CDT day 87: Knapsack Col day

July 30
Mileage: 25
1605 miles hiked

We camped in a narrow river canyon tucked between two mountains so the sun doesn’t reach us in the morning- I’m switchbacking up towards Knapsack Col with my numb hands pulled up into the sleeves of my puffy again, my breath misty. We’re climbing up to twelve thousand feet! I’ve eaten a bunch of caffeinated jelly beans and I feel pumped. I love hiking!

Three thousand feet of elevation gain over five miles, the final part being a rock scramble on talus and scree. Rumor has it that this is the toughest day of the entire CDT.

We leave the forest behind. Alpine meadows full of lupine, small cold tarns. Clear light air makes me feel happy and drunk. Granite ridges like rows of busted teeth above, catching the light. There are glaciers up here! I have just one lung! Suddenly the sun is roasting us.

I’m climbing up with Spark and Buck-30. Buck-30 is an unassuming CPA who has hiked 20k miles of trails (I’m guessing). He’s friendly and unpretentious. He does it for the love of adventure, not for the ego. He goes slow if he feels like it, and yet he really knows what he’s doing. He also gets a kick out of the drama within the trail community, and we have fun gossiping as we climb. It’s been a long time since I’ve had someone to gossip with! Track Meat and Spark just don’t care about any of that stuff. Which is one reason I like hiking with them- it keeps me from dwelling too much on little things that don’t matter. But still… there’s something about human drama that has always fascinated me. I’m a writer, I love a good story more than anything! And some of the stuff that goes on… you can’t make this shit up. If you only knew, dear reader, about the drama that goes down within the long-distance hiking community, you would be shocked and amused. Slander and hearsay, rifts and alliances, betrayals… Buck-30 and I jabber on while Spark looks on, bored. I am so entertained.

We reach the col (which wikipedia just informed me is another word for saddle or notch) after huffing and puffing up a faint trail in the talus and scree. We sit in the sun, feeling weak from the elevation. Buck-30 is eating doritos. Track Meat is somewhere ahead- we took too many breaks and lost him. Then down the other side- Spark shoe-skis down the steep dusty scree that was not too long ago covered by the much-receded glacier, Buck-30 picks his way down the boulders and I do a combination of the two, mostly making my way down on my butt. I’ve decided that I dislike climbing/descending on sketchy talus and scree more than most things. I go into these things with such good intentions and yet often end up backed into some sketchy corner, terrified and alone. No me gusta!

I make it down the loose steep rocks, slide a bit on a snowfield and rejoin Spark and Buck-30. More boulders, water running out of everywhere, down down down and we are finally back in the land of flowery meadows. We take a lunch break on a sun-baked granite rock next to a sparkling otherworldly lake and that’s when I realize how slow the morning has been.

The trail up here feels like the PCT through the sierras- twisted and convoluted, full of rocks and roots, always going up or down or around some great obstacle. I’m tired so I’m rolling my ankles a lot, tripping and stumbling, hiking kind of slow. Towards evening the pain in my shoulders becomes so bad that I can’t even hold my trekking pole. I’m also getting this weird stabbing pain in my big toes that I get randomly when I’m tired- like someone is shoving a knife under my toenail. Knapsack Col kicked my ass and I’m kind of falling apart.

We decide to do 25 today instead of our planned 30. The last three miles are some of the hardest of the entire CDT for me- I am just so busted from the day. Spark finds us a nice campsite just far enough above the soggy valley floor (which will turn into a refrigerator as soon as the sun sets on account of the way cold air sinks) and I eat dinner wrapped in my sleeping bag, watching the pink light of the sunset on the granite ridge. Time for sleep!

Photos on instagram