Most years, we’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn on days when we’re backpacking. I was expecting more of the same for the first trip of the year. But Ambrose had a different plan. He let me sleep until the sun had come up enough to bathe our tent in light. We had a leisurely breakfast and headed out on the trail around 8 in the morning.
|Look at all the sun at the trail head!
Even though I’d gotten to sleep a bit late, I was still tired that morning, so I stuck behind Ambrose for most of the morning. I was still thinking about how the last time I was on that trail I’d felt sick and had to turn back. I wasn’t feeling ill like that again, but I was feeling a bit out of sorts.
|Hiking behind Ambrose.
I hated to say it, but I had to. Ambrose’s pack was smelly. Now, I’m a backpacker. I understand that when you are out backpacking, you get to the stinky stage. And when you get to the stinky stage, so does your gear. But this was the first hour of the first morning and Ambrose’s pack was smelling like day five. Not acceptable. So I told him. As nicely as I could.
His response was silence for quite a few steps. I wasn’t sure he had heard me. When he spoke again, he questioned whether it was really smelling or not. I stuck my ground and continued to hike.
We knew the water was going to be high for our crossings, which was, I thought, the reason we had started late. The level of the water wouldn’t change much, but if the sun was up, the post-crossing experience would be a little nicer. Before we got to the crossing of the Little Queens, we had two large streamlets to get across. Both of them had been reshaped by the elements since last year.
|A new log crossing to traverse.
Being out in the wilderness, knowing, by the weight of the pack on my back, that this was no day hike, made everything brighter. I’m not sure if the landscape along the trail changed all that much from last year, or if I had forgotten the parts that I now noticed. Were there so many open spaces between the trail and the ridge? So much grass growing around those burned trunks?
|That downed tree wasn’t there last year!
The first streamlet was fairly simple to cross, but the at the second one we ran into a little trouble. Last year, we had gone upstream a bit and crossed on a downed log. It got narrow towards the opposite bank, but we were both able to walk across it. This year, it was gone. The whole crossing looked completely different, and we had to pause and assess. Luckily, we found a new log.
|A new log to cross with.
Now this log was much bigger than the old log. It was at least three times as long as it needed to be to bridge the stream. The problem was getting up onto it. Ambrose circled around it and managed to gain a position standing on top. And then he assessed the situation.
There are times when you look out at the log crossing that you have to do, and you consider your options. You consider how the pack is balancing on your back, how far you have to fall if you slip, what you will fall on if you slip and whether there are alternative routes to consider. And, sometimes, the best option is to play it safe. Ambrose chose to play it safe.
|The seated crossing method.
He straddled the log for his crossing, and made it across safely. While he was crossing, he remarked that I would probably walk it. I had been planning on copying his straddle method, because I enjoy that method. But his words were a challenge and I had to give it a try.
Once he was safely across, I maneuvered myself onto the log and got into a standing position. Looking across, I could see why he had sat down. I felt far too high in the air, and the flowing water below me kept pulling at my attention. The log was right in front of me, but the motion of the water was caught by my peripheral vision, which is so good at catching motion. My mantra was, “focus on the wood.” And step by step, hunched over to lower my center of gravity, I walked across.
From there, it wasn’t far to the real test. The crossing of the Little Queens River.
The agreement was that if either one of us felt unsafe in attempting the crossing, we’d turn back, hike up the Queens and find a meadow to camp in. Ambrose was heartened by the fact that someone had put a permit in the box back at the trail head saying they were going to Browns Lake. I reminded him that we weren’t planning on changing our permit even if we didn’t actually get to our specified overnight destination of the Scenic Lake Cutoff.
We dumped our packs on the ant covered islet before the crossing and stepped over to take a look. The water wasn’t the highest I’d ever seen it, but it was fiercely flowing. I was nervous, but I felt it could be done, as long as Ambrose felt it could be done. And he did. So we began to take off our boots and socks and have a little pre-crossing snack.
