Monday, December 25, 2017

Day 32: The End is Near!

September 25: I woke up to a brutally cold morning. I didn't have a thermometer to check the temperature, but I had absolutely no doubt that temperatures had fallen at least into the teens and perhaps even into the single digits. Fortunately, I did stay toasty warm in my sleeping bag with the help of my new equipment picked up in Silverton. Unfortunately, none of it was useful in helping me get out of my sleeping bag in the morning.

During the night, quite a bit of ice had formed on the creek I camped next to!

Eventually, I had to get up--there was no way to delay it anymore. I had to pee! But it was miserable getting out of my sleeping bag. I knew I should be getting up early and hitting the trail. The sky was clear and beautiful and was expected to stay that way all day, and I knew there was a storm expected to hit in two more days and the more miles I got done today, the fewer I'd have to deal with in the rain and/or snow in a couple of days. I wanted to get in as many miles as I could. I wanted to get started at 7:00 in the morning, but I just couldn't get myself out of my nice, warm sleeping bag.

It wasn't until the sun rose high enough that some of the sunlight filtered through the canopy and started warming up the air that I could motivate myself to get up and I wound up not hitting the trail until about 8:30. Such a late start! Argh! At least I knew this cold snap was coming, though, and had prepared for it by putting my shoes in a plastic bag and sleeping on top of them. I also slept with my water. I didn't want any of that to freeze during the night. You only made the mistake of letting your shoes freeze solid once! I did that on the PCT and was sure I didn't do that again.

I didn't make great time on the trail--not at first, at least. Given the severe cold, the snow and water on the trail turned into slick ice and I lost count of the number of times I slipped and fell. Not only did the falls slow me down, but my pace slowed down as I tried to be more careful not to fall.

Later in the morning, the ice melted, but then I still slipped in the slick snow and mud. At least falling into the snow wasn't a big deal, but I really didn't want to fall into the mud. That's just messy. I had a couple of close calls but managed to get through without a bad fall into the mud.

Late in the afternoon, I reached a point where I could see Mouse and her three friends marching up to an unnamed pass in the distance and was surprised to see all four of them marching within a few steps of each other. They were in this same formation the evening before when they passed my campsite. Usually when groups of people hike "together," they tend to string out like a slinky as people hike at their own pace and the ones in front stop occasionally to wait for the ones in back to catch up, but these four seemed to hike together in a very tight formation. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but it seemed odd. What if the one in front farted? I know I wouldn't want to be the one bringing up the rear of that train! =)

Mouse again was at the lead of the line, and I started thinking of the group of four as the Mouseketeers.

The Mouseketters headed over the pass and I lost sight of them for the time being. I figured I was maybe a mile or so behind them and would probably catch up to them the next time they stopped for a break.

I followed the trail over the pass and through the woods. By noon, most of the snow had melted. The only places were snow was left was on north-facing slopes and areas under the protective shade of trees. I knew I'd have no trouble finding a snow-free location to camp tonight. I figured that had to be worth at least an extra ten degrees of warmth.

I caught sight of the Mouseketeers again, this time heading over Blackhawk Pass. They were still marching in their tight formation. How do they managed to do that all day long? It seemed a little spooky and magical to me. At the top, though, they apparently took a short break because I saw a couple of them standing at the top admiring the views without their packs on--and they were more than two feet from the next person in line.

They didn't break for long, though, because by the time I reached the top of my pass, they were gone and there was no view of them on the other side of the pass.

I continued on, eventually catching up with the group at Straight Creek where they had stopped for a break. Even though I'd been seeing them on the trail for the last hour or two, none of them had noticed me following behind them on the trail and they hadn't been sure where I was. They camped a bit off trail the night before so figured it was possible that I hiked by them in the morning.

I chatted with them for several minutes but they eventually hit the trail again. I lingered a bit later--I needed a rest too, and unlike them, I arrived late. So they went on ahead while I hung back and ate some snacks and filled up with water.

And I did fill up with water. This creek was the last reliable water source on the trail for the next 20 miles or so. I'd need enough water to get me through the night and most of the morning tomorrow. I hated the idea of carrying so much water. I suppose I could have melted snow, but it was actually growing quite scarce at this point and wasn't reliable anymore. There was a seasonal water source about halfway to the next reliable water source and given the snow and rain, it seemed likely that there would be some water there. But I didn't really want to depend on that. What if there wasn't? I'd be really screwed!

So I filled up with a lot of water and hit the trail again.

I didn't see anyone else for the rest of the day, and I didn't catch up with the Mouseketeers again. I set up camp a little before sunset on a ridge with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. It was a wonderful campsite too! Except for the lack of water, it was perfect in every way. The ground was clear of snow, it was on a plateau at the top of a mountain where cold air couldn't settle during the night, and there were a lot of choices among campsites to choose from.

I toyed with the idea of camping right on the ledge with the great views, but I knew temperatures were expected to plummet during the night and figured I'd be warmer if I stayed under the trees away from the edge, so that's what I did. On the other hand, I wanted the first morning light shining on me as early as possible, so I tried to guess from which direction the sun would most likely rise in the morning and positioned myself where I could catch its light.

The air was cool and crisp during the evening, but as soon as the sun set, temperatures plummeted quickly and I curled up into my sleeping, too cold outside to even read my Kindle. At least I was nice and warm in my sleeping bag, but I lingered there for a few hours--kind of bored with nothing to do but ponder the meaning of life until I got tired enough to fall asleep. I found myself wishing I had caught up to and camped with the Mouseketeers. At least then I'd have some people to talk to as I laid around trying to stay warm all night!

Even after the ice and snow melted, the trails were still slick with mud! That horrible, gloppy stuff that would cling to your feet and make your shoes feel like they weighed 5 pounds each.

These were the most impressive icicles I saw during the day. They were probably a good four feet long!
Blackhawk Pass

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