CDT Day 2: Gable Creek Campground to Poia Lake – Perfect Privy Camp to William Merrybeet Camp
Miles hiked: 14.4
Total miles: 36.9
The alarm went off at 6am. We snoozed until 6:30. We wanted to start early for our first ‘real’ day on the CDT, but not that early. Dark clouds began to rumble before we even started hiking as we packed up camp then ate breakfast. My back was feeling looser, so already I was feeling good about the day despite the weather.
The rain started just before we left camp at 7:30am, so I had time to prepare my pack cover and umbrella before heading off. Pea-sized hail mixed with the rain for five minutes before tapering off completely, just long enough to soak the plants lining the trail. But a little wetness wasn’t going to dampen my mood. The meadow filled with dandelion and yellow yarrow and peaks coming and going through the crashing clouds was sight enough to keep me smiling.
The trail rose gradually to Lake Elizabeth, following the Belly River up the valley. There was one big misty waterfall to oggle at, and about a bajillion mosquitos to hide from. In the five seconds it took me to put on my headnet, I was gifted five new bites on the back of my neck. Spice had already put on DEET, like a smart person, and so was unfamiliar with the severity of the situation. Her smile was enough to help me remember my own. After 4 miles, we reached the lake. Big and beautiful though it was, the bugs persisted and the rain started up again, so we kept moving.
The downpour was short-lived, but the steep trail was here to stay. Spice and I chugged along steadily, with brief stops to observe the clouds swirling through the valley and over the peaks. Sometimes we were completely engulfed in haze, other times we were treated to expansive views of the entire steep-walled arena, sharp ridges up high and long Lake Elizabeth down low.
The terrain opened up as we reached, then crossed the tree line. The thunder had ceased a while back, so this was all good. Small patches of snow and stunted pine scrolled by as we followed the trail on a long traverse below a peak with no summit. We managed to convince ourselves that we were at the pass, but then took it easy as the trail steepened, then began switchbacking again. Cloud continued to blow through as we crunched on the gravely tread until we had climbed high enough to be totally in it. My legs were tired by all this darned walking, so I was happy to break frequently to admire the strange flowers and stone on and along the trail. Cool purple flowers tipped with bobbles of yellow pollen, deep red shale mixed with vibrant green other-shale. But then the switchbacks ended and I was at the pass, Spice just a few minutes behind me. Red Gap Pass (7,543ft), the first pass of the CDT. Probably, no definitely, the hardest one too.
Some other CDTers came and went as we snacked on top in the cloud. Views opened briefly and spectacularly, but were fleeting. Tired with the cold wind, we finally got moving to complete the last six miles to camp, feeling good about ourselves, the CDT, and life in general.
Long switchbacks delivered us to new views and new trees in a new valley. The sun finally broke through as we followed a river through a long meadow, giving us an excuse to drop packs and lay out a bit.
We were feeling fine indeed when Poia Lake, our home for the evening, came into view. That feeling changed instantly when Spice took a slip while crossing a creek, slamming her right knee cap into a rock with maximum force. The blow left her leggings torn and skin bloodied. It scared the heck out of me and I couldn’t imagine the pain she was feeling. My words of concern/encouragement felt embarrassingly inadequate to my ears. But Spice is so strong. After a few minutes she got up to tough out the last half mile to camp. Hopefully it won’t turn into anything more than an extremely gnarly bruise and a humbling reminder that all it takes is one bad step…
The campground was good. The pit toilet was good. Dinner was good. We turned in early to focus on stretching and resting our bodies after the toughest, yet most rewarding day on trail yet. The tent protects us from the passing showers and a local bunny protects us from whatever is scared of bunnies. Let’s see how our bodies bounce back by tomorrow, a much bigger day by all measures.