Usually we cross one at a time, but for this higher water, Ambrose wanted me right behind him. So we stepped into the water at almost the same time, and began to endure the frigid water and the strong current.
|Getting ready to cross.
Our route hugged the near bank upstream until a pine tree cut that route off and then cut across for the far bank. Hugging the near bank was easy in that it was shallow, but difficult in that the water was cold enough to make my flesh ache. Especially since I had to wait for Ambrose to make his way through. I couldn’t go at my own pace, and I felt so painfully cold.
He finally cut across, and was actually out of the water fairly quickly. But when I started to cut across, the water got deep. As I usually did, I had rolled my pants up so that they wouldn’t get too wet. Usually, they get a little damp when I roll them above my knees. As soon as I cut over, the water flowed nearly to my crotch. Its force pressed against my legs, and for just a moment, I felt like I was going to be washed away by the flow. I had to will myself to keep moving, to get my legs over and not give into the current. I staggered out of the water, pants saturated with water, freezing cold and wanting only one thing.
|That’s some cold water.
We’ve done a lot of experiments with backpacking food, from only buying things made for backpacking to repurposing other foods that we like. Right now, we are in a nice mix of the two, and one of our best discoveries has been Reeses spread. It’s like a Reeses peanut butter cup was melted and stirred. It’s candy in a jar. And I ate me a couple spoonfuls as a reward for getting across the Little Queens that morning.
I found a spot in sunshine and undid my sandal shoes so I could slide my feet out. Then, I carefully took each foot out and stood on top of my sandals while I took my pants off. Normally, I would leave my pants on, but they were soaking wet. I tried to wring them out, though they resisted the twisting action. Then I used my towel on my legs and feet before putting the pants back on still damp. Then I got my birdseed bag out to sit on and dug out the Reeses spread and a spork.
My hand was shaking as I ate the delicious candy. I’d submerged more of my body in cold water than I ever had on a river crossing before. My body was warming up, but I felt shaken and tired. We headed up the trail, and I dreaded the return crossing.
|Safely on the green, green grass.
And as we hiked on, in spite of snacking before and after the crossing, I felt an inexplicable exhaustion settle over me. I stayed behind Ambrose because I couldn’t find the energy to go ahead of even his slow pace. It took me a while to tell him how I felt, but I did. And he reminded me that we’re not in a hurry and so we took a break on the grass.
|Such green growth amid the skeletal trees.
|A small streamlet.
I don’t usually take long breaks so soon after taking a break to cross a river, but I needed it. The crossing took something out of me and I needed more time lounging in the sun to get it back.
|The close up – this flower is smaller than my pinkie nail.
But soon, the ants that lived where I’d settled bugged me too much for a nap. So we pressed on. I passed Ambrose on the next big hill and stayed close but ahead of him until the messed up stream crossing. This one had been blown out by flash floods and was difficult to cross since the trail was rearranged last year.
|Not a simple crossing.
I arrived before Ambrose and scouted upstream to find a good crossing. I thought I’d found one, but it would require a large step to a crumbly bank. I pointed it out to Ambrose and he made his way down to the rocks where I thought he could step across. He leaned forward and gave a mighty hop.
He made it, but not without consequence. As he caught himself on the far bank, I heard a dull pop.
His hip belt clip had snapped.
The roar of the water made it difficult to hear, but I thought he was telling me that we would have to head back, and the thought of re-crossing the Little Queens gave me determination. We would fix his hip belt, here and now, because there was no way I was going back today.
I crossed the stream at a different spot, risking a wet boot, but getting out unscathed thanks to my gaiters. Then we settled down to eat lunch and think about what to do next. I think Ambrose was still considering turning back at this point, but I was only thinking about how to convince him to go on. I was going to wait until after we ate, but I got impatient.
I unthreaded the ends of his hip belt from their buckles and took off the useless clips. Then I presented my plan. We only had a couple more miles to hike, and surely he could handle doing that with a tied-off hip belt. The straps had plenty of room for a tie. Tomorrow’s hike was a day hike and he didn’t need to carry a pack at all. As for the third day, hiking back, we’d figure something out.
|Almost to the crossing.
