I love the Eagle Lake Buttress Traverse- but because it so easily lends itself to soloing, we’ve typically done it with large groups of friends who can all move together in a sociable pace.
As the buttress melted out this year and I slowed down from the ski season, I began thinking about getting alpine again and pushing my legs on trails. So one morning when Galina wasn’t around, I tossed a light daypack and helmet in the car and headed to Emerald Bay.
With legs strong from skiing, mountain biking, and a few trail runs, I felt on fire as I made my way up the trail. When hiking to Eagle Lake with climbing gear and a big crew I budget 30-40 minutes; lightweight and solo it took just 15. I was at the notch just an hour after starting, a full hour and a half faster than with a crew- I was ecstatic- everything was clicking, the weather was perfect, and I was invincible.
The ridge flowed by in a smooth blur of euphoria and focus. The terrain was familiar, the problems fell apart as I moved through them, and I hopped down from the last boulder to the gravelly base near Phipps Pass just an hour after starting up the notch. I hadn’t taken time to focus on the scenery, but I was intoxicated by the pace.
The first 3 miles of the trail were all smiles; I even ran into Pat Parsel as he logged his own weekend loop. But as the trail continued its descent, I found my IT band making itself heard. Months spent skiing without any running had left me without the strength to stabilize my legs, and what had begun as an ambitious run turned into a humbling hike.
At the turnoff for Upper Velma Lake, I decided to throw in the towel and take a swim, and hope that my muscles would feel better. Chilled and refreshed, I felt good and set back towards the PCT- but when I looked down at my wrist to check the time, my heart sunk: my watch was still at the swimming hole.
I jogged back to Velma, and spent twenty minutes anxiously thrashing around the underbrush- finally spotting my prize. An hour after I first turned on the PCT, I was once again on the way home. The benefits of the break had also been lost, and as I worked through the rolling terrain leading up to the Bay View turnoff I found myself only able to run the uphills… and then slowly lope downhill. Turning towards Emerald Bay, I steeled myself in preparation for descending 1600ft in 2 miles.
It was worse than I had feared; after dropping a few hundred feet my IT pain limited me to a slow awkward hike interspersed with stretch breaks. I returned to the Emerald Bay trailhead grateful to be finished, and humbled by the experience.