Labor Day Death March – DAY 2!

20 09 2012

In case you missed Day 1, click that link and get with the program. Are we all ready? Moving on. 

Day 2 started out…cold. I was super snug in my sleeping bag, but hadn’t slept all that well. And as I woke up (way earlier than I had planned), I had a problem: my stomach seriously hurt. Unfortunately, I knew what had to happen. I took a deep breath and whispered J’s name. Amazingly he woke up and peeked out at me from his cocoon. “J, it’s Time.” He looked at me super confused as I unzipped my warm, cozy, oven of a bed. I finally had to nudge him out of the way since he had yet to move away from the door. “Where are you going? What’s it time for?” I slipped into my boots and out into the trees.

My first major accomplishment of the trip: my first-ever poop in the woods! You think that’s funny? Have you ever had to go poo in the woods – as in no outhouse, no Port-a-Potty, dig your own hole kind of deal? I have gal pals who can’t even PEE in the woods. TMI? Too bad. I was tremendously proud of myself; this was a milestone. Yay for me!

And then I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I popped in my contacts and puttered around taking care of all my morning duties (no pun intended) – retreieved the bear hang, ate breakfast, made my lunch for the day, repacked my pack, brushed my teeth. Lazy Bones J was still sawing logs in the tent while I was chilly and fighting a righteous headache. I headed up to the lake shore and waited for J to get up, stretching my stiff muscles. Nothing like early morning yoga watching the sun rise over a high-alpine lake. J finally woke up and we were soon ready to get back on the trail.

unmaintained monument trail, Pasayten Eureka Creek WA

Unmaintained trail from here on out – caution all ye who continue forth! (Oh we’re continuing all right!)

We circled the lake and came to a tree down, blocking the trail. This was it: the end of the maintained trail – nothing beyond this point had been kept up for the last 25 years or so. Woo! Around the huge tree we went, and started the vertical ascent to the top lip of the glacial bowl we had slept in. The trail wasn’t much, but obviously used. We trudged up the steep grade and finally summited the saddle. My breath was literally and figuratively taken away. Valleys are peachy keen for pansies who like it on bottom, but no valley bottom has a view this incredible.

Above Fred Lake, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Reached the top! These views are totally worth the grueling climb! (This is facing the way we just came up, with Fred Lake down below me.)

Towering peaks rose to greet us on all sides, their slopes giving way to tumbling valleys stretched out as far as we could see. Whoa. The morning sun warmed the air and we stripped a layer before continuing. We dropped down to Doris Lake and met a bunch of different groups. Good thinking the night before – it was crowded up here. I was a bit bummed, to be perfectly honest. I come out to a remote wilderness…only to be surrounded by people. J assured me we would soon pass the throngs of people – most came here to climb this awesome series of peaks – Osceola, Carru, and Lago. I hope to work up the cahones to do that one day….

Osceola, Carru, Lago Peaks, Pasayten WA

Left to right: Osceola, Carru and Lago. And Doris Lake to the left, under Osceola. How cool to climb these bad boys! (And please ignore any weirdness in light – this is a stitched panorama…)

We lost the trail after leaving Doris, but knew the general direction to head. J was leading (since I had been fired) and we dropped elevation fairly quickly, through lush meadows broken by the odd stand of trees, babbling brook and patch of shrubs. I slowed us down a bit when the trail got sketchy, but I couldn’t help it. I was still getting used to the weight on my back changing my balance. Finally, we made it to the very bottom – a dead end up against Shellrock Pass, and the headwaters of Eureka Creek. I’ve been to the end of Eureka Creek, where it hits Lost River, so this was pretty cool to me. Shellrock Pass, however,was a different matter….

Shellrock Pass, Pasayten WA

Ah, Shellrock. The pass is up to the left. We traversed that nasty rock above the tree line. It was hell.

The morning was close to over and we had a long ways to go. First order of business: conquer Shellrock Pass. Up we go (again)! We crossed huge rock slides where marmots and pikas chirped at us, scolding our every step. The bottom of the rock slides was a kind of marshy area with several puddles. Soon, the massive rock faces glared at us from all sides – we were eye-level now, baby. Looking across, we could see a couple of people traversing one of the slopes. I couldn’t help but be impressed – there’s no trail up there, nothing to even guide you…in fact there’s nothing. You are fully exposed, just you and the sky and a wicked drop-off.

