This morning was not quite so zombie like for me as the previous one. I felt well rested, and Ambrose even let me sleep in a little bit. The air wasn’t too cold and I got moving without too many complaints.

Then I saw the next curve ball and I almost cried because it felt like my fault. There was a hole in the floor of the tent. As Ambrose said, we should have put the bird seed bags down as a precautionary ground cloth. But we didn’t, and so began the calling of this trip as “the trip that everything broke.”

I packed the tent up, because there would be no point in trying to fix the hole in the cold morning, because the fix was tape and tape would work better when the air was warmer. I hated to do it, but I did my best to ignore the shoulda-woulda-couldas and keep moving.

Minus that stick in the middle, we pitched the tent here. Just enough room. 

We did bars for breakfast again as we hiked east along the Hand Creek canyon. I could see from the map that we would be crossing the creek pretty soon and the canyon would turn north as we began to gain elevation.

Ambrose walked ahead in the early morning. 

You’d think it would have occurred when Ambrose was checking the GPS and distracted, but he was completely paying attention to the trail in front of him when he managed to get his feet tangled in a stick. Almost in slow motion I watched his feet get caught and I had a split second to decide whether I could, or should, reach out and grab his pack to try and keep him upright. The moment passed and he fell down heavily on rocks, turning his body to avoid impacting his knees, but still getting some impressive bruising on his shin.

Sticks can be dangerous!

So Ambrose got a little broken, but he was able to stand and keep going to the crossing, which was only a few yards from his fall. We made the decision to do the crossing boots on, but it was a close one. The water was deep enough to warrant boots off, but it was early and cold and the sun was hiding behind a ridge. I didn’t want to go boots off if I didn’t have to. And there was, just barely, a path combining partially submerged rocks and logs perpendicular to the trail.

A puzzle stream crossing. 

Ambrose did fine, but he does have longer legs and less paranoia about getting water in his boots than I do. 

Ambrose got across it with no problems, but I ended up a bit stuck on the final log, because the submerged rock I had to step onto from the last log seemed to be too far under the water. I sometimes allow water to get into my boots, but only at the end of a trip. I do not like the way feet smell when they combine with wet boots. Eventually, I went for it and made it without getting my socks wet.

And then the trail began the serious portion of the day’s uphill. I hiked ahead of Ambrose and browsed on thimbleberries while I waited for him to catch up. I ran across other berries, too, but none that I could identify positively enough to eat. I mean, in an emergency, I probably would have eaten the red seeded ones that looked like raspberries, but I was not in that kind of situation.

This log blocked the trail at a most inconvenient height – plus the ground was soft, making a good step hard to get. 

We began climbing up and the sun was coming to meet us. 

Not sure exactly what these berries are, but they’re probably edible… 

We were taking breaks every 50 minutes according to the altibaro timer, and at one of them I had to take a longer break to answer a call of nature. Ambrose walked on I followed after I’d concluded my business. I’d given him a nice long head start, and the trail went from uphill to radical steep. But that didn’t keep me from looking at the scenery around me. Sure, I was mostly scanning for where Ambrose was ahead of me, but I also noticed this weird clump in an otherwise dead tree. It looked like a huge nest or maybe even a creature clinging to the branches. I tried to get a zoomed in picture of it, but I couldn’t discern what it really was.

I headed off to catch up to Ambrose. 

No idea what that clump in the trees is. 

The trail started to get serious about climbing. 

I counted paces when the trail got super steep; I thought that I’d be going up 100 feet in 100 steps, but I only went up 50 feet in 100 steps. Still, that’s plenty steep. And I could see Ambrose ahead of me, so even with the steepness, I pressed on with the energy of a chaser.

There he is! 

A little respite from the steepness brought us close to the water again.

I caught him when the trail decided to flatten out a bit. I could see from the map that we would get to another creek crossing soon. According to the guidebook, there would be a bridge, but the guidebook’s reliability had been seriously called into question by its description of the mythical Hand Camp.

The bridge ended up being real. We crossed it, but I was watching the banks and it seemed like the best place to get water was on the side we had just crossed from. So we turned around to have a sit and pump some water. I got the water this time. I’ve found that a bra is a really handy place to stick the cap of our water bags. They’ll fall out of pockets, but the bra keeps them secure, snug and ready at hand. Too bad Ambrose can’t use that method.

