By 7:15 AM, Tommy and I had breakfast preparation underway. The meal: Cheesy Biscuits. I'd made them once before about 10 days prior and they were a big hit. This time was no exception. Luckily, it was a very fine, relatively warm morning so my hands were not frozen in the dough. Because we were camping at 9,800 feet, I had already resigned myself to the fact that the morning would be very cold. The warmth was a welcome surprise.
The consistency of the dough was a touch more watery than I wanted, but the overall effect was the same as before and that's all that matters: Delicious goodness. Something about a biscuit stuffed with a large hunk of cheese, subsequently fried, does the soul right.
At 9:30, we were on the trail. I was leading the first group with Theo, Hunter, Avery, Tommy, and Annemarie. The first hour and thirty minutes saw us climb about 1500 feet over 2 miles. We got to take a break on the side of a hill after an hour, which gave us a spectacular view of our campsite the night before from over 1,000 feet above it. Seeing your previous night's sleeping place as a small grassy patch from that high up is a lovely reminder of just how small we humans really are.
When we crested the hill onto the Shoshone Plateau, a very large, flat area sitting at over 11,000 feet, the trail disappeared in favor of cairns. Someone had gone to great lengths to build them, as each one consisted of a 3-5 foot tall tree trunk surrounded by big rocks. There weren't any trees or big rocks in the area, so someone had to carry them at least a few miles. Champions. We followed the cairns for the next couple miles, with the next one coming into view only as we met the current one. This led to just a bit of consternation on my part, peering across this vast space in all directions and having little clue as to where we were going next. Eventually, we broke out the compass to confirm our direction, like real wilderness folk. Not having a map for this section made things a bit tough, but with a little collaboration, we made our way to the big checkpoint before we got back on an actual trail: Cougar Pass.
From there, the incline stopped and the decline began in force. Over the final 5-6 miles of the hike, we hiked down 2,600 feet. This can get very tough on the feet and knees, with constant, sustained pounding over a few hours. We did witness some very lovely scenery on the way down, including a waterfall that cut into a snowpack, so that a tunnel through the snowpack was formed by the rushing water. By the end of our 8 miles, we were quite bushed and began to scout for camp and kitchen. My group had gotten to camp around 5 and was once again awesome. I got a lot of great feedback and was able to give the same to the group as well.
Once again, leave it to me to be the guy responsible for a mix-up :). We had counted out our 70 paces from water to kitchen, and a successive 100 paces from kitchen to camp. Unbeknownst to us, the river sharply curved in towards our kitchen, meaning that we were only 40 paces from the water. Figures :). So, upon the instructors' discovery of this fact, I got up and counted new paces for kitchen, which we would end up moving to once dinner was finished.
For dinner, Theo and I made a tasty rice & bean chili, which more than hit the spot after an 8 mile day. As I was preparing an Absaroka Mudslide for dessert, we heard a loud clash of thunder and had to retreat for cover, getting into lightning position once we got there. As I crouched under a tree, staying out of the rain for the most part except for the stray drop or two that maneuvered its way through the myriad of branches and pine needles, I had a good moment of reflection about the trip so far. This was one heck of an experience. We'd hiked 80-90 miles in the wilderness of our own volition, cooking meals, working together, and enjoying scenery few people in this world ever get to view. What a wild and crazy adventure, with just a few days remaining. Something about the soft pitter patter of rain against the forest floor as dusk quietly approaches...it always brings me to a place of quiet introspection, lost in thoughts of life and the important things and what's to come. Good things to ponder.
The lightning and rain dissipated after about 15 minutes, and dessert was a raging success. The Absaroka Mudslide provided the carmel-like goodness for which I'd been hoping, graciously satisfying my sugar tooth. Didn't help me get to sleep though. Even with 8 hours of hiking today, the Absaroka Mudslide kept me lying in my sleeping bag staring at the tent ceiling for at least an hour. Quite a rare occurrence on the trip. But eventually, Sleep stopped playing hide and go seek in the woods with Father Time and the Boogeyman and tucked me in for the night.
August 9 was QUITE a jam-packed day. Oh what's that? What kind of jam, you ask? Hmmm...let's go with Raspberry, just because Dark Helmet hates it with a passion. Spaceballs: Legendary movie.