Saturday, 1 August 2015

Pipestone: Approaching Infinity

The second day began on a high note. As I first extricated myself from the tent, Andrew greeted me with a cheery, "Carla! Guess what?! It isn't raining at the moment!"

Then Clary met me with a couple of big grey knit socks in her hand. They were dry. "Sean wants you to have these," she said, arm extended. "He had extra. He's concerned that they might be too big for you, but I told him that I really didn't think you'd mind."

I accepted this kind gift with raptures. Since the inside of my shoes were wet, I refused to put them on just then and tucked the socks away safely for nighttime use.

Sean was the source of a second hope for me that morning, as well. He had to work on Monday, so he wasn't going the full length of the hike with us. In fact, he was turning around and hiking back out again today. As we saw him off, Clary said something about the certainty of him soaking in a hot tub that night and I made some miserable comment that betrayed my dismay at the thought of getting hypothermia.

"You know," said Clary thoughtfully, "there is extra room in Sean's car."

"Yes!" Sean quickly agreed, eyes wide with sincerity.

"No!!" Dad intervened. "It's all part of the experience. And anyway, she's carrying my food."

"She could come with me and you could carry her pack, too," suggested Sean.

This suggestion was met with resistance and I felt obligated to maintain the original schedule. I longingly watched Sean begin the journey home - my last hope of escape disappearing into the trees. Then I sighed, packed up my gear, put on my wet socks, and prepared to plunge deeper the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, Mike read us a previous hiker's review of Pipestone Pass. It was novel length, quoted several prominent eastern philosophers, and made reference to the hallucinogenic agent in mushrooms. It also declared that in the glory of our stunning surroundings, I would become one with the landscape, throw off the shackles of civilization, and feel my physical limitations melt away. The author seemed a tad optimistic.

We found quite a few mushrooms growing in the mud along the path, which Andrew encouraged me to eat. I restrained myself, despite the intense desire to have no physical limitations. After all, we were a church group, and the reviewer had never stated explicitly that he'd needed any shrooms to achieve his results.

The first bit of real excitement on this day was a creek we had to cross. With all the recent rain, it was just wide enough to be a problem to jump, and deep enough that there wasn't a good rock-hop route. Nevertheless, we all made it across without falling completely in. However, as we set foot on the far side of the bank, Clary apparently stepped by a nest of wasps. In a matter of moments, she had been stung three times. I, who was following just a step or so behind her, was stung only once. Our first company halt of the day was to wring out our socks and tend to our punctured legs.

This was also the day I began to develop blisters and got a seriously pinched nerve or something at the base of my neck. Carrying thirty pounds on your shoulders all day doubtlessly does something to your spine. I'm pretty sure I shrank at least an inch over the course of the weekend.

 It was pretty, though.
The second bit of excitement came at the next pass we had to climb. As we ascended over the treeline, the wind picked up, slapping into us with a misty, icy chill. Then, when I was halfway up the pass, feeling dizzy and slightly nauseated, Mike put electrolytes in my water, Dad made me eat a fruit bar, Clary reminisced about other, more severe, cases of altitude sickness, and Andrew shouted Lord of the Rings quotes to us from far ahead.

Happily, as my symptoms subsided and I ever-so-slowly led the troops onward, vast green valleys opened up on either side of us, and a wonderfully intriguing wall of purple and green rock was displayed ahead. In my emotionally fragile state, my tears of pain almost turned into tears of joy. Even without having consumed any mushrooms.

That was the expression on my face for a good deal of the day.
Eventually we came down from the pass again, and entered a knobbly, marshy land that was difficult to walk through. The path disappeared. That's when the third interesting thing happened. We got lost.
Our destination was Lower Devon Lake. We thought we found the path, walked about a kilometer, realized it was the wrong path, walked all the way back, and poked around some more for the real route. This is where my enthusiasm really tanked. Even Clary, who was the sole member of our group that wanted to do the 31 km walk-out, eventually groaned that, "This is the hike that doesn't end," and intimated that, "This is the most vigorous one we've done since the West Coast Trail."
 
