Well, I guess it's finally time I get to writing up my first trip report ever! This was my first backpacking trip. It kicked my butt, my feet were bloody and blistered, and my knee screamed at me every step of the way for the last two days. Did I enjoy it? More than any sane person should. I wouldn't take back a minute of it.
Note: for the short version, please refer to my EveryTrail report, complete with 46 pictures! And a map of my hike!
Note 2: this post is going to be fairly lacking in terms of pictures. Again, see my EveryTrail report for a ton of pictures.
Elevation gain: 4,231ft
Start time: 07/06/2013 10:47am
End time: 07/08/2013 12:22pm
Gear list: July 6-8, 2013
Note: This being my first trip, I wanted to be cautious, so I packed a ton of clothes and a ton of food, as well as a few luxuries, that I ended up not using. Lessons learned, and the pack will be significantly lighter next time.
I woke up at about 6:30am and showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, grabbed my pack, and hit the road. It wasn't until I passed Fall River Road off the 70 that I realized that was where the Fall Hang was last year, but that's besides the point. I got to hiking at 10:47am, later than I intended, but it would turn out to be enough time anyway. I hiked maybe 15 minutes before I realized I was in terrible shape and that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought. I was getting winded every couple minutes and having to stop for 30 seconds to catch my breath. At the first stream crossing, I stopped to have a sit-down break. I looked down at my arms, and noticed a few mosquitoes already having a snack on my forearms, so I promptly changed from my short sleeve shirt into my long sleeve shirt (my hiking clothes having been treated with permethrin a few days prior). This'd be interesting, I thought, my top half being completely covered in wool in July. My worries were quickly alleviated, however, as I learned that merino wool does a phenomenal job moderating temperature and wicking moisture.
Anyway, so off I went for about a mile, which meant an elevation gain of about 1000ft. By this point, I was literally taking the trail like 30 feet at a time, having to stop so frequently is was embarassing... then I realized: I left my sunglasses back at the spot I changed. I very seriously considered leaving them, but having decided against that, I went back for them. The first stretch of my hike just went from 2,600ft elevation gain to 3,600ft in an instant. Ugh. I eventually stopped for lunch next to a nice little creek. After getting back up and heading on my way again, I learned that real, sit-down breaks were dangerous: it is hard getting moving again, especially uphill. It was getting to the point that I was telling myself every 10 minutes that this was a mistake, that this hike was too strenuous for my first, that I'd have to seriously reassess my planned route; that I should just quit. When I finally made it to the top of this part of the trail, and started going downhill, I was relieved beyond belief. But then I saw it. Cat Lake, my destination for the day. Upon catching my first glimpse of the lake through the forest, I got the biggest grin on my face, and found myself covered in goosebumps. I was elated. I don't know if it was more that I was excited to finally be able to get my feet up, or the feeling of accomplishment, or what, but it was a feeling I don't think I've ever experienced before.
After making my way down to the lake, I started looking for a spot to camp for the night. Admittedly, I was being picky. I want to sleep right on the water, and to have an amazing view of the lake from my hammock. I quickly learned this was going to be tougher than I expected it to be. Pine beetle kill is even worse than I thought, and I knew it was bad. Every time I thought I found a good site, I'd look up and one or both of the trees would be dead. It was frustrating, to say the least. To be fair, camping where I wanted would have been altogether impossible in a tent since the ground was quite mushy. I ended up walking for probably an hour, all the way to the opposite side of the lake, before I found a site I was mostly happy with. Here was the view from the hammock:
I laid in the hammock, falling asleep to the thought that here I was at the highest point of the trip, the next two days would be downhill, easy. Little did I know how wrong I was.
I was awakened, twice, that first night by thunderstorms. An eerie experience to be sure, but pretty neat too. I lazed around and didn't get out of the hammock until around 10, then took my time making breakfast and breaking camp, maybe a little more lazing around. I figured today was to be an easy day, mostly downhill, so I could take my time. I also decided, with all the extra time, that I'd hit up Mirror Lake that day. So after breaking camp, I started hiking to Mirror Lake. I came over the wall of a valley and was taken aback by the view. All my life, I'd heard of the idea of "breath-taking" views, but I'd never experienced one, not one that really, truly took my breath away. This was different. I caught myself missing a few breaths, and thought to myself, "... breath-taking..."
