Date- June 22, 2019
Location- Reynolds Campsite
Elevation- 4,642 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 15.1 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 42.7 miles
Weather/Temp- Fog, rain, hail 40s/50s
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- Soggy but high
Wildlife encounters- zero
Days without shower- 9
Days without laundry- 9
Despite cold temperatures and dreary weather, I quite enjoyed today.
It rained most of the night, but abated this morning leaving a dry window to break camp. After a quick breakfast, an electrolyte cocktail, and charging up my phone a bit – I hit the trail at 9 am. The six other hikers camped around me had all hiked out between 6:30 and 8 am, so I was a little late to the races.
The first 2’ish miles were basically on roads, before terminating into a trailhead on the shores of Lake Grinnell. It was an easy (if not muddy) 4 miles through a green tunnel above the shoreline of the lake. At this point the weather was clear and the views of Salamander Glacier were spectacular.
As I neared the 2,400 ft ascent up Piegan (pronounced Pagan) Pass, the green tunnel opened up into a meadow in a valley surrounded by towering walls of granite rock that leaked cascading streams of water for thousands of feet. At the back of the valley a large waterfall crashed heavily down from a shelf of rock that raised suddenly out of the valley floor.
Looking up towards the pass you could see nothing. Everything a thousand feet higher than the valley floor was in a cloud. There was a sharp chill in the wind, and the mountainside leading up to the pass was covered in snow pack and small conifers.
After fording a very swift and very cold knee-deep stream, the climb over snow pack began. The snow was broken up a bit by sections of soft earth, but persisted heavily for those first thousand feet of climbing.
I felt strong today, very strong. In fact, I’ve never felt so strong at the beginning of a thru-hike before, and I was by no means in hiking shape when I got out here. After the Florida Trail hike, I literally laid on the beach for 2.5 months before this, and built out my van with my dad. The hiking in Maine might contribute a little bit to it, but it was only a week, and to be quite honest… I felt really strong out there too. I really think carrying Katana for 800 miles of the Florida Trail imparted some sort of permanent strength gain upon me – both mental and physical.
I flew up the snow-pack and into the clouds without breaking stride, sipping water every few minutes, determined not to make the same mistake twice. Here the trail became rock and scree as the trees and the snow pack virtually disappeared. Straining through the fog, I could see 2 bundled up figures around half a mile ahead of me. Even further ahead of them I could see two more figures making their way up a rocky ramp cut out of the mountainside, quickly being swallowed up by thicker clouds. The wind was stronger up there out of the trees and snow pack – you were perfectly exposed. Looking down towards the valley, a small hole in the clouds had opened up, providing a narrow view of the valley floor awash in sunlight. “It would be nice to be back down there lying in the grass eating some Pringles,” I thought.
It was when I was out of the snow pack and among the scree and gravel that I really dug in and opened up with all I had. It was windy and the air was wet and near freezing – I wanted up and over Piegan as quickly as possible. I soon caught and passed the first couple I’d seen. They had been in Many Glacier, but I hadn’t officially met them yet. I still haven’t officially met them. It was so cold and windy that I don’t think either of us wanted to stop and trade pleasantries. They looked even colder than I was as I passed by while making a cheerful comment about the views and weather (thru-hiker small talk). All they could spare was an, “MmmHmmm!” through the tightly drawn hoods of their down jackets. I was only in my shorts and hiking shirt; you couldn’t pay me enough to wear my warmer insulating layers in such wet air. Not to mention how much you would sweat into them on a climb like this, no matter how cold the air is. It would be miserable climbing into your shelter on a cold night with damp insulating layers. No, I’d rather be cold or freeze while I’m hiking and have toasty warm and dry layers when I turn in for the day. At the very most, in a driving wind and rain, I will put on my rain shell jacket and pants – which are little more than non- breathable silnylon trash bags (but they lock heat in and cut windchill like none other!)
The Pass came fast after hitting the rocks, and the final 1,000+ feet of elevation gain up to 7,600 feet felt like nothing. I caught three more hikers at the top who’d just got there – all familiar faces from Many Glacier or the hike into Many Glacier. There was “Nom,” a 31 year old Australian woman who is currently living in Tasmania; this is her first “Yankee thru-hike,” as she put it. There was “Smiles,” a 35 year old woman from Colorado who’d hiked the PCT in 2014 and the Colorado Trail not too long ago either. And there was “Dale,” the 24 year old British man. This is his first big hike in the United States as well, but he’s mainly a rock climber who has climbed all over Europe, Asia, the United States, and many other places.
We didn’t linger long on the pass and soon began a single file descent with me bringing up the rear and Dale leading. Dale was having some foot and shin pain, so we let him set the pace so we could all hike together.
Little by little, we traversed the more than 3 miles of scattered snow pack and more than 5 miles of steady descent out of the clouds and back into an overcast day amidst a light rain.As it turned out, we all had the same campsite on our itinerary and finished the 15 mile day together in the mid-afternoon. There was a fire going at the campsite when we got there, and a thru-hiker named “Bryan” was already there. He’s done the CDT once before, as well as some other lesser known thru-hikes. He has no interest in the AT or the PCT due to the crowds, but he’s a very accomplished hiker – having done a couple other trails; they were trails I have no interest in due to their logistical difficulties with caching your own water.
All in all, it was a good day. It began to rain steady when we got into camp, but we maintained the fire through the deluge, and all sat around it in the rain (me under my umbrella) for the better part of 2 hours… cooking, eating, and conversing. No animals were seen, but good company and good conversation was had. As I lay in my hammock now at 9:30 pm, it’s still raining and STILL as bright as late afternoon. It’s very disorienting, but I like it. The days will only get shorter from here, so might as well enjoy it while we can.
I only have another 15 miles to hike tomorrow and no passes, so it will be an easy day. As it turns out, everyone at this campsite will be at the same one again tomorrow. I really hope this rain quits soon. It’s been going on every day and the conditions feel like winter… it’s really not very enjoyable.