Posts Tagged ‘Backpack’

I arrived in California on Friday, getting picked up by a most wonderful friend of my mother’s, Kathy.  She and her husband were super awesome and took me for Chinese dinner, then a mini Game of Thrones marathon before dropping me off at kick off the next morning.

By the time I got there, just before 9am, most people where alive and kicking…even the super hung over crowd in the “youth” area which was really just the “party” area.  I conveniently placed myself near the places where events went on since I had no cell service to find Hop-a-long.  In the meantime, I ran into Little Brown who had knee surgery so he wasnt thru-hiking, but doing some large sections. Then, before I knew it, I ran into 12%, who had also been on the AT in 2010.  I also met other 10ers who had been right behind me the whole time and I had never met, Hot Wing and Clarity who brought me over to where Cupa Joe was, who worked for the AMC in 2010 and had given me and Fredo a cup of tea while telling us where to go camp away from 25 loud teenage girls in the same outfits.

Later, I got the water report and then Hop-a-long found me by the gear contest. She had found No Amp who had already gotten to mile 220 with Bone Lady and Scapel.

The next morning, I got up and got my shit together to catch a ride to the border at 6am after only 4 hours of sleep, but loads of enthusiasm.  Jerry happened to be there at the meeting place looking for one more, so I jumped in and he drove us down.  He was even awesome enough to take a picture or two for me and send it to my mother who posted it earlier.

Then the funniest thing EVER happened.  I was maybe a quarter-mile down the trail when a guy walked up behind me and we had that I-think-I-know-you look.  Turned out it was Mellow Yellow who had been on the AT in 2010 as well and apparently was one of two people who had passed us on the approach trail before he went and finished much faster than I did.

Going further on, a few miles in, I saw him standing there staring intently at something. When he pointed it out, it was the biggest rattlesnake I had ever seen!  It was about 3.5-4 feet long and the width was the size of my clenched fist! Incredible!

People flooded all around that day since so many started after kick off like me, but not nearly as many as I thought. While I took one break huddled under a large bush for shade, an older woman passed and I knew at once it was Listener, who also recognized me instantly.  I met her over in PA on the AT.

The trail was great that first day, but damn was it hot! I put a bandana under my hat pretty quick to get the sun off my ears and neck.  The grades were easy despite the 2,000 feet of climbing.  Toward the end of the day, some muscle in my left foot began to hurt and I had to take some vitamin I.  Come on body…catch up, we’re hiking again! Eventually, I made it the 20 miles back to Lake Morena where some exceptionally awesome trail angels, the Andersons, had stayed and made chili for all the hikers.  They even made veggie chili and had cold beer waiting! It was most excellent, especially to be greeted with a giant hug.

Day 2 went well; I got about 6 miles due to my late start before taking a siesta with Dead Animal, Dan and Lander.  My foot kept irritating me so I continued gobbling some vitamin I and massaging it.  After a fantastic 4 hour siesta and reading a chunk of A Feast For Crows, I cooked my dinner for lunch and headed out for another 10 miles. Lucky for me, the trail went up almost all that afternoon and my foot doesn’t bother me going up for some reason.

I grabbed dinner by the last stream I thought I would pass, then hiked the rest of the way to “camping by large oak tree” as marked on Halfmile’s maps.  It was great and I got in just before head lamp time watching a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, my camera decided inexplicably that it didn’t want to work and I didn’t feel like taking my pack off and digging for my phone.

This morning, I cruised in 7 miles to Mt Laguna which consists of a general store, a post office, a gear store, and a lodge.  Now I’m waiting for the PO to open so I can send some stuff home.  I also found Hop-a-long here who had been a day ahead since she had already done the 20 miles to Lake Morena.

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Our next adventure required a 3:30 a.m. snowpack check.  I became quite good at sleeping whenever possible and putting snow on my face to jerk myself awake after the past week.  Slugging ourselves into a sitting position and peering our the tent door still wrapped tightly in sleeping bags, we awaited Roger’s decision on how stable the snow would be for us.

