In the morning, when I go down to the lake to collect water, the surface is perfectly calm and flat. The ripples I make when I dip my cup in are the only ripples, and I watch them expand out and out, watch the reflection of the trees and mountains across the lake start wiggling and get hazy.
It’s already warm out when we start hiking, and it only gets warmer. The sun still feels novel and wonderful in the morning, but by afternoon we’re ducking into spots of shade whenever we find them. Still, we’re making good time, and I’m feeling great. “I’m really enjoying the trail today!” I tell Backup. We’re not even in alpine wonderland, but today I’m loving the trees, the streams, the berry bushes, the boulders and rocks, all of it. It feels new again, and beautiful again. I try real hard and I make this feeling reinforce itself. I feel good, so the trail is beautiful and fun, so I feel good!
We stop for water five miles in at a place Guthook descriptively calls “cascading stream” and which we’ve been warned by maps and signs may be a difficult ford. It’s not so bad — a few logs have been carefully placed across the only spot where a rock hop would be tricky, and we’re able to pick our way across. When I’ve crossed and am waiting for Backup to finish packing up, two older hikers come down the trail heading in the opposite direction. One crosses and the other stops to chat with me for a few minutes. It’s Bipolar, whose blog I read before I got on the trail. We exchange notes about hiking and the trail; Bipolar is enthusiastic and kind, and the encounter leaves me energized for the big climb of the day, next up: Cathedral Pass.
We climb rocky switchbacks, then wooded switchbacks. We stop on some logs next to the trail about halfway up for snacks and shade, then continue. Near the top, there’s meadows and trees and bushes and the trail rolls around and between all of these, with big rocky summits rising up above.
Three miles down to Deep Lake. Every section hiker we’ve passed today has asked us: are you camping at Deep Lake tonight? No, we plan to go further, but when we get there, it’s clear why they’re asking — it’s very pretty. We fill up on water and take another break, then push on.
I’ve stepped wrong and rolled my left ankle twice so far today. Both times I’ve taken a few nervous steps and the pain has quickly faded. Now, a little tired, I do it two more times in quick succession. After the last time, the pain thankfully still fades away, but the joint feels weak, and I baby it for a few slow miles as the day starts to fade and shadows lengthen. We’re still walking through a million different environments: rocky outcroppings, steep river valleys, a section of forest bowled over completely by an avalanche at some point, huge ferns that come up to my shoulders, and more.
The last few miles go a little quicker when the terrain eases and I start to feel better about my ankle. We finally find our campsite, just a little clearing right off the trail, mercifully unoccupied. It’s just around the corner from Spade Creek, a reliable creek big enough for a steel-cable-reinforced bridge. We set up the tent and then find big rocks to sit on below the bridge. I soak my feet and ankles in the cold water for a few minutes, and then we cook dinner and watch the frogs.
Here’s a little thing I’m really good at on this hike: I keep my mug and spoon very clean. I lick my spoon thoroughly after every meal, and when I’m finished eating or drinking out of my mug, I add a little hot water, scrape the sides with my spoon, drink down the water, repeat. It’s silly but very pleasing to have a clean mug and spoon the next time I eat, without ever dumping out any food residue in the wilderness.
Bedtime and it’s still warm. I felt good today. I feel good now.