Date- August 14, 2019
Location- Above/next to lake
Elevation- 10,233 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 16.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,045.8 miles
Weather/Temp- partly cloudy, windy, 70s, 60s
Injuries- Smashed/scraped ankle
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- marmot, trout
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 2
Didn’t go very far today, but damned if every inch wasn’t earned with sweat or blood.
Once again, despite our elevation, it was a decently warm enough night. Warm enough that there was zero condensation on any of our gear. This wasn’t an accident. Location! Location! Location! If you never learn anything else from my shared experiences, let it be how to choose the warmest camp spots!
Sadly, Jetpack got cold feet this morning and backed out of doing the alternate. She was only a mile or so from the official CDT, so she decided to go back. I played Eric Carmen’s, “All by Myself” as she packed up. She laughed, but was not swayed.
I was hiking a little before 8 am. Within 20 minutes I was tackling the first major obstacle of the alternate – the ascent up Cube Rock Pass. I’ll go easy on the descriptions today and let the pictures do the describing. Heaven knows I took more than enough of them on this alternate.
The ascent to Cube Rock can be accurately described as a rock slide valley. You funnel up a narrow mulch for close to a mile with sheer rock walls on either side of you and a jumble of boulders in between. It’s either fun or a monumental thorn in your side. Today, it was fun! I breezed over the rocks the best as one can, feeling confident and strong.
After the boulder hopping and climbing was through, I was rewarded with my first views of Dale Lake and Peak Lake as the sun was rising over the distant ridges. In my view… this view alone was worth the entire traverse of Knapsack Col.
I bumbled over Cube Rock Pass and meandered among wildflowers and along some smaller bodies of water before descending to Peak Lake. Here I scrambled over another rock slide and skirted the very northern shore of the stunning lake, until I’d cleared its banks and was on a collision course with Knapsack Col.
As I moved steadily through the valley among more wildflowers, cascading streams, giant boulders, and crystal clear ponds that perfectly mirrored the sky and peaks above – I was still feeling 100%.
The valley began to rise, and I with it. Before long, I was at the base of what would be the final ascent to Knapsack Col. On paper, the grade was over 1,200 ft in one mile. However, this was far from accurate, as it didn’t account for the nearly flat, quarter mile of shelf that broke this final ascent into two sections. The second section of the climb was over 700 ft in less than half a mile. This amounted to about a 75 to 80 degree climb straight up over boulders and snowpack patches. If I stood straight up, I would start to sway back.
This final push to the top was brutal, but it felt so good. Everything burned in a good way, and the only thing that made it so good… was my perspective. I wanted to do this. I wanted to be here. Thusly, I wanted everything that came with it – the good and the relative bad.
When I crested the top of the climb, it was just after 11 am. It had taken me just about an hour to do that last mile. This seems slow, and it is – but not for this terrain. I was moving the entire time and didn’t feel like I was dragging. I took zero breaks since leaving camp.
I took in the epic views and rested for a little over 5 mins, out of the strong winds. This was nearly 12,300 feet. While my brain only slightly felt like it was floating in a fish bowl, my lungs were heaving deeply and felt labored.
Wandering over to the start of the descent, I nearly had my breath taken away again. In front of me was a sheer cornice wall of snow going straight down. It looked like the edge of a water fall falling towards earth. There was only one small section of rock where one could hope to climb down, and it was sketchy beyond belief.
First, you’d have to shimmy/slide down to the edge of a crevasse. The drop down from the crevasse was just about 7 feet. At the bottom of that 7 feet were two small shelves of rock that you could easily stand on. In-between them and to the sides… more crevasse. Not endless, but deep enough and deeper still that if you missed the rock shelves, your chance of injury was just about guaranteed.
After the crevasse, you had about 10 feet of very slanted and very smooth rock that was bordered by a sheet of snow-pack the entire way and beyond. And at the end of that… another drop of 6 feet to another shelf of rock. Then you were home free, so to speak. At that point it was just a vertical downward rock scramble to a caldera of more snow-pack below. And then a looong traverse over, down, and across more snow, rock, mud, and cascading streams of snow-melt before you were home free in another valley.
