Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Chamberlain Basin August 2016 - Day 1

Hiking in the Chamberlain Basin was going to be a new for us, and it presented a different sort of challenge to start the trip. Not only would we be driving along many dirt roads just to get to the trailhead, but we didn’t know exactly how long it would take us. And so, the plan was to start early on Sunday morning so that we could take all day if we needed to. If we got to the trailhead early enough, then we could start hiking and get a few miles done. Otherwise we’d camp at the trailhead.

This plan required something special for the night’s dinner. We had to have a dinner that would work just as well at the trailhead as it would on the trail. That meant nothing that needed to be cooked on the car camping stove, and we wouldn’t want to do a dehydrated meal at the trailhead. Ambrose thought some bun bo xao would be good, but I countered that idea with pizza.

For some reason, my idea won.

We drove north to Cascade and then turned east to Warm Lake. I’d been there before, though it had been nearly ten years. That, however, was not our last stop. We kept going, farther into the backwoods of Idaho than I’d ever been before until we reached the town of Yellow Pine.

We stopped there and pulled into the Silver Dollar Grill (for sale, if anyone’s interested) and had some pretty good burgers for lunch. I thought about having a beer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned driving out for backpacking, it’s that I have trouble staying hydrated in the car. Beer would only make the hiking miserable later, so I had water like a good little backpacker.

And then we drove on, because as remote as Yellow Pine felt, we were heading to Big Creek, a place that boasted a rural air strip and a lodge in the process of being rebuilt after a fire. And, on the narrow, rutted, one lane road we almost got run off the road by a truck hauling an RV going in the opposite direction. We moved over to the right side of the road as far as we could and Ambrose could have reached out and touched the end of the RV as it squeezed by us.

That had to be the scariest moment of the entire drive, and we got past it, so I guess that’s a good thing.

As we drove into Big Creek, we saw a woman on the road riding a horse ahead. I don’t know a whole lot about horses, but I have more experience with them than Ambrose does, so he asked me what he should do. I advised him to stop the car and wait for the woman to ride past us, because the horse would be easier to handle if we were still than if we were moving. When the woman drew abreast of us, she called us brave for bringing a Ford Focus on these crazy roads.

After an achingly slow crawl on the rocky road past the air strip, we made it to the trailhead before 3pm. Plenty of time to start the backpacking day and get a few miles in.

The information board and parking lot for the Big Creek trailhead. 
We parked next to a couple who heading in the same direction for a little day hiking fishing trip on Big Creek. We waited until they walked off before changing into our hiking clothes and leaving the car behind.

Crossing Smith Creek on the road. 
The road led down to a bridge crossing what was labeled as Smith Creek, though our maps called it Big Creek. And then we saw the Big Creek trailhead. It had no parking area, but it did have a place to register and a monument to Frank Church. According to our guidebook, the trail we were about to hike used to be a road.

The trailhead board. 

The trail began past this monument to Frank Church. 

A different kind of registration card than the one we usually fill out in the Sawtooth Wilderness. 
After Ambrose and I registered, we started our hike into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

At first, there were areas where we could walk side by side, and we did. I was feeling extra worn out because it had been only a little over a week since I completed my 70 plus mile solo hike on the Idaho Centennial Trail. I couldn’t get my pack to settle comfortably and I was hungry after the long road trip. Sure, we’d had a burger, but I hadn’t had any of my normal snacks between breakfast and lunch and lunch and starting to hike. The pizza in my pack smelled delicious, but I knew we had to get a few miles under our belts before stopping for that dinner.

Where the trail was wide, we walked side by side. 
The trail followed the creek, mostly flat to start, with a little bit of climbing where the trail clearly diverted from the original path of the road. Ambrose wondered why it didn’t stay low and I pointed out where there must have been a landslide. Rocks and logs were jumbled into a pile that was probably too much of a hassle to move. Easier to move the trail.

Ambrose started his hike-long habit of taking out the new-to-us GPS unit we’d acquired just before my solo. I didn’t take it on the solo because I didn’t want to take untested equipment on that hike. This trip was the time for us to test it. I carried the maps and Ambrose carried the GPS, getting to know it.

There were a lot of berries along the trail, but I couldn’t eat any of them, because I couldn’t positively identify them. There were several that I thought were blueberries, or close enough to blueberries, but without a positive ID, I had to restrain myself. I won’t take that risk - at least, not at the start of a hike.

