Tuesday, October 6, 2015

There Will Be Tears (Section J of the PCT-Part 4)

In the morning light we could see a lovely campsite right next to the water, but it didn't matter that we had missed it. All imaginations of lake frolicking were long gone. We barely had enough energy to snap a couple photos, and without even making our morning coffee, we were off for another long day.
Passing SO many thru hikers, who would hike twice as many miles that day as us (and have been doing so day in and day out for months) made wanting to bitch and moan a little less enjoyable than it would be normally. But we did it anyway! And I'm going to do it more right now! If your a thru hiker who is reading this, feel free to roll your eyes--you've earned it!
A rare find: a clean shaven thru hiker!
This is Eugene from San Francisco
Rainier in the distance
This day was brutal. One of hardest I've ever had, if not the hardest. Leigh kept asking me for the word "scree" because, "if I'm going to complain about it, I want the right word". There were MILES of it (though mostly of the bigger talus variety) and it really did wear on the feet. But even more so, it wore on the nerves...especially when the trail was very thin or the rock seemed rather unstable.
Will it ever end?
It was at just one of these spots that Leigh turned around and joked, "I don't think this meets the safety code!" As I waited for her to get past the particularly bad spot, we both heard a rock coming down. Not good. It was the most sickening feeling watching helplessly to see if she was going to get picked off, or if this rock was going to trigger a slide.
The bad spot. Hard to even see the trail
My third bout of tears came as soon as I knew she was okay. A local man (who I didn't know personally, but I know people who did) was recently killed by falling rock while hiking; so yeah, the next five or so hours of walking on rocky ridges were a little mentally taxing.
Being so tired and stressed, our map reading went from bad to worse. Our math abilities were shot (not that mine were ever good to start with) and with so many separate sheets with different lakes, we kept getting mixed up. Though the truth be told, we kept looking at the maps trying to will them to tell us we were closer than we were.
After FINALLY getting off what I thought was the last ridge and coming into a forest, it felt like we must be getting close. Then we came upon the above marker made by a thru hiker. (meaning 2400 miles from Mexico) Again, out came the maps, because according to our calculations we were at 2398. Now remember--we are going backwards (which didn't help us with our already bad math at all) meaning this did not put us closer to our destination, but two miles further away. "They must have been stoned" was Leigh's conclusion, but I was pretty sure any thru hiker knows exactly what mile they are on after doing 2400 of them. Plus, the lakes we were headed to were named "Ridge" and "Gravel"...and sure enough, the trail started heading up once again.
Gravel Lake
Looking at that final rocky ridge stretching off into the distance before you get to the lakes (though at the time I half believed we might see yet another stretch of dreaded talus once we got to the top) made we worry if it would get dark on us. I tried to tell myself that lots of people hike at night, but honestly I was terrified. I felt so uneasy on this thin trial, I didn't want to even try to take my pack off to get at my headlamp, much less navigate it in the dark. We needed to get to that lake!
Ridge Lake (next morning)
Our saviors!
On top of the stress of wondering if we'd lose our light, we were both wondering if our friends would be there to meet us as planned. There were so many variables; so many "what if's", and no way to communicate with anyone. The final tears for both of us came when we crested the top, and there they were--packs still on. It's hard to believe we all got there at the exact same time, and it's impossible to convey the emotion. I understood logically it wasn't that big a deal if we somehow missed each other or for some reason they couldn't make it; as long as nobody was hurt, we would have figured it out. But mentally it was HUGE to see their kind faces and warm greetings when we were at our very lowest of spirits. (along with their packs full of fresh, yummy food and wine! Hallelujah!)
Best food ever!
Birds thought so too
It was a real bummer that Julie felt sick all night. We were much relieved she felt better by morning, so we could enjoy together one more beautifully clear sky on this last day out. We couldn't have asked for a better finale than the famous "Kendall Katwalk", though the height thrill had been mightily dampened by all the tight sections and drop offs we had already experienced on our prior days.
Okay, there was one more set of tears at the bottom, but those are not technically "trail tears". The "I made it!" tears are different for everyone; and for me they were very bitter sweet. How can I love and hate something so much at the same time? I couldn't wait to see that parking lot, but I was thinking about what do to next before I even had my shoes off. There is the matter of 6 missing cheater miles to take care of...
I-90...so close!
Done! Cell phone reception at last!

