Ambrose woke me around 8am on Saturday. We were at the Kennally Creek Campground, which was not where we had planned to spend the night, but it wasn’t far from it. (See “What Would You Do for Your Weekend?” for more on how we got there.) The sun had not yet risen high enough to warm the campground, and my feet were cold. Despite it being a late hour for Ambrose and I, the crowded campground was quietly asleep. I had no line to wait in for the single campground bathroom once I roused myself enough to get dressed in my hiking clothes.

I hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep, but that’s what I signed up for when I decided not to cancel the trip the night before. The temperature was in the low 50s, but it felt much colder to me. We ate breakfast and got ready and headed up the trail by the time the sun had hit the campground.

The first part of the trail is wide enough for us to walk side by side, and so we did, for the short time that we could. My preference would be that we could always do that, but trails are rarely wide enough to accommodate that.

Ambrose led the way, because my morning zombieness was even more pronounced than usual. The first mile of the trail follows Kennally Creek and is not challenging terrain. We were close to a 3 mile per hour pace, and would have been closer once we hit the trail junction at 1 mile if Ambrose had not had to stop to dig a pokey-thing out of his boot.

We stopped between this bridge…

And this sign that marks 1 mile from the campground.

As he sat and took care of that, I stood and tried not to fall asleep. A man and dog came upon us while Ambrose was getting his boot back on. I followed them as far as the junction to determine if they would be in front of us. They stayed on the trail that followed the creek, which I was glad about, because I don’t trust dogs on the trail. They tend to bark at me.

On this second mile of the trail, there would be more uphill hiking, so Ambrose and I agreed to meet at the next stream crossing, which would come right after the junction that marked 2 miles from the campground. I set off on my own.

I’ve hiked before with less sleep than what I consider ideal, but I don’t make a habit of it. Once I hit the switchbacks up the trail, my heart pounded and ached in my chest. My balance felt off, and I really, really wanted to nap.

I kept my rain jacket on for warmth, as well as my gloves. The mile went quickly, especially because I knew that once I got there I could have a little rest while I waited on Ambrose to catch up.

I almost ran once I saw the trail junction sign that marked 2 miles from the campground and was steps from the stream crossing. I needed to answer a call of nature and then I was able to just collapse in a patch of sunshine overlooking the stream. I wanted to sleep, but I’m not good at dropping off on a moment’s notice. But I did rest my eyes until Ambrose arrived. We crossed at the shallowest spots we could find, and used a rotting tree trunk to get us past a deep spot to the opposite bank. Our next junction would be the Blackmare No Trail sign, and we agreed to meet there.

I knew that it had taken me 40 minutes last year on my solo hike to get from the Blackmare No Trail down to this stream crossing. I figured going uphill and being exhausted would add no more than 20 minutes to my time, so I told myself I had an hour to go until my next break and I hiked on.

This trail isn’t as familiar to me as the other end of it is, but I’m starting to learn it. I knew what kind of terrain I would find near the sign, and I could recognize when I wasn’t passing through it, much to my disappointment. I wanted to be there now. Though I really wanted to be at Blackmare “now” so I could really collapse and take a nap.

I split the difference and made it to the No Trail sign in about 50 minutes. I ate a snack and tried to settle down in a position that would let me nap, elevate my already-sore feet and not completely obstruct the trail.
I ended up in a compromise, angled awkwardly across the trail with rocks digging into my butt through the plastic sheet I’d put down. The toes of my right foot were aching already, but I couldn’t exactly complain after all that I’d done to make this trip happen. I wanted to enjoy it, even if it hurt and I was miserably tired.

I had gained almost 30 minutes on Ambrose, and was feeling a little better, especially after he took some time to rest. Unfortunately, the next part of our journey was a 500 foot climb up a ridge that looked uncomfortably close to vertical from where we stood on the main trail.

But, even tired, I do like hiking uphill. Thoughts of having to come down the next day crossed my mind, but I forced them out. Time enough to worry about that when the time came. When Ambrose brought up the downhill portions we would have to hike to get to Blackmare in relation to my past issues with my iliotibial band, I was tempted to ask him not to speak, because I didn’t even want to think about that possibility.

Pretty clear for a no trail.

The trail was easy to find and follow, considering it was a “no trail” trail. There were blazes, cut logs, cairns and flags showing us not only where the trail was, but also alternate routes up the ridge. Sometimes there were as many as three different marked routes that converged.

Before too long, we had reached our high point and started down and around the other side of the ridge. The trail dipped down into a field of boulders, and then headed back up, at a relatively gentle grade. Before it went too far, we paused for lunch in the shade of a tree.

Lunch was potted meat, tortillas and tomato slices. Ambrose had carefully carried the tomato up in his packtop, and he was justifiably proud that it hadn’t gotten smashed. He sliced it up while I prepared the meat and tortillas into wraps ready for tomato slices. I finished one for Ambrose first, and then made one for me.

Despite that, I almost finished mine before he finished his.

I might have been a little famished.

Good thing we had packed enough to each have two wraps.

