Mile 2411.2 to 2422.6 — Today’s miles: 11.4
[I am indebted to the awesome Lynda Barry for the title of this post, of course.]
In the very early morning I awake to my back aching. I can’t get comfortable and finally have to stretch in child’s pose for a few minutes until I can fall back to sleep. I climb out of my tent around 6am and see that another tent is set up on a big rock slab a few yards behind me. Thanks to the background noise from the waterfall, I never even heard those folks come in. There is an incredible bright orange-red sun rising over the mountains. I eat a quick breakfast and hurry off, with a goal of hitting the Lemah Creek ford no later than 8am.
On the bridge across the waterfall, a young deer and I see each other at the same time and we seem equally startled. The deer isn’t sure what to do, and stares at me for a long time. Finally I wave my trekking poles around and it trots off, and I am on my way. Down, down, down on rocky trail, switchbacks through what must have once suffered a fire, now filled with the remnants of bare burned tree trunks and a vibrant sea of wildflowers. I call “hey bear” periodically, once near a tent with people still sleeping, whoops. There are lots of tiny muddy streams to cross and then a long stretch through the forest where the trail is overgrown again, this time with berry bushes. I call a lot of “hey bears” here in these berries, but don’t see anyone except an early southbound hiker and some chipmunks.
At Lemah Creek (ten minutes before my 8am goal) I see that my trail notes are correct and the bridge is indeed out. I remove my socks and insoles and wade in. The water is very cold. I cross along an upstream angle, and there’s only one tricky spot, where the water is running fast and up to my knees, but I have no trouble and am very glad I planned to ford this in the early morning. I cross another wide creek on a sturdy footbridge later, and trek through the forest for a bit until I’m popped out into a small clearing with incredible views of the mountains. I sit on a log and eat second breakfast while gazing at an impossibly tall waterfall that cascades all the way down the mountain in the distance.
Then the trail begins its uphill variation. The rest of my day is this one long climb. Fortunately, the first several miles of it are shaded, under trees and in the shadow of the mountain itself. I settle into a steady pace for my legs and my breath, and just hike. The long switchbacks disappear behind me one by one. I feel as though I could hike this uphill forever — not because it’s easy, but because I am able to find a way to settle into the challenge physically and mentally. I really, really missed this feeling. At one point, I gaze out and see the giant waterfall I looked up at during second breakfast; I’m well above it now.
Then the blowdowns begin in earnest: every few yards, another fallen tree across the trail, which must be assessed and navigated under, over, or around. A scant few are tall enough for me to duck under. Some have little off-trail paths around the huge upturned roots. Most, though, I have to swing one leg over and then the other, and a few of these are so large that I have to straddle them on my tip-toes and slide my whole body across. One particularly big blowdown seems unsafe except for one option: I take my pack off and slide it under to the other side, then crawl under after it. Obviously, this long section of blowdowns interferes with my good hiking pace, and when I’m finally finished with it, the sun has found me.
But I’m almost up top now, and another mile finds me veering off on a short social trail to a crystal clear pond nestled into the base of a boulder field. There are lots of little spots for tents tucked away back here, and if I’d arrived here later in the day I’d definitely camp here. But now, at noon, its a shade-less haven for many aggressive bugs, so I filter water and move on. I enjoy the views as I trek another uppish/flattish mile to a lovely alpine lake. There are still some bugs, but lots of shade and breeze, and I settle in for a leisurely lunch. I eat tuna while my ramen soaks, and dry out my socks and shoes, still damp from the early morning creek crossing. A tiny grey pika darts in and out of the rocks, boldly close to me, while its kin cry “eeeep!” across the lake. I hate to leave this calming place, but I filter a lot of water for dry camping tonight and move on.
Even with the extra water weight, I make short work of the undulating next two miles, then turn off on a social trail to some flat campsites. The afternoon is hot, and I lie on my Tyvek in a patch of shade, trying to ignore the bugs. As usual, it’s a mixed crowd of flies, biting flies, bees and bee-like insects, and the ubiquitous mosquitos. I give in and pitch my tent to get away from them, sweating inside but happy to no longer be swatting every thirty seconds. When the sun begins to fade I emerge, headnetted, for a quick dinner. Afterward, I plot my probable campsites for the remainder of the trip. I now know I don’t actually need all eight days to finish this section, not hardly — but I want to stay out all eight anyway. So I plan less mileage per day and prioritize beautiful campsites and relaxation time at lakes. I just want to enjoy it here as much as I possibly can.
While I am lying in the tent listening to Alan Cumming read his memoir before bed, I suddenly feel a thwapp! hit my shoulder from the side. I sit up and look out just in time to see a very small brown furry butt scampering back into the brush. That was either a pika or a chipmunk (probably the latter, given the terrain here, but then again I didn’t see a tail…). Must not have realized what my tent was, or didn’t look in time. Poor little guy! Then I remember stories of Washington mice chewing holes in tents, looking for food, and feel glad I don’t sleep with my food here. Other hikers arrive and I lie awake listening to them set up their tents and sleep gear nearby. They are not that close to me, but sounds are magnified out here. The sky fades into night and a few last mosquitos persist with their high-pitched whine at the mesh doors of my tent as I finally drift off to sleep.