This planet is becoming too populated. Just as birds have wings to fly a crowded nest, man has legs to seek out solitude and wilderness.
But, my compulsion for solitude is a two-edged sword.
This is not the first time; doubt it will be the last. The rude awakening when high spirits and bravado and strength suddenly abandons me when I'm far and away from civilization.
My condition deteriorates right after a maxed-out push up a 13er. I'm flying solo...without a viable cell signal and, apparently, without Bobbie as she's nowhere to be seen. As sure as rocks roll downhill, so, too, does confidence. Oh how fear and second-guessing love to fill that vacuum, threaten rational thought and leaping the narrow slot canyon that separates glass half full optimists from glass half empty cynics.
Woozy, I think it best to begin working my way down a steep coalescence of rock and tundra. Its mined with marmot and mole holes and I'm thankful for a hiking pole that serves as a "third wheel."
In such situations my mind spins scenario after scenario, and they are all negative. I'm unsteady and Bobbie is MIA. What if she's hurt? What if I'm hurt? This I know: I must first take care of myself and get down in order to figure out what happened to Bobbie.
Lightheadedness comes and goes, sometime forcing me to my knees. This is not good, I think, now 1200 feet below the single bar of Verizon I had on the ridge-line. Do I have the strength to crawl back up there? Might it worsen my situation to gain altitude? I decide to use what little energy I have left to get the Hell down. It's either altitude sickness from pushing to high too fast or low blood sugar. The Cliff Bar and Shot Blocs don't seem to be helping. I assume it's altitude.
Upon reaching the old mine site the grade moderates. I'm still weak-kneed and shaky but the brain-fog is lifting. I see that the arrow I left in the dirt pointing to Spencer Basin is still there with no sign of acknowledgment from Bobbie. I'm left to assume that she, for whatever reason, did not make it this far.
I stumble down an off-camber trail that used to be a road to the old mine. It's more trail than road now as rock and gravity fill in the cut bank. If not for MIA Bobbie, I could lay down and sleep this nightmare off...tell Siri to "wake me when it's over."
Footing is horrendous, I loose it several times and hit the ground. "Fucking marbles" falls on the deaf ears of uncaring mountains. A scarlet rivulet of Blood makes its way from elbow to finger tip.
I finally reach the rock arrow that points to the unmarked trail. Intermittent sections of the trail are visible as it makes its way down, across the ravine and up to a distant saddle. Suddenly it dawns on me how Bobbie and I became separated (duh). She sees the arrow of white rocks pointing off Spencer Trail and assumes I left it. I should have tore it out on my way up. Did I even see it in my adrenalized haste? I can't remember.
I scan sections of the trail not blocked by willows with binoculars...wait, scan again; wait, scan again. Nothing. In spite of the jammed parking area, nobody is up here. Judging by distance and terrain, I think it likely that Bobbie is beyond the saddle by now...hopefully safe, enjoying the view of Highland Mary Lakes, having a Power Bar Picnic.
|We have this all to ourselves...only separately.|
So the situation is this: Bobbie's (hopefully) way over there somewhere and looking for ME (hopefully not waiting for me). Meanwhile, I'm over here playing "20 Questions" with myself and looking for her. I consider trying to catch up to her, but my spent body and mind says "bad idea." Glass half full: Bobbie's either "over there" or back at the car waiting on me. Glass half empty: She could be hurt or ill with no one around to help. I regret shooting off without her over such a silly little "disagreement." One thing for sure, my "demons" are now dead...and I feel like I'm not far behind them.
|Shot from the unmarked trail, heading up to the saddle.|
At long last I reach the trailhead. It takes longer to come down than it does to go up, that's how bonked I am. The trail spit me out on a rocky 4WD road about a mile from the car. I hear what sounds like revving chainsaws...brum-brum-brum-breeeeeee.
I'm forced to the edge of the road by loud, obnoxiously driven ATV's. I keep my head down, refusing eye contact, trying to make a statement of displeasure and being pissed. If those drivers could read my mind they would likely run me over. I'm left breathing a dust cloud, lamenting the miscreant Motor-head mentality that, more and more, defines "outdoor recreation."
200 yards from the car I can see Bobbie's not there. Maybe she's waiting in the shade, under some trees? A hundred yards out I try to cross a creek with slick rocks. Sweating profusely and extremely lightheaded, I can't muster the gumption, much less coordination, to cross it. I'm spent, so much so that I shed my pack and lay down by the stream. What the hell is wrong with me? It's only a hundred fucking yards to the car!
Another Shot Bloc and a Gatorade chaser. The ATVer's roar back down (guess they didn't feel like hiking). They slow down to cross the creek (thank God) and I ask if anyone noticed a female hiker coming down from the trailhead. No. Zoom.
Bobbie's not at the car when I get there. No note and no sign that she's been there. I collapse into the car, turn the AC on full blast and try to determine when curiosity and concern should elevate to anxiety and action.
I turn the car and point it up-mountain till I can see most of the 4WD road and the last half-mile of Spencer Trail. I fetch binoculars and scan for movement. Nothing.
