So much happened yesterday after I wrote down my reflections from the trail that I’ve only just found the time to sit and update you from the quiet cowboy town of Lone Pine. The events which brought me here occurred as follows…
At 11am I was still sitting at my small campsite wondering what had happened to UB. A handful more hikers passed me and reiterated the story of him camping near the spring at mile 731 the evening before. When Dingo and Mud told me he had hurt his knee and wasn’t his usual spritely self, I started to wonder if I should go and look for him and take one of the new knee braces Dr Sole had given me.
I decided to leave my pack behind with the squirrel that was throwing pine cones at my head, and take just a litre of water, some trail mix and my hiking poles with me. Initially I thought I’d walk for an hour, and if I didn’t see him by then, I’d turn back. I passed a few groups of hikers on the way including a trio from New Zealand who I hadn’t met before. All reported passing UB at different points in the day so it was hard to get a sense of how far back he was until I saw Sierra Bum, Werewolf and Maraika who said they passed him half a mile back sitting in the shade. They said he would be super stoked to have company again.
When his red hat finally came into view I almost started skipping down the trail and I could tell from his body language he had no idea who I was until I called out his name. He sprung up in shock despite his sore knee and it took a few minutes until he could comprehend I was actually there and how I came to be there. He thought when I came into view that I was a SoBo (southbound) day hiker who wasn’t carrying any food.
His knee was in bad shape but he put on the knee brace and I carried his pack (which felt like a day hiker’s pack compared to mine) and we walked back to my campsite and backpack via the stream I filled up at the night before. Not only had UB hurt his knee, but he’d also run out of his Aquamira drops to sterilise water after the bottle leaked. He was using a cross between a kettle and a billy to boil the water after his cooking pot ended up over the ridge along with his hiking poles on Black Friday. He was in a state of shock and relief and managed to hobble the 4 miles to collect my backpack and then continue on another 5 miles after boiling up some coffee.
We headed to the Horseshoe Meadow trail head which led down the mountain to a road that leads to Lone Pine.
We made the decision to exit the trail not only because of UB’s knee, but because neither of us would have had enough food to slow down to 10-15 mile days and still make it to Independence. It was another 2.5 miles down to Horseshoe Meadow but the scenery was postcard perfect, and despite losing the trail momentarily, we reached the campsite and trail head at the other end in just over an hour.
Our optimism turned to concern when the car park we reached was empty and the options for a ride looked slim to none. I heard a car in the distance on the road ahead and literally unclipped my pack as I started running and let it fall to the ground as I sprinted after the car and waved it down. I was lucky it had stopped 50 meters down the road next to another vehicle. I completely interrupted the conversation between the two drivers when I raced up panting, spurting out the fact that I was a PCT hiker and my hiking partner was injured and we were in desperate need of a ride to Lone Pine. One of the guys (Ian) was British and joked that there was no way he could help out an Aussie. They said they would need to move a few things from one vehicle to the other and would then spin around and come and pick us up!
We were so relieved but after 10 minutes of waiting with the two cars out of view we wondered if they had maybe changed their minds. During the wait another car pulled up with a man named Keith who asked if we were in need of a lift. He only had room for one but was prepared to move things around if necessary. We decided to wait for Ian to return so Keith pulled out a cold beer for each of us while we waited. Trail magic returns!
Sure enough Ian and his rock climbing mate Tim returned and drove us over 20 miles and at least 4000 feet down to Lone Pine. On the trail you don’t often have any perspective of how high up you are. It wasn’t until we drove down the winding switchbacks that we had any appreciation of just how high up we had been. The temperature was also noticeably higher, even at 7pm in the evening.
We were so thankful to Ian and Tim for the lift as they had driven entirely out of their way only to turn around and drive all the way back up the mountain. We’ve heard since it’s very difficult to get a ride back to the trail. Some people charge up to $30 per person.
We checked into the Dow Villa Motel and went straight to McDonalds where UB ordered 5 cheeseburgers and I polished off my own huge burger and one of his leftovers.
Lone Pine is home to many old western films with gorgeous views of the mountains including Whitney in the background and huge rocky boulders surrounding the town. Depending on UB’s knee and the ability to reduce some pack weight by posting gear ahead, we’ll either leave tomorrow or Monday morning.