At 7:30, we were off onto the trail that the ITeam and I scouted the day before. Finding the cairns delighted me, knowing that we'd blazed the trail just last night. The cairns dutifully led us back to the drainage Annemarie and Nan had found the night before. It was extremely steep, much steeper that I expected. I found myself leaning forward at a 45 degree angle to keep enough weight on the tips of my toes to prevent myself from slipping. At one point, my hands took on some of the burden of steadying myself. But I wasn't scared at all, it was extremely exhilarating to put all of my physical and mental faculties to use in solving the puzzle of climbing the drainage. Plus, the further we climbed up the drainage, the better the view we could soak in of the surrounding landscape.
We got to our game trail after a good 45 minutes, and it immediately presented us with a new challenge. The forest cover opened up almost instantly into rocky mountain terrain, and our first obstacle was a very narrow dirt path with vertical walls on either side of it. So, you either maintained your balance or you fell. The adrenaline rushed through me and I crossed with ease, a sense of sheer joy washing over me about the whole thing. We hadn't done a lot that one might consider 'risky' on the trip as of yet. This was a high risk, very low probability situation. You'd have to mess up in a bad way to fall, but if you did fall, you'd be in trouble. But nobody fell, and the rush was well worth it!
Over the next couple hours (with a 45 minute break sandwiched in between while the ITeam scouted up ahead), we had the pleasure of walking a tightrope across the heavens. We went down and up through rocky drainages, balanced ourselves on a thin, narrow trail, and took every opportunity to look up and scan the epic view presented before us. The entire day presented itself with views one would no doubt like to have as a backdrop for any day in their life. Be it the rugged mountain peaks, the myriad of color, the valley in the distance...a picture of any one of the above the fireplace would bring a person joy.
The alpine meadow opened its door to us as we finished winding our way around the first peak. The game trail led us into a place one would equate with The Sound of Music or any meadow you might imagine existing in Switzerland. It was the perfect combination of blue sky, snowpack, a clear rushing river, fresh green grass, and wildflowers whose colors spanned the entire palette. As we sat down to eat our lunch, we even saw a group of 3 elk prancing away on the snowpack above. They clearly were none too happy to witness our arrival, but I was especially enthralled with the quick, effortless way in which they galloped. These were huge animals, and they were running straight up a very steep mountain covered in snow. It certainly provided entertainment as we gobbled up our lunches. Because it was a big day, I packed a huge lunch, including some more of my new favorite snack: cheese/peanut butter sandwiches. So good.
Continuing around the mountain, we hiked up a drainage that led into the meadow and crested it to find a true mountain landscape: brown, rocky ground sprinkled with green grass. We had reached our highest elevation of the trip so far at around 11,000 feet. There were mountains all around, craggy and steep. We walked past a snowpack in which I wrote "Class of '05" with my trekking pole to poke fun at my "advanced" age as compared with the rest of group. So much for Leave No Trace, it might still be etched into that snowpack if it hasn't snowed up there yet, which it apparently does come late August/early September. Our hike continued through a saddle (a low point between two mountains) and then down a fairly steep decline. At one point, we had to do a little bit of rock climbing, which also helped to feed my adrenaline requirements. Carefully placing your hands and feet in little holes and on small rock protrusions with a 45-pound pack on is quite a blast.
After another long descent, we finally made it into camp around 6 PM, ending a very, very long day. Hiking in a group of 18 proved a tougher challenge than I think anyone expected, especially in terms of the range of hiking speed and because of a condition I'd only heard defined for the first time today: "Hangry". It means that you're angry because you're hungry. There were alot of hangry people at different times during the day, including myself at a couple points. Though no Wilderness Funk appeared, I was quite able to enjoy the beautiful sights of the day for what they were. And they were quite beautiful, it's not often one gets to see Switzerland, especially when they are smack dab in the middle of Wyoming.
A great dinner of falafel cakes, which I'd never had before, topped with a mix of lentils, dried veggies, onions, and dried peppers ensued. To compare my eating style on this night to anything but an industrial strength vacuum cleaner would be an injustice. Had a few snacks afterwards, but it was a tough night for food. I won't say I went to bed hungry, but the reality of rationing reared its ugly head. After a 12 hour day, you just want to devour
every bit of food in sight. When you only get to devour a fifth of it, you live with it, but boy a bit of mac and cheese sure would be tasty:).
All in all, the day was a success! We hiked up 3,000 feet and down around 2,000, covered a solid 8 miles over 12 hours, dinner. That is the thing about the wilderness, life gets brought down to the simplest roots. Success is defined in living to accomplish a set of tasks and in doing them well. You have to set up a good tent or you might get rained on at night. You have to hike from Point A to Point B every day or you risk being too far away when pick-up day comes. You have to cook a good meal or you won't eat well. It helps you remember that life is really built on the basics of sleeping safely, sustainable eating, and work that allows you to do both of those. Everything else is secondary. That has been an important lesson for me: Don't get stressed and allow complication to enter where the simplicity of life isn't concerned. Because really, if one has those simple things covered today, and one is alive, I'd venture to say there is at least something in which happiness can be found, and one should concentrate on that for the simple reason of being alive to do so.
5:05 AM. The watch alarm blared with a stark reminder of the challenge we were about to face: Hiking around a mountain with 2500-3000 feet of elevation gain. We had to wake up very early because when you're going up to 11,000 feet, afternoon thunderstorms are a dangerous possibility. If you get stuck in one, you're much more likely to get struck by lightning than if you're at sea level. My group got our engines cranked up for the day with some gingerbread pancakes, which were surprisingly awesome, especially when dipped in brown sugar!