Wednesday, July 1, 2009

28 June 2009 - Extreme NW Idaho

The last two days have brought some extreme physical tests, including much time on our feet. Two days ago we hiked 26 miles, including a power hike the last 8 miles when we ascended over 3,000 feet. Despite our speed at the end, we still didn't stop until after the sun went down.

Yesterday was another exhausting day, but its content was quite unique from the day before> We began hiking a bit after 7 am, and a series of adventures kept us on our feet until nearly 10 pm. The day startd with a beautiful hike to a picturesque mountain lake. We then continued up a trail to a mountain ridge, following a trail that was completely ice and snow covered. The switchback on the snow would have been impossible without trekking poles.

Upon reaching the ridge, we began our day of bushwhacking. The PNT is a network of trails. Sometimes there are no trails, so you have to bushwhack between trails. Most people never have to do so, juist the few of us who are doing the whole route (a handful a year). We began by finding our way along the contour of 1 mountain. After laboriously climbing over a boulder field wh ich looked all too ready to re-adjust, we reached the top of another mountain. This summit offerred spectacular vistas with mountains all around, allowing us to see 100s of miles in all directions thanks to clear skies.

The top was all snow, and we slid our way on the snow from peak to peak. Eventually we needed to descend from the mountains into a small river valley and then fight our way through the valley to an eventual road. We needed to find a good spot to make our drop into the valley; unfortunately we chose poorly. Trees blocked our view of a good potential route, so we all started down together, and at our first cliff we fanned out, looking for a good way down. I found myself on a rock face which had a pretty steep decline which led to a straight drop off onto a small plateau rougly 7-10 feet down followed by anotehr drop-off of unknown heights. I decided that I'd lower my bag down to the plateau and then carefully follow. Despite my plany, gravity took over first. Before I knew it, my bag was sliding down the ledge, dropping off the cliff. My bag took a few bounces and then stopped partially hanging over the next cliff. My water bottle and filter flew out of the bag, and I watched as it bounced 100s of feet down the mountain out of sight (it reminded me of the Jack Handy quote: If you drop your keys into molten lava, forget it man because they are gone). Before I had much time to react, I began sliding off the ledge. I desperately tried to grab onto anything but it was inevitable, I was falling off the cliff.

I don't know how far I fell, but a lot of thoughts flashed through my mind. I was very lucky to have landed right on my butt in a small patch of moss. No other place on the entire mountain face could have offered a softer landing. What a relief.

After my fall, there was no way I was going back up. We cautiously made our way down the mountain face, sliding in the snow, using rope on the steep parts, and very carefully scouting a route. We were so relieved to get down, that we didn't care about the bushwhack ahead of us. After hours of trudging through a dense forest, our thoughts had changed.

It took us over 8 exhausting hours to bushwhack 8 miles. We then walked 7 miles in 2 hours via road. With our pre-bushwhack miles, we had a very tough 20 mile day. Today we needed to sleep in and were lucky to find ourselves on a well worn trail which was soft and simple to follow. Twice we had to ford icy waters, but I didn't mind if it meant no bushwhacking.

Tonigth we are camped on a point on a bend in a river. The cool water temperature greatly lowers the surrounding air temp, another opportunity to test the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Today's walk also brought a complete change in the forest. Yesterday's bushwhack had dense young pine trees and think fields of thickets. Today we had old, mammoth trees (I'd estimate well over 100 years) with a forest floor blanketed in ferns.

Looking for food in our bag while on top of some mountain in Idaho. This was the mountain that we bushwhacked down the side.

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