Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Communication is Still a Bitch (Part 4 Section K PCT)

Neither Heather or I had the energy to be upset with Leigh for taking off. Leigh was certainly not happy about having to backtrack (uphill even!) but we understood because all of us were utterly spent. So much so, that I am going to rank this as the 2nd most exhausting day I've ever had. (A HIKING day that is...children will kick your ass on a whole 'nother level!!!) You will have to copy and paste this link if you want to read the day ranked #1:
As always, the PCT hikers came rolling in after us, darkness and all. I had to ask one of them, "How many miles did you do today?" I can't remember if he said 25 or 27, but I do remember he was disappointed because he was shooting for 35. Not only was I curious, but I thought it might help me put things in perspective with our measly 14 miles, though mostly it just annoyed me.
This is MacGyver from Germany. He is a gram wizard!
I'm going to confess something embarrassing...I was so tired, that for the first time I failed at applying enough pressure to correctly seal my "You Go Girl" and consequently peed all down my leg, making my only jammie bottoms nice and soggy. (for those who have never seen a You Go Girl, it's a rubber "thing" that girls can use to pee standing up. I have gotten caught squatting too many times, so I love mine...well, except at that moment ;)) And you know what? I was so done I didn't even give a sh##, and just crawled into my sleeping bag anyway.
Lake Mica did not disappoint in the morning light. Leigh was surprised to see how close we were--I didn't understand she hadn't even seen it the night before! (which helps explain why she kept going) When we emerged from our tents, one of the thru hikers was already gone, but the other one stuck around for awhile. (probably hoping for more food. Leigh gave him a good meal INCLUDING wine the night before, because both Heather and I felt nauseous from being so tired, and barely ate) We had a short day ahead, so we were able to hang out and let Leigh get a little of her lake frolicking in. She also spent quite of bit of time grilling MacGyver on the secrets of light food packing. (Leigh's pack weighed almost 50 pounds! She could have fed all the thru hikers, ha ha. But now she has the calorie per gram equation, so next time should be better)

Frolick away, Leigh! You've earned it!!

Ummm...so does this mean we go right, or left?
(the answer is right, but I really think they should consider a new sign)
A steep and messy detour
We really did not want to leave Mica, but alas, time was ticking. We may only have had 8 miles to do, but the map was clear that they would not be fun. (what I call "zigzag stitch" miles...nothin but switchbacks) Plus we were headed to a "dry" camp, so we had to load up a full 4 miles prior and haul those extra pounds up...only to find a decent size pond very close to camp. (Yes, it looked pretty disgusting, but all the PCT hikers used it anyway) Speaking of our guests for that night, we were lucky enough to meet a hiker with the best trail name ever, "Blue Volta". We didn't always ask how they got their names, but we couldn't resist this time. He simply took off his hat to reveal his blue hair and replied, "and I look like John Travolta". 
Blue Volta, Grasshopper, and Little Budda
The next day was another stunner, but by the time we were making our last decent off the mountains and back into the woods, Leigh was in desperate need of water. She wanted to push hard to get to Vista Creek, but I really wanted to stop and eat. So we separated, thinking it would be easy to meet up at the creek. Oh boy, I don't even think I can explain how it got so messed up, but I didn't see them again until I was setting up camp. What I will say is, the ribbon form of communication is not quite as effective as a cell phone. When I FINALLY realized the ribbon must have been signalling me to go off trail and down to where they would be, (instead of a warning NOT to go that way) I felt I was too far in to turn around. So I used the ribbon again to signal to them that I had gone on and not to worry. And yes, I felt really bad they had waited for over an hour; but they arrived only a half hour after me, so I still say I made the right call. 
All was forgiven as we sat around our cozy fire and played cards. Too bad the wine was all gone; but what I was really missing was my husband. He said he would try to hike in that night and camp with us, but no promises he could get his work done in time. He did promise to be there next day to bring us home, so that's all that mattered. 
Next morning I heard someone trying to get my attention from the bridge right above us, and sure enough, there was my husband! He had told me before we left that if he couldn't make it that night, he would hike in as far as he could to meet us next day, but I was really amazed he had made such good time! But wait...why is he wearing such a huge pack? I yelled up, "Did you camp last night?", to which he just gave me a very tired looking nod. What the hell?!?!
Again, I just don't think I can explain this mix up well enough, but I'll try. Ken was coming in on the Suiattle Trail. Just before we would come to that turn off, there is a HUGE bridge that shows a camp on either end according to the map. (which BTW, we could only ever find one, and though it is easy to see from the bridge, it is tricky to get to) I told Ken that when he got to the large bridge, to be sure to check both sides so he didn't miss us. What I didn't know was the Suiattle Trail ALSO has a large bridge (just before it merges into the PCT) that also happens to have camps on both sides. So Ken did exactly as he was told (if only I would have added and explained the bridge ON THE PCT) yet still missed us by just about a mile. But now he has a great story of how he spent the night in a damp old forest with nothin' but his sleeping bag, wine, and pizza. 
The "other" bridge
Where my poor husband spent the night all alone...
without even one damn match to light that perfect pile of wood!!!
I love my husband so much for everything he has done for me, but I may love him the most for not eating that pizza or drinking that wine. That was the best meal I have ever had, sitting on the tailgate and each of us telling all sorts of stories of past adventures. (Heather had some great ones of growing up in Alaska. No wonder she's such a bad ass!) Even a hot shower was not enticing enough to make me want to leave; but sadly, all good things must come to an end. And because this is the end, I will finish with a lesson I should have learned at least a dozen times before, but now will make official...
Cheers--until next time!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Communication is a Bitch (Part 3 Section K PCT)

