We drove up to Kennally Creek Campground after I got off of work on the 2nd. It isn’t a terribly long drive, though much of it is on two lane roads that wind through river valleys and mountains. When we arrived, we discovered that, unlike near the Queens River, here the mosquitoes were out, about and aggressive. Unfortunately that’s also when I discovered that my Ultrathon container was closer to empty than full. I’ve been spoiled the last few years by low bug trips. I had almost managed to forget the first couple years that we backpacked, when the swarms of mosquitoes drove us into sauna-like tents unless we were covered with DEET.
I knew I had enough repellent for me, but I was going to have to monitor Ambrose’s use of my DEET. He has a tendency to apply quite a bit more than I consider necessary. Sure, it works, but if less works then I want to use less.
We were spending the night at the trailhead this time since we planned for holiday traffic on the way up. The traffic turned out not to be horrible, so we could have gone out a mile or two to camp but that would have messed with our plans so we stayed. After I got the tent up and our beds made, we were sitting at a picnic table eating the last of our fried chicken dinner when we saw two backpackers head towards the trailhead. One was already wearing her headlamp, so they were clearly prepared to head out. Ambrose, being more sociable than I, asked where they were headed and then we both went over and had a little chat with them. Teresa and Brent were headed out on a three day loop to Blackmare Summit, an on trail destination from Kennally. We explained where we were headed on the morrow and they told us where they planned to camp tonight. Then they headed off and we retreated to our tent to escape the buzzing swarms.
As darkness fell, the mosquitoes went to sleep, but other campers at the site broke the quiet hours rules by turning on their generator. Despite the loud droning, I did fall asleep, waking briefly when Ambrose got up to pee. The full moon shone through the wall of the tent like a spotlight. I covered my head and went back to sleep.
As usual, Ambrose woke before me. He had already made coffee. My job was to get my butt out of bed and get ready to go. I hadn’t slept well and felt grouchy and tired, but I got going, packed up and geared up. After breakfast, I moved the car to the trailhead parking and then we were off. I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous about Ambrose’s knee, so I decided to stick with him for a while. And I might have been just the tiniest bit too tired to go at my normal exuberant pace.
|Where we camped at the trailhead.|
|Following Ambrose onto the trail.|
|A familiar section of trail.|
The trail felt familiar by now. It rolled alongside the creek, broken by tiny, muddy side streams and rusted out culverts. We got through the first mile at a decent pace (29 minutes) and then took a break to fuel up a bit before the trail began some switchbacks uphill. I also took the opportunity to apply some bug juice, after I’d eaten. The mosquitoes were a bit less aggressive outside the campground, but still making their presence known.
|The big bridge.|
|A rare water sighting under the little bridge.|
I must really have been tired since I didn’t pull ahead on the uphill portions, instead staying next to or behind Ambrose as we ascended. Since we took that break, I’m not sure how long it took us to get to where the trail split at the 2 mile mark. Long enough that I was completely surprised to see Teresa and Brent camped at the fork where they’d said they were headed. We walked over and said hello before heading on our way.
|A boots-on crossing.|
|A very old washout site.|
At another break, I had to answer a call of nature, so I climbed off the path to try and find a good spot to dig a hole. On my way, I saw the oddest thing lying on the ground, this little white plastic cap thing. Out in the middle of nowhere, I can still find (and pack out) trash!
Once we reached the Blackmare No Trail sign, I took the lead. We both had a snack, and then I headed up. At first, I tried to keep Ambrose in sight, still worrying about him. But then I decided that I needed to stop worrying. He would let me know if he needed help. And we were practically going straight up – there’s no way I’d get out of whistle range. I went ahead and bulled my way up, ignoring aching calves and pausing only for photos and drinking. The breeze picked up as I reached the high point of the (no) trail and sat on a rock to wait for Ambrose to catch up. There, having earned it, I ate one of my almond butters.
|We made it to the No Trail.|
|It is very steep.|
When he arrived, I waited a little bit to let him catch his breath. And then we headed down with me in the lead. This part of the trail was starting to become familiar, and it was also well marked. I knew the general direction we needed to head and I went that way wending around boulders and heading up to another saddle. Then Ambrose went in front as we went downhill over large fallen trees and through more rocky puzzles. A few times, one of us lost the trail, but it wasn’t too hard to find again. We made it just past the first lake before stopping for lunch.
I got water for us, and Ambrose made us coconut water using powder concentrate. As we ate, we strategized. Coming up was the point where we got horribly lost last year. The plan was not to get so lost, and, if possible, actually figure out the correct way to go. I had high hopes. I wanted nothing more than to get to Blackmare Lake and take a nap.
|Some of these rocks are piled in cairns. I swear!|
|The picture doesn’t quite capture the agitated motion of that squirrel’s tail.|
|A gorgeous view worth all the toil.|
After lunch we came down to the second lake, and then to the evil, steep, rocky portion of the trail. I focused on taking one step at a time, not worrying about what came after that step. I did not want to fall – not only because falling hurts, but because I already had some serious bruising on my left shin from a missed box jump. Even after I got off the rocky part, I played it safe, because there were still steep switchbacks down to navigate and I’d fallen on one of them last year. But not this year. I broke into a sunny meadow where we needed to turn right and head down to follow the (no) trail. Ambrose pointed out the way and we arrived at the place where we lost the trail last year.
|Lake number two.|
|Really, really steep.|
|This feels like climbing a ladder – only the ladder has ball bearings for rungs.|
|I cannot emphasize the steepness enough.|
We then, quite logically and thoroughly, proceeded to lose it again.