He poked around for a few minutes and said to activate plan B.  I liked plan B.  It’s first step was curl back up and go to sleep for two more hours or so and meet up at 7:30 a.m.  We packed up a day pack and hiked up to the base of the glacier again.  This time, instead of fighting the snowpack, we joined it!

Slightly to the west, an avalanche had left a large pile of debris that we would use to practice unburying beacons.  From a glance, avalanche debris just looks like lots of uneven piles of snow, but once on it I found out how incredibly difficult it is to move over it and more so to dig through it.  Once the snow falls, it solidifies.

We split into two groups of four and I went with the first group to find them.  We went about forty feet off to the side and turned our backs while the other group hid three backpacks with beacons, one without and partially covered someone without a beacon.  Then Roger yelled and we tried to run back over and begin uncovering.  We tracked all the beacons well and found the partially buried person easily enough, but the backpack without the beacon took us longer than it should have.

The second group went to do the same exercise.  Instead of partially burying someone, we almost completely buried Kyle by giving him a large air bubble with a small hole to the surface and stuck one gloved hand out.  Totally like the movie “Carrie” but without the pig blood mess.

After we played significantly finding the beacons, we took a long snack break and gathered everything up and headed down just a bit more to a preselected spot.  Roger then had everyone grab a shovel and dig a large pit about six or seven feet deep while others prepared the ropes for crevasse rescue practice.  The person on the end got to run and jump into the pit while the others had to catch him self arresting and pull him back out.  On round two, I got to run and jump which entertained me greatly until my feet became incredibly cold.  It was the kind of cold that you need to tuck your feet up into the pits of your knees to regain feeling in them or put them on a stomach.

We soon headed back to camp and I rejuvenated my feet and had a hot drink.  That evening, Roger shared stories of former NOLS students that he had to deal with including a rather determined outlaw near Vegas which enthralled us while we ate dinner.

I took the next morning off while Roger took Jonah, James, and Kyle up to try a peak super early in the morning before the sun rose.  However, the sleep in was not as sweet as planned because they got caught in the incoming northwesterly and had to run down from the wind, arriving back at 9:15 a.m.  Heeding their wind warning, we packed up and headed back down to the previous campsite where we planned to meet back up with Sean, Haley, and Tracy for a night.  Descending, we had a bit more trouble than before crossing the larger river despite crossing high where less water should flow.  We did a sketchy little dance and pack toss number.  The storm came in slowly as we made our way down through periods of light misty rain.  It continued to press down upon us while we argued about where to put the tent again.  We scouted around for quite a bit and all came up with one we liked best.  The wind ended up determining our choice, mostly so we could set up the tent and relax.

While the storm threatened to hit, Ryan played Mr. Fix It and worked diligently to fix a few holes our tent had accumulated.  Once it was fixed, we played cards for awhile during Kyle’s nap and listened to the rain come and go.

Around 4 p.m. or so, Sean, Haley and Tracy made it back and we got out to help them set up their tent quickly since they were cold and tired.

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Wake up.  Pack up.  The day has come to change valleys.  Get some new scenery.  Enjoy a new glacier.  Gaze over at different ridges.  And let’s not forget carrying extremely heavy packs through the whole beautiful process.

As luck would have it, we had a good cause to gather in the morning for a little bit instead of chasing after Roger because we are one minute late.  Kyle’s birthday of course!  Sean and Roger spent a good portion of their evening specially crafting a Betty Crocker cake.  It turned out better than any of our attempts to bake a cake.  We sang happy birthday and the whole sha-bang, and we even brought back a few of our sea kayaking rituals which Roger found ridiculous and only let them continue for the sake of not ruining the birthday mood.

When the time came to leave, we heaved the incredibly heavy packs up and trudged along the valley floor toward the drainage that we took to get down two days before.  The top of that drainage marked the “easiest” way to cross into the Ashburton Valley; the pass itself did not have a name.