How in the world did we ever live without cell phones? I tease my teen, of course, because she acts like it's impossible; but somehow we all did it. I love being "off the grid" when I'm in the mountains, and thankfully I've never had an emergency situation where I really needed one; but there have been a couple of times when I'm just trying to meet up with someone when a quick call could have really been helpful.

Day four was not one of those times, because Leigh came up with a great way to communicate without a phone...ribbons! Leigh was my hiking partner last year for my 7 day hike, and she could not have been more exited to do it again this year. Unfortunately though, 8 days was just not going to fit into her schedule. So, much of this trip planning was about figuring out how doing 4 out of 8 days was going to work. Section K has an almost perfect half way exit at North Fork Sauk Trail...only Leigh did not want to exit after 4 days, she wanted to enter and finish with me. (because she said she hated the idea of leaving me; isn't that sweet?!?!) It's a little difficult to explain why entering was far more complicated than exiting, so I'll just give the main reason: 11 uphill miles with 3 of them gaining 3,000 feet in just 3 miles, and then 2 more miles down to the campsite we would meet at. And Leigh was bringing 3 people who have never backpacked before! (plus hiking veteran Melissa--making a group of 5)
The peace of mind ribbon!
It's always stressful having a big plan like this, with no way to be certain things haven't fallen apart and you are not even aware. So Leigh had me buy a ribbon before I left that I would tie to the sign where the North Fork Sauk intersects with the PCT, so they would have peace of mind that we had safely made it and would be waiting at camp for them. This was assuming we would beat them, being our miles were so much easier...my only peace of mind would be that Heather was stuck with me for the next four days if nobody showed up. (NOT a peaceful thought to poor Heather, I'm sure. I know this trip will be a good memory for her someday...it always takes awhile ;))
Except they did show up! Exhausted, but in good spirits. It was a wonderful night having everyone together, though somber as well. One of the gals had brought a satellite phone for safety, and when checking in we all learned of a mass shooting in our very own community. So horrific and sickening...makes a person wish they could stay off the grid and in the woods forever. But that's not how life works, so we did our best to put it out of our minds and enjoy our night together.
The gang's all here!

