Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 11 - leaving Marias Pass

[Let me begin this post by saying that we are 100% fine, doing this by choice, and having fun. I've heard 2ndhand that some of these posts have been alarming, but wanted to emphasize we are in great spirits]

Last night, the kindly and wise campground host, Randy, at Marias Pass gave us the latest trail news from Marias pass headed South. A few sobos (Train, Smiley) left two days ahead of us. The official CDT is relatively clear, so we took the PUD way, which was nicely maintained. The trail is in an in between phase now, relatively dry in parts, but then muddy sinkholes in adjacent patches. I spen the morning leaping and mincing like an overgrown fairy, delusions of Tinkerbell's grace, but a more functional and less beautiful set of leaps and lunges.

I completely misjudged one creek crossing, and lost my left leg down to the knee, sunk in oozing, stinking mud. bracing my hands against the nearby rocks, I pushed up with great effort and managed to extricate my leg with a whooshing, sucking noise. Below the joint, my left leg was golem-like, grey, humanoid and incredibly heavy.

I walked it off for the next mile or so until we stopped to snack, then rinsed my pant leg and gaiter thoroughly in a stream. I missed my invincible avenging leg, but thought reducing the weight on my left leg by a few pounds was worth the long term trade off.

At the 13.5mi marker, we stopped and cooked dinner, then decided to push on another 1-2mi. Bigfoot, Swiss Miss, Very Fit (aka the Swissfits), Gangles and I were marching along, about to cross a river. We were discussing our favorite book from the Little House on the Prairie series when the line abruptly stopped. After narrowly avoiding an ice axe tip in the nostril, I jumped back and I heard someone mutter some choice words.

Ambling across the river, like the biggest, baddest thing in town, was an enormous black bear. Don't tell my mom, but I've come across bears on the AT and PCT, and this was by far the largest I've ever seen. (Swiss Miss, another AT, PCT hiker agrees). The bear was chewing on something, and sauntered up the trail on the other side, oblivious to us. He (I'll just assume 'he' since he was so large), had not heard us approach even though we were in full conversation. So, a reminder to make noise at waterfalls, rivers and any other noisy site.

The bear was now standing opposite us, on the trail we needed to continue on. We stood in morbid fascination.

I did the same thing I did the last timeI came across a bear which did not immediately run off, I clacked my hiking poles together. The bear turned his head to look directly at me, and his ears twitched. He stared at the five of us on the other bank, just 40 feet away.

I'd always heard black bears were shy, and this one took off like a shot, and turned uphill and disappeared into the brush. We waited a few minutes (bear cooling off period), then went South, following in the bear's direction with frequent bear alerting noises (e.g., Hey Bear Hey!).

We were all a bit shaken, and ready to camp. There was no way we could outrun a bear, so no matter where we stopped, we would be in its territory. We went up the trail maybe a mile, but the camping options were not suitable--everything was too steep, too wooded or pocked with prairie dog holes. I had terrible visions of an intrepid prairie dog chewing through the bottom of our tent.

We finally made the suboptimal, but best fit solution to tent in the middle of the trail, which by this point was an old jeep road. We could fit 1 tent across the width of the trail, and stacked all 7 down a hundred feet of the trail. We created a passable avenue down the side, with the expectation that we would be out and packed by 7am.

We were all so spooked by the bear that we hung everything smellable (food, DEET, hand sanitizer, toothpaste) as soon as we got into camp. The spindly older pines made this an epic process, but we finally got everything up, and had an uneasy sleep.

Mileage: 15mi from Marias Pass to ~1.5mi past the Badger Creek Ranger station

Photo: tail end of alpenglow on the clouds at Marias Pass

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