As we began hiking, we paused to smother on sunscreen and delayer since the sun had come out in full force to the point where I

Traversing across

Traversing across

hiked through the snow in a tank top.  I felt a little out-of-place trudging through snow that sometimes went thigh deep with a large pack, an ice ax in one hand and wearing just a tank top.

We examined the traverse from the drainage across to the actual pass before quickly scurrying across.  The sun had quickly begun to melt the snow which could have made parts unstable, but we pushed through quickly and soon landed in the pass which gave us a fantastic panorama view of the Ashburton Valley, so close, yet so different from the Cameron Valley.

We piled our packs and decided to run up peak 1972 which lay just next to us.  Since we somehow had energy at that point, or we just wanted an even more spectacular view, we went up.  All twelve of us.  The summit offered a better view along the ridge line in either direction and the surrounding sea of mountains.  The commanding view inspired us for that time, until we had to head all the way down skidding down some icy patches.  We had fun butt-sliding down from the pass as it was either that or posthole down the whole thing.

Once we hit the valley floor, the snow gave way to uneven tussock grass, matagouri, and spaniards.  The Ashburton River flowed by chilly from the glacier and along in a million braids that would sometimes surprise you at inconvenient times: like when you find the easiest way through the tussock, then the earth mysteriously drops a few feet down into a braid of the river.  I hate getting my feet wet.

Ashburton Valley, New Zealand

Ashburton Valley, New Zealand

Roger had a spot in mind that he wanted us to head to, so we went there and set up camp relatively close together otherwise the tents would end up in a dry braid of the riverbed.  With all the snow melting, that just did not seem like the brightest idea.

After deciding to meet at 8am, we all went to our tents, cooked dinner, and promptly passed out since the tiredness caught up to us in full force.

The next day ended up as one of my favorite days of the whole section.  We began by hiking up the left gully to the base of the glacier, which in and of itself took us up 600 meters of elevation.  Luckily, only the first part dove through tussock grass and then we went through dry riverbeds and snow.

Once at the base, we roped up with three rope teams and ten people total.  Heather and JD decided to sit this one out since they were still super tired from the day before.  I had Roger and Haley and I got the middle.

The fog that filled the valley stayed hovering down there while we hiked above and beyond it to feel the full power of the sun.  It was just like the mist in the book/movie by Stephen King, except nothing shot out of it and killed us or filled our corpses with spiders.  In response, almost every break we got, we smothered on sunscreen, and kept a hat and sunglasses on.

We got the very bare minimum basics of glacier travel while we scouted out the upper valley and what we could do in the next week or so, weather depending of course.  Because of the sun, we couldn’t wander around too much in the afternoon, so we headed back down to the base and found a good little ice climb to play.  We also did a bit of fixed rope ascension which ended up with multiple finger and hand bleeds.

Everyone managed to stay in a good mood the whole day and we all worked well.  At the last few hundred yards of snow we all

The fog

postholed at least once up to our waists which tired us out.  When we finally got back though, we were all starving!  JD had awesomely seen us coming and put on hot water which we immediately used to cook dinner.  Way to be one step ahead!

Another night, we all passed out super early because we were just beat.  Luckily, we would have the next day to re-ration and plan the rest of our section which had somehow gone down to only 9 days remaining.

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Beep Beep.  Beep Beep. 4:30 am wake up.  It’s still dark out.  My sleeping bag is warm.  Shit.  I want to go hiking.  I want to go hiking.  I sat up.  Step number one.  I drank some icy water to wake myself up on the inside.  Step number two.  Haley and I got breakfast water starting while sitting in our sleeping bags.  Step number three.  Wake JD up for breakfast and begin eating.  Step number four.  Run outside and go to the bathroom quickly.  Now we’re up.

The rustling of backpacks, boots, and sleeping bags filled the morning stillness.  Not many talked since no one had seen the sun yet and the morning cold still iced our bones.  Headlamps flickered in all directions as we packed day packs for a morning adventure.  Because of the dumping of snow the previous few days and the warmth predicted for the afternoon, we would have to start very early in order to have better snow travel conditions.