We wanted to linger in the morning, but we had 14 miles to Mica Lake with no other camping option that would not reek havoc on our other days, so we had to kick it into gear. When I say "we", I mean myself, Leigh, and the new Heather. The first Heather was leaving with the rest of the gang back to the car waiting at the North Fork Sauk Trailhead, which would at last bring her home to her comfy, WARM bed. (Heather #1 endured the cold nights pretty well...even the last one, where she only had a deflated sleeping pad to lay on, poor thing!)
That single 14 mile day felt like a week. The prior day, although almost as long, was so enjoyable because most of it was up high where you are taking it all in. This was not one of those days. There was some excitement when Heather saw a bear (never been backpacking, goes on a 4 day trip in one of the most remote areas in Washington, does back to back monster days, sees a bear and scares it away like it was a raccoon...what a bad ass!!!) but otherwise we were just tromping through the forest and mud for most the day. 
From left to right: Heather, Leigh, and myself
When we stopped for a break (feeling pretty destroyed) and I said, "Can you believe we are not even at the hard part yet?" and both of them looked at me like, "What you talkin' bout Willis?", I knew it was time to get out the map and try to communicate what we needed to expect for the rest of the day. It was disheartening. Then again, we were at a place where we were heading down and Leigh said with excitement, "We are going down!!", meaning "We are almost there", and we had to stop and think and wrap our brains around the fact that, no--we were not almost there. Yes, we might be going down, but then we will be going back up...another 2 steep miles up...THEN we will go down again...another mile. Even though we tried to push ourselves, this day had kicked our butts, and we realized it would be dark before we reached the lake. I knew Leigh had been looking at internet pics of the amazing Mica and fantasizing about lake frolicking, which I learned from last year's trip makes her try to will the miles to be shorter than they are. (And me too! We may never forgive Spectacle Lake for disappointing us so!) Miles work like watching water boil; the more you want it to be done, the longer and more excruciating it is.
Getting to the top after those 2 tough miles just as the sun was setting, I had a minute where I let the tears come. Who gets to do this? Who gets to see this? It's at these times that suddenly everything that was hard melts away and you are overwhelmed with "I can't believe I'm here". We were giddy; taking pictures and pulling off our packs to get out our headlamps in preparation for the final mile down. Except when we tried to go down, the trail was suddenly super sketchy. This was not the PCT. We must have taken a little "viewpoint" off shoot--so I was pretty confident if we backtracked just a bit, we'd find it again; and we did...going further up. Ugh...emotional moment over.
We eventually did finally start going down, in the dark. I was nervous we'd somehow miss the lake, even though the map looked as though the trail ran right into it. Both Heather and I at last spotted Mica, but it seemed as though the camps were quite a ways above it. Leigh wanted nothing of that, and was absolutely going to find a spot next to the lake. So I told her they could go ahead and look, but that I would check this other area to make sure, because it may be our only option. What I should have said was, "go ahead A LITTLE and then WAIT for me if you don't find anything", but communication is a bitch.
Just before we had to turn on the head lamps, I was surprised this turned out
When I got to where I thought they would be waiting, (because there were spots there--though rocky and a little difficult to notice) I got a little panicky because you would have thought I could have at least seen their headlamps even if they did go ahead a bit. Thankfully Heather heard my "urgent calls" (possibly on the verge of screaming) but Leigh was on a mission and would not turn around. (in her defense, there was a loud stream...but she did admit she was determined to prove to us that if she went down and around there would be great sites by the water. In fact, the only place she was headed was back home ;)) She came back when she realized she was all alone in the dark. 

