The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Day 24

Mile 800 to mile 814
Sunday 24 June (0645-1555)
Distance: 14 miles
Ascent: 5500'
Weather: still windy in places, but hot (except for first thing when
it was just 6 degrees)

I'm sitting about 100' away from our tent at our night stop, after a
day that was pretty hard for a 14-miler, and cannot believe the
surroundings. Across the valley from where I'm sitting there's a peak
peeking out from behind two others. Most of the hills hereabouts are
white or light grey, but this one is white up to a certain level then,
in almost a perfect straight line, it becomes deep red. The red lasts
up to a certain level, with just two sharp points standing beyond
that, which are white. It's an impressive sight, but then this has
been a day of 'ooohs'.

After tackling the big, wobbly suspension bridge this morning (not as
bad as I'd expected with a pack on and walking poles in one hand), up
the river we went. It wasn't just any old river though, as it was one
big waterslide after another. Later in the morning it became one
waterfall after another; none big, but still a sight to be seen with
the water being so clear.

Our entire morning was uphill, gaining 3500' over the course of seven
miles, taking us up to Pinchot Pass at just over 12000'. It was hard
work getting up there but the views back to a series of high lakes
distracted us, as did the daily game of 'spot the pass'. Today's had
us guessing for quite a while. We'd narrowed it down to one of two
places, then just as the path had us thinking it was heading towards
the gap between a big red hill (a single red hill in a sea of white
ones) and the big white one next door, it veered off the other way.

The path kept the actual pass hidden until we were bit a matter of
metres away from it, when suddenly a turn showed that we were
surprisingly close. That was a pleasant surprise as we thought we
still had a couple of hundred feet of ascent to go.

We tarried on the top for about 45 minutes, which was a bit longer
than intended, but along came Caveman and Virgo after we'd been there
about 20 minutes. After a bit of chat, we were ready to move, but
Virgo begged us to stay as he started whipping out camera equipment.
It turns out that he's making a documentary about Trail Angels and
wanted to interview us. Mick volunteered me, so sitting on a rock at
12178', I was asked whether the trail was tough.

My answer? The trail itself, if you take away external factors, is
easy. There is no navigation required, the surface is usually good and
the gradients gentle. Take away the altitude and the heavy packs and
it wouldn't be difficult at all. What made it difficult in the desert
was the heat, the lack of water and the heavy packs. What makes it
difficult here is the altitude and the heavy packs.

I don't think there's any doubt that this is the most demanding walk
we've done - but I was proud of Mick for making it to the top today
without a single utterance of "this is hard!" (a phrase that featured
a lot yesterday).

The rest of the day, per the plan, was downhill, past yet more
gorgeous lakes and pointy hills. Of course, we don't always stick to
our plan and we had been wavering as to whether to make this a
two-pass day. That would not only make tomorrow relatively easy, but
it would also almost guarantee that we would get to VVR on Thursday
morning, giving us two neroes.

The final decision was that we would walk just 2 extra miles today,
taking us back up to 11000' and placing us under 3 miles from the top
of Mather Pass. Tomorrow we'll have a longer day (but with far less
ascent), positioning ourselves for the next major pass on Tuesday.
That's the plan, anyway...


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