Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chamberlain Basin August 2016 - Day 4

We got up around 7. And then we dawdled. We hydrated. After putting the tent up, I took some time to scrawl a happy birthday message to my dad, since this was his birthday and I’d forgotten to call him before I got out of cell phone range. I figured I could do something more later in the day, but I’d better get something done before the day started throwing us new curveballs.

Not a pretty pitch, but it worked. 

A little message to send my dad when I got back to civilization.
I was beginning to think of this trip as “the one where everything broke,” but in a good-natured kind of way. The last two days had been difficult and long, but we’d survived and, for me at least, that survival gave a sense of inevitability. We had made it this far; we were going to make it all the way through. I won’t say we were cocky, but, looking back, we probably should have started the day a bit earlier.

However, that would have had consequences.

Red Top Meadows? We'll not be heading in that direction.

Goodbye, lovely outhouse!

The air strip in the morning. 
Because our dawdling led to us starting our walk around the air strip to get to the trail to the north towards Flossie Lake a little after 8 am. And as we walked around, tried to find the trail, failed to find the trail and just followed the air strip, a plane landed and taxied over to the rangers station off the north south runway.

I guess this would be plane camping. Like car camping, only with more flying.
We walked past an airplane and tent where a couple was warming up their engine to take off. We turned up the north south runway to try and intersect the trail and perhaps greet a ranger. And we saw three people, two women and one man, who had just disembarked from the airplane that had just landed.

We smiled at them and waved and they approached us and we came to meet them and talked about our journeys. The women were archaeologists for the forest service and the man was a husband of one of them volunteering to help on the trip. They advised us not to take the north trail to Flossie Lake if we were headed ultimately to Sheepeater Lake, as they were. They had consulted with the local rangers and the trail between Flossie Lake and Fish Lake was reported to be, if not gone, then not maintained well enough to follow.

They also informed us that the woman who usually manned the lookout on top of Sheepeater Mountain was not there, and, in fact, they were planning on staying a night or two at the lookout on her invitation. This disappointed Ambrose, since he had wanted to meet her and talk to her.

The archaeologists were delighted to see us; one of them mentioned that in the years she had been taking trips into the backcountry for her work, we were only the second group of people she had met out there taking a trip for fun. And we had made pretty good time on our legs to get where they had flown that morning. I can see the attraction of flying into somewhere like Chamberlain, to gain easier access to the wild terrain. But I can’t see being able to afford it. And besides, every step we took to get there made the arrival all that much sweeter.

We parted ways after putting on our sunscreen while they prepared for their day’s hike. And then we turned right around and headed to the trail we’d ignored as we were leaving our camp for the morning, the one that led to Red Top Meadows.

Another outhouse on the east side of the airstrip. 

Ahem, well, I suppose we shall be going to Red Top Meadows after all. 
If we hadn’t dawdled, then we wouldn’t have met the archaeologists and would have gone to Sheepeater by way of Flossie and might have gotten into a spot of trouble if the trail proved difficult to follow. The morning’s events happened as they needed to, even if we did make a detour of about a mile.

And then we discovered that the trail to Red Top led directly to a nice bend of the Chamberlain Creek that would have been a lot nicer to fill our water from than the backtrack that I did. Now we know.

We had maps that showed our new route, and of course the GPS, so we weren’t worried about changing our route mid-trip, especially because they told us that this route was only 9 miles as opposed to the 10 of our original plan. And there would be less rolling terrain this way. We’d start out following Chamberlain Creek, roughly, and then enter Red Top Meadows before turning up a canyon to Fish Lake and then climbing up to Sheepeater Lake. Easy!

A nice flat section to start the day. 
Well, the first part was pretty easy. We walked through short pines and taller aspens. The sound of water faded as the creek curled away. The archaeology party passed us in a particularly leafy section, taking me by surprise when they appeared. I gasped, rather than shrieking, but it was a close thing. I figured we wouldn’t be seeing them again at the pace they were going.

Easy not to notice company when the trail bends and the trees are thick. 
But it wasn’t too long before we did run into them again, hidden in the shade of some conveniently tall trees and snacking on apples, I think. I thought apples were a rather decadent thing to be taking backpacking, but something that made sense if you were going to fly in.

