Day 8 - Zombie-like,
we hike up the trail to 9700’ Strawberry Peak.
We pass Team Pine Nuts, huddled in the trees
out of the wind. We’re struggling in the early morning hours between 2 and 5
sleep monster is on our shoulder and we’re nearly falling
over in our tracks.
All we need to do is keep hanging in until the
sun rises and everything will feel different.
Near 6 AM, we can see the trail and we also begin
to brighten up.
The higher the sun, the higher our energy.
But, on one hour of sleep in the past 35, there
is a limit to our enthusiasm.
With a close eye on
the map, we follow a road west out of the valley, continuing
on the Great Western Trail. We’re moving into another canyon
getting ready to climb the trail, when the trail forks.
According to the map, the trail heads straight
down the middle of the canyon and climbs the right side
of the end of the canyon to meet our trail.
Although the Great Western Trail splits to the
right, I choose straight and the team follows.
Reading our position on the map I’m seeing everything
as expected. I’ve
also got this eerie déjà vu feeling that I’ve been in
this exact canyon before and have chosen this route
seems so real and I only wish I knew how the trail turned
dream version likely turns out better because this one
isn't what we hoped for.
Our trail has disappeared after 300’ of bushwhacking
up the back of the canyon.
I admit defeat and apologize for the mistake,
and for ultimately wasting an hour of precious time.
Going into this canyon, our navigation had been
flawless and I'm particularly upset at this breakdown
We had watched Team Pine Nuts follow the Great
Western Trail to the right and in a moment of pride
and overconfidence, I thought we could use the map to
I was wrong and we all had to pay the price.
We make our way back to the correct trail and
begin the 10-mile trek to our next and what is expected
to be the final obstacle, Shingle Mill Canyon.
begin along the Great Western Trail.
We come around a corner and I see a man sitting
under a shade tree wearing a sombrero.
He is in the shadows, so I can’t make out any
features, but I notice that he has a young boy with
We reach Windy Pass,
a saddle between two mountains and the point at which
we will begin our descent to Shingle Mill Canyon and
our final climb of the race.
Here at 9000’ I find a sign pointing to water.
This time I’m not seeing things.
I hike 100 yards down the mountain to find a
horse corral. Dreaming of a sparkling clear stream, I instead find a fly-infested
horse trough with 3 inches of water covering a layer
of mud. There’s
a black pipe slowly dripping water into the trough from
a mysterious underground source. I hold my bladder under the dripping pipe and patiently wait.
After about 5 minutes, I’ve got a liter and decide
that will do.
I get back to the top and Danny asks about the
water. “It’s great…if you’re a horse”, I reply, as I
repack my backpack.
The sun is fading
quickly and I’m anxious to get to the bottom of the
canyon and find our trailhead before dark.
While the rest of the team finishes their food,
I head out and run down the trail, losing 1400’ of elevation
over the two-mile rock-strewn trail.
I reach the bottom and find the trailhead just
as the last rays of sunshine are left.
I wait for the team, believing that they are
Fifteen minutes pass and I grow concerned. It’s dark now and I don’t see headlamps or hear voices.
Where can they be? I eat while watching the field mice chase scraps of food.
The hallucinations begin again and I imagine
a family of mice, huddled together with their little
arms wrapped around each other in a hug, shivering in
the cold. I stare as they stare back.
I finally decide that they are just leaves.
Forty minutes have
passed and I am shaken by the sound of a whistle.
Is someone hurt?
I get up and quickly start to climb the trail
yelling my teammates names.
I see headlamps and hear their voices.
They’re coming and everyone’s OK, just moving
From the bottom of
Shingle Mill Canyon, we need to climb to 10,000’, a
2400’ rise. There’s a reference point on the right side of the canyon that
we need to work toward as the trail wanders around the
field, randomly appearing and disappearing.
It's getting steeper and it's so dark that we
can’t tell if we’re on the right or left side of the
couple hundred feet up the trail takes a turn to the
right, but the canyon walls still suggest we’re on the
left side. We
reach the riverbed, but it’s on our right side, as we’re
We're all twisted around and I’ve got that strange
déjà vu feeling again.
I know that I've been in this canyon at night
The way the trail moves, the dry riverbed splitting
into a Y, the steepness of the terrain, the rousting
of sleeping wildlife, and the feeling that this is not
going our way.
We keep climbing,
At 8400’ the trail ends.
We need to be on the right. I believe that
were on the left.
Tom thinks we're on the right.
happens next? >>