Please know that the picture, or any picture in fact, could never come close to doing the view justice. I mean it, people, it literally took my breath away. I sat on the edge of a boulder, a ~50ft drop inches in front of me, for probably 15 minutes. "This is why I came here," I thought, "I can take as long as I need." It was hard to pry myself away, but only a couple hundred feet further along the path, I was greeted by this view:
That's Mirror Lake in the distance. I decided now would be a good time to stash my pack and carry forth, so that's what I did, taking with me only my RIBZ Pack and a bottle of water. When I finally got to the lake, I took my pack off, inflated my pad, and sat on a rock in the lake for a snack, enjoying the breeze of a distant thunderstorm. As I returned to the previous view of the valley, just as I was starting to think it was getting ridiculously hot, a bitter-cold breeze kicked up from the valley, fueled by the aforementioned thunderstorm. It was cold enough to give me goosebumps, though seconds earlier I was sweating profusely and about to start shouting profanities at the sun. I continued hiking until I got to a small waterfall, where I decided to wash my hair. That was a fantastic feeling with the freezing cold water. Once I reached Upper Cataract Lake, I decided this would be a perfect spot to de-pack, de-boot, and have lunch.
From here, descent. It didn't take real long for me to learn that downhill does NOT mean easy. (Mocking voice) "Ohhh, yeah, it's all downhill from here, herpderp." Screw that, downhill is harder than uphill, in my book. Not in terms of stamina (in terms of stamina, uphill wins without a fight), but in terms of physical demand. It was BRUTAL on my feet and knees. I quickly noticed that my feet were blistering and my right knee, which had been mildly bugging me for a couple weeks, was starting to downright scream at me with every step. "Crap," I thought, "I still have like 5 miles of this until I can set up camp for the night." So I trudged on. A couple miles into the descent, I was going down the steeper parts with my poles out in front of me like I was dual-wielding walking canes. I felt quadruple my age (25). After FINALLY making it to Cataract Creek, I was seriously impressed with the view:
But I was too beat up and tired to dilly-dally. I went on for 30 more minutes, or so, before I finally settled on a pretty horrible site, but it'd work. I was exposed, the trees were slightly too close together, and I was on rock (few places to get stakes in the ground). After very quickly setting camp, eating, and tending to my feet, I hit the sack, hoping for fair weather...
That second night, I think I weathered the world's longest-lived thunderstorm. It started around 11pm and didn't dissipate until around 2am, keeping me up the entire time. Luckily, it seemed to have passed to the side of me, keeping me up with thunder and a constant, but very light, rain; not much wind to speak of, which is exactly what I was worried about when I set camp. I was quite lucky. After getting up, it dawned on me that I'd have to be out of here by 3pm in order to make an appointment in Fort Collins at 7pm (giving myself plenty time for the drive and to get home and shower). I put down a couple Kind Bars (fruits and nuts), having decided I wasn't in the mood for oatmeal because it was another warm day, and broke camp and got a move on. I was met with a pretty steep climb, which I was entirely shocked to find myself grateful for. Back to 30-50ft stretches, but at least my knee was quiet. Along the climb, I turned around and looked back on what I was climbing out of, and was actually thrown off balance:
I don't know what it was, but it actually made me unsteady looking back at that view; the vastness, maybe. The climb didn't last very long, however, which I expected; I still had to climb down out of these mountains to where my car was parked. Back to the downhill trudge, hoping my knee would make it to the car. I was going through water fairly quick and not seeing any sources, so I started to get a little worried and started rationing a bit. As I descended further, the forest opened up and there I was, in full sun, climbing like a cripple down the mountain, slowly dehydrating. I eventually got to a point that I could see the parking lot, though still fairly far off, and I knew I was going to have plenty of time, so I slowed down a bit. By the time I'd finally got back to the car, I was definitely dehydrated, having not seen any water since I broke camp, so I climbed down to the stream at the trailhead, filled up, and had lunch in my car. I tended to my feet, and sat and reflected.
This thing had just royally whooped me, and kicked me while I was down. It ended up having little resemblance to the idea of the trip I had given myself, having been far, far more difficult and teaching me lessons I didn't know I needed to learn. In the end, every step, every blister, every pain in my knee, every drop of blood, sweat, and tears... in the end, it was worth it all. It seems strange that such a small thing, that a mere 19 miles, could have such an impact on me, and I almost feel silly feeling so changed by such a short trip, especially considering what hikers of the AT, CDT, PCT, and the like must feel. But I know, now, that it has set me down a road of life change. I appreciate the outdoors even more, now, and I can't wait to have mother nature hand me my arse on a silver platter again. Long-distance hikes are a long ways off, I think, but I have no doubt they're in my future now. This trip, however painful it may have been, has definitely changed me: it made me a backpacker.