For the first time, we slept in. I had doctored my knee as best I could the night before, using anti-inflammatory cream and sleeping in a compression sleeve lined with voodoo.
As usual, I was out of my bag first, sweating on the backs of my knees and on my scalp, while Andy looked snugly content in a beanie cap and light fleece tucked into his bag. I made a cup of tea on our camp stove, looking out over Moraine Lake. I watched as a few hikers made their way up to South Sister.
After replenishing calories the day before, having a long talk over a card game about what was happening in my head and what happened in Andy’s head during the slog of South Sister helped put me in a better mood. Even better, my knee felt great.
Last night I had gone to bed with swelling, and we were both nervous. Waking with no swelling, full mobility and no pain was definitely good news. Andy got up and we ate a leisurely breakfast before striking camp.
When everything was put away and all we had left was to shoulder the packs, we both stared at them, laying on the ground. It was like wearing a four-year-old. At least it couldn’t put gum in my hair. We still had to stop at the lake to filter water before we started our hike.
Andy is more pragmatic and shouldered his bag. I had more sighing to work through before I could manage it.
Moraine Lake was still in shadow, and the water was cold. The water filter was getting less efficient. Water was spilling out of the intake hose. Luckily, a quick scrub with its cleaning kit solved the problem. Twenty-five miles without a water filter would not go well.
After we filled all four Nalgene bottles, we started on our trek. This day would bring us onto the Pacific Crest Trail. We had a couple of potential campsites, the most solid being Reese Lake, which would make a distance of eight miles. Unsure of how my knee would do, we figured if we could just make Reese Lake, we could make it back to the car with three days worth of eight mile days. We had more than enough food for it, even though we only packed for six days, the food situation was abundant.
We had packed roughly 3000 calories per day, which Andy had believed was not enough at outset. If we were young people, maybe it wouldn’t be, but we aren’t exactly young anymore. I mentioned before that each day’s worth of food was in its own freezer bag. So each bag had:
- 2 rations of 1 cup granola, 1/2 cup powdered milk
- 2 morning clif bars
- 2 rations of lunch gorp (2 cups each)
- 2 afternoon clif bars
- 1 freeze-dried entree
- dessert: candy, a freeze-dried dessert, or pudding with powdered milk
We never got close to eating all that. We had leftover Clif bars for days, more gorp than we could manage, and we had gotten to the point that eating the dessert was an act of will, not desire.
Well-fed, we could manage an extra day if need be. But we would be crossing the Wickiup Plain south of South Sister, and I was optimistic about the flat ground. I knew we could really make some good time.
“At mile 26.1 (6135′) is the junction with an un-named trail that goes right crossing Wickiup Plain. Take this trail. There are a couple nice places to camp just before this junction, but no drinking water.”
Admittedly, junctions with no names were not our strong suit. We went slow, not wanting to miss anything. Then we found a pair of pink crocs on the trail. Andy picked them up–far smaller than either of us could use.
“Should we take them with us?” he asked.
I shrugged. “What if the person is going the opposite direction?”
We made those faces at each that means neither of us knew what the right thing to do was. We both wanted the right thing, but what was that, exactly?
I finally insisted that we leave the pink clogs where we found them, hung like star on a cobbler’s Christmas tree. We continued on, taking the trail down mild forested switchbacks. Andy told me stories of his most intense wilderness experiences from when he was in his big mountain phase in Alaska.
Sometimes, when you hear those kinds of outdoor stories, you get a little jealous, like man, I totally want to do that. I wish that happened to me.
Let me just say that I did not feel that way about his stories.
The forest fell away and we were in the open grassland of the Wickiup Plains. A lava bubble had created these strange formations we had seen from our vantage point on top of South Sister the day before. The trail was soft, sandy dirt. Rocks the size of cabbages delineated one half of the trail for hikers, and the other side of for horses, even though the trail was not that wide.
The lava formations are black basalt, rocky and menacing-looking, pointy and scratchy. It was far from the volcano itself, so it must have bubbled up from a vent in the earth. I couldn’t help but stare.
Those damn cabbage-sized rocks got underfoot. I staggered, catching my weight, but the heft of my 40 pound pack begged to differ. In slow-motion, my bag ricocheted against me, pushing me (and my head) down. Face-first. I put my arms out to the soft ground. I hit another rock. I had a face full of dust.
My arm throbbed and I tried to push myself up to my knees, but Andy stopped me.
“Nope. Let me get this off of you,” he said, unbelting me from the beast that had willfully and maliciously pushed me to the ground.
I sat up, spitting dirt, holding my right arm. For some reason, people seem to know when a bone is broken–I had broken my left arm as a kid, and I knew what a break felt like. This was not that. But man, it hurt like nobody’s business. The only thing I could think to do was cradle it, rocking back and forth. I was just glad I wasn’t crying. I was sick of crying.
When I stood, I wiped my face with my shirt. I felt like Pig Pen, stuck in a cloud of dust. I wanted my pack back, and to just get a move on. Andy made me take a minute longer. I paced in a circle, my arm still throbbing.
Because after South Sister, after river crossings, after a day through The Burn, of course I eat it in a grassy plain, literally devoid of anything larger than a loaf of bread.
“At mile 28.4 (6100′) is a small stream, the first drinking water since Moraine Lake. There are several drinking water streams between here and Separation Creek.”
We stop to eat, and while we’ve joined a young couple, both with the look of hipster pixies, I strip off my dusty shirt and soak it in the creek. I am typically very modest in front of basically everyone, but after five days in the woods, I’m over it. Also, I want to look at my arm to make sure I am right, and everything is fine.
It turns out the young couple is from Seattle, and this is the first time the man has done any overnight hiking. We are shocked to find they have the printed guidepost we have but NO MAP. I am shocked, but perhaps appalled would be the better word for Andy’s reaction. He hid it well, but after they left to continue on, he expressed himself. I mean, looking at the map was his favorite activity.
Stuffing ourselves on gorp and water, we waited until my shirt was almost dry (it was a technical button-down) before we headed out. Despite the fall, I felt good still, optimistic despite the dull ache in my arm.
A little while later, the trail well-packed and forested, we found Team Seattle trailside, taking a break. With so many trees, the weather feels perfect, not too hot, not too cold, shade covering most of the path.
“Have you seen a pair of pink clogs?” she asked.
“Yes,” Andy said. “Back at the junction with the Devil’s Lake Trail.”
We all pulled out our copies of the guidepost. Six miles back.
The woman sighed. “I guess those are gone.”
We told them how we’d found them, but couldn’t tell which direction they had been dropped, so we left them there. “Trail magic for someone else, I guess,” the man said.
***Pick up the rest of the story tomorrow, where Katie and Andy meet Satchel, get called out by two older ladies, drink straight from a cool mountain spring, and crunch across a field littered with obsidian. All. In. Part. The. SECOND.