Ambrose and I have discovered that there’s something strangely uplifting about eating dessert for breakfast. It’s not a burden to cook breakfast when that breakfast is bananas foster, or, in this case, apple crisp. I mean, eggs and grits are delicious and filling and all, but they don’t make me want to lick the pan clean.

I got to pick the time that we would get up. I chose 6am, much to Ambrose’s surprise. I reserved the right to hit the snooze button once, and I did, but I actually was ready to get up at that time. A good night’s sleep had done me well. Not to mention there was apple crisp to eat for breakfast.

Good morning Blackmare!

We got moving down the trail in good time, but the problem was we didn’t know exactly where we were going. We hadn’t actually found the trail we wanted yesterday, we’d just gotten there by accident. A happy accident, but still not something that we’d done deliberately. And that meant we didn’t know how to get back to the “no trail.”

This, overgrown as it is, is the official trail.

We still had the clue of looking for rocks marking where the no trail met the main trail, and that’s what we looked for as we headed down. I led the way, but slowly enough that Ambrose easily kept pace with me. I watched carefully, trying to spot the no trail. We both did.

Yup, still trail…

But it didn’t matter. We couldn’t find it. After a stream crossing, we tried following the stream up, because it would logically lead to the lake we’d passed the day before. But Ambrose decided that wasn’t the right way and he used a compass bearing to get us right back where we diverted from the main trail.

Where is the no trail?

Then we went radical.

By which I mean we disregarded the trail and followed the compass bearing that should lead us to the lake, no matter how crazy that route became.

I knew this wasn’t trail – but it was the way we were going. 

We shoved our way through thick bushes that concealed no trail. We climbed over fallen limbs covered in ferns and slippery detritus. We crossed a couple little streams. And then, we found ourselves staring almost straight up a ridge.

Just a little steep…

The bearing pointed the way. We both believed that we would find the lake if we just went up. I could even hear water trickling down the steep slope, and it had to come from somewhere.

Okay, a lot steep.

So we went up. Not, switchback up steep trails up, but oh, this pile of dirt looks like I can put most of my boot on it. The deer can take this path, so I can too, right?

Looking up, I couldn’t see blue sky at first. I would have had to lean back to see it, and I didn’t want to move my center of gravity away from the ridge I was hugging.

Oh, oh, there’s the blue sky!

I got into the rhythm of it after a while. I would scamper from flat-ish spot to flat-ish spot, testing every rock, and pausing to choose my path when I could. I steered us away from a wall of rock above a thicket of bushes, and started to see the blue sky.

Once I saw it, there was no stopping me. I could always look down and see Ambrose, so I went for it. I crashed and scrambled my way up, only to be greeted by the barking of a dog. The same dog we had seen on the path the day before, with the couple. They called off their dog, and the man and I talked. I told him about us getting lost and that I’d be on my way once my husband caught up. They were packing up to leave as well, and my competitive side sniffed the air. No way I’d let them beat me to the campground.

Following the compass heading worked!

Ambrose made his way up and joined me. We found the trail around the lake and followed it to the campsite we had seen the day before. We stopped there to have a snack. I also wanted to retie my boots. They were feeling loose, although I could see they weren’t untied once I took off my gaiters.

Quite a pretty little lake to have no name.
Back on the trail.

Okay, I meant back on the no trail.

Some jerk carved “JAM” into this poor tree.

The couple and their dog passed us as we sat and ate. But I felt confident that we could catch them again. We hiked up the terrain we had hiked down the day before, and already it was beginning to look familiar to me. I continued to lead, and only had to stop to figure out my route a couple times. Otherwise, the cairns guided me easily. At one point, below a wall of scree, I stopped.

Ambrose caught up and asked what I was doing. I stepped aside so he could see the trail split in two before us, white rocks through green grass. He advised going to the right, but we ended up going back to the left hand trail when the right petered out. I think the right might work, but it isn’t as heavily used so it would be harder to find. We had had enough of hard to find trails on this trip.

As I forged ahead and then waited for Ambrose, I started catching glimpses of the couple ahead of us. I paused just before the saddle because I saw the man and the dog very close in front of me. Ambrose actually yelled for me to hold up, and I replied that it was my intention to do so.

I didn’t want to be hiking so close to them that I would pass them, and then they would pass me while I waited for Ambrose.

Ambrose had me spray him with bug spray to get rid of his cadre of circling flies. He led the way after we crested the saddle. My steps were faster now that I knew we were close to the regular trail.

Soon we were passing the spot where we’d had lunch the day before. Then I took the lead again as the trail headed up. I thought I’d catch the couple at this point, but I didn’t. We reached the final down climb to the Needles Trail, and I started keeping track of the feet we’d gone down with the altimeter. I led the way, and my iliotibial band did not complain once about the work I was putting my legs through.

When the altimeter indicated I was 60 feet above the trail, I looked down and thought to myself that that was unlikely. Then I looked again, and knew that it was outright untrue. I could see the trail, no more than 20 feet down. I flew down and waited for Ambrose to join me.

Then I was off. We both knew the way to the car, and I intended to get there as quickly as I could.

I caught up with the couple before the big stream crossing. I passed the woman first, and then the man and the dog, who were sitting on the side of the trail. The man asked me some questions about pack weight and gear, and I answered them, but wanted to get going.

I crossed the stream without incident and knew I had 2 miles to go. I also knew I could take those miles at a 3 mile per hour pace or better. So I did.

20 minutes exactly for the first mile, and 17 for the second, during which I passed 2 people heading out. I got to the trailhead at 1pm.

It was empty. There had been so many people there Friday night, but only three cars parked at the trailhead remained. I got to the car, grabbed the coconut water that was waiting for me, and sat down to take off my boots. Once they were off, I got my change of clothes and towel to take to the creek. I knew there was a possibility that someone coming down the trail would see me, but it was a risk I was willing to take to get a rinse off.

In sports bra and underwear, I immersed myself in the icy water, considering it a triumph that I didn’t scream. Then I got out, toweled off and put on my clean-ish clothes.

I only had to wait 21 minutes for Ambrose to surprise me by appearing before the couple did. He had passed them just before the stream crossing, and even though he took time to change clothes, they didn’t show up before we left.

We were both hungry, but rather than cook a camp meal, we endured and made our way to a diner for a treat of a lunch before going home.

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