We went ahead of them and then we started to see signs of a bear having been on the trail. Not the piles of old scat we’d seen on the second day, but prints in the dry dust of the trail that couldn’t be more than a day old, maybe even only a few hours old.

The trail meandered closer to the creek. 

That's a bear print. Hey, bear!
We shouted a lot of “hey bears” and walked with caution. When we were looking for a nice shady spot to take a break, we also tried to pick a spot where we couldn’t be snuck up on by a bear. And, on that break, we also kept an eye out for our fellow travelers, but we didn’t see them to warn them about the bear. Nor did we see the bear.

It felt like we were making good time. I knew we had a stream crossing to make before we crossed into the meadows. There was a four way junction on the map that I’d been warned was actually a three way junction now. Turns out there was no junction at all.

We reached the crossing. It was deep enough to be boots off but also crisscrossed with a lot of fallen trees. Ambrose opted to go boots off, and I headed upstream a bit through tall grasses to get to a log crossing that I felt comfortable taking. We both got across in about the same amount of time, but I was considerably dryer.

Lots of tree bridges to choose from. 

Ambrose going boots off, taken from the middle of my tree bridge. 
I walked past where Ambrose was getting his boots back on to a nice shady spot under a large, old tree. It smelled a bit like bear, or at least like animal, the scent carried on the breeze, but I figured if we were noisy nothing would bother us. And I wanted to have lunch while we were near water. So I got lunch going while Ambrose did his things. When I went to get water I saw our fellow travelers reach the stream. They hiked past us for the last time that day after Ambrose warned them about the bear sign.

And then Ambrose got to have some privacy at the stream for a little wash up while I filtered water for lunch and mushed up the dehydrated desserts (mocha mousse pie again) in their individual baggies and also read. Reading is relaxing for me, and I like to do it even when I’m out in the wilderness. Our lunch may have run a little long as Ambrose tried using his sealant on the water bags, which then needed to dry.

When we got moving again, I hiked ahead, because there would be another stream crossing making for a natural stopping point not too far ahead. It only took me about 20 minutes of walking through sparse forest to reach the next stream crossing. I liked the feel of the area; it was cool and peaceful and I couldn’t smell the animal musk anymore.

The crossing itself was too deep for boots on, and though there was a single log that looked like a possibility, it only crossed to an island and another crossing log was not in evidence (though a large fish was for a moment before I startled it). I sat on a large log in the shade and took my boots and socks off. Ambrose walked up as I was putting my crossing shoes on.

I saw water through the trees... 

And then came upon the crossing. 
He chose to cross with his boots on, because his crossing shoes had changed into camp shoes and he didn’t want them to get wet. He did take out his insoles, which helps with drying afterwards, but I’m not sure why he didn’t just cross the crystal clear water with the lovely sandy bottom with his bare feet.

After the crossing, the terrain stayed fairly flat, but we now walked through sunny, dry old burn areas. Young pines weren’t quite tall enough to offer significant shade, and the dead trees lacked the foliage to cool me when I paused in their narrow shadows.

I hiked ahead again. Even with the hint of bear on the wind earlier, we felt comfortable moving at our separate paces on this part of the trail. I enjoyed stretching my legs, though I wasn’t going as fast as I did on my solo. I didn’t need to, and I didn’t want to get too far ahead of Ambrose. On our map, there was a spot marked as a campsite, right near a stream. We agreed to meet there.

I had high hopes for seeing something resembling a campsite near this stream. Sure, the map is old, but where there’s water, there tends to be campsites. Unfortunately, another requirement for camping sites is clear ground. The ground near the stream, when I reached it, had no clear space large enough for a tent to be pitched. Too many fallen logs. There were some grassy sections, but the grass was so tall, there was no telling if the ground beneath was flat enough - or dry enough - to camp on.

Typical representation of the off trail terrain - plenty of wood, not so much open space. 

The water that used to be near a campsite. 

Tall grass that could conceal many mysteries. 
I settled down on a log to read and wait for Ambrose to catch up. According to the map, our next landmark was the trail junction where we would turn up to Fish Lake, and it shouldn’t be far. Once he arrived, I thought we’d stop for a while, but he wanted to keep going and so I had to pack up and hurry after him. Of course, I caught him quickly, but I stuck with him since we were pretty close to the junction.

