CDT day 123: back up into the mountains/hypothermia rain

September 4
Mileage: 23
2,393 miles hiked

The drizzle starts as soon as I wake- I slept until 7 a.m. again but whatever. Fuck it! I’m having a good time, I love Colorado. I don’t want the trail to end! Still no gut issues, and every day I feel better physically and emotionally. Hiking solo has become a surreal dream in which I am one with everything, squatting next to the water filling my bottles or sitting in the grass eating my lunch or laying in my tent at night in the perfect-dark, listening to the stick-breakers and feeling the wilderness envelope me. I talk to the moose, I talk to the coyotes, I talk to lame chickadee that hops down the path in front of me. I watch the wind. I watch the moon. Is this what it’s all about? I feel better and I’m starting to remember. I’m finding my place in the great wide everything and soon the trail will end. I don’t want it to end.

The drizzle starts as soon as I wake and it doesn’t stop all day. I climb up, and up, and up, into the mountains of the La Garita wilderness- up to 12 thousand feet where the earth is bare of trees and the rain is cold but not scary cold, not yet, then down to eleven thousand feet and back up, again and again. I’m listening to a “cross-genre” British space-opera audiobook from the library and it lends this high bare rain-swept world an alien feel, an appealing creepiness that helps the long climbs pass smoothly. The day never warms properly and I keep my trekking poles stowed in my pack, as my hands are too cold to use them. Everytime one of the characters in the audiobook gets home from work and cuddles her cat in a sunbeam, I sigh inwardly. Oh, to be indoors out of this rain!

I’m dropping down off of one such high ridge into a bowl when I see three hikers, coming towards me. A little closer, and I recognize the first one- it’s Swami! Swami… has hiked everything. Everything on planet earth. I am not exaggerating. He has a website here. With him are two other hikers- Tuna Helper and Holiday (I hope I remembered that correctly!). They’re out here hiking the Colorado Trail, enjoying the drizzle just like me. We chat until we’re too cold to chat anymore and then we hike on. Other hikers! It’s fun to see other hikers. Now back to my solitary life of high-altitude spiritual transcendence.

A couple miles after passing the hikers the rain decides to stop fucking around- cool drizzle turns to torrents of ice-water mixed with hail. In moments I am soaked to the skin and being pelted with ice, the sky a solid mat of heavy grey clouds. I’m at eleven thousand feet and climbing- I’m still in tree cover but in another mile the trail will reach the bare cold world of 12k feet again and stay up there for eight miles. Just then I pass a campsite and a small stream. I’ve only done 23 miles but I’m drenched and covered in ice and it would be so stupid not to camp right now. I pitch my tarp as fast as I can, and throw my things underneath it. I fill my water bottles and crawl inside- no reason to leave until morning (did I tell you I can pee inside my tarp? My ground sheet is just big enough for my sleeping pad, leaving lots of bare ground…). I strip off my soaked clothes, shivering. The inside of my tent is still wet from last night’s condensation- the sun never came out today and I wasn’t able to dry it. That means my sleeping bag will be damp too. Fuck. Fuck fuck. I watch the ice build up on the outside of the tarp. Hail is still falling. The hail striking the cuben is shaking droplets of condensation loose, so it’s raining a little inside the tarp. Fuck! Luckily the trashbag system inside my pack held up nicely today, and my puffy jacket and tights are still dry. I put these things on, tossing my sodden clothes into a corner. Water is like an infectious disease- it spreads, getting onto everything. Dry things become damp and this dampness sucks the warmth from your core. No! I’m fine. I’m fine! I tell myself this as the rain falls harder and an icy wind begins to blow. I pull out my sleeping bag- just a little damp, mainly in the footbox. I scoot into it, shivering. The world outside my tarp is a torrent, but I am safe inside. Safe!

I try to heat water for dinner, but am thwarted. My alcohol stove needs to burn for a moment, until the flame is coming out the “jets” on the side, before I can put my pot on the stove, but it’s raining too hard and the fire lights, goes pale and then goes out. I eat some pretzels and drink some water instead, feeling hungry and cold. I curl up in a ball in my sleeping bag, reminding myself not to brush the walls of my tarp, and listen to the storm do its thing. After a time the rain dies for a moment and I jump up, repitch my tarp (I pitched it badly the first time), and heat water on my stove. Then I am sitting in my sleeping bag eating hot instant lentils as the rain picks up and the forest around me darkens and I know that everything is going to be ok.

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