Monday, May 16, 2016

Day 8: Wandering Pads and Suicidal Pinecones

September 18: Karolina and I got our latest start to the day yet, hitting the trail a bit after 8:00 in the morning. Today we planned to cover a mere 10 kilometers--half the distance we did yesterday. Mostly because the easy terrain we had been passing through would turn considerably more difficult today. But even with the more difficult terrain, we figured there wasn't a big rush to get out in the morning.

It didn't take long before the trail became rocky and slow!

Directly out from the refuge, the trail immediately started climbing uphill. At first it wasn't especially rocky, but halfway up the first mountain, we wound up poking our way through a heap of rocks that slowed our progress for more-or-less the rest of the day.

The day's hiking was largely uneventful, though. The views were absolutely spectacular--especially looking down towards two scenic lakes (Breche de Capitellu and Lac du Melo) from our perches at the mountain tops. I kind of wanted to go down and check them out close up, but the lakes were off trail and Karolina's knees certainly weren't up for the extra challenge and it seemed like a bad idea to split up in this sort of rough terrain. Anyhow, even from up here, we could see large numbers of people near the lakes. There was a trailhead not far from them and it appeared to be a popular day hike for people. I'm not a big fan of crowds!

The trail was difficult and rocky, but it only required one chain which turned out to be remarkably difficult to use. I watched Karolina descend it first, filming her as she did so and it didn't look so bad from my point of view and she handled it like a mountain goat. When it was my turn, I got about halfway down and couldn't figure out how to get down the rest of the way. I didn't see anywhere I could put my feet next! I spent the better part of a minute stuck on the slope wondering how the heck Karolina got down it so quickly and easily. Eventually--I'm not even sure how--I managed to make it down, but I think it involved me sliding down the rock on my belly and using only my hands on the chain to control my descent. At least until my feet got down far enough to reach some footholds at which point I went back to scrambling.

Shortly thereafter, we took another snack break near some other people who had also stopped for a break, and I noticed one of the women leaving her group, head behind a boulder, and drop her pants to pee. In complete view of us, completely oblivious to Karolina and I sitting there eating lunch a hundred feet away. Karolina had already caught a couple of people with their pants down peeing by accident and had started keeping a count of "bare butts" she'd seen on the trail. This was my first one, but Karolina had her eyes closed and was just sitting there meditating.

"Karolina," I whispered. "Look!" She opened her eyes and looked. "I did not need to see that!" she told me.

"Sure you did--you're keeping count of bare butts! You wouldn't have been able to count it if you didn't see it!" =)

With that impeccable logic, she just shook her head. "I did not need to see that."

Make that a lesson--when you do your business outside, look uphill for spectators before dropping your drawers. =)

Along the way, while Karolina had the lead, I noticed Wilson--our friendly pine cone buddy--attempt to jump off the back of Karolina's pack. "What'd you do to him," I asked Karolina, "that would make him want to commit suicide?!" I thought Wilson was happy hiking with us. I re-secured him on Karolina's pack, and we continued on.

Nearing the first pass and the high point for the day at Bocca alle Porte.

I'd still been studying the Polish words I had created flashcards for on my smartphone during stops and breaks, but I'd been unable to add new ones without an Internet connection. But I did have a walking, talking Polish-English dictionary at my disposal, so we decided to create some new flashcards directly from the trail! =) My smartphone could take photos, and it had a microphone which could record sounds, so we started looking around for anything that I didn't know the word for, then I'd take a photo of it (no English allowed on my flash cards!) and record Karolina saying the word so I'd have the correct pronunciation.

Which is how I ended up taking pictures of things like cow poop. Kupa! =) And Karolina thought that was interesting enough to take a photo of me taking a photo of poop, which makes a nice contrast of me taking a photo of her taking a photo of a cow. She seemed very fascinated with all of the farm animals we'd see along the trail, always taking photos of them. =)

Near the end of the day, the trail descended a steep slope towards the Refuge de Petra Piana. We had a good aerial view of the refuge and could see the hoards of campers around it. From our vantage point up high, we discussed where we should camp picking out the pros and cons of various locations. Which was kind of funny considering that we were picking campsites a half hour before we would even arrive at them. Of course, our decisions were subject to change when we arrived and saw the locations close-up.

