Monday, January 23, 2017

Day 5: Murder on the trail! Or skinny dipping.... It's hard to tell the difference sometimes.

Temperatures during the night got cold enough that my water bottles showed a slight trace of freezing by morning. It was getting cold! But that was to be expected considering we had camped over 10,000 feet above sea level. Karolina reported that her sleeping bag still kept her plenty warm despite the fact that she cowboy camped under the stars. No tent to help trap in heat. Any lingering doubts I had about the sleeping bag not being warm enough for her were now officially gone.

Leaving camp in the morning.
Karolina got about a five minute head start on me while I was still packing up. I hiked a bit faster than Karolina and took fewer stops to remove layers of clothing so we figured I'd catch up quickly, and I did.

The trail climbed steadily for a mile or so to the summit of Donahue Pass at 11,055 feet above sea level. It would be the highest elevation Karolina had ever been--a common refrain on this hike as the mountain passes continued to get higher and higher the further south we headed on the trail. Karolina didn't report any symptoms of altitude sickness, which was my biggest concern after her throwing up late the day before. We'd only been going higher all morning, but this would be our high point for the day. It was all downhill from here!

Although not by much. The trail would dip a bit below 10,000 feet, then hang around the 10,000 foot level for most of the day. The longer Karolina was at these elevations, though, the more she'd acclimate to it. But for now, I was glad that the trail wasn't planning to go any higher. Hanging out at 10,000 feet for a few days would do Karolina well.

There were several large patches of snow near the pass, and Karolina wanted me to take lots of photos of her in the snow. "It's August! And I'm in the snow!" she would exclaim excitedly. She tried sliding down in the snow, but it was very hard-packed and didn't work particularly well. That didn't discourage her in the least, however.

For me, it was a trail of contrasts. I couldn't help but remember the last time I was up here while thru-hiking the PCT. There was a heck of a lot more snow then. The small pond we had camped near had been frozen over back then, and there was a solid block of snow and ice along the entire trail. Technically, I had never hiked this section of trail because it was so completely covered over with snow. I remember standing at the top of Donahue Pass and using my topo map to follow the contours of the mountains and where the trail would lead, but there was absolutely no sign of the trail itself. I went straight down the hillside and made my own trail. It wasn't until I reached near the bottom of Lyell Canyon that I went below the snow level and could find the trail again.

So although I had been on Donahue Pass once before, it still felt like an entirely new hike for me. Not once did I lose the trail. I zigzagged back and forth following the switchbacks along the trail, no longer obscured with snow. Even the patches of snow still near the summit weren't actually on the trail. I could choose to step off trail into the snow or not. It was a choice! At this elevation, there weren't many trees or vegetation. Just lots and lots of granite from small, tiny rocks to giant, towering boulders.

This ice formed weird shards that stuck out of the ground. We couldn't figure out how this stuff formed. Neither Karolina nor I had ever seen ice like this before. It almost looked like fur coming out of the ground!
From the pass, the trail sloped downward at a leisurely pace through beautiful mountain scenery. The views were absolutely jaw-dropping, but I joked with Karolina that I had to apologize for telling her how awesome this 'desolate wasteland' was. Just a desolate wasteland, as far as the eye could see! But don't worry, that the views would improve. I wouldn't stop until I found her a better view elsewhere down the trail. "It must be very disappointing to fly all the way in from Europe for this!" I said, waving my hands around. "Just a desolate wasteland. I'm sorry."

We took another prolonged break at 1000 Island Lake, a scenic lake with a dramatic backdrop that Karolina waded into. The water, she reported, was very cold. Not surprising, really.

After Karolina had stepped out of the lake and ate a few snacks, she was looking at the cover of our guidebook where there was a photo of a mountain that dominated the scene. "Do you know where this is?" she asked me.

The cover of our guidebook featured this mountain rising from behind the lake. Karolina didn't recognize it until she asked if I knew where the photo was taken and I pointed to the real mountain and said, "Here?" =)

I looked at the photo, then looked up at the mountain behind the lake, and looked at the photo again. It looked very much like the same mountain. Was she testing me? To see if I realized that we were--quite literally--standing right in front of the mountain in the photo? Or did she not realize that that's where we were? She said it so seriously with no hint of joking which made me think it was a legitimate question and that she really did want to know where the photo was taken.

"Are you testing me?" I asked. "It was taken here. That's the mountain," I said, pointing in the proper direction.

She looked up. She didn't even have to turn her head, but merely looked up, and I saw the recognition sweep across her face. "Ohh!!! You're right!"

The part that was so funny was her timing. The coincidence of asking where the photo was taken when we were almost at the very spot from which it was taken. The part that probably threw her off was that the photo was taken from a few hundred feet away from the shore of 1000 Island Lake and the lake barely shows up in the photo while it dominated our view--even more than the dramatic mountain located just behind it. She missed the mountain for the lake. But it only took her a second to realize that what I said was correct. It was the same place.

