Everything was soaked this morning. Sleeping bag, tent, all the gear. A thick mist floated through the trees from the lake. What great sleep! Finally cold enough the 10 degree bag didn’t feel like a sauna.
Our first half mile past camp was a jumbled maze of blowdowns, made all the more exciting by the layer of frost that slickened the trunks we balance-beamed on. The frost persisted, actually, for miles, coating leaf and blossom, outlining each tiny plant with delicate lace. In the shade of the trees, piles of pea-sized hailstones lay unmelted, I could only guess from the storm yesterday. Boy am I glad we weren’t any higher when that came through!
My exhales fogged in the shadowed forest, and I was rapturously in love with my new puffy mittens from our snow gear box in Cuba, as well as the puffy booties I’d warmed my toes in last night. Water dripped and moss draped from the tree branches. Where the sun beamed onto the frozen earth, the frost vaporized to a puff of steam and was gone. It was a magic land.
We skirted smushy meadows and wound through thick, unbelievably green aspen forests, all over 10,000 feet, until we tipped over the edge of a long, long descent. A few glimpses flashed through the trees of an unnamed, distant mountain range, a row of snowy peaks. Well, well, well. They were more eastish than northish, though, so I doubted we’d encounter them up close.
Purple lupine bloomed thicker and thicker on the way down, and I was admiring them when suddenly the outside of my right foot flared with pain, as if it were squeezed in a vise and the pinky toe was out of joint. What the? I took off my shoe, tried to wiggle the pinky toe, tried to bend the joint, which was swollen and red and throbbing. What now? I manually bent things around, and maybe something went back into place, because it felt marginally better. In another half mile, though, it was back where it had started.
Prana was waiting at a gate, and when I limped up, so far behind, he grew concerned. “Can you hike without your insole? Try to give your foot some more room?” It was a good idea. “I’ll wait for you at the creek in a few miles.”
Taking the insole out helped for about a mile, and then the same affliction set in. The joint was so swollen I was worried about fracturing a delicate bone if I just kept leveraging it in the shoe, so I finally just took the shoe off. Sweet relief. Hiking in one sock was slow and attention-demanding, but at least the stabbing pain in my foot began to subside.
The creek was as icy as I’d hoped, and first thing I plunged my feet in the water. I massaged and manipulated the injured joint, bummed to notice it was hot to the touch. After a half hour’s submersion, the acute issue seemed to have passed. It was still tender to the touch, but movable. Prana had shoved a stick into my shoe crosswise when I’d tossed it up on the bank, trying to stretch the width, even temporarily. With the laces as loose as they could go, I slipped it on and took a few test steps. Just have to see.
The next big chunk of trail was flat and gentle, and things were looking up, winding through pinion pine, keeping a steady pace. We crossed a major road in the evening, huge, striped, pillared walls visible through the trees on the far side. A big, forested ramp to the top came into view, and I realized that was the evening’s project. Slowly we worked our way up, as the evening light tilt-shifted the colors of the walls. Spectacular.
Once on top, we had to pick up water from a spring before the last half mile climb. We’d been aiming for 25 miles today, a somewhat arbitrary number, but also not- it was a goal to meet, and we’d tried to be a tad scientific with how we increased our mileage. I’d done the math and we’d needed to leave our afternoon creek by 3:30 to make it before dark, and we’d left at 4:10, since I hadn’t made it until 3:15. Such is how this incredible landscape is shrunken to splits and numbers. As we closed in on the spring and darkness closed in on us, Prana said, “You know, we could just save the climb for the morning. It’a only a half mile. Also then maybe you won’t be too bushel-snacked to write anything.” That sounded great. Besides, 24.5 miles with 8 days of food in my pack and an uncooperative foot seemed like a worthy milestone. It actually made me feel strangely optimistic. We found camp under a circle of gambel oaks as the night enfolded us.