It’s not as bright as it looks, thanks to the flash. 

I was, as usual, a reluctant early riser, but I kept to my resolution to be less crabby in the morning and just got to work getting dressed and striking the tent, all the steps we needed to take before we could hike away into the wilderness.

This small campsite suited our single night at the trailhead quite well.

Of course, the forest service guy waited until Ambrose walked off to use the bathroom before walking over to our campsite to talk to me. I come to the forest for a measure of solitude, to be away from the crowds of people that I don’t know. At that hour of the morning, I was not ready to speak to a stranger, but I did it anyway, agreeing that the day looked beautiful for a hike and making other small talk until Ambrose got back to take his attention off of me so I could finish putting up the tent. I did learn they were at the trailhead doing maintenance on the wilderness trail, and that they worked for a shift of eight days at a time.

You can see the bridge to the wilderness from the campsite.

Later, I kicked myself for not wishing them a happy 4th of July, but not very hard.

Ambrose led the way as we headed up the trail, in the same direction we had last time. Our route would start exactly the same, but this time we would head past the junction sign and keep going until we found Browns Lake. Technically the trail to Browns Lake is an off-shoot of the main trail, since it dead ends at Browns Lake. However, the direction of the main trail takes a right angle turn while the Browns Lake trail continues in a straight line, so we figured it would be hard to miss the “turn-off” to it.

Hard to believe this was so difficult to cross just weeks ago.

But first, we had to deal with fording the Little Queens River at 7 in the am, when the water was painfully frigid, and I probably hadn’t had enough to eat that morning. I mean, we ate egg and bacon burritos that Ambrose had made up the day before at home before we headed up the trail, but they mysteriously disappeared in my stomach. So when he asked if I wanted to have the second burrito after the crossing, I said yes.

I thought about eating these, but caution won out over my rumbling stomach.

I only got to eat about half of it before my body was chilling to the point of shivering. I couldn’t stay and eat. I had to keep moving in order to get warm. I knew it wouldn’t take long once my body was in motion, but Ambrose wasn’t ready to go yet. So we parted, agreeing to meet up at the next crossing.

This was the first water I came across after 9:30am, so I stopped and made coffee.

The second crossing.

I was happy to see that the wildflowers were still blooming. I’m expecting at some point that the grasses will brown and the flowers will wither in the heat of Idaho’s summer, but that hasn’t happened yet. The sight of the flowers lifts my spirits. And slow me down enough for Ambrose to keep up, as I pause to take pictures.
The second crossing was not quite as bad as the first, in part because the sun was higher by that point, and in part because I was adapting to the trail. It takes some time to adjust from the rhythms of life on the trail. I was content to walk behind Ambrose in the morning as my body not only woke up, but also became attuned to what I was expecting of it. Today was not to be a day of sitting at a desk, but of hauling all the gear I needed and wanted on my back and pounding the dirt with my boots.

Ambrose got ahead of me when I paused to answer nature’s call.

I imagined the music from Jaws – duh-nuh.


Duh-nuh duh-nuh


It was close to lunch time when we got to the sign, but there wasn’t any water near it, so we kept going, aiming to stop near noon and near a body of water. It was not long before we came upon a marshy lakelet. Ambrose was disappointed to see it, because he thought that the marsh came after the trail branched towards Scenic Lake, but we stopped anyway to see about lunch. As Ambrose prepared to cook, I pulled out my map and determined that the marsh was in fact before the trail branching. I hauled myself up from the scant shade of some low bushes where I had dropped my pack and brought the map to Ambrose to show him.

Sign selfie!

The marshy lake offered the water for our lunch.

He told me there were little fish in the water, so I went to look. There weren’t just fish in there. I spotted tadpoles and a number of different kinds of bugs. Some skated over the water and some dove beneath it, while others buzzed over the surface.

We ate our lunch of rice noodles and broth with pouch tuna. Ambrose and I each wet our shirts in the water before we left. It’s a cold experience for about 10 seconds, then the wet nylon just feels nice. Until it dries about 5 minutes later.

I love these clouds.

Then it was back to the trail. The landscape continued to shift between areas of green and blackened forests. We had to navigate a few rocky streambeds that seemed wider than they should be, considering they were running completely dry. The trail was marked mostly by being trail-like. So far in the wilderness area, there were no blazes on trees and very few cut logs. But the places where others had walked before us was well defined, even through the burned areas.

When I first saw this cloud, it looked like Roger Rabbit sitting in the lotus position, but by the time I pulled the camera out his ears were gone.

This trail isn’t on the map, but probably leads to Diamond Lake.

In a wide, intensely green meadow, I found a trail unmarked on the map, diverging off to our left. I checked my map and decided that it probably led to Diamond Lake. Ambrose confirmed that – once he caught up with me. At this point, I was ranging ahead while keeping him roughly in sight. Soon after that divergence, the trail took a right angle turn to the left, up through a copse of bushes with running water audible but not visible to one side. Then it swung sharply to the right and began to climb up. I emerged from the bushes and tried to see where Ambrose was, but I couldn’t tell. I continued up the trail until I reached the shade of a tree and waited.

When he popped into view, I continued to wait, rather than range ahead. As he got close, he explained that he had stopped to get a snack. I couldn’t really blame him for that, although it would have been nice had he waited until I could see him.