Even though I verbally recoiled upon our arrival to jammed parking lots—the idea of tromping in the dust of bazillion giddy hikers plodding up Highland Mary Lakes Trail—it's likely that the rock arrow was our undoing, or should I say, "un-duoing." Bobbie must have assumed (rightly so) that I had a change of heart/mind and left the arrow to point out my revised route.
I would make a poor deer hunter. I don't have the kind of patience it takes to just sit and wait for the huntees to come to me. I'd rather be moving, so I decide to jostle down the 4WD road to the parking area on this side of the creek crossing, have a look across to the Highland Mary Trailhead. There's fewer vehicles over there, thanks to industrious beavers who's dam results in a rather deep pond at the creek crossing. If I see Bobbie coming down the trail I'll attempt to ford the creek with Sue Bee, save her the extra mile and a knee deep wade.
Minutes seem like hours. Antsy, I renegotiate boulders on the 4WD road back up to our original parking spot. I glass Spencer Trail and the road up to it, then drive back to the parking area and glass Highland Mary's Trailhead. I do this several times, finally taking up a position halfway in between the two where I can observe both trailheads.
|Taken from Bobbie's saddle. Note how far it is to Highland Mary Lakes and the country she must negotiate to get there...|
As it turns out, Bobbie did see the rock arrow and assumes I left it. She departs Spencer Trail and follows the unmarked trail down and across a large drainage and up the other side to a saddle that's well over 12,000 feet. She sees not one single hiker.
The saddle affords her a nice view of Highland Mary Lakes. They seem a long, long way off, though. Confusing sheep trails go off in all directions. Oh well, at least our "assumption" is correct: the unmarked trail is a less traveled backdoor to Highland Mary Lakes. Oh boy, a loop hike...if Bobbie can find a way to get there.
Bobbie follows a sheep trail that appears to be more traveled. After a while she can see that it leads down-basin, away from, and below her Highland Mary Lakes destination to what looks like a sheepherder camp (stay away, BIG DOGS). The last thing she wants is to lose elevation that has to be regained. Ugh. So she chooses another sheep trail, and another, both to no avail. She decides to strike out cross country.
In coming down from the saddle Bobbie begins to lose sight of the lower lake, the one she is familiar with and knows where the trail that leads back to the parking lot is. Soon, trudging down and cross-country, the upper lake begins to disappear. She picks out landmarks to stay her course and continues down, down, down, only to get "cliffed-out."
Nursing a sore achilles, she limps along above the cliff face in search of manageable route down to the lower lake. After a long ways she finally finds a trail-less route around the cliffs and, eventually, cuts a "main" trail. She turns north and keeps hiking. Progress.
Bobbie eventually comes across another solo lady. She's sitting on a rock, tanning in the sun. Bobbie inquires whether she's seen "a big hiker guy with a huge black pack and wearing a 'Life is Good' hat." Nope. Oh well. At least she knows she's on the right trail and going in the right direction. With energy fading, two sore feet and a throbbing achilles, she pops a Shot Bloc and keeps going...asking everyone she meets if they've seen her missing husband. Nope.
Meanwhile I'm growing more worried and restless. I leave my overlook perch with a view of both trailheads and drive back up to the original parking spot. I re-glass the mountainside. It's after 3 o'clock. What if Bobbie tripped and fell? What if she turned an ankle or ruptured her achilles? What if she needs help? How long do I wait?
Bobbie finally reaches the lower lake and makes her way around it to catch the main trail down...continuing to inquire about her stupid, recalcitrant husband (my words). Why didn't I tear that rock arrow out? I wonder if, in my haste, I even noticed it on the way up? I can't remember.
Killing time, I drive back down to the lower parking area where to overlook Highland Mary's Trail Head. A group of 6 hikers come down. Maybe she's with them. I grab the binoculars. No, no...no, no, no, no. Damn it. Seconds tick away like minutes, minutes like hours. I feel better, though, and decide that, at some point, I'll sweep Bobbie's probable route in reverse.
I glass what little I can see of the Highland Mary Trail and the road to where it crosses a "Beaver Lake." The "6" pile into vehicles, one by one, headed home. Happy hikers. Me? Unease. A sickening unease.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, through openings between trees, I notice something (someone?) moving down toward the Highland Mary Lakes Trailhead. It's a solo hiker. A gap in the trees is coming. I steady my arms on the steering wheel, aim the binoculars, and wait. Tick tock.
Bingo. IT'S BOBBIE!!! She's limping, but otherwise looks okay.
I race down the Jeep trail from the, now, nearly empty parking area and hang a right toward the "Beaver Lake" crossing. I don't want Bobbie to have to wade it so I ease across. The other side is too steep, loose and potholed for Sue Bee, but I manage to get the front wheels and front doors beyond the water enough for Bobbie to climb aboard dry.
We are both relieved and exchange stories of our day. It was the arrow (and me running off) that caused us to get separated. I back Sue Bee across the lake. A kindly old ATV camper helped guide me so I could get turned around in a tight spot. Hate the machine, not the man.
In spite of confusion and illness, Bobbie and I had long, wonderful hikes...just not together. Our hikes had all the necessary ingredients, i.e., moments of doubt, unease, wonder, scenic vistas, solitude, puzzlement, fear, trail and error navigation and, most important, a Hallmark Channel happy ending.
The photos in this post are Bobbie's.