Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 5
Day 5 started with a bang.
After four days of getting very little sleep, Jordan and I both passed out from sheer exhaustion around 8pm. A few hours later, we were awakened by the sound of thunder and the beat of rain against the tent. Jordan, in a groggy stupor, remarked how impressed he was that our tent was holding up so well, considering he’d only paid $15 for it.
“Um, what?” I asked. He mumbled something about a Black Friday Christmas deal, then he rolled over and went back to sleep.
As I was contemplating this, I noticed a small triangular patch above my head where the tent fly had pulled away and the rain was starting to seep in. When the seep became a trickle, I briefly considered going outside to try and pull it back into place. But between the lightning and the marmots, I decided to stay put. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and hoped the rocks I’d put over each of the tent stakes would keep the tent fly in place until morning.
It was another long night of not sleeping… for everyone. But, no worries. It was RECOVERY DAY and I couldn’t wait to start my recovery. I grabbed my “Life is Better at the Beach” cup and headed out for morning coffee.
We started Recovery Day with an awesome breakfast of homemade pancakes. This is another Wilderness Trek tradition and a favorite among the regular Trekkers. Jerry and Amy did the cooking, while the rest of us wolfed down pancakes as fast as they could make them. In lieu of butter, I decided to take Jerry’s advice and smear on a little peanut butter before the syrup. I admit it was not entirely terrible.
After breakfast, Amy mentioned something about gathering water in large Ziplock bags so we could lay them out in the hot sun and wash our hair later. It all sounded fabulous. I couldn’t wait to get my recovery on.
Not long after, Bill mentioned something about hiking up the grassy slope behind us so we could get acclimated to 13,000 feet. We were already camping at 11,800 feet, but the goal was to climb a bit higher each day in order to prepare ourselves for the big “Fourteener” hike on Thursday. I looked up at that beautiful grassy slope… in that beautiful morning sun… on a full stomach of peanut butter pancakes… and I thought to myself, well how hard can that be?
I should probably give you the lay of the land a bit here. Our camp site was located at the base of Mount Adams (east side) and the north side of Upper Horn Lake. If you click the icon in the upper right corner of the map below, you should be able to see a larger, topographical view of where we were.
Colorado is known for its 53 “Fourteeners,” or peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. Every year, the goal of the JWRC Wilderness Trekkers is to summit one of these 14er peaks. Little did I know that the beautiful stony peak just to the west of our camp site was Mount Adams, not quite a 14er at 13,937 feet, but impressive nonetheless. Our goal on this day was to climb the grassy slope up to the 13,200′ ridge which led to Mount Adams.
In my head, I prepared myself for a quick little hike, followed by a full day of pampering. I couldn’t wait to wash my hair in a Ziplock bag, catch up on my journaling, and maybe go hang my feet in Horn Lake. What a beautiful, perfect, mountainy kind of day.
After breakfast, we did the dishes, filled our water bottles, and packed some lunch items in our daypacks. Next, we marmot-proofed the food supply and prepared to head out. At the last minute, I popped a lemon-lime fizzy tablet (with electrolytes) into my water bottle for some extra energy along the way. Not that I needed it. Maybe it was the delirium after four days with very little sleep, but I was feeling pretty great and raring to go. I couldn’t wait to see the view from the top of that grassy ridge.
We headed out and soon discovered there was no clear-cut trail up to the ridge. We sent Jordan ahead… over some rocks and through some willow bushes… to see what he could see. While the rest of us waited, I grabbed my water bottle and pushed the button to take a drink. Suddenly, a stream of fizzy water shot out of the straw and into my face. It shocked me so much at first, I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I blinked, wiped my eyes… then laughed along with everyone else. Lesson learned. Fizzy tablets don’t work well in a Contigo bottle. I took a drink and put the bottle back in my bag.
We heard Jordan calling from somewhere above us, so we started bush-whacking our way toward his voice. It was only about 10am, but the sun was bright and it was already starting to get warm. Thankfully, we cleared the willow-bushes after a bit and lost the mosquitoes. We were happy to discover a stiff breeze up on the slope that helped to keep us cool. However, the breeze was so stiff that it was hard to stand upright without feeling like you were going to get blown over. To compensate, I found myself grabbing at rocks and grass clumps so I wouldn’t fall backward and go tumbling down the mountain.
The grassy slope was filled with beautiful wildflowers, which I stopped to admire often while gasping for breath. It was a glorious sunny day and the view was absolutely magnificent. I reached for my water bottle to take another sip of water and got another blast in the face. It was only my second sip of water since we’d started hiking, and already my bottle was less than half full. I reminded myself to unscrew the top first before taking another drink.