Most hikers had camped in a single area, crowded together like sardines, but a few others--the smart ones, we figured--had camped away from the large crowd, individually. From our vantage point, we couldn't quite get the view we wanted of that part of the refuge, but it looked promising. So upon our arrival at the refuge, I went to the far side of camp near the helipad and scoped things out while Karolina stopped to rest. I'd do the scouting around while her knees were resting.

And I very much liked what I saw! The campsite had tremendous views, and there was only one tent close enough to throw rocks at. (Not that we actually threw rocks at it, but it was close enough that we could have.) It was a little breezy being more exposed than most sites, but it was surrounded with a short wall of rocks that helped break the wind gusts--especially during the night when we were laying down behind it.

If a helicopter came in to land, it would be a noisy, horrible experience for us. We weren't on the helicopter pad--a sign posted by it said camping was not allowed on the pad. (I was a little amused at this--that they actually needed to install a sign warning people to not camp on the helipad! Duh!) But we were close enough that I could almost hit it if I threw a rock in its direction. It seemed unlikely that a helicopter would land between this evening and the next morning, though. I was willing to take the chance!

I headed back up to Karolina to give her the thumbs up--the campsite was great and to come on down!

While she was setting up camp, I went down to the creek--it was quite close and much more convenient than the "official" water source closer to where the large crowd of hikers were camped--to get some water where I found a mostly-inflated sleeping pad next to the water. This was a very large, heavy-duty sleeping pad and looked to be in remarkably good condition. I didn't think it had been there very long.

When I picked it up, I was even more surprised at just how heavy the sleeping pad actually was. Someone hiked in with this?! And then it hit me--no, they probably didn't. Well, obviously something did, but it was probably a horse. The refuges have tents already provided that people can rent instead of having to carry one on their backs, and they probably included pads like this. I bet it was an official sleeping pad from an official rentable tent. I had no idea which tent it came out of, but I was more than happy to make use of it since I had it. I saved the sleeping pad, so my good karma dictates that I'd be able to use it tonight. =) I was going to sleep in luxury tonight! I already knew I was never going to carry that heavy thing along the trail, though, so it'll just be a one-night event. Karolina looked pretty surprised when she saw me return from the creek carrying a big sleeping pad. "I'd let you use it," I told her, "but you already have one!" =)

Don't worry--Karolina doesn't actually hike bare-footed. She was just taking a break and letting her feet breathe when we stopped at Bocca alle Porte.

The rest of the evening I spent sewing. The rip in my pack had ripped open again. It was the same rip that had opened twice near the end of the AT, and once again, my sewing job had failed. "Just hang in there a little longer", I told my pack. "Just another week or so and you can call it quits for season!"

I had also developed an entirely new rip in my pants, which also needed patching.  Both of which kept me busy late into the night.

The views of Lac de Capitellu and Lac du Melo were gorgeous! A strange optical illusion... when we first saw the two lakes, we thought they were right next to each other at the same elevation. Turns out, the closer one is 1930 meters above sea level while the one in back is 1711 meters above sea level--a difference of over SEVEN HUNDRED FEET! Seriously.... look at this photo. Does that lake in the back really look seven hundred feet lower in elevation than the one in front? But it is!

At one point, the trail actually goes through this rock!
My turn to go through the rock! =)
I had no idea Karolina took this photo of me with the bird behind me until she emailed me this photo. I really like it, though! =)

The lake looks so close... but is so far!

This chain was actually more difficult than it looked! =)

Karolina practices her balance during one of our snack breaks.

Karolina takes photos of cows.
I take photos of cow poop. Or "kupa" as the Polish would say. =)
Seriously... I really did take a photo of it! =) (I also took photos of more interesting things for my Polish flashcards including pine cones (szyszka), pine trees (sosna), stamps (pieczątka), headlamps (czołówka), stickers (naklejka), chains (łańcuch) and more!

Lots of goats running around too!
The Mediterranean Sea is still with us from those high points! =)

Karolina and I were both inclined to get away from this large mass of campers by the refuge, so we'd up camping near the helipad instead.

'Twas a beautiful evening!

Which I spent sewing closed a rip in both my pants and on my pack!