We took what we learned from last year and refined and retested it for nine days. In every sense of the word, this was simply more aggressive agenda -- more miles, more days, more altitude, more passes, more pack weight, more vertical. More everything. It put the three of us right on the edge of our capabilities, mentally and physically. It's good to know where that edge is. It seems that the people who don't know the boundaries of their capabilities are most often the ones getting hurt.

As for us, we hurt in all the expected ways -- general over-use syndrome. But, as with last year, no accidents, no injuries and none of the problems of that can threaten these types of extended backcountry treks. (Three tips: Motrin. More Motrin. Even more Motrin.) Again, we had zero in the way of bear problems (though there was much obsessive talk about the ursine parasites, both amongst ourselves and with virtually everyone we encountered). I won't add fuel to the growing flame wars online about the pros and cons of bear cannisters. We used them again and were glad we did.

The rhythm of our days was dictated by the trip outline, the sun and the terrain. After the first day (a horrendous one for me, less so for Susan and Erik) we fell into a comfortable pattern. A typical day would involve 12 miles of hiking and begin at 7 a.m. We'd make tea, wolf down a Clif Bar and some Motrin and begin breaking camp. By nine we'd be on the trail, climbing 2,000 or 3,000 feet to a pass crossing. I'd timed all the pass crossings for relatively early in the day to minimize the chance we'd get caught under afternoon thunderstorms that are typical in the region during the summer. In the end, we didn't see any thunderstorms whatsoever. The weather was uniformly perfect, for the second year running.

After humping it over a 12,000-foot pass around noon, we'd typically cruise down rocky slopes, often with just rock cairns to guide us down the pile of granite rubble. (Much of our nine days was spent in a bio-region without any real soil or flora to speak of, just rock and water.) Late in the afternoon, there'd be another buttkicker of a climb so we could make camp above 10,000 feet.

By the time we'd finished setting up camp, changing out of our soaked day clothes into our evening wear and setting up for dinner, there was usually just time for a couple quick photos of the granite walls turning from pink to crimson in the sunset. We were out cold in our sleeping bags by 9 most nights. No after-hours carousing, when we knew we had to get up and do it all over again in the morning.