Injury recovery. Walking has never felt so liberating! Uinta Wilderness, Utah. Green River Lakes to Knapsack Col in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Columbia Gorge to Mount Hood along the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon.
“That which hurts only makes me stronger”, or so said the back of my team rowing shirt in high school.
This summer has been a tough one. The stress fracture I did to my tibia in May while hiking the beginning of the Continental Divide Trail took me out of commission for months. It was early August before I went on my first real hike. But once I started I couldn’t stop. I went backpacking every weekend, in fact I only slept in a bed one weekend in all of August and September.
In August I adventured around the nearby Uinta mountains, so much so that the lady at the US Forestry Service fee station on Mirror Lake Highway knew my car as it drove up. The first few weekends I spent discovering some beautiful off-the-map lakes I’ve never been to before, first a 1.5 mile out-and-back to Whiskey Lake, then 4.5 miles to Peter Lake near Notch Pass, then 6 miles to Cuberant Lakes and the Lofty Lake loop. The final weekend in August my leg was ready for 9 miles each direction and so I revisited one of my favorite basins in the Uintas, 4 Lakes Basin. There wasn’t an hour that went by on the trail that I didn’t pause to feel grateful to have my hiking legs back! I felt like I was waking after a long hibernation. It felt so good to be back outside! Here are some pictures from my Uinta adventures:
By early September I was ready for more. More, in the form of a 40 mile 3 day adventure on the Continental Divide Trail in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. My friends Emily and Keith were planning a few days at Green River Lakes Campground over Labor Day Weekend, so I joined them for the first night then hiked out the next morning to start my adventure. The Winds blew my mind. I hiked south from Green River Lakes along the CDT (!!!- yay!) to Knapsac Col and back again. 40 miles in 3 days may have been pushing it a little for my leg, but I was just having such a great time that I couldn’t help it. Freedom! And beauty! And fresh air! It was also my first time living in Grizzly Bear country, in fact I probably passed one on the trail as when I exited the trail there was a sign from the Ranger that a grizzly had been spotted heading north on the same trail I hiked south on. I’ve come a long way since my first solo backpacking trip in 2010, I used to be completely freaked out that bears and wolves and mountain lions were all coming to get me in my tent at night. But now I’m way less concerned, I take a lot of precautions, and because of that I know my chances of a night time covert wildlife attack on Camp Kate is pretty darn unlikely. Here’s some pics from the incredible Wind Rivers:
As I drove back to Salt Lake City I daydreamed of how awesome it will be if next year I’m lucky enough to walk the length of these beautiful mountains, because that will mean that I’ve made it half way across the country on the CDT and I’ll be heading towards the next half. The 5 hour drive flew by as excited thoughts and trip logistics circled in my head. I will be back to visit you soon, CDT!
Two week’s later I was at a tech conference in Portland, Oregon and took off afterwards for 50 incredible miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I hiked from the Columbia River to Mt Hood, in pure northwest beauty. The first 13 miles up the Eagle Creek Trail was simply stunning with dense, lush green forests and waterfalls everywhere. The highlight was Tunnel Falls where the trail passed behind a waterfall.
Climbing up out of the canyon to Whatum Lake and joining the PCT felt pretty amazing. I’ve heard so much about the PCT in recent years and it was cool to walk where so many of my new CDT friends have walked on a prior adventure. I even thought of Cheryl Strayed and the Wild story, which despite a bad wrap in the thru-hiker community, I still think is a great story of a very strong woman. The trail was beautiful smooth dirt or pine leaves almost the whole way, after the rocky Uinta trails I felt very spoiled to be walking on this smooth buffed out trail. I camped in solitude most nights which was unexpected. The trail views were a mix of vaste ridgeline views and dense pine forest. I was surprised to pass a dozen or so PCT thru-hikers still making their way north, I sure hope the weather holds for them in Washington! Was great chatting and being back in the trail-world even if for a few days. Introducing myself as Elevated was clearly understood, while an introduction as Kate gleaned an odd look. I sat with a bunch of hikers near Indian Spring and smiled, feeling a twang of jealousy as they told me stories of their water challenges in California, wildfire concerns in Oregon and other random trail stories.
This trip, I substituted the pack-weight I normally allocate to bear spray to a book. Sorry Mum. I knew I’d have some time to kill on the trail and so brought the book “Kafka by the Shore” by Haruki Murakami. The cover declares the book to be a ‘metaphysical mind-bender’ and it didn’t disappoint. A great book to read while out in the wilderness. And hey, if I did happen upon a bear, I could have hit him with my book, right? Don’t worry Mum, no Grizzlies in these parts. That author was recommended to me by a friend I met while being held hostage inside a nepalese tea house by the ’20 year storm’ that hit the Himalayas while we were both en-route to climb Ama Dablam a few years ago. Luis if you’re reading, thank you for the recommendation, this author is right up my alley.
The final day on trail had me climbing out of the Sandy Creek drainage and skirting around to the south side of Mt Hood. The scenery reminded me of one of those sand glass art spinners that I had at home as a kid, you know, the kind you flip upside down and the sand escapes down through the air bubbles to create all kinds of cool designs. Many many times that morning I had to just stop and stare at the scenery in awe. To say I felt thankful to be back out in the wilderness is really understating it.
I finished the hike at Timberline Lodge and gorged at their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. 4 courses and 3 beers later I embarked on getting myself back to Portland for a 7 a.m. flight the next morning. 2 buses, a train, a mile of walking and a taxi ride later and i landed up at an airport hotel. I tell you what, at the end of a long hiking day i feel invigorated, but 5 hours on public transit in a city and i was totally wiped!!!
I spent a lot of time on the PCT thinking about the CDT next summer. Should I go northbound (nobo) or southbound (sobo)? This year most of the hikers i started with did a nobosoboflip, which means they started northbound in New Mexico, but hit massive snows in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado, so flipped up to Montana and then hiked back southbound to finish in Colorado, or some variation of that. Some pushed through the snow or sat out patiently to wait for the snow to recede to complete a straight nobo hike. I followed along everyone’s journey via facebook and blogs. There wasn’t a photo that was posted that I didn’t wish I was in. From reading of the adventures, the CDT didn’t disappoint this summer, it had it all… big scenery, nasty lightening storms, beautiful alpine streams, wildfires, wonderful trail angels, long waits for a hitch to town, beautiful trail, challenging navigation, record May snowfall in Colorado, light snowpack in Montana. It posed its challengers with the full gamut of joys and frustrations. Would I be lucky enough to be one of them next year? I hope so!
I think I’d like to hike sobo next year, start in Montana and finish in New Mexico. With all this talk of a super El Nino year, that could mean a lot of snow in the south and a warmer, drier north. So a sobo hike might just be the ticket in 2016. What the trail did teach me in 2015 is that it doesn’t care what my plans are, while good planning will help me to enjoy the experience a little more, there’s no way I’ll have the luxury to stick to it. So, I’m going to wait and see how the winter develops and make a call mid-winter. A sobo hike would start late June and finish about mid-late November, whereas a nobo or nobosoboflip would follow the schedule I planned for this summer ie. late April start, with a mid-late September finish. One thing I do know for sure, I will be back in 2016 to settle the score with the CDT.
A cool thing about this summer is that on every adventure I went on, the pika was present. So I was able to submit a bunch of field reports on the pika and its habitat to the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation group. They’re providing pika habitat data to various climate change studies. Here’s a cute little guy at Whiskey Lake, look closely, he’s sunning himself on a rock:
I’ll post a few pre-trip training and planning updates over the next 6 months. Thanks for reading!