Feel that elevation

Day 48: 11,500 foot basin near Sawtooth Mountain to 11,600 foot saddle along the Divide, ~17 miles, ~756 miles total

Last night was COLD. Water bottles frozen solid. Shoes frozen. Even the handwarmers, Nutella and late night chocolate snack fest didn’t keep me comfortable enough to sleep well. Both Gabriel and I finally dozed soundly around 6:00, just as the sun started to warm the day. An hour later, we at last got going and emerged from the tent to a dazzling day.

The new snow had firmed up over night. Sparkling white in the sunshine of cool morning. In the basin below, frosted spruce, in the distance dusted peaks and coated ridges in all directions. As we crunched back up to the trail we observed the tracks of coyotes, mice, rabbits and song birds who had all traveled about in the night and early morning, floating on the snow. Ice coated buttercups with their bright gold petals poked through the snow. Reminders that many plants and animals can endure (and even thrive) in conditions that we often consider less than ideal.

We hiked along ridges and up slopes incrementally gaining elevation. A little dazed from the lack of sleep, the views, and the altitude; our progress felt slow. Climbing up one set of switchbacks of a gently graded trail, I was bemused to observe my elevated heart rate and breathing rate. This little grade was humbling me (and Gabriel), granted it was around 12,000 feet. Both of us feel the elevation. Today it is slow going as we really adjust to the world of 11,500 foot-plus travel. Hopefully in a week or two we will reap the benefits of generating extra new red blood cells; in meantime, we stay hydrated and let our kidneys do the work of regulating our blood pH.

Clear blue skies. Mellow breeze. Slower bodies. Today is a good day to delight in the ptarmigan scramble up rock and snow (so much faster than us). Admire elephant lousewort starting to flower along snow-free ridges. Watch deer as they traverse steep slopes. To ponder the wide-scale disturbance of thousands of acres (hectares too) of beetle killed and fire charred spruce forest. (What is the trajectory of this ecosystem after such disturbance?) As we observe the world around us, we stay in the sun for breaks; it’s too cool in the shadows.

Snow is present. But there is considerably less than we’d anticipated. South facing and west facing slopes are largely snow free. North facing slopes and dense treed areas have more significant coverage. Enough to slow us down considerably (even more than the effects of elevation). We posthole through the short stretches. Wear our snowshoes for the long stretches. Four pounds of extra weight, as we float by the posthole steps of a few hikers ahead, I’m grateful that I’ve hauled the snowshoes along. At times we glide effortlessly and our able to make up for slower miles.

On a few ridges above us we observe small cornices hanging over and evidence of wetslab avalanches that released to bare ground. We step over and around the old avy debris, mindful that our taking our time with extra zeros in the last weeks was for good reason.

Traversed several snow-filled basins with the nearly new moon rising above us. After yesterday’s late afternoon events, this evening has us uplifted. We gain the patchy snow and mud-filled trees of the Divide, a ridge that leads to much more straight forward travel. By 8:00 we are on the edge of a meadow (the only snow free and level spot for a mile or so) near an 11,500-foot saddle. The chill is already in the air as the sunlight fades. But already a warmer night than last.

(Pictures to come!)