A Journey On The Highline Trail: Day 2

The first night was a rough one. I didn’t get any sleep, or at least I’m sure that I didn’t get any sleep. Maybe I dozed off for a few minutes, but it sure didn’t seem like it. It seemed like I just watched the roof of my tent the whole night, until morning light first started showing. Even then I closed my eyes trying to get at least a few minutes of shut eye. Eventually it was bright enough that I wanted to get started. This was around 8:00 AM. I had some Wet Ones in my tent with me, so I used them to clean my groin, butt, and chest. I figured those were the most important parts to keep sanitary.

My first task of the day was breakfast. That was easy, just some cereal bars and Pop Tarts. I wandered around a bit while eating. Not so much to see the area, but because I noticed that while I was moving the mosquitoes didn’t bother me so much. They were only really bad when I stood still. Well after downing my breakfast, I was ready to pack up. I knew that I’d need to purify water. I only had about one liter left. I didn’t want to stay around Taylor Lake, though. I wanted to start making progress. So I packed up, figuring that the water I had was enough to make it over North Pole Pass, and I’d fill up at Fox Lake, which was on the other side of the pass.

I figured then, that I had brought in too much food. The ramen I’d eaten the day before hadn’t been particularly satisfying and I was still feeling the burn on my tongue from the hot cocoa I’d had. I also had a lot of trail-mix, and being that I’d barely munched on it the first day, I decided I didn’t need as much as I had. I dumped about half of my ramen, one third of my trail-mix, and all but a few packets of hot cocoa. This served well in allowing me to fit all my supplies in my backpack. With my pack filled, I was ready to depart.

I still had the belt on that had bruised my hips the day before. My plan was to hike my shorts up, high enough that the waistband of my backpack would be below the belt. I realized after maybe a quarter mile, before I even got back to the trail, that this would not work out. So my backpack came off, and I removed the belt. I tried going a little further with no belt, but that wasn’t working either. My shorts were falling down. I knew I’d need some kind of makeshift belt, one that wouldn’t cause any more bruising, but would still keep my pants up. I had some nylon rope wrapped around on of my water bottles, and I used it as a belt. It proved effective, and I was making good time towards North Pole Pass.

Like I said, I only had one liter of water left, and I was wrong to think that that was enough to get over North Pole Pass. Well, I wasn’t completely wrong, because I did make it with the little I had, but I wasn’t exactly comfortable. I’d seen snow on the pass the day before, so I figured it was still cool, and thought I wouldn’t need to drink a lot. I ran out of water before I reached he top, well, more-or-less, right at the top. Still, I wasn’t that worried. If I absolutely needed water there were a lot of streams, or I could boil snow.

Seeing snow on the pass made me wonder how bad the other passes would be.

It was difficult, ascending North Pole Pass. Really, it shouldn’t have been that difficult. I suppose what made it so hard, was that I was running on absolutely no sleep. Looking back, North Pole Pass seems the worst, even though it isn’t as steep as most of the other passes that I traversed. I guess I just didn’t have any energy, and it wasn’t just North Pole Pass where I didn’t have any energy, it was the whole day. The day started out miserable, and it would end that way.

By the time I reached the top of the pass, the sun was bright overhead. I could feel it heating up the backs of my arms and legs. I didn’t put on sunblock, I suppose because I was so bothered by the bugs that I was worrying more about applying bug spray than I was about sunburn. This would prove to be a fatal mistake later on. As I ascended I was a little more concerned about water. I was starting to get thirsty, but I could see Fox Lake off in the distance, so I knew my destination was close. I wondered if I would see anyone else at Fox Lake, an angler out fishing, perhaps.

It was almost as slow going down North Pole Pass as it was going up. It seemed to wrap around forever. I saw a tarp laying on the ground, and it made me wonder if anyone else was around. But I couldn’t see or hear any signs of human life, so I figured someone realized they were carrying too much gear, and had left it behind.

Eventually I hit the treeline, and the bugs were getting really bad again, so I started applying more bug spray. I was starting to realize that the bug spray I had was only effective for about an hour or so, which is the reason I spent so much time focusing on applying it. Well, with the treeline, came the utter lack of defined trails that I had experienced the day before. I couldn’t see my destination of Fox Lake, and I wasn’t on the trail. All I knew was to head west, and I kept doing so. The forest wasn’t really that bad, so even though I wasn’t on the trail it wasn’t hard to make progress. Eventually I made it to a stream, and I figured I ought to purify water there, despite the fact that I originally wanted to make it all the way to Fox Lake before doing so, but I figured spring water was better than lake water anyway.

I spent maybe an hour or so purifying water and eating lunch. Lunch consisted of a Clif Bar and some cereal bars. Maybe not so appetizing, but the Clif Bar did prove effective at giving me the energy to continue. I realized then, that Clif Bars were going to be my lunchtime energy staple for the rest of the trip. I also realized, that as I unpacked my backpack to get the water bladder out, that I had left one of my water bottles behind. The bottle that had the nylon rope wrapped around it. I was a little upset, because that bottle had a filter on it, and I wanted to use that filter as a secondary purification device. Oh well, I certainly wasn’t going back for it. Boiling alone, it would be.

The water I had purified was warm, so I submerged it in the stream for a bit, to try to cool it off. It didn’t really cool down that much, so my water would be warm for the rest of the day.

