With a long hike of 11 miles ahead of us, we were in complete agreement about getting up early. Last year, I was much more of a zombie in the mornings, but I’ve been going to 5 am crossfit long enough that I think my body is getting used to the early morning hours. I woke up at the alarm and got my body moving without any protesting or much whining.

We aren’t very practiced at taking selfies together so early in the morning.

Ambrose cooked breakfast while I packed up the car camping tent and its contents. We got up around 5:30 am and we hit the trail at 5 minutes to 7. Not bad at all. It was cold enough that I kept my raincoat on as we started to hike. I’ve tried not to do that when I figure it will warm up quickly, but this morning I felt the cold in my bones, and I didn’t want to take it off until I really felt warm.

We had replaced the clips on Ambrose’s hip belt, so there was no need for me to stick close to him. I went off at my own pace. I’m pretty sure I’m faster than I was last year, but I haven’t taken the time to make any direct comparisons or time segments and compare. But the terrain that used to seem to take forever to traverse was disappearing beneath my feet.

No sunshine in sight.

I sat to wait for Ambrose at the first stream crossing. It wasn’t one that I really needed to wait for him at, but I figured if I waited at the two stream crossings, then I wouldn’t have as long to wait at the Little Queens River crossing. I was looking back down the trail. The sun had not yet crested the ridge, but the day was bright. As I looked up at the ridge across the river, I spotted a deer. It stayed still long enough for me to point it out to Ambrose when he walked up, and then we were on our ways again.

There’s a deer up there. 

See, totally a deer. 

I sped along and waited at the next crossing, and then sped again and waited at the river crossing. The water level was much lower this time. One rock that had been nearly submerged was almost completely out of the water, and I was not scared of going across. We each crossed on our own this time, and made it safely.

Pretty flowers, even in the cold and early morning.

Much lower water level for the crossing.

Ambrose makes his way across. 

But the water chilled my already cold body even more. I zipped up my raincoat and wore gloves even as the sun began to come out. It was warm, but not warming enough. Wind whipped down the river and kept me chilled even at the pace I was maintaining. And when I stopped, I got even colder.

The sun is coming!

But I kept moving away from where the sun was shining.

I made it to the stream crossing that we call messed-up, where Ambrose’s hip belt broke and where he has fallen before, and I stopped to wait. 20 minutes passed and I had had just about all of the scenery admiring I could handle. Every time I looked around, I started worrying about him. At 30 minutes, I decided that the only way to distract myself was going to be by pulling out the Kindle and reading. I don’t generally read while we’re hiking. I like to save it for when we’re at camp. But I needed a distraction so I wouldn’t worry.

After 40 minutes, he finally walked up. He advised me to pull the Kindle out sooner next time and don’t worry about him unless he’s more than an hour behind. I still took time to admire the scenery before pulling out the Kindle at my next stops, but I pulled it out before I started to worry.

Ambrose crossing the “messed up” stream. 

After we both safely crossed the stream, I started off at my usual speed. And I got about twenty yards before a strange sound brought me to a halt. I heard barking and what I can only describe as screeching. It wasn’t a howl. It wasn’t a scream. It was almost like a really loud and extended dog whine. The sounds echoed across the river valley and I stopped and waited for Ambrose to reach me.

He confirmed that he heard it too and we decided to stick together for safety. We couldn’t see the source of the noise, but that didn’t mean we weren’t about to run into some wolves at any moment. So I reined in my pace and kept Ambrose in sight as the bark/whine continued to echo. Once we had walked past the point of hearing it, I zoomed on to the Little Queens crossing and waited again.

After the second crossing of the Little Queens, I took off again. We planned to meet at the trail junction for Scenic Lake to eat lunch. It was just about time for it, and that was also close to halfway up to Browns Lake. At lunch, Ambrose proposed a method for our next mutual stop, which would be for water. Once I filled my own bladder, I could fill one of my water bags for him, and then get going as soon as he arrived. Actually, at first, he gave me one of his smaller water bags to fill instead, but his other bag didn’t have a top. I figured it would be easier for him to fill his bladder from my big water bag instead, and I’d still have a little one as back up.

Flying to the Neinmeyer Junction.

Two ground squirrels in one shot!

Just the spot for lunch.

After lunch, I found that the terrain was still flying under my feet, even thought it was still awfully cold out. I had removed the gloves and the rain coat, but whenever I stopped moving, the wind chilled me immediately. The stream that I stopped at to get water was in full sunlight, and I was still cold as I filled the bag and then squeezed water into my bladder. I sat down on the ground to wait for Ambrose to catch up, and that was a little better, hiding from the wind. Still, I was ready to get going as soon as he arrived.

Time for a water stop. 

