I have been wanting to do a solo backcountry trip for sometime. This weekend it worked out perfectly with Ashley being out east and my friends being committed to family. Last week my friend Andrew and I spent the weekend in the Never Summer Range, and while grabbing permits I also booked a night at the Tonahutu backcountry site. The July 4th weekend brought an incredible amount of people to the park and I was not ready for it. I wasted almost 2 hours driving from parking lot to shuttle lot in order to get to the Bear lake trailhead. With the usual afternoon storm hour approaching I left the trailhead at 10am, a little too late for my comfort. The 4 mile 3,100 vertical feet hike to the summit of Flattop mountain was going to have to be a fast one. Since I also treated this trip as a "training" trip for my upcoming Grand Traverse climb in September, I wanted to crush this hike as fast as I could. 2 hours later I took a quick snapshot of the peak and headed out across the continental divide trial. The CDT (Continental Divide Trail) heads north and scrapes the much more breathtaking view of Ptarmigan Pass and then slowly works its way lower until finally heading back down towards Tonahutu Creek. Shortly after moving past the summit of Flattop the winds and uneasy feeling of being in the alpine came blowing in. To the east I could see the usual darkness moving in and after about 30 min of really fast walking the thunder started. I must say, and most people who have experienced this will agree, being above tree line with thunder rolling over head is one of the most unnerving and helpless feelings that could be experienced in the backcountry, maybe except being stalked by a heard of angry female moose which I have never heard happens but sounds like a nightmare of mine. I will admit, As the thunder became louder and the clouds became more and more unpredictable I started to panic, mildly. I became careless with where I was walking and eventually this panic lead me to walk over some snow that turned out to be deep, cold, icy slush. With both feet now soaked with pure alpine frozen water I moved on knowing that there was nothing I could do. I stopped walking and told myself to relax. I was fine, and I knew it. I skirted the storm with some wet feet and the usual feeling of "wow that was actually cool" (now that I am not dead)
The rest of the trip was pretty nice. Easy downhill hiking into a healthy forest and the final stop at the campsite brought with it the ever scarce fire ring! I spent the rest of the day reading, building a pretty awesome fire, relaxing and enjoying a great night alone. I learned that doing a solo trip really solidify's what one has learned. There is no one to double check gear or decisions. No one to change plans or to make sure everything is going as planned. It really is the chance to take everything one has learned and see if it really is true. It is a time to see if you really can pack correctly, to see if your decisions in the backcountry really are sound and correct. And more importantly, time to have a real experience with the world around you. When camping or hiking with friends there can be a disconnect with exactly what is going on around you. When alone, you are consumed by the forest, mountains, rivers, wildlife. There is nothing around except you and the occasional hiker. And a connection comes out of this experience that can never be achieved without being alone.