By some strange alignment of the stars or something, Dad and I were the first up the next morning. Dad chatted with a backpacker who wasn't a part of our group while I soaked my feet in the stream, psyching myself up to do the most difficult climb of the hike. When I eventually shuffled my way over to the picnic table, Dad introduced me to the other backpacker.
"She's already done the hike a few times," my dad said to me.
"This is the third time," the woman said, "but the last was in 1997."
"Show her your heels," said my dad.
"Ouch," the woman said with a matronly smile. "You'll survive."
For some random reason, I believed her. Maybe I figured she was credible, having done the trail twice already. Maybe I was tired of summoning up despair every time I contemplated the next leg.
Feeling a bit better, I helped make breakfast. Breakfast each morning consisted of maple and brown sugar flavoured instant oatmeal. It was kind of like sludge. We also had thick slices of marble cheese from Luke, who had packed an entire slab. I'm guessing they were so thick because he wanted us to eat the weight away. Also, he was probably tired of making it resolidify in the stream each day after the hike.
This morning, the instant oatmeal and cheese was not enough. I decided I was still hungry. And given that this next stretch of the hike was considered the most difficult, I was not willing to try it on an empty stomach.
"I'm still hungry," I said, hoping someone would offer me their food.
"Have some peanut butter," said Andrew. Clary had lifted a few peanut butter packets from the restaurant we ate at the night before the hike. Andrew, on the other hand, had packed an entire jar. I think he was also looking to have us eat the weight away. I used my spoon and dug in.
After breakfast, we taped up my feet again. This time, we held nothing back. There were 7 layers:
1) polysporin over the blisters
2) bandaids over the polysporin
3) athletic tape over the bandaids and the rest of the tender skin
4) duct tape over athletic tape to make sure it stuck
5) duct tape strips to tape the first layer of duct tape so it didn't shift
6) thick socks
7) another thick sock on my right foot
Yes, that does mean I was visibly wearing mismatched socks.
I do believe I now qualify as the blister wrapping queen. It was like having sandals within my sandals.
Still, it was a long way - a very long very uphill way - to go, so I was worried.
"I think," I said to the group as we broke after breakfast, "I will have to pretend that I am escaping from Nazis over the mountain to keep me motivated to go on."
"From the Nazis?" they replied.
"Yes," I said. "Unless someone motivates me by, I don't know, bribes or sweet promises to carry me part of the way."
"We're interested in this Nazi story," they said. And they genuinely were. They asked for periodic updates on how far behind us the Nazis were and whether they had been bright enough to discern our trail. Maybe they needed the motivation themselves. I was happy to share it. The trail was sitting easily at thirty degrees, at least. And that was before we got to the steep part.
Then we did get to the steep part.
One of those leaps brought us to the Notch, the most highlighted feature of the entire hike. It's also the physically highest point. My first thought upon realizing we had crested the Notch was, "What? That was it? The most difficult part of the hike, and that was it? That was nothing compared to yesterday!" The second thought was, "There's no way those Nazis are getting us up here!"
As relatively fresh as we were, we were still not as fresh as Braden. Upon climbing into the Notch, he casually dropped his backpack and proceeded to run up the peak. He was basically prancing. Gillian and I shook our heads, then dropped our own backpacks, and proceeded to sit down and snack. Then Braden came back with what is probably my favourite picture of the entire hike. The dark splotches in the middle are us, by the way. Click to enlarge if you don't believe it.
Following a brief lunch at the Notch, we kept moving. This is the part of the hike that gave the Skyline its name. It was an incredible walk on the ridge. If you turned your head to the right, you saw down one side of the mountain and everything beyond it. If you turned your head to the left, you saw down the other side and everything beyond. I really did feel like I was on top of the world.
But it wasn't just me up there. Up where there's nothing but harsh winds, driving elements, extreme temperatures and rocks... there were flowers. Not giant fields of them, and not big ones, but they were beautiful, brightly coloured pinks and yellows. Up where strong and majestic trees were unable to survive, up where weeds and grass couldn't even find the sustenance to grow, these fragile little flowers blossomed.
I found it inspiring.
Though, perhaps my personification of plants is what makes it a psychological ordeal to prune my bottle gardens.
Shortly after this ridge walk, Clary decided the trail wasn't difficult enough, so she took Gillian and added a hike to their hike. The rest of us stuck to the path. Believe it or not, that little blip along the edge is them. Again, click to enlarge if you must.
"I wasn't aware they were so far behind me," I said as I came down into the bowl.
"That's because you're a speed demon," said Andrew.
"Or just naive," said Justin. Then he paused and reconsidered. "No," he amended, "you're a speed demon."
I guess in comparison to the day before, I was a speed demon. It's all relative. I'll take it.
This little bowl was my favourite part of the whole hike. As soon as you took a few steps up the side, you had a spectacular view and understood just how high up you were. But in the bowl, it was like a tiny little world of its own. There was a snow patch that was melting, and the melt-water was forming a pool large enough that we were able to skip rocks and refill our water bottles. It was a treat, seeing as we had been told that there wasn't going to be any place to refill our bottles for some distance yet.
Then Gillian hit on an idea.
"Let's walk out today," she said.
"Pardon?" we replied.
"I don't want to spend another night camping. We should just hike out today," she said.
As relatively energetic as I still was, I was not enchanted with this idea. Neither was just about anyone else, with the exception of Clary. She would have hiked out that day if she hadn't felt obligated, as the hike organizer, to stay with her group of charges. She would have hiked out and then spent the extra day hiking back in and then out again. She likes hiking. But it would have been bad form, so Gillian was overruled.
The next day she even had the grace not to say I-told-you-so.
The rest of the day was full of meadows and marmots, one of which I had a conversation with. It was delightful.
Naturally, with him giving us updates on where the orcs were and me giving updates on the Nazis, a debate broke out about whether it would be worse to be hunted by Nazis or by orcs. My vote was for Nazis. Orcs are weak in daylight, travel in giant smelly hordes, lack any semblance of stealth, and will kill each other if left to their own devices for long enough. Also, they have to physically catch you to kill you. Nazis have brains, wear camouflage, and can shoot you from afar. Even having cleared the Notch, I was wary of rock ledges where snipers could be hiding.
When the day's walk was finally done, we settled at the camp and made supper. Supper always consisted of freeze-dried food and dehydrated fruit. It was ok for a while. The males all thought it was gold.
"Next time I have to cook for someone," said Andrew, "I'll just make a few of these and not tell anyone!"
"Yeah," agreed my dad. "This is pretty good."
"I know how to wet freeze-dried food. It's easy!" said Andrew.
Meanwhile Gillian sat there glum that her meal was runny yet again.
Then Luke started making noises. "Woooo-eeee-arrrrr. Hoooo-waaaaa!"
"Luke is making airplane noises," Braden offhandedly pointed out.
"Oh. I thought he was having a conversation with a fly," said I.
"I thought he was being Chewbacca," said Gillian.
"I think Carla is closest," said Justin. "Which was it, Luke?"
"I don't know," mumbled Luke. "I was just making noises."
And that was more or less the end of the third day, which more than made up for the painful second day. But there was still one more day to go.
"Climbing is as close as we can come to flying." Margaret Young