Dawn breaks cooler and with puffy clouds and fog hanging on the peaks. Nothing to be worried about but could mean cooler temperatures at last. I fall back asleep for a few minutes, but then decide to get up and take advantage of this gorgeous light.
Our bear bags are all tied to a fence post and sitting high above the ground. I pump water to carry to the summit for breakfast, pack up and set off.
It’s grassy in the valley surrounded by mountains then up switchbacks through high plants. The trail is obvious, but the plants crowd all the way in, and up to my neck, thankfully not wet overnight.
It’s hard to tell where the top is. Just as I reach what appears to be the summit, a new summit appears. It’s steep now, just straight up topping out at rock where I make a shake. The view is stunning of mountains all around and cottony mist. From here, I can still hear the train over Marais Pass.
I’m technically not in ‘The Bob’ yet, but in Lewis and Clark National Forest. It’s absolutely quiet except for birds, bugs and the wind. Some of the surrounding natural features have been given interesting names, like Bullshoe mountain, Slippery Bill mountain and Goofy Gulch.
I contemplate what I’m doing out here and if I have both the physical and mental stamina to see it through. The views are huge and I have this to myself, but there are so many ups to go, literally taking my breath away. This is not Glacier, but there’s a subtle beauty of entire mountainsides all trees, the whitish rounded mountaintops and the clouds changing shape.
I see human and elk footprints in sand, flowering plants grab hold in small humps. There’s more and more steep climbing in a kind of C over this entire mountain. Pika peep at me over and over, one on his haunches, his tiny paws touching in front like groomsmen unsure of what to do with their hands.
He’s small but mighty, that peep loud and penetrating. What is he saying, “Here comes another one of these aliens walking through our territory! Maybe my screech will encourage them to walk on by!”
I reach a stream for a second breakfast, bright yellow flowers of different varieties everywhere. Butterflies flit from one to the next. Here the rock is white and I pass a mini Stonehenge perfect for Spinal Tap.
I reach the top, then head down to a river steeply on sandy soil, then in the forest, saying goodbye to my views. This is where an alternate meets the trail, one that cuts miles and stays in the forest. But from here, it’s up again on long, leisurely switchbacks.
Over the top, I enter an even more magical forest. The breeze is fresh and cooling in the dappled light. The fragrance is rich with balsam and pine. Butterflies are everywhere. Beargrass lines the path, sharp tendrils, green and blue underneath. An orange inchworm inches across the path.
I meet another stream, sparkling in the light and cool on my feet as I cross. But I need to dry my feet because they are pruny and becoming painful. I do this at the turn off for Blue Lake, me high above it with flies buzzing around, some biting.
Muskrat Pass is here, a sort of large clearing. I hit a rock and trip, falling onto the grass. Fortunately no cliff to fall off from. A sign tells me that I am now officially in the wilderness and to please leave my bike and hang glider at home.
It’s only a bit more to the huge campsite near Beaver Lake. I set up, do camp chores and sit down by a fire to eat dinner. Oceana has the map spread out and most everyone wants to take the Spotted Bear alternate.
There will be blowdown, but it’s supposed to be beautiful and cuts off 16 miles in this very long section. I hate blowdowns because they are very hard to negotiate, but my pack is lighter now and I’m getting stronger every day.
My tent is covered with mosquitos and a few buzzy flies. As I lay down at ‘hiker midnight’ (9:00 and still light) I think about this morning. When I left camp, happy yellow mountain daisies lit up the hillside. As I ended the day, the same flowers welcomed me with their sunny faces. I think I’ll give the more adventurous alternate a try. The worst that could happen is I move slowly, but I planned for that with all that food I’m carrying!