Day 28, 8/4
Miles: 19.8 (+1 out of Cataract Lake)
Mileage: 380.3 – 400.1
I don’t sleep well. I wake in the night many times to the sound of rain pelting our tent, wind trying to blow us over, and thunder somewhere in the distance. It rains the whole night, hard, non stop. I don’t fall asleep until after midnight, then I wake up several times every hour. At 4am I check the clock then lie there awake looking for flashes of lightening. I’m fearful of the lightening tonight- we are camped above tree line for the first time, by a lake. When the alarm goes off at 5:45 it is still raining, and we dread getting out of bed. We hit snooze until at least 6:30 when we don’t hear the rain anymore, then we force ourselves to sit up to begin our morning routine.
It’s cold this morning. We’re above 12,000 ft., it has just stopped raining, and it is completely overcast. It must be somewhere close to freezing up here, making it nearly difficult for us to get out of our sleeping bags and pack up. Eventually we do, but we aren’t walking until 8:15. Our first order of business is to find a clean stream to filter water in. Last night our filter would hardly pump anything in the disgusting lake water, so we have no water leaving camp this morning. We come across a nice looking stream only about a mile into our walk, so we stop, but my filter is done for. The cartridge is filthy and on it’s last legs. We decide to only filter a liter each and try to walk our 19 miles on just that. It takes nearly a half hour to do so, and when we start walking again I look up at the sky and worry about what today might bring.
We are in the middle of a 33 mile stretch above 12,000 feet. Today we are planning on walking 19 miles, 17 of which are above tree line. Squat and I named today “lady lump day”, joking about all the small humps that the elevation profile shows. We have to walk up to nearly 13,000 ft., then down to nearly 12,000 ft. nine times today. 17 miles of continuous up and down and up and down before we finally make a long decent into trees at the end of the day. So far the weather does not look in our favor, but there’s no sign of storms quite yet so I walk fast, very fast down the trail. We stop one more time to change into rain gear and put my pack cover on in anticipation of what’s to come, then we decide not to stop until at least the end of the segment, close to 11 miles from here, depending on the weather.
I have to admit I’m kind if afraid as I walk up into the sky with clouds covering adjacent mountain peaks and looming just above me, some of them starting to turn a darkish grey. At first I’m pleading with the sky to be nice and not get any worse, then I’m singing a song that’s stuck in my head. For the first time in a long time I’m not cursing the clouds in my head or begging Mother Nature to let me off easy. Instead I keep singing, and my mood and fears lift. It’s a Christian song that I like, and I don’t remember all the words to it so I sing the chorus over and over again:
In the chaos of the storm
I have drifted far, far away.
But I call out your name
And you are just a breath, a breath away.
Then through the shadow, your light appears,
I know you’re with me, now it is clear
I can feel you, Jesus, all around.
Like sun on my skin, warm to the touch,
You surround me and I’m held by love,
I can feel you, Jesus, all around.
As I sing this song a smile spreads across my face and I don’t feel so scared anymore. In fact, I feel happy. Not only are my fears eased but I think I’ve started to walk even faster down the trail as I sing, and the climbs I’m walking up seem easier. For several hours I continue to walk down the trail singing this same song mostly in my head but occasionally out loud. Eventually I look up and see a few patches of blue in the sky- rather than getting worse the clouds are actually clearing. Another smile spreads across my face, and I even find a tear building up in my eye. I’m happy and thankful, glad to be here and glad to be safe and protected.
I make very good timing walking up and down all these humps, singing my song and being thankful that the sky is clearing. I’m walking fast, and by noon I’ve caught up to Bibbs who started an hour before us this morning. Just as I catch up to her we round a corner and go down a hill into a meadow that is FULL of sheep. There are sheep by the hundreds, probably thousands. They are all making their sheep noises and standing in the middle of the trail or chewing on grass in the field. We have to shoe some of them out of the way so we can keep walking. They all turn and look up to stare at us as we walk by, wondering why we are in the midst of their territory.
About a mile after the sheep facade we reach the end of the segment. Lunch time! I’m starving and my body is feeling tired- it’s definitely time for a well deserved break. We eat right by a small parking area where a couple is getting ready to leave on a 4 day loop. I spy a water jug in their car so Bibbs and I ask if we can have some as our filter isn’t working very well. They say yes, of course, then we spend some time visiting with them before ending our lunch break and heading off down the trail again.
As we make our way over a few more 1,000ft. lady lumps the clouds are finally looking worse. I’m still not too worried about it, and I stop to take some pictures of the Grenadere mountains in the distance. They have dark, dark clouds looming above them and all the sudden I realize the wind is blowing the clouds towards where we’re walking. Better keep moving.
The mountains to the right of us suddenly disappear under a dark, black cloud cover. The wind suddenly starts blowing harder. Mother Nature is unleashing. We run down the trail and try to get ahead of the black clouds that are quickly enveloping us, but there’s no use. We can’t walk fast enough, and within five minutes I’m in the middle of a dark cloud. I turn around to look at Squat and Bibbs behind me, we all stare at each other with fear in our eyes, unsure of what to do. There’s nothing we can do at this point, there’s no where we can run or hide. We have to keep walking through the wind and rain and thunder and just hope and pray we make it through. I walk faster than fast through the storm, scared out of my mind.
We make it to the other side where a sign points the Continental Divide trail downhill, and the Colorado Trail in the opposite direction, uphill. No! I yell back to Squat, letting her know that we have to go up the hill rather than down, and we all stare up towards the path and then the sky, wondering what the hell we’re gonna do. Thunder rumbles heavily from directly above us. We decide to hunker down in a small ravine by a creek until the worst of the clouds pass before we head back uphill.
At this point we know we’re only about a mile away from the high point before we start heading down. I want to just get there, to the top, so we can start walking down into the trees- into safety and comfort. We sit and wait, occasionally scared out of our mind by the mighty thunder shaking the ground from what seems like only about 50 feet above us. We wait for about 20 minutes, until we see a patch of blue beginning to spread across the horizon, in the direction we need to walk. That’s all it takes. We’re back on the trail in minutes heading up.
A sign finally points us downward. We cheer and yell with happiness and relief that we’re finally going down.
“We might not die after all!” Squat sings.
The scene from this view is absolutely amazing. We’re up above 12,000 feet, and we can see down into the canyon that takes us down to 9,000 feet. There are rocky mountain peaks rising into the sky on the left side of the canyon, and a green valley with two lakes dotted in the midst of the green grass on the right side of the canyon. Between these two drastically different scenes, a slit is cut down the center forming the canyon that we’re about to walk into. A rushing creek flows down next to the canyon walls, beginning just below us and flowing heavily down, down, down, to the bottom which looks like a tiny thin line from this vantage point. It’s extraordinary- it’s hard to take it all in at once.
We spend 10 minutes taking pictures and ooo’ing and awe’ing over the view, then we start our descent. It takes some time to walk down that far, but I thoroughly enjoy the whole trek. It’s beautiful- every corner has a new view, and the lower down we go, the higher the walls rise above us. I take pictures often, and stop to appreciate the canyon walls and the water trickling down, the rushing river and the green foliage throughout. Eventually we make it nearly to the bottom where we find a beautiful camp spot by the river with views of several peaks shooting into the sky close by.
We start a fire, our first fire that WE have made on the trail, eat our dinner, and enjoy the views and the sound of the rushing water until we decide it’s past our bedtime. We retreat back to our tent, our sweet little home, and pass out as soon as the Tylenol pm has made it’s move.