The alarm went off at 5 am this morning. We wanted to actually stop by and check out the Chicken Peak lookout this time around, and this was going to be one of our longest days on the trail, so we had to get moving and get moving early. I wasn’t sure where the other couple had ended up, but I didn’t see any sign of them in the early morning darkness.
After waking, there are a number of chores that I do still in the tent, even still in my sleeping quilt. Like, I’ll change my clothes from sleep clothes to hiking clothes. And I stay on my sleeping pad until it’s time to fold it up, because it’s a nice warm place to sit that doesn’t have rocks to poke my rear. On this particular morning, I turned from being on my left side to being on my right side, I forget specifically why, but I was maneuvering for something.
And when I turned, I heard this thwumping sound from the sleeping pad. And I felt something vibrate as if torn. It freaked me out and I actually hopped over to Ambrose’s pad (he was out of the tent at the moment), and looked at it. It didn’t appear to be torn, and it was retaining air, so I decided it was fine and proceeded to deflate and fold it up for travel.
We headed out before the sun broke the horizon. Clouds were in the east, so there was some excellent sunrise lighting, but no direct sun, yay. I hiked pretty fast to start, because I could feel that I might need to dig a hole soon and I wanted to reach a decent spot to do that while I still had a choice.
|My picture of sunrise clouds…|
|Ambrose’s sunrise picture.|
Not far from Mosquito Springs, I came across a patch of snow on the trail. I love seeing snow on the trail. I grew up in Illinois, so the idea of snow being outside in July is wholly outside of my conception of the world growing up. It delights me – and, in this case, it also told me that the other couple had not yet passed this way, because there were no footprints.
Not long after, I found my spot to dig a hole, and while I was doing my business, Ambrose caught up and decided the spot would do for him as well. When we were both finished we took a brief break before heading on.
Straight line distance from Mosquito Springs to Chicken Peak isn’t that far, but we had climbing to do and some major switchbacks to follow. But the trail was relatively well maintained, and I reached Chicken Peak just after the sun had crested the horizon. Ambrose got there a bit after, and, together, we hiked up to the lookout – a short, but steep ascent.
It was totally worth the detour. There’s a reason they chose that spot for a lookout – you can see for miles in every direction from there. I could definitely see and pinpoint the Sheepeater lookout, and there were two more that I couldn’t name in view. The structure itself is still standing, but not in any kind of repair. It would be cool if it could be fixed up for rental/use by hikers, but I don’t know if I’d want to stay there; water’s not easily accessible.
|Ambrose and I took pictures of each other across the saddle where we camped one year.|
|Ambrose’s shot of me.|
|Oh, yes, I did pitch a tent on that spot one year. In the dark.|
We headed down together, but didn’t get far before Ambrose realized that he had left his trekking poles leaned against the door. That certainly wouldn’t do! I graciously agreed to go fetch them for him, for a price to be agreed upon later. Pretty sure he still owes me for that one. . .
When we got back down to the trail, we then had to navigate a giant snow bank to continue. This pile was taller than Ambrose and covered an area the size of a big family’s living room. Ambrose led the way, kick-stepping into the snow to provide a traction for his boots. I followed mostly in his steps; I can’t always make the same stride length that he can. I thought about going off to one side and sliding off the bank, but decided to be safety-mouse and follow Ambrose. After all, he was putting a lot of effort into those kick steps.
|The high point in the middle is the Sheepeater Lookout.|
I’ve climbed up to Chicken Peak on the north side twice; it’s always taken a long time and felt just horribly long and steep. Hiking down that way is so much easier. We passed by a small snowbank near the top, and I got snowballs for both of us to put under our hats. When it gets hot, having snow melting on your head feels really nice.
And I was getting hot, though we were in shade for a good stretch on the descent. We had to switch ridges, and that left us exposed to the merciless heat of the sun. I was hiking ahead of Ambrose again, and as I hiked along my map case strap abruptly took leave of its position, leaving me with a case that had a strap only on one side.
I tried to rig it to be used with just one strap, but it wasn’t going to work. So I took a break in the meager shade of the only standing tree I could find and settled down to sew the strap on. It’s a nylon webbing strap, attached to a bird seed bag with dyneema tape and duct tape. I had needle and thread, so I used those to create a secure connection. The needle didn’t really like going through the duct tape, and got thoroughly gunked up, but I was able to do it.
Ambrose came by when I was still working and went on ahead to the next water for a break. I finished what I was doing and then went and caught up with him. The next water was farther away than my memory told me it should be, but I could have been misremembering – after all, we’d only ever hiked this area in late afternoon before, and it looked different in morning light.
|I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much water at this spot. I’ve seen it totally dry before.|
We made good time through the section of the ridge that has springs, and then came out onto the burned area right around lunch time. This section of trail is not a great spot for lunch, because it aggressively lacks shade. I stopped at an adequate spot and waited for Ambrose to catch up and make the call on stopping here for lunch or going on and stopping elsewhere.
