Monday, November 27, 2017

Day 20: A long, tough slog

September 13: As normal, I woke up to another clear, sunny day. Also as normal, I got on the trail and hiking at around 7:00. The two hunters I shared a camp with left maybe a half hour before me, and they drove their motorbikes up the trail and out of view.

Sunrise at Baldy Lake

I checked my guidebook to see what to expect of the trail coming up. I had a half-mile, couple of hundred feet climb back to the trail from Baldy Lake which was no surprise since I had to walk off trail the evening before to get here. The trail stayed in a narrow elevation range, with about half a dozen high points to get over. The first half of the day looked a bit rugged while the second half of the day looked fairly flat. The next reliable water source was about 4 or 5 miles away, but then there wouldn't be anymore for another 9 miles and after that nothing for another 9 miles. Not too bad. I shouldn't have to carry more than about a liter of water at any given time. Maybe a liter and a half later in the day after it warms up and I sweat more.

I had still had two liters of water left over after breakfast and dumped out half of it as unnecessary. No reason to carry anymore weight than I really needed! I'll fill a large 3-liter container with water when I first arrive at camp so I don't have to keep going back and forth multiple times for water. I'll take far more water than I need, then dump out whatever extra I have when I'm ready to leave in the morning.

And I packed up and hit the trail.

A couple of miles in, I passed the two motorbikes of the hunters I camped with, but the hunters were nowhere to be seen. I figured they couldn't be too far away, though. Somewhere off trail, looking to bag their elk.

Motorbikes of the two hunters I shared a camp with last night, but the hunters were nowhere to be seen.

And after four or five miles, I arrived at Razor Creek where I was shocked and horrified to discover that the creek was dry! You saw this coming, didn't you, when I mentioned pouring out the "unnecessary" liter of water that morning? I never talk about doing that even though it happens pretty much every morning, but today--I did! Because it's relevant! =)

I was angry at my guidebook, which promised "reliable" water at Razor Creek. This was a particularly bad place for this to happen as well since the next reliable water source was another NINE miles up the trail, and the day was already warming up. I probably wouldn't die hiking nine miles with the tiny little bit of water still in my water bottle, but I'd be miserably thirsty by the time I reached the next water.

Maybe five minutes before reaching the creek, I had passed a small puddle of water trapped in the crevice of a boulder and I thought about going back for that. The puddle looked like it had been maybe 6 inches deep and a foot around--I could get water out of that, although it would mean backtracking a little bit. But the water had looked pretty nasty too--I skipped by it for the fresh water of Razor Creek. But as they say, beggars can't be choosers!

There was a trail junction at Razor Creek. The Colorado Trail touches the creek then bounces off immediately and heads to higher elevations, but another side trail follows the length of the creek and I wondered if maybe water was flowing further downstream. I really didn't like the idea of hiking perhaps several miles along the creek with no guarantee of finding water, though.

But there was a hunter nearby, and I asked him about water. Maybe he would know where to find some nearby water. We chatted for several minutes, but in terms of water, he didn't know of anything nearby--just that Razor Creek was dry, but he offered to give me some of his water.

The Hunter at Razor Creek. Speaking of which, why is it hunters always wear camo, but then put on a bright orange coat that covers it? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of wearing camo in the first place? I'd really like to meet a hunter just wearing regular outdoor gear! =)

"Are you sure you don't need it?" I said. I really didn't want to leave him in a bad spot. "There is that tiny, stagnant puddle I could go back to. Obviously, it's not ideal, but I'm not going to die or anything."

But he assured me he'd be fine. He was only going to be out there for a few more hours and was heading home that afternoon. He could give me about a liter of a liter.

A liter!!!

I needed enough to get me through about nine miles of rugged terrain on an increasingly hot day. I would have preferred a couple of liters, but a liter of clean, fresh water was a godsend!

We chatted a bit more. He too was hunting elk, although he confessed that he really wasn't interested in the actual hunting. He was there for the camaraderie with his friends. I didn't see any of his friends around at the time, though, so there didn't appear to be much camaraderie going on. Except with me. =)

I joked that he shouldn't let his friends know that. They might not want to go hunting with him again if they knew he really wasn't interested in shooting anything. =)

Eventually, I thanked the man for the extra water and continued along the trail.

