Friday June 11, 2010
Camp 42: by the river in the rain (sounds like a sad country song)
This morning we woke, snuggled in our sleeping bags with our down jackets tucked inside to provide extra warmth. The chill of the air at 12,000 feet made it difficult to start the day too early. Besides, we were at a bit of an impasse; none of our hiking options too safe or appealing. We decided not to go back up the mountain to the CDT where the wind blasted us last night, where icy snow fields awaited…one after another on the north facing slope. According to the maps and GPS we could take the Fish Lake trail out which would drop in elevation and is south facing. In theory, this meant much less snow and ice. We packed up and put sheet metal screws in Eric’s Brooks running shoes using nail clippers and tweezers. A note on Brooks running shoes- not too helpful in snowy mountain conditions. I guess that’s why they didn’t call them Brooks all terrain Gortex hiking boots. We continued our adventure as we off-trailed across snow fields and streams to the supposed Fish Lake trail. The trail was difficult to find and keep track of under the snow so we soon found ourselves 1.5 miles down the wrong canyon. Plan B was to make it down the canyon to another trail but time after time we got ridged out and we found ourselves on a goat path staring thousands of feet straight down. Eventually we stumbled onto another use trail, used mainly by elk I think, which in theory would lead us to the top of the mountain and down a canyon that would eventually connect back up to the Fish Lake Trail. We followed the narrow, steep trail which skirted the canyon and once again, lost track of it in a snow field. We managed to make our way to the top and found ourselves climbing up and over another “hill” with steep rocky drop-offs on both sides. The spectacular 360-degree views of snow- capped peaks, steep rugged canyons, rocky ridge lines and grazing elk left me breathless. We pushed forward, the elk stopping to stare, seemingly confused as to why we were there, but then again, so were we! The GPS said the lake was just over the hill. So we made it to the top and peered into an icy lake surrounded by fields of white. A few stretches of the trail could be spotted switch-backing up to a narrow saddle blocked by a wall of snow at least 20 feet high. There we sat, bewildered and hungry (oh yes, did I mention we are very low on food?) not knowing what to do. We had spent 6.5 hours circumnavigating this mountain only to find the route we chose impassible. I sat staring, humbled, with tears swimming in my eyes, out of both frustration and simply being scared, which takes a lot for me. Thanks to Eric, I gathered myself and we tried to find a way down. We slowly descended on a steep snow drift and climbed back up the other side of the canyon to the divide…back to the top of the very same mountain where we had almost been blown off the night before. Again, we studied the CDT buried under snow, lacking the confidence to march forward so we decided to find another way. While contemplating our next move it began to rain so we hurried back down the mountain. The storm moved through quickly and we decided to backtrack past where we had camped the night before to yet another trail that would drop us into a different canyon along the river. All afternoon we worked our way down into the canyon. We inched our way across the fast moving river as another storm moved through. This time it was accompanied by thunder, rain, snow and hail! How lucky are we? The trail meandered along the banks of the river, fairly easy walking past the occasional wash-out and snow field. All in all we were thrilled to just be moving in a direction. At 7pm we realized that we had to cross the river again but this time at a narrow section of the canyon where the water blasted through a narrow chute. Apparently I wasn’t thinking very clearly as I prepared to cross and Eric looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “There is no way! If we fall, we are done!” We laughed, not amused in the least, but we still laughed as the clouds moved in again, dark and ominous, as was my mood. We made our way up the hill and set up camp just in time for the rain to come again. We ate a cold dinner and Eric turned on the GPS to see that we had traveled 2.12 miles as the crow flies from where we camped last night. Sigh. We shake our heads as the rain pelts the tent harder and harder, we will deal with the trail and the river crossing tomorrow. For now, it’s time for rest and perhaps dreams of kittens and rainbows and waterfalls made of whiskey.