There Will Be Tears (Section J of the PCT-Part 3)

Heading out from Deep Lake I pondered that this coming night would mark us being over half way done, because it would be evening  number 4 out of 6 frigid sleeps. But sitting down to write this and doing a little math, I discovered our Escondido Ridge camp (which I pronounce differently every time I say it) was pretty much exactly our half way point of 33 miles.
4 days to complete 33 miles...and now there would be only 3 to finish another 33. This would help account for why days 5 and 6 felt so hellish, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, because day 4 was probably my favorite. With the sun in the sky, and a very long stretch of golden and red maple filled easy forest walking, all was right with the world. The push up the ridge had a gorgeous view and was not nearly as difficult as we had anticipated, even though we had to carry all our water up to the dry camp.  

So many Maples!

 Amazing view of Waptus Lake as you head up
We were in a bit of a race with the only other pair going southbound to get to the best spot.(we met them at Deep Lake. Hello Angela and Christie if you ever stumble upon this!) Was there a best spot? Didn't matter...we were still going to get there first! (for those of you reading this to get info about this hike, there is an unmarked camp spot at mile #2421. As you can see from the pictures, it is clearly the best. ;)) We were barely set up when the other gals passed. If this was the last spot on the ridge, then they would have 9 miles to get to the next one. (there is one more, but we just didn't know for sure at the time if this was the one shown on the map or not) We were not willing to take that risk, but they were, and so they got another mile on us that day and we never saw them again. (making me the "slowest hiker" grand champion!!!)
I win!!!

Goodnight moon!

Hello day 5
Day 5 marked the beginning of our obsession with miles. How many have we gone, how many do we have left...I really need to bite the bullet and just buy an odometer, because I really suck at reading maps. Leigh had printed the "Halfmile's PCT" maps for section J (all 8 of them) which we referred to constantly; but although they include extensive notes, most the time we were scratching our heads. What the hell are those little blue diamonds for? It would seem logical that they mark every "halfmile" (hence the name)...but no. Then we thought that somehow they corresponded to the diamond markers we would randomly see nailed to trees, but that didn't pan out either. It's still an unsolved mystery; one which I am very open to being enlightened to. 
What the hell?
At around 6 o'clock, we were both feeling we should have gotten to our Spectacle Lake destination already, so with frustration Leigh looked back at me and said, "I'm really tempted to get the map out...but what does it matter?" And she was right. There was nothing to do but keep going.
Leigh confessed she got through the day by fantasizing about how she'd be able to clean up a little at this supposedly most splendid of all the lakes, but time was not on our side as we reached the turn off down to the lake. Our dreams of having any daylight left were squashed as we scrambled our way down. "You better write about this in that blog of yours" was all she could say about that dreadful half mile trail.  
This is actually from an earlier "obstacle course"
section of the trail, left behind by this year's fire
I don't know if it was because we were so tired, or because it was starting to get dark, or because the Blood Moon was coming, but that stupid trail seemed impossibly hard to follow. (or maybe it's just a really crappy trail?) And in this giant area, not a campsite could be found. It felt eerie. This is where my second set of tears came. Leigh and I had separated so I could get water, then I couldn't find her...it was just one of those nights. Thankfully, I only have two more sets of tears to come. Stay tuned. 
Damn you Spectacle Lake!