We crossed the bridge. 

And then crossed back to get water and take a snack break in the sun. 

After we crossed the bridge for the second time, the trail followed a sidestream for a while and then switchbacked up and back to following Hand Creek. The land here was green, showing fewer signs of burn scarring. We could hear the water as we hiked and I paused to take pictures when the stream treated us to little waterfalls.

Going up!

While the water comes down. 

The trail continued to take us up, but the water grew more distant and we reached a trail junction that wasn’t quite as I expected it to be by the map. The map had a four way junction; this was only three way. But one direction led to Crane Meadows, as expected, so we continued hiking along the Chamberlain trail, not realizing that we had just stepped onto the diversion trail that the guidebook mentioned.

We just keep going up. 

I like when there are signs.

Three way junction when the map shows four – this should have been a clue. 

The guidebook wrote that the trail had been diverted around Hand Meadows because of their fragile ecology. But it wasn’t specific enough on where and how that diversion would occur. I thought that it would be after the campsite it mentioned, but now I’m convinced it was before. We found the campsite, though it was too early for us to stop for the evening, and I dumped my pack on the trail and hiked down to explore its potential suitability for future trips.

Here again, I made a crucial error. Once I found that the campsite had water access, I should have insisted that we fill up, or at least get enough water for lunch. But my feet hurt and the camp, though roomy and clearly usable, smelled like horse poop, so I didn’t want to spend the time there. I don’t know why I expected there to be more water, but I did. We marked the site on the GPS and the map and hiked on.

Plenty of room to pitch a tent here, though the aroma is not the most pleasant. 

The trail stayed on the ridge, avoiding Hand Meadows.

And on, and on, and on. I stopped for yet another call of nature while Ambrose hiked on. We both consulted the map and the GPS. Our positions weren’t clear on either. The GPS didn’t actually have any trails; only natural features and selected landmarks. It sometimes seemed like we were following a trail on it, but we were only following watercourses – which were often labeled differently on the screen than they were on the map. When I caught Ambrose again, he told me to hike ahead until I reached water.

I found a bird, but no water. 

Off I went, a woman on a mission. I barely paused to take pictures. Except when I saw birds. Or spider webs scrawled across the trail. The terrain was quite pretty. The trail led me through green pine forests that would only have been improved by the music of nearby water.

I kept expecting, in every little gully to find water. I’d pause and listen for a telltale flow, only to hear nothing but the wind whispering through the trees and my own breathing.

I walked on and started to worry about how long it was taking me to get to water. We needed to reach water to have lunch and both of us were low in our bladders as well. Plus, I was getting a lot farther ahead of Ambrose than I had planned on.

Out of the shady forest, but still no water.

But at least most of the route was in the shade.

I intended to keep going until I reached water, but the trail had other ideas for me. I ran into a four way junction and had to stop. See, I learned my lesson when Ambrose and I hiked to Snowslide Lakes – never walk past a junction without my hiking partner. Such an action only results in footsore heartache.

Here’s a four way junction! 

And I was ready for a break and some serious map examination.

I munched on some dark chocolate covered dried mango and determined that the bypass the guidebook mentioned had brought us to a spot on the map that had a three way junction. I drew a crude line of what our path might have been on the map and then got my Kindle out to read until Ambrose caught up.

When  he arrived, I explained the situation. According to the guidebook, we had two more miles until we reached the last water for five miles. And, he demonstrated what a good choice I had made to wait, because he said he would have picked the path to the right, when our trail was to the left.

He settled down to take a break while I headed off again, hoping to reach water as soon as possible and get started on preparing lunch before he arrived.

I soon left the forested area behind in favor of areas recovering from burns. The burn was long enough ago that many of the trees were twice my height in some sections, where others barely came to my shoulders. The new growth was interspersed with old fallen logs, and the trail was sandy and loose, without much undergrowth. There was little shade to be had and I could feel the lack of water beginning to affect me, psychologically if nothing else.

Not the easiest trail to follow, but we both figured out the path independently. 

There were a few places where I almost lost the trail in the sand and humps of grass. Usually, the answer was to go straight through the clump of grass that was obscuring the trail, despite the seemingly clearer route offered to the left or right.

Sooner than I expected, the trail curved to the right and spilled elevation down to a stagnant looking, fly and moss covered puddle of a water source. I dropped my pack and frowned at it. I had another call of nature to answer, but once I finished, I checked upstream of the puddle.

