Day 53

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Flat Mountain Ridge to Trail Lake Pass
12 mi ::
655 mi ::
Windy, cold, stormy

The wind has calmed during the night, but it’s much colder in the morning, even after the sun hits us at 5 am on our ridge. I roust myself and try to don my hiking clothes without exposing too much skin. Then I cram my feet into my frozen boots. They’re misshapen and painful at first, but I know my feet will thaw them back to a reasonable fit. Ann goes through this process after me, only more slowly and painfully.

The view from the ridge in the rising sun is as breathtaking as the temperature. When we’ve stuffed all our icy gear into our packs we start up it.

It’s a longer, tougher climb onto the top of Flat Mountain than I anticipated. We have to stop for breakfast before we reach the 12,137-ft summit. I’m excited when we do get there, but Ann is beat. She feels weak and has a headache. I wonder if she has a touch of altitude sickness.

The trail wanders along on the top of Flat Mountain without losing much elevation for a few miles. We see our first natural lakes of the journey up here, then we descend through two hundred feet of melting snow drifts to Dipping Lakes for Lunch. Ann slips and falls frequently in her running shoes on the snow. Again she is exhausted, but perks up a bit after eating.

As we climb through more snow up towards the continental divide the sky fills with dark clouds and the wind starts to rip in violent gusts. I lose the trail under the snow and continue cross-country with map and compass. By the time we reach Trail Lake at 12,000 feet we’re being pelted by freezing rain and don’t want to stop for dinner. Half an hour later the storm blows over and we eat huddled behind a tree while the next one brews. Sure enough, we’re being pelted again as we pack up.

We reach the pass above trail lake just as our storm is passing and the sun is setting beneath the next one. The dark clouds appear to be painting a hundred distant peaks with dark brushes while the sun creates a deep orange and yellow canvas. It’s something you only see once.

A tent site on top of this pass is also something you only see once, so we stop when we see it. We watch and listen to the show through the tent doors while the light fades and the storms rumble past, shaking and spattering our little shelter.

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