My last night in the mountain range was a peaceful one. The night air was cool. It rained a little, too. Not heavy, but enough for me to hear that gentle patter of water drops on the roof of my tent. Sleeping was the usual in-and-out, but it was a good night. I was hoping to wake early for two reasons. First I wanted to get a picture of the sunrise over Carolyn Lake, and second, I was hoping to do some fishing. I had set my alarm for 6:30 AM, but as I looked outside my tent the sun wasn’t rising, so I lay in bed, waiting for it to come up. It never did, the sky would be overcast all day.
I suppose around 7:30 AM I figured I’d just get up, get dressed, and have breakfast. As I mentioned, I didn’t have any dry socks at that point, and I did my best to dry out a pair using my stove. That helped a little, but they were still wet. I also didn’t have a change of underwear, I usually like to change my underwear every day when backpacking, but I didn’t have a choice, I’d have to stick with a day old pair. Also, I wanted to wear long sleeves so that my sunburns wouldn’t get any worse, and the only long sleeved clothing I had was a pair of long-johns. I figured it would do.
I had another freeze dried breakfast that morning, granola with blueberries and milk. Like the scrambled eggs with bacon I’d had the previous morning, it wasn’t very good. Still, it was nice to have a warm breakfast. I also finished up my Pop Tarts, and had a few cereal bars.
With breakfast out of the way I started packing up. I decided I wouldn’t bother with fishing because I thought it might rain on me, and I just wanted to be ready to go. Packing up was easy. By this time most of my supplies were exhausted or thrown out, so my pack was only 3/4 full. I don’t think it weighed nearly as much as when I had started either. I was sad to leave that camping spot, it had been my best one. It would have been so easy to stay there another day, and I could have too, I had enough supplies, but I wanted to get out of there. I departed Carolyn Lake around 8:30 AM. I figured I’d be to the parking lot by 1:00 PM. I saw another tent set up by Carolyn Lake on my way out, more campers that probably had a good night as well. They hadn’t gotten up yet.
With another painkiller down, the trail was easy to follow. There was a little uphill and a little downhill. My feet were actually hurting pretty bad, but knowing it was my last day, helped me to go on. The Highline Trail ends at a place called Hayden’s Pass, and this kind of bothered me. I thought I’d been over all the passes I’d needed to cross, and yet there was one more marked on my map. I didn’t think it could possibly be that bad, but it was still a “pass”.
I knew I was getting close to the end of the trail when I crossed a man-made bridge. Yes, man-made, constructed, solid. It was so much better than when I had forded Rock Creek. I was happy that my feet weren’t going to get any more wet than the socks had already made them. My blisters would fare alright. What’s more is the overcast sky kept the air cool.
As with the previous day, I used trail junctions as my milestones. There were four leading up to the trail head, the East Fork Pinto Lake Trail, the Naturalist Basin Trail, a trail leading to Packard Lake, and a trail leading to Mirror Lake. It wasn’t long before I came across the Pinto Lake Trail. I didn’t expect it to take long, it was only a mile or so beyond Carolyn Lake. But it seemed to take for ever to get to the Naturalist Basin Trail, and I was beginning to wonder if I had gone in the wrong direction, but I was on a trail, and there were no other trails in the area, so I pressed on. I did pass by some horsemen going the other way. That made me feel good. I joked about how much easier it must have been to travel by horseback. One of the guys laughed.
Eventually I came across another trail junction, and as I looked at the sign, it said Packard Lake was to the south. I had gone further than I thought I had. That was approximately half way between Carolyn Lake and the trail head, and I had to take a piss, so I took a break. I figured half an hour would be good. I had a Clif Bar, drank some water, and relaxed. The bugs were out, but they were tolerable. When I was done with my break I put my backpack on, and as I was doing so, two young men coming from the other direction passed me by. They didn’t say much other than, “Hello”. And I realize now that as they saw me, I must have looked like the creepy-old-man-of-the-forest. I was basically out there in nothing but underwear. I probably smelled too.
Well, I headed out, and just up the trail I bumped into what must have been the Boyscout troop that the other young men I’d see were with. It was a whole gamut of young men. They were all taking a break. I felt weird as I passed through them. Knowing that I must have looked like crap. They said their hellos, asked how I was doing, I wanted to say, “I’m doing about as good as I look,” but no one there seemed particularly conversational, so I said I was fine and moved on. One kid was going crazy with bug spray, and I couldn’t help but think that that day was not nearly as bad as the day before, and that that kid was really going to enjoy himself later on.
That was the last I saw of human life on the trail. From there it was almost all uphill, and I always kept my eye out for the landmarks. I passed by Scudder Lake, which was another indication that I was close. And eventually I got to the Mirror Lake junction, and that let me know that I had less than one mile to go, but then, that one mile was Hayden Pass.
Hayden Pass has quite a few switch backs, but it’s really not that steep, and I made progress as usual, taking a short break every few steps. On the way up, I could see an RV parked in the trees, so I knew I must be near the freeway. I also knew that I must be very close to the parking lot, and sure enough, I was. I was hoping to bump into someone in the parking lot, someone that was just about ready to go out into the wild, someone who I could show my map to, and tell them my great accomplishment, and how far I’d come. No one was there.
I took a picture of myself, just to see how bad I looked. I wanted to use it in contrast with picture of me when I started. I look terrible in that picture, standing in my long-johns, my shoulders drooping. I won’t be posting it, it’s just too embarrassing. I’m embarrassed that that Boyscout troop saw me looking like that.
Well, I had a fresh pair of clothes, including dry socks and clean underwear, in my departure vehicle, and it was all there waiting for me. I also had some Wet Ones to clean up with. So I went to the latrine to change. As I was heading there, a man and his two young daughters came out from the trail. Somehow telling him how far I’d come didn’t seem like such a great idea, so I just said hello. I could tell, that he and his children, had basically gone for a walk in the park. My journey had been much more than that.
As I removed my clothes in the bathroom stall, I noticed that I had quite a few red marks on my shoulder. At first I was thinking it was bug bites, but then I didn’t think the bugs would have bitten through my shirt. Then it occurred to me that it might be acne. I was absolutely filthy at that point. I’d cleaned up a little while I was out camping, but really I’d only cleaned my lower regions. I hadn’t worried so much about my upper body. The Wet Ones really helped me to clean myself up, and the clean clothes felt good on my body. From there, all I had to do was drive out. It was that easy.
Ironically, the worst weather I experienced on my vacation was driving on I-80 back to Salt Lake. A really bad thunderstorm hit. I mean really bad. Visibility was maybe twenty feet. The traffic slowed to about fifteen miles per hour. I got out of that storm, though, and made it to Salt Lake.
Strangely, I had a craving for a Six Dollar Burger from Carl’s Junior. I don’t know why I had that particular craving, but I did. That wasn’t the first thing I did, though. I took a shower first. Got cleaned up for real. When I did so I saw more acne, all over my back. After that, I went to see a doctor. I wanted to have my burn looked at, maybe get a prescription. I also wanted a prescription to clear up the acne that was on my body. The doctor gave me both. A cream for the burn, and anti-bacterial pills for the acne. With the prescriptions picked up, I went to Carl’s Junior and had that Six Dollar Burger I was craving. Cost me seven dollars.
That pretty much sums up my journey. In the conclusion I will give some of my thoughts on the mountain range, and reflect on my experiences.
Some final thoughts are in the conclusion.