It’s … water. 

Through tangles of brush, I found a small, but flowing, stream. So I got the pot out and my water bags and started the process of filling. My plan was just to get enough so I could prepare lunch, at first. After Ambrose arrived and we’d both eaten, I could get more. I settled into the shade of a tree trunk, took my boots and socks off and started filtering water to make our dark chocolate cheesecake lunches.

I’d only filled one baggie with the requisite amount of water before Ambrose arrived. He dumped his pack across the trail from me and began his own break time/lunch time routine. I was doggedly focused on getting lunch ready, needing a substantial meal before I felt human enough for conversation again.

Okay, okay, maybe a double serving of rehydrated dark chocolate cheesecake isn’t normally considered a substantial meal, but it totally counted as one in the context. A very gustatorily satisfying meal.

Ambrose mixed us up some coconut water to drink from his stash of powder and we filled up our water bladders as well. I was still putting my boots back on when he was ready to go, so he hiked on ahead. Before he was even out of sight, he yells back at me. I am prepared to rush to his aid, but he just pointed at the trail ahead of him and laughed. “There’s water here,” he yelled.

I was confused. I’d found us water – what did it matter if there was water there too? And then, after I was ready to go and got my pack there I saw what he meant. The stream that we had stopped by was the little sister to the stream just around the next bend. I tried to comfort myself that it wasn’t much deeper than the flow than i’d found, so it wouldn’t have been any easier to get water from it, but I felt bad for stopping at the first water when there was better water so close. Better seeming water.

There was more water about ten  yards farther down the trail… 

Still, we got water. We ate lunch. It was funny that there was more water so close by, and Ambrose didn’t mean anything negative towards me by laughing at the situation.

I walked out my chagrin at stopping too soon for water as the trail ascended. I caught up to Ambrose as he passed by one of the few trees on the ridge we were climbing. The area had been burned, but longer in the past than the previous section, or maybe it had just recovered better. Many of the logs had fallen and grass had grown up, allowing for a sweeping view of rolling meadows and distant mountains.

This was a day of rewarding views. 

And an afternoon with a dearth of shade. 

I was keeping good track of our location on the map as we hiked along. I would go ahead of Ambrose for a time and then stop and wait for him. We were starting to run short on daylight, so I walked until the timer told me our 50 minutes were up and then I’d find a shady spot to stop and wait. Ambrose would end up walking longer than 50 minute segments, but he had found a pace that allowed him to keep moving.

I had some frustration at our overall pace. The area was beautiful, and I was glad to be out there with my husband, but I wanted to be moving faster. Despite our resolution to eat dinner at 5, we were hiking along at 4pm with our destination miles away. Our pace was faster than 1 mile per hour, but slower than 2. And it was 5 miles from the last water that we left around 3 to the next water and our evening’s campsite. I couldn’t help but keep running and running the numbers in my head.

And then I’d see another sweeping vista and stop caring.

Nowhere near where we needed to be, but so pretty. 

The clouds added the perfect accent to the blue sky and green land. 

I was watching out for a four way junction that I could see on my map. According to the guidebook, the junction was now three way because of lapsed trail maintenance. I thought I was keeping an eagle eye out, but I didn’t see it where I expected to based on the terrain.

When I stopped for a break well after the elevation where it should have been, and Ambrose caught up to me for his break, I mentioned it to him. He claimed to have spotted the remnants of the trail. I wish that I’d been able to catch it.

He was definitely pushing himself on the trail that day, keeping a good steady pace, but I could see the effort in his face, sweat streaming down to his wide smile.

I knew we didn’t have a whole lot more uphill to go on this day, but every time I thought we’d reached the end of the rolling terrain, we came upon one more incline. So I stopped saying anything about it in the hopes that I’d stop jinxing us.

The micro view was beautiful too. 

I can’t wait to see what this trail looks like in ten years, when the little trees have had a chance to grow tall. 

We rolled our way to another ridge and saw a mysteriously straight meadow far ahead.

I zoomed in with the camera to see if I could identify any structures, or even see any planes. I thought I could see some structures, but not for certain. And the only way to find out for sure was going to be to get there. So we kept going, step by step over the rolling ridges, glimpsing the airport growing closer when the land dropped away in front of us.

Hm, a straight line in the middle of the wilderness… 

The sun was heading down, but we could only keep walking. 

