"Why don't we just get out here?" Big Jim, who was sharing my PCT shuttle, asked. It was a fair question. We were right at Walker Pass, where the trail crossed the highway. There was a monster climb waiting, and the temperature was well on its way to the predicted high of 90 degrees.
"No!" I screamed. "I have to start where I left off!" Bemused, Jim just shook his head. But I knew: if I skipped it, that .7 miles would haunt me forever.
I headed slowly into the climb, which I knew was at least three thousand feet, maybe more; I had been too scared to look. The weight of gear I wouldn't need for miles hung heavy on my shoulders: microspikes, waterproof socks. This was, undeniably, the desert, scorching hot, only meager shade from low bushes. The next three days were punctuated only by the few water sources, small trickles of lifegiving water, most that would have been dry except in this wet year. Flowers still lined the trail, and the sunsets were spectacular, as they usually are in the desert.

Sunset at camp, day one. I came 15 miles from the pass to this really nice spot.
Sunset at camp, day 2. I shared this site on a plateau with about five other hikers, all of whom were equally mesmerized.

I quickly fell back into trail life. I saw the same hikers as we navigated the steep climbs. "Hey, Monkey Bars," they chorused as we met again at a water source. I belonged out there, I thought.

Shading up wherever possible.

A bridge over the Kern, where swallows fly under and around. This was a place that was hard to leave. Cactus Cooler and Tye-Bye, on the bridge, seemed to agree.

At PCT mile 702 is the unofficial end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra. Every hiker limps, crawls or bounds into the Kennedy Meadows store, and everyone on the porch claps, recognition of the difficult desert miles behind. Most everyone stays there for a day or two, resting and planning their strategy for the snowy Sierra. This year there was a particular panic around the area. The highest snow year in decades, the high Sierra loomed menacingly in some hikers' minds. The fear mongering was strong, aided by reports of frostbite, helicopter rescues, and avalanches. Reportedly, the Sierra was 99% snow-covered after Trail Pass.
I didn't want to stay at KM, so I ran through the store doing a quick resupply and headed back out, into the Sierra. The store had been slammed, so the pickings were slim. Hauling a block of cheese and a package of Oreos, I headed for the Kern River. Over the next two days, I wandered in a beautiful world of granite, water, and snow.
The end of this PCT section is at Crabtree Meadow, which meant I would have to do an out and back of 44 miles. Reports of the trail ahead were mixed, but the snow I encountered was enough to convince me to save these last 22 miles for another time. If the snow was passable, that was one thing. But I would have to cross two rivers, and with the melt in full swing, these could potentially be life-threatening. It wasn't worth it.

Gomez Meadow. Even enroute to a 24 mile day, I stopped to appreciate it.

At Trail Pass, I turned my back on the Sierra and bailed down to Horseshoe Meadow with two other hikers, floundering in sloppy snow. All wasn't lost. I had a car and I had time. I could drive down to Hiker Town and fill in the fifty miles I had left there. Quickly reconfiguring from alpine to desert travel, I headed down to the place Flash and I had left a few weeks before. When we had last been at Hiker Town, we had been shivering in rain and wind. Now the heat baked the sparse grass. I would have to hike through a waterless landscape, one with little mercy. I had traded snow for relentless sun.
I didn't know how it would go, but I knew one thing: if I had to crawl, I was going to finish that section.

I came off the snowy pass with two other hikers, who waited for me and watched for me to cross a waist-deep river successfully on a sketchy log.