We took a break at the junction. Ambrose struck off trail to find a bit of shade to snack in while I went off trail to find a place to dig a hole. He was finished with his break before I was, and started heading up the switchbacks while I finished a snack.

We had had an easy time of it to this point of the day. Very little uphill, just a bit of rolling terrain. The trail was about to start going radical on us, and it began with a series of switchbacks moving us up to the canyon carved by Fish Creek. After I passed Ambrose, I tried to stay within a couple switchbacks of him, within sight. It was nice to take the breaks, but I also got to make sure that he was doing okay.

Trail junction!

Time to go to Fish Lake - and gain 1100 vertical feet in the process. 

Looking back down from the first few switchbacks. 
I was doing that because I love him, of course, and like spending time with him. But I had another reason, on this particular trip, for keeping a close eye on my husband. He had spent the days before our trip running over and over the list of things he needed to bring on this backpacking trip. He managed to remember a few things that he almost forgot, but he also managed to forget some very important items.

He forgot his prescription high blood pressure medication.

I first learned this on the morning of our second day, when I asked him if he took his morning pills. And I did not yell. I did not go apeshit. I feel that I deserve a gigantic pat on the back for taking the news quite calmly. After all, there was nothing we could do to change it at that point. I did ask that he refrain from using any Benedryl, because we know that affects his blood pressure, but other than that I practiced acceptance.

And I also kept a closer than usual eye on how he was doing on the trip - for the most part.

We gained elevation quickly, and though I could hear the creek tumbling down, I couldn’t see it very often. The water was covered by plant life and tumbled trees. The wind blew harder as we climbed, and the sun played hide and seek with the clouds. I enjoyed both of those because the climbing was hot work.

I like the black and white striations of this kind of rock. 

Looking back down from a higher vantage point. 

Waiting for Ambrose gave me opportunities to get a few wildlife photos. 

The water below was audible, but not very visible. 
According to the map, at some point the trail would stop switchbacking and climb mostly straight up the canyon to Fish Lake. When the trail did straighten out, about two switchbacks after I thought it would, I hiked a bit farther ahead of Ambrose. The trail was brushy enough that I couldn’t see him from less than 20 feet away, so I went back to waiting for him when the timer told me it was time to stop.

We could see, in the distance, the lookout tower on top of Sheepeater Mountain. It gave me a sense of being close, even though we really weren’t that close. When we saw it, we still had several hours of hiking to go before we would get to the lake. And of course I was constantly recalculating how much farther we must have to go, but since we weren’t on the guidebook route, I wasn’t able to be as exact.

The lookout from afar. 
Yes, I had to wait for Ambrose to catch up and then give him the camera, but I really was waiting for him like this. It was quite a comfortable log. 
I walked a little bit past the alarm in search of water. The map showed a little stream coming down across the trail, but I’ve learned that those are far from reliable. In this case, however, I found a beautiful little stream, trickling musically over stones, situated right near some nice big sitting logs. I took my boots and socks off to let my feet dry out a bit after I filled my water bags from the stream. While I waited for Ambrose to arrive I refilled my water bladder.

Water in the brush.  
More water, a little less brush. 
We both poured some water over our heads at that stop, and one, perhaps both, of us shrieked a bit at the feeling of the icy cold water. The sun had stopped hiding behind the clouds at this point and the hike was hot.

I moved ahead again and ran into more water - a good sign we were getting close to a large body of water, say, Fish Lake. The trail was also built up nicely over areas that would be quite damp earlier in the season, but were dusty now. I reached a larger stream around where I expected to cross the outlet from Fish Lake and settled in to wait for Ambrose again. I managed not to notice that there was a burned sign right across the water labeling it clearly enough as Fish Creek. After he caught up, I walked behind him. There would be a junction coming up quickly, one direction leading to Fish Lake and one to Sheepeater, so there was no point in my rushing ahead.

A little land bridge over what is most likely bog in early summer. 

Ambrose crossing Fish Creek. 

I can't be blamed for missing this sign, right?
And it wasn’t too long before we could see Fish Lake through the trees on our right, nestled in a bowl of land and gleaming in the late afternoon light. At the trail junction, we took a left, heading uphill towards Sheepeater.

