The pros and cons of backpacking, Part 5

Finally, a sunny day. It’s a great day for pictures. I know I’m going to take a bunch today. So is Mauro.

Still, glimpses through the trees of the wider landscape are relatively rare. We stop to take pictures every chance we get, even when there’s not much to see.

When I stop to take a panorama of a waterfall my camera emits an unfamiliar beep. The preview pane on the back of the camera has gone solid blue, and two fateful words fill the center of the screen: CARD FULL. How could the card be full? This thing holds, like, 250 photos. Then I remember: I had used the card to transfer files between computers before the trip. There’s no way to erase those files now. I’m stuck with just 31 photos. The panorama alone has used five shots.

I can trash some of my photos — the out of focus, low light pictures from yesterday, the shots I know Mauro has taken. I want to save at least ten pictures for tonight, when we’ll be at the top of Mount Sterling with its lookout tower.

When we stop for lunch, I go through the painful process of deleting the memories of our trip. I know that in the end I’ll probably only want to save 15 or 20 photos, but now I have to squint into a 2-inch LCD panel and try to guess which ones I’ll want. I end up deleting 12.

Do I make the right decisions?

I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

Mauro and I have decided to take the long way to our next campsite. Instead of the direct, six-mile route, we choose a loop that will take us an extra six miles. We do get to see some gorgeous views and a spectacular waterfall, but the last half of the day is a grueling climb of 3,000 vertical feet. About halfway up the mountain we see a girl strolling down the trail wearing a thin cotton dress and sandals, and no pack. What’s she doing up here? A little further up the trail, we pass her boyfriend, waiting by a creek with both of their packs.

The last water before our campsite is at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, 1,800 feet below our destination. We stop to pump 6 liters of water. Carrying all this extra weight makes the climb even more challenging. Mauro, who’s got a GPS, gives updates on our elevation every 250 vertical feet. At 5:00 p.m. we’re at 5,000 feet, and arrive at a junction just five flat miles away from the shelter where we spent last night. We’ve hiked 11, and we have another steep mile to go before we reach the campsite.

At 5:45 we finally arrive at a large fire ring below a precarious lookout tower, at 5,800 feet. We toss off our packs and guzzle down water. Then we grab our cameras and head for the tower. After climbing up halfway I begin, finally, to realize the full scope of the mountain range we’ve been hiking through for three days. It’s astonishing, breathtaking. Should I take a picture now? I decide to take one, then save the rest for sunset and sunrise tomorrow.

From the tower we see the girl in the thin dress arrive with her boyfriend. Later they would eat their dinner in the tower while Mauro and I choked down pasty ramen below, cooked with too little water. Later still, they would tell us they planned to spend the night up there. They would ask me to wake them for the sunrise.

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