My mind hit a wall and I was done, except that we weren't done. I angrily sat on a rock and didn't move until word came back that Andrew had found our camping spot. There was no outhouse, no picnic table, and no bear pole. There were, however, many patches of upturned moss and shrubbery, which was evidence of bears in the area looking for food.

"No bear pole," said Clary, "That's what I'll miss the most. But no worries, there is a cliff to hang our stuff from."

"That can't go wrong," I replied.

A cluster of trees surrounded the flat spot for our tents. We walked in, unclipped our backpacks, and panicked as suddenly a gale force wind hit with the power of a locomotive and brought with it another storm.

"The tents!" someone yelled, "Quickly!" All hands flew to action. Clary later admitted that her sole regret from the hike was not getting a picture of Dad and me trying frantically to wrestle our tent back down to the ground. "I wanted to get the camera," she said sadly, "but Mike sometimes gets annoyed when I ask him for the camera during emergency situations."

No sooner had the tents gone up than Clary and I both dove inside. Despite not having had a bathroom break or dinner, I had no intentions of coming out again in that weather if it meant that I sat there until the same time tomorrow, with the possible exception of going outside to scream and shake my fist at the sky.

Dad followed me in a little later and dug out our waterproof cards. Meanwhile, Mike braved the elements to make Clary supper (classical music emanated from their tent), and Andrew fended for himself.

By the time we had played two rounds of Whist, the storm had stopped. Hungry, Dad and I poked our noses outside and carefully ventured beyond the trees. "It's ok," I called back to everyone else, "The sun is shining!"

"It's ok," Dad added, "She's happy again!"

Everyone stumbled out after us and looked at the sky.
Sadly, this was not the glorious last remnants of the storm that had passed, but a sign of doom. It was the vanguard of another quickly approaching storm front. We had enough time to eat and brush our teeth, but there was no dilly-dallying in camp that night. And even with the short interlude of sunshine, I continued to wear my disposable poncho.

Dad commented, "Your poncho works pretty well as a windbreaker, doesn't it?"

"Yes," I echoed. "I'm glad to have it break the wind."

"I'll show you breaking wind," said Mike.

The rain began to blow in again as the men wandered off to find a place to hang our bear bags. Meanwhile, Clary told me a story of a woman who was eaten alive by a bear in 1967.

"The day after we first heard this story, we got to hike the exact same trail, see the exact campsite, and go into the lodge where she lay on the table while she died," she ended. "It was so cool!"

We then said goodnight and crawled into our tents before the rain got any worse. I put on Sean's still-dry knit socks.

Mike and Dad slept with their cans of bear spray near their pillows and Andrew angsted all night over why he hadn't borrowed any from his father. I heard a bear roaring every time someone's sleeping bag rubbed up against their mattress, but our particular tent was shielded on two sides by trees and on the other two sides by the other tents. I took comfort in the idea that any nocturnal ursine visitors would likely eat Andrew or Mike and Clary before it came for Dad and me.

Overall, the second day of the hike was more miserable than the first. Nevertheless, I did survive.

***

ANTIGONUS (from Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale): Farewell! The day frowns more and more: thou'rt like to have a lullaby too rough: I never saw the heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour! Well may I get aboard! This is the chase: I am gone for ever!

[Exit, pursued by a bear]

5 comments:

Mom said...

Okay, that settles it. I am making books for you and me with all your hiking blogs, with pictures and all. Then I will have someone read it to me on my death bed, so I can laugh uproariously! What would you do without Clary and Mike's ridiculous comments??!! :) Oh. My. Word.

Art said...

I am not sure if you were to write a hiking book, how it would be received by the general public. It may scare off a lot of people. It was a great adventure though.

Carolynn said...

Love your writing style honey! Well done!

Carolynn said...

Meant to also say - gorgeous, utterly gorgeous photos!

Carolynn said...

Odd? This time it made me click to "show I'm not a robot" AND verify by picking on all the photos that have a 'pie' in them. That's just cruel when I'm hungry AND on a diet.