UHT Day 5: Somewhere in between

August 23, 2021

Miles hiked: 17

Passes: North Pole Pass @ 11,990

Vertical: + 2,788

Campsite elevation: 11,161 ft

Morning. 7:29am

Wow. That was a night. So, my sleeping mattress is totally done for. There had been an odd bubble beginning to form this past week and over the last few nights it has grown double in size. Since I also use it when I am sleeping in my car, it is getting a lot of use. Well, last night it really kicked the bucket and refused to stay inflated. I would say every hour I would wake with my hip or butt pressed to the cold earth, and have to blow it up again, then try to quickly go back to sleep.

I’ll tell you what though, my coffee turned out just perfect this morning, so there’s that, the miracle cure for everything! I was having my trepidations in the middle of the night, thinking it’s going to be a miserable next four nights on a deflated air mattress, and thinking about my wet shoes and wet socks, I was not in a good head space in my sleep haze. I hate to admit that somwhere in that state of consciouness, I thought about turning back already.

Fortunately, morning has a way of clearing that away. I really want to see what lies ahead in this terrain, and also within myself. Starting just a few miles away, climbing up to North Pole Pass, I have heard this is where the truly stunning scenery of the Uinta Uinta Highline Trail takes center stage. The Mountain is calling, I must go!

Also, to my great surprise, my compression socks dried overnight, my socks are maybe 50% dry and my shoes maybe 50% dry as well, and that is all so much better than I expected. It’s 45 F here in my camp, I sure hope it’s warmer in the sun, but the winds prevail.

I start walking at 9:00am and feel quite optimistic about the day despite my poor night’s sleep. I am just so excited to see what lay ahead as I’m pressing my feet against dirt and rock, gaining altitude, bracing myself for an even windier traverse of the pass!

Climbing toward the pass, there are several steeper sections leading to less steep shelves, then the final crest that brings me to the actual pass. Along this stretch, there are several false summits but the walking is generally pleasant, save for the wind.

Finally I crest what seems like the top of the world, as there is no more “up” to go and then I reach a wilderness boundary sign and realize I’ve made it! From the “top” I am afforded views of the upcoming mountain range in which I am to walk toward. Not surprisingly, they are all dusted in snow, making the dramatic scenery just that much more striking.

I reflect back to only five days ago, when that snow fell on me, and all around me, and I am so amazed at what has transpired to get me back here. I surrender to the flow of life and feel thankful for how everything worked out. I am really grateful to be here, to be doing this now. It could have turned out really different.

It’s a wide broad area on top of the pass, nothing that would denote a top or even much of a saddle but I celebrate the achievement in my mind anyway, as I have reached nearly 12,000 ft now. Up on the top of the world, it is quite windy again and I have to layer up and quicken my stride for the descent, hoping to get out of the fierce wind as swiftly as possible. If only I could fly!!

Despite the wind, I admire the growing cumulus clouds all along the way, noting too, that the wind has carried away all the smoke! It’s amazingly clear today and everything looks to be in technicolor the drab hue of smoke having been whisked away. I’m loving how the clouds stack up, puff up, how they accent the sky, casting shadows across the dramatic sweeping landscape. This clarity and sharpness, along with the views coming down the pass, make for really great photography!

Hiking down the pass soon becomes one of the highlights of the day, with so many little creeklets and waterfalls, there is so much water! I am soon in a land of blissful cascades all across the landscape and like a dancer hopping across the creeklets on rocks and tufts of grass, I float down the trail.

From high above I spy the three guys I had seen last night. They are way down below like little ants, and I make a game of seeing if I can catch them. When I reach the final dip into the valley, there is a creek ford. I have lost sight of the guys as the creek is surrounded by stunted willow thickets as tall as me.

I stop to remove my shoes and socks (not gonna make that mistake again) and ford the creek barefoot this time. To my surprise the guys are on the other side of the creek when I get there. It’s now almost noon and I ask if they mind if I join them while I sun my blazing white feet and gorge on the best tasting trail mix I’ve ever had.

Almost out of the wind!

They are each from different states, and had met one another hiking the JMT and now get together for other hiking adventures, pretty cool! As we sit there eating and chatting I feel a sense of camaraderie and it is really nice to be around other hikers.

We observe a large dark gray cloud building over a nearby ridge, and I then decide it is not a good time or place to make tea as I’d intended. Instead, we all pack up and hike on, away from the mean looking cloud.

