May 19th, 2012 – 5pm Navajo Lake, Lizard Head Wilderness elevation: 11,155′
“Maisy.” I find her in the tent. “If we have to hike out of here can you suck it up and get it done?” She doesn’t hesitate for a second and looks me in the eye. “Yes.”
That’s my girl. With that I start packing up the giant mess we had made only an hour earlier at our 11,150′ campsite, scrambling to get tents, sleeping bags, pads, kitchen stuff…god there was shit EVERYWHERE…stuffed back in the backpacks. Did all of that gear really fit in our packs? Somewhere in there I even found a few seconds to heat up another cup of water to finish the cooking process on our Backpacker’s Pantry-sponsored dinner knowing that if we all didn’t eat something before hightailing back down the trail, it was not going to be pretty. Hurried eating and packing complete, Todd and the girls started down the trail while I filtered enough water to get back to the truck.
It had been an unnecessarily rough day already. Picture-perfect weather after a cold front had come through opened up the high country with just a few scattered clouds and so we decided to pack up and head out for an overnighter at Navajo Lake in the Lizard Head wilderness. This is one of those great local hikes that gets you into beautiful territory quickly. That’s not to say it isn’t a little bit of a butt-kicker but it’s so beautiful you (kind of) forget about those wretched switchbacks towards the end. We hoped that the snow was gone enough to reach the lake.
The kids were…challenging…from the minute they woke up, screeching and fighting about stupid crap and then carried that onto the trail where Addy decided the payback for all of the wrongs ever inflicted upon her (you know, like when Maisy wouldn’t let her use the red marker and when I told her she couldn’t have popsicles for breakfast) was to hike .074 miles per hour. Husband’s note: Although Addy’s pace may at times seem incredibly slow, that little kid averaged 1.4 miles per hour over 5 miles with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. She’s a tough and strong little monster. Wife’s note: Note the use of the word MONSTER. She was in a bad mood, taking great pleasure in torturing her sister, perfecting her whine…all with an accompanying evil grin. Hey, I get that she’s 3, and a pretty amazing 3 year old at that. On this day she was exercising her right to be a very challenging 3. Lunch time brought a momentary reprieve; food seems to improve everything, at least for a few minutes.
I have gotten so used to the kids being awesome on hikes that this scene caught me off-guard and I immediately began to question the madness of the August Wonderland Trail trip.
I always assume moments like these present themselves for a reason. Anyway, we inched onward, upward. We invented a jelly bean hiding game whereby Maisy and Todd hiked out ahead and left jelly beans along the trail for Addy to find. This helped pick up the pace. At long last, after putting together enough baby steps, we finally arrived 2200′ higher at the lake. Even on the best days this is a tough hike for a kid, but they did it.
Once camp was set up Addy proceeded to use the brand new, decidedly delicate-seeming Big Agnes tent and my sleeping pad as a bouncy castle. Every time I asked her to stop she just grinned and invented new ways to make me crazy. The kids didn’t want to wander around and explore; they just wanted to eat non-stop which I am coming to find out the hard way must be accounted for (a fourth meal) in backpacking trips. On top of that the heat of the sun would start to overheat everyone just enough that we’d peel off layers and then a cloud would come by and drop the temperature by what felt like 60 degrees. We were a grouchy hot mess, and in such a picture-perfect setting. I said I’d be honest in this blog. There you have it – it ain’t always pretty.
Hoping that yet more hiking would distract the kids, we walked down to the lake. No one wanted to go swimming which I thought was too bad since it would have made for great pictures what with the giant chunks of ice in it. Todd continued around the lake while I brought the kids back up to camp and immediately remanded them to their own corners. I started making dinner as everyone was hypoglycemic from the militaristic rationing of food (something completely foreign to the Gardiner household…we’re enthusiastic eaters) – again, lesson LEARNED. More food. Got it.
Todd returned from his Happy Moments Away from the Bickering Children and Wife About to Lose Her Mind, I pointed to the boiling water, grabbed the camera and started up the rocky scree slope above camp. I had been gone all of 5 minutes when Maisy started yelling something. Finally the wind brought it up to me clearly. “Dad is HURT we need you NOW he burned his LEG”. I see Todd in a snowbank trying to put out the heat from the boiling water. When I finally made it down I saw that skin was shedding from his ankle. Not good.
