Day 164 – Gauntlet

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Day 164: (20.86 miles)
mile 2523.63 – 2544.49

Last night we dared it to rain and slept without the rainfly on. We awoke to no dampness whatsoever, even though the campsite we created was nestled in a densely packed grove of slim trees with soft mossy ground filling in what “empty” space there was, less than a half mile from the Kennedy Creek bridge. There was an alternate trail (which went up…of course) to a hot spring area. We considered taking a side trip, but then thought better of it, as there was no indication of how far the springs were away and with the knowledge we had some serious elevation changes over what we can only assume will be challenging terrain. We’ve heard talk of damage to the trail from the the two weeks prior rain event, and are not sure how much trail maintenance/repair has been possible. We are constantly in awe of those who built the PCT, and those who maintain it. Not a job I would choose, although carrying a chainsaw would have been a well used item on this trail.
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Up we trudge 1100 ft in less than 2miles to Glacier Creek. It is unbelievably cold…barely above freezing according to our REI temperature gauges hanging from the exterior of our packs. Parts of the trail appear frozen, not just on the surface, but deep into the soil.
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Permafrost. Wow. The next creek crossing, Pumice, is accompanied by another 500 ft climb in less than a mile. image

But wait, there’s more.
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Another 350ft climb followed by a 750 ft descent brings us to Fire Creek. By now terrain is no longer forested, but comprised of bare granite rocks with vast and majestic views.
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Pikas, watch and squeak to each other as we wander through their habitat. We descend into an idealic alpine valley with the glaciers of Foam mountain framing its edges. On the way down, unbeknownst to me, Paul’s hat is swept off his head from a strong gust of wind. He calls to me that he has lost his hat, but I do not hear him, nor know that this had happened as I am “plugged into “audio heroin” to better tolerate the steep descent. Paul scrambles to get his hat, and realizes that if he had slipped and fell, I would never have known, nor would I know where to look, specifically for him. Luckily everything works out and Paul appears before me, having cut through numerous switchbacks to intercept me. I find this annoying, as I too would like to employ the “short-cuts”, but don’t dare tax my knees anymore than they already are.
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The switchbacks carve deep trenches and weave down the steep faces of open terrain blanketed with mules ear and ripened blueberry and huckleberry bushes.
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I misstep, trying to do two things at once (walk and look at the pristine views…never with success) and roll my left ankle (the “good” one) and crumble to the ground. Shit!. Really?! “Inventory” complete, I am back on my feet, sure swelling will follow shortly as I limp along. Manning Park can not come any sooner, I think. The trenched trail wanders through a dense neighborhood of ground hogs whose “front doors” line the dirt sidewalk. The steep, open hillsides narrow into a dark forest with trail that has, in places, given way and washed out, only to be re-routed via a steeper, and still softly packed detour. Downed, tangled trees create a “gauntlet” of sorts. Over, under, around we climb. Some are perched precariously across the trail. Their often barkless trunks are smooth and slick like a slide in a park. Failure to dismount these trunks at and in the proper spot will get you down to the creek churning at the bottom of the ravine much faster, but at what cost? I survey a series of downed trees, clamor over the first and neglect to recognize a thick and sharp branch at knee level two steps past the log. Slam goes my right knee cap into the sharp branch. A wave of pain generates nausea and triggers an “inventory” of sorts as alternate plans begin to swirl in my head as to how to get to an extraction point in the event this knee is now fully trashed. Paul is bewildered as to, 1: my sudden stop, and 2: the seemingly unprovoked blubbering. I motion to the branch and my knee. A look of uh-oh flashes across his face. Inventory complete, the pain still permeates but the knee “works” (nearly a month later, there is still a visible bruise). Over the next three logs, and under two more we continue. Needless to say, we (me) are no longer “gushing” about the beauty and splendor of the PCT. The forest canopy is thick above us, and natural light is further muted as we descend further down the battered trail toward the creek and our evening’s camp spot. Water oozes and at times cascades from “creases” in the hillside across the trail. It is reminiscent of our time in the Sierras. It is near dark, and we stop to fill our water bottles at a strongly flowing “vertical” creek (aka. waterfall). Moderately sized, still sharp, and wet boulders require careful navigation as we move on. I do not want another soaker at days end…again. Suddenly, one of my trekking poles shoot out from under me, followed by my feet. I am so supremely focused on NOT allowing my feet to get wet, that I land on my left side…in the water, but my feet remain dry. Water is flowing underneath me. I am soaked from my left shoulder to my knee. Paul is chuckling, and asks, “What did you do?” I lay on my side, still focused on NOT allowing my feet to become soaked and call for help. Needless to say, I am not happy with Paul’s inquiry or my current predicament. I am now cognizant that my pack is starting to get wet as well. I feel like a turtle who has somehow flipped over on its shell. Paul is at a loss as to how to help, and I wriggle out of the water and back onto my feet, which miraculously have remained dry…so I got that going for me. This is another point on the trail, that if there was an escalator, cab or helicopter outta here, I would be home in a heartbeat. None of those options are currently available, and we march on with me more than mumbling under my breath a cacophony of choice words echoing my current sediments. It is dark when we reach the campsites just above the roaring creek at the bottom of the ravine. We quickly erect our tent, and and seamlessly complete our evening chores. Paul prepares dinner, while I prep our bedding, and switch into dry sleepwear. We acknowledge that tomorrow is another day, and most likely will be better as a mouse begins to make an assault on our food bags. Considering the days’ challenges, and the experience our friend Seeds had described to us yesterday regarding marauding mice, we hang our food, for the first time ever, from a nearby branch. We hope the colorful bags will be there in the morning as they hang like pinatas beckoning bear cubs to “swing away” at them. Pure exhaustion overtakes us and we are snoring in no time.

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