(NOTE: I'm writing this a few days after having returned, so rest assured that I did survive)
Mining ruins mark the spot where my day-hiking friends turn back, and after poking around the site for a bit, I resume the climb for three more miles.
Streams abound in these mountains, so a measly 700 ml bottle topped with my Sawyer Mini filter provides crisp, cool, mineral-rich water anytime I want. It's the most delicious I've ever tasted, though I'll admit that my palate might be slightly biased by the surroundings.
I hang a left onto Old Horse Thief Trail somewhere beyond mile seven, and the seemingly relentless climb to over 12,000 feet finally gives way to vast rolling meadows popping with wildflowers in all directions.
I haven't seen a single person since leaving my friends earlier, and considering how hard it was to get up here, it seems likely that I'll be all alone until my descent sometime tomorrow afternoon. Not a bad thing at all.
I stroll along for a few more miles on what is, unbeknownst to me at the time, the only semi-horizontal stretch of the entire hike. I stop on two occasions to don my rain gear and wait out a brief rainstorm, pleased to see afterwards that I've succeeded in keeping all of my stuff bone dry.
Compared to the long climb up here, the pack is now practically weightless, and I feel as though I could walk forever. But the sun is starting to get low in the sky, so I stop to feast on sardines, cheese, summer sausage, an apple, and then wash it all down with more of that glorious mountain water, before walking another half mile in search of a good campsite.
My tent pitched atop a small hill overlooking a stream, my food bag hung in a tree a hundred or so yards away, I quietly take in the sunset before crawling into my sleeping bag to read for however long my thoroughly spent body will allow.