We made our way to the downward switchbacks mentioned in the guidebook and I found myself needing to answer another call of nature in a section of young pine trees, each no taller than my chest. They were short, but plentiful, and I had to step carefully over old fallen trees concealed by the young green branches.

It was also a bit difficult to find an open enough spot to carry out my business. I ended up in a quite precarious position with broken branches and pine needles threatening my flesh at the slightest movement.

And when I finished, I had a hard time catching up with Ambrose. The trail wound its way around and down a ridge. At every turn, I expected to see him, or at least see the trail below me. But the tree cover down below was too thick to discern where the trail might be heading.

We’re getting close – here’s a trail junction. 

I reached the down below and finally saw Ambrose ahead. Soon after I passed him, I found a trail intersection. I could turn right and go to Cold Meadows, but what I wanted was the Chamberlain Air Strip, which should have been close ahead. The guidebook claimed that there was a bridge coming, and I could hear the water flowing.

Then the bridge appeared, past some damp ground and grasses. A welcome sight at that time of day, not only because it meant we were nearly at our destination, but also because it meant that we would have water nearby for dinner and refills. We crossed the bridge and hiked up a steep 40 feet to the air strip’s plateau.

The bridge!

Chamberlain Creek to the east. 

There, a sign pointed us toward Red Top Meadows to the left and we followed it, not liking the look of the trees between us and the air strip. There were a lot of fallen logs in one section and tight packed pines in the next. Nothing looked welcoming until I saw a structure on the trail ahead.

Have I mentioned how much I love signs?

And then we spotted a campsite cleared in the trees. And another ahead of it, both containing genuine fire pits and featuring log benches. It was a quarter to eight in the evening and the sun was already setting.

The structure was the most beautiful, cleanest backcountry toilet that I’ve ever seen. Only some of that impression was due to the fact that I was tired and hungry and ready to settle down for the night.

It’s hard to explain how exciting it is to see an outhouse on your third day trekking into the wilderness. 

It was Ambrose’s turn to do the tent, so I went back down to the creek to get water. I took both of our bladders and the three water bags that were still holding water. We’d discovered that one of the small bags leaked, so it would only be useful for transporting water, not filtering it. I also took my Kindle since filtering water could be a long job.

The bank that we’d approached the creek from had the best water access so I recrossed the bridge and walked down to the water’s edge. I used my pot and filled the bags and set both the bladders up for filling. I’d hold the water bags above the bladders to speed the filtering and I read a book with one bag in my hand.

A nice bank to get water from. 

And somehow, I managed to puncture Ambrose’s water bladder, a fact that I noticed only when I had finished with everything and was putting everything back in my otherwise empty pack. Rather than putting the leaking bladder into my pack, I carried it in my hands like an injured puppy and zoomed back to camp to tell him the bad news.

Bladder puncture 🙁

I was a bit disappointed to see that the tent was not yet erected when I got close to the campsite, but I knew that was because I was too hungry to think straight. Ambrose had had trouble with the tape sealant that we needed to apply to the hole in the floor of the tent, but he’d gotten it all set when I walked up and told him the problem.

He reacted well, I think. Considering we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. We drained the bladder into the pot for dinner and our water bottles so as not to waste the filtered water. Then he used the sealant from his sleeping pad’s fix-it kit to repair the pinhole puncture. It dried as I cooked dinner and he pitched the tent on a spot that he’d groomed with a broom borrowed from the toilet. The ground was nice and flat, but the broom helped keep our tent floor safe from the depredations of pine cones.

By the time dinner was ready to eat, the sun was down. The moon was rising over the tent and we took out our headlamps.  We ate on the logs around the fire pit, taking turns devouring the rehydrated chicken ala king that we can’t seem to get tired of on backpacking trips. The food improved my mood, though I still didn’t like how late we were getting to bed.

Good night camp. 

We agreed to sleep in a little bit since we’d been up so late. I set the alarm and got my maps into order for the next day. I also read the guidebook section about the next day aloud.

And then I wrote my fiction words by headlamp and did a little reading the same way. The Kindle runs a lot longer without the backlight, so using my headlamps makes more sense. I can carry extra batteries for my headlamp – and I do – so I’m less chary about using it up than about using up the Kindle charge on backlight. But I didn’t stay up too late with it. Not after that long day.

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