The trail intensified and I soon received a slap in the face from old Shellrock – my first test. The “trail” was in loose, nasty, gravel-like rock and was traversing across the slope. So to my right: steep slope up; to my left: steep slope down. I was going pretty slow, picking my way across, when my boots slipped. I froze in place, not wanting to throw myself further off balance. I finally managed to pick up one foot and then the other and take a few more steps, carefully placing each step and testing it before putting my whole weight on that foot. Then the trail became a bit washed out and my boots slipped again. I grabbed for the up-slope, but there was nothing for me to hold on to. I’m not afraid of heights at all, but in that moment, I panicked and became terrified of falling down that slope. I became frozen with fear and cried out when a shift in weight caused my boots to slide further. J had turned around to see what happened, and I think he freaked out a bit – not necessarily at my position, but at me freaking out at my position. He’s used to this sort of thing, he knows his boots might slip but will catch. And he’s a mother-loving mountain goat. But I’m not. And I don’t know that my boots will catch. And I do know that it was a hell of a long way down, and that my only choice was to keep going. J couldn’t save me, or even help me really – I had to get myself out of this. I wanted to come on this trip, I wanted to do this, so it was time to get my act together and man up. Leaning into the up-slope, I shuffled one foot forward a bit. Then the other. I finally got one foot solid enough to stand back up and took the last few steps to where the trail widened and flattened – sure footing. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and stood for a moment, trying not to look down. J probably thought I was still stuck, since he was still coaching me: “You’ve got this, you can do it, you’re doing great, just a little farther…” I gave him a weak smile and started walking again, slowly, placing each foot more precisely than before.

Shellrock put me to the test, shoved me right out of my comfort zone and tried to break me. Too bad, Shellrock, I beat you!

Shellrock Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, WA

Thanking my lucky stars with each step, now that I’m on trail that isn’t try to kill me. Nothing like living on the edge!!

We made it to the top of the pass without further incident, though I was slow. J was freaked out by how quiet I was and filled the silence by telling me what a rock-star I was (ha) and that I was almost there, and that the rest of the day would be downhill. As the trail peaked and I was finally on top, I dropped my pack and let my shaky legs rest. We ate our lunch surrounded by this harsh beauty. I was glad I was on this trip with J and had a whole new appreciation for his abilities. He related a story of his own not-so-wonderful trip to Shellrock as a teenager – a trip in which J’s cousin dubbed this ShellShock Pass. I heartily agreed that was a much better name.

Shellrock Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, Monument Creek, WA

Looking out from ShellShock across towards Many Trails, Lost Peak and Three Pinnacles. We’re headed down, down, down the valley.

We descended the other side of ShellShock into a marshy area full of flowers, a few trees, and water. It looked like a park. The little tarn made for a great camping spot, so I dropped my pack and settled in for a little rest while J checked for campsites. My mind wandered delightfully as I gazed around this little oasis, idly stroking the little purple flower next to me. By the time J got back, the sweet breeze in my hair and sun on my face had just about put me to sleep.

Tarn under Lago Peak, Pasayten Wilderness

Apparently, this is called a “tarn”. Don’t make me pronounce it…my redneck shines through….

Stumbling up and back into my pack, I fell into step behind my fearless leader. We didn’t have far before another break, but my mind was whirling the whole time. By the time we reached the junction for Butte Pass, which J was going to quickly run up to grab a sign and run back down, I was a wreck. My tired, convoluted female brain had convinced itself that J’s silence and quick pace were sure signs that he was not just pissed for letting me come along but pissed to the point that I would never get to come on another trip ever again. Well, great! And just when I was having SO MUCH FUN. (Turns out this was, in fact, all in my head.)

wilderness signs, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Old signs, pointing the way

We stopped so J could run up to Butte Pass and I kicked my boots off for a bit. Then my over-active imagination took over and I started turning every sound into a potential bear attack. I laughed at my silly self but put my boots back on, just in case. I had no idea how long J was supposed to be gone, nor did I have a watch, WHERE THE HELL WAS HE?! Convinced he had been eaten by a bear, I was ready to go hunt for him when I saw him jogging back down the trail. (Seriously. Jogging.) Whew! He wasn’t eaten! (J said this wouldn’t be where bears would hang out anyway. Now he tells me.)

Back down the valley, more pretty scenery, and we start chatting again. I’m amazed at how well the trail has held up, after all this time. J tells me stories of other wilderness trips. We had much discussion around the day’s destination and finally decided that today we’re going to stop at a campsite called Clint’s Cabin instead of trying to make it all the way to Lake of the Woods. We had already lost too much time throughout the course of the day, and a longer Day 3 would be better than pushing too hard and hiking after dark. Now that we’ve got that settled, I no longer feel like I should be pushing my legs as fast as they’ll go. Yay!

