Night had vanished by the time I arrived to Catherine’s Pass. I watched a thin line of glowing purple grow on the Eastern horizon. It was early on one of the longest days of the year -before 6 AM – and a trio of hikers milled about at the pass. I said hello and continued at a quick pace up toward Point Supreme in an attempt to catch up to my companions. The hike up was quick, which surprised me because in recent years the only time I had come this way had been during the Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run, and for participants this part of trail is nearing the 80 mile mark. Wasatch participants who commit to leaving Brighton Lodge must hike to the high point of the course at Point Supreme. Both times I’ve done Wasatch the climb up had been very difficult and slow. As a WURL seeker, the first morning there was an awakening for me rather than a descent into the darkness and pain of the later miles of a hundred mile mountain endurance run. I was to the top in a few minutes, passing the exact spot where last year I had set up a beach party for Wasatch runners on the sandy trail. (I ran the 2015 Wasatch and finished in 23 hours 8 minutes for 6th place.)
It was one of the most beautiful mornings I had seen. I was awake and my senses were sharp. The lighting was fantastic. I took photos and busily sent them out to friends. A text came in: You just passed us. I had forgotten Aaron had another cache of water and Gatorade at Point Supreme. I turned around and dashed back a few hundred feet to find Aaron at the water stash. Jennilyn continued on while I stopped with Aaron to refill. Moving again to catch up with her, Aaron and I marveled at the scene around us. Mountains, sky, clouds, trees, grass, wildflowers. We captured more photos.
We followed the service road down to below the slopes of Devil’s Castle ridge. We left the road and began a steep hike up to the ridge. Fatigue again hit me. My companions felt it too. It was going to be another warm day and I was hoping to get as far as possible before heat became a menace. Up on the ridge a pain signal shot up from one of my feet. Think of it as a flat tire. My little toes on each foot have a custom of folding under its neighboring toe, causing terrible pain over time and prolonged use. Aaron and Jennilyn continued while I tended to my foot. I met them at the first summit of Devil’s Castle, then ate breakfast. My hunger was raging; I needed to sit and eat. I watched them downclimb the first summit then quickly ascent the middle summit. Jennilyn faded from my sight, literally. I wouldn’t see much of her for the next several hours. Her friend Chelsea was waiting up on the next peak with food and drinks.
I caught up to Aaron and together we exited the Castle and arrived at Sugarloaf. Chelsea handed me a Coke and a bag of chocolate frosting. That was a new one, but ok. She and Jennilyn descended swiftly and were out of earshot, then out of sight for most of the day. At this point walking had become difficult for me, and I had slowed considerably. Aaron and I made the climb up Baldy in slow motion. We both felt fatigue weighing us down.
From Baldy we hiked up to Hidden Peak and rested in the warming hut for about 20 minutes. Out the window we had a view of American Fork Twin Peaks and its East ridge. I spotted the two women on the ridge and we watched them hike up the mountain. I had faint thoughts of quitting at Hidden Peak. It would have been easy to hop a free tram ride down the mountain to Snowbird. Faint thoughts. I still had much WURL left in me. If only my damned feet didn’t hurt so much. Aaron and I pushed on. I was grateful not to be alone. He’s a terrific companion in rugged places. Optimistic and enthusiastic. And when he’s hurting he doesn’t get mean. On the other hand, I must have been complaining constantly.
From The Twins to White Baldy was for me very difficult. Each step was painful. I could not run when I wanted to run the gentle terrain. I wondered more often how far I could go. I hoped to catch up with Jennilyn and Chelsea but they remained always 30 minutes ahead of us. Occasionally we saw them across the mountainside, or near the summits of Red and White Baldy. A friendly family of hikers up on the ridge above White Pine lake shared cheese and candy with me. I love mountain people. Aaron and I both struggled up the blocky granite of White Baldy’s NE ridge. When we reached the summit ridge Aaron swiftly climbed to the summit while I struggled to hoist myself over dozens of granite boulders in search of the summit. It wasn’t lack of skill or strength – it was my aching feet.
At the summit I had to accept the fact I would probably not complete the entire line. Not with my feet in such bad condition. I was moving too slowly, and my feet were so tender, that I made plans to descend from White Baldy down to Red Pine lake, and out. It was over for me. Somewhere in the sea of white boulders Aaron was making his way toward the East ridge. I called out and he answered, and I told him I was going down. I was not able to communicate with Jennilyn or any of the friends waiting further over on the Alpine Ridge near the Pfeifferhorn. I knew Aaron would reach them and tell them of my decision.
The hike down from White Baldy to Red Pine Lake was the most excruciatingly painful time on my feet. Ever. I was glad to know I wouldn’t be on my feet much longer, but I did not look forward to the hike down. At the lake I soaked my feet in the cold water and filled my belly with whatever food seemed good.