Tales From the Trail: Exhaustion, Dehydration. Worth It

I made my way down Anderson Pass, going through my favorite boulder field, and finally hitting the trail down into the basin.  I passed the weary couple who descended down mountain prematurely due to weather concerns.  We talked a little, I noted how right they were for getting down early.  I felt like such an ass, not only did I ignore my gut feeling about the weather, I was also totally out of water.  I cut the conversation short so I could make a mad dash to the stream that seemed a lifetime away from me.

It rained on and off for a while, and my warm shell repelled most of it.  Eventually the sun crept through the clouds every so often, and I dried off soon enough.  I glared at dry creek beds, cheered at familiar land marks, and in the distance I could just make out where the stream was.

Note: This was taken earlier in the day.  I wasn’t much in the mood for taking pictures as I made my way back.  I think you can understand why.

There was one more mountain I had to get around before I hit Gunsight Pass again.  Below Gunsight was a good-sized river I could filter from.  At this point I couldn’t even wet my throat.  It was so dry that it even refused to let saliva roll past.  I could feel the walls of my throat getting stuck together whenever I tried, it wasn’t the most comforting feeling in the world.

If it were up to me, I would have just sprinted for the river.  But I had just crossed two basins, climbed over two passes, up a mountain, down a mountain, down a pass, and walked through half of another basin.  I hadn’t eaten much in the last few days, I was running on maybe a few hours of sleep.  And I had to make sure I didn’t make myself any more thirsty than I already was.  So I took it easy and constantly checked around me for other water sources.  There were none.  All I could see were remnants of old creeks.  Jerks.

When I reached the river, I wasted no time.  My pack was off my back and on the ground within a second.  My hands were frantically searching for my filter and bladder.  As soon as I had them I gently placed my filter somewhere secure, and threw the bladder in the river to collect water.  When it was full, I wasted no time.  I screwed the bladder onto my Sawyer and just drank from it that way.  My heart stopped for a moment when my first mouthful of water couldn’t be swallowed.  My throat wasn’t cooperating at all.  I had to throw my head up and let the water rest at my throat for a while to let my throat rehydrate a bit, and eventually I was able to gulp it down.  The second mouthful wasn’t much easier, but eventually I was able to chug the rest of the bladders contents down.  I did this a few more times.

As I was filtering the last bit for my walk back to camp, the selfie stick couple came down to the river.  We talked for a bit about the storm, water, hiking, where we were from, and about their little Terrier strapped to one of their backs.  This dog was in his own world, he didn’t care about mountains or hiking, he was just hanging out on his owners back.  If I weren’t so tired, I would have found this hilarious.  At some point in the discussion, I was politely scolded for pressing on despite the weather.  They figured since I was going up, it was safe (Do not listen to other hikers, do not listen to other hikers, do not listen to other hikers).  I shrugged it off and made my way back.

The last hurdle ahead of me was Gunsight Pass.  After that, it would be easy walking back to camp.  But getting over it was probably one of the hardest things I did all day.  As I started climbing up, my body just didn’t want to exist anymore.  My legs were beyond rubber, and getting them to cooperate was a little challenging.  My head was pounding and I was feeling very nauseous.  This may have been from dehydration or elevation or any number/combination of things.  Don’t know don’t care, I feel like shit.  After 15 minutes of walking up the hill, I had to stop and rest.  I gulped down more water and tried to psych myself up.  “Dude you just climbed up a mountain, you can’t make it up over a little hill?  Are you kidding me?”.  Obviously this didn’t work so well.

But I walked on nonetheless.  My headache persisted, my nausea pushed against my stomach, and eventually my vision started to blur a bit.  It wasn’t like I was seeing double, but things were looking kind of fuzzy, kind of like they were leaving comet trails behind them as I looked around.  I wasn’t in any state to feel worried about this.  At this point, the only thing I was worried about, the only thing I’d ever known to exist, was this last pass.  I had to make it over.  I couldn’t stay here.

The sun was starting to fall over the peaks as I finally made it to the top.  Somehow I stayed ahead of Mr. and Ms. Selfie Stick, but we met each other at the top.  They stayed back to rest. I didn’t know what rest was.  I started my descent.  I imagine me crawling down the talus on the last pass looked something like a wet noodle being casually tossed from the top, or a slinky going awry on its systematic descent.  It wasn’t graceful, but I made it down.  When I got to the bottom, I looked back and noticed they had just started to make their way down.  They looked out for me while I crawled off the peak, I felt obliged to make sure they were still making their way back to camp.

I made my way from the pass and was thrown back out into Henrys Fork Basin, where I was camped.  The clouds were really starting to push away now, and the sun was announcing its existence once again as it descended.

