Gambling with Water!

May 7, 2017

Today, once again the trail followed ridge tops, this time with very little water available.  After hiking nine miles, we came to the turn off for Helveys Mill Shelter.  Our water bottles were empty.  The trail guide said the shelter was three tenths mile away, with water a further three tenths mile.  If we turned to get water here, we would be adding 1.2 miles to our day.  But the next water according to the trail guide was seven miles away!  We only had enough daylight to walk about three more miles.  It seemed a shame to waste one mile on getting water!

“Surely,” we thought, “with all the recent rain we’ve had, there will be a small unmarked streamlet closer to the trail!”  We knew it was a gamble, but couldn’t resist the adventure of trying!  “After all,” I told Jay, ” the worst that could happen is that we spend a night thirsty, before we find water tomorrow.”  We continued, the excitement of the gamble giving spring to our steps!

Soon we met a woman hiking southbound.  “Oh boy,” I thought.  “She’ll know if there is any water near.”  We talked with her a few minutes, but she only had disheartening news.  “It’s dry, dry, dry for the next several miles,” she told us.  “Plus there’s bear sign (poop) several places down the trail!  You’d be better off turning around and going to that shelter!”

Though we acknowledged that she was giving good advice, we felt set upon our course, and, wishing each other happy trails, we continued north, while she continued south.

Ten minutes later, we met another southbound hiker!  He told of seeing, two miles further, a sign written with rocks on the trail saying “H20” with an arrow.  “I looked down the slope, but didn’t see any water.  Perhaps if you went far enough, you might find some,” he told us.

Again we continued, but now buoyed in hope for ending our day’s hike with a cool drink.  In due course we found the sign and happily turned off the trail.  A flat, sheltered spot invited us to stop and pitch the tent.  Beyond, two small slopes met, beginning a dry waterway that could, possibly lead to water…

I followed that dry stream bed all the way to the bottom of the ravine, looking for liquid.  The slope quickly steepened, until I could reach out with one hand and touch the ground without stooping!  When describing it to Jay later, he suggested, “It was so steep, you couldn’t tell whether you were standing up or laying down!”  Yes, exactly!

At the bottom, the arid waterway joined … another dry creek bed.   I stood at the confluence with my empty water bottles, shoulders sagging, twigs sticking in my hair, leaves stuck to my socks, totally disappointed and thirsty. Then, suddenly,  I realized I could hear water!  I looked up the new ravine, and there about 50 yards uphill, a stream had surfaced for 10 feet or so!  Happily, I filled my water bottles, then walked/crawled back up the mountain side to where Jay had the tent all set up.  Hurray!  With a bit of luck and persistence, our gamble had paid off!

Author: Sarah and Jay Bigelow

Hi! We live in the Carson Valley in Nevada near Lake Tahoe. Sarah is a retired elementary school teacher, and Jay is a retired fish biologist. We are in our 50's, and have been married for 30 years.

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