Section E, Day 1: The Longest Climb
I wake the next morning, grumpy, tired, late having slept through my alarm with my earplugs in and exit the tent to find that the late night partiers are gone. They just cruised in in the middle of the night, partied all night, and cruised off. What the hell. I was hoping I could at least have some retribution by making a bunch of noise in the campsite and waking them up early from their hangovers…. Perhaps it's for the better.
I feel exhausted from my poor sleep, and do not in any way feel up for the gigantic ascent ahead of me. It takes me all day to shake off my anger at the partiers.
The GDT Crosses the Highway and immediately heads uphill along Owen Creek. This steep upwards angle will be my life all day. The trails starts out in good condition, travelling alongside the creek where it soon plunges dizzyingly deep into a long narrow canyon. Some blocks of rock have broken off and wedged themselves in the mouth of the canyon, creating terrifying bridges across the chasm. I stand on one of them for a moment, watching the torrent far below me until vertigo grasps my stomach, threatening to pull me down to the smashing water below, and I beat a hasty retreat, stomach in my mouth.
Not long after the creek decides to be a regular creek again, the trail disappears, and I take to following faint game trails and muddy footprints of GDT hikers before me up wet, slick, rooty and rocky terrain. I grasp roots and trunks with my hands and pull myself upwards. It is steep and there are no switchbacks. It rains on and off all day, and the grey clouds are settled low and steely. There is little visibility. I weave from creekbed into the forest and back again. In and out of water and in and out of mud. The mosquitos at this time of year have also started to get really bad and I’m sweating through my deet and swatting as I climb. My pace grinds to a slow crawl, and I cannot shake my bad sleep and frustration. I just want to lie down in the mud and take a nap.
Eventually it clears up somewhat, and I ascend above the treeline. Every time I make it above the treeline I feel my whole body taking a deep breath. I feel trapped in the trees and the roots and the muck, claustrophobic in mist. The going is still steep and rough, but I can finally see where I’m going. The steep dark walls rise close on either side, austere and still holding on to snow patches. Some of my exhaustion and frustration begins to ebb.
I keep climbing, and despite the fact that I’ve got my trail legs now, my calves are starting to complain very loudly. But as I make the first pass, everything is starting to make sense and I feel clear and good again.
After the initial climb which takes me the better part of the day, there are three more passes to go over and they. Are. Fucking. Incredible. The trail goes high above the most brilliantly turquoise Michelle Lakes, and I spot two people camped on its shores far below, orange tents billowing like windsocks. I shout and wave to them and they look around, startled, for quite some time before spotting me on the ridge above them and wave back.
By the time I reach camp, I feel as though I have lived three days in one. I camp that night at an old horse camp where someone has gone through the trouble of building tables and chairs out of logs. Into the back of each of the two chairs a woman’s name is carved. I imagine this horse camp was built by some sort of lesbian Brokeback Mountain couple and this makes me very happy. I cook and eat and change and set up my camp while walking swiftly back and forth around the camp to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes probably adding an extra couple of kilometers to my day. I am very grateful to get into my tent.