We also took some photos and videos of us blowing bubbles. I had gotten an idea in my head for us to create a music video of our hike on the trail and suggested we take all sorts of silly videos that we'd later piece together into a music video. Amanda suggested using bubbles as a prop, a relatively lightweight thing to add to my pack. But the bottle with the soap had started leaking in my pack, and now I wanted to use the bubbles while we could and ditch the bottle at the first opportunity. We decided to set our video to the Try Everything song from Zootopia. It would be our theme song for the trail. I was repeating a lot of the ground I covered during the PCT, but it seemed especially appropriate for Karolina who was visiting the United States for the first time. She wanted to try all sorts of new things! See new places! Challenge herself!

We didn't have a set script for how our music video would turn out. We'd just take all sorts of silly videos and see what we could do with it later, and for now, that included blowing lots of bubbles. =)

Blowing bubbles for our music video! =)

After over an hour of relaxing and being silly, we continued onward.

The only mishap for me was when we crossed a creek and a rock I stepped on shifted unexpectedly causing me to fall into the creek. Not my entire body, but my feet wound up completely immersed and soaking wet. Drats. Karolina thought it was funny, though, and got much enjoyment out of the mishap. No sympathy at all!

Originally, we planned to camp near Garnet Lake, but a sign at 1000 Island Lake said that there was no camping there. Or at least no camping along certain areas of it, but we weren't sure if there were any legal campsites outside the no camping zone and decided to stop at Ruby Lake instead.

It was a beautiful little lake to camp near! We quickly set up camp for the night, both of us deciding to cowboy camp again since no rain was in the forecast.

Karolina dipped her feet in the lake--a regular habit of hers--but she confessed that she kind of wanted to try skinny dipping. She'd never done it before and wanted to "try everything." I, being the gentleman that I am, encouraged her to go for it. It's exhilarating! Although I would have picked water a bit warmer than the stuff around here.

She didn't want me to watch and made me look away while she took off her clothes and waded into the water, but I couldn't help but turn around when I heard a blood-curdling scream. AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!! I have absolutely no doubt that any hikers within a mile of us had to have heard the scream. It echoed off mountains and bounced off the water. She sounded like she was being murdered.

The water was that cold, and I couldn't help but giggle. She splashed around for most of a minute--that was all--then stood up again still strategically facing away from me. I told her I'd go back to the camp so she could dry off and put some clothes back on in private. She got back into the camp a few minutes later happy with her adventure in skinny dipping.

After warming up and eating dinner, she wanted to try another dip in the lake and she repeated the process. She didn't scream quite so loudly the second time around, but had any hikers been passing by on the trail, they still would have thought she was being murdered.

I was kind of impressed that Karolina decided to try taking a second dip in the water. It was cold and she knew it was cold, but she wanted to do it anyhow. She proved it could be done! And I kind of liked the idea of challenging myself to jump into such cold water., so then I gave it a try.
HOLY #$*@ MOTHER OF #*@$& @#$!!!!! I imagined that being stabbed by a thousand dull knives would hurt less than jumping into that lake. It sucked my breath away and I could barely breathe. (In hindsight, I wondered how the heck Karolina was able to scream so loudly when it was all I could do just to breath!)

I lasted about 1/10th of the second and stood up. I was done. Screw that! It was a stupid idea. But I have to admit, my admiration of Karolina went up a notch. She stayed in it for the better part of a minute--a whole minute!--then did it again! That woman has a hidden strength that's not readily apparent.

I quickly got out and dried myself off, swearing never to jump into water like that again.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. Karolina reported the usual pains and aches associated with backpacking like sore hips and shoulders, but was otherwise doing well. The altitude sickness seemed to be behind her now.

And shortly after dark, we went to sleep. All-in-all, a pleasant day.

Karolina enjoys the snow at Donahue Pass.
The night got cold enough to freeze this puddle on the trail!
Coming down from Donahue Pass.
Marmot on the trail!

Karolina gets ready to "leave a trace." We called the orange trowel the "magic shovel."
1000 Island Lake is named that for the large numbers of tiny islands in the lake.

Ruby Lake, and later to be the scene of a blood-curdling murder! Err.... something like that. =)

Karolina tries to slide down the snow at Donahue Pass.

Marmot near Donahue Pass

At camp, Karolina finally opens her bear canister for the first time by herself! She's very excited about her success. *nodding*


Eidolon said...

Skinny dipping, fording rivers where you can SEE the glacier that the water is coming from, yeah, we do stupid stuff like that in Alaska too.

Benjamin O. Mayberry said...

The weird ice shards are needle ice! It forms when the ground temp is above freezing but the air temp is below freezing. Water near the air freezes and then capillary action pulls more water up from the ground, which then freezes... etc etc.