We split into two groups to cover more ground with a smaller amount of people.  Sean took Haley, Heather, James, and Jonah up on the Cameron Glacier while Roger took Ryan, JD, and I up to climb a peak or two behind the hut, in a direction we had only gazed upon and not explored.  Tracy took a knees-rest-day since they split with pain worse than splitting firewood, Hidde woke up feeling sick, and Kyle just wanted a rest day.


The four of us headed out through the fresh snow and over snow-covered moraine to get to the first slopes to climb.  We began long, relatively steep zig zags to gain elevation and not burn out our calves.  The first hints of dawn had begun when we left the hut and as we made our way up the slope, the sun began to rise through a purple-pink sky which lit up the layers upon layers of mountains surrounding us.

Taking a five minute break every hour or so, we shoveled down more calories to keep us warm and walking.  Roger doesn’t seem to like breaks much and kept pushing hard to get higher faster.  He did have a reason for doing so; as the sun came over the mountains, it began warming the snow and we began to sink more.  We found small, high meadows and a few slopes with waist deep snow which we postholed through.  Trying to stay near chunks of exposed scree, we had an easier time from not postholing, but then we had to watch our footing more in case the loose scree just gave out under our weight.  We began connecting partially exposed scree patches to each other trying not to find more waist deep snow.  Postholing exhausted us and by the time we hit the third peak, we knew we didn’t have much climbing left in us.  Getting to that last peak, the snow was so deep that I began almost crawling up.  I found that I sunk less if I used my shins as a crude snow shoe instead of my feet because it spread my weight better.

Our “rest” on top of the peak was really a “shovel food in the mouth and find the safest route down” since we could see so much from there.  A few of the slopes we climbed up, we now had to avoid because the wet, warm snow had not bonded to the bottom layers and could slide easily.  We headed toward a drainage and then followed that down.  In just a few hours, the snow had melted significantly: water ran through the drainage under the snow and the snow-covered scree slope that we started on now had only a small three inches or so on it.  That part was the worst because every step became loose and it jarred at the knees painfully.

We got back to the hut for lunch which all of us were ready for as we had about run out of snacks that we had brought up.  Conveniently, the other group got in about 15 minutes after us and we all ate together outside since the sun shone so brightly we only needed a long sleeve shirt on.  When we had trouble figuring out which of the bags of powder was which, Roger joked saying, “Just do what any good drug dealer does, dip a finger in and try the product!”  While we traded food and bargained around for our favorites, Roger and Sean had a little powwow planing session to the side of the hut.

They decided that we should move about 200 meters across the river for “mental stability” and avoid the hut area, so we packed up and moved that afternoon.  Right as we tried to set up the tents, the wind picked up something fierce.  With it came some drizzly rain and we all stayed in the tents the rest of the night not wanting to go out in the windy rain.

The next day, due to shitty, rainy, overcast weather, we had a rest day where we all stayed in our tents pretty much the whole day, occasionally jumping to another tent to see different people.   Eventually, when the rain ceased, we had a small gathering where we decided to change valleys the next day and head over to the Ashburton Valley, adjacent to the Cameron Valley.  Big move day on the mind.

Layers upon layers

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When we awoke, we found a fresh foot of snow blanketing the landscape in all directions.  The clouds had lifted to only cover the mountain tops and finally left the valley exposed to plain sight.  Excited, we looked around at our surroundings in a new light, laughing at the bright, beaming purple door of the hut which seemed like a stark difference to the white that enveloped us.

Since the day before seemed to take more out of us than we planned, Roger and Sean decided to teach us essential skills, i.e. the basics.  For this, we took day packs of snacks, water, and extra layers and hiked a little less than a mile to a nicely graded slope on which to practice.  We had to climb over a large streak of moraine to get there and from the top of it, we saw down valley all the way back to where we got dropped off from the bus.  The scene had changed completely from the day before.

