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PCT day 3: hell is many mosquitos

The wind roars down the basin all night and straight into our tent. At least, that’s how it feels to me. I burrow as deeply into my sleeping bag as I can, but I’m envious of Ben’s mummy bag for the first time ever. I don’t sleep great.

But when I wake up in the morning, my shoes are dry. We get an early start and start our short climb up to Cispus Pass. The basin is in shade, but we can see the sun at the top of the pass. We cross over, and we’re in it.

There’s a big snowfield on the other side of the pass, steepish, with an unfriendly-looking runout. The sun is shining, but it’s still early, and the snow is firm. If there were any time to use my ice axe and microspikes, this would be it… but we can see the other side of the snowfield, and I’ve got my poles, and for some reason it seems more fun or interesting to be able to say I carried my axe and spikes for no good reason (though the axe really is great for digging cat holes!). So, we cross, carefully, without accoutrements.

The trail traverses the slope and we cross a few more small snowfields. Above us, there’s a huge rock wall that looks like stacked firewood, and the slope ahead of us looks like one of those stacks tipped over and fell — if each piece of firewood were big enough to use as a bench. The next snowfield leads across this pile. Ben takes a couple steps and then looks back: “Hey, can I use one of your poles to probe?”

“Of course!”

He probes his way across and I follow a few steps behind. “Don’t step here,” he tells me, and I don’t — I step onto firm snow and slip, instead, into the hole he’s told me to avoid. I’m okay, though, and manage to climb out onto the trail by breaking more of the snow crust to see the rocks below.

We find a section of a trekking pole on the trail. I shrug and ask Ben to tuck it into one of the side pockets on my pack. I’ll carry it to Trout Lake, rather than leave it here.

The trail leads back over the ridge and then begins to descend into forest. With the trees come the mosquitos. They’re really bad. They’re everywhere. They’re awful. Soon, I’m stumbling like a drunk down the trail, slapping myself, wobbling from side to side, failing to outrun them. I ask Ben for some of his deet. He kindly slathers it on my legs and arms. It helps a little, but they keep biting my shoulders and my thighs through my shirt and shorts.

Finally, we can’t stand it. The trail passes a flat spot and I throw down my pack, pull out my tent. We have it pitched in two minutes flat, and we dive in, then systematically massacre the mosquitos that followed us into our mesh-walled sanctuary. We’re not entirely in the shade, and the temperature inside the tent is a little intense — but we’re both so eager for some respite from the mosquitos that we happily lie there and sweat.

We’ve only hiked 11 miles today, though, and we can’t stay here and hide from the mosquitos all day. We stay for an hour and a half, and then choose a tentsite destination on Guthook that’s 7.5 miles away. Let’s go. I pack up my bag as much as possible inside the tent, then pull the tent down and shove it in the top of my pack.

“Deet me!” I cry to Ben, doing the “ahh fuck these mosquitos ahhh” dance. He does. We hike.

A few minutes later I veer off trail to a little cedar tree and yank at one of the small branches. “What are you doing?” Ben asks.

“I want to, like, make a horse tail,” I tell him. In an instant, he gets it. He pulls out his pocketknife, helps me cut the branch, and cuts one himself. I hike on, using the cedar to brush mosquitos away, rhythmically whacking my shoulders with it like a self-flagellating monk. Not the most leave-no-trace move ever, but these are desperate times.

My morale is not high. I’m worrying about the rest of my trip. Why didn’t I think about mosquito season? Is my whole hike down to central Oregon or wherever I get to going to be like this? I complain aloud to Ben. When he steps off the trail to pee, I tell him I’m going to walk on ahead. “I’ll just be self-flagellating… literally and figuratively,” I tell him, whacking myself with my cedar branch.

Finally, we meet a northbound hiker who says the mosquitos are a little better about six miles ahead of us. “That’s the best news I’ve ever heard!” I say, a little louder than necessary. This has an end? Glory be! We give him the bad news that he’s got ten miles of mosquitos in front of him, and then we continue on our way, descending.

I’m getting a hot spot on my finger from flinging my cedar branch back and forth repeatedly. I’ve been carrying my poles in one hand for miles, reluctant to stop long enough to secure them to my pack.

Finally, the mosquito density decreases a little. Footsore and tired, we reach the stream and the meadow campsite we’d chosen as our destination for the day. I pitch the tent while Ben starts water boiling for dinner. We’re able to eat outside the tent with minimal discomfort. I even take my bandana to the creek after dinner and wash it, then strip to my bra and skirt and use it to wipe myself down. I feel like we’ve climbed out of hell (or descended down from it, as the case may be), to be honest. We survived.

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