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]

Saturday 23 June 2012

Day 18 - Mile 738.25 to mile 760

Day 18 - Mile 738.25 to mile 760
Monday 18 June (0630-1300; 1550-1945)
Distance: 21.75 trail miles, plus detour to lake
Number of marmots seen: 1
Number of squirrelly things that tried to nick our food: hoards

That may go down as the hardest day of walking I've ever done!

Once again, it looked quite simple on paper. A bit of an undulating
day, topping out at 11600', but with no massive climbs jumping out at
us from the elevation profile. All of those little climbs do add up,
but it was either the altitude or 'just one of those days' (or a bit
of both) that made it so difficult for me.

I was knackered within the first mile, and by the time we got to the
outflow of the lake at lunchtime (13 miles in), I surprised myself by
insisting that we detour to have lunch on the shore. It was definitely
worth while, even for struggling bodies, as it was our first mountain
lake of the trip and it was stunning. A bit cold for swimming (top
marks to Xtra Credit for jumping in - she didn't stay there for more
than a dunking though), but a very pleasant lunch spot.

Lunch was a long affair, as they need to be when there's a meal to
cook (we're still having our main meal at lunchtime most days), and
aside from the view, entertainment was provided by a family of
squirrely-things which wanted to nick all of our food. The cheekiest
tried to get the lid off my cookpot - whilst it was about 2 feet away
from me!

Eventually (just after the posse caught us up) we had to make a move.
We still had 9 miles to walk, it was approaching 4pm and with my
levels of lethargy (plus some more ups) there was no way it was going
to be a quick walk.

I had to question why we were flogging ourselves on a 22-mile day,
when our schedule didn't require us to walk anywhere near that far and
when there were lots of good camping spots available, but I kept
coming back to the same answer. By walking 22 miles we would not only
get ourselves down to the lowest possible point on the coming section
of trail (back down to 9800'), thus ensuring a better night's sleep
than we would have had at 11000', but also it would position us nicely
for the next climb. Always better to attack a climb first thing in the
morning, I reckon.

I was almost dead on my feet with 4 miles to go and the trail seemed
to be stubbornly refusing to get down below 11000' (not to mention
turning to deep, soft sand every time it levelled out). When yet
another unexpected up appeared I was heard to whine "Not another
sodding up!" whilst dragging my poles petulantly behind me (now go
back and read that in the whiniest voice you can muster and you might
be getting close to my mood).

It's the little things that can turn a bad thing into a good thing,
and a minute later we found ourselves on a delightful, stepped bit of
trail going up through an enormous boulder field (enormous boulders
and enormous field). With a peak above us shaped like a huge
amphitheatre I was suddenly happy again - at least until I remembered
that the end still wasn't in sight and that all I wanted to do was to
curl up in the dirt and sleep.

The descent all came in the last couple of miles of the day, and we
almost ran down those switchbacks. With the shortest possible aquafaff
at a lovely creek to fill our bladders, we strode on, aiming for a
campsite* just half a mile further away.

Arriving at quarter to eight, we decided to divide and conquer. I left
Mick to put up the tent by himself, whilst I went a reasonable
distance away to prepare some noodles for tea. By half past eight we
had eaten two courses, cleaned our teeth, placed our bear canisters in
an appropriate place and were in bed.

There was no time for any blog writing, which means that as I type
this I'm currently a day behind.

(* terminology clarification: a campsite is a wild pitch; simply an
area where people have camped before, where there are already pitches
created (i.e. the top surface scraped back to the bare earth) and
usually a fire ring too. A campground is what I would ordinarily call
a campsite - a place that has been created for the specific purpose
for people to camp and usually with some facilities. All the
campgrounds we've come across have had pit toilets, but only 1 has had
running water.)

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