411.8 – 436.1
“happy seven months,” murmurs pepa as he rolls over & snuggles into his quilt in the pearly dawn. seven months! how have i only known him for seven months? i crawl over him & unzip our shelter. just beyond the edge of the plateau where we’re camped a sea of clouds clambers through the valley. misty fingers reach upwards. “wow,” i gape & as we drop downwards in the first few miles of the day the mist thickens & chills our skin. the trail feels deserted this morning- nobody we’d camped with are early to rally. we both wear our jackets, the iced heavy air reminds me of hiking in the columbia gorge near home.
we stop to fill up on water at the fire station. a trail angel has posted a note offering rides into town & a fellow hiker mentions a forecast for snow above 5000 feet. i glance at the menacing sky. should we take the ride? to make things more complicated, we’re meant to climb up & over 6000 feet today & the only places where we’re allowed to camp (because of fire restoration efforts) are at either 5000 feet or after nearly 25 miles at 4000 feet. camping below the snow line would make today my longest day on trail yet & there’s still no guarantee that we’d miss the worst of the weather… but i’m stubborn & i can’t bear the thought of bailing when things get challenging. we hike on.
the rain starts in earnest after a while & soon everything is drippingly heavy. my pack is supposed to be made of a waterproof material, i guess we’ll see how true that is, & i have my rainjacket layered on top of my down. i fret that it might be soaking through…. if my down jacket gets wet then tonight will be a very cold night since i usually sleep in it. my hood obscures my vision & all i can see for much of the afternoon is green & overgrown & wetly slaps me as i trot through. my hands are numb claws that grip my trekking poles stiffly. somewhere in the distance i hear a chainsaw. how? is it coming from the road below? but i round a bend & pass through a gauntlet of seven trail maintainers dressed in goretex & armed with power tools. “normally,” says a lanky older gentleman wielding a chainsaw, “you’d get a great desert-y view from the saddle up there but today…” he mimes walking bent over into imaginary wind. “yeah,” i laugh manically, “it’s like hiking in a storm cloud.” soon it somehow becomes even more punishing & as we traverse an exposed ridge, tiny ice daggers fly at us, raking our skin. “how far?” i cry to pepa over the howling wind. “let’s hurry, we gotta get off of this hill!” he shouts back. from a mile away i can see the tents, at least a half dozen of them. so this IS where everyone is camping. but it’s awful here at the ranger station. it’s situated in a saddle & the wind rages through camp, tossing & shaking the tents.
we wander around, packs on, for a while. i don’t know exactly what we’re looking for, everywhere is windy & nowhere is protected & our little tarp shelter is deeply underqualified to stand up to the storm. even if it doesn’t get completely obliterated by the wind, it’s single walled & filled to capacity- a little rain will probably have us both soaked. & it’s cold, SO cold. my fingers are still too numb to work properly. “looks like we jumped a bubble,” says boots, nodding towards the unfamiliar tents. he’s packing up & heading to the KOA campground eight miles away. a part of me wants to hike on at least a mile or two out of this saddle but we’re both exhausted & i’m beyond demoralized. “where do you wanna camp?” asks pepa. i point towards the privy. there’s a covered concrete vestibule where it looks like people have been cooking. shivering, we strip off our soaked hiking clothes & bundle into everything else. we lay out our sleeping pads & quilts. “my hands don’t work for cooking,” i say to pepa between chattering teeth. trail wisdom is that fatty foods eaten right before bed will help with heat retention so i eat some peanut butter with my spork for dinner. in the greatest act of generosity imaginable right now, pepa shares his pot of ramen. he urges me to drink the broth & i snuggle into his shoulder. warmth is unimaginable but we crawl as deep as we can into our quilts & peek out at each other. “goodnight,” i whisper, “happy seven months.”