They look like dried up blueberries, but were they really? 

Ah, red berries, unlikely to be edible. 

About an hour in, we passed by a possible campsite, but it was well below the trail and we didn’t want to stop so soon.

I was tired enough to walk at Ambrose's pace.  
The trail climbed above the creek. 

More berries that I did not eat. 

Ambrose getting his GPS fix. 
We hiked on and I hoped that my aching back would not be so painful the next day. Sometimes I just need a day to get used to the pack weight. Though this pack weighed more than any of my other trips this summer…

More berries I didn't eat. 

A site that has been used for camping, but not a site we wanted to stop at. 

Ambrose steps over a log. 
I kept seeing plants that I thought might be edible, but still nothing I could positively identify. We hiked by cut trees that showed that this part of the trail, at least, received some maintenance. I could smell the pizza with every step and I really just wanted to stop. I knew from the maps that we would be taking a left at some point and following a different stream, and I fantasized about insisting that we eat a piece of pizza when we got there.

There's some maintenance going on here. 

I'm glad this big log was cut. 

Hm. Can I eat white berries? Better not. 
Just before the GPS insisted that we had just about arrived at the intersection, we came across a divergence in the trail. I figured the grassy path to the right probably lead to a campsite, but I dumped my pack on the ground to go check on it while Ambrose fiddled with the GPS. It was definitely a campsite, so I came back to tell Ambrose about it.

A rocky section preceded the trail divergence. 

The water is just past the trees, but I didn't check accessibility before returning to tell Ambrose. 
He asked if there was access to water. The creek was right there, but I tramped back to double check that there was good access. There was.

We decided to call it a day and brought our packs into the campsite. My first priority was eating. Ambrose settled down and did other things. I found a spot leaning against a log and brought my bird seed bag, my baggie full of pizza and my Kindle. I sat down and pulled my boots off and then started devouring my pizza while reading a library book.

Another angle on the campsite. 

Ambrose walking into the campsite. We pitched the tent near the tree to the right on the tall grasses. 
I kind of tuned the entire world out while I satisfied my hunger with the most delicious cold pizza I’ve ever eaten. I might have been a bit moody with hunger and ignoring Ambrose just the tiniest bit. I came perilously close to rolling my eyes at him when he called me over to the river, but I figured he would have a good reason so I just groaned as I pulled myself up and joined him.

Turns out, he had a really good reason for calling me over. There were fish in the water! Pairs of them spawning. Huge fish, actually. They seemed bigger than would be reasonably expected in a stream of that size. Though I don’t know all that much about what to expect in fish. We were unable to positively identify the fish, but they were likely salmon.

The fish were not easily visible in any of the pictures that I took, but our eyes had no problem spotting them. 
After I had sated my hunger on three slices of pizza (in the time it took Ambrose to eat two), I set about pitching the tent. The area near the fire pit wasn’t very well set up for our tent in my opinion. The dirt didn’t have enough flat space and was too close to the water. I pitched it closer to the trail in some tall grass near a pine tree. I had to pick the area clear of pinecones, but there weren’t too many.

When I got around to hanging my bear bag, I found my strength ebbing. I had to throw my rock several times on the end of my length of orange paracord before I hooked the cord over a suitable branch. Ambrose watched me trying and tried to give me pointers about how to throw it, but I knew my technique would get me there eventually. And it did. He didn’t notice where I tied it up, so when I joined him in the tent (after consuming my fourth piece of pizza), he asked me what that red thing in the trees was.

It was my orange cord, tied down to a sideways tree.

It was a fairly warm night, so we left the vestibule doors pinned open and got settled into bed. We had a head start on the next day’s hike which would turn out to be not just nice, but even necessary.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Blackmare Lake July 2016 - Days 3 and 4

On Sunday, I wanted to have a day of rest to prepare myself for the solo trip I would undertake the first week of August. No one was coming up to Blackmare Lake on a Sunday if they hadn’t on a Saturday so we most likely would have the lake to ourselves all day.

I slept in as long as I could, luxuriating in the tent until I was driven out by the heat of the sun. Then I spent some time looking at the lake. Fish were feeding. I could see the splashes made as their heads briefly breached the surface of the water to eat. I walked down the shore to a spot where they were feeding closer to the land and I could see them.

