The alarm went off at 5:15. We got one snooze.
And then it was time to go. We had agreed the night before that we would wait to eat breakfast until after the first crossing of the Little Queens. The crossing wasn’t far from where we were camped and not taking time for breakfast would help us get going faster.
Instead of feeling slow and dragging, that morning I felt like moving. It was cold, which usually slows me down, but that morning it sped me up. The sooner I could be ready to go, the sooner I could get warm. So I moved.
We headed out less than an hour after the alarm had first gone off.
|Racing to the Ninemeyer Junction before breakfast.|
I had decided to try crossing the Little Queens wearing my long underwear, which I’d left on that morning for the extra warmth at the start of our hike. Since I didn’t need them to be dry for that evening, I wanted to see if they made a positive impact on how I felt about walking through freezing cold water.
They were somewhat helpful, especially after I got out of the water, but my feet were still bare and freezing, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. At least, not in the summer. After we dried ourselves off, I went to get water for breakfast.
|Early morning crossing.|
The problem with the breakfast solution was that after crossing the Little Queens we were on the side of the bank that would get sunlight last. The wind was still blowing and we had just gotten ourselves very wet with very little fuel inside us to warm up.
Even though breakfast was a delicious chocolate cheesecake thing, with Oreo cookie pieces, I was gulping it down for fuel more than I was enjoying the flavor. I was huddled around it, trying not to shiver as the wind tried to whip away my body heat. I was even wearing my gloves to eat, which I usually avoid because that tends to get food on my gloves. I did get food on my gloves but I wasn’t as concerned because it was the last day and I wouldn’t be spending another night in the wilderness.
Ambrose suggested that I could go all the way back to the car rather than waiting for him, as I usually did, at the next crossing of the Little Queens River. I thought about the level of the water, my own comfort level about crossing solo. And I’ve crossed that by myself before, for a solo hike. So I agreed. Anything that would let me keep moving until I reached the car. I could shut myself in the car if I was still cold by the time I got there, even turn on the heat.
As soon as I was done eating, I took off. Ambrose was ready about the same time, but I was going fast. I was so cold, and the only way I could warm up was to move. My toes felt numb and frozen, my hands weren’t much better and I felt like the food I’d just eaten was cooling off my insides. I had to move.
I wasn’t running. Quite. I got close to running speed. I may have bounded a bit. And I definitely wasn’t as careful crossing streams as I should have been.
|I was moving fast, but the sun wasn’t catching me fast enough.|
The first stream crossing I took a step with my left foot that I should have taken with my right, because the rocks weren’t balanced. When my balance shifted, the rocks did too and my foot slid. I could have gotten a dunking right there, but I got lucky. My foot stopped and I was able to push off and keep going.
I should have learned my lesson right there, but I didn’t. I nearly repeated the exercise at the next stream crossing. Then I learned my lesson and took a little more time at all the stream crossings after that. But just a little more time.
|I needed the sun!|
This year, when I made an attempt at Lucky Peak for a training hike, I surprised myself with how far I made it up in my 2 hour time limit. On this hike, I shocked myself at how fast I was getting from one landmark to the next. Stream to stream, switchback to big hill, river approach to river crossing – all of it went by so quickly.
I did have a moment of panic when I approached the switchbacks down to Scott Creek. A crashing sound on the ridge above me made me gasp and look up. It was a young buck, who looked just as startled to see me as I was to see him. I regained control over my breathing and hiked on.
|Oh, hello there.|
I hustled when I reached the river crossing. I had a chance to make it back to the car in under 2 hours and I didn’t want to waste a single minute. Every movement had purpose: take off gaiters, boots, socks, put on sandals, pull up pants, cross, reverse the process. Crossing done in 15 minutes. Less than 39 minutes to go before the 2 hour mark from when I left Ambrose. (I’d started my stopwatch as soon as I left him; he told me to start worrying if it hit 5 hours and he still wasn’t back at the trail head.)
|Easy stream crossing.|
As far as I could remember, 40 minutes was my best time from this crossing back to the car. I told myself even if I didn’t beat 2 hours, I wanted to get as close as possible. I moved as fast as I safely could, only having a near miss at one of the two stream crossings. I don’t know how many near misses I’m going to get before I end up dunked in a stream, but I’ve had plenty of them so far.
|The water level was low enough for me to feel safe crossing the Little Queens.|
|But it’s still really cold.|
I left that stream crossing when my timer read 1 hour, 21 minutes. I got back to the trail head at 1 hour, 55 minutes, just after 9:30 in the morning. I’m not sure what my last best time was, but I am almost certain I blew it out of the water with a time of 34 minutes.
|Ah, the sun.|
I drove the car to the campsite closest to the bathroom and settled in to wait for Ambrose to arrive. I walked over to the small campsite and took angry photos of the mess that someone had left there. I have nothing against horses, but when their owners decide that they should be placed in a campsite, between a picnic table and a fire ring, and then don’t clean up the hay and poop covering the best spot for a tent in that site, I get a little perturbed. I finished drinking the contents of my water bladder that I had largely ignored in my speed bid. I basked in the sunlight and eventually changed into my clean driving home clothes. I read, and I waited.
|Hey! This is a people campsite, not a horse corral. If you’re going to use it for your horses, then, for goodness sake, please clean up the spare feed and poop when you leave.|
Ambrose came walking over a little over an hour after I’d arrived. I got him out a coconut water to drink and started getting ready to drive home. We were going to be leaving the trail head before noon, which meant we’d be getting home around 3 instead of 7. 4 hours might not seem like it would make that much of a difference, but it did. We had time to stop for milkshakes on the way home and we stopped at the rangers station as well, because a car that had been there when we arrived on Thursday night was still there and there was no permit indicating anyone else was out there. Having that extra time to unwind made all the difference to my mood and I was able to go to work the next day and start the recovery process with a smile on my face.