A Journey On The Highline Trail: Day 5

As I had mentioned on day four, day five would begin as the worst day on my journey. Sleeping is difficult in the wild, sleeping with sunburns is especially bad. As I mentioned, I had sunburns on the backs of my arms and legs. This made laying down particularly painful, and sleep was difficult.

I tend to turn from side to side as I sleep, but that night I found that I couldn’t turn to my left side at all. It hurt too much to have the sunburn on my arm touch anything. I was having a lot of difficultly sleeping in general, and it wasn’t just because of the burns, but also because of the blisters on my feet, they were throbbing. Around 1:00 AM the pain was enough that I decided to treat my blisters and get them cleaned up. As much as I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag I managed. Like the day before, it was going to be another late night of surgery.

To my surprise, as I turned my flashlight on, I found that my feet weren’t the worst problem I had, because on my left arm was the biggest blister I’d every seen on my body. It had spawned purely from sunburn. I realized why I was having so much pain whenever I rolled onto my left side. It was a second degree burn and I knew it. Alongside with the huge blister, were much smaller blisters all around. Once again I turned to my first-aid guide. Keep in mind, my first-aid guide was not some comprehensive manual, it was a few sheets of paper with common outdoor injury remedies. Luckily burns were included.

The treatment of a second degree burn was simple. The guide said that any blisters larger than two centimeters should be punctured and drained. Smaller ones didn’t need to be drained. Well, my blister was easily over two centimeters. I’d say it was about an inch and a half. Following the drainage, the guide said that antibacterial should be applied, and the wound should be bandaged. I had to use my knife to puncture the blister, but this proved much easier than the blister on my foot from the day before (you may recall the sawing). As soon as the tip of my knife touched the blister on my arm it was punctured, and draining it was easy. I only had one small packet of anti-bacterial ointment, so I figured I’d use half of it then, and half the next time I dressed it. My feet would have to fend for themselves, as this wound seemed more serious.

As for bandaging the wound, I was in luck. At first I thought I’d have to tape gauze pads over it, and that bothered me because the burn was all the way around my arm, and I didn’t want to have tape over the burns, but I had an elastic bandage in my first-aid kit, and I was able to wrap my whole upper arm. With the wound treated, I moved onto my feet.

Treating my wounds made sleeping easier, since they didn’t hurt so much. I was worried, though. My first-aid guide didn’t say that second degree burns needed immediate medical attention, but I didn’t know for sure. I wanted out, I wanted to go see a doctor. I figured if I started early, and hiked all day I could get out without spending another night in the mountain range. I set my alarm for 4:30 AM.

4:30 AM came, and the last thing I wanted to do was get up. I went back to bed until 6:30 AM. From there it was a struggle in my tent to clean up a bit and change into some fresh clothes. I only had one pair of dry socks left. Around 7:30 AM I got out of my tent, and began to purify water and make breakfast. For breakfast I had a freeze dried meal, scrambled eggs and bacon. It wasn’t very good. No, not good at all. Almost as bad as the usual Pop Tarts and cereal bars I’d been having. Still I managed to make it through the morning. I threw out more food too, I knew at most I’d have only one night left. I threw out all my noodles and most of my Pop Tarts. I departed my camping spot around 8:00 AM, and tried to move as fast as possible. I was hoping to get to Rocky Sea Pass, the final pass I had to go over, by noon. I knew that a painkiller would help me make it.

That morning was difficult, it was all through forest, and the bugs were bad. The bugs were so bad that I couldn’t stop cussing at them. Then I’d laugh at myself, because I knew the bugs couldn’t care less if I cussed. Then I’d cuss some more because laughing had caused bugs to get sucked up my nose.
The trail from Ledge Lake to Rocky Sea Pass goes through the Rock Creek drainage. The Highline Trail veers a little to the south, but there are some other trails that pass by the various lakes in the northern parts of the drainage. I wanted to follow the Highline Trail the whole way, so I stuck with it, even though it looked much less used than the northern trails. I followed it south.

This led to a big decrease in elevation, and in fact, lead to the lowest elevation that I would reach on the entire trip, about 9,000 ft. Maybe that’s why the bugs were so bad. What’s worse, is that I had to cross Rock Creek, and there was absolutely no way to cross without getting my feet wet. That bothered me a lot, because I had put a fresh dressing on my blisters, and I didn’t have any dry socks left. I had no choice, so I crossed.

