Date- July 3, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 6,942 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 26.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 244.6 miles
Weather/Temp- overcast, rain, fog, sun, 50s, 40s
Pain level- cold
Spirits/Morale- Feeling good
Wildlife encounters- gray jays
Days without shower- 7
Days without laundry- 7
Hunger/craving- greasy foods
I didn’t see the sun or know the color blue until after 3 pm today.
Hit the trail at 8:15 am and the forest was soaked, while the mountains were shrouded in foggy mist. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t raining (yet), the overgrown foliage was saturated and so were you the second you brushed against it. As a bonus, the water clinging to plants and trees is so much colder than when it’s falling from the sky – even when driven by the wind. Within a half mile, my shoes, shorts, and shirt were as wet as if I’d just gone swimming.
I pushed up and over Elbow Pass easily enough. The rain held off amidst the ever darkening sky. At the bottom of Elbow Pass I found myself reaching around 7 miles into the day. Here there was a trail junction with one of the trails leading north right into Benchmark Ranch. This was the path most north and south-bounders took to get directly in or out of Benchmark – to or from the CDT. I never needed to go in there, so I never needed to take it. However, my original plan had been to hike to this junction yesterday and camp, but the weather had put a damper on that idea – literally.
Out of curiosity, I scoped around the junction to see what camping options would have been like (had I made it). During my scopings I found a squarish patch of dry earth next to a large conifer – about 20 feet from the bank of a river where the trail crossed; someone had camped there in a tent last night. I walked down to the river and looked at the mud. It was time to put my backpacker tracking skills to use. I saw several shoe prints in the mud and immediately recognized them as Altra Lonepeak shoes. I put my foot next to it for scale… several sizes smaller – quite possibly a taller woman’s foot. I knew Jetpack was wearing Altra Lonepeaks, so I deduced it was most likely her. She must have gone into Benchmark and hiked right back out on the alternate and camped at the junction hoping to intercept me. Whether she thought I’d gone further or not when she left this morning, I had no idea.
I crossed the river and began making my way up the valley. The valley itself was flooded. For more than two miles I was wading through rapidly moving ice cold water or stagnant ice cold mud and mud puddles. All the rain in the surrounding area had drained into the river and caused it to flood nearly the entire valley from wall to wall. The water flowed in veins down the paths of least resistance. One of those veins was the CDT.
Thunder rolled through the valleys all morning and early afternoon while mist still clung to every mountainside. When I neared the end of my flooded valley and finally began the slow ascent towards another pass, an icy rain began to fall. As I climbed into the fog, the rain fell harder and colder and the wind picked up. My hands became very cold. So long as i could touch my thumb to my index and middle finger, i wasn’t going to worry. I couldn’t touch either thumb to my pinkys or ring fingers, but it’s the middle one I hold out for.
I finally reached the top of the pass, amid the deluge, and began yet another slow descent into the next valley. All the while I tracked the footprints ahead of me.
Every so often during the descent I would feel a rush of warmer air, some 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the air around me. It would last only seconds, but it felt as if someone was breathing warm air over my entire body; it was very pleasant.
Around 3pm and some 17 miles into the freezing wet slog of a day, a hint of blue broke out from behind a mountain. Before I knew it the clouds were breaking and the sun was shining down. I stopped immediately and laid on my pack, soaking in the warmth and eating several spoonfuls of bacon bits as a snack. This was the first time I’d stopped or eaten anything since before leaving camp. It had been too miserable to do anything other than hike.
I can’t even begin to describe what a positive effect this 180 in the weather did for me. Within 15 minutes you couldn’t even tell it had been an overcast day – blue skies and scattered puffy white clouds as far as you could see. I felt my hands thawing by the second.
I knocked out 6 more miles in the beautiful new weather to the base of a 3,000 foot climb. I expected to see Jetpack here, but instead found a man named “Pacer.” One look at his shoes and I knew it wasn’t him I’d been tracking. So I flat out asked, “Did a woman named Jetpack hike by here?” “Sure did,” he said. “She was going to hike 3 miles up that big climb to the first creek marked on the map.” Bingo! I’d guessed right.
I pushed 1,800 feet up the climb over those 3 miles and found her camped exactly where Pacer said she’d be. She was surprised to see me, as she had thought I’d gotten ahead.
I definitely neglected my hydration today. It was so cold and wet, I just couldn’t bring myself to drink as much as I needed to. As much as I wanted to just jump into my sleeping bag tonight, I had to take some extra steps to ensure a good night and an even better tomorrow. I forced myself to drink 2 liters of water. One before dinner and one after (full of electrolytes). I was honestly too tired to be hungry, but I cooked up a huge batch of couscous and mixed some spicy tuna with it before forcing myself to eat it all. Then I whipped up my breakfast drink for the morning so I wouldn’t lose time making it tomorrow or accidentally skip it while packing up too fast. All in all, I spent more than an hour setting up camp, cooking, getting water, drinking, and prepping – all the while freezing my ass off and wanting nothing but warm sleep… and also knowing I was going to spend an hour to an hour and a half writing all of this on my phone while fighting to stay awake.
Out here, your body isn’t just a body, it’s a machine. It’s a machine that you have to maintain meticulously, or else it’s not going to run right. You have to drink when you’re not thirsty; eat when you’re not hungry; and anticipate temperatures and weather before they set in, so you’re not caught with your pants down – scrambling to get warm or waterproofed in the middle of the night. That’s your life out here. Anything less will result in more misery, more pain, and a sub-optimal experience to a journey that’s already doing everything it can to grind you down – even in optimal conditions. Don’t help it along anymore than you have to. Work with what it gives you, not against it.
We’re pretty high up and sitting in a bit of a saddle, so it’s guaranteed to get exceptionally cold tonight. There are 26 miles to the road into Lincoln over the hardest terrain in the Bob. Tomorrow is the 4th of July, so I think I’m going to try to push all the way. I hope the weather holds, or it’s going to be worse than today. The trail tomorrow is mostly exposed ridge-line…
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