And he, after some consideration, nodded in agreement. We ate lunch and moved on to the next crossing of the Little Queens. We experimented with knots on his hip belt for the rest of the day’s hiking. The first one was a pair of square knots. Those did not work out so well, but got us to the crossing.
As usual, this crossing was not as deep as the first one, but it did have its deep spots, especially near the far bank. A new feature we noticed was that someone had strung up a blue nylon rope between the island midstream and the far bank. It was set at a height too high for a person to use for safety while crossing. I had no idea what its purpose was, and neither did Ambrose.
|Post crossing flowers.
We followed the same procedure as the first crossing. Ambrose led the way and I followed close behind. The cold water felt like knives in my flesh for the first few moments of submersion. Numbness followed. We made it safely to the island and then I watched Ambrose move across to the far bank. When I followed, I managed to pick a shallower line than he had, but I still got wet well up my thighs.
This time I sat on my birdseed bag before taking my pants off. Big mistake. Water ran down my legs to my butt, and I jumped up to escape the invasion of cold water. I took off my pants and wrung them before sitting again. Of course, by this point, I had earned more Reeses spread.
|More green growth amidst the old burn.
I wanted to try a fisherman’s knot on Ambrose’s hip belt, but he didn’t think that would work very well. I acquiesced to his wishes at first, but after the crossing I gave it a try. The trick was getting the second knot to pull tightly against the first knot, allowing as little slack as possible to invade. The other knots we had tried loosened very quickly, but this one would not loosen. The hard part would be undoing it to release him.
We hiked on, making good time to the Ninemeyer junction. Ambrose had to move slowly and adjust his pack frequently, but it wasn’t burdensome. How could I be frustrated for long when I was surrounded by such beautiful scenery, breathing such fresh air and being bathed in sunlight?
|The Ninemeyer junction.
After the Ninemeyer junction, we were almost there. We passed the tarn, and then spotted the junction to the Scenic Lake trail. Just a few steps off the main trail, Ambrose spotted something that was both awesome and horrible.
There in the white gravel, encrusted with dirt, were three small bungee cords, striped blue and white. On the one hand, they were litter. Some jerk had dumped them in the dirt of the wilderness with no concern for their proper disposal. On the other hand, they were treasure. They were a solution to the problem of Ambrose’s broken hip belt. We picked one up, intending to get the others on the way back. I can only blame tiredness for doing it that way. If it were to happen again, I’d pick up all three at once, because we were so close to our campsite.
|The Scenic Lake trail junction.
When we arrived at the area we wanted to settle in, we found a space flat enough for our tent and then sat down on the dirt – not even bothering with bird seed bags for seating, not this time. It was around four in the afternoon, and I was done.
But of course, I couldn’t be done. There was work to do! And, after about a fifteen minute rest, I heaved myself up and began to set up the tent while Ambrose filled our water bags and started making dinner.
|Snow to the west.
|Our view to the east.
I was happy to get the tent up without too much trouble, since I hadn’t put it up since last August. It was a bit tricky, because winds started gusting at me just as I had it partially up. I had to wait for the calms between the bursts to get the stakes set. And even then, the gusts were vigorous enough that we ended up securing some of the stakes with rocks.
I blew up our air mattresses and got my bed set up for the night before it was time for dinner. We were having a freezer bag cooked meal of minute rice, Tasty Bites vegetable masala and a can of deviled ham. Ambrose put the vegetable masala in with the minute rice before pouring the boiling water in, which made for some rather crunchy rice, but it was hot, edible and we ate it all without complaint. The wilderness does wonders for the appetite.
|Freezer bag cooking.
We settled into the tent before seven. I got my words done, using my Kindle for a writing desk. And then I read the book I’d checked out from the library’s ebook collection for the weekend, Ancillary Mercy, a book I’d been meaning to read since it came out last fall. Gradually, darkness fell, and, after many trips outside for nature calls, I fell asleep.
|Looks like time for bed.