I also checked my GPS to find out exactly where I was. It didn’t seem like I was very close to Fox Lake, and despite the fact that I thought that the trail was to the south, the GPS indicated that it was to the north. I checked the map as well, and it revealed that the trail did pass by the north side of Fox Lake, so I headed north. The GPS proved correct, and I picked up the trail, and made my way through the forest. I suppose around noon, I arrived at Fox Lake.

I was sad to see that there were no fisherman. I was really hoping to see another human being at that point, but there was nothing. I made my way slowly past the lake, passing by a ramshackle cabin that had been built by the lake. As the lake passed me by I thought about taking a picture, but didn’t bother. After the lake was more forest, and let me tell you, that forest proved to be the worst part of my vacation. The trail was just so bad, I found myself lost constantly, and for that reason progress was slow.

It is hard to know where you are at when all you see is trees, trees, and more trees.

I spent hours walking through the forest, constantly pulling out my map. My plan had been to make it to Milk Lake, but as I analyzed my journey, and how slowly I was making progress, and considered how much fuel and food I had. I thought that I should try to make it as far as Painter Basin, which was just a little past Milk Lake. I figured the little extra push, would put me right beneath Anderson Pass. Progress was utterly slow.

I had Milk Lake and Painter Basin programmed into my GPS, and the more I walked, the less close they seemed to be getting. I wasn’t going backwards, per se, but the GPS didn’t seem to indicate that it was getting any less than four miles. I pushed on, though, but it was hard because I was tired. I found myself walking for twenty minutes, then taking a five or ten minute break, then doing it all over again. I guess what made it really bad was the trees. I had no idea where I was, and my map didn’t seem to be very accurate. It is hard for me to emphasize in words, just how difficult it was to get from Fox Lake to Painter Basin, but I will say this, I wanted to give up at that point. I figured I could veer north, up the Henry’s Fork drainage, and hope that someone at the Henry’s Fork trail head would be willing to take me to a cell phone accessible area.

Around 6:30 PM I finally made it out of the treeline and could see Painter Basin before me. I’d been there before, when I went backpacking out to King’s Peak, and I was trying to remember the area. I thought I could see Anderson Pass in the distance, in what seemed like maybe five miles away, but in reality was less than two. It looked daunting, and I was glad that I didn’t have to go up it that day. I kept walking though, because I wanted to be as close to the pass as possible. Eventually my walking became a waddle. I was making progress more slowly than I had in the forest, and I realized I needed to set up camp.

As a side note. I couldn’t help but think of the video game, Oblivion. My regular readers will know that I am an avid fan of video games, and Oblvion is one of my favorites. I kept thinking how hiking in that game was so much easier. You just hold down a button. Further, how the player-character in that game can carry up to three hundred pounds or more. I was carrying about sixty. Yeah, video games aren’t very realistic.
Oblivion has a world that is about sixteen square miles in size. I’m fairly certain that the distance I covered on day two, would have easily spanned the entire length of Cyrodiil (the province where Oblivion takes place).

There were still a few trees in the area, and I figured my best bet was to set up camp beneath them. I also wanted to be near water, and close to the trail, so I’d be ready to go in the morning. When I could walk no further, I dropped my gear by a rock cairn, and began searching for a place to camp. I found some broken beer bottles in a wooded area nearby, and figuring that someone had camped there, I thought I’d give the place a shot as well. I had to make sure there was some water nearby, and I did find a mountain spring some distance away. It was further away than I had hoped for, but at that point I would have died had I put my backpack back on, and it didn’t look like there was any trees near the spring anyway, so I started to set up camp.

The bugs were awful. It felt as if I was breathing them straight into my lungs as I set up my tent. When my tent was finally up, I got as many of my supplies into it as I thought I’d need, including some beef jerky and trail-mix. That was going to be my dinner. I hated the idea of eating in my tent.

Every bear attack story I’d heard of, including a neighbor of mine when I was a kid, was due to food inside of a tent. I was willing to take that chance though. The buzzing of the mosquitoes was loud outside my tent, and I wasn’t about to go outside to hang out with them while eating. So I munched down quite a bit of trail-mix and beef jerky. Then I threw the food, in it’s Ziploc bags, a ways outside my tent, so that if some wild animal did come along, the food would be away from my tent.
Once again, I knew that I should have purified water at that time, but the bugs were so bad, and I was tired. So I slept, I had a liter left, which was enough to at least get me through the night.

As I lay there, trying to fall asleep, I couldn’t help but think that I had made a serious mistake going out there. I didn’t think I was going to die, or anything like that, but I still had so far to go, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go on. My thoughts of bailing out through Henry’s Fork were rampant, but I figured I’d at least go up Anderson Pass, and if I thought I couldn’t make it, I’d turn back. If I had had a satellite phone, I know I would have called someone to come pick me up. I’m glad I didn’t have any such phone, it would have been an excuse to give up, and despite my desires that day, I didn’t give up.

By far, day two, was the worst day of my trip. It was so bad that I was literally counting the steps as I wandered through the forest. I’d never been so discouraged while backpacking in my entire life. It simply wasn’t fun, and there really weren’t any sights that I particularly enjoyed. Luckily, my journey would get a lot better.

The journey continues on Day 3.

My progress for day two. The yellow highlighted sections indicates the Highline trail. The red portion indicates day one. Blue indicates day two. You can see, that despite how difficult the day was, I made a lot of progress.