The first half of the afternoon, it felt like we were kids playing in the snow, sliding down, screaming and having fun.  Except we began to learn more advanced ways of stopping ourselves in technical terms.  First, we had to run and slide, digging our elbows in, proving that we could stop without the ice axe.  Then, we worked with the axes, which worked a hell of a lot better and we stopped much quicker.  Once a bunch of us had gone, we had good tracks made and sliding became faster and of course, more fun.

Our favorite slide quickly became the toboggan slide where we all sat down in a line holding onto the person behind us’ legs and launched ourselves down like a human bobsled.  Of course we had Roger video us on someone’s camera to watch us all fly down screaming, then bail off all different directions before the rocks.

After a snack break, we hiked uphill toward a peak 2100 meters just to get the feel of picking good lines and paces through the snow that everyone could sustain, switching people breaking trail.  When we came up to some exposed rocks, we stopped to boulder around a bit which was quite difficult in huge mountaineering boots.

Going back down, we plunge stepped until we got closer to our tracks, then slid down the rest of the way.  Back at the hut, we cooked up some snacks.  Quesadillas quickly became the warm, quick snack of choice.  I modified it to a peanut-butter-illa by substituting peanut butter for cheese.

While we chatted about avalanches and what caused them, we heard other people outside.  It surprised us a bit, but we made room quickly and moved back out to the tents.  Cameron Hut was so comfortable, but we gave it over to the other two who lived up in Auckland and had come down to climb a peak over the weekend.

The next day, we had our first helicopter re-ration which was a whole new experience since we had basically carted our re-rations around in the form of food babies before.  It did come just after 7am in the morning, so we all drowsily managed to get out of bed and wait.  Amy, the program supervisor came over too as we quickly dumped several large bags of food into a large pile in the snow and gave the bags along with our trash back to the helicopter people.  Before we knew it, the helicopter left and we now had to sort through all the food.  Three people set about doing that task while the rest of us began heating water for hot drinks and cooking up some breakfast.

Hiking up

After some grub, we played around with the avalanche beacons, harnesses and other miscellaneous gear while Roger and Sean plotted.  They decided we would hike further up into a small side valley and camp up there on the snow to teach us how to better deal with the cold since they seemed to think that we needed a bit of an ass kick.

We separated out three days of food from the eight days of re-ration and made a cache that we buried under rocks to keep the kea birds from stealing it and packed everything else up.  With our newly heavier packs, we all were glad when we found out we only planned to go about a mile and a half up, but gaining about 500 or 600 meters.  I wished I had my ipod, at least to stick one earbud in and rock out a bit to forget the 50ish pound pack that I threw on my back.

The sun came out that morning and exposed the mountaintops which we saw for the first time and motivated me to move along, examining what the clouds hid the past few days.  We went up all in one group which became a long string of people moving at different paces following the same tracks.  Breaking new tracks would make an unnecessary effort.

When we saw a few boulders, we stopped and picked out spots to dig our tents in.  After making flat platforms for them by stomping the snow down, we set up the tents and had to bury the anchors.  Hiking poles worked excellently for this because we could dig long holes easily with the ice axes, wrap the string of the anchor around it, place it in the snow, then re-bury it.  This process took quite a bit longer than we expected and turned out to be fairly exhausting.  While some of us set up the tents, others went to dig out a kitchen and a latrine.  A large indent about three feet deep constituted the kitchen which had patted down counter area on one side to cook on, and another area on the lower side to sit on so not too many cooks were in the kitchen.  The latrine, on the other hand, was basically a large hole to duck into with a smaller hole to squat over.  It also had a fantastic view down the valley and across to other peaks.  It made for a fantastic morning bathroom experience.

After dinner and making water, we all turned in early to hang out with our tent mates because no one wanted to hang out outside of their sleeping bag once the sun went down and the temperature dropped.  Since we did not camp near a water source, we had to make it from snow which took an extended amount of time and fuel.  While we labored to make water, Roger and Sean split us into two groups to start a morning adventure to which we were supposed to be ready to leave at a whooping 6:30am.

