Two mountain passes and one angry storm.

Day 8, 7/15
Mileage: 16.7
Miles: 117.0 – 133.7

Our bodies are tired from the climb yesterday. The alarm rings early, first sounding at 4:20. It’s our attempt to get up and get started at a decent time knowing that we hit snooze 50 times before actually waking. It rings, and rings, and rings. Finally, still half asleep, Simone says “Bri turn that off for a while longer”, and in my half asleep state I don’t question it. I reset the alarm to go off again at 5:20. We hit snooze another 14 times or so before forcing ourselves out of our sleeping bags into the frigid, damp morning. Things get packed up, then we head to the river to filter a couple liters of water with my NEW filter that we are in love with. 34 seconds is the time it takes to filter one liter of water. 34 second compared to 15-20 minutes with my old one! It’s a joyful process, filling up these bottles with this new magical piece of plastic machinery.

According to the map we have a 13 mile accent today. I’m not sure if I’ve ever walked uphill for 13 miles straight before. I think back to the JMT last year and decide that 9 miles was my longest consecutive accent on that trip, up to the top of Muir Pass. Simone definitely has never walked 13 miles uphill. In fact, yesterday, an 8 mile accent, was her longest so far. This should be fun!

We make fairly good timing, taking a 10 minute break at 9:30 where we decide we’ve gone 5.2 miles. That puts us going about 2 1/2 mph uphill. Not too bad for a sick girl and a new-to-hiking girl, I think as we continue walking. Once we hit 11,000 feet, I start having trouble breathing and walking again, and the dizziness sets back in. Add to that nausea and diarrhea, and I’m in for a real treat. I stop to rest every minute or so, and eventually I need to sit down for another 10 minute break. I contemplate making myself throw up in the bushes so my stomach can settle down. Then I decide that’s probably a bad idea because I need all the water I can get. Okay, I’ll just stay nauseous. Onward we walk. Up, up, up until we finally reach tree line at 11,700 feet. Two nice gentlemen are resting in the sun and we sit down to join them. They are blabbering on and on about how many miles we have left, how many feet until the top of the pass, which pass is which, and how many passes we have to go over today. They are trying to inform us, but instead are just arguing between the two of them. The only information I get out of this whole dialogue is that the pass we see in the near distance is only the first of two passes for the day, and that we better hurry up and get over Kokomo pass before the storm sets in. Storm? I hadn’t thought about that yet, as the sky is still blue and beautiful. That does it for me, and I stand up to continue pushing myself up the hill.

About a half mile and half hour later we reach the top of the first pass- Searle Pass, at 12,043 feet. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the top! But it’s not. The clouds are finally starting to roll in, and thunder cracks in the distance. It’s not close to us yet, though. On the other side of the pass we drop down into a bit if a valley, or more like a half bowl. We have a three mile walk before the next pass. The tree line is far below us, and we know that if it becomes absolutely necessary, we will head that way even though the path does not lead us down. The trail is carved around the side of the bowl, somewhere between the middle and the top, and we make our way up, down, around, over snow fields and across alpine streams. It is beautiful, with mountain views on all sides. We don’t stop to look. We only press forward. The longer we are in this bowl shaped land between two passes, the more clouds roll in and the darker they get. I feel sick, like throwing up or going to the bathroom, or both. My stomach gurgles off and on. My body tells me to slow down. I would love to take a lunch break in this beautiful alpine land, but there is no such thing as a break when you are racing against Mother Nature.

Each time we think we see the top, we crest the hill only to see another expanse of land stretched out in front of us, the trail making it’s way off into the distance, up another set of switchbacks, up the side of another hill. It seems as though we are in this space between two passes for hours, like it will never come to an end. We see two people up ahead of us, a couple from Michigan whom we met this morning. I keep my eye on the man in front of me, watching where he is going so I know where I will be soon. I turn back occasionally to see the clouds gathering more and more, and each time they appear darker. Almost to the top, we turn a sharp switch back and get a full view of the clouds that are moving in upon us. They are thick, heavy, eerie, and dark. “Those clouds are dark”, I say out loud, as if it wasn’t obvious for Simone to notice them herself.

Finally, exhausted and drained, we crest the top, a high point between the two passes called Elk Ridge, elevation 12,282 ft. We are following closely behind the woman from Michigan, who is also walking much faster than earlier today before the storm threatened with it’s mighty power. We walk three in a line, trotting down the hill as fast as our feet can take us, running more than we are walking. Kokomo pass is on the other side of the hill and after just a few minutes we reach the sign that states we are on the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail at Kokomo Pass, elevation 12,023. I stop to take a quick picture of the sign, wondering why I’m stupid enough to stop when we are still above tree line. The thunder breaks right above us, and I expect to see our first bolt of lightening at any time now. We are running at a good clip, down towards the tree line which we can see in the near distance. We run and don’t slow down, jumping over rocks and roots, occasionally tripping and catching ourselves with the next step. As soon as we reach tree line there is the man from Michigan waiting for his wife in the safety of the trees. Simone and I decide to continue a bit farther into the trees before stopping to take a break. It isn’t until we stop running, and resume a normal walking pace, that I realize I am completely drained. I am so tired. My body is aching and throbbing all over, my stomach churning, my muscles begging me to rest. We didn’t stop for lunch today, so the only things I’ve ingested are an apple, a peanut butter packet, and electrolytes. Thank God for electrolytes, I probably would have collapsed if it wasn’t for them. It is raining now, and the thunder is rolling above us but we’re not so scared anymore, now that we’re in the trees. We put our rain gear on and I tell myself over and over again, only 3 miles left and it’s all downhill.

I speed down the mountain. I force myself to walk as fast as I can walk. I turn off the pain sensors that tell me to slow down or stop, and I accelerate down the hill, walking around 4 mph down a somewhat steep decline, over gravel and rocks and roots. It doesn’t take long to walk the 3 miles to our camp at the pace I have set, but I do stop and wait several times for Simone to catch up. Finally we cross the rushing creek and I know we are close. I see a camp site in the trees and I raise my poles to let Simone know we’ve made it.

We throw our things down. All we can do for the next 10 minutes is sit on a rock, not saying a word, sipping water and letting our bodies react to how they feel after today’s walk. I didn’t realize it was so early, but we reach camp around 2:30. We have walked 13 miles of intense elevation gain, over 2 mountain passes, and down a 4 mile descent. 16.7 miles in 7 hours. 16.7 miles in 7 hours, sick.

I can’t remember how hard yesterday was because of the fog I’m in, but I decide that I think today was harder, if only because of the 4 extra miles of climbing. After thinking about it for another few minutes, I come to the conclusion that I think today was my hardest backpacking day I’ve had yet. Not just on this trip, but period. I tell this new information to Simone and she agrees, and adds in that yesterday was almost as hard.

Today was tiring, exhausting, and painful. I wanted to puke the whole 13 miles up. I didn’t eat much of anything yet probably burned 5,000+ calories. My body aches, hungry for sleep and rest. I wanted to stop, to take breaks, to slow down, but the thunder storm decided my pace, and an uncomfortable pace it was. But you know what?

I loved every minute of it.

I would do it all over again.

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