The fact we had to hike 5.8 miles back from Akokola, then drive to the trailhead for Flattop, and then hike another 6.5 miles was probably a poor logistic choice (that’s a total of 12.3 miles the second day for those of you counting). But it’s the choice we had, so we did it. The trail was pretty diverse in terms of scenery and it was really cool to be hiking in the valley between all the mountains. At one point we saw two black bears pass by 20 feet to the right of us. Luckily, we had bear spray with us, but the bears just meandered on by and ignored us.
We encountered a river where we were able to refill water, take a short break, wash our hair, and refresh ourselves.
The path was good until we hit the switchbacks to climb Flattop Mountain, coupled with the decaying amount of light, and dropping temperatures we had a rough time getting to the top.
We really thought we were going to reach the top before dark, but we did not. At the top we couldn’t find the campsite, and thought maybe we had taken a wrong turn. However, it turns out the park trail map misinformed the distance to the camp site and we ended up needing to go an extra 0.5 miles to get to the campsites. We were cold, it was dark, and we were exhausted. We ate some food, tried to stay warm, and got into our tents. At one point I thought I might be getting the early signs of hypothermia. It was a little scary.
After warming up, I got out and did some star gazing. Despite all the hardships this was the coveted reward I had hoped for. It was almost impossible for me to capture the ambience of that night. Bundled up in all the warm clothes I had, I stood outside and took as many pictures as I could. Because we were basically in a crater on the top of the mountain, there was just stars everywhere. It was like a dome of stars above our head; in every direction that you turned above the mountain wall was stars. I’ve never seen the milky way stretch fully across the sky from one side to the other before. It was truly magical. I can’t find the words to describe the experience, and my pictures hardly do it justice but it’s all I have.
We woke up the next morning with frost on our tents. It was ridiculously cold. I guess it makes sense since we were on a mountaintop, but it sure didn’t make it any easier to get out of my warm sleeping bag or tent.
Due to the cold, we dragged our feet leaving the campsite to go down the mountain. Going down the switchbacks was faster than going up. We made good time, but it definitely used a different set of muscles than when we went up.
Overall, a taxing hike but the night sky was truly worth it. We booked it to the car so that we could get to the trailhead for our final destination: Granite Park Chalet.