Day Ten: Getting off the Mountain

September 20th; 15 Miles

My alarm went off at 6am. I had set it for the previous morning, never bothering to turn it off last night. I ignored it until it went into automatic snooze, opting to stay in my sleeping bag, keeping all extremities and exposed skin in the relative warmth of the bag. Somehow the prospect of dealing with all of my sopping wet gear in the still roaring wind and near freezing rain just didn’t seem appealing. In another 15 minutes, the alarm went off again, and again I ignored it. Eventually though, I decided it would be best to just try and get out of there. So I decided to do a 3 count and kick myself into gear.

First step was to survey the damage. Luckily, it seemed the tent mostly held together. The only stake that got pulled out of the ground was the one from the vestibule on the wind side, and it didn’t come up until after I had woken back up. The puddles in the tent however were massive. The feet of my sleeping bag were basically sitting in a giant puddle and most of my zip lock bags of equipment had somehow filled up with water in the bottom corner of my tent, this included my bag of garabge and my toilet paper, which it seemed had taken on about 5 lbs. of water. What had saved me from being entirely submerged were both my elevated, air sleeping pad and the thick brush I had camped on, pushing the water only to certain parts of the tent.

Dejected, I stayed in my sleeping bag and pulled out the rest of the granola from the night before. Next it was time to bite the bullet, leave the comfort of my sleeping bag and pack everything up. So I drained the puddles from the tent and got as much water out of the ziplocks as I could, eventually throwing everything haphazardly into my pack as I wore almost all of my clothing: thermal top and bottom, techwick shirt, fleece, rain paints, raincoat, two socks, gloves, and hat.

In the daylight, and with my glasses now relatively fog free, I was able to spot the trail almost immediately after I left the grove, right in front of me. So I hit the trail once again, the thoughts dominating my mind mainly being the pizza and hot shower in a motel I intended to get as soon as I got down to the road (an unknown distance away). But soon this was pushed out by thoughts of not only disbelief that this had actually happened to me but soon quite a bit of happiness; things couldn’t get much worse than last night, life is good!

In about an hour, with my peripheral vision cut off by hood, I suddenly hear a shout from my left side, “Heehaw! You’re alive!” Turns out I couldn’t have been more than 3 miles from where Cloudbuster and Double Check had set up camp. So Double Check and I exchanged stories and disbelief as he finished packing up before we headed out to catch up to Cloudbuster.

My exhaustion from the night before and the extra weight in my pack and shoes from all the water, unfortunately, made it quite a bit more difficult to hike. Even worse, contrary to what I thought, we still had one more major climb up, and up to another exposed ridge. Between the events from the night before and the unexpectedness of it, this climb up Teton Pass really took it out of me and was quite demoralizing. I had to force myself to push out thoughts of the last pass with thoughts of a warm bed to keep myself going on.

Throughout most of the day as well, I had been thinking quite a bit about just getting off the trail after this. Some of the thru-hikers had expressed surprise that I was still on (particularly after getting trapped on the ridge) because of all the rain. For them what was keeping them going through the rain was the prospect of finishing the thru-hike, but for me there was no such motivation. My near breaking point was coming off the ridge, feeling even colder than the night before, barely able to open my granola bar because my hands were so cold. I had gotten to a sign that said “You are now leaving the Goat Rocks National Wilderness Area.” All I could think of was how beautiful I had heard this area was and how I didn’t get to see any of it but rather was soaked to the bone and entirely demoralized. I couldn’t quite see the point anymore.

I wasn’t even close to being able to keep up with Double Check, but eventually was able to drag my feet across the “finish line” as I got to the road. 0.7 miles down the road there was a gas station and convenience store where I was able to find a slew of hikers. Cloudbuster was there, relieved as well to see me alive, as well as Double Check of course, and I also found Curly and Farmboy and Splints, whom I hadn’t seen since getting separated on my second day out when I got lost.

At this point it seemed like it was time to finally relax. So we all thawed and exchanged stories of dealing with the weather. It seemed everyone had had pretty miserable times with it all. Farmboy even had a worse experience than I had: having the same problems with his glasses, rather than risk continuing on down the dangerous “Knife’s Edge,” he stopped on the side of the ridge, wrapped in his sleeping bag, tent fly, and an emergency blanket for the night.

We all resolved that we were ready to go into town, hot showers, beds, and an opportunity to dry our stuff was calling. So Curly, Double Check, Cloudbuster, and I hitched into Packwood, WA, 20 miles down the highway to a motel where we quickly totally dismantled the room as we all exploded our packs to dry off all of our gear, taking advantage of every last inch of space to hang up and lay out our stuff. This then just left showers, food, and of course some beer as we all congregated at the local pizza, meeting up as well with Thatch, Brazil Nut, and another hiker, Jay Bird.

Next step, figure out where the Sobohobos are, wait for them in town, and figure out if this is where my hike ends or if I keep on going.

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