Small, silvery fish with red fins. Smaller brown ones. Size was hard to determine because the water was wind blown into wavelets, distorting my view. It was easier to see them before they broke the surface. After they ate a bite, they would practically disappear in the ripples.

I stood and breathed and watched the water and its inhabitants. A quiet and peaceful morning sunlight bathed my face and warmed my feet in their black shoes. After a time, I moved back towards our campsite and found a rock to sit on overlooking the lake. There, I found even smaller fish, a well-camouflaged brown, darting around the roots of submerged trees.

Ambrose and I talked about various aspects of my solo trip. What I should take, and shouldn’t take. My sleeping pad got put on the list of not being taken, because it’s been losing air by the morning at a rate that is borderline unsafe. So I’ll be taking Ambrose’s sleeping pad, which is actually a pad that I won at the last Backpacker Get Out More tour we attended.

I asked him if he had confidence in my ability to do the trek. He said that he did. I was pretty sure the trip would go well, but the first day was going to be over 15 miles. That number was just a little intimidating, and I spent a lot of the rest of the day thinking about the trip and how I was going to do it.

In the afternoon, I took a dip in the lake. The water was warmer than the water at Everly. I was able to get into the water fully and swim around a bit. The idea was to cool me off enough that I could spend some time in the tent as it baked in the sun. And it worked. I enjoyed drying and warming up in the hot tent.

I also read a lot, moving from shade to shade, sometimes sitting with Ambrose and sometimes on my own. It was a nice quiet day. I did end up taking one picture in the evening.

The man and the mountain.
The next day, we got up by 6 and were on our way by 7. We ate breakfast on the move rather than in the tent. And we agreed that we would both make our own ways, at our own speeds back to the car. I would get a chance to zoom and Ambrose could take his time.

Getting packed up in the morning. I'm sitting on Ambrose's sleeping pad while I get all my stuff ready to go. 

Ambrose and Blackmare Lake. 

I let him have the camera again - he's getting pretty good at using it. 
It’s not a long distance from Blackmare lake to Kennally Creek Campground, but the part of the hike that is on unmaintained trails has extremely steep sections, both up and down. I was mindful of the nature of the trail as I began. I held myself back from full zoom speed as I picked my way down from Blackmare to the crossing of the outlet of the second lake, which was again complicated by a large tree fallen across the stream.

Goodbye Blackmare campsite!

This tree and stream combination was just as annoying to get across in the other direction. 
I managed to get past the sketchy section where we usually get lost on the way in and find the no trail again.

Then I got to head up. My calves protested the movement, especially because it was unrelenting. There was no end to the uphill in sight as I switchbacked up and up and up. I finally got to the steep rocky section that always scares me on the way down and made sure each step was on solid enough rock to keep on going.

I'm not lost. This is a victory. 

This trail just won't stop going UP!
I made it to the lake before 8 am and took a few minutes to sit and finish my breakfast bar. Then I headed on, more uphill to go, to the section where I had gotten lost the last time I traversed it by myself. I took a great deal of care to continue following the no trail’s cairn markers this time and avoided getting lost. I got to the top of the ridge before 9 and started down. I made it up in 20 minutes, so I figured I could get down in 10 or so.

The second lake at last - time for a break from the steep uphill. 

The second lake's glassy surface in the morning light. 

An excellent place for a short break. 
I actually got a little bit lost going down the ridge, but I kept to the general direction and rejoined the no trail before getting too far off course. The steepness of the trail prevented me from going full speed, but I moved at a good pace for the terrain. My mismatched trekking poles held me up as well as a matched pair would have, though I still didn’t like the foam grip.

More uphill? 

At least the trail doesn't go straight up those rocks. 

Already time to head down the ridge to the trail again. 
I got to the sign 11 minutes before 9 and took a moment to celebrate. And then I shot off down the trail, because I needed to practice my zoom and I had a chance to get to the trailhead before 10 am. A slim one, perhaps, but a chance.

Woo! I'm at the sign!
I was more prepared for the trail this time, having just hiked it a few days earlier. I recognized where I caught up to Ambrose, and, of course, the huckleberries were still ripe. I exerted a mighty discipline and only picked and ate two of them while I walked. One from the left side of the trail and one from the right. To be fair.