The guys offered to take my photo

We leap frog one another all afternoon, stopping to chat here and there, but I am planning to hike a little further than them. So at a point, we part ways as I march ahead after a second shoes off creek ford of the day.

The the next hour or so becomes pretty dreamy and lovely, with little valleys to dip through followed by long forested sections. It is all quite beautiful and I am admiring the clouds all afternoon. They really are something here! Then, there is always water. So much water! I play the game all day long of trying really hard not to get my shoes wet, there are SO many boggy areas, and I mostly succeed!

Toward the end of the afternoon I realize I never stoped to eat lunch and my stomach is growling, so I decide to take a short break and eat potato chips with a spoon and filter some water with my Sawyer squeeze which really is working very slowly these days and I forgot to pack my back flushing syringe even though I have like five of them at home, grrrr.

Chip eating

I keep on climbing and trudging through more bogs, more rocks on the trail, more water flowing over the rocks that make up the trail, and more mud that is the trail. There are several more creeks that flow across the trail and I must walk over two large logs and duck under another, but they are the fun kind of logs, obstacle course style!

It pays to be small!
This is the trail
A good log
How to keep my feet dry here?

With the tedium of all the rocks, mud, water and logs, I realize I am getting mentally tired at this point. The last two miles were really slow progress. And there are clearly zero camping options for a few miles around here, so it seems to take forever to get to a section of trail where I may actually consider looking for a flat place to camp. Also, I need pine duff to sleep on, since my air mattress is kaput. The pine duff will offer both padding and insulation.

Around 6:00pm I check my mileage and want to still get in two more miles to reach closer to 18 miles for the day. Right then, as if the trail Gods are laughing at me, I reach a creek that is clearly going to be a difficult ford. I search around for a good 30 minutes trying to find a place to cross that I feel confident about. There are a couple of sketchy looking logs, one of them is too wet and slick looking to me. The other one too high above the water, and pretty narrow at that. Nope, and nope.

Looking upstream
Sketchy looking wet log

I begin to feel frustrated and a little afraid, in this moment, I realize this is the low point of the day. I make my way upstream for several minutes through dense trees to a spot on the creek that seems to be more shallow. At least, I can see the rocks below, and there seems to be a good place to enter the water safely on the river bank. I take off my shoes and tie them to my pack. I tuck my cell phone inside my raincoat pocket, and stuff that inside my pack just to be safe, if that gives you some sense of what I thought “could” go wrong.

I step into the water barefoot and quickly am gripping the grassy banks with my right hand with the water at thigh level, deeper than I anticipated already. But I can see the rocks further into the stream, and use my trekking poles to keep balance. Facing upstream and using both my my poles, I feel around with my feet on the slick rocks that have very little surface area in which to place ones weight. I feel around with my foot and find there are also deeper holes in between the rocks, so I am very cautious not to slip accidentally into a hole.

The water is swift but this is do-able. After sveral minutes of concentration, I am through it. Phew! I feel thankful that I was able to figure that one out, instinctively I knew there was a way. I felt that I chose a safe place to cross afterall and even if it did take a lot more time than a log crossing, I had my feet on the “ground” and made it across without taking that risk. Once my feet sre on the grass, I first feel a wave of relief, then think shit, I’m going to have to do that again on the way back!

This is where I crossed

Once I’m walking again, my feet ache from the cold, and even with warm, dry shoes and socks, it takes a while for my feet to feel better, so I walk slowly and tenderly for about a half mile. My left ankle becomes very sore after being in cold water since I have an old injury there. It will just flare up like that sometimes and is quite painful!

Around 7:30pm I am finally at the top of a climb, reaching a flat, forested area and scout myself a great spot to camp, pine duff and all. When I get all settled into camp, I check my In Reach and I see I got a weather forecast: Rain Wed night and Thunderstorms, 34% on Thursday as well. Today is Monday. I look over the mileage and I am just not sure how far I can make it if the rain slows me down.

Happy to be in bed!

I would like to get over three passes tomorrow but who knows! Part of me continues to feel like why the hell am I going to turn around and do this again!? This trail takes a toll on you. The tedious nature of a lot of this trail seems to require a lot of concentration for me, or maybe I am just rusty! There is no real time to daydream on easy, cruisy trail, very little of that. Nope, it’s more focused than other trails without being a cross country route, which is even more exhausting. This trail is somewhere in between.

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