Fish Lake!
Now, I knew that the section between Fish Lake and Sheepeater Lake was going to be a climb; it was about 500 feet up in less than a half mile. So I expected the switchbacks, but I didn’t expect how much the trail seemed to meander. Although, that impression was probably influenced by the fact that the ridge above us blocked out the setting sun and I felt the pressure of the coming dusk with every step I took.

Trail junction - to the right is Fish Lake, to the left is Sheepeater. 

I tried to imagine what it would look like if those trees were all still alive. The view simply wouldn't be the same. 
I rushed ahead and waited, moving on as soon as Ambrose was back in sight, keeping his goal posts well in front of him. All told, it took us an hour to get to Sheepeater Lake, passing yet another trail junction that only existed on paper. And here, we planned on finding a campsite. We thought it would be easy to find one, because it was a lake zone that didn’t allow camping too close to the water. Surely, we thought, there would be a clear place to settle down.

I sat on this log to wait for Ambrose to catch up on the switchbacks up to Sheepeater Lake - but I managed to avoid sitting on the nail. 

Looking back down, I could no longer see Fish Lake. 

According to the map, this was the outlet for Sheepeater Lake. I was a little worried to find it so completely dry. 

That sign means the lake is right there! 
But I looked to the right and the left and saw no signs of any such campsite. The trail began to climb again and I decided to abandon it in favor of what were probably game trails towards the water. And then we began our great wandering.

Lake! We made it to Sheepeater Lake! 

And the sun is setting. The sun is already behind Sheepeater Mountain and daylight is fading. 
Both of us needed to eat. It was after 7 pm and, despite our resolution to eat dinner around 5, we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. We explored the land near the lakeshore, but not too near the lakeshore. We found bogs, logs and signs of bear. We found piles of rocks that jumbled the ground out of flatness. We found places that might have worked, if only they weren’t so damp, too close to the water, not quite flat enough.

This is not a campsite. 

Those are chunks of fur, I think, but from what I don't know. 
After much wandering, I found a large, dry meadow. The ground was lumpy, because it had been mud not too long ago, but I figured it would do. It had to do.

Well, it's dry and flat-ish... 
But Ambrose was not ready to settle. I lead him to the place and he wandered more and found what would become our campsite. There was evidence that it had been used before, a broken up fire ring and a pile of rocks that might have been an attempt at a wall. We dropped packs, got water together because we were both so out of it, and then Ambrose got to cooking dinner while I handled the tent.

Official campsite? Maybe not, but it was far enough from the water and had flat spaces enough to pitch the tent. 
Before I could pitch it, I had to clear a bunch of pinecones from the ground. It was not a happy time exactly, squatting and pulling up pinecones that were sometimes submerged in dried mud and other times just sharp on my hands. I felt lightheaded with hunger, but I pushed through it and got the tent pitched. We ate dinner in the tent, because the mosquitoes were out.

Again, I wrote my fiction words by headlamp and read a little bit while Ambrose fell asleep with an ease that I can only envy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

You Want Me To Wake Up When???

I thought I was learning how to be an early bird when I consistently got up at 5am to go to cross fit at 5:30 in the morning. What sacrifice! What virtue! Ten pats on the back for me!

But now things are about to change. No longer is there a 5:30am class. Now, it's a 5am class.

Which means I have to get up before 5am.

In the darkling hour of 4.

I can't believe I'm doing this. I used to stay up to all hours, reading, playing video games, doing homework, talking, surfing the web, whatever.

And now that I've gotten used to voluntarily going to bed at or around 9pm most nights, I have to completely reassess. The new bedtime is 8:30pm. The new wake up time on crossfit days is 4:40am - I'm hoping 20 minutes will be enough to get me on my way, but I may have to push it back to *gulp* 4:30am.

The good side of this change is that I no longer have to limit myself to going to crossfit on days that I don't have to go to work early. And on days when I don't have to be in early, maybe, just maybe, I take the 6am class instead. Surely there's enough time to shower, eat breakfast, get dressed and ride my bike to work between 7:05 and 8?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chamberlain Basin August 2016 - Day 3

This morning was not quite so zombie like for me as the previous one. I felt well rested, and Ambrose even let me sleep in a little bit. The air wasn’t too cold and I got moving without too many complaints.