As I pushed on, I passed people meandering around the basin.  They were talking, laughing, taking photos, and undwinding from their long day of hiking to/from the peak.  I was just a ghost blowing past them.  They’d try to strike up conversation, and I’d make every effort to at least smile and wave, but I couldn’t talk.  I didn’t have the energy, and my throat was still feeling a bit like sand paper.  I ran out of water again once I hit the basin, but I had plenty waiting for me at camp.

At the very least, I could still admire the beauty around me.  The last picture I took is the one I like to use to summarize my trip here.  I don’t share the summit photos nearly as much as I share this one.  I had been pushed to a limit that day, and I came back to soft grass, soft sunlight, a giant herd of sheep, and scenery stretching on for miles.

Even in my exhaustion, I had to stop and admire it for a bit.  This was the view I worked hard for.  This is what made the day worth it, screw the summit view.  This was awesome.

I eventually left and made the final push for camp.  I had a bit of hard time finding it at first, but I eventually found it nestled in the trees.  When I got to the makeshift fire pit, I collapsed.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, my body just stopped working.  Lying down in the dirt, I unbuckled my pack and threw it off.  The trees loomed over my head and brushed gently in the breeze, the sun was still out but saying its goodbyes to the basin.  I remembered how hungry I was.

I was able to sit up, and from there I stumbled over to the tree my food was hanging from.  I untied the rope and let the bag free-fall from the branch.  I ripped the top open and grabbed a handful of jerky and shoved it in my mouth.

OW WHAT THE FUCK

The jerky actually stung my mouth, akin to pouring alcohol over a wound.  I figured it was maybe the pepper or something in the jerky wreaking havoc on my dry throat.  I swallowed it, looked at the bag of jerky, and took another handful.  I did that until I couldn’t stand the pain anymore, and just went for a granola bar.  As I snacked, I threw my kettle on the stove and started to boil water.  I had absolutely no energy or patience for making a meal, but my hunger trumped any of that.  I ate four more granola bars while I waited for the water to boil.

Once I had the water in the freeze dried food pouch, I resumed my “Kill me” position in the dirt and continued to watch the sky turn dark.  I wish I could say I had some grand realization about life and its struggles, or how nature whispered something profound to me.  The best I have for you is I felt like a permanent fixture in the woods, like any of the rocks.  My mind wasn’t doing anything, I didn’t think anything, feel anything, say anything.  Until I remembered my food was probably done, I didn’t even feel alive.

I inhaled my food, somehow managed to hang my bag back up, and threw myself into my tent.  I didn’t bother to get into my bag, I just draped it over me and immediately fell asleep.  I don’t think a bear could have even woken me up that night.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt incredible.  My legs didn’t hurt, my feet didn’t hurt, I could have gone back and climbed the mountain again if I wanted to.  My mind was no longer in a fog, and I could actually think.  I looked at my GPS and went over the time I left and the time I got back.  Final tally:

It took me 10 hours to get to, up, down, and from Kings Peak, an expanse of 18 miles.  I certainly could have made better time on a more forgiving trail, but considering all the hurdles, I felt proud.  Faced with the question again:  Can I do the PCT?  Hell yeah I can.  Do I even want to after this?  Even more than ever.  Something happens to you when you come out of a situation where things are going perpetually wrong.  When you cross into a calm basin lush with wildlife after a bad day, it strikes a part of you that seemingly doesn’t exist in your regular life.  I don’t know if it changes you, you just find a certain side of yourself that almost isn’t allowed to flourish in our concrete world.  I felt more than ever at that point that doing a thru-hike was the right thing to do.

I debated staying another night, but I didn’t particularly feel like hanging around camp.  As I ate breakfast, I watched a couple of bucks fight in the distance and listened to crash of their antlers hitting each other.  I listened to the breeze blow through my camp.  I still felt like a fixture on the hillside, albeit one eating ramen for breakfast.  I decided to leave, I still had stuff to do and my time off work was running out.  I packed up camp and made my way back to the stream for one last round of filtering water.  I sat by the stream yet again and thought about nothing in particular, just admiring the view.

It was hard to leave.  Once I hit the treeline started leaving the basin behind, I felt like I was making a mistake by leaving.  Then a fresh thunderstorm blew in and lit a fire under my ass.  I jogged down the trail to stay in the trees (people debate back and forth about this:  It’s safer to stay in an open area!  It’s safer in the trees!  There is no safe in a thunderstorm outside.  My logic is that I can at least filter out potential strikes by being among a bunch of tall objects rather than being the one slight lump out in an open area.. but don’t take my word for it, I’m not an expert).  I made it back into the trees, and the storm blew in closer and closer.  By the time I was near the end of the trail, it was pretty much right over me.  I decided to just sprint for my car, and before I knew it, I was leaving the beautiful High Uintas behind me and was back in Wyoming.  I’ve never felt better in my life than I did after that trip.

 

 

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