Friday, November 13, 2009

Day 3, Part 2: Daggett - the Ascent

Well I felt bright and chipper the next morning! Apparently the “illness” wears off after a few hours of rest. Everyone is up before me- as usual. I hope the kids inherit the Thedell early bird gene (that is hypothetical, family – no promises!) because I don’t think it can be learned. I indulge in some camp coffee – mmmmmm! Breakfast is quick, Todd and Brinn are born ready with trekking sticks in hand.

Pack the packs, nuts and snacks, long underwear or just slacks? I go for the long undies, it was bloody cold last night!

No time to really think – I was busy sleeping while everyone else thought. We are off!

We get about a mile up the trail and the oxygen starts getting thin. We stop for a break and I strip off as many layers as I can without taking off my pants. Long underwear was NOT the right choice. We all drink water and trek on; it is truly gorgeous weaving through the frills and fauna above the lake. If the view didn’t take your breath away, the altitude surely did.

Another half a mile and Todd realizes that half of his fishing pole is missing. (You see we though there would be a lake involved…) We think for a bit, and I credit myself with pushing him to run back along the trail to find it. He does so – literally running, mind you – and finds it!!

It is important to mention at this point that these men had not planned on following a trail; we depend on walkie-talkies and making arrows out of sticks on the ground to meet up with Todd again. We decide to stay together and make a new route. Brinn has the coordinates of a geo-cache atop Daggett Peak which we can use to triangulate our path – so we say yes! Let the bush-whacking begin!

No one knew what we were getting into, not even a tiny bit.

We begin the hard-core hike through brambles and mosquitoes. We weave up through the trees, over fallen trees, around fat trees and use other trees as footholds when things get steep. There is much talk about the tree-line, which is a goal for us to reach. The tree-line is where the temperatures are generally too frigid for trees to grow – we are all strangely excited about this for some reason.

We do this for hours, moving at a nice pace straight up the incline. All of us are feeling very mountain-man, rough and rugged! It is a dance of layering, shedding, swatting, munching, and OFF-ing (which became a verb as we so frequently had to spray ourselves with trusty OFF, the mosquito poison of choice for all great bush-whackers).

We reach the tree-line by late-morning. It is a beautiful, open expanse of rocks that leaves room for spectacular views all around us. We get excited to climb higher and see even more. Daggett is so great!

It is about this time that Breanna notices a distant rise of rocks on the horizon… Brinn checks his GPS, the reality blows up on us as a thin, airless wind: We are not even close to Daggett peak. In fact, we have only traveled about ¾ of a mile closer in the past few hours. There is a fleeting, shared round of WTF expressions on everyone’s face.

Of course our doubts are quickly replaced by shrugged shoulders as we mock-stretch our legs to prepare for another round. The motto becomes “Well, we made it this far…” It doesn’t look so bad.

Several photo shoots in as we traverse the vastness of not-quite-yet Daggett Peak, we all enjoy the fact that we can see Wyoming. Wait, what’s that? Yes, all of the crazy wheelie propellers can be seen as well.

At some point we realize that we are not going to be home for a long time, and no one packed a lunch. Josh admits that Breanna definitely suggested that we pack lunches, and now we all wish we had listened. Peanuts anyone?

Our denial of Daggett’s monstrous proportions began to falter as we actually drew closer. Before we could think twice, we had arrived at the actual base of the peak. Brinn and Todd said that we were right on track, so we prepared ourselves for the crazy.

You don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings fan to understand that we were on the border of Mordor. This mountain looked like it ate the Matterhorn for breakfast. 5 hours in and we never imagined that we would be catching our breath at the foot of a beast. It was generally discussed that we should turn back – but none of us were chicken. No. We were going to do this. In fact, Brinn and Todd had already begun, cruising up the rocky cobbles as though we had just arrived at Chucky Cheese and this was some colorful pit of plastic balls to laughingly throw one-self into.

Danny and I looked at each other, shared some clever curse words, and started up. I heard Josh double check to make sure that someone had The Ring and we agreed that Breanna should hold on to it.

Breanna looked like she might kill someone, but she bit her lip and Josh joined her in the first steps.

Every step made it look like the mountain was getting bigger. We began to notice a general trend of increasing steepness. At first it was exciting and fun when the rocks got bigger, it was like a mild form of boulder-ing. We joked about being mountain-goats and I decided that I would not wear my tight jeans next time.

Soon I got the inklings of that pit-of-your-stomach fear, the idea came to me that we might be in a very dangerous situation. The rocks kept getting steeper and bigger, making it very difficult to see anything around you or to determine if the next rock would be stable. I was beginning to get dizzy from the height and the drop below. We started to stagger our climbing as much as possible to avoid knocking giant rocks on each other.

It became a very slow progression. The miraculous climbing skills of Todd and Brinn became very apparent as they raced ahead. Danny and I had to stop almost every five minutes to breathe as the altitude and the strenuous climb took a toll. I became very concerned about how we were going to get down. There was really no way to go back the same way we were climbing up, it would be far too dangerous. Todd had mentioned that they had talked to “some guy” who said there was a really quick way down on the lake side, only ½ a mile! I counted on this being true and pushed on. Thank goodness that Danny is so encouraging when we get into crazy situations, I probably would have panicked without him.