Then I saw the next curve ball and I almost cried because it felt like my fault. There was a hole in the floor of the tent. As Ambrose said, we should have put the bird seed bags down as a precautionary ground cloth. But we didn’t, and so began the calling of this trip as “the trip that everything broke.”

I packed the tent up, because there would be no point in trying to fix the hole in the cold morning, because the fix was tape and tape would work better when the air was warmer. I hated to do it, but I did my best to ignore the shoulda-woulda-couldas and keep moving.

Minus that stick in the middle, we pitched the tent here. Just enough room. 
We did bars for breakfast again as we hiked east along the Hand Creek canyon. I could see from the map that we would be crossing the creek pretty soon and the canyon would turn north as we began to gain elevation.

Ambrose walked ahead in the early morning. 
You’d think it would have occurred when Ambrose was checking the GPS and distracted, but he was completely paying attention to the trail in front of him when he managed to get his feet tangled in a stick. Almost in slow motion I watched his feet get caught and I had a split second to decide whether I could, or should, reach out and grab his pack to try and keep him upright. The moment passed and he fell down heavily on rocks, turning his body to avoid impacting his knees, but still getting some impressive bruising on his shin.

Sticks can be dangerous!
So Ambrose got a little broken, but he was able to stand and keep going to the crossing, which was only a few yards from his fall. We made the decision to do the crossing boots on, but it was a close one. The water was deep enough to warrant boots off, but it was early and cold and the sun was hiding behind a ridge. I didn’t want to go boots off if I didn’t have to. And there was, just barely, a path combining partially submerged rocks and logs perpendicular to the trail.

A puzzle stream crossing. 

Ambrose did fine, but he does have longer legs and less paranoia about getting water in his boots than I do. 
Ambrose got across it with no problems, but I ended up a bit stuck on the final log, because the submerged rock I had to step onto from the last log seemed to be too far under the water. I sometimes allow water to get into my boots, but only at the end of a trip. I do not like the way feet smell when they combine with wet boots. Eventually, I went for it and made it without getting my socks wet.

And then the trail began the serious portion of the day’s uphill. I hiked ahead of Ambrose and browsed on thimbleberries while I waited for him to catch up. I ran across other berries, too, but none that I could identify positively enough to eat. I mean, in an emergency, I probably would have eaten the red seeded ones that looked like raspberries, but I was not in that kind of situation.

This log blocked the trail at a most inconvenient height - plus the ground was soft, making a good step hard to get. 

We began climbing up and the sun was coming to meet us. 

Not sure exactly what these berries are, but they're probably edible... 
We were taking breaks every 50 minutes according to the altibaro timer, and at one of them I had to take a longer break to answer a call of nature. Ambrose walked on I followed after I’d concluded my business. I’d given him a nice long head start, and the trail went from uphill to radical steep. But that didn’t keep me from looking at the scenery around me. Sure, I was mostly scanning for where Ambrose was ahead of me, but I also noticed this weird clump in an otherwise dead tree. It looked like a huge nest or maybe even a creature clinging to the branches. I tried to get a zoomed in picture of it, but I couldn’t discern what it really was.

I headed off to catch up to Ambrose. 

No idea what that clump in the trees is. 

The trail started to get serious about climbing. 
I counted paces when the trail got super steep; I thought that I’d be going up 100 feet in 100 steps, but I only went up 50 feet in 100 steps. Still, that’s plenty steep. And I could see Ambrose ahead of me, so even with the steepness, I pressed on with the energy of a chaser.

There he is! 

A little respite from the steepness brought us close to the water again.
I caught him when the trail decided to flatten out a bit. I could see from the map that we would get to another creek crossing soon. According to the guidebook, there would be a bridge, but the guidebook’s reliability had been seriously called into question by its description of the mythical Hand Camp.

The bridge ended up being real. We crossed it, but I was watching the banks and it seemed like the best place to get water was on the side we had just crossed from. So we turned around to have a sit and pump some water. I got the water this time. I’ve found that a bra is a really handy place to stick the cap of our water bags. They’ll fall out of pockets, but the bra keeps them secure, snug and ready at hand. Too bad Ambrose can’t use that method.

We crossed the bridge. 

And then crossed back to get water and take a snack break in the sun. 
After we crossed the bridge for the second time, the trail followed a sidestream for a while and then switchbacked up and back to following Hand Creek. The land here was green, showing fewer signs of burn scarring. We could hear the water as we hiked and I paused to take pictures when the stream treated us to little waterfalls.

