A couple of months ago, I had thought to myself that once the weather got nicer, I’d like to backpack a Pemi Loop. I had heard about the hike since mid-2013 however, most were completing the hike in a day. That’s a max of 36 miles in a day and I know that I’m not good for that for various reasons. The biggest (or littlest) being my hiking partner… Four short legs, white fur, and goes by the name of Isis. So, a backpack it would have to be and a solo trip to boot. I really dislike designing a trip around scheduled time off. There’s too much of a chance for bad weather to strike when you have to plan something and to top it off, I was planning this trip on a Full Moon with Friday the 13th right in the middle of the trip… I’m so screwed.
The week of the hike, the weather was looking wet and cloudy one minute and then there would be breaks in the clouds the next. I decided to push on with the trip and focused instead on packing… Food and snacks for me and Isis for 3 days, Water to start (2L bladder and a Nalgene), rain gear, minimal clothing (I’m not opposed to re-wearing anything EXCEPT undergarments and socks), tent, sleeping bag, pillow, pad, blanket for Isis, and all the usual toiletries and safety equipment (10 essentials), charger for my phone, camera, map, water shoes, cup, hat, and all weighs in at approximately 30 Lbs. I took the pack cover from my Gregory pack and discovered that it fit better than any of my other universal covers so, that would do. With just a few things left to pack, I was going to go through with this and that meant that my anxiety was at an all-time high.
Some pre-hike worries: Will Isis do OK if I tie her off and go into the hut for water? What if another dog approaches? What if she gets loose? What if she chews through the tent and I don’t wake up? What if she falls over from exhaustion? What if I fall over from exhaustion? What if the pack is too heavy for me? And of course, BEARS?? What if, what if, what if? Bear? STOP! Breathe and relax. You are going to have an amazing trip. Who cares if it’s not done in a day, you are going on a Pemi Loop and you have THREE DAYS. Take your time. Relax and when you need to, rest or camp. If it’s raining, you will be fine because you have the gear. Isis will be fine because she’s double coated. If she wants to rest, listen to her because you probably need to rest too. No worries just fun and see who you run into along the way. And above all else, leave your life at sea level behind. No matter what, it’s going to be amazing and you (I) should be incredibly proud.
The plan is for 11 summits and the possibility of sleeping on at least one of those… And what actually happened is… Rain. Too much rain for my original plan. Isis and I drove up to Lincoln Woods in what started as mist and ended as a down pour. Knowing the weather to sometimes clear up, I pressed on with Isis up the Lincoln Woods trail. The rain was light and I was thinking that this would be OK and that again, maybe it would clear up. My pack was set for the Pemi and was approximately 30 Lbs. on my back (we would have been out for 3 days). I was good with the weight and the position for now as Lincoln Woods is just straight and flat. We walked to the turn for the Osseo trail which is one of my favorite ways to get to Mt. Flume. The first and only time I did it, it was snow covered but I loved the gradual gain on the way in and the closeness of the trail. It just felt like a good trail to me. Of course, when I first took the trail, I did not have the experience of the ladders on the upper section. Today would be a test for sure as I negotiated the ladders with not only a heavy pack but Isis too. The rain was getting heavier and so was my heart. I began thinking of another plan but I also hoped to continue. The rain was very discouraging from about 7:30a at the start until about 9:30a when it began to stop. The trail was wet but I was once again hopeful.
As Isis and I continued, she cleverly found a pile of moose poop to roll in and my white dog was now, green? Punk rock dog was heading up the trail. I laughed and felt a little lighter as we started to hit the elevation. I had been taking breaks due to carrying the weight and it was getting harder to put the pack back on yet, I was determined to see how far we could go. I had been thinking about the weather for tomorrow and how it was supposed to continue raining and rain harder. Did I want to spend Friday night in a wet tent with a wet dog and possibly wet me? Then we were hitting the ladders and I was excited again. My feet were getting a break even though my shoulders were starting to curl over. Isis had no issues on the ladders and we were in sync with one another. Smiling, we made it to the first outlook where I had sat looking at the Bonds before. I made the decision to wait until I got to the summit to choose between turning back and moving on. The rain had stopped and the wind was picking up making me feel cold.