This was nothing less than a massive adventure – creeping up these boulders like so many small ants trying to reach the picnic. None of us could see the other groups, it was a blind, haul - straight up. We hadn’t heard any crashing or screaming, so we just…kept…going!

You can imagine our general surprise and frivolous revels when we found that the endless rock pile was not, in fact, endless. We REACHED THE TOP!!! It had been nearly an hour or more of rock-hopping, and it was GLORIOUS to be at the actual peak!

Brinn and Todd had already explored the entire peak, which was what a lunar-lander might see on its first trip to the moon. More rocks! Yay! We all trudged up to the middle and sat the heck down. For a good 30 minutes we sat, munched on dried fruits and nuts and stacked rocks on top of each other.

We found the famed geo-cache of Daggett! Turns out only five other people had been up here this year – we just doubled the population! We signed our names and buried it. We hung out really close to the edge of the cliff as mountain men do, to be cool and to see exactly how high we were.

It was seriously the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen of this sort, we had ascended over 2,000 feet throughout our journey and reached a final height of (I think I have this number right Brinn) 12, 075 ft! It was just phenomenal. I could fit the view of Spirit Lake under my thumb! We basked in our accomplishments, it was a HUGE rush!

Another huge rush of air from behind us brought a concerned look to Todd’s face. We all looked and realized that there were relatively massive storm clouds rolling towards the peak – and we all had fishing rods sticking up 3 feet above our heads.

We took a few more rounds on the peak and decided that it would be a good time to find a way down before we became human lightning rods.

A way down… does anyone know the way down?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 3, Part 1: Daggett- the Beginning

Now we move ahead to the solid – meaty part of the journey. This is where boys become men. Girls become men. We are all very manly in the sense that NO one will give up OR ask for directions. And the lone voice who said “we should really pack a lunch” was quickly silenced, shrugged off, and replaced with trail mix and beef jerky.

Yes, this is the story of Daggett Peak. How we came, saw, and conquered the behemoth.

Part 1: The Beginning

Now, as I left you a day earlier, whacking balls and tossing back brews…

There was of course the breathtaking drive out of Utah, into a small sliver of Wyoming, and right back into Utah. We took note of the lovely amber fields of grain… or in this case, the dried up fields of those huge wind-propeller alternate energy-providing creepy-as-all-hell even in the daylight THINGS. They were impressive to say the least.

But who cares about the Empire State sized spinner wheelie things; it was a car drive, a means to an end.

As we rolled up the mountains and into the trees – the car spit up so much red dust we might as well have been driving to Mars. As all great camping destinations do, Spirit Lake revealed itself through the maelstrom – and it was nothing short of spectacular. The deep blues and silvers of the lake’s surface lazily reclined off to the right as we rolled along. It seemed as if the lake was very excited to see us, but was playing cool like mountain lakes do – not giving away too much of herself.

We made no game of showing our excitement – leaping out to choose the best tent-pitching areas. The crisp air was far colder than I remembered, which was perfectly wonderful. Danny and I are excellent campers – we had our new home set up within minutes and it was off to the lake for a fish!

Fishing Spirit Lake is like floating closer to heaven – albeit with troves more mosquitoes and frozen hands – but that is just the way the lake welcomes you. You have to love the fact that you can’t feel a mosquito biting you when you are numb from the cold. We bask in utter silence, hearing only the chirps of squirrels and the soft plops of bobbers dropping into the water. I admit that when Danny goes back with his first catch – I enjoy singing “Fishing with John” to myself, rocking to the lazy melody and hoping for my own fish.

We decide that once night falls and we have both lost feeling in our feet, that it is time to bid the lake “Good evening, oh flawless one!” and head back to de-frost around the fire.

The whole family has arrived now. The fire is booming, the food and beers are flowing! We see that Brinn has found a most perfect niche in between five trees for his tent and he has built a small paradise inside. Nice.

We unload our green and red fold-up chairs and sit down for a brew. Danny smokes his catch directly in the fire – a tiger trout! It is too delicious, and I tell the fish thank you for the great dinner.

I remember Todd saying something about being determined to hike the Peak tomorrow, and I say “I’m in!” as my head starts to swirl… I see a world of Bud Light, flames, and some freaky curtain that could only have been the inside of my eyelids… then the most horrible headache I could ever imagine sets in.

I flash back to a similar sensation I felt while laying in a pup tent at 12,000 ft in Yosemite last spring with Janine… she shoved a cliff bar down my throat and told me to sleep – altitude sickness! What a BUST! I knew it. I scarfed a cliff bar, downed a bottle of vitamin water, and excused myself to bed.

Danny helped me get to bed and I was SO cold and it HURT and AHHHH!! I finally fell into a crazy person’s sleep – trying to relax between the head-pounding pain, nausea, and the wild banana fairies. ICK! Somehow I made it through till morning.

Little did I know that this was only the beginning…