Kyle and I got to sleep in an extra hour on Saturday and woke up at four to start our hike. I was surprised to wake up and feel good. I had slept like a baby which is rare after a really long day – usually my hips ache so bad it keeps me awake. Saturday was a shorter day – only 26 miles to get through but we knew from the year before that they were hard miles. And we were doing the Spray Park Alternate which might add miles (?) but definitely adds elevation. The sky was clear when we crawled out of our tent and set off into the woods.
Immediately, right out of the gates, I was frustrated. I thought for sure we had passed Eagle’s Roost campsite already because I hadn’t seen it yet and it was only a mile and a half into the alternate. But then we did walked past it and I couldn’t believe we had only walked a mile and a half. What in the actual what?! I asked Kyle for a time check and turns out we had only been hiking for thirty minutes so a mile and a half was perfectly acceptable. Time felt like it was crawling by and Kyle was nauseous again so no talking allowed. We knew from our support team that they had seen the big cinnamon bear that lives in Spray Park just the day before so I prayed to the mountain that he was still sleeping at this hour of the morning.
After much climbing and huffing and puffing we made it up into Spray Park and the early morning glow was just enough that we could make out the mountain. Clouds swirled and it was cold. There wasn’t enough light yet to really see all the colors of the wild flowers that were blanketing the open slopes but we could see their outlines swaying in the wind as we continued to climb. Among the many things I forgot about the Spray Park alternate was the fact that even once you get into the park your climb isn’t over – it goes up and up and up! We had to stop to put on more layers we were so cold. We could tell the sun was rising but behind clouds so we were getting none of it’s warmth.
And as soon as we were up we were going back down. And I realized I had also forgotten how steep and rocky the downhill is. No easy cruising trail – just giant rock steps to torture out poor aching knees. Why, oh why, did we decide to do the Spray Park alternate? If only we could go back and take Ipsut Pass instead. I dreamed about it but there was nothing we could do. We shuffled downhill as fast as we could. Kyle had two emergency poops before we reached the suspension bridge over the Carbon River which slowed us down but made his nausea better so I was fine with the stops. We started to see people coming up the climb near the bottom and my lungs hurt for them. They had a long way to go.
As it is with the Wonderland you get to the bottom of the Spray Park alternate and turn right around and go back up towards Mystic Lake. And it’s a steep, sustained climb for a long time. Finally you start to enter some meadows, things mellow out for a hot second and then bam – it hits you with a final three hundred feet of some of the steepest trail around. We pushed hard and when we got to the top of the pass we collapsed onto the ground, panting. I knew it was our hardest climb of the day but I also knew there was so much day left. Holy heck, what had we gotten ourselves into?
We didn’t really take a break at the top of the climb because there wasn’t any water up there – instead we scarfed down a bar and beat on our thighs a little bit before heading back downhill. We cruised by Mystic Lake, shuffling whenever the downhill grade got too steep and ended up breaking at a little bend in the trail by a creek. Out on the Wonderland there is plenty of water but you have to make sure you hit the right sources. You don’t want to drink out of any of the rivers that are swollen with glacial melt.
And then we meandered up or down all the way to Skyscraper Pass. And every up and down was steep. I spent a lot of time in this section thinking about type two fun. Because I would be lying if I said we were having a blast at this point. We were having a hard time. The trail was hard, we were tired, our bodies hurt, I didn’t want to eat any of the snacks we had. And yet, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I started thinking a lot about happiness and wondering if it could coexist with such misery. I simultaneously recognized how shitty my current condition was but also thought about how I could still choose to also feel happy in that moment. It took a lot of work to be happy but I could do it. I thought about this for a while and then let it go and just focused on movement. My moral of the story – you don’t need to be happy all the time. And I’m not even sure happiness is the ultimate end goal.
At Skyscraper Pass we looked out over Sunrise, clouds dipping down out of an obscured sky, sun dappling the landscape. It looked a lot like the last time we had been there. We aimed for a creek half way across the giant meadow and booked it there. Our last break of the day and we still had six miles to camp. It seemed like the day was going to last forever.
At Sunrise Walk-in Campsite Kyle had another poop and this time I had to canvass all the strangers passing by for some toilet paper because he had run out. I finally found a guy who had some, and not just some, a whole fresh role. Kyle was relieved (literally). After we left the privy we saw a bear and a horde of tourists taking videos. The bear gave zero shits about everyone watching him, he was just after blueberries. Shortly after that we saw a grouse that did give us pause (more pause than the bear) and we walked around it warily. Grouse can be very aggressive. Then it was down to camp. We ran into my mom, aunt and uncle on our way down (their way up) and they gave us the car keys.
The down was really painful for Kyle. My body felt okay on the down, knees and feet aching a little bit but it was all a good pain. Kyle on the other hand seemed to be seriously reconsidering the third day. I would have been supportive of him whether he wanted to hike or not and we discussed his options. It felt amazing to finally make it into camp and our support team had scored a fabulous campsite right by a very cold babbling creek which I managed an entire bath in and Kyle managed to stick his feet in for a couple seconds before swearing in pain. We did all the other regular recovery things and I started dinner before our support team got back. Kyle bonked hard and sat in a chair, shivering and feeling nauseous. Needless to say right after dinner we sent him to bed extra early while I got our stuff packed up for the next day.
Before going to bed I wandered down to the White River to check out the bridge and make sure it was in. Water was pummeling the side of the log we would walk across the next day, spraying upwards. But it was a bridge and I knew the water would be lower in the morning when we walked across.
Back into the tent I crawled only to have Kyle announce that his side of the sleeping pad was deflating. Darn! I had him move onto my side of the pad and took up the gallant duty of re-inflating the sleeping pad every half an hour (not exactly the kind of sleep one hopes to get before another 30 mile day but hey, I am selfless like that). Luckily, at about 1:30am I discovered that some of the insulation from the pad had been trapped in the deflate valve so it wasn’t popped, just user error. I fixed that problem and it held air the rest of the night/until 3:00am when we were up and at it again.