CDT day 66: choose your own brutality

July 9
Mileage 29
1,238 miles hiked

I sleep wonderfully and pound a packet of grape-flavored caffeinated crystal light in the morning. Or, as my friend Chance calls it, caffeinated crystal meth. My god, I feel amazing now! Let’s hike!

We climb all morning, through the monotonous lodgepole forest. (Is it lodgepole? I think so.) There is an eleven mile climb… and then lots of ups and downs. There is so much happening inside my brain today, on account of all the caffeine. I’m hiking with Spark, talking his ear off. We’ve made a friend this section- a guy from England named Benjamin. He’s funny and his heavy accent makes everything he says more entertaining. In the afternoon the four of us decide to take an alternate wherein instead of walking along the waterless ridge (which is now also the Idaho/Montana border) we drop down into a forest full of turquoise lakes and then climb cross-country back up onto the ridge on the other side. On the maps the climb to the ridge looks super steep, but I don’t think about it too much. I set off into the woods, go the wrong way for a minute and once I’m headed the right direction I’m not sure where the boys are. I emerge from the woods into a sopping meadow and in front of me is the ridge, way up high- the slope looks to be entirely loose scree and rocks. It actually looks like fun, to climb up there.

Of course it’s impossible to tell how steep something is when you’re standing at the bottom of it. One minute I’m picking my way over boulders and loose rock and the next minute I’m clinging to a rock face, trying to get a foothold but everything is crumbling, looking up at even steeper rock, empty air below me and to one side scree so steep I’d just slide down. And everything is loose, loose.

Fuck. Fuck fuck. Why did I put myself in this position? There are few things I like less than surprise rock climbing. Fuck! One move at a time. One move at a time. I go forward and back, to the side. Above me I can see the top- the trail’s just up there! My heart is pounding. I slip at one point when the rock beneath me comes loose, but catch myself on the scree. Ok.

“Cuh-Caw!” It’s the boys, on the ridge above me to the right. The whole face of the mountain is super steep, but they must’ve found a more doable section.

“What the hell?” Says Track Meat. “Carrot?” I can see them sitting up there.

“This sucks,” I shout. I’m currently completely stuck- I’m trying to go up but there’s nowhere to put my feet. And now I have to shit, too. Ugh! I hate this so much.

Spark walks to a rock shelf right above me and sits down. I can see the bright orange of his hat. I swear that Spark can tell when I am at my most vulnerable- even though we all act like everything is always fine and we’re super tough or whatever, Spark knows just when I need a friend.

“Don’t keep going up on the rocks,” he says. “It gets even steeper where you can’t see. Come over towards me. The scree is bigger over here.”

Oh, I am so grateful for this right now. Call me a weenie but there’s lots of exposure and I’m fucking scared. I make my way towards Spark, a move or two at a time, and then the rocks are bigger and heavier and less loose and then I’m climbing and then I’m at the top!

“We were joking on the way up that we found the steepest part of the mountain to climb,” says Spark. “But you win.”

I pretty much crash after that. We’re ridgewalking, lots of short steep climbs and descents and I feel exhausted, empty inside. I fall behind the boys and just sort of tool along in my lowest gear. Oh today- it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Camp is at a dry warm saddle, the light long all around us.

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