Cameron Hut, New Zealand

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At the branch, we had a very quick switch where we had to unload the boats and boat bags to repack them into extremely large backpacks for the mountaineering section.  Getting in around 4pm, we had to move quickly to unpack and repack, managing to do laundry, de-issue things like hydroskins, and make sure we had everything for the mountains.  Imagine twelve people with nice, smelly gear and only two washing machines.  Not to mention, only two showers.

Running around like mad people, we managed to do all the switching, cleaning, washing, and showering in shifts fairly efficiently and sat down to dinner starving and wolfed it down with veracity.  With full stomachs, we went for a chat with Amy, the program supervisor who debriefed the section and took all of our feedback for an hour. After we finished all the chores, we got to sift through the internet, each taking about 15 minutes on the computer in the common room.  Then, I got to listen to my ipod for awhile, the long awaited epic goodness of music, oh yes.  I was in heaven.  Ipod.

In the morning, we all made sure we had our packs set, had breakfast and did the last of our chores before setting out on the bus with one of our previous instructors, Sean, and a new one: a crazy Korean-Canadian Roger.  The bus had this cute little trailer on it for all our packs which we stacked in, then made room for the trekking poles and ice axes.  This time, we were smarter and brought credit cards in case we could stop and buy extra food.

Unfortunately, we did not stop in a town where we could have found chai lattes, coffee, extra peanut butter, or anything like that — we stopped on the side of a back ass road when the bus broke down and we had to wait there two hours until NOLS could drive another bus to get us the last half an hour to the trailhead.

In the meantime, we all sat in a circle, put our heavy, uncomfortably large mountaineering boots on with the gaiters.  We decided that it was a fantastic time for Roger to tell us his life story which he tried to get away with a skim story in about three minutes.  It didn’t work because then we just questioned him in the spotlight for another half an hour.

When he seemed tired of telling us about his life, he decided we had a perfect opportunity to sit and learn knots.  This ended up being super fun and passed the time quite quickly until Julie, the hilariously enthusiastic rations manager, and a new bus driver came to get us the rest of the way with a new bus.

At the trailhead, the bus driver pretty much gave us five minutes to get all our stuff, then he peaced out.  We missed Darrell, the other bus driver at that point.  Since we got there so late, we decided to only hike in for about an hour to the last decent campsite for at least 7 more kilometers.  Luckily, Roger had just hiked through these valleys in the last section with the other group and had scoped out many of the good climbs and campsites.

We had new tent groups for the new section.  The first ration was a long one: 11 days.  For the first time, I managed to get into a three person tent group and was with Haley and JD.  This meant that with JD, I had managed to be in a tent group with everyone. Woot.  So for his intro:

JD hails from Seattle, or rather, across the ferry from it, about a half hour drive from my mother’s house, so I found that super cool.  He’s also really into park skiing and managed to ski almost the whole summer with last year’s record snowfall.  He also loves naps and peanut butter.

That night, we had to pick our campsites carefully because some wind picked up forcing us to put the tent at a specific angle, aligning it to the valley and using some prickly matagouri for extra wind blocking shelter.  The other group warned us about two plants: the matagouri and the spaniard, both of which were rustic, spiny, and very pointy plants that managed to survive in the high, cold, and desolate environment.  They made wearing gaiters and pants necessary, otherwise our legs would have been torn to shreds quickly.

We made a small campfire that night, one of only two in the mountaineering section and enjoyed it greatly, sitting by the Cameron River that cut through the valley.  There, we planned out the next day in which we intended to hike 13 kilometers up the valley to the Cameron Hut.  Luckily, Sean and Roger wanted to split into two self sufficient groups to make it a bit easier.  Hiking in with all twelve of us was a little much and we had become fairly spread out in excitement for the new section.