Monday, October 5, 2015

There Will Be Tears (Section J of the PCT-Part 2)

As soon as our friends left and we were on our own, it suddenly felt real. It didn't take long for things to get really real, when out of the blue my ankle just gave out and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I've preached about trekking poles before, and I'll preach it again--they are a life saver!!! I know they helped disperse the weight and keep me from actually spraining my ankle, though the down side was that they also sort of acted like a catapult, launching me face first into the dust. Seeing me lying there like a felled tree freaked Leigh out quite a bit, (she got the "shaky legs" syndrome) but after realizing I was unhurt it proved to be the mental image that made us both giggle the entire trip. Unfortunately, it was also the image that gave me shaky legs whenever we were on precarious ridges (NOT where you want to be catapulted!) which seemed to be half the time...but that comes later.
Reenactment photo
(for some reason Leigh did not think to get her camera
out when she thought I might have dropped dead;))
Part of the reason I finally decided to cheat so we could make it to Trap Lake on day one was because I knew we wouldn't want to bolt out in the morning while our friends were with us; and starting at 11am means your not going to get super far. The second day proved way harder than I expected, so I was incredibly thankful for the mere 6 miles to Deception Lake. We found a great spot, away from the smelly horse camp, and settled in.
We had decided to take separate tents because we knew we'd have at least one day of rain, and space in your tent makes keeping stuff dry so much more manageable. But having "decompression" time--alone with your own thoughts and emotions--proved invaluable too. (decompression also meant "gas release" much of the time for me, so I know Leigh was more than thankful to be a few feet away...though she still laughed just about every time. Darn those dehydrated meals!)
It's sort of a tradition for me to look through my pictures and recount the day before I fall asleep. I had gotten through them all, then clicked the back button one more time to see my newly born grandson's precious face. It's not just things like flushing toilets that backpacking makes you acutely appreciative of; but more importantly just how much you love, need, and cherish your family and friends. First tears of the trip, that night alone in my tent...but there would be more.
Rain is a comforting sound while coming in and out of sleep, but completely comfortless when trying to get your butt in gear in the morning. After finally getting our stuff packed (including our bear bins, which we stashed at a nearby site thinking it was too late for anyone else to come in. Wrong! We tip toed when retrieving them, hoping not to wake anyone up and have them yell at us. I know, it was a bad idea...sorry!) it was a mostly uneventful day; until the dreaded log crossing. If you've read any of my other trips, you know how much I hate these.
No, most people don't crawl. I'm not sure if I was more scared of slipping and breaking my ankle, or of a thru-hiker coming around the corner and seeing my patheticness.("thru-hiker" meaning those hiking the PCT from MEXICO...yeah, they would have laughed) 
The rest of the uneventful day was mostly an upward haul to get over Cathedral, with a few desperate pleas to the thru-hikers as to how much longer. (they always said "almost there". I think they like toying with the novices) 
Cathedral Rock
Finally at the end of "up" for the day, we gazed down upon our next camping stop, Deep Lake. So close...and yet so far. You think you're so happy for some "down", until it's only down for what seems like hours. (actually, I think it did take a couple hours) And the switchbacks here are RIDICULOUSLY long--you can see the lake, but you just keep going back and forth like a Newton's Cradle, seemingly getting nowhere. 
This was our first "fight" of the trip. After having to rescue me from the previous day's face-plant (I seriously couldn't get myself up, with the weight of my pack up around my ears) I expected Leigh to check on me every now and then. But, I do understand what it feels like to be "over it", and I knew those switchbacks were pissing Leigh off. She was going to get to that damn lake ASAP. I stopped even trying to be within a reasonable distance of her. (This would be a reoccurring problem...what can I say, I'm SLOW. If your hiking with me, you get to have a lot of breaks. It is what it is.) 
By the time I made it down, she had had to double back because it had been like 15 minutes and she was wondering where the hell I was. Fifteen minutes is an eternity when your in "over it" mode, so the fact she was so patient and didn't yell or make me feel bad speaks to why this was an overall great trip and partnership. I gave a little "if you don't want to wait so long, you shouldn't get so far ahead" speech, and then we were good. 
Leigh hosted the party at her "house" that night (so much more roomy! Plus she had the best view) and I knew she still loved my sluggy self because she shared her wine. Hey, I'm always happy to help reduce pack weight! Hard to believe only 1 more day, and we would be over half way done! Though of course, the real suffering was still to come. 
P.S. No hiking lessons, so I'm going to try and do better with times and miles. I promise, nobody should be hiking slower than this, unless they are crawling. (and more than just over the log bridges :))
Trap to Deception/6 miles/5.5 hours hiking
Deception to Deep/12 miles/7.5 hours hiking