July 28: 16.8 miles (2096.7 – 2113.5)
Having just finished our coffee and beginning to pack up, we spied Damien from Australia approaching our location on the trail. Paul called out to him as I continued packing. He had caught up to us from our first meeting during our Mack’s Inn Cut-Off, “short-cut”. It seems that 30 miles a day “agrees” with him. He was obviously still crushing it. This morning’s trail was comfortable and wooded.
We felt like we were on the PCT in Oregon.
Under cool grey skies, the trail wound its way through a once fire ravaged area. In the near distance we watched as a moose headed down toward the bench we were headed up to. As we walked, a cascade of miniature crickets jumped out of our way directly ahead of us like synchronize swimmers entering a pool.
Once over a narrow saddle, we passed small lakes and ponds fed by seeping springs. Parts of the trail degraded into boggy messes that we tried to tiptoe around and through. However, lush vegetation and colorful live bouquets of flowers surrounded us and the trail.
We weaved through forests “manicured” by herds of grazing sheep, supervised by large independent dogs. At one point on the trail, we had to pause to let a herd of sheep pass.
We watched in amazement as they swiftly mowed down the vegetation in their path, with the dogs shepherding them along.
Throughout the day we walked the spine of the Idaho/Montana border, trying to see, if any, what defined either state. Behind us, the skies began to darken. Rain was coming…again. We however, felt confident that based upon our pace and the relative ease of the trail that we would make it to Rock Spring (8,957 ft) well before the rain, if at all, began to fall.
So confident were we in this, with a significant climb ahead of us, we took an hour break with 3 miles to go. Besides, it was 3:30 and we had completed nearly 14 miles. Maybe our “trail legs” had finally arrived!
As we began our climb, it was much steeper than we anticipated. Switchbacks were practically non-existent. Rain began to fall lightly as we climbed. Luckily, we had already put on our pack covers…just in case. This section of the trail was reminiscent of the uphill “goat trails” on our Trans Catalina Trail thru-hike. More specifically, the uphill version of Fenceline Road’s downhill into Parson’s Landing. Loose, square “marbles”, now becoming wet, made the ascent especially challenging.
The last part of the uphill climb ascended along, and over, an exposed volcanic rock area. With a little over 2 miles left till the spring, and as we reached the exposed portion of the trail, the wind whipped up, the temperature dropped dramatically, and then the skies opened up.
Thunder boomed and rain began to throttle us, sideways. It was as if someone hit the ball on the bullseye of the dunk tank, at a artillery range. It was that loud and we were that wet, that fast. In fact, we were soaked to the bone well before we were able to get our rain jackets on. Flashes of nearby lightning kept us from adding rain pants. Up the trail we hustled, double-time. We made it up and over the top (9,177 ft), and we breathed a sigh of relief as the trail dipped downward. There was still very little cover to be had, but at least we weren’t at the top, and in a fully exposed area. We continued to be pelted by the rain and its now freezing wind. I tried to pull my now shriveled white hands further into the sleeves of my rain jacket in an effort to retain whatever warmth they still had. I could feel my body temperature begin to drop. We had expected, as with most of the “storms” that happened upon us, for it to pass fairly quickly. This one failed to do so, and was much colder than previous deluges we have been caught in. This particular “summer” storm’s rain cloud had settle in for the long haul, it seemed. My teeth began to chatter and I could feel what little coordination I have, slipping away. Shit. We were within striking distance (less than a mile) of Rock Spring, and decided to continue, rather than to set up camp and get “warm”. We needed water, and this storm had the potential to last well into the night and next day. As long as we kept moving, we would stay “warm” enough, we thought. When we got to Rock Spring, we looked in earnest for a flat place and cover in which to set up our tent. The sheepherder’s nearby canvas tent looked like an inviting place to seek temporary shelter, but we decided against it. We considered waiting out the rain under the partial cover of branches from a good sized pine tree, but we were, and had gotten too cold to do so without the threat of full blown hypothermia becoming a deadly reality. Inside our packs, we knew we had dry clothes, and warm dry sleeping bags. We just needed get out of the wind and rain, and our sopping wet clothes, pronto!
With icy cold fumble fingers, under the partial cover of the pine branches, as the rain assaulted us sideways from the wind, we “built” our tent (rainfly and all). Then, as if in a team calf roping event, we threw down our Tyvek ground cloth, tossed the tent upon it and as one held the tent in place, the other affixed the stakes. It wasn’t pretty, but the tent was up. As Paul went to collect water, I tossed our backpacks under the respective vestibules, and then set about re-securing the tent stakes and guying out the rainfly lines to be as taut as possible. The fact we had set up on a slant amidst once dried piles of horse and cow shit was not lost on this endeavor. Sometimes you do what you gotta do-do. Once satisfied the tent would hold long enough for me to get into it. I quickly as I could, unzipped the vestibule door, but not without the zipper snagging on the fly. Another reason, we are NOT endeared by this tent. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised that the interior was dry…but not for long. Paul quickly joined me inside with both of our 3 liter CNOC water bags filled. “I don’t think we need to filter. It was coming out of a pipe”, he announced.
By the time Paul entered the tent, I had already fished out our clothes bags from our packs and was in the process of stripping down, and putting on my thermals. Even without Paul now in the tent, putting on anything dry is incredibly hard to do, in a cramped space, with sticky wet skin and fumble fingers.
To enhance and retain what little heat we were producing on our own, we added our still dry rain pants, actually thankful that we hadn’t had the time to put them on. Soon the JetBoil was fired up and we were scarfing down scalding hot mashed potatoes…out of the bag. They warmed our insides and our hands as we ate.
We had thought by the time we set up and ate, the rain would have abated. Nope. From what we could tell, it rained all night. I was thankful I didn’t have to pee.