CDT Day 76 CT Day 17

24 miles hiked
Camping at 340.8 @ 12031 ft
After 2 alarms and 4 tries to get Grizzly to wake up, I give in and roll over for more glorious glorious sleep. Last night right before we shut our eyes we checked the maps and saw that San Luis peak was just off the trail today, a great chance to ‘bag a 14er’. However the trailhead is 12 miles away, and the peak 6 miles on from that so it meant we had to get up stupid stupid early in order to get up the mountain before the afternoon storms roll in. Great idea before going to sleep, stupid idea at 345am. I try to wake Grizzly, dash out of the tent for bladder emptying and decide its too dark for me to want to hike alone. Oh well, we do enough bloody climbing out here without the extra 14ers.
When I finally stir again there is actual sunlight on the tent! We are in a somewhat elevated campsite with only a few trees around us so we are treated to some warming sunshine first thing. Yay!
We follow a wide dirt road for quite a way, with rolling meadows around us. Around one corner we spy a coyote dashing across the valley. The climbing has begun and the sweat has begun pouring off us early. When we enter a grove of aspens the cool air is like a thousand lovely tiny fans blowing in our skin.
We chat to and leapfrog a few hikers along the way today – yay hikers! There is a wide creek crossing with no log to balance on or stones to hop across, so I take off my shoes and socks and walk on through. At the other side it’s a short steep climb up the bank, then we are following the creek all the way up the valley.
At a trailhead we have the luxury of pit toilets, then continue on following the creek through thick vegetation. We have just finished filtering more water, and are climbing along the trail when Grizzly calls out – Moose!!! A bull and a cow hiding in the trees by the water. So exciting! I’ve been hanging to see some moose for soooo long!!! We stand and stare at them for a while, and they stare back before resuming their grazing. As we are watching 3 nobos come along the trail and watch with us, and we belatedly realise it is buddy backpacker – a badass family that is hiking the CDT.
Onwards we climb – it’s 8 miles uphill with the trail getting skinner and bushier as we climb. I enter the “Snakebite death zone” – elevation above 12000ft. I get stumbly and weirdly shakey. I stop and eat a bar at Grizzly’s insistence. “There you go body” I think. “Now freakin chill out”. But body doesn’t listen.
I’m breathing deeply heading up the hill, and can’t get enough air. I start feeling claustrophobic with my headphones in so throw them off … possibly a mistake. Now I can hear my hagged breathing which seems to make it worse. My throat suddenly feels like someone is choking me and I start to head down that horrible rabbit hole of a panic attack. “You are fine” I breathe in “you are fine you are fine you are fine”. I try to do my meditation tricks – I observe the panic, acknowledge it, and dismiss it. Nup.
“You are fine you are fine you are fine”.
But I’m not. My mind spirals into all the dark dark corners it hoards for moments just like this, so I can tell myself all the reasons I’m not fine.  My whole body feels like a coffin – I need to strip myself of this strange bag of flesh that is suddenly too heavy and big and tight around me. “Don’t black out don’t black out”.
I’m at the top finally and shaking. I stumble forward and turn to start the descent. At some point I must have started crying because there is a huge mess of tears and snot pooling under my chin and falling to the ground in front of me.
It’s quieter on this side. Was it even noisy on the other or was it just in my head? It’s quiet and peaceful and I can feel the horrible tide turning away and my breath getting under control. The wind picks up and blows my sweat soaked shirt cold against my skin. For some reason all I can think about is a giant mug of my Mum’s pumpkin soup with fresh bread, eating it in front of her fireplace with dogs all around me and watching the eagles on tv. This just makes me cry harder. I’ve somehow tapped into a giant reservoir that was waiting for a panic attack over a mountain pass to explode. I cry for the soup I won’t taste again, the house that is not our house anymore and most of all for the hugs I will never feel.
The sun comes out and warms me. Somehow this is a small comfort and I think “there you go. The sun is your comfort now.”
We hike only a little further, collect water and look for a flat-ish space in this steep world. As I’m walking back to my pack with my full water bottle, I look up and am staring directly into the eyes of a deer. She’s only a few feet away and we’ve clearly both startled each other. I smile and feel a little warmer.
We set the tent up just in time to hide from a small burst of rain. I’m drained. Too tired to even eat. I bundle up and cross everything that I can get through the 4 passes we have to climb before getting into town tomorrow. Ah town. Pillows and hot water sound just about perfect.

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