The upper trail was lined with wild flowers and after the ladders, it opened up to a rather flat section as we made our way over to the summit. Remembering my time on the trail before I knew we were getting close. With 30 Lbs. of extra weight, I was still making pretty good time although I questioned if it was “Pemi time”. Isis was playing so, I knew she was happy. No stick was safe on this trail. Continuing to take breaks by either taking the pack off or keeping it on and resting, I fought my way up the trail. The sky was darkening again and I was becoming convinced that the Pemi would have to wait. Isis and I came to the junction of the Flume slide and only had .1 to the summit. Here is where it becomes rockier and a little more precarious in the wet weather. I stepped carefully and made my way out of the trees and into the cold that I had not felt in a long time. To get to the summit, you pass over several rocky out cropping’s that do not allow much room on the trail. You feel like you are walking a balance beam in places and I love this. Mt. Flume continues to be a favorite on this fourth visit.
Isis and I are not alone as two other gentlemen pop out behind us. It turns out that they took the slide trail and were equally exhausted. The three of us discussed our plans and cutting them short as well as past trips we had taken. Isis was having a good rest as they continued on to Liberty. I took a few pictures with the tripod and the timer as well as fed Isis while we decided whether to continue to Liberty ourselves or to just head back down. The Pemi was off and the decision was made to just head down. Mt. Flume would have to do because I was not carrying all that pack weight over to Liberty and back again. Heading back over the rocks, Isis was favoring one of her back paws and I was careful with her. We took it slow as the roots were really slick as well as the rocks. My footing was becoming sloppy and I knew that we had a long way back.
Going back over the ladders, Isis had some issues and I was sure that it was because she was tired. I now question if she can handle a backpacking trip. We stopped at the outlook again and I got a closer look at some really swollen back paws. She is my number one reason for turning back and I am glad that I did. Poor girl was not feeling well and we still had miles to go. It was going to be really slow going and I knew I could not carry her until we got off the ladders and I was hoping to not carry her at all. The descend became flatter as we continued moving and she appeared to be doing better. The humidity was high and while I wanted to take off my rain shell and pants, I kept them on because the mist was thick. This is most uncomfortable because I am sweating under the shell and pants but had I taken them off, I’d still be wet. A no win but I didn’t want to add it to the pack weight when it came down to it.
I tripped my way back to the Lincoln Woods trail and then the long walk out began. Things continued to be slow going and I wanted to get the pack off my back. I didn’t want to stop unless Isis did so, I pushed myself. There was another group coming out of the woods ahead of me and I wondered where they had come from. We never caught up to them though as we walked the long flat Lincoln Woods trail. I felt like I was in a trance as we finally hit the bridge and ultimately the car. I stopped at the ranger station and amended my check in to denote a shortened trip. All bases were covered. Isis was loaded in the car and given water. I went over to the bathroom to change and get comfortable for the ride home. As usual, a stop for my coffee and Isis’ munchkin was a definite must. I began thinking of a plan for the weekend since the weather would finally clear… Perhaps I will go out for a shorter overnight trip then? We’ll see what happens during tomorrows zero day.
I’m by no means upset by today’s events. In all my years of hiking, this is just how it is. I should add that I’d have been more upset if I heard the rain when I first got up and decided to roll back over only to find it had cleared up. I made it to the top of Mt. Flume for the fourth time and that is priceless to me. A real test of my strength too as I carried my backpacking gear. I consider it training for those longer hikes that I want to take. If I can strengthen my back and my legs, I’d have an easier go at these trails and I could do these longer trips with no issues (on good day). No, I’m actually very proud that I was able to decide and follow through before I got too far into the original course. If I had gotten myself into a situation where I could not turn back, I’m sure that the outcome would have been worse. I know my limits and I respect them. Whether I do one summit or eleven in one trip, it still beats sitting at home, working, or anything else I could be doing. The view and my time of Flume today were some of the most peaceful moments I have had in a very long time. I am looking forward to a rest and then to the weekend.