I start today in pain, and medicated. I suppose Sunday and Monday in the wilderness were worth a Tuesday of pain.
As I hiked up the North Fork Skokomish River trail, and up to Flapjack Lakes and Gladys Divide Sunday, I struggled. I had awoken early, and got out of the house by just a few minutes past 6:00. After a quick stop at the store for vittles, I arrived at the Staircase Ranger Station 20 minutes before they opened. I was the first to get a campsite reserved for the night. The ranger gave me directions to the one campsite that has a post-card perfect view of the Sawtooth Range - a collection of impossible stone blades stabbing the sky - looming over the lakes.
I was on the trail by 9:00. Ravens greeted me as I worked my way up to the rapids, but my energy was poor the entire way, my feet (right foot especially) would often scuff and stumble, my breathing was labored. The sky was heavy and solid with cloud, and it very lightly sprinkled on me most of the way up the trail. I backpacked only so far as the lakes, and set up camp. I pumped water, explored along the lake shore, and startled a Great Blue Heron hunting among the tangle of logs at the lower lake's outflow. It didn't take very much sitting about looking at that view, however, before I set off with only my camera, stick, and a water bottle the rest of the way up to the 5000' divide.
As one makes the final approach to Flapjack Lakes, near where the Black & White Lakes way trail takes off, one enters a boulder garden, as I like to call such things. Scattered all about the old-growth forest are boulders, of various size, some very large indeed. It is only after passing up and climbing above the two lakes, nestled like flapjacks in a frying pan, that the boulder garden gets more magnificent. By the time one approaches the divide, it looks like a giant has been throwing stones all about. Boulders the size of houses lay scattered all about the narrow saddle between the North Fork Skokomish and the Hamma Hamma drainages. Some are clad in miniature little trees, or skirted by blooming meadows. Others lay stark on piles of rubble and scree. Mount Gladys rises unassumingly to the east on the left, but Mt. Cruiser and the Sawtooths leap up to the right, and tower over the saddle to the east and south. Gravity and stone wage war here, neither a certain winner.
There were still many wildflowers at this low elevation, the divide itself is 5000'. I saw three different shades of Castilleja, Lilium columbiana, asters, and many other varieties I whose names I can't bring to mind just now. The view down in to the Hamma Hamma drainage is spectacular, the Mount Skokomish Wilderness isolated and untrodden, from the rocky peaks clad only in heather and grasses, down along their bulging, forested flanks scarred by landslides and cliffs, into the valley floor below dotted by meadows and the dendritic tracery of streams gathering into a shallow lake.
While I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day, I struggled to sleep well. Partly because I was under-insulated and cold in my hammock. Fortunately, there were no leg spasms or headache. I awoke a couple of times through the night, once to rehang my saggy hammock, another time to put on my puffy coat, later, I heard a noise, and then I thought to put on my glasses and stare at the stars, as the sky danced back and forth above the silhouette of the forest canopy my hammock gently swaying, and one last time, to pee. Then it was dawn, and time to get up. Coffee on the lake shore in front of the Sawtooths as the sun pierced a narrow cleft between two stone pinnacles was sublime, and quite nearly a holy experience.
I was still a bit under-powered as I hiked down, and didn't really feel like I picked up my normal wind and gait until about halfway down the Flapjack Lakes trail. After that it seemed a breeze down to the river. Perhaps it was the draw of jumping in the swimming hole at Beaver Flats. I purposefully took a restful break after my dunk, then crossed the river and strolled out via the Four Stream trail. After ditching my pack at the truck, I went down to the bridge for another rest and soak.
The difference in how I felt leaving Staircase, as to how I felt arriving, was remarkable, in hindsight. Low back pain, hip pain, and neck pain - all gone after 20+ miles of hiking on rocky trails. Extended, aerobic, weigh-bearing exercise has long been great medicine!
Even after all that taking extra breaks to rest and cool down, however, I still had a right leg spasm getting out of my truck at home. The simple act of bending my leg enough to step out of the truck triggered the muscle at the back of my thigh to start contracting, and it wouldn't stop. It was all I could do to force my knee straight, and to pull the spasm out. A half hour later, and I was still hobbling, icing the back of my thigh down a few moments at a time.
And while I slept well last night it seems, without further leg spasms, I awoke this morning with a migraine that has responded to neither four Excedrin, nor two Rizatriptan. To be honest, it has let go a little bit, I'd rate it a three on the Mankowski scale now, at mid-morning, down from a 5 at dawn.
But you know what's better than a mule kicking your right temple from the inside? Pictures, that's what!
Images taken on a backpacking trip to Flapjack Lakes, Olympic National Park, August 28, 2016.