The sky was still pitch black as we dragged ourselves out of our shelters and fumbled about making breakfast. Little was said in the morning. I don't think anyone was happy about being up at 5:30, but we were trying to get some miles in before the sun rose. We would spend the entirety of the day out in the open in Lee Flat, and a sunny day would mean temperatures in excess of 100° F, and we planned with that in mind.
The previous day's route planning pow-wow had been unanimous. None of us wanted to walk along a wash for miles after a heavy rain had just filled it with rivulets. We could only guess at what the ground would be like, but we weren't keen to find out. So, instead of meandering along the wash, we had decided to take the high (direct) road. From looking at the topo maps we could see a fairly unbroken ridge from our location all the way until the next road where both Pineapple and Abram had water caches. It looked pretty cruisy.
Even in the dark of the early morning we easily picked up some use trail that led us quickly to the ridge top, shedding our unnecessary layers as we warmed into the day's hike. The morning light crept in and cast a blue hue on everything and we saw that all around us hung thick clouds, clinging to the various peaks around us and far off across the valley. I started to get the inkling that a 100+ degree day was probably not forthcoming. We were okay with that. Plus, the clouds made for some very dramatic scenery.
Some canyons punctuated the steady incline we were traversing. We scrambled down and up the volcanic rocks, following the use trail as best we could. One fairly big climb up to a ridge stood between us and an easy cruise down to Highway 190 in the valley beyond. As the ridge flattened out the views expanded. For miles all I could see was Joshua trees, scrub brush and scattered rocks.
We had seen some clouds rising from the valley floors behind us in Panamint Valley. The sun had penetrated and was reclaiming some of the water that had fallen the day and night before. Very suddenly now a wall of fog had formed behind us and was steadily moving our direction. Pineapple started yelling for me to hurry up and to quit taking pictures, that we'd be cold and damp if it caught up to us. I, personally, didn't see the point of trying to outrun it and took my time and some more pictures. Apparently she did too, because she got a great shot of me walking with the fog right on my tail.
We started trending downwards and spotted the highway about a mile off. The descent was quick, but the fog overtook us a few minutes before we reached the highway. However, the road itself was low enough that when we dropped down to it the fog was above us (ie.- a cloud; funny, that). There were few cars coming along, so I took an opportunity to get a sweet dramatic shot lying in the road. The picture I took was shite, but Pineapple got a picture of me taking the picture that's pretty amusing. So it was a win, regardless.
Just past the highway we encountered both Pineapple's and Abram's water caches (it would be weird that both were so close together seeing as how they were planned independently, but really, there are few options without an off-road vehicle to place them). We guzzled a bunch and filled our water bladders. There would surely be standing water along the way that we could filter, but we (Pineapple and Abram) had gone through all the trouble of placing these caches, and, damnit!, we were going to use them!
From the highway we would climb slightly back up into the fog/cloud on an old dirt road that led us up to Lee Flat. We breaked briefly at a second cache of Abram's a few miles up, eating lunch under our umbrellas as the fog had started to break apart and mist us gently. After lunch it continued like that for a few hours. The rain wasn't annoying, but the lack of scenery for the fog would have made for some dull walking without the companionship of Pineapple and Abram. We joked, laughed and skipped our way up the road, reveling in our good fortune to not be walking in oppressive heat and fantasizing about water. After a long stretch of straight road we veered east between two mountains and curved down into the south end of Lee Flat and found ourselves surrounded by a surprising number of Joshua trees. And they just got denser as we walked. It was an incredible sight with the clouds hanging immediately overhead.
We walked for miles through the Joshua trees, all the while getting misted but staying more or less dry. All of a sudden, though, the clouds burst and a creek quickly formed where road was previously. We cinched our rain jacket hoods tighter, donned our rain pants (except Pineapple, who had the luxury/misfortune of not carrying all her gear for the trip from start to finish) and leaned into the rain. There was no avoiding the soaking wet feet, so we just stomped our way forward through the steady stream underfoot. "At least I'm not dehydrated," I kept telling myself. Hypothermia seemed an ironic risk, though. At least for Pineapple, poor girl. But the rain passed and the sky turned a surreal shade of blue bordered by grey, and the rolling brown hills studded with Joshua trees drew me into unpacking my camera.
Eventually our road led us into the Inyo foothills. We entered via a meandering jeep road that wended its way around the contours of the hills rather than climbing. The rain hadn't been assailing us for a while by then, but as we crested a hill before entering the canyon we saw sheets of it falling just to the north. We couldn't tell which direction it was heading, but it was getting late and it was time to find camp. No sooner had we entered the little canyon than we were hit with the scent of fir trees, intense and very welcome. We basked in the smells of the mountains, but hurried along sussing out various camp sites. We passed one on a little island where the road forked and quickly rejoined itself. It was perfectly usable, but we passed on it in favor of walking for just a bit longer. About a half mile later we came upon a spot with two massive fire pits erected out of rock and plenty of open space, trees for wind breaks, good drainage, and a nice view to the West. This was it. With a respectable ≈27 mile day behind us, we were ready to lay our heads down.
And just as we crawled into our tents the rain started up again to lull us to sleep.