So it’s 6pm, we’re all tired and hungry. There is shit everywhere. Todd’s leg is melting and feeling really pretty horrible and we have to make the decision – wait this out till tomorrow morning or get the hell out of there. The only good news is that the 5 long-ass miles in to the lake are all uphill. We had gravity on our side on the way out and Maisy said she could do it. Addy didn’t have a choice…I was going to haul her ass out of there but really I think she was so taken with the idea that this situation meant she could sleep in her bed and wake up to cartoons and have a popsicle somewhere in there. What’s to complain about?
We decided that poor Todd wasn’t going to be able to sleep, we didn’t have a huge pile of clean dressings, and the last thing I wanted was a 175-pound immobile, feverish husband at 11,000′. I’m strong, but I’m not that strong. So I stuffed spoonfuls of food into the girls while helping Todd wrap up his burn with goods from the added-at-the-last-minute first aid kid, he shoved the rest of the gear in his pack and we were out of there.
After I finished filtering water I looked up and saw that Todd and the girls were still just 200′ away and of course wondered why they weren’t a half mile down the trail. When I caught up I found Todd talking with the only other campers there, a group of guys that had been up on the 14ers in the neighborhood that day. One of them volunteered to help shoulder the load down the trail for a while. Unfortunately for poor Tim, I am at a point in my life where I no longer stubbornly refuse any and all help and so I tossed him my pack, put Addy on my shoulders and we started cruising down the hill. I let him follow us down the trail for about a half an hour and then begged him to return up the hill. Without his help up and over that first hump we probably wouldn’t have made it back to the truck before dark. As it was, the four of us got back to the trailhead right at 9pm as the last usable light had disappeared. We had headlamps, of course, but that just complicates things when you are trying to dodge little creeks, snow drifts, rocks and giant bunnies on the trail. Headlamps make you feel completely separated from reality which is not good when hungry, exhausted and in pain. Or a child. Anyway, thanks Tim. It was the perfect amount of help at the end of an already long day for you and we are thankful.
There is a silver lining of course, besides finding a really nice person who was willing to help – walking out of there at twilight meant getting to see critters…I was just waiting for a big old black bear to really make the night interesting. But instead we came across elk in one of the meadows, got to see the last light of day light up the mountains in their most glorious and got to witness the greatness both of our kids possess.
There was not a single complaint in that 2 1/2 hours of evac – Maisy put in a solid 10-mile day and Addy hiked at least a mile or two of the way out giving her a solid high-altitude 6.5-7 miles. No meanness, no whining, no nothing – amazingly they just knew what had to be done and did it. Todd mentioned that maybe in the future he would just pour boiling water on himself before every hike. Maisy got into the truck in the darkness with a huge sense of accomplishment as well she should. That kid is amazing.
But here is the final dilemma. Within a matter of 4 hours I went from total insanity to total awe of what our kids were able to do when they had to. Our packs are down to 30 pounds including water, food for two days, magazines, beer and wine and we figured out that, when we need to, we can haul gear AND 38 pound Addy up and down hills. No problem. Was there a little adrenaline involved? Sure. But we are strong and stubborn and that’s a good combo. So I guess we’ll continue to assess the whole Wonderland thing.
a bit of a post script -it’s 12:30am and Todd just called from the emergency room (he was able to drive himself down there) and they found his burn to be substantial enough for some follow-up treatment. Apparently he’ll do just about anything to earn a few guilt-free hours in his chair watching golf. Here is what it looks like today (the next day). Nasty. Glad we hiked out.
Lessons learned this time around:
so glad I put that good first aid kit in at the last second. we’ll never be remiss about packing one again
when it seems like I’m packing too much food I’m going to add another 2 pounds
hiking sticks make awesome crutches. glad to have a pair along in this case
occasionally my kids kick some serious ass. my husband is a pretty tough creature himself. I mean seriously…look at that mess. ugh.