Thank goodness the trail doesn't go through those tangles. 
As I hiked on, full zoom speed ahead, I came around a corner and a man said hello.

I jumped a bit because I hadn’t noticed him in my hurry. I said that he startled me and he said that’s why he said something. I was past him before he finished speaking.

Full speed past the huckleberries. 
I knew that I had to make it to the 2 mile junction by no later than 9:25 to have a chance to get to the trailhead by 10. I reached it by 9:21.

Stream crossing - almost at the 2 mile mark. 

2 miles to Kennally Creek - how fast can I go? 
Time to go full on zoom. No time for stopping, no time for many pictures. Only time to put one foot in front of the other, in the safest and most fun way possible, of course.

I reached the 1 mile sign at 9:39, and I knew I could make that last mile in under 17 minutes. So I kept my pace steady, but didn’t push so hard that I might injure my feet with blisters.

Go time. 

Just 1 more mile!
I reached the trailhead at 9:55. Now I’ve got a new record to beat for the way up to Blackmare Lake. I figure if I can make it down in less than 3 hours, then I should be able to make it up in less than 4.5.

One last stream crossing - luxuriously over a bridge. 

Okay, okay, not much more uphill after this. 

I left my pack on a picnic table near the trailhead and went to get the car. Someone had written “Move Your Car” in the dust on our trunk, but there was no one around to explain why they had written such a thing. There were no signs indicating that it was a bad place to park either. So I let it go with a shrug.

There were some people still at the campsite, children running around and playing, a fire burning. I mostly ignored them and got myself ready to take a river bath - after I finished off my water bladder.

Picnic table view. 
The river water was much colder than the water at Blackmare Lake. I couldn’t bring myself to fully submerge, but rather splashed the water over my upper body while standing in the cold water. I managed not to shriek at the cold water, because I didn’t want to draw the attention of the campers. I went in wearing my bra and underwear, but I wasn’t planning on wearing the wet ones when I put on my clean clothes. I needed a few moments to change, unobserved.

After I changed, I came back to find that a truck had settled in front of the bathroom. Someone was servicing it, and I had to wait until they were finished before I could use it. Or so I thought. Maybe if I’d gone up and asked, they would have let me use it, but I wasn’t in desperate straits, so I waited. I mean, I was waiting for Ambrose, too. Might as well wait for the toilet.

And, since I didn’t have access to a toilet, or a place that allowed for some guaranteed privacy for urination, I also held off on drinking the coconut water that was waiting for me in the car.

Ambrose had been consistently coming in at one and a half times my time, so I didn’t really expect him to arrive before 11:30. But that time came and passed and there was no sign of him. The toilet became available around noon and I drank a coconut water to help alleviate both my thirst and hunger. We were supposed to be lunching in Donnelly at the pizza place, so I didn’t want to snack too much and ruin my appetite.

A bird near the trailhead sign, keeping me somewhat occupied. 
I wrote my fiction words for the day and then spent most of my waiting time reading. I moved from spot to spot, finding shade, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. Close to 1, I walked up the trail a bit to see if I could catch sight of him. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

I began to prepare myself for a rescue mission. He might have gotten lost. He might have gotten injured. I thought about what might have happened to him and what I would need to do to get him out of the wilderness. I’d have to put my nasty, damp hiking clothes back on. Load my pack with coconut water. Probably take the phone in case I might be able to get a signal once I reached Ambrose.

1 came and went. I used the bathroom one more time. And then I decided that I would give him until I finished one more chapter in my book.

I was on the last paragraph when he came walking up at 1:25. I went over and took his picture to record the time. And then I asked him what was wrong. His knee was bugging him. He was surprised that I knew something was wrong, but it was easy to deduce. He took more than twice as long as I did to get out and he was almost limping when he finally walked up.

He made it. Slow and steady, taking care of his knee, but he made it. 
We drove out as soon as he had a chance to change, looking forward to those Donnelly burgers. We chatted while I drove, but not for very long. We were both quite hungry and decided it would be better to be quiet than to start arguing over nothing. He had also seen the man that I had. Ambrose said the man was planning a day hike to Blackmare Lake.

Our bad luck with food continued when we reached Donnelly and found the pizza place was closed due to a water issue. So we drove on to Cascade, hoping that the internet was back up. It was, and we finally got our lunch before making the long drive back to Boise.