Section E - Day 3: The Beauty is Breaking My Brain
The night before, just as I was falling asleep, another GDT hiker, this one from Switzerland, arrives at the campsite. He makes a big fire and moments later it is doused by a big rain. The next morning I am just waking up and he is already strapping on his huge bag and heading out. He is trying to go 40km per day. I cannot even imagine that under these conditions!
I am hiking up to Cataract Pass first thing in the morning, and the beauty is starting to break my brain. I am above the treeline throughout the day in big, wild, open country. This is what I love the very most about being in the mountains. There is no trail, and I can see far in every direction. I`m free to simply take a sighting with my compass, and then make my way across the terrain from waypoint to waypoint, using my brain to do navigation, rather than following a trail, always looking down. There are snowfields to contend with, steep sections, moving scree, and big rockfields to hop across. This kind of mountain travel never fails to make me feel completely ecstatic.
Over Cataract Pass I plunge-step the long, steep scree slope laughing like a goon into a carved out high glacial valley where I walk along the lateral moraine of a long melted glacier. The guidebook describes this area as austere. Certainly there are no trees or bushes to speak of, but it is anything but lifeless. Prey animals like to come to these high, difficult, treeless places to escape predators and to raise their young. I spot three mountain goats or bighorn sheep (they are too far away to see) on a high ridgecrest. At a steely blue tarn at the base of the glacial runout, there are to mother ptarmigan and countless fuzzy chicks hopping from rock to rock and chirping. I pretty much die from the cuteness of it all and want desperately to hold one in my hands.
I spend the day oscillating between reverence and ecstasy, walking and scrambling nonstop to avoid the mosquitoes through otherworldly landscapes of rock, snow, and cold water. A life tied so much to screens leaves me with a sense of unreality. I find myself thinking: Is this real, or am I looking at a desktop image on my work computer?
Later in the day, after having returned to somewhat more realistic and emotionally manageable beauty, I run into another couple of thru hikers and I like them immediately. Their names are Dan and Elaine and they are a Colorado outdoorsy skiing adventuring couple. We bond immediately over our shared concern over the sometimes competitive nature of American thru-hiking culture. It is clear that they are outdoors people and mountain people first, and thru-hikers second, and they really know what they are doing out here. We chat for a while before spreading out eventually.
We run into each other later, hunkered down in a hollow to avoid the wind and share some laughs while we have some snacks. We end up hiking together for the rest of the day and by the time we reach the top of the final ridge of the day we are laughing like goofs together, exclaiming at the Jesus Clouds and fantasizing about food together. It feels like we have known each other forever. Btw you can peep their GDT blog here: https://altabackcountry.com/
That night we camp at a really nice government campground together. We stay up until 11, the latest I think I've ever stayed up on this trail, laughing and shooting the shit. It feels really nice to have made some trail friends who I am on the same page as. I secretly hope that we will end up hiking together some more.