Ambrose emerges from the shrubbery.

But we both could have used a snack for what lay ahead. The trail had not gained very much elevation up to that point, and it was determined to make up for that lack all at once. We hiked up, and up, and up.

I knew the altimeter was off, based on the readings that I got when we crossed the river and reached the marsh, but it still showed our progress. We rapidly went up 400 feet. Okay, I rapidly went up. Ambrose followed, slow but steady.

Looking up the trail…

Looking at Ambrose down the trail.

The Little Queens River roaring down.

I was looking for where the trail turned off based on the elevation I guesstimated from the incorrect reading on the altimeter, but I missed it. We continued to ascend with no sign of the main trail’s turn off. Ambrose suggested coming back the next day to find it, but I didn’t want to use an exploration day on that. I figured we would find it on our way down.

We reached a gorgeous stream flowing not far from the Little Queens. I don’t have words to describe it. The wind had a bite of cold and hints of water, pine and faint flowers. Ahead, the earth curved up, rock and grass becoming a wall. To the right, fire damage was visible in the distance, seeming to make the green grasses and plants that much more vital.

The starkness of the burned areas gave the green areas breathtaking contrasts.

We stopped there to get some water into our bladders. Ambrose was just about empty, and I should have been, but wasn’t. I have a bad habit of not drinking sufficient fluids out there, but it’s not like it’s easy for me to pee out there.

The ant harvest was good this year…

We continued along the trail, which actually disappeared in the fire damaged area. Okay, by disappeared I mean I lost it. . . Ambrose found where the trail crossed the Little Queens, now shallow enough for use to cross without removing our boots. Rocky switchbacks and burned land led up, following the Little Queens until we came to a flat spot, with no obvious trail, and a “lake” in plain view.

This can’t be it, right? Right??

I thought to myself, this can’t be it, can it? I waited for Ambrose to catch up and asked him that question. He didn’t think so, so we kept going, following the flow of the water to where the trail was finally visible in a break in the burned area. Not too long after that I spotted a bank of snow – not the kind of snow that would worry me, but the kind of snow that made me cry out in jubilation, as I turned back to Ambrose and pointed with my trekking pole: “Beer coolant!”

This is promising…

Beer coolant!

I think I was lucky that the rush of the water swallowed up much of my voice, because just a few steps farther on, I saw that we were not going to be spending our time at Browns Lake alone. I saw hikers, and I felt a little cheated.

Not a lot, because we had been seeing boot prints for some time, and the likelihood of others being up there was high with that. Still, I was disappointed.

I waved. They waved. Ambrose and I hiked up to where the river met the lake, and we were not at all disappointed with Browns Lake. Large, carved rock bowl of water sparkling in the sun. One of the hikers told us that he and his girlfriend had climbed a mountain and saw a fire past Plummer (a peak several miles off) from the top. Since we couldn’t see or smell any smoke, and since we knew Plummer to be a couple of valleys away, we thanked him for the information without letting it change our plans.

That’s more like it!

The four other hikers had taken the obvious spot nestled between the lake and the river, so Ambrose and I dropped our packs and I took off on the unmarked on the map, but visible in person, trail to see what I could see. The guy mentioned a place with a fire ring and a sitting log, but I found a place before I ran into that. The land was green, though burn sections surrounded it, and there was convenient access to water. I went back for Ambrose and we hauled our packs up to set up our camp.

We could see the other tents if we walked down to the water, but we couldn’t hear them. We could smell them, however, and one of them smoked cigarettes. Yuck.

When we stopped for gas in Idaho City, I decided that I wanted to buy myself a beer to drink when we got to Browns Lake. I hauled that beer up in my pack, and when I dropped the pack, I dug it out and buried it in a nearby bank of snow so that it would calm down and cool off.

Cooling beer.

Then the real chores started. We needed to get the tent up, get water for drinking, get water for cooking, set up our sleeping pads and sleeping bags, take off our boots and gaiters, answer nature’s calls and stay either cool or warm, depending on how the wind was blowing.

A campsite with a view.

I didn’t get to my beer until after we ate dinner. Ambrose had packed us a dessert of banana cream pie. Now, there’s a bit of a story to that banana cream pie. Twice already, we were supposed to have eaten it on trips, and twice it has mysteriously been left at home. This time, we had it. This time, we were going to eat it. I followed the dirctions. I stirred it up. I licked the spoon and it tasted good.

Then I continued to follow the directions and added the “cookie crumb” packets.

That was a mistake. To me, at least. I did not like the taste of it at all after the crumbs went in. It tasted stale to me. I ceded the rest of it to Ambrose and drank my beer instead.

The beer. Now that was delicious. All the more so for being carted up 3100 feet.

Best beer ever!

After that we retreated to the tent as the mosquitoes invaded. We were both tired, but I had a had time falling asleep. When I woke in the night to pee, Ambrose alerted me to the visitors to our camp.

All night long, deer came to our camp. I got a few shots with the camera of them, but they became so commonplace that I didn’t try much after the initial few times. At one point, I got up in the night to pee and I saw a deer laying down not 20 feet above our tent. She stayed there even when I got within 10 feet and took pictures.

I was delighted by our nocturnal visitors…

Even if it wasn’t easy to take their pictures.

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