Driven by the fear of falling, Michelle and I continued to scramble our way up the grassy slope while the others were mostly able to maintain an upright position. I also noticed that the six people who had poles were making efficient zig-zags up the hill (switch backs) vs. going straight up on all fours like Michelle and I were doing. (Another lesson learned. When someone asks if you want to borrow a pair of poles, take them.)
Around 11am, we stopped for a break and I shot the following video.
I knew we were pretty high up, but I was amazed to see how far we were above our camp site. If you click on the following photo of Tim, you’ll see our tents WAY below on his right.
About an hour later, I realized how cool it would be if we could shoot a live Facebook video from this amazing location. I’d never done it before, so I asked Jordan if he knew how. He didn’t either, but he had it figured out in about five minutes or so. Jordan shot and posted this LIVE video on July 18, 2016 at 12:05pm. From this, you should be able to hear how hard the wind was blowing, and also how hard it was for even a 21 year old to breathe at 12,500 feet.
We reached 13,000 feet and decided to break for lunch. We each grabbed our daypacks and pulled out the bread, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, leftover pancakes, and trail mix. As I pulled out my water bottle to take a drink, I shot myself in the face with a stream of water for the third and final time. Could not believe it… and now I had no water left for the rest of the hike up, or the hike down.
And, speaking of the hike down…
I sat there eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, staring at that 45 degree slope, wondering how in the world I was going to make it back down. Michelle was none too keen on heights and decided she was as close to the top as she wanted to get. While I was OK with the height, I was none too keen on the thin air and was more than happy to stay put. So, while the rest of the gang ventured upward toward the top of the ridge, we were happy as clams to sit and chat in the sunshine and admire the views.
Within a half hour or so, the rest of the Trekkers returned and it was time to head down. And what I thought had been hard and scary coming up the slope, was way harder and scarier going down. My thighs started to burn, my legs started to shake, and more often than not, Michelle and I found ourselves sliding down on our butts during the particularly hard and scary parts. (Again, I wished I’d taken Bill up on those poles.)
When we finally returned to camp, I was beyond spent. I knew I needed water, so I threw my daypack in the tent and started down toward the lake. Nothing seemed familiar and I couldn’t remember how to get down to the water, so after a few futile attempts, I just sat on a rock and waited for someone to come by. I was moments away from tears when Joan finally came smiling through the willow bushes carrying her empty bottle. She showed me the way down to the lake, and we crossed the rocks to get out to the deeper water. I filled my bottle, threw in an iodine pill, and checked my cell phone so I would know exactly when my 30 minute waiting period was up so I could drink the water. I stayed on the rock, waiting. After six minutes, I decided to take my chances with dysentery and giardia and drank the whole bottle. I filled it up again and headed back to camp for another iodine pill.
I crawled into my tent and tried to recover from Recovery Day. I was in sorry shape… weak, shaky, nauseous. I wasn’t sure if it was from altitude, exertion, dehydration, or just plain exhaustion. But whatever the case, I had hit the wall.
I didn’t make it out for Ziplock hair washing, and I didn’t make it out for tea. I closed my eyes and tried hard to fall asleep, but again, it didn’t happen.
At some point, Jordan came in to put on his rain gear because it had started to rain. He told me dinner was ready, so I also got my rain suit on and headed out to join the rest of the group for bean and rice burritos. I wasn’t hungry, but knew I needed to eat. It was a good decision, and pretty soon I began to feel infinitely better.
After dinner, we once again lamented the fire ban that prevented us from having a camp fire, so we decided to pack it in early and head to our tents. At the last minute, Jordan decided to put a few more rocks over the tent stakes, just to make sure our tent fly stayed in place if it started to thunderstorm again.
Another good decision.
That night, there was not only rain, and lightning, and thunder, but also this CRAZY WIND that is hard to describe. We could hear it building up speed as it reached the top of Mount Adams, then it would come howling down the canyon and hit our little camp site like a freight train. It happened over, and over, and over… like clockwork… every 3-4 minutes or so. Each time the Crazy Wind hit our $15 Black Friday special, the sides of our tent would collapse right on top of us. It was so ridiculous, it was almost funny. Once again, I just put my sleeping bag over my head and hoped for the best.
The next day, we made breakfast, broke camp, and headed back down to the Shangri-La Meadow. The Crazy Wind had blown so fiercely that once we hit the tree line, the trail was covered in fragrant green balsam needles. It was a beautiful hike, and other than my burning calves and the 40+ pound pack on my back, it was very enjoyable. I especially loved this view as Jordan walked ahead of me: