Olancha Peak — Page 3

Trevor Benedict Hiking Sage Flat Trail

Cow Driveway

How much water are we carrying? A lot. Based on a somewhat measured guesstimate of 22 to 24 miles round trip, with no expected refills, we've decided on six liters each.

Okay—five and a half for me. Trevor and I both pre-hydrate at the car, trying to fill our bellies with as much fluid as we can. Then we heft water-heavy packs and start trudging upward in air that is already unwelcomely warm and maybe even a touch muggy. At the Pass—elevation unknown—we'll drop a liter or so to save weight.

Andy Lewicky & Corral Hiking the Sage Flat Trail Cow Driveway Sign Looking Toward Sage Pass

But for now, I fiddle with my waist and shoulder straps, trying to find the magic formula to get as much of the load as possible off my back and onto my hips.

We pass the trailhead sign, then start a stout climb right away, which soon gets us to a cattle gate and a big and oddly-steep holding pen.

Obviously and unexpectedly, ranchers drive cattle through here. In fact, it's soon obvious, via the dung on the trail ahead, that the cows go all the way to the pass.

I've never actually seen a cow do much of anything except graze in a field. The thought of them pushing their way up this inarguably steep trail suggests they're hardier than I credited.

Meanwhile, as with all stock trails, the downside for us humans is both the poop and the dust. All those heavy hooves crush ordinary dirt and rock into fine powder, producing sandy ground that swallows our hiking boots and puffs up around us.

As we hike upward, I'm soon coated in dust and soaked in sweat, already losing those precious bodily fluids. No doubt about it: we'll be playing the salt game, extreme edition, today.

We come to a sign and a fork in the road. Humans to the right, cows to the left. The 'cow driveway' looks to be the direct approach—even steeper than the human trail. Where do the cows get their water, I wonder? Trevor and I go right, up a long series of switchbacks, and all the while I'm imagining those hardy mountain cows, marching upward.

next: Heat and Sand

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.