It started off as planned. We got our packs packed, parked the van in the proper spot, shouldered our burdens and hit the trail for Old Man Lake.
This was the first time in many years that I had shouldered a pack so heavy, and it took some getting used to. But the trail was beautiful, with fall colors just starting to come out, and the day was nice for hiking, with sunshine and a breeze.
Tom’s a faster, stronger hiker than I, but even in our separation on the trail, we kept in communication through our various “bear whoops.” (Before obtaining our backcountry hiking permits, we had to watch a hiking safety video. Bears are a very serious threat in the woods, and to be safe, you’re supposed to make noise. This can be either talking loudly, singing, clapping your hands, or, as we did, just making random loud noises with your mouth. “Whoop! Whoop! Woooaaaoooo!” etc.) Every few minutes, I would hear Tom whoop, and then I would echo him with my own whoop.
We stopped every mile or so to rest and regroup. Here is one of our scenic rest areas, where we had a light snack of pistachios and grapes.
At this point, we had come from Two Medicine Campground, not the “Entrance Station,” so we hadn’t quite come 2.6 miles, but it was close! And we had 4.1 miles left to go. Still feeling pretty good…
The trail spread out along the side of a mountain, so we could see where we were going and where we had been a mile or more in each direction. Once we got off the grassy slopes, we started going up. And up. And up. And that completely did me in.
I was utterly exhausted when we reached our destination, but hung in there through hanging our food out of the reach of bears, pitching our tent, and eating a meager lunch of string cheese and crackers and leftover salad from the day before.
All our food was in these plastic bags, and we tied them up about 15-20 feet overhead, inside Tom’s sleeping bag stuff-sack, in hopes that the bears wouldn’t get at it and make us go hungry.
Then we finally went down to see the lake. And it was pretty, surrounded by high mountains. And it was cold, but I dunked my feet in as long as I could stand it—a few seconds at a time, at most.
Through binoculars, we watched big horned sheep grazing on the steep grassy hillside across from us, and that was fun entertainment for awhile. Then we went back to our tent to rest and nap.
I think I slept a little, but it wasn’t as restful as I’d hoped. And finally, in a bout of extreme clarity, I got up and felt HOT. Much too hot, from the sun that was beating right on the tent. Tom was nearby, in the shade, reading. I got up and told him, “My butt is hot!” But my mind had trouble coming up with the right words, and I spoke them slowly. And although they came out cohesively and clearly, I felt like I’d said them strangely, or forgotten a word. I also had a headache.
Tom gave me some aspirin, and then we went to get some food. I was hoping that would help get me out of this bizarre stupor.
So we went to the food area and I clumsily peeled and ate part of an orange, then asked for a sandwich and some chocolate, which Tom gave to me. By this time, my stomach felt kind of churny and tears were inexplicably streaming from my eyes. I felt nauseous and very tired and weak and my head hurt and I felt stupid in a mentally retarded way.
These are never good feelings, especially 6.5 miles away from paved roads.
I took a bite of chocolate and promptly threw up. It spattered my boots and pant legs. I threw up again. Yellow crackers, cheese chunks, carrots… Ick! And Tom did his best to bury it, (still wary of the bears) as we discussed what we should do.
Was it food poisoning? Maybe we should wait it out and I’d feel better soon. Heat exhaustion? Cool myself down, drink lots of water, and rest. Altitude sickness? Get to lower elevation ASAP.
I did not feel I had the strength to hike anywhere, but knew if I got worse, it would be much harder for Tom to get me out. So we decided it would be best to go. As Tom hustled around, I slowly helped un-pitch the tent and re-pack our bags. Partway through this process, I started to feel better, and was having second thoughts about trekking out. But then I puked again and felt even shittier. With renewed intensity, Tom refilled our water bottles and threw our things together, putting most of the weight in his own pack.
Then we got underway, our only plan being to get as far back down the trail as possible, with our ultimate goal being to get all the way back to the van. As we started, I honestly felt so sick and weak I had no hope of making even the first mile; but I was too nervous of what might happen to me if we stayed. So, one step at a time, we walked on.
As we went along, I felt better and better. With two miles left to go and daylight fading, I felt good enough to reclaim some of my load from Tom’s shoulders. As shadows lengthened to the point of darkness, we finally reached the trailhead!
Neither of us had any strength left. Thirteen miles in one day, unaccustomed to hiking with overnight packs, running on little nourishment, feet hurting, back muscles screaming… We were beat.
But we were down, I no longer had the scary symptoms I’d had earlier, and there would be other hikes. Unfortunately, this one was over for us.
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