I promise I will wrap this up next time...to be continued. 
A random single boot left behind...
maybe someone trying for another "Wild" story?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Are We Having Fun Yet? (Part 2 PCT Section K)

Assessing the damage in the morning light, it did seem Heather's chances at any warmth for the coming nights were slim to none. "Let's ask Woodstock what he would do" was her solution, and it seemed a good one. This is when he told us about slipping while crossing a high running stream and going under. Everything sopping wet, he thought he truly might succumb to hypothermia that night, and didn't know how he would have made it if the clouds had not parted, allowing him to make a fire and dry his stuff. So he scoffed a little at our "her bag is soaked" evaluation. "It's a little damp" was his conclusion, "you just need to break midday and set it out in the sun a couple hours." Easy for him to say; the PCT thru hikers are walking machines and get almost three times as many miles in as many hours as I can. Two hour breaks are not in the cards for those of us with speed issues.  
Glasses Lake
Heather with Heather Lake. Had to do it.
I let Heather know she was not obligated in any way to stay with me. I didn't mind being alone a couple days...if you call having dozens of hikers passing you a day alone. But Cynthia, who tends to be a bit of a worrier, was having none of that, and offered her bag as a replacement. Heather was still on the fence when one of her trekking poles wouldn't lock. "Maybe it's a sign?" she pondered, but ultimately decided no divine intervention was at work; she would figure it out eventually, or just use the one pole and all would be fine. 

So we said our goodbyes and parted ways, and within the hour Heather had broken out her stash of duct tape and had two functioning poles again. I told her I wanted to give her the nickname "MacGyver", which she was into; but later I would find how truly difficult it is to come up with an original trail name. Plus I don't know how many miles you have to do before you "qualify" for one, so for now we are still just Heather and Kelly. (I do know the "someone else has to give it to you" rule, but that is as far as my trail name knowledge extends. All the thru hikers had one, of course)
Day two was supposed to be an easy 9 miles to Pear Lake, which we needed because we knew we'd get a late start with the other gals leaving...but I did not expect it to take us a full 9 hours to get there. (Take a two hour break? Yeah, right!) Heather was so excited to show me a "Pear Lake" sign as she exclaimed, "We made it!" It broke my heart to point to the little arrow pointing to the trail heading up. That last mile seemed like an eternity.

Packed up at Pear Lake and ready to roll
The wind was whipping across the lake when we finally arrived just before dark, and you could smell that rain was on it's way. We boiled the water for Heather's nalgene bottle and prayed it would be enough to keep her warm. I don't think it ever was...although, she's not dead, so it was good enough. ;) But she did warn me, if she got too cold or hungry, I might be sorry she came. I'm still alive too, so again, it was all good. 
Are we having fun yet?
Yes, we woke to rain, and had nothing but rain the entire day. I totally should have put more water repellent on my very worn out boots, because they failed miserably at being anything other than little sponges. Despite it being a long, wet, 11 mile day, we were in mostly good spirits. Regardless of the weather, it was beautiful; and thankfully not as difficult as the prior day, so we made good time and got to Lake Sally Ann well before dark. Best of all, we had a brief reprieve from the rain and had just enough time to get everything set up before the real storm hit. 
SOOO happy to see Lake Sally Ann

Enjoying the last of our Fireball and playing cards while we listened to the gusts of wind and rain hit the tent was immensely satisfying to me. I felt like I was cheating misery...like I should be suffering, but it was fun and therefore a big "f### you" to Mother Nature. Thankfully she wan't too angry with my arrogance, and we were blessed with a beautiful sunrise in the morning that looked like a promise of better weather ahead. 

And it was. In fact, it was so much better--so beautiful, so wonderfully gratifying and enjoyable, that I may declare it the best hiking day of my life. It was almost my longest day of the trip at 13 miles (next day was slightly longer at 14) but just about every mile of it made my jaw drop. Sometimes I feel like I am the luckiest person alive. To say I am grateful does not seem enough. 

A sweet spot at Reflection Pond

This day was also the "crux" of the "mother plan"...the day the planets needed to align so that everyone's day went smoothly and no catastrophe messed with the two groups meeting up. Next post. 
Next post? When is this going to end! ha ha.