Never, ever assume (Day 5)
The morning of Day 5, we split up into three groups again. G’s wife dropped from the front group back to my group, but otherwise we were the same as on Day 4.
And here we made a bad mistake.
We’d been warned—and it’s only common sense—to make sure that if the groups split up, each group was self sufficient. And we had done some cursory checking—we knew each group had bear spray, and we knew there were tents in each group. Everyone was packing their own sleeping bag. But it turned out we had made one very important assumption that would prove to be incorrect.
However, heading out on to the trail, everything seemed good.
We made the three miles to Bare Loon Lake without too many problems, although our pace was definitely slower. The terrain had changed again, and the trail was rougher, with more scrambling up and down small hills. The guys were lagging, and I was unable to push off my injured leg at all—or land on it first with my full weight coming down. I was using my walking stick almost as a crutch going up or down. I managed to keep up pretty well, and I was still weight bearing—I just couldn’t trust that leg to be fully load bearing.
So by the time we hit Bare Loon Lake, I was tired and ready for lunch. This was the most primative of the campgrounds we passed through. There wasn’t even a warming cabin, just a covered pavilion where people could sit to eat. Seeing this, we were doubly glad we had stopped at Lindeman the night before. But the scenery was pretty:
Unfortunately, it turned out no one in the group had a stove. And I only had dehydrated food in my pack. Well, that’s not true. I also had some trail mix and jerky, but I couldn’t open the bag without gagging—a leftover issue from Day 2 and 3. G and his wife had a bag of peanuts that they shared with me, and I was able to eat that, probably because they didn’t have all the trail mix smell associated with them. But other than that, all I had was a few power energy gummy things.
B was in the same boat that I was in, and while C and G had a little food, they didn’t have a lot they could share with us.
When we left Bare Loon Lake, we were not in much better shape than when we arrived.
Very soon after, we became punchy. The jokes become more off color, and… but no. The Trail Pledge is sacred.
We had heard at Lindeman that there was an artist somewehere along the trail, drawing or painting or something. And while we were tired, hurt, and pretty jaded by scenery at this point, somewhere deep down we still appreciated the scenery. Or the idea of scenery, at least.
And so, when we hit a section of the trail and realized the artist was sketching, we were of course deeply respectful and reverent. One of the guys and I didn’t do anything like scramble up to see what she was sketching and call back to the other two “It’s just a lake. We’ve seen them before.” Or advise the artist that she should just take a photograph. Or nearly fall down with laughter at our wittiness.
Look, we were tired. And hungry. All of us were hurting. We were not ourselves.
But we thought we were freaking hilarious.
We headed out on the trail again, but we hadn’t gone too far before we were taking another break. The artist and the guide with her walked by not long after and we got a much-deserved stink eye.
However, when we leap frogged them again a little later, I think they realized just how beat we were, and they assured us that we were very close to camp. Only a mile or a mile and a half, and we just had to get down to and through the sandy stretch.
Like everyone else on the trail, they lied. But I don’t think it was intentional—their camp was based at Lake Bennett, and they were making some trips inland so the artist could do her sketching. They were not nearly as trail weary as we were, and I’m sure it seemed like a much shorter walk to them.
We eventually reached a trapper’s cabin, but by then I was so exhausted I couldn’t even think of getting out my camera. We spent a few minutes looking at it, but that was as much to take a break as it was to see the cabin.
We then continued on, and we were, by this point, within half a mile or so of the campground.
We had passed a few parts of the trail that had a sandy component to them, so we were cheering up just a little bit. And then, suddenly, it all turned to beach sand. If you think walking on beach sand with a 30 pound pack on your back would be fun, just imagine doing it after hiking 6+ miles on no food, at the end of four days of solid, hard hiking.
I think both guys and I would gladly have curled up and just died on the trail at that point. It was sheer cussedness that kept us moving.
At about this time, E showed up—we were more than two hours behind the lead group, and they had gotten very concerned about us, especially since the groups had come in so close together the other days. E had also run into the artist and her guide, who by then had realized they had given us a bad distance estimate. They let E know we were struggling.
However, although E. offered to take a pack from one of us, we all stubbornly refused. Even though I knew I should let him take mine, especially since by that point my leg was in constant pain, we were so close to the end that I refused to give in. I was going to make it. I really was.
We passed the church, another of the famous landmarks on the trail, but I barely spared it a glance. I was going to make it to the end of the trail. At the time, I thought I would go back and see the church the next day, since we would have some time before the train arrived.
My arrival in to camp is something of a fog. I think the rest of our group met us on the trail, too, to encourage us in, but I don’t really remember. I remember dumping my pack on one of the picnic tables, and I remember rooting through the bear box to find a stove and fuel. Despite the fact that it is really, really bad bear safety, I left the pack on the picnic table and headed into the cabin to make food.
The guys staggered in to the cabin not long after, and they did not have much more energy than I did. I think it took an hour or so before I recovered enough to remember my pack and start thinking about things like setting up our tent for the night.
I do remember there was some issues with the tent setup—we had some difficulty finding places to set up all the tents, because there were not many sites in the trees. One member of our group set up their tent across the path from the rest of us, but a ranger came through and told us she had to move it—that was the bears’ right of way, and it needed to stay clear so that the bears would have a clear exit from the area in the event that they got spooked. By clear exit, of course, she meant not running over anyone’s tent.
I don’t even remember when I finally went to bed. Day 5 had really been pure hell for me, and it’s probably just as well that I don’t remember the end of it all that well.
I think the day would have been hard on us regardless, because we were all definitely feeling the toll of the entire trip. And it was a rough trail, much like Day 2—a lot of rough climbs up and down vs. being able to get in to a steady and consistent rhythm. But the fact that we had all assumed someone in the group had a stove really just killed us, and my situation wasn’t helped by my inability to even snack on trail mix or jerky to help myself along.
Never, ever make an assumption when it comes to trail safety. Always check and double check. Always.
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