I hit the descent. Getting to the crevasse was easy. Then I dropped my staff and single trekking pole onto one of the shelves and began to maneuver myself for the drop. I turned my back on the crevasse as I dropped down to a crouch and found a lip of raised rock that I could grip strongly enough to support my weight. Once I had my grip, I slowly backed myself to the crevasse, finding new handholds as I went. Finally, I swung my legs over the edge and wedged my right foot onto a small irregularity in the wall of the crevasse. This took enough weight off my hands to move them down to grip the closest handhold to the drop-off into the crag. When I had my grip, I slowly let my foot slide off the irregularity until I was dangling in midair by just my hands. In reality, my feet were mere inches above one of the rock shelves, but this didn’t stop the sensation of hanging over an endless abyss. I couldn’t turn my head to look at how close the shelf was, but I knew it was there. All I had to do was… let go (as unnatural and scary as it felt). I did, and almost instantly was standing on my two feet. So far so good!
Next obstacle. I gathered my staff and pole and slid them down and off the smooth slab of rock. Then I began to slide myself down, wedging my feet and legs into the snow-pack. This rock was featureless, with nothing to grip or wedge a toe onto. It soon became apparent there would be no sliding down over it without losing control and shooting right off the 6 foot drop. Too much momentum would only send you tumbling over boulders. For a minute I was at a loss of how to control my slide down the rock face. Then my brain started working in overdrive. Using my fists, I pounded hand holds into the snow-pack to create an anchor to hold onto. After several of these, I slid seamlessly down to the edge of the drop. It wasn’t terribly far or sketchy, so I simply hopped my butt over the edge and landed solidly on my feet – my pack scraping just a little bit as I went over. The worst was done!
I rock hopped, scrambled, scooted, and slid hundreds of feet down over the rocks. For the most part, this went off without a hitch – until I took a long and heavy step onto what looked like a solid rock. The rock was big, but not huge. It was well over a hundred pounds and resting on smaller rocks. No sooner did all my weight transfer to the large rock, it began to slide forward. Its angle pitched and my foot slid off… right into its forward moving path. The rock slid into the side of my ankle before smashing into another rock, sandwiching the ankle and then coming to a stop. I could have screamed – it hurt so bad! I know I yelled a curse. This could have been so, so, so much worse if it weren’t for my stupidly thick bones. Although it hurt like the devil, all this smash did was flay a layer of skin off my right leg, just above the ankle. It could have been much deeper, but luckily I didn’t pull my foot away as it was getting smashed. Once it was inevitable, I just tried to keep it as stationary and fixed as possible. I got lucky.
The rest of the descent was monotonous and uneventful. I fell several times in the snow, but it was nothing. I hit the valley at 12:30 pm and was on easy street… kinda. All in all, it had taken me about 4.5 hours to go 5.5 miles. Better than a 1 mph average for the toughest stretch of the alternate!
I breezed down through the valley and along the lakes. I decided to fish again at the outlet to one of the larger lakes. Outlets tend to be fish havens. Throwing a solid silver Panther Martin, I couldn’t get a single look or strike from the fish I knew were there. After 15 minutes there was finally a flash on my lure, but no connection. The flash had been of a golden orange color. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I bet these lake trout cannibalize their own babies when times are lean, or even when they’re not…” I pulled out my solid gold Panther Martin and put it on. Second cast I caught a 12 inch brook trout. I hooked 3 more, but they all threw the tiny trouble hook on the lure. I had countless more follow and flash on it, but no more takes. I packed up my catch and moved on, fishing as I went – but never finding anything as good as that outlet. All in all, I burned up nearly 3 hours fishing or looking for places to fish.
I finally got off the alternate around 4 pm and hiked only another 4 miles over yet another pass before catching Jetpack camped just above a lake. The spot is definitely high enough to avoid the worst of the cold, but we’ll see…
I went down to the lake and fished for 45 minutes and caught 8 more trout, but only 2 keepers. At least I’d be having dinner tonight, and it wouldn’t be Oreos! I built up another small furnace, made a fire, but decided to cook the trout in a frying pan on Jetpack’s stove, with some lemon pepper and olive oil. They were divine! Thank you for asking.
Leap Frog and Sharkbait showed up and I shared some of the trout with everyone. I get to catch, cook, and eat fish almost every day back home. This experience is not new to me, but it never ceases to amaze me how so many people have never experienced anything close to this natural delight. When I’m on trail, if I can share my fish, I’d rather cook and give them away than eat them myself. I get so much more fulfillment out of seeing others enjoy it. I tried to give them two of the trout, but all 3 insisted that I needed them since I didn’t pack out any dinner foods. They settled for trying a little bit of each fish.
Now I’m cowboy camped in front of the fire for a second night in a row. I’m anxious to see how cold it gets tonight and tomorrow. I think we’re shooting for a 30+ day, but we’ll see. I’m not in a huge hurry to get through this section. Just want to soak it up as much as I can, while trying not to starve too much in the process.
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