Friday, December 3, 2021

Day 22: Frozen shoes, frozen socks

May 12: The first sign of a problem was when I tried to pour water out of my water bottle for breakfast. I typically eat granola for breakfast, and I'll mix up some powered milk with water, sprinkle on some dried cranberries or something and presto! Instant breakfast! But what came out of my water bottle wasn't water, but rather it had the consistency of a partially melted slushy. 

That wasn't supposed to happen, I thought.

My sock was so frozen, I could have beat someone over the head with it!

I powered through, eating breakfast anyhow, but afterwards, when it was time to pack up camp, change into my hiking clothes and get back on the trail, I realized that not only did my water freeze, but so did my shoes and socks. I was stunned! I knew it was getting cold at night, but to freeze that cold? I hadn't suffered from frozen shoes and socks since the High Sierra while thru-hiking the PCT eleven years earlier. Crap.

The frozen socks weren't much of a problem since I could wear a spare pair that was still dry and therefore hadn't froze. The frozen set I could just attach to my pack and let them thaw (and dry) during the day. In fact, that had been my plan this whole time, switching out socks each day to air out and dry each afternoon. Giving them time to thaw as well would come with the package.

My shoes were also frozen solid, but that doesn't show up so well in photos except that you can see the shoelaces sticking out and defying gravity. But really, the entire shoe was a frozen block of ice.

The shoes, however, would be more problematic. They felt like frozen ice cubes, and I couldn't shove my feet into them no matter how much I tried. When this happened on the PCT, I ended up hiking in my Crocs for the first hour or two of the day until my shoes thawed enough to fit my feet in, and that was my initial thought for dealing with this problem. Just hike in my Crocs until my shoes thawed. I wasn't looking forward to hiking in Crocs, though. Not the least of which was because it was still cold outside, and while Crocs might be famous for their comfort, they weren't so well-known for keeping one's feet warm.

But in a fit of inspiration, I had a new idea for thawing out my shoes quickly: I could throw them into the Gila River! Of course, my shoes would be soaking wet afterwards, but they would become soaking wet the moment they thawed anyhow, and they'd get wet as soon as I reached the first river crossing. There wasn't really any downside to soaking them in the river at this point, but it would thaw those shoes out quickly.

So that's what I did. I found a small pool of water at the edge of the river and weighed the shoes down and let them sit in the water for a minute or so.

And when they came out, they were thawed!

I poured out the water from the shoes, then slipped them onto my feet. It was squishy and wet, but no different than how my feet felt the last few days with the 200 or so fords.

The Gila River became increasingly small and easier to cross without getting one's feet wet.

The morning's hike was otherwise uneventful. According to the photos I took, there were 18 more crossings of the increasingly diminished Gila River, and most of them I started rock-hopping across. At one crossing, a beaver had built a dam directly on the trail. The trail had eroded down a bit and I guess the beaver thought that would make a nice pool and built the dam right there, making the creek crossing surprisingly deep. So instead, I just walked across on the dam. It didn't seem to hurt the beaver dam any. Still hadn't seen any beavers, though.

And finally, about 8.5 miles from camp, I reached Snow Lake which marked the end of the Gila River. No more river crossings! In all, we forded the river about 240 times from start to finish. I'm pretty sure that's a record that I'll never break for the rest of my life. I don't even know of another hike that would require that many river crossings!

But water, once again, would become a rare sight and I'd have to start carrying considerably more of it. Along the Gila for the last several days, I never carried more than a liter a time. Now I'd have to carry several liters, filling up just once or twice per day.

I had imagined Snow Lake being a beautiful, clear-blue, pristine lake. It sounds like one, but I knew that there wasn't going to be any snow around despite its name. Perhaps in the depths of winter these mountains got some snow, but that had long since melted in this area--assuming it was even around in the first place. But it drained into the Gila River, and the Gila River's water was clear, cold and delicious! This was the water that filled up Snow Lake, so logically, Snow Lake must be a beautiful, clear-blue lake with fresh, cold water.

Snow Lake didn't live up to its name!

But what I saw was a large, muddy-looking reservoir that looked barely better than a large cow tank. It was a little bit of a shock to me. How could it be so muddy, while the water that flowed from it was so clear and pure?!

The lake was a man-made lake, a fact that I hadn't realized before I arrived there, and it appeared that the water coming from it was actually leaking through the ground to the river. The reservoir was low enough that water wasn't flowing through the lake's main outlet pipe at all--just seeping slowly through the rock and dirt that made up the dam. Which, I assume, filtered out the mud and other contaminates from the water.

Fortunately, I didn't have to drink this water. Along the shore was a primitive campground. I stopped there for an hour or two, and it provided water faucets for drinking as well as pit toilets and trash cans. I cooked a dinner here with the unlimited good drinking water--I knew I wouldn't be camped near any water and there was no reason to carry water if I could just cook a dinner here for lunch. 

Evenstar had left camp before me, but I had passed her earlier in the morning, and then she caught up with me again at the campground.

After cleaning up my dinner mess, I packed up my gear and headed off again. I still had miles to do!

At this point, the trail followed gravel roads for most of the rest of the day. There was a short, confusing section that left the gravel roads and followed a small trail, but the trail looked very unofficial and it felt more like a cross-country hike than following real trail. I hoped Evenstar wouldn't get lost in that section. Now that she wasn't on the Gila River anymore, getting lost was a lot easier. Especially without a GPS that coordinated her position on actual maps.

