Location- Stemple Pass
Elevation- 6,388 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 25.5 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 298 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 90s, windy, Smokey,
Pain level- low
Spirits/Morale- I feel fantastic
Wildlife encounters- zero
Human Beings encountered- 1!
Thru hikers encountered- 1!
Days without shower- 1
Days without laundry- 9
Damn I felt good today.
I didn’t get out of my room as early as I would have liked; just couldn’t peel myself out of bed. Nevertheless, I was on the side of the road hitchhiking a little after 8am. Ideally, I wanted to have already been hiking.
After almost an hour, nobody had stopped. The road and town was bustling with activity, but everyone was in too big of hurry. I had one woman offer me a ride halfway there, but I’d already learned from that mistake once. I politely declined, citing that I wanted to stay where it was busiest to avoid getting stranded, like I had in the past.
In the end, I got fed up and called the number of a local trail angel. It was posted in town, and I was saving it for a last resort, but I really wanted/needed the earliest start possible this morning. I couldn’t keep waiting.
The man whose name is Gary, picked me up about ten mins after I called him and whisked me back to the trail. Gary had actually mapped out and designed this local part of the CDT more than 20 years ago. “You’re a sadistic man,” I joked to him. “I just wanted to take it over the prettiest spots,” he replied. “Pretty painful spots!” I countered. We had a good laugh and good conversation for the remainder of the drive. I was hiking by about 9:30, after Gary filled up 4 liters of water for me.
As soon as I began hiking up the first 1000+ ft climb right from the road, I felt like a new man. Everything felt strong and healthy; legs, feet, mind, lungs, etc. I began crushing all the terrain and every climb put in front of me. The Fedora ended up being a lifesaver. My head, face, ears, and upper neck stayed shady and cool. It even kept my forehead sweat out of my eyes. Hats are alright! I’ve never been a hat person, but I can’t deny their functionality in this environment. I may take a picture of the fedora, but I’ll be dead before I post one of me wearing it. So you can all just forget about that picture. Use your imaginations.
Unfortunately, the hat was a little late. My forehead was crispy and peeling bad from the days before. My head has never peeled this bad before, even in Florida. I’ll include a picture for your disgusting viewing pleasure.
Feeling so fantastic today, I couldn’t help but wonder what the problem had been in the previous 60 mile stretch. Then it dawned on me. Yes I had been dehydrated and burned bad from the sun, but I had been severely dehydrated the moment I got on trail from Benchmark. During the entire drive up, I’d only drank sweet tea and Dr pepper (to try and stay awake while driving). I’d only had a minimal amount of water throughout the entire drive, and almost none the day I got back on trail. Taking that zero to replenish my fluids was the best decision I could have made. Now I just had to maintain them…
About 16 miles into the day, as I was laying on the side of the trail taking a break; I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye. I looked up quickly to see a man heading north on the trail. “Another human!” I thought to myself. This was the first person I’d seen on trail in nearly 5 days of hiking.
The man was upper middle aged, and his trail name was “Dad.” He was a northbound thru hiker, but had skipped the Colorado section due to having done it a previous year. That was edgy he was already up this far so early. So technically he was actually a really, really big section hiker and not a thru hiker (by definition), but I’m not going to split that 750 mile hair; he was completing the entire trail, an incredible feat!
Dad and I spoke for about half an hour, and I was really grateful to have the on trail conversation. He gave me some insights into what was ahead, as well as who was ahead. It was nice to finally get some news on what was in front of me. He’d passed Schweppes several days earlier while coming out of the town of “Anaconda.” After some more banter we bumped fists, wished each other luck and parted ways. My first northbounder.
Due to my extreme solitude, I’ve taken to listening to audio books. I’d never listened to an audio book before I started hiking. I feel like I can visualize the story better when I’m reading the physical words, so that’s my preference when I’m at home. I must admit though, nothing passes the time quite like having a good story read out loud to you. I can already tell I’ll probably go through about 15 books on this hike. It actually excites me that I’ll get that much content absorbed while I’m out here. When my mind begins to wander and I can no longer focus on the words being read to me, I turn it off and let my brain go walkabout. I’m currently composing an epic poem that I’m adding to bit by bit. I don’t know when it will be done, but I’ll share it when it is. I remember I composed 3 short poems in the span of about 4 hours on the PCT last year, while ascending a stupid long climb. I may share those again with you as well. They aren’t anything special (to me), but I do think they are entertaining.
The second half of the day was mostly wooded forest, which was an awesome change of pace from the exposed ridge that I’d been growing accustomed to. I cruised into Stemple Pass just as the sun was sinking below a distant ridge of burning mountains. I mean the mountains were literally burning. They were ablaze with fire; not just the setting sun. Yet another fire had sprung up in my general vicinity; this time maybe around 6 to 8 miles (as the crow flies) from my location. Still, as deadly and morose as the scene was, you could not deny the rare beauty of it.
After the sun disappeared, the view of the actual flames became spectacular. An orange scar of flames slashed and glowed across the side of the distant mountains. Good grief it was beautiful in its own right, but I couldn’t help feeling for the “hot shot” firefighters who were out there risking their lives trying to contain it. A lot of respect to those individuals!
Unfortunately the winds were sustaining over 30mph and gusting well over 40mph at times. Even the largest of trees in the area were bending and blowing like saplings. I would not be hanging beneath any of them; a live target for a widow maker branch.
Fortunately, this pass was the location of a human maintained water cache. There were about 15 gallons of water, and I replenished 4 liters. I planned to drink most of these tonight, then hike about 2.5 miles to a natural source tomorrow morning and stock up for the next 20 mile dry stretch.
Since I was at a pass with a gravel road running through it, there was a pit toilet bathroom present, and it had a porch! I call them “privy porches.” Basically it was a rectangular concrete structure with a roof. One quarter of that structure was what I’d call a porch. It was the area that fell just outside of the door to the bathroom. It was a smaller rectangle with three walls and one side open to the elements. One side is the door to the privy, and two sides are concrete wall holding up a roof. In a pinch these make excellent refuges from extreme weather or the cold. Depending on the severity of your situation, you can sleep on the porch, or totally protected inside the privy itself (granted it’s clean enough to actually bed down in). In an extreme situation, it would not matter the condition of the inside, so long as it kept out the elements. That’s survival for you.
So I’m hunkered down on the privy porch after finishing up watching the fire. I made dinner, then bundled up. Although I’m protected from the brunt of the wind, there are still a lot of gusts finding their way into my little space. When they do, they swirl around like a vortex, whipping and ripping my sleeping bag all over the place. It’s maddening, and making it very difficult to relax.
I have loose ambitions to do a 30 mile day tomorrow, but the terrain is looking a bit rough. Nothing to it but to get out there and see what I can do tomorrow…