CDT Day 5: Red Eagle Lake to Old Man Lake – Bonus Hour Camp to Solo Winter Camp
Miles hiked: 18.5
Total miles: 93.2
Mornings are hard to write about. The sun came up, then we got up. That’s pretty much the story everyday, and it was no different today. A moose did decide to join us for breakfast, however. He munched green slime from the bottom of the lake, I spooned dry granola from a Ziploc. Spice and I said goodbye to our large friend around 9am to see what we would see.
We continued our gradual climb up the valley through a burn zone that eventually tapered out into the typical foresty flora. My pack was feeling lighter and my legs feeling stronger, though fatigued, as the trees and mountain views scrolled by.
The flattish valley ended abruptly at a steep cliff, a few hundred feet high. It was not abundantly clear how the trail would make it past this obstacle, but, sure enough, clever zigzagging got us up there. The trees receded, replaced by a carpet of yellow columbine, allowing the views to open up in glorious fashion. Rain clouds blew safely to the north, causing shadows to dance across the long line of mountains that marched into the distance. There were a couple of dirty snow patches to contend with before the final Rocky switchbacks to the first pass of the day. Triple Divide Pass (7,375ft).
It may not surprise you, dear reader, to hear that the view from up there totally ruled. The vertical north face of Triple Divide Peak plunged down and around in a massive basin. Sharp ridgelines swooped between pointed peaks, mimicking spans of a suspension bridge. Another hiker, Rafiki, showed up five minutes later, with Spice five behind him. We stretched out on a wide flat spot to soak in the blazing sun and eat Oreos.
Tailspin and Paws, two other familiar faces joined the party, as did a family of mountains goats and army of marmots.
The goats did their own thing, hopping across cliff faces with natural nonchalance. The fearless marmots did their best to snack on our salty sweat. One big guy literally took a nibble at the back of my shirt. Another nearly ran away with Spice’s trekking pole before ditching it to shake our pursuit. The situation settled into an uneasy truce, so Spice and I took the opportunity to trade massages of each other’s sore legs. Her work really loosened up my back, so I was feeling fine when we finally saddled up to find the next thing, an hour and a half after arriving.
A tremendous diagonal path cut down the adjacent mountainside to deliver us to Atlantic Creek. The walking was easy, yet progress slow due to an plethora of fine views in every direction. After crossing the creek, the trail brought us through another densely forested valley, this with cool afternoon shade. And just like the last one, a steep climb to a pass waited for us at the end.
The climb was punishing for my tired, end-of-day legs. Though the grade was quite gentle, somewhere between one and two miles of trail were covered with snow. Following footprints was easy, but snow is a slippery surface to walk on. Totally gassed, I crammed a bunch of trail mix into my belly to fuel me up the last few switchbacks of clear trail to Pitamakan Pass (7,625ft).
This was my favorite pass yet, with a rounded ridge dividing two deep basins of icy lakes. The golden hour lighting probably had something to do with it too. Though it was getting late now, the wind was down so the air was peaceful and warm. Birds sang cheerfully as they do after a storm has passed by.
A short, crunchy descent plopped me and Spice at Old Man Lake, the name appropriate for how I was feeling. With the campground officially still in “winter status,” we had it all to ourselves, meaning that, with no other humans around, all sounds could be blamed on grizzly bears if the mind were allowed to wander.
The food bags tried to crush Spice during the hanging process, but otherwise the night is calm. I predict there to be 100% chance of relaxation.
On the descent from Pitamakan Pass, as my knees grumbled at the abuse, my mind wandered back to the PCT and how to judge the difference in my strength between then and now. I was four years younger then, very much in my prime at 25, and probably in better shape. I had been training for the PCT by hiking around 30 miles a week for months in advance. In contrast, I didn’t really have a training period for this hike. Trail time was hard to come by. Between that and dealing with a significant back injury incurred just three weeks ago, I’m in less than ideal shape this time around. But, you know what? I feel a lot better now on day 5 of the CDT then I did at the same point of the PCT. Sure, I’m not comparing apples to apples here, the two trails could not start more differently, but the discrepancy is interesting nonetheless. Physically, I’m holding up a lot better on the CDT, with no blisters to influence my every step as they did for the first 300 miles on the PCT. Mentally, I’ve never been sharper. I don’t believe experience is necessary to thru-hike, but it helps a whole lot. As result of my time on the PCT, I feel the flow of the trail as I navigate the sometimes turbulent, other times tranquil waters of this vagabond life. I’m no longer bothered by hiking past sunset. I’m not anxious about starting an 18 mile day at noon. My thoughts are not consumed by what may be four months from now. Instead, I am open to whatever may come, planned or unexpected, and this makes me feel free in a way I never grasped on the PCT.