The wildflowers were in full bloom, dotting the landscape with yellows and blues and purples, reds and pinks and whites. That’s one advantage of hiking out earlier in the season. I know in a couple months the greens will be yellower and the flowers mostly gone.

Flowers and sky.

I tried to read the lay of the land from memory, because we forgot to pack my map case.

I paid careful attention to the lay of the land as I hiked. I wanted to figure out where I was in relation to where I was going. I stopped to take a picture of a feature I knew to be near the top of High Pass, where we would go if we were to continue on the Queens River Trail. I tried to spot the “alien” tree from last year that should be on a ridge over Browns Lake, but I didn’t see it. And I moved through the valley, watching how the trail turned just as it was about to run into a ridge, and then gave way to the grasses and trees that preceded the ramp.

Almost to the base of the ramp.

I settled down under an evergreen and gave myself a treat. I was mostly cold, but my feet were hot and achey, so I took off my boots and my socks and laid them in the sun to dry and warm. My feet were bare and being nicely cooled by the wind. I snacked and  I read and I waited.

I was hoping that Ambrose would walk up while my feet were out, but after about 30 minutes I was getting too cold, so I put my socks and boots back on.

And waited.

I did tell him about it when he arrived, but that wasn’t as cool as him seeing it. I was surprised that Ambrose didn’t seem to want to take any breaks. I was getting more breaks than I wanted, but he wasn’t stopping where I’d stopped, but rather kept moving. We set off up the ramp, that once seemed so long and so steep. It was still so steep, but it felt rather short this time, over before I knew it.

There’s Ambrose, just starting up the ramp. 
It’s a short, but very steep section of trail.

I’m not sure what these flowers are. 

But I do like their coloration. 

I waited for Ambrose at the trail junction for Browns Lake. I spent some time lying down on a burnt log, balancing myself and trying to absorb as much sunshine as I could. Again, I wanted him to walk up and see me like that, but I got tired of balancing before he arrived.

Time to head up to Browns Lake.

This time he took a snack break, and I had to wait for that, because we were going to be sticking together form this point on. We had only taken the trail up to Browns once before and that was two years ago. So when we were both ready to keep going, I held myself back and made frequent stops so that I wouldn’t go too far out of sight.

Ambrose wasn’t sure that we were going to make it. He proposed camping in the meadow that came before the final push up into Browns Lake. But I knew we were going to make it, not just to the lake, but to the secluded campsite that we were aiming for, halfway around the lake. I knew I could make it, and I knew that he could make it too. I held on to that energy and kept up cheer as we picked our way up the rocky trail.

Sure, we could have camped here. But we didn’t.

There was one last crossing of the Little Queens to navigate, and that’s the only place I wavered. I wasn’t sure I could get across without either taking my boots off or getting water in them. Ambrose took point and showed me the way to step across the rocks. We both made it safely, and dryly, across.

Up, and up, the trail led. 

Looking back at the muddy area.

After that, it was a matter of pushing. Not stopping. We went up, and up, and up. We stuck to the trail, which was familiar to me even though I’d only seen it twice before. We reached the muddy bog that I knew meant we were close. And then, we hiked over a patch of snow on the trail.

Snow on the trail!

I saw the lake first, and I gazed in admiration at the prize as I waited for Ambrose to catch up. But we werne’t done yet. We had to keep going, at least to the place we’d camped before. There were sites across the outlet of the lake, but we’d explored those before and they were windy. The last thing we wanted was more cold wind at this point.

First glimpse of the lake.

So we hiked on, as the trail meandered up and down, making its way around the lake. Just when I saw the protrusion that marked the spot we were going to camp, where the lake bulged out into our direct path, Ambrose asked me if the rocky spot he was on top of was our campsite. It was flat-ish, and could have done in a pinch, but I pointed ahead of us to the roomier site that we’d planned on. Luckily, it really wasn’t much farther, because he was running out of steam.

Our campsite.

We sat on the ground, which was warmer than the nearby rocks, and took a few moments to savor the triumph. We’d made it!

And then I got to setting up the tent, and Ambrose set about getting water and making dinner. The wind fought my efforts to get the tent up, and it wasn’t my best pitch. Also, I had forgotten the tent stakes. Now, I remembered that I forgot the tent stakes when we were back at the car, so I had carried up four of the stakes that we use for the car camping tent. But the other four stakes needed to be improvised with sticks and rocks. It’s not that they weren’t in plentiful supply, but that the wind was so fierce I needed some really heavy rocks to hold the “stakes” in place.

A hard-earned view.

I kept my raincoat on all night, with a fully zipped sleeping bag, and I still had trouble getting warm. The wind didn’t quit, and I couldn’t wait for the morning to come.

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