So excited for the mountains, we had plenty of fresh enthusiasm, which we definitely needed for the next day which became more trying than we expected.

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The final segments!

I left Silverton around 10 am after getting a ride in a beat up, red pick up with an old geezer who answered everything I said with “Right on.”  His story goes like this: he got to Silverton 18 years ago on his motorcycle with just the clothes on his back and “not quite three dollars in my pocket.”  Now, he has twelve more motorcycles, owns a house and a kid.

I hiked from the road to Little Molas Lake and hit a trailhead (which was not in the guidebook) and read a sign warning about sheep dogs.  Fantastic.  Just what I need to worry about right now.  Moving slowly with a full food bag, I hiked awhile and stopped for lunch where I still had a good view, but past where all the day hikers went from Little Molas.  I went in very small ups and downs and near beautiful wild flower fields of yellows and pinks and reds and purples.  Passing far more water sources than mentioned in the guidebook, I got some when I needed it and only carried about a liter with me.

That evening, I stopped between a pond and a small stream which ran into a cave.  I could hear sheep not far off and I had no desire or patience to deal with them that night.  I figured 10 miles was enough for a day out of town anyway.  In the morning, I got moving in good time until I hit the sheep.  I passed the sheep dude sitting over on another hill in the distance.  We waved to each other, but were out of earshot.

The first sheep moved away with no problem when I walked through.  They didn’t want to deal with me and I didn’t want to deal with them.  Our agreement worked just fine until the sheep dogs discovered me and decided that I was not cool.  Thanks growling and barking dogs.  One in particular, would not leave me alone.  It ended up taking me an hour to get about a third of a mile because he growled and showed his rather sharp-looking teeth constantly.  After about 5-10 minutes, he would decide that I was ok, but lay about 10 feet in front of me in the middle of the trail.  I would walk around him in a semi-circle and he would be fine until I was 10 feet on the other side.  He would then begin barking and growling again and I would wait until he would lay ahead in the trail again.  Repeat process for 1 hour.  Fuuuuuuuuuuck.

That surprisingly drained a good deal of energy making sure it didn’t bite me.  My appetite began to rage!  It has rarely done this the whole trail.  Now, almost finished, it decides to be hungry?  Hmmmm.  I paced myself on meals and bars by distracting myself with the new geologic formations that surrounded me.  I wished Amanda was there to tell me what they all were, how they got there and the inevitable super sarcastically awesome comment.  I trucked down until crossing Cascade Creek, which was beautiful and did cascade, but it was also infested with bugs and I had to keep going to get away from them.

The sky looked like something might come in soon, but didn’t until about mile 3 of segment 26 where I found myself getting pelted with hail.  Hail hurts when you have just a tank top and running shorts on.  I dashed until a tree and hid while a hail storm moved and dropped an enormous amount of hail for half an hour.  It entertained me quite well and was much more pleasant than rain.  I watched it bounce as it hit the ground.  This time, it only got up to marble size though.

When enough of the sky turned blue again, I hiked on to get to the last water source before a 21 mile dry stretch, according to the guidebook.  It had a fantastic campsite right before treeline…literally.  I got in right as it got dark and cooked dinner, hung my food and almost fell fast asleep until I heard a mountain lion off in the distance.

The next morning took some motivating to get moving.  Once I did, I managed to bash my shin across a large blowdown which gave me a small surge of pain, which I ignored until I felt blood dipping down my shin and staining my socks.  Then, I took care of it and covered it up.  I think my lack of motivation came from the 3.5 liters of water I was carrying in case I didn’t feel like doing 21 miles (which I didn’t).  Right before hitting segment 27, I saw a large black bear running away.  Glad I hung my food…

The first 10 miles of segment 27 confused the hell out of me because they were a maze of logging roads, some still functioning.  It was so confusing that I ripped the instructions out of the guidebook and put them in the waistband pocket because I couldn’t keep the turns straight in my head.  Then I ran into a super cheery group of people with day packs.  I suspected that they had some caffeine in one of their two trucks that was there and lightly alluded to my desire in hopes of yogiing a soda to wake myself up and hike more motivated.  They did not have any there, but did five miles further in their camp and told me to meet them there.  Three of them were trail running the five miles and the other two were hiking it.  Apparently, after chatting with them, they were with an “expedition” group that had everything already figured out and set up camp and tents for them.  All they had to do was carry a day pack and hike together.  Sounded like a sweet deal to me.

