Nary a Footprint

“I’ll be at 3,500 by tonight, and by tomorrow I’ll be on snow, so the temperatures won’t be a problem.” My heart sank and I wished I hadn’t said it. The look on my face changed from one of confidence to a hardened squint of resignation. I looked away and tried to pretend it was the reflection of the bright solar noon sun on Stehekin River valley’s light colored dirt. I knew I was right. In the five days I’d extended my itinerary by and eaten into my in town budget by too the snow that I could see hadn’t changed. I put on my overloaded pack and gave the fellow my camera, and he took a single picture of me trying to stand naturally on the tall side of a park sign shorter than most 5 year olds. I crossed High Bridge and, lost in my head, walked right past my turn.

Start: Sitting Bull Basin
Camp: Suiattle River crossing
Length: 14 miles

I had been right the day before, though at the time I didn’t know where it had come from. I had glanced at the maps only briefly days before that, and had yet to look at the elevation profile. God if I’d have looked at the elevation profile.

Today’s morning miles were slow but I set myself up for it; I’d made it to 3,500 and then some yesterday, camping at 4,000 just before the snow set in. The first five hours of my day were spent covering sloping bowls filled with a newly sun-glazed snow that reflected the now-intense sun much more efficiently than before. I stopped to put on all of my sun protection. A hot wind that I know only from the desert swirled across the barren mountainsides intertwined with an even drier wind of ice that exists only on high summits. I hiked on, stomping every step, inching forward at one mile per hour, for five hours up the icy northeastern half of the drainage while I gazed across at the green, sun drenched southwestern half.
I had lunch below Suiattle Pass on hot chunks of granite. I wailed on my harmonica and refused to put my soggy boots back on. Eventually. Fueled by a brownie I’d saved for over twenty miles, I though myself back together, tighten my laces, and skipped the six miles down to the Suiattle River, a torrent of undrinkable mud. I laid out camp and fell asleep on the rocky beach of a flood plain. I had not seen a single footprint.