CDT Day 138: 21.5 miles /34.5 km
CDT SOBO: Mile 2096.0 – 2117.5
Sunday September 1, 2019
Camp (10,800′) – Meadow (10,500) – Snowslide Trail Jn (11,959′) – High Point (12,400′) – Pass (11,900′) – Knife Edge (11,900′) – Cherokee Lake (11,700′)
Cross a meadow our map instructions said, how hard can that be? We wanted to avoid getting stuck on a ridge near the Knife Edge at the end of the day, so to make miles we left our campsite earlier then usual this morning. It was beautiful hiking under a huge sky dotted with shining stars twinkling like diamonds. I was so tempted to stop and take a photo, but there was no time.
When we got to the edge of the meadow it was still dark. The route map showed a sharp left turn to cross the meadow. There was a trail marker but there was no trail to the left. We followed the map regardless and on reaching the creek flowing through the meadow, found it to be too wide and too deep to cross. So we backtracked to the trail marker. On retracing our steps, Hammers eye was caught by a green light reflecting in the grass a little way to the left of us. Getting closer we realised it was a nasty looking arrow with a small LED on the end. Yikes, is Sept 1 the start of hunting season? We left the arrow near the trail marker post and from here we decided to follow an alternate trail to the north of the CDT. Confusingly this trail also had CDT trail marker posts. And from this trail a right turn to a side trail through the meadow that was on our map was also non- existent on the ground. We followed the route of this non-existent trail through knee-deep frost covered grass. Feet were well and truly wet and cold but adrenaline drove me to push on and get out of this mess.
Off to the right edge of the meadow our headlights caught two sets of small lights in the distance. Could this be the hunters, was my thought? Hammer saw one row of lights turn sideways, so we guessed they were hunters. My heart was in my throat….WTF.
We came to the tributary creek crossing the meadow. This creek was deep but narrow and we could jump across without taking our shoes off. We were two thirds of the way across the meadow when Hammer said, this is just not right, something is wrong. That was an understatement. Anyhow we were committed. Trudging through in the dark we eventual rose above the bog and connected with the CDT trail again through the forest on the other side. It was such a relief, we were back on trail. It was a long climb through mostly dead pine forest and up a creek valley as it stared to get light.
Once we above the treeline I could finally relax. I had sunshine on my face. We weren’t completely above the trees though, the damn willows lined the trail for the remainer of the climb. I was trying to put the morning behind me. The adrenaline and the what ifs, were pushed to the periphery and we stopped for breakfast. The views back were surprising. The Rio Grande Pyramid with the Window were way off in the distance. Hard to believe we were below it just yesterday afternoon.
While having breakfast and taking in the view, the early morning silence was broken by coyotes howling somewhere in the distance. I imagined they were howling for the loss of the pine forest so thoroughly destroyed by the mountain pine beetle.
After breakfast we began a series of ascents and descents around tarn shelves lined with small lakes. The climbs and descents were not too onerous but there plenty of them.
Stopping for lunch the sun was shining and we worked out that we had plenty of time to make the climb of the Knife Edge and descend on the other side before it got dark.
Partway up a climb to a trail high point it started to spit rain. We were surprised and did not think it would last as the weather forecast did not predict rain. We put on our rain jackets and within 4 or 5 minutes the rain turned to hail. The hail was sizable enough that it hurt. As we were half way up the climb we found a few small pine trees to provide shelter. I pushed my body against one pine tree and Hammer was crouching down near another nearby.
The pine trees were barely taller then we were but they did stop a few direct hits. The clouds above us continued to darken and soon thunder accompanied the intensifying hail. Strangely in the distance I could see that the sun was shining and illuminating a distant mountain. My worst fear was realised. We were yet again exposed and cold, high on a mountain in a thunderstorm. We were lucky there was no lightening. The hailstorm lasted close to an hour.
By the time it stopped I frozen solid. There was a thick layer of slushy hail lining the trail. Hammer wanted to start moving to try and warm up as the storm was moving off. I agreed but as soon we started to climb through the thick layer of hail on the ground I had an anxiety attack so bad I couldn’t get enough air to breathe.
I was wet and cold, on the side of a high mountain trudging through slushy and melting hail. Mysery rose up while I was unguarded and it choaked me. I couldn’t breathe.
Hammer stopped and held me, very calmly asking me to focus on my breath. It worked, I choaked back tears and got moving again. I was thoroughly broken by this trail yet again.
As we climbed to the high point, I started to see my shadow and soon the sun was out. We dropped over the high point to a lake where a few tents were set up. I would have dearly loved to stop here but Hammer thought that since the sunshine was back we still had enough time to make the Knife Edge climb and reach Cherokee Lake before it got dark. I was emotionally exhausted and really wanted to stop but the thought of doing the Knife Edge climb the next morning was not so appealing. So we pushed on.
The Knife Edge was a heart in throat, hair raising trail. A norrow strip of trail, eroded in parts, hig up on the side of a vertical rock wall. I could just focus on the ground and my feet. A look any further up or down or along would have made me panic or vomit or some other calamity. My nerves were severely frayed by the emotionally taxing day which started well before dawn. Hammer on the other hand was as solid as a rock and so reassuring.
I was ever so relieved to get it done and get off this mountain. We descended over the other side and got the tent up as the sunset started to illuminate the leftover clouds. As it got dark coyotes started howling. Their calls echoed around the ancient glacial cirque we were camped in. It was quite eerie. What a way to close out a tough day on trail.