Going up!

While the water comes down. 
The trail continued to take us up, but the water grew more distant and we reached a trail junction that wasn’t quite as I expected it to be by the map. The map had a four way junction; this was only three way. But one direction led to Crane Meadows, as expected, so we continued hiking along the Chamberlain trail, not realizing that we had just stepped onto the diversion trail that the guidebook mentioned.

We just keep going up. 

I like when there are signs.

Three way junction when the map shows four - this should have been a clue. 
The guidebook wrote that the trail had been diverted around Hand Meadows because of their fragile ecology. But it wasn’t specific enough on where and how that diversion would occur. I thought that it would be after the campsite it mentioned, but now I’m convinced it was before. We found the campsite, though it was too early for us to stop for the evening, and I dumped my pack on the trail and hiked down to explore its potential suitability for future trips.

Here again, I made a crucial error. Once I found that the campsite had water access, I should have insisted that we fill up, or at least get enough water for lunch. But my feet hurt and the camp, though roomy and clearly usable, smelled like horse poop, so I didn’t want to spend the time there. I don’t know why I expected there to be more water, but I did. We marked the site on the GPS and the map and hiked on.

Plenty of room to pitch a tent here, though the aroma is not the most pleasant. 

The trail stayed on the ridge, avoiding Hand Meadows.
And on, and on, and on. I stopped for yet another call of nature while Ambrose hiked on. We both consulted the map and the GPS. Our positions weren’t clear on either. The GPS didn’t actually have any trails; only natural features and selected landmarks. It sometimes seemed like we were following a trail on it, but we were only following watercourses - which were often labeled differently on the screen than they were on the map. When I caught Ambrose again, he told me to hike ahead until I reached water.

I found a bird, but no water. 
Off I went, a woman on a mission. I barely paused to take pictures. Except when I saw birds. Or spider webs scrawled across the trail. The terrain was quite pretty. The trail led me through green pine forests that would only have been improved by the music of nearby water.

I kept expecting, in every little gully to find water. I’d pause and listen for a telltale flow, only to hear nothing but the wind whispering through the trees and my own breathing.

I walked on and started to worry about how long it was taking me to get to water. We needed to reach water to have lunch and both of us were low in our bladders as well. Plus, I was getting a lot farther ahead of Ambrose than I had planned on.

Out of the shady forest, but still no water.
But at least most of the route was in the shade.

I intended to keep going until I reached water, but the trail had other ideas for me. I ran into a four way junction and had to stop. See, I learned my lesson when Ambrose and I hiked to Snowslide Lakes - never walk past a junction without my hiking partner. Such an action only results in footsore heartache.

Here's a four way junction! 
And I was ready for a break and some serious map examination.

I munched on some dark chocolate covered dried mango and determined that the bypass the guidebook mentioned had brought us to a spot on the map that had a three way junction. I drew a crude line of what our path might have been on the map and then got my Kindle out to read until Ambrose caught up.

When  he arrived, I explained the situation. According to the guidebook, we had two more miles until we reached the last water for five miles. And, he demonstrated what a good choice I had made to wait, because he said he would have picked the path to the right, when our trail was to the left.

He settled down to take a break while I headed off again, hoping to reach water as soon as possible and get started on preparing lunch before he arrived.

I soon left the forested area behind in favor of areas recovering from burns. The burn was long enough ago that many of the trees were twice my height in some sections, where others barely came to my shoulders. The new growth was interspersed with old fallen logs, and the trail was sandy and loose, without much undergrowth. There was little shade to be had and I could feel the lack of water beginning to affect me, psychologically if nothing else.

Not the easiest trail to follow, but we both figured out the path independently. 
There were a few places where I almost lost the trail in the sand and humps of grass. Usually, the answer was to go straight through the clump of grass that was obscuring the trail, despite the seemingly clearer route offered to the left or right.

Sooner than I expected, the trail curved to the right and spilled elevation down to a stagnant looking, fly and moss covered puddle of a water source. I dropped my pack and frowned at it. I had another call of nature to answer, but once I finished, I checked upstream of the puddle.

