I glanced over my shoulder. The winged fiends were keeping pace with me every step of the way, bobbing and weaving in tight formation, waiting for me to make the mistake of shortening my stride or decreasing speed. My right hand and left arm were already bloody from swatting one mosquito after it had drunk its fill, and I expected far worse to happen if I stopped for a drink of water.
I jogged ahead, hoping to lose the tenacious swarm, but the gambit only worked a few minutes at a time and left me fighting to catch my breath on the steep mountain trail. A sign at the Mt. Thielsen trailhead had warned about a recent windstorm demolishing part of the route to the summit, and I greatly feared what would happen if the mosquitoes caught up to me while I was struggling through the deadfall.
Really, I wasn’t even supposed to be here. Plans to backpack with friends in the Trinity Alps were cancelled, however, due to the eruption of thirteen major forest fires in Northern California. The thick yellow haze colored everything in the sepia tones of old photographs, creating a nostalgic atmosphere in the city of Redding that I might have explored further if it weren’t for the convoys of fire trucks pouring in and out of the Trinity Alps region.
I thought I had escaped the smoke by coming into Oregon, but overnight, the winds had carried the haze across the state line. When I saw the murky air outside my tent this morning, perhaps I should have continued north towards Washington, but I needed the exercise if I wanted to climb 12,276-foot Mt. Adams in a few days without succumbing to altitude sickness. The current hike was a compromise between high-altitude acclimatization and potential lung damage from smoke inhalation.