Saturday, August 22, 2009

Trials of the Weather, Pleasures of the Trail - Summit

I was pleased to see the familiar blue walls of the tent and Andrew in his sleeping bag beside me in the morning. This bright spot was followed by the sadder realization that we were hiking through the pass in a gale. A good breakfast, oatmeal with landjager sausage, my Ibeprofan with lots of water and some good stretches got us on to the trail, the last of our group to leave Sheep Camp.

There was no rain at first. We wound upwards, scrambling over the rocks of Long Hill and gradually escaping the forest shrinking first to stunted alpine fir and then just scattered willows, and into the rain. We could feel the wind pushing us onward and upwards. We caught up to the others and worked together to cross the many fords in the barren rockscape and made our way to the Scales at the base of the final climb. By now our feet were liberated from dryness, the first ford had filled our boots, and our load heavier as the rain soaked both clothes and packs.

By this time driving rain and thick fog canceled our plans for a hot drink before tackling the summit. We found a sheltered niche, hurriedly ate chocolate, nuts and swallowed some water while pulling on our rain pants to cut the wind - we were already soaked. We started again as the chill began seeping into my bones, must keep moving to stay warm. The barren stones of the Scales slanted ahead in a dark watery soup, the dense fog cramping our view even more than thoroughly than the forest we'd left behind. We'd moved from the Brothers' Grimm to the darkest parts of the Lord of the Rings.

We moved across a field of rippled ice, every foot step sliding in a different direction, the water in our boots sloshing with the sudden jerky movements. The wind blasted us forward. I was grateful for the heavy pack which kept my back warm and dry. And then the orange trail poles guiding us through the weather began to rise one above another on a crazy cascade of smashed boulders - we were at the Golden Stairs. We scrambled over the broken surface, each of us finding our own way amongst the carnage of rock, old timbers, and abandoned cables of the gold rush tramways, the wind howling and streaming rain plastering our hoods and legs. The base of the Stairs disappeared in the fog and we push on, certain only that we are going upwards, hoping soon to see the crest.

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