It's ... water. 
Through tangles of brush, I found a small, but flowing, stream. So I got the pot out and my water bags and started the process of filling. My plan was just to get enough so I could prepare lunch, at first. After Ambrose arrived and we’d both eaten, I could get more. I settled into the shade of a tree trunk, took my boots and socks off and started filtering water to make our dark chocolate cheesecake lunches.

I’d only filled one baggie with the requisite amount of water before Ambrose arrived. He dumped his pack across the trail from me and began his own break time/lunch time routine. I was doggedly focused on getting lunch ready, needing a substantial meal before I felt human enough for conversation again.

Okay, okay, maybe a double serving of rehydrated dark chocolate cheesecake isn’t normally considered a substantial meal, but it totally counted as one in the context. A very gustatorily satisfying meal.

Ambrose mixed us up some coconut water to drink from his stash of powder and we filled up our water bladders as well. I was still putting my boots back on when he was ready to go, so he hiked on ahead. Before he was even out of sight, he yells back at me. I am prepared to rush to his aid, but he just pointed at the trail ahead of him and laughed. “There’s water here,” he yelled.

I was confused. I’d found us water - what did it matter if there was water there too? And then, after I was ready to go and got my pack there I saw what he meant. The stream that we had stopped by was the little sister to the stream just around the next bend. I tried to comfort myself that it wasn’t much deeper than the flow than i’d found, so it wouldn’t have been any easier to get water from it, but I felt bad for stopping at the first water when there was better water so close. Better seeming water.

There was more water about ten  yards farther down the trail... 
Still, we got water. We ate lunch. It was funny that there was more water so close by, and Ambrose didn’t mean anything negative towards me by laughing at the situation.

I walked out my chagrin at stopping too soon for water as the trail ascended. I caught up to Ambrose as he passed by one of the few trees on the ridge we were climbing. The area had been burned, but longer in the past than the previous section, or maybe it had just recovered better. Many of the logs had fallen and grass had grown up, allowing for a sweeping view of rolling meadows and distant mountains.

This was a day of rewarding views. 

And an afternoon with a dearth of shade. 
I was keeping good track of our location on the map as we hiked along. I would go ahead of Ambrose for a time and then stop and wait for him. We were starting to run short on daylight, so I walked until the timer told me our 50 minutes were up and then I’d find a shady spot to stop and wait. Ambrose would end up walking longer than 50 minute segments, but he had found a pace that allowed him to keep moving.

I had some frustration at our overall pace. The area was beautiful, and I was glad to be out there with my husband, but I wanted to be moving faster. Despite our resolution to eat dinner at 5, we were hiking along at 4pm with our destination miles away. Our pace was faster than 1 mile per hour, but slower than 2. And it was 5 miles from the last water that we left around 3 to the next water and our evening’s campsite. I couldn’t help but keep running and running the numbers in my head.

And then I’d see another sweeping vista and stop caring.

Nowhere near where we needed to be, but so pretty. 

The clouds added the perfect accent to the blue sky and green land. 
I was watching out for a four way junction that I could see on my map. According to the guidebook, the junction was now three way because of lapsed trail maintenance. I thought I was keeping an eagle eye out, but I didn’t see it where I expected to based on the terrain.

When I stopped for a break well after the elevation where it should have been, and Ambrose caught up to me for his break, I mentioned it to him. He claimed to have spotted the remnants of the trail. I wish that I'd been able to catch it.

He was definitely pushing himself on the trail that day, keeping a good steady pace, but I could see the effort in his face, sweat streaming down to his wide smile.

I knew we didn’t have a whole lot more uphill to go on this day, but every time I thought we’d reached the end of the rolling terrain, we came upon one more incline. So I stopped saying anything about it in the hopes that I’d stop jinxing us.

The micro view was beautiful too. 

I can't wait to see what this trail looks like in ten years, when the little trees have had a chance to grow tall. 
We rolled our way to another ridge and saw a mysteriously straight meadow far ahead.

I zoomed in with the camera to see if I could identify any structures, or even see any planes. I thought I could see some structures, but not for certain. And the only way to find out for sure was going to be to get there. So we kept going, step by step over the rolling ridges, glimpsing the airport growing closer when the land dropped away in front of us.

Hm, a straight line in the middle of the wilderness... 