I did end up having lunch with them because they were great company and I talked with them for a little over an hour, all those at the camp.  They generously did have some mountain dew there, a pb&j, and a beer they gave me to pack out.  I talked a great deal with Julia who seemed to be the only person under 40 there.  I did the sleeping bag trick to keep it cold.  After that hearty lunch, I hiked another 9 miles to the beginning of Indian Trail Ridge, the last above treeline 4 mile sha-bang.  There were a few clouds, but I did not expect them to turn into anything.  Yet, I just camped near the last trees anyway since I had the water and a beer!

The next morning, I noticed I had lost my knife and searched around my immediate area.  Nothing.  Bummer.  I hiked up and over all the bumps on Indian Trail Ridge and down to Taylor Lake (the next water) and got a liter.  After a snack, I went up to Kennebec Pass and went down the other side saying goodbye to the exposed hiking.  I saw a small dark cloud, but thought nothing of it because it was super small and the rest of the sky was pretty blue.  Then, a few miles later in the trees, as I was rocking out to some tunes, I felt a big rain drop on my head.  I looked around, glancing through the trees and noticed that very little blue was left in the sky.  Hmmm.  I found a good tree and sat under its protecting branches as it began to rain.  I ate lunch.  Then I read.  Then I read some more.  Still raining.  Still dark grey.  Then it paused.  I hiked about a quarter-mile before it began raining again.  This time harder.  I ducked under another tree.  Lightning and thunder started spinning out and the thunder had an eerie sound like a car racing through a tunnel and then crashing into a cement wall.  The lightning was only a mile or two away.  The rain was a bit too much to read.  An hour later it stopped raining and I hiked another quarter-mile before it downpoured again and I went under a third tree.  I looked around.  The whole area was super green with loads and loads of vegetation.  It must just get slammed with rain.

Eventually, it stopped raining, but as I hiked, the vegetation brushing against my legs got me all wet.  When I got to the bottom, I saw nice campsites near the creek and thought about staying, but decided to get a bit further to have a shorter last day.  I figured my legs were already wet, so it didn’t matter.  As I went up the last climb, I found a few small streams and got a liter out of one.  That allowed me to dry camp near the top of the climb.  Then I discovered that my pocket rocket did not work.  The rungs had been completely stripped out and it wouldn’t screw onto the canister.  I ate peanut butter for dinner.

On the menu for breakfast: cold oatmeal.  Disgusting.  The weather didn’t look too much better, yet I walked on passing a few large cow pies and cursing them because I thought I had left the damned cows behind.  Before long, I found myself having an early lunch at Gudy’s rest, four miles from the end.  I was joined by two mountain bikers, one of whom stopped just so he could talk on his cell phone for ten minutes.  Yup.  Back to civilization.  Fantastic.

The last four miles just went downhill past one parking lot and ended in the second.  It felt good to finish and even better to have a free Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale from the Carver’s Brewery in my stomach when I got into Durango.  I figured if I texted all those I knew behind me and I drank beer long enough, someone would show up.  Then everybody showed up: Hop-A-Long, Cookie Monster, No Amp, Phil, Doug, John, and eventually Justin and Andy.

The next day, we continued the celebration after we managed to rent a minivan for the next day to drive back to Denver.  We might have celebrated a little too much and the scenic curvy route proved a little difficult.  All 7 of us fit with all our packs into a Kia minivan and road tripped back to where we started.  We made it back to Denver to visit Stick Man and then crash on Phil’s couch for a night.

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