Not much further and we reached Monument Creek. We hadn’t followed it long before we stumbled upon something peculiar: rusted out old stove parts. Like super old. Maybe from mining days? Then I saw a faint trail that seemed to head toward the water. Hm, guess I better see where it goes! It did indeed lead down to the creek, it’s waters running over super cool rock slabs. You could see evidence of how gnarly the creek could get in spring. J joined me and we explored a little farther down, stumbling upon the coolest spot – a perfect swimming hole! We knew we didn’t have much farther to go and plenty of time to get there, so….. Skinny dipping time! Well we couldn’t very well get our only clothes all wet, without being in camp to hang them dry, now could we? 🙂

Monument Creek, Valley bottom, Pasayten Wilderness WA

The light was terrible for pictures, but I instantly fell in love with this secret little swimming hole.

Probably since I was bragging on it earlier, the trail soon started getting much harder to follow, once we finally returned to our hike. Ok, so realistically this was due to the fact that we were now in the bottom of the valley, and there’s more vegetation to grow over it, more trees to fall across, etc. We crossed some little streams and completely lost the trail…as we emerged from the trees into this amazing meadow dotted with aspens. Looking up, I realized it was probably the very bottom of an old avalanche shoot, but whatever. Who cares – it was gorgeous. There was this serene hush over the whole place, broken occasionally by the rustling of the aspen leaves. J about left me as I dawdled in this magical spot.

avalanche shoot, Monument Creek, Pasayten Wilderness WA

I expected to find some fairy rings or elf houses or something. It was like a scene from a Disney movie.

Then I heard him shout. Wait, what? More noises sounded like something in the trees, and I rushed to catch up. Would I finally get a wildlife sighting? Was my bear finally here to eat me? Yes and no. The critter we startled was a huge porcupine, lumbering off with his quills at attention. He didn’t go far before he must have decided we weren’t a threat, and he turned to look at us, sitting up on his back legs like a circus dog. What an amazing animal! I never knew how BIG porcupines can get! Doesn’t take much to impress me…

More trail, more pretty trees, across the creek, hey! there’s a cabin! No, for real this time! Well, it used to be a cabin. I didn’t even have to ask if this was Clint’s Cabin – there was a sign! Those helpful Forest Rangers. We tossed our packs and started poking around. I got the filter and water bottles and started looking for a way to get back down to the creek. Tomorrow we would be covering a lot of ground with few chances to fill up our water, so we were trying to hydrate as much as possible beforehand.

Monument Creek at Clint's Cabin, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Man I love this creek.

All the awesome rock that the creek had carved out made some crazy little cliffs, and I had a great slab to sprawl out on while I pumped water. Such a sweet place. Clint did a great job picking out a spot for his cabin – I would LOVE to have this backyard! Finally I headed back and J already had much of our camp set up.

Client's Cabin, Monument Creek Trail, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Home Sweet Home. Well, for the night. Thanks, Clint, whoever you were!

The sun was going down and we put an extra layer on. Then J gave me fantastic news: we were having a FIRE tonight!! The site already had a rockin’ awesome fire ring – off to gather firewood! In no time at all, we were snuggled all cozy-like on a nice log bench soaking up the toasty fire glow.

Oh, but J wasn’t done – he made the evening even more spectacular. While I lounged and played in the fire, he cooked us a romantic freeze-dried dinner, complete with some candy for dessert! I may be a hopeless romantic, but this was whole scene was getting me all mooney-eyed and full of butterflies. J even found a freeze-dried dinner that didn’t have any kind of cream or other dairy, since I’m lactose intolerant. How thoughtful! (Or that was for his own safety. Either way, still gets him bonus points.)

Clint's Cabin campsite, Monument Creek, Pasayten Wilderness WA

JRock building us a fire to cook me a romantic dinner with which to woo me. It worked.

Full, warm, and happy, I crawled back in my sleeping bag, once again scooting over as close to J as I could get. What an awesome camping buddy! I drifted off easily, slipping into a dreamland of aspens and fairies and porcupines…..and that’s the end of Day 2!

Day 2 stats:

About 11 miles total;

Elevation gained: 3500 ft; elevation lost: 2000 ft; near-death experiences: 1.

Scorecard:

Shellrock: 0; Kalista: 1

😀

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