Through this flat, forested basin, the trail became less defined. Although it seemed odd to be crossing over increasing deadfall and brush, a fair amount of distance passed before I realized I wasn't on a trail at all. From what I've read about it, the PCT is one of the most manicured trails in the American West, and I'd managed to lose it. And although I'd turned on my Garmin eTrex at the start, two miles later it had yet to find satellites, so I had no points of reference. I continued to meander through the deadfall-strewn forest until I found a dirt road, climbing gradually in the direction of Castle Peak. From there I located a fantastic trail that was definitely not the PCT — the dust was rippled with bike tracks and there wasn't a footprint to be found — and followed it uphill.
When I reached the ridge, Castle Peak looked to still be at least a half hour away, and I'd already burned up nearly 90 minutes bumbling around for five miles. I took a couple of photos from what I later learned was Andesite Peak, and started down. The sky opened up with hard rain just as I passed two mountain bikers who were stopped at an overlook, so I picked up my pace on the fun, swooping descent (trails built for mountain biking are also generally the most enjoyable to run. Banked turns are the best.) I could hear the mountain bikers' brakes screeching as they descended somewhere close overhead, and constantly looked over my shoulder to let them by, but strangely they didn't catch me. They finally passed on the road, yelling, "Rain! Run away!" (I was dressed like a hiker with baggy pants and a fleece top, and was walking when they first saw me.) I pushed to maintain my relative sprint because I was soaked, a little bit cold and hadn't planned my supplies well for this impromptu trip (I had a 12-liter pack full of pretty much all of my Grand Canyon snacks and two liters of water, but no rain jacket.) All the steam went out about a half mile from my car. Although I didn't reach my intended peak, it turned out to be a diverse little outing with jogging, 'shwacking, hiking, a tiny bit of scrambling, fast downhilling, road sprinting, and back to plodding when the bonk hit hard (yeah, all those snacks in my pack. I didn't eat any of them.)
Oh well, more room for gas station M&Ms.
Sometimes I think the contributors to SummitPost are either elitist mountaineers or liars. Okay, so the information in the Greys Peak entry was mostly accurate, except for the cairns part. This image is the only photo I took during the approach, because I was either sliding backward in ankle-deep loose dirt down a 40-degree slope, squinting for the slightest evidence of a rock cairn while squatting on all fours atop a boulder, or clinging precipitously to a rock ledge. Still, I think this photo gives a snapshot of the scrambling experience. I had to pick my way along this ridge, traversing boulder-strewn slopes and then climbing ledges to cross over the spine and look for another traversable slope on the other side. None of the scrambling was exposed, but there were enough sheer drop-offs to make route-finding tricky. There were not enough cairns to be helpful, but just enough that I could occasionally confirm — with a baffled shake of my head — that I was still following the intended route. On this ridge, unless one was willing to venture onto some pretty harrowing Class 4 terrain, there probably was just one viable route. But it wasn't easy to find.
For the descent, I switched my GPS watch to its tracking mode so I could follow my own breadcrumb trail. Even with an exact line to follow that was easily viewable on my wrist, I still frequently lost the route while crabwalking down loose, boulder-strewn dirt. The footing was just really bad. It definitely wasn't my shoes — worn-out, torn uppers, almost-bald Hokas (maybe the shoes were a little bit to blame.) Back on the knife ridge, I frequently found myself standing at the edge of a cliff, with my GPS watch telling me I was 50 feet away from the spot where I climbed up, and I was completely baffled as to where that was. In hindsight, I probably would have been better off feeling out the route rather than tethering myself to the GPS track, although who knows where I would have ended up if I just descended freely. Probably in the wrong basin. Or at the bottom of one of those cliffs.
Anyway, by the time I returned to my car, 3 hours and 34 minutes had passed, which means it took me two hours to descend two miles. My triceps and lats were quite sore, which was another important reminder that I need to focus on upper-body strengthening this season. I also had to call Beat and let him know I was going to home a little later than I hoped.
Still, those last 9 hours of driving went by really fast. I was buzzing on adrenaline, and before I knew it, I was home. These road trip side-adventures are not only fun, but they're also a great way to generate driving energy. Even better than gas station coffee!