It was all uphill from there. Uphill and bugs. I couldn’t stop moving to catch my breath, because I’d be eating bugs if I did so. So I pushed on. Eventually I made it to the junction where the northern trails meet back up with the Highline Trail. I had predetermined that I would take a thirty minute break there, have some Clif Bars and then approach Rocky Sea Pass. Really, the only good thing about that morning was that the sky was overcast, so at least the sun wasn’t burning me further.

My break was less than twenty minutes, the bugs were too bad to stop for long. I was still cussing like a madman. I made my approach to Rocky Sea Pass. I feared this pass. This was one of those passes that my map indicated as “hazardous to horses and pack stock”. The lone backpacker I’d talked to the day before had said it would be steep going up, but then it wouldn’t be bad. I just didn’t know. I hoped it wasn’t anything like Porcupine Pass. The last thing I wanted to do was get injured when I was so close to my destination.

Rocky Sea Pass. The final pass I’d cross.

As I approached the pass, I grew even more fearful. The sky was gray, and I didn’t want to be on a dangerous pass with slick wet rocks and the threat of a lightning strike. I figured the best thing to do would be to wait out the storm. The bugs were bad and I wanted to stay dry, so I set up my tent just below the pass. It was around 1:00 PM. I figured if the sky hadn’t cleared up by 6:00 PM, I’d spend the night there.

It rained off and on for hours. It was the first time on the trip that I had a chance to read. It was actually quite relaxing, just waiting there. The storm caused the air to grow cold, but I managed to keep warm. I had grabbed my sleeping back, but found that there was no reason to roll it out. I waited and read. I was content there. I figured it would be fine to stay there. I’d even set up my tent on a very flat and comfortable spot. Still, in my mind, I had wanted to cross the pass that day. So I wasn’t fully satified, but 6:00 PM was getting closer and closer.

Around 5:30 PM I heard what sounded like a Boyscout troop coming down the pass. I couldn’t help but think that if they were going over the pass on the edge of a storm, that maybe I could cross as well. I did hear one guy joking about how he didn’t want his brother to get struck by lighting, but at that time the storm was gone, and the rain was almost nonexistent. I knew I’d be able to cross the pass as I heard the troop’s voices fade into the distance. Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to break camp, but it was before 6:00 PM and the rain was gone. I figured I’d go for it, and I packed up my gear.

Atop Rocky Sea Pass, I looked down to see how far I’d come.

Rocky Sea Pass turned out to be the easiest to cross. Maybe it’s because I had four hours of rest prior to crossing, maybe it’s because I knew it was the last pass I’d have to cross, either way, it was easy, and I realized that I could have easily crossed it in a storm, with little or no danger to me. There were trees on the pass, and going down was like any other downhill trail I’d been along. It didn’t even look like a pass on the other side.

Despite the fact that I had hoped to get out of there that day, and get my sunburn treated, I knew it would get too dark to make it much further. I settled on getting to Carolyn Lake, which wasn’t much beyond Rocky Sea Pass. Well, I made it there, and upon arriving I pulled out my guide book, and it said that there were designated camping spots on the west side. So I went searching.

Let me tell you, I found the best camping spot that night. Designated indeed. This was the type of camping spot I’d stayed at as a boyscout. It was a flat, huge, open area. It had a fire pit for the taking. It was right near the lake. I was even wondering if I was supposed to register for such a nice spot.

The night was so peaceful that I took a picture of the forest. Nothing much show up, as you can see.

I began to set up camp. The bugs weren’t so bad later in the evening. I did water purification that night. That way I wouldn’t have warm water the next day. I set up my tent. I had a freeze dried dinner, lasagna with meat sauce. It was the best dinner I had on my whole trip. I even wanted to try having some hot cocoa again, but I’d thrown it all out. I checked my sunburn, it looked bad, but not the worst I’d seen. One more night would be just fine. I even set up everything for the next day, in a nice row, so I’d be ready to eat breakfast, pack up, and go.

As I went to bed, I couldn’t help but think that, this is the life. After all the pain and suffering I’d been through, I was finally enjoying myself. I thought maybe I’d go fishing in the morning. I’d seen the fish jumping around in the lake when I was gathering water. I slept pretty well. I could hear other campers nearby, so even though I hadn’t actually seen anyone else that day, it was comforting to know there were people nearby. I was also happy to know, that the next day I’d be out. I’d have a shower. I’d see about my burns and blisters. I’d be out of the wild. Despite the fact that it had started out as one of the worst days of the journey, it ended well, very well.

The journey continues on Day 6.

My progress for day five. Coded as follows:Yellow: The Highline Trail.Pink: Day 5Orange: Day 4Purple: Day 3Blue: Day 2Red: Day 1

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