After a few hours, I reached a small solar-powered cow tank. It was an ugly, disgusting water source, but it was also the last reliable water for 13 miles so I stopped to fill up. I knew I wouldn't reach the next water source until tomorrow--I had to carry enough water to get me through the night.

Solar-powered cow tank, where I used the shade from the solar panels to get out of the sun.

When I arrived, Pez was at the top of a short, steep climb up to a ridge. He yelled and waved in my general direction, and I returned the greeting.

I waited by the water, trying to stay in the shade of the solar panels to keep cool, and I waited here for an hour or so for Evenstar to catch up--I knew she wasn't far behind me--at least I had thought I knew. But she never showed up and eventually I got tired of waiting and pushed onward. I hoped she was just taking it slow and hadn't gotten lost, although I was confident she'd figure her way out if she did.

From the cow tank, the trail climbed up a short, steep section before reaching the top of a plateau where it reconnected with gravel roads and became flat as a pancake. The views were awesome! I felt like I could see a million miles out in every direction! 

Pez, I knew, was about an hour ahead of me since that was when I last saw him, up on the ridge just as I arrived. Another thru-hiker passed by while I was stopped, named Tank, but except for a short chat, I didn't really know him.

Anyhow, once I reached the top of the ridge, I felt like I was on top of the world. The scenery was kind of plain, but I just felt so happy to be out here! The terrain was barren of trees--just golden hills. I flew down the trail, playing music on my phone and swinging my trekking pole around like a baton. And I absolutely loved how flat the trail on the plateau was. Loved it! I couldn't see Pez or Tank ahead of me, and I couldn't see Evenstar behind me, despite the impressive views I had in all directions. It felt like I was the only person around for miles and miles.

It's kind of plain, but I absolutely loved these wide-open views and flat ground!

After a couple of hours, I stopped under the shade of a solitary tree. I couldn't let the shade go to waste and after a couple of hours of non-stop hiking, I deserved a short rest. It was hot out, after all.

I waited around for another hour or so to see if Evenstar would catch up, but once again, I never saw her and after an hour, I was getting itchy to move. Anyhow, the shade from the tree had moved and I was about to end up in the sun again. Time to keep moving!

So I picked up my pack and kept moving. =)

And I continued flying down the trail, happy as a clam. 

The road I followed eventually connected with another gravel road, and just by the looks of it I didn't like the new road as much. It was much larger, wider and obviously used by vehicles a lot more. I hadn't seen a single vehicle on the road I had been walking, but it only took about 5 minutes before one tore down this new road raising a cloud of dust.

Oh, well.... This road was also in the trees, so the brutal sun didn't beat down on me so much. On the other hand, the views weren't as great either. All-in-all, I preferred the road leading up to this one. But I was still in a good mood and enjoying the walk, even if I realized it wasn't as awesome as the previous few hours.

This section of trail I still enjoyed, albeit not as much since the trees blocked the views and the road was much busier with traffic. (Busier, meaning one vehicle every half hour or so.)

A short while later, I was startled when Pez called out to me from the side of the trail. I hadn't seen him in the shadows of the trees, but he had set up camp right there on the side of the road. I sat down and chatted with him for an hour or so. I kind of wanted to stop and camp with him, but I had this weird urge to just keep walking! I was enjoying the walk so much, I just didn't want it to end. At least not yet.

I had hoped Evenstar might catch up during this break, but I wasn't optimistic anymore, and sure enough, she still hadn't shown up. Hopefully she was fine, though, and just hiking slow due to her blisters.

Pez said that he never saw Tank, which surprised me since I knew Pez was ahead of Tank, and Tank was ahead of me, but now that I had connected up with Pez, what happened to Tank? They had to have crossed paths at some point, but apparently they never saw each other. It seemed all but impossible to have gotten lost on the road walk, though. The trail was pretty clear through this area. It would be a mystery that we'd never solve....

Pez had enjoyed watching his Netflix shows in the evening but commented that he didn't really have enough power left to keep watching it before reaching Pie Town--the next resupply point. But I pulled out a spare battery pack that I had picked up from the hiker box at Doc Campbell's.

"Here you go!" I told him. "Take it! Use it! Just give it back to me later." =)

I was happy to let him carry some of my gear for me. =D

And it was a spare battery pack. I was carrying two of them at this point. The one I brought was massive in size--really larger than I needed--so I wanted to move to a smaller one and the one in the hiker box was half the size of my normal battery pack. There wasn't a post office at Doc Campbell's, though, so for the time being, I was carrying both of them. I had far more power than I knew what to do with!

So Pez was happy to get the power boost, and I was happy to no longer carry the extra battery pack. 

But anyhow, I still felt happier than a clam and just did not want to stop walking so early, so finally I picked up my pack and pushed onward. It wasn't often when I wanted to keep hiking late in the day, and I knew the feeling wouldn't last forever. I may as well enjoy it while it lasted, though!

I wouldn't get much further, anyhow, knowing that sunset was only about an hour away. I couldn't hike in the dark, as much as I would have liked to, since I needed photos for Walking 4 Fun

So when I reached a nice campsite on the side of the road about an hour later, I finally stopped for the day. All-in-all, a pretty nice day. Despite starting the day with frozen shoes. =)

Evenstar at one of our last fords of the Gila River

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