Section B - Day 3: Tornado Saddle.
KM Hiked: 22. Territory: Blackfoot/NiitsItapi, Stoney, Tsuu T'ina, Ktunaxa.
I wake up after my two-day hellish road walk unreasonably exhausted, my whole body aches something fierce.
The other folks I've chatted with who are doing the trail also talk about a lot of body pain, but there seems to be something different for me here, a deep hungry ache coming from every muscle which makes it hard to stand up in the morning, hard to kneel down to make my coffee. I wonder if I somehow got really out of shape before this hike? If I'm getting too old for this? Or if it's related to the testosterone. I know that the general muscle growth of even inactive folks who start T can be enough to send them running to the bathtub, clutching bags of epsom salts. Part of me hoped that being on T for this hike would be like some sort of performance-enhancing drug. Not so, it seems. Having muscle mass is one thing, building it is entirely another.
I'm glad to be heading off of the endless ATV tracks into real trail today. This day brings me up and over the terrifying-named Tornado Saddle. An imposing scree blanketed, steep pass. I soon learn that the "trail" leading up to it is rarely a trail, more of a cross country route, and scrambling over blowdowns and traversing steep slopes, I often find myself downhill of where I should be, and have to climb straight up to regain my position.
But the weather is finally good, and the views are superb. There are wild onions growing everywhere on the high slopes, and I give myself awful breath that lasts a day snacking on them.
At the base of the steep climb up the saddle is a beautiful alpine meadow, and it is so still I can hear all the hundreds of birds calling to each other in the valley below. It is warm and pleasant, and for the first time in days, I allow myself to feel my sore, worn out body. A deep sleepiness takes me over. I feel like a person in a fantasy novel who has stumbled into an enchanted wood, and I want to lay down on the warm rocks and sleep forever.
Eventually, I tear myself away from the enchanted meadow. I have to make it up Tornado Saddle, and it is getting far too late to be heading up so high. The climb looks intimidating. It is steep, falling shale which holds no path or footprints. I've taped my ankle up with athletic tape, but I don't know how it will hold up through this climb.
As I make my way up the saddle, I slide down half a step with every step. The angle and the twisting motion the terrain demands sends burning pain through my ankle and up my calf with every step. It's a good thing I'm alone, because I begin groan-screaming with every left footstep and I would surely terrify anyone I was with. Up and up I go, searing pain, frustratingly slow progress. I start setting goals for myself: Make it to that rocky outcrop in 15 minutes. Get to that ridge in 20.
I get to the top of the saddle in desperate pain, hoping I haven't done some sort of permanent damage. I take no pictures because I don't care about anything other than getting down to camp, and I still have a long way to go.
Hours later, as dusk falls, another thunderstorm starts as I try to make dinner and I have a little meltdown about it. I just want to cook some goddamned dinner is that too much to ask? I scream at the dark clouds, and the mountains. I decide I don't care and I will get wet, whatever, I'm going to have a hot dinner. And the rain, mercifully, is only a light drizzle.
In the tent at night, my heel is throbbing, searing with every movement. I text my girlfriend and my family on my inReach, tell them my ankle is shot, I don't know if I can finish this section. This is too hard. I don't know if I can do it.
I fall asleep with my glasses still on.