July 29, 2017
Mile 1566.27 – Payne’s Lake (1566.27-1591.47)
The day started out pretty nicely this morning. The trail wound down through the forest and along the ridge with more lovely views of the Trinity Alps. It wasn’t too hot in the early hours of the day, so even when we were out on the exposed ridges it was quite nice. If only we knew what we had coming.
We stopped for lunch in the bottom of a little river valley, and almost immediately afterwards began the climb from hell. It was steep, it was hot, and it lasted for pretty much the rest of the day. At first, it was at least shaded, but soon we were out in the beating sun, struggling up steep trail that was either rocky or so sandy that it practically slipped out from under your feet. It was exhausting and frustrating. Of course, the views were totally gorgeous, but kind of hard to enjoy given the circumstances.
We entered the Russian Wilderness, and got some shade and downhill, and it was really beautiful and quite nice hiking. But then, we saw the trail ahead. Steeply climbing up the ridge through a totally exposed burn area. Uh oh. The climb was rough. At least by this point it was around 7pm, so it had gotten much cooler, but we were totally exhausted. We made the decision to stop for dinner before we got to camp, since we knew it was going to be a late night. We finally reached the top of the climb, and descended into the burnt forest a bit before stopping at a campsite to eat. My feet hurt, I was completely exhausted, and I was surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes through the entire dinner break. Safe to say I was pretty done with the day, but there were still 3 miles to our planned camp spot, and we really wanted to push so we could have a shorter day into town tomorrow.
After some food and rest, I felt a tiny bit better, and my mood improved as we wound through the burnt trees, illuminated by the crimson light of the sunset. But soon, the sun had disappeared entirely and we were officially night hiking. I don’t mind night hiking if I’m with someone, but I don’t really like doing it alone. Unfortunately, nature called and I had to stop to dig a cat hole as Gummies kept walking, leaving me alone in the California hills in the dark. As soon as I started walking again, all I could think about was how I heard someone say that when people night hike in Northern California, they sometimes get stalked by cougars. It suddenly seemed a lot darker. Thankfully, it was only a quarter mile to camp, and I could soon see Gummies’ head lamp bobbing around in the distance.
It was 9:30 by the time we finally finished the day, setting up camp beside Payne’s Lake in the dark. Today was really, really hard. It was a 14 hour day and it was exhausting. I certainly didn’t feel like much of a badass over the course of the day, but at the end of the day, knowing you can get through these things without being defeated really gives you a sense of accomplishment. It’s days like these that really make you remember that we’re doing something crazy out here. It’s the hardest days that make you feel totally miserable while they’re happening, but at the end, when it’s all over, make you feel like you can do anything.