Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 119 : The Knife Edge And Beyond

24 miles today
360 miles to go

I wake with the sun. I am alone on my rocky ridge. I slept soundly and feel refreshed as the cool breeze sweeps under the flap of my tent and brushes across my face. It's quiet, no one else chose to camp here at my non-camp campsite. I have breakfast and pack. I pass the water source and see the section hikers Bob and QB at the small campsite. They tell me that Bey, Shifu, and Clinic all pushed on to the campsite four miles further. I assume Poppy probably passed by before they got here. That means I'm about two hours behind the group I was hiking with. That's ok, I suppose, because I don't plan on hiking into White Pass today like they are. I hike on to Cispus pass and on to a cold stream rushing down from the snow melt above. I get water here. I drink a liter and pack a liter. This will be my last water till I get across the ‘knife edge’, a hyped up section that crosses a ridge with steep sides. It sounds dramatic but I don't know how dramatic it'll be. The trail begins climbing. Up and up and up. I'm sort getting used to this reality. When you climb you really climb. Miles and miles of uphill. I pass a group of day hikers hiking south for the weekend. They ask a lot of questions about my hike as I'm leaving they tell me that Nicola is behind them and to greet him like I've heard all about him. I hike on and sure enough there's this tall guy coming toward me. I greet him like I've heard all about him. The woman traveling behind him surprises me. She says, “You're No Skip.” I look at her, I met her at Cascade Locks, she's Leprechaun, a friend of Rockbiter and Batdance. I ask about Cooper, Rockbiter and Batdance’s dog. They are all over Elks pass ahead of me. I guess most people I know are ahead of me because I don't see the point of a headlong rush to finish. I want to finish strong and finish based on my plan, not on a false sense of urgency based on what others are doing.

I pass more day hikers as I continue the climb to the south end of the Knife Edge. The scenery grows more and more alpine. Higher and more exposed. The wind picks up and the views to Mt Adams, Mt Saint Helens, and Mt Rainier are all spectacular. I look across deep valleys to see Mt Rainier. The Knife Edge comes into view and demolishes my expectations. It's way more exposed and daunting then I had expected. I choose to take the Old Snowy alternate. It's basically an extra seven hundred feet of vertical climbing that gives you better views of Mt Adams. On this day however, the climb is less fun than others. The wind keeps increasing and increasing. By the time I reach the top it's hard to stand up it's blowing so hard. The wind is cold. I stand behind a boulder with an ultra marathon runner and look around. The Knife Edge stretches out beneath us like a suspension bridge hanging above the valley of doom. It's seems so thin and precarious. The snow and glaciers fall away from the sides like sheets of siding. The rocks look too thin and narrow to maintain the steepness and look like they'll collapse into a shorter squatter pile with reasonably pitched sides. The trail down to the Knife Edge is steeper and more exposed than the Knife Edge itself. The wind blows and buffets me as I descend the loose scree. It seems possible that I'd be blow off the edge, if not me than the socks I have drying on my pack. They must be gone. The wind whips me with my windbreaker’s hood. I have it on but it beats my head that the sound is so loud it's all I hear. I meet Cheesepuff and Ufta on the way down. They also did the Old Snowy alternate. I haven't seen either one of them since my first night in San Diego at Scout and Frodo’s and now here they are over twenty two hundred miles away hiking the same trail I'm hiking and we haven't seen each other the whole time. We don't spend much time chit-chatting as the wind is too cold and blowing too hard to carry on a conversation. I push on across the whole ridge without stopping except to take pictures. 

I descend down and around the end of the ridge down to the land of sanity and warmth, down to trees and streams. Bees buzzing birds singing. The wind dies down to normal gusts and speeds. The terrain is less steep, green plants dot the landscape. I follow the trail back into the forest. I know others are ahead of me and behind but I am alone, embraced by the forest, absorbed into its green foliage. The trail climbs passes and descends into valleys, staying high and following along beneath the top. On and on it goes. I stop briefly at a lake and Ghost floats by moving seemingly effortlessly along the trail. I imagine what it must be like to move effortlessly. All my movement requires lots of effort, lots of willpower to overcome the inertia that his built up in my limbs. Every step is accompanied by a reminder that stopping feels better than continuing. I ignore the temptation to stop knowing that stopping means no progress towards finishing. I watch as the clouds begins to lower across the ridges I have passes over. The Knife Edge is surely in the clouds now, without a view and even colder than it was. Will it rain? All indications in my experience says yes, but this is the northwest. I'm not familiar enough with the weather. People that live here say, “perhaps, or perhaps not.” The weather here is so unpredictable. I climb and cross another pass in clouds blowing forty miles per hour. I get to the other side and the wind suddenly shifts. Starts blowing gently from the other direction and the clouds break. The sun comes out intermittently. It day turns calm and friendly. The wind continues to gust in the treetops but the ceiling rises and the clouds thin. I hike on until I'm about two miles from White Pass. There are lots of hikers ahead of me and the last thing I want is to be in the bubble of hikers again. They consume resources like camp spots and motel rooms. I like my space and I enjoy camping in my tent. I camp at a lake. Closer to the trail than I like but otherwise okay. The wind gusts ever so often blowing dust around while I try to cook dinner without dust in it. I believe the wind will die down after the sun sets. It's pure speculation for me to make that guess but I hope so. I finish dinner and my chores and I'm so glad to climb into my sleeping bag in my tent. It's warm, dry, and comfortable. I estimate I have another three weeks to go. Three weeks seem so long as I look forward and so short as I look back. Time is such a strange thing. Although we are confined by it and live in it it's so hard for us humans to grasp onto its rhythms. At least it is for me. Sometimes a minute seems to last a lifetime and other times hours pass by in an instant. I think that's one of the things I've become more aware of on this hike, how fickle and non linear time appears to be. I relax in my tent under the trees by the lake wondering how my friends are faring in the busy bubble of Thru-hikers at White Pass. Sleep comes quickly but not so quickly as a couple of southbounders who set up their tent close by. I greet them through my tent wall as I drift off to sleep surrounded by soft feathery down thinking timeless thoughts and dreaming of lands without time.

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