I woke up to rain, and a steady dull soreness in my left knee. I hadn't slept well, too amped up from yesterday's misadventure to the summit of the Hinde, probably, overtired, too, and bothered by the pain in my knee.
After three beautiful, bluebird days, it was raining outside, and it was cold, and I was hurt and felt tired. But I really had to pee.
Anyway, we had to get moving.
We had a two-day hike back to the truck ahead of us, much of it in the alpine. The weather was not forecast to get any better. Our pace had been fairly slow to begin with; now, with all three of us experiencing various levels of pain and exhaustion, we would only get slower.
It was time to move.
The morning chores felt especially gloomy that morning, as the rain drizzled down on us on the shore of Carter Lake. Retrieve the food from the bear bag. Make breakfast. Pump water. Brush teeth. Pack up.
Try--and mostly fail--to stay dry.
We set out to retrace our steps, skirting the shore of Carter Lake to the outflow stream that ran from it on the south end, where we'd stopped for an exhausted dinner two days before. We followed the trail into the rainforest and found the spot where we'd rejoined the trail after bushwhacking down from Phillips Ridge on the outbound leg.
This time, we saw clearly-marked flagging tape and followed it up a very steep, very slippery slope often paved with fresh mud and wet pine needles, reaching from tree trunk to tree trunk to pull ourselves toward the ridge.
We were bagged by the time we reached the alpine, but the fun was only beginning.
It was bitterly cold on the ridge, a harsh wind blowing in from off of the ocean to the west. It was rainy. The cloud cover was low enough to reduce visibility to about fifty feet, making tracking the rock cairns a real hassle.
Both of Jason's knees were giving him serious trouble. My knee was dogging me, too. And I had serious doubts about Darren's rain gear, which didn't look like it would stand up to much worse than we were already getting.
"We have to get over this ridge by dark," I told Jason. "Otherwise this could get bad."
Jason is a trooper. He's a former army reservist and one of the most quietly tough people I know. His uncle Darren showed plenty of grit on this trip as well; he'd probably bitten off more than he could chew, but he stayed positive, stayed moving, and gutted out the nasty bits as well as the rest of us.
(It could have been the noxious off-brand vodka he was smuggling in his pack.)
We set out to cross the ridge, sore and wet and hungry and cold. Twice we were turned around by the fog; once I was absolutely sure we'd followed a stub trail back down the way we'd come, and it took Jason's convincing me with a compass and map to get us going in the right direction.
Despite the hardship, I didn't feel as mentally rough as I had the day before, when I'd faced down the Hinde by myself. My friends were hurting, but they were toughing it out, and I was leaning on them as much as they were on me. It felt good to be working together.
The ridge seemed endless in the low-lying clouds, a neverending climb and descent and traverse, a constant search for the next cairn. Then, mid-afternoon, I recognized something: a string of prayer flags hung across the trail, maybe an hour or two out from where we'd camped the night before.
Shortly, I caught glimpses of more familiar terrain through the fog and, shivering and exhausted, we followed the ridge from south-facing to eastward, descended past our first campsite and found a sheltered spot out of the wind nearby. It had stopped raining, finally, but for how long? We were bitterly cold and hungry.
I set water to boil for dinner and then focused on getting my tent set up and finding dry gear. Soon, we were wolfing down hot food, and at about 1930hrs I put on every piece of dry clothing I had, crawled into my sleeping bag and stayed in my tent listening to the wind as the day slipped away.
It was wonderful. To this day I call back to that evening, when I'm lying in bed and I can't get to sleep. I remember how luxurious it felt to be warm and dry and fed and lying down, how I had hours and hours to sleep and I could lie there and do nothing and listen to the wind until sleep found me.
I remember being proud of us. We had a day's hike ahead of us tomorrow, but we'd weathered the storm. Tomorrow night we'd take showers and drink beer and eat delicious food that didn't come freeze-dried in a bag. My knee hurt, but even that felt surmountable.