I’m no good at inclines. Give me a decent straight trail with gradual changes in elevation and I’ll march all day long, but when it comes to climbing I’m about as fast as a stump. Kat is a mountain goat. Each step of those tireless stilts he calls legs vaults him effortlessly across the landscape. I am Gimli plodding along behind Legolas, Walter waddling behind the Dude.
The climb up from Hurricane Creek is a relentless slope until about mile thirteen when it levels out a little. Your burning thighs are given just a bit of respite as the trail crosses a few forest roads and the top of a knobby hill. I could hear my pulse hammering in my throat. Now and again, Kat would stop and stare at me but I finally grunted him onward to hike his own hike. We’d arrive at the same spot eventually. Always do.
I’d love to tell you how beautiful it was, especially when we rounded the trail and could see the pavilion atop White Rock Mountain just across the valley. The sky had finally opened up blue, the air crisp with the promise of winter. Around mile fifteen, though, I decided it was time to die. Just sprawl out on the trail and give it up. The more I walked, the more my knees began to bicker with each other. The further that damned pavilion seemed to be. We were making great time, though. Kat announced each mile marker with our time. 20 minutes, 30, 25. We were making between 2.5 and 3 miles per hour.
When mile 17 came up, I gritted my teeth around “0.7” and kept going. But then. . . then the trail curved around the mountain. All of a sudden, Kat looked behind us and cursed. We had passed the pavilion. With that, my energy bottomed out. The cheese stick & pepperoni wrap I ate at Hurricane Creek sputtered out and I couldn’t move a step. Sat down on a log and dug through my food sack. Munching on another cheese stick, I decided three or four different ways not to have to: finish the hike, climb up to White Rock, or make the full 17.7 miles back to my truck.
But, man, we were so close. Decided to follow it until Section 1 ended at Shores Lake. Sat down at the end of Section 1 and ate second lunch. It was 3:00 p.m.
Neither one of us knew how far we were to the White Rock spur, or how long it would take us to climb up to the pavilion. Since we were already at 3:00, and our goal was to finish this section, the conversation went like this:
“You wanna climb up to the pavilion?”
“A’right, back to camp.”
With my stomach full of food and nothing between me and Tylenol PM but a 7.7 mile descent, I took the lead and we made our way back to Hurricane Creek. The bickering in my knees had turned into dueling arias of pain. One of my knee braces was doing a better job than the other, so I began alternating them every other mile or so. It seemed to be helping, but downhills are a misery. The slope was gradual enough, though, that we were still making amazing time chasing the sun down. In only 6 hours, we managed to finish 15.4 miles from Hurricane Creek to the Shores Lake intersection and back.
Hurricane was just high enough for another cold, wet crossing. It felt great on the feet, though, and we were able to get the packs moments before dusk and the temperature both fell.
I taped up a blister and we ate dinner by headlamp. It was a great place to camp, but we were at mile 11 after hiking a 20-mile day. No way would we be able to climb Dockerys Gap in the morning and still make it out on time. There was nothing to do but strap on the packs, turn on the headlamps, and start climbing.