First, we decided that we needed to cross the stream. Logically, the trail should be on the other side. We crossed in different places and then Ambrose headed up while I tried to keep the stream in sight and stayed low. We were still in yelling distance, but he wanted me to be in sight, so I abandoned my logical track and joined him. We reached a boulder field and I led the way across, because of course the trail to the lake had to be on the other side of that rocky ridge, right?
|Doesn’t this boulder field just scream, “Cross me!”?|
The view was stunning when we finally got there, but the trail was nowhere in sight. I wanted to get back down to the water, but the more I looked down, the less I wanted to go that way. And the other option was shoving through brush so thick we wouldn’t be able to see a drop coming. We headed down a little bit and ate a snack. Then Ambrose asked me if I wanted to go down.
I said I was scared. And I started crying. Tired, frustrated, and scared to scramble down what looked like nearly sheer rockface in the hope of maybe finding trail, I cried it out and Ambrose decided we should retrace our steps. Back through the boulder field with its thorny brush. Back to where we had lost the trail again and again. We wandered around, exploring to little purpose for a while, considering whether we should camp somewhere in the forest rather than striking on for the lake. And then it was time to sit down, think, and go back to basics.
|And here I shed my salty tears of frustration.|
Back to the map and back to the compass.
At this point, we started using actual logic instead of “this feels right, so it might be right” logic. Based on the position of the second lake in comparison to Blackmare, we had been overshooting the trail. Ambrose figured out the compass heading we needed to follow and it was practically straight back in the direction we came. I calculated that the trail had to intersect at some point before the outlet from the second lake met the outlet from Blackmare. Therefore, it we crossed and headed up the outlet from the second lake, we should find it. Using those clues, we headed again into the brush.
Two stream crossings and a little backtracking later, I spotted “suspicious rock on rock activity” aka a probable cairn. We struck across muck and bushes and found that it was, indeed, a cairn. I’d found the trail.
At this point, Ambrose wanted to take a new route, a trail that supposedly led to the Blackmare outlet. I, for once, put my foot down. We were going to take the trail that we knew led to Blackmare because it was almost dinner time and I wanted to get there for sure, not get there maybe.
He agreed, which is a good thing because I was not budging on this point. Then we followed the trail, which, though overgrown, is easy to follow at this point, up to the lake. I waited for Ambrose at a really tricky spot, where a ledge of rock and a couple of downed trees complicates things. I got up it by climbing the tree partway, but I didn’t think Ambrose could do that. He almost made a perfect jump, but lost his footing and landed partly on his knee. Not injured, but bruised. Then I went the rest of the way up and sat on a log to wait for him.
For all of 10 seconds.
Then the mosquito brigade drove me off of it. I had to keep moving. The high pitched whining buzz in my ears was starting to drive me batty as they strove to get past the scent of my DEET to my sweet, sweet blood.
There is an established campsite at the end of this trail near the lake, complete with a wooden chair and a nice flat spot for a tent. And a grill for the firepit. The only thing it doesn’t have is fishing poles.
I started to set up the tent as Ambrose arrived. It was our only protection from the skeeters and flies and I wanted it up.
Unfortunately, we’d been hiking for almost 10 and a half hours. On the trail anyway. I was tired and footsore and not thinking very clearly. It took longer than it should have to set up the tent. I also needed Ambrose’s help, partly because I decided to try putting it up without reading the directions as I went. Turns out, I’m not quite ready for that yet.
|Luxurious wilderness chair!|
Ambrose made dinner and we ate it in the safe confines of our tent as the mosquitoes gathered on the mesh, poking their proboscises through in vain attempts to reach our flesh. Of course, when we left the tent, they managed to bite both of us quite a bit. Despite the repellents (Ambrose brought some picaridin lotion that we both used in addition to the DEET), they found ways to get through. And part of that was because we were chary about using the DEET. The picaridin works, but is not as successful in repelling the aggressive hoards we encountered.
After dinner but before we went to sleep, as the light was transitioning to dusk, we heard a voice. A guy and his dog came through out camp, looking for some place to set up for the night. He, a female companion and the dog had just made it to Blackmare and were looking for a place to camp. Ambrose made it clear we weren’t averse to sharing our area, though we really had the only good place to pitch a tent. The guy explored past us a bit, but reported that beyond where we were was marshy. When Ambrose suggested the outlet, he said it was too brushy. But he must have found some place that suited, because we didn’t see them again that night.