Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cold Rain, Mud, Mountains, Backpacking, Misery, Heartbreak... They All Go Together

Taking a day off between hikes is usually a good idea, so Rob & I decided to go back to the motel to do some laundry and pack for another trip into the High Peaks. I had my eye on a 2-day weather window approaching, in which we'd be able to potentially hike in with only a quick storm, then have a partly-cloudy but not rainy day for the Gothics/Armstrong/Wolfjaws ridge, and finally, hike out... of course... in the rain. Ha!

We packed our gear and made the drive to the Garden lot and trailhead. Arriving early in the AM on a weekday and early in the season, the lot was the most empty I had ever seen it. Most people never have and never will see it the way it is photographed above... such tranquility... those who have hiked here before will know what I'm getting at here. 

The hike in is beautiful, and runs along John's Brook for a bit at the start, and then again a few miles in near John's Brook Lodge.

This stream was, seemingly on its way to recovery for Brook Trout until, after Irene, the lower section was channelized and "ruined" by man. The fish don't seem to want to swim up anymore. I'll avoid delving too deep into this topic right now, but its a sore one, to say the least. I hear they now stock the stream up here with small brookies, and we did catch a few along the way. No wild fish from what I caught.

The warm sun was bringing out the mushrooms - and although there was a storm forecast for later on, I was able to feel, even if just for a moment, that things were taking a turn for the better. Looking back, I probably should have seen this as too good to be true, or some kind of foreshadowing.

Meanwhile, though, the sun was still shining in full force, and walking into the field with the familiar old cabin near the trail junction and suspension bridge, I really felt a sense of overwhelming joy - as well as a bit of nostalgia from years passed.

I was happy that Rob was getting to see this area, and I couldn't wait to see his face when we got to the slide climbing up to Gothics the next day.

Crossing the suspension bridge, we noted that the river was still raging. It was early June now, and melt out should have been finished long ago. However, late snow storms had left extra ice and snow to melt away... and, coupled with all the rain that had been falling, things were clearly running a bit behind schedule.

I chose for us to set up camp at the site near the Orebed Lean-To, and we arrived right before the scheduled storm was supposed to roll through.

As if on cue, the clouds began to fill in the sky above, and we marveled at the rare accuracy of a mountain weather report.

Bunkering down in the lean-to, we sat and watched the storm roll in... fast. The thunder was pretty loud, and the storm moved in right over us. First came the rain, then the hail, then larger chunks of hail... and then a bit of solid rain. 

Rob read aloud some stories from the lean-to's log book, some of which were quite interesting. The most memorable was that of a bear that scared some hikers away from their food as they were eating dinner, preceded to eat their half-made dinners, then the rest of the food from the barrels, packaging and all, and then finally left them alone and went away. 

But the craziest part was how they described the bear returning at 1:30 AM, waking them up in their hammocks, plopping down right under them, and then unleashing a fury of loud farting, belching and disgusting breath... I just pictured these guys fearing for their lives, trying not to gag from the smelly bear emissions, and not being able to sleep at all. At least I know that the dehydrated food does the same thing to a bear's stomach as it does to mine if it isn't rehydrated well...

Little did I know Rob would soon be writing his own crazy story in that very same log book... but for now we were eating dinner and getting ready to hit the sack early. I rehydrated some morels, and combined that with some herbs, salt, corn and peppers in a single serving of 5 minute cous-cous. It ended up being one of the best meals I've had on the trail in a while. And of course, the joy of knowing we picked those morels was pretty great too.

 Orebed brook campsite is a great place to get water... the tributary running next to the site tastes really mineral after running over rocks for so long. I always love drinking the water from here, and I can think about the taste right now as I'm writing about it.

The upper Orebed brook itself is similar, if not a bit larger. There are no trout up here anymore, if there ever were any at all... 

There were plenty of other things to look at and photograph than fish though, that's for sure.

Sunset over the mountains with the clouds in the distance was beautiful, and I forgot all about the rain for a moment. But the next morning brought new challenges, as I awoke to a loud scream. I wasn't sure that was what I heard... but then I heard a yell for help.

Wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I looked down as Rob threw this stake-impaled shoe under my tarp, and I jumped up, knowing that this was a major injury in need of some immediate medical care. It turns out Rob had stomped a stuck tent stake in his Altras, and somehow it went right through the sole, the rock guard, the foot-bed and then into his heal. Ouch.

After a flurry of activity, wound-cleaning and bandaging; shock management and recovery and a bit of a breather, Rob posed for a photo with his shoe. Good sport. I was worried about how we'd get out of the backcountry, at least 4-5 miles in, given the situation. I contemplated which hut or building the ranger or caretaker would be in, and the fastest way to get there. I thought about how I'd carry his pack and stuff if he could walk out. But it turned out we didn't need to worry about any of that, as Rob figured out how to walk out on the ball of that foot, with his own full pack, making somewhat remarkable time out and back to the car.

For obvious reasons, I don't have any more photos of this trip after we ate breakfast, but needless to say, given the situation, we got out of this one pretty easily. However, we were now off the trail for an unknown period of time, and there was of course the immediate fear of what this would do to affect our plans for hiking a section of the PCT later this season. And the weather... more rain forecast for weeks. Ugh.

We went back to the hotel, assessed the situation, and decided to take a short break, before going west early. It was time to abandon the Northeast this year and make the best of what we had. We would return to the New York Metro area and relax for a few days in real beds, while Rob let his wound heal, making sure it didn't get infected. Being that you're reading this after the fact, rest assured that everything does, in fact, turn out ok! More on that soon... for now, sleep and recovery from the first Western, high-alpine snow hike of the season.