By Nancy Rodriguez
As I wait for my husband Joe, and friend Jon, to shoulder their backpacks at the trailhead, I glance at my watch and read 6:05 pm. I realize we won’t reach our destination on the mountain until well after midnight. The temperature is hot, 85 degrees and the heat is relentless. I sling my backpack over my shoulders and suddenly feel compressed. While adjusting my backpack, I try to mentally prepare for the 8 mile trek ahead. And so it begins…one foot in front of the other with the synchronous movement of hiking sticks. Joe, Jon, and I, chat and laugh as we kick up dust and close the distance to our camp. The miles pass and the chattering quiets, sweat pours, hearts pound, and legs burn. We make it across the stream crossing and continue on. As the day turns to dusk and the sun starts to wake up the other side of the earth, I take a moment to embrace the grand landscape. My body aches, but the high country scenery keeps me going.
The long stretches of trail become longer and the switchbacks become steeper. With each deep breath taken and each boot track laid, I remind myself of why we are doing this. With my Prois camo covered in salty sweat and dirt layered from miles of trail, I wonder if I will ever be able to wash the stink out of them. My toes have turned into flaming hot chee-toes and my belt/pack combo has sanded a patch of skin off my lower back. That will surely have to be changed before the season! As the sun vanishes into the valley below, I make sure my hiking position is in between Joe and Jon. I’m certain any predator we surprise in the dark, will surely grow tired of chewing on their salty hides, and move on before it gets to me!
Under the starry sky, we break off trail and now the real work starts. We navigate our way by light of headlamps through waist high sage brush and mule’s ear. Climbing up and down old lava fields and sinking in patches of mud pooled from snow runoff, we slowly make our way to the head of the drainage.At midnight we have finally arrived at the spring where we will get our camp water supply. We figure we each need an additional 1 1⁄2 gallons to make it through the next 2 1/2 days of our scouting trip. We will definitely be rationing water. We peel off our backpacks and pull out our Platypus water bottles. With our clothes soaked from sweat,the cool mountain air starts to chill us, and my teeth begin to chatter. We quickly fill our bottles with fresh mountain spring water, straight from the source. Loaded down with the extra water, we slowly make the final climb to camp.
It’s now after 1 am and we have finally made it to our camp spot. Like 3 zombies, we set up our tents, throw in our sleeping bags, and hang our food in a nearby tree. After chipping off our funky clothes, we crawl into our home away from home. Before Joe can finish setting his watch alarm to wake us in 3 hours, I am in a deep slumber. Whhhyyy? The answer becomes perfectly clear at sunrise. With the Jetboil by my side, heating up my morning coffee, I take in the view from the mountain top. The electric purple lupine cover the rim of the basin, the twinkle of dew drops dance across pine needles, and the mountain birds start their morning songs. Chipmunks start to scurry about, as a butterfly lands on our spotting scope. It is surely enjoying the mineral remnants left by our sweaty hands.
Sitting for a moment, I take in a deep tranquil breath. I slowly put my eye to the spotting scope and start to scan the large aspen filled basin below. I work in a grid pattern, searching every contour, rocky crag, and shadow. Then they appear …the unmistakable brown fuzzy velvet covered antlers of a mule deer buck! I am home at last.