The sun was heading down, but we could only keep walking. 
We made our way to the downward switchbacks mentioned in the guidebook and I found myself needing to answer another call of nature in a section of young pine trees, each no taller than my chest. They were short, but plentiful, and I had to step carefully over old fallen trees concealed by the young green branches.

It was also a bit difficult to find an open enough spot to carry out my business. I ended up in a quite precarious position with broken branches and pine needles threatening my flesh at the slightest movement.

And when I finished, I had a hard time catching up with Ambrose. The trail wound its way around and down a ridge. At every turn, I expected to see him, or at least see the trail below me. But the tree cover down below was too thick to discern where the trail might be heading.

We're getting close - here's a trail junction. 
I reached the down below and finally saw Ambrose ahead. Soon after I passed him, I found a trail intersection. I could turn right and go to Cold Meadows, but what I wanted was the Chamberlain Air Strip, which should have been close ahead. The guidebook claimed that there was a bridge coming, and I could hear the water flowing.

Then the bridge appeared, past some damp ground and grasses. A welcome sight at that time of day, not only because it meant we were nearly at our destination, but also because it meant that we would have water nearby for dinner and refills. We crossed the bridge and hiked up a steep 40 feet to the air strip’s plateau.

The bridge!

Chamberlain Creek to the east. 
There, a sign pointed us toward Red Top Meadows to the left and we followed it, not liking the look of the trees between us and the air strip. There were a lot of fallen logs in one section and tight packed pines in the next. Nothing looked welcoming until I saw a structure on the trail ahead.

Have I mentioned how much I love signs?
And then we spotted a campsite cleared in the trees. And another ahead of it, both containing genuine fire pits and featuring log benches. It was a quarter to eight in the evening and the sun was already setting.

The structure was the most beautiful, cleanest backcountry toilet that I’ve ever seen. Only some of that impression was due to the fact that I was tired and hungry and ready to settle down for the night.

It's hard to explain how exciting it is to see an outhouse on your third day trekking into the wilderness. 
It was Ambrose’s turn to do the tent, so I went back down to the creek to get water. I took both of our bladders and the three water bags that were still holding water. We’d discovered that one of the small bags leaked, so it would only be useful for transporting water, not filtering it. I also took my Kindle since filtering water could be a long job.

The bank that we’d approached the creek from had the best water access so I recrossed the bridge and walked down to the water’s edge. I used my pot and filled the bags and set both the bladders up for filling. I’d hold the water bags above the bladders to speed the filtering and I read a book with one bag in my hand.

A nice bank to get water from. 
And somehow, I managed to puncture Ambrose’s water bladder, a fact that I noticed only when I had finished with everything and was putting everything back in my otherwise empty pack. Rather than putting the leaking bladder into my pack, I carried it in my hands like an injured puppy and zoomed back to camp to tell him the bad news.

Bladder puncture :(
I was a bit disappointed to see that the tent was not yet erected when I got close to the campsite, but I knew that was because I was too hungry to think straight. Ambrose had had trouble with the tape sealant that we needed to apply to the hole in the floor of the tent, but he’d gotten it all set when I walked up and told him the problem.

He reacted well, I think. Considering we hadn't eaten dinner yet. We drained the bladder into the pot for dinner and our water bottles so as not to waste the filtered water. Then he used the sealant from his sleeping pad’s fix-it kit to repair the pinhole puncture. It dried as I cooked dinner and he pitched the tent on a spot that he’d groomed with a broom borrowed from the toilet. The ground was nice and flat, but the broom helped keep our tent floor safe from the depredations of pine cones.

By the time dinner was ready to eat, the sun was down. The moon was rising over the tent and we took out our headlamps.  We ate on the logs around the fire pit, taking turns devouring the rehydrated chicken ala king that we can’t seem to get tired of on backpacking trips. The food improved my mood, though I still didn’t like how late we were getting to bed.

Good night camp. 
We agreed to sleep in a little bit since we’d been up so late. I set the alarm and got my maps into order for the next day. I also read the guidebook section about the next day aloud.

And then I wrote my fiction words by headlamp and did a little reading the same way. The Kindle runs a lot longer without the backlight, so using my headlamps makes more sense. I can carry extra batteries for my headlamp - and I do - so I’m less chary about using it up than about using up the Kindle charge on backlight. But I didn’t stay up too late with it. Not after that long day.