Mar 13, 2011

The assault on Bomber Mountain - 8, needle foot, asteroids and elk at Lake Helen

Monday, August 28
I've been nursing a recalcitrant foot injury for 18 months, plantar fasciitis.  Maybe "fasciitis" is Latin for "cry like baby in morning", as steel pins needled my heel-to-arch ligament those first few steps each daybreak.  The foot gets loosened up and feels much better after I get moving and stretch, but that initial pain at sunrise is nasty.  

I'd tried a number of remedies to combat the pain, but options were dwindling.  Down to medical Mary J. or lobbing the foot clean off.  Custom orthotics in the shoes helped a little, but mostly just lightened the wallet by $350.  Ready to replace the foot with a wooden pirate peg, I finally came across the right fix:  the night splint.  The splint, or ski boot, stretches the plantar to quicken healing and reduce morning misery.  I’d been wearing it every night for months and didn’t want to let it slip for the trip.  So I clipped it to the pack to come along for the hike.

That first day at Helen, I drank bags of water to rehydrate from the heavy hike and to slay headaches that might try to sneak in with the altitude.  Overdid it on the liquids (I drank approximately the same amount a Shetland Pony would) and visited the men’s room four times that night.  The dehydration process went like this: wake up in a fog sucking my thumb, thinking I’m still back at home, remove my head from the bag, unzip bag, put on coat, unbuckle night splint, unzip tent, unzip frosty vestibule, put on sandals, take care of business while cringing at winky-shrink from 23 degree exposure.  Return to tent, remove sandals, zip vestibule, zip tent, reattach night splint, remove coat, zip bag, bury head inside the bag and attempt to sleep.  Repeat, repeat again.  

Decided to only wear the ski boot that first night, it was too much work.

The frost answered my earlier question about the missing birds and bees.  They were probably all dead, stiff as boards from the refreshing nighttime plunge.

4:30 am, up for my fourth and final pee pit, I joined my two pals for an astronomy lesson.  The throng of stars was ridiculous.  No moon, but the starlight was bright enough to torch the ground and lake like dim LED lamps.  Fish is literate in the constellations and spends a fair amount of time studying galaxies.  He flipped on the geek switch: 

“The third star in Orion’s belt is not a star at all, but a nebula. Grab the binoculars and you’ll see what I’m talking about,” he said. 

I brought the third star closer with the Minolta's, sure enough, I could see cloudy nebula through them. We spotted the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus (not a Ford Taurus), something we couldn't do back home with city lights muffling the sky.  This constellation is the six-star tattoo on the Subaru auto symbol. 

The Milky Way was creamy white, like God wiped a thick strip of 2% across the sky.  

Venus torched with white intensity, could almost feel its rays.

Space dust and asteroid chunks burned through atmosphere at 100,000 miles an hour as shooting stars.  We saw multiples a minute screaming from different angles like attack missiles.  Unblinking satellites cruised 300 miles above.  Words are weak at describing the intensity of the night.  The sky was violent. 

Awoke at 6:45 am to ghostly barks from the ridgeline.  Decided it was best to cower in the tent a few minutes longer to wait it out, wasn’t entirely sure what species of rage was blurting the call.  Fish and Sherpa whispered next door, "Elk, a large herd."  We watched them for the next couple days and noticed they grazed on the bluff above camp before sunrise.  As the sun lifted at 7:00 am, the horned leader called the herd together with an echoing bark.  I think he was saying "Sun's up, let's grab some scones and tea".  The elk basked in heated light, following the line of sun as it crawled down the ridge.  It was a simple routine that failed to fascinate us each dawn.  We checked the map, the area where they congregate is called Elk Ridge. 

Fish gased filtered mountain water for hot chocolate, it hit the spot.  We watched the temp gauge work as the sun launched, it warmed from 25 degrees to 55 in 45 minutes.  The twiggy atmosphere and low humidity roll the temp  up and cool down quickly.  During the day, the gauge read 75 degrees.  If a cloud blocked the sun, within two minutes the temp fell 10 degrees to 65. 

Camp was only a few miles from Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain, two of the tallest mountains in the Big Horns range.   Plan A was to summit Bomber Mountain today.  However, no prodding was needed to go with Plan B, which was to sit around and scratch ourselves, a lazy day. We'd tackle Bomber tomorrow.

Directly behind our tents rose a 700 foot cliff.  I muttered to Fish yesterday I wanted to climb up and snap some bird's eye shots of camp. “You go right ahead, by yourself,” he cracked.  Sherpa was game, so before breakfast and still in PJ's, we clawed up the face.  

We slid back down the hill (wish we had a snow saucer), then gagged down a breakfast of freeze-dried eggs and apple breakfast bars.  I think the “eggs” were Styrofoam based, looked like soggy chunks of breadcrumbs artificially nuked taxicab yellow.  

Last night, Fish and I discussed whether we should try and top Cloud Peak today.  He was still feeling wobbly from altitude sickness, and the 12 mile out-and-back hike sounded aggressive.  We decided to forgo Cloud Peak altogether and only focus on Bomber Mountain.  Tomorrow, we'd move camp two miles up to Mistymoon Lake,  shortening the round trip to Bomber to eight miles. We hated to give up the stunning beauty of Lake Helen, but we needed to migrate to improve our odds of successfully summiting the beast.

topo map of the lakes we visited

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