We were prepping lunch in our meager shade when the other couple hiked up. Clearly, they were not so inexperienced as I first thought. When Ambrose asked, they revealed that they hadn’t left their campsite on the ridge until 9. Yeah, they are much, much faster than we are. They went on ahead, hoping to hit water before stopping for lunch.
Ambrose was still less hungry than he should have been and had trouble getting lunch down, even thought it was the wonderful Trailtopia cheesecake. Neither of us really wanted to linger at the hot spot either. I was a bit obsessed with getting the next section done – 600 feet of climbing after Four Way Junction and then it was just rolling along on the ridgeline. Ambrose left the lunch spot before I did, but I did catch up to him and pass him before running into the couple again.
They had found decent shade right near the water – but the water wasn’t really where I remembered it being. It didn’t look right from this direction! I stopped and chatted with them a bit more then, even asked if they’d done any of the ICT in case I could get any intel. Nothing I could use, though they had tried Dry Saddle in the last few years, the trip got cancelled early due to smoke conditions.
After Ambrose caught up, I decided to hike on. I pushed myself on this stretch, because I wanted a good workout and I wanted not to get passed. These hikers may be fast, but by myself I’m faster! I went without stopping for a break until I was sure I had done most, if not all, of the climb, AND when I found a spot of decent shade. Difficult to do through this burned section of Sheepeater Ridge.
|I saw deer or elk running through these trees moments before I was able to take this picture.|
I sat against a log and thought about what I would do if I saw the couple again. I decided to ask for their email so I could at least try to advertise my writing to folks who might appreciate it. A bold choice for me, but one I should start making if I want to sell more books.
I knew they were approaching when I heard the guy exclaim in frustration about how the trail was avoiding where trees where grown and casting shade. I agreed with his sentiment, surprising him I think. They stopped and we chatted one last time. I did ask for and receive their email, so I gave myself a pat on the back for that. That was the last time that I saw them, but I hope their trip went well.
I waited at my spot a bit longer for Ambrose to catch up, but then I thought he might prefer to meet me closer to the campsite. So I decided to hike on a bit. At the next shady spot I found, I dumped my pack so I could go dig a hole. He wasn’t there when I got back so I did the one thing that would guarantee to bring his arrival.
I took off my boots and socks.
It took a few minutes, but the trick worked. He arrived looking wrecked and without the buff he’d been using to hold back his hair. He took himself a break and then we moved on together to the frog tarn. It took a long time, and we had more climbs and more barren stretches. Once we reached the tarn though, itt was much as I remembered, down to the spot where we camped. It’s hard to get water from a boggy body of water like this, so I went out with care to fill our water bags, Ambrose being too tired to do that chore at the time.
I ended up circling around the water a bit until I found a spot where I could step from tuft of grass to tuft of grass to large rock and then dip water out from there. I saw some tadpoles wrigglng around in various stages of development, and the whole place smelled like animals.
Before setting up the tent, I explored the other side of the tarn to see if there might be better camping over there. I couldn’t find any, though I did find a lead rope fastened to a tree. While I usually try to pack stuff like that out, those ropes are heavy and I left it where I found it.
When I got back to Ambrose, I could see gigantic thunderheads boiling up in the southern sky. Winds were blowing the clouds right for us and we could hear thunder rumbling. Ambrose focused on getting dinner ready and I focused on getting the tent ready for rain.
Of course, by the time we had started eating, the clouds had all blown away to the east side of the ridge and on north. We never got a drop of rain from those clouds.
It was nice to be all done with chores and ready to get in the tent though, because mosquitos just love stagnant water and there were plenty of pools around here. I got several bites at that tarn, including inside the tent when one got in.
When I blew up my sleeping pad, I found out what had happened with the morning’s thwump. Ambrose told me the particular thing that happened to it is called “delaminating” but I’d never heard of it. Basically, the pad has several vertical chambers, say 6 of them, and they help keep the insulation distrubuted evenly and give shape to the pad. My pad went from having 6 to having 5 when the divider between 2 gave up the ghost.
This left me with a lumpy pad, essentially. One side was sticking up higher than the rest, rolling me away from that side of the pad. This was not ideal for sleeping or relaxation, but I didn’t want to turn back for it. Ambrose told me to decide in the morning if I wanted to bail because of it; bailing wouldn’t have occurred to me since the pad still functioned, but I was concerned that this delamination would spread to the other chambers and I’d be left with a very weird pad.
We both slept pretty early that night. It had been a long, tiring day, and the next day was going to be short and easy.