Sitting down, even on rocks, felt good. Good enough that I wanted to stay, rest my eyes and try to feel more like a normal person again instead of a sleepy zombie. But Ambrose encouraged me and I got up. We kept going. Theoretically, Blackmare wasn’t that far, and he promised me I could nap when we got there. I let myself believe him, even though I knew that nap would probably only happen after camp chores. . .

We came to another steep section, but it was much shorter. I ranged ahead, but stopped often to keep Ambrose in sight. I had warmed up by that point, and the wind was a welcome coolness when I reached what I thought was the top of our last climb of the day. It looked like the rest of the way would be all downhill.

We passed a small lake, and that assured us that we were on track. The ground around it looked grassy, but damp, and I didn’t think it would be a good place to camp. The only thing to recommend it was water, and access might be a bit tricky if the shore was as boggy as the crossing we made of the stream that came out of it.

We continued downhill next to that stream, and soon we saw a larger lake. A campsite greeted us right on the trail, and we each had a few moments where we thought/hoped/wished that this was it, Blackmare Lake, the end of our day.

But of course it wasn’t.

It’s still a pretty lake though.

It was too small, and wasn’t the right shape. We followed the trail around it to a section we had read described as steep and stony.

The description was accurate

Yes, that is trail, yes, I came down it.

We were so careful on the rocky part of the trail. Every step placed with care and every foothold considered. I had a few slide outs where I had to scramble for balance, but I made it past the rock field and waited for Ambrose to finish that portion of the trail before I kept going.

The next part of the trail was dirt and rocks, and I wasn’t being quite as careful as before. I might, in fact, have been in a tiny bit of a hurry. And so it wasn’t all that surprising when my footing completely slid out from under me, and I started to fall down the trail.

Well, it was a surprise at the time. I felt as if time slowed down when I fell, and I had plenty of time to tell myself to go with the fall and try to stop when it was safe to do so. I only slid a few feet down the trail, and the rocks didn’t even pierce my pants. But it still hurt. My left leg ached from the impact and my left arm also felt damaged.

Still, there weren’t a lot of options at that point. Turning around would mean heading right back up that rock field, not to mention missing out on Blackmare. We kept going.

After a few more switchbacks, we ran into a couple and their dog. They had just come from a day hike to Blackmare. The man advised us to watch out for where the no trail crossed the main trail and that we had about half a mile to go while the woman assured us that Blackmare was worth it. The dog didn’t like us. It barked and growled.

We’ve seen more people (and dogs) on the trail this year than every other year we’ve been hiking together combined. Well, excluding the time we went to California and hiked on a tiny portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. There were a lot of people on that trail. Still, for Idaho, it’s been a people-full year.

We continued down and everything was going just fine until we lost the trail.

Is this trail?

This really doesn’t look like trail…

Now, I don’t think it was entirely our fault. We found a section with three cairns in a wide triangle and we just didn’t know where to go. We couldn’t find the trail beyond either of the two that went in the direction we hadn’t come from. We tried one, we tried the other, and neither one led us anywhere promising.

I’m not sure what we could have done differently. We found a trail and followed it down through meadows, expecting to see the lake to our right at any moment. I was growing more and more irritated that we didn’t know where we were going, and Ambrose and I both ran out of water. We finally reached a point where the trail we thought we were following disappeared and Ambrose decided we had gone too low and had to turn around.

I didn’t want to. I thought if we kept going, then we’d make it.

I’m glad we followed his plan now. Then, I was frustrated. I fell again because I was hurrying, but I just got right up and kept going. I forced myself to keep hiking. We found another trail, and Ambrose thought it was the main trail to Blackmare. I didn’t know, but I figured there was only one way to find out.

I forged ahead and got quite nervous when the trail headed drastically up. I couldn’t hear any water, and we seemed to be climbing more than we should be. But this was the trail he wanted me to follow, so I’d do it, I’d follow it to the top and if there was nothing there, then I’d sit and pout for a while.

This is trail? Really?

The thought of getting to the top and finding no lake actually gave me a second wind. I bounded up the trail, going fast enough that I wasn’t strictly keeping Ambrose in sight, though I could hear him, crashing through brush below me. And, after navigating some gnarly, overgrown portions of trail, I found a nice place to sit and admire the lake that we’d somehow found.

It was Blackmare, at last.

Click the image for a larger view of any of the pictures.

We could see Squaretop, my first (and still only) peak. I remembered looking down on Blackmare during that trip and wanting to visit it. Now that I had made it, all I wanted to do was sleep.

But we had wasted a lot of time being lost. It was after 5 and we had work to do.

Except for a brief lay down in the dirt after I got the tent up, but before we fixed the door zippers, I didn’t get to lay down and relax for 2 hours. That’s what backpacking is.

I set up the tent and filled it with our bedding, Ambrose cooked dinner and then we collaborated on hanging a bear rope. There was an established campsite with a fire ring, and we cooked and ate at the fire ring.

Only after the pot was clean was I able to get into the tent, lay down, and relax. I stayed up for a little bit, reading my Kindle and chatting with Ambrose.

I slept great.

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