The only people I saw all day were hunters. I didn't see a single hiker or biker the entire day. Was I alone on the trail now?

The trail wasn't particularly difficult in itself today, but the limited water, hot weather and too-heavy pack took its toll on me. My pace slowed and my feet ached and I can't say that I really enjoyed the day.

Late in the afternoon, the trail followed dirt roads for quite a few miles. I don't mind the trail following little-used dirt roads since they tended to be a lot flatter than normal trail and didn't have to worry about brush overgrowing the trail and scratching at me, so I followed dirt roads for a few hours the last half of the day. But there was little shade and the sun bore down relentlessly.

I wound up camping near Los Creek, arriving at about 6:30 after nearly 12 hours of hiking. I covered 23 miles in 57,896 steps according to my Fitbit--it was my longest day on the trail so far, and I was exhausted.

One thing that didn't happen--afternoon thunderstorms. The skies stayed cleared all day, much to my surprise. Which was brutal on the long road walks where there wasn't shade to keep me cool, but it also meant I had absolutely no qualms about cowboy camping in an open field. I hated setting up my tarp and loved cowboy camping, and this was the first time in a week I could cowboy camp. It was my first time I cowboy camped on the trail with a wide, unobstructed view of the night-time sky. I wanted to see the stars in all their glory far away from city lights!

After eating dinner, brushing my teeth, and reading a little, darkness descended and the stars came out. Beautiful, countless stars--and the Milky Way streaked across the sky. I knew it was time to do a little more astrophotography! I was carrying this ridiculously big and heavy camera, and it was time to get more use out of it! And all from the comfort of my sleeping bag. =)

I used my pack and stove and other items to rest the camera on for the long duration photos I knew I'd be taking. (I didn't carry a tripod, after all, but I still had to aim the camera and keep it steady.) I took lots of photos in the manual mode with a lot of trial and error. I still wasn't sure what the best combination of settings would be for a great photo. So I changed the ISO speeds, shutter speeds, and aperture, taking mental notes about how the photo would change each time I changed one of those settings. I opened the aperture as wide as possible--obviously I needed as much light as possible to get into the camera. The Milky Way looked considerably improved when I moved the ISO speed from 100 to 400, so I bumped it up again and again until it hit 6400 and the Milky Way just popped of the photo! I started with a long 30-second exposure, but the sky actually looked a bit too overexposed and eventually dialed it down to 15 seconds where I finally got my best photos of the night. And later, I could try adjusting it with photo-editing software as needed, but it really wasn't needed! (But it didn't stop me from trying. I did increase the contrast a bit, but that was it.)

I tried getting two different photos--one pointed toward the horizon where the Milky Way was brightest and the silhouette of trees would show on the horizon, and a second one straight up where it might look like one was flying through space and time itself. =) I could see the dust clouds blocking parts of the Milky Way. It was awesome, and I fell asleep with a huge smile on my face. The day was a long, tough slog, but moments like this make the hardships worth it.

And the road walking begins.... the vast majority of it was unshaded and under the brutal sun!

The trail even followed alongside Highway 114 for a brief awhile!
I totally didn't bring tire chains. I hope that cause me problems!
Lujan Creek turned out to be the only water source to be found along the trail today.

I made it to camp just as the sun set behind the mountain!
View looking straight up from my campsite. Not only is the Milky Way visible, but so is the dust that makes the dark regions within it!
But this might be my favorite photo of the entire trip! The Milky Way was brightest at the horizon--it almost looks like there's a forest fire burning behind those trees! And the dramatic silhouette of the trees in front of it is a nice touch! =)


Rebecca and Aaron said...

Your photography is always amazing, but I especially love the night sky photos. They are incredible! Thank you for sharing them!

Unknown said...

Beautiful night sky!

Mary said...

What fabulous photos of the sky. I love the one with the trees in the foreground!

Christi Joy said...