Thursday, July 17, 2008

Granite Creek Basin

Date: July 17
Mileage: 16.0
July mileage: 407.3

I rolled into the Rainbow Foods parking lot covered in mud and soaked to the skin with melted snow and rust-colored creek water. Geoff was sitting outside with his cell phone, trying to clear up yet another FedEx bike shipping debacle. Since FedEx is the only bike-shipping option in town, we just have to put up with the prospect of sending our bicycles into a delay vortex where there is always that 3 percent chance they may never emerge. We have learned to take it in stride, like the weather, although the sun hasn't come out, once, since before Geoff returned to town on July 4. "But it was so nice in June," I protested, to deaf ears. That frightening "M" word, Moving, is seeping into our conversations with increasing frequency. There isn't much I can do about it, so I take it in stride.

Geoff asked me how my ride went, and I told him the Perseverance Trail was fun as always, but the ride was really more of a commute to a hike than anything. "How did that go?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "I wandered around lost for a while. And then I kicked up some snow fields. Then I wandered around lost some more. Then I found the approach to the ridge. Then I wandered around blind in the clouds for a while. Then I found what I was pretty sure was the frozen lake just before the ridge. But since I could no longer tell steep from flat, or up from down for that matter, I opted against climbing any higher. Then I turned around. Then I slipped on some ice and fell a long way down a snow field. Then I wandered around lost. Then I finally found the trail to my bike, and then I rode here."

I had to laugh at myself, because the summary made it sound so awful. It was true that all of that happened. The stubborn, lingering-into-late-July snow fields did make the route particularly hard to navigate. I could see where I wanted to go, but never knew if I was going to end up at the bottom of an unclimbable cliff or beside a raging stream hidden beneath the rotten snow. I did lots of turning around. When I finally did find my way to (well, near) the top, I couldn't tell the ground from sky. Everything was gray snow and gray fog, interrupted by streaks of black that were either rocks or drops into a deadly void. And when I did finally drop below the cloud level, I stepped on a frozen-solid patch of snow and went hurtling down the mountain on my butt at an uncontrollable speed, frantically digging my bare fingers into the hard, ice-shard-studded snow until I finally stopped. Then I wiped the slush off my clothes with my bleeding hands, and from that point on took every step very tentatively. It took me forever to baby-step back to the basin, where I would wander around lost looking for the trail until the bitter end.

And yet I was feeling great when I finally reached Rainbow Foods, muddy and soaked just in time for dinner. A day's hard effort was behind me, and that felt good, despite the truncation of my original plans. I thought about the break I took, crouching down on a snow slope just above the Granite Creek Basin. I ate my Power Bar and listened to the roaring streams and wind echo through the valley. Clouds crept up from the lower canyon and closed in around me while little gray birds hopped around on the snow near my feet. Everything about that moment felt right, and earned, and I don't think I would have traded it for a sunny day on perfectly dry trails.

I love it here. I love hiking here. Even when the weather is crap and fog chokes the sky and its starting to rain and there's no end in sight. I love these places, and the adventure of getting to them.

Although I really do need to obtain an ice ax and crampons.