong. I felt that the section we had seen was extraordinarily beautiful. I couldn't understand why someone would want to take a shortcut-unless the weather was miserable.
The weather was sunny and hot for Day Four. We started the long climb up Big Huckleberry with a series of about seven LONG switchbacks and 1,110 feet of elevation gain. We were fortunate to find some tiny springs along the third switchback (as the guidebook said might be there) and filled up one last time.
We had long, good conversations about personal issues as we struggled up the grade. At the top of one ridge we rested for lunch and Rick took a brief nap while I read from Jonathan Raban's book about the Mississippi River, Old Glory. We tried to conserve our water as we resumed hiking, but it was hard in the heat. Each of us had only one water bottle and here was a stretch where we really needed two.
Rick takes one of his mid-day naps on the climb up Big Huckleberry Mountain. I was impressed with how quickly he could drift off to sleep.
Higher and higher we trudged. I started to get ahead of Rick. I tried to read the landscape and felt that a junction to a spring and campsite must be coming soon. But it didn't. I got so disgusted I gave up looking for it. I rationed my meager supply of water-one sip as needed. Finally I was down to about two sips left, and though I wanted to empty the canteen, I forced myself to save one last sip for later.
At last the junction came into view. I quickly drank the few drops left in my canteen and started to write a note for Rick. I was desperate for the water I knew would be 300 feet below on a side trail to Cedar Creek. But I waited, and suddenly there was Rick coming up the trail. "I'm really glad you waited," he said. "I would have been really mad if you didn't."
We practically ran down the tight switchbacks to the water. I just sat and drank as much as I could for a long time. The campsite nearby was very tidy and had lots of firewood. "At last we are going to have a fire," Rick declared. I didn't have the heart to tell him there was a fire ban. So he made a crackling fire that shot off sparks like a Fourth of July fountain. I had never seen so many coming off a fire before, and they all seemed to be headed toward our tent. I nervously stood between the tent and the fire, making sure nothing ignited our shelter.
The sparky fire was too close to our tent for my comfort. After I took this picture I stood between the flames and the tent.
Rick wanted something bland after the curry meal, so I made chicken with instant mashed potatoes, peas and gravy. After 13 miles, this was a very yummy meal. I also had some cognac to celebrate our achievement. We talked about the next day's hike. It was 15 miles to Blue Lake, but Rick thought we might want to give it a shot.
As we got ready for bed, a lone coyote barked and howled nearby. It was a signal to us that we were in his territory. Rick had never heard one so close before. We hung up our food, but I worried that it wasn't high enough for a wily coyote. Again, the night was warm and we started by sleeping atop our bags, though we would be under them by the end of the night.
The nights were hot and I often read my book while resting on top of my down sleeping bag.