Wow! Camped this day at a very busy trailhead to the Sawtooth, our first resupply point after finishing the 10-day Smoky leg of the trek. The din of recreationists of every stripe coming and going is sharp contrast to the solitude of the Smoky. Not so the oppressive 90-100 degree heat that Smoky wrapped our 9 AM - 6 PM trail days. A soak-your-shirt/hat/kerchief-at-every-creek-across-the-trail kind of heat, only to have it dry within minutes. A 6-8 liter hydration need, whereof you miss a liter, your brain hazes. Stumble as I did into a creekside camp a couple of evenings desperately needing to submerge myself into the cold waters bare-assed to avoid heat prostration. Worthless to lend a hand with camp and llama chores, preferring to stroll bare in the gentle breeze of the shade, then re-submerge.
Sarah's and my temper frayed in the heat, too; she railing at my plodding pace, myself gone sensitive at the barks. Dennis, our llama wrangler and guide, kept the equanimity -- more concerned about the llamas than any petty squawking from the two-leggeds.
The llamas? Hardly a mew, but a lot of open-mouthed breathing to exhaust the heat from those fur-wrapped bodies on the steeps. Breaks I was so happy to make (open-mouthed breather that I was, too). Very impressed they bore the challenges so well.
Said farewell to Dennis at the end of the Smoky trail -- until the next wild trail together. A friendship for the rest of our lives has been made. Lean, powerful of muscle, a raven's mop of unruly hair, a Tom Selleck mustache, and carved features turn the head of gals. Then there are the dark eyes that reflect a gentle nature. He has embraced the challenges of the trail, the quirks of his trail mates and llamas equally. Wisdom shared with a smile. A guide's guide. Dennis loves the work. No surprise he's the field operations manager and partner of Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas.
Long-time friends Walt and AK Minnick joined for half the Smoky trail. A 75-year-old with two new knees, Walt has covered my back on the grunt sections of the trail, but showed no mercy at evening's camp, roasting my history of errant trail behavior. Tolerable given the fine port, Madeira, and wine he packs, a bad now made easy by our llama buddies.
So the next leg of the trek -- the Sawtooth. Soon we assess the Grand Teton-like crag of McGowan Peak, a gateway totem on the north end of the range. We are doing a loop here -- the South to North route still blocked by snow-bound passes and raging creeks cascading from the peaks. Am I ready? Sarah has sidelined herself with a swollen knee, resting for two days, joining tomorrow. Dennis is gone. Suffering in the heat, I've had serious doubts about why the hell I'm doing this at this age, a life of great trails already enjoyed. Yet, I've put this carrot before me... it is there.