We slept in a bit this morning, since our destination was only a couple of miles away. Got up at 6 instead of 5, so lazy. We got moving at a leisurely pace, though not too leisurely considering we were already being beseiged by mosquitos despite the early time. There were little ducks on the tarn that I couldn’t seem to get good pictures of, but they didn’t look like mallards or wood ducks.
I went on ahead again, and waited for Ambrose just below the junction to the Sheepeater lookout. Every time we’re here, it seems, we think about going up to take a look, maybe say hello if someone is still manning it, but we never have. I figured this wasn’t the year to go knocking on strangers’ doors, so once Ambrose caught up I asked if we could just go on and he agreed.
|The remains of an old bridge over a stream that no longer runs.|
The start of the descent to Sheepeater Lake is pretty scary. The trail is on rock and you’ve got a wall of rock on one side and a steep fall on the other. But it mellows out pretty quickly, and I was able to find a spot to go off and dig a hole right around break time. In fact, it might have been a bit too easy.
Other than the fact that the outlet from Sheepeater was actually full of flowing water, this part of the hike felt familiar and easy. We might have had an attitude of ease that led to less caution, or the rocks may have reached out to grab Ambrose, but in either case, he was hiking along as a fast clip down the trail when he stumbled on a rock and twisted his right ankle, which has a history of twisting.
I went directly into Rescue Ranger mode. He was on the ground with his pack on, and I talked him through getting the pack off without standing up and shoved some Aleve and Tylenol down his gullet. Then he tested out the ankle, found it could support his weight and continued hiking. I was feeling a bit like a mother hen at that point, but I was glad to see him walking more than anything.
I stuck close to him as we continued down and took the junction over to Fish Lake. Which immediately led us into tree problems. One after another after another, each requiring climbing that challenged Ambrose’s injury. The trail was going away from the lake with no sign of getting to a campsite, so we turned around and struck directly for the water.
I’m sure there are reasons to visit Fish Lake. Maybe there are fish, if you are into fishing and don’t mind getting very wet. But I, personally, have no desire to go back. It’s all wet meadows and bogs and although I liked the lily pads, those alone are not worth it. I hunted for a spot to camp near that lake, trying to remember where the designated spot should be according go the maps I’d seen.
I got wet feet and a big pile of nothing for my trouble. At one point, I left Ambrose behind while I searched. He caught up to me as I was heading back and we took a break where I proposed a change to our itinerary.
Rather than staying at Fish Lake for the night, I proposed that we follow Fish Creek down to Red Top Meadows, and then hike until we passed the big, deep stream crossing and find a spot to camp there. Then we’d only be a few miles from the Chamberlain Air Strip, and could easily hike there in the morning and get more than half a day to spend at the known, good site with known, good access to water.
Ambrose agreed. Now we just had to make our way back to the trail…
He had spent his rest time looking at what the animals did, and he managed to lead us on a not super wet route to the side of the lake closest to the trail. From there, I found us a steep route back up to the trail and we were back in business.
We stopped for water at the outlet where the trail crosses the stream. Got a bit down the trail before stopping for lunch. We got a bit of cloud cover to protect from the sun, which was nice, though intermittent. The wind was a much better force for cooling going down that trail.
|Ambrose’s got his game face on.|
It has always seemed to take forever to go up this trail, but with the magic of gravity, it was much faster going down. Just over an hour from where we stopped for lunch to the next junction. The only thing that went wrong on that stretch was that my map case strap detached on the other side and I had to carry it in one of my hands for most of the hike down.
I guess I could have stopped and stuck it in the mesh pocket on my pack, but I was kind of enjoying making my grip work. Made it harder to take pictures though, because either my picture taking hand was occupied or I had to cross over and pull it out with the “wrong” hand.
I did sew it up once we reached the trail junction and took a break. I used up a good quantity of my backpacking duct tape to ensure the stitches wouldn’t pull out, so I might have to steal Ambrose’s for my solo trip. I have dyneema tape for tent and sleeping pad repairs, but duct tape comes in handy more often than you might think.
|Made it to the junction – mostly flat from here.|
Objectively, we didn’t have far to go at this point. Just a couple miles, no real elevation gain. Subjectively, it took forEVER. I was so hot. I just wanted to go jump in a lake. I was looking forward to getting to the next stream crossing soooo much, because it’s deep enough that I can easily take a dip.
The sun did hide for some of that portion of the hike, which was nice, but it was still stiflingly hot and my feet felt wet and sore in a way that I was not used to.
At long last, we made it to the stream crossing. This one is so deep that I actually took my pants completely off for the crossing. They don’t dry very quickly, so I don’t like to get them wet right before camping if I can help it. When I took my boots off, I saw that my toes were all wrinkly and the skin felt tight and sore somehow. I wasn’t happy to see that, because my boots are supposed to be waterproof, but I figured my feet had sweated a lot and that could have been how my feet got wet, rather than water leaking into the boots…
I knew the crossing would be deep, so I fastened my hip belt behind my back to keep it from trailing in the water – I didn’t fasten it around me because you want to be able to bail from your pack should you fall on a crossing. But on this crossing, I could probably just leave it fastened. The water is deep, but very slow moving. It’s not a risky crossing.
After I got the pack across, I dumped it on a convenient log. Ambrose went on and yelled back not to put my shoes on yet. I was more focused on stripping off my shirt so I could take a dip.
And yet, when I actually stepped into the water, it felt too cold. So I walked out farther to where it was deeper and then it was somehow easier to just let myself submerge in the chilly water. I was so hot at that point, I didn’t even mind putting on my clothes while still mostly wet.
I had to hike my pants up, because there was another stream on the trail to get across. It’s been a high water year.
Ambrose went exploring for a campsite while I got my boots back on. He came back with a report of a maybe-would-do site. I asked if he minded if I looked around, and asked if he had gone up and back. He hadn’t, so I did.
And, in short order, I discovered an old fire pit and a perfectly adequate flat spot next to it. The spot was on a rise looking over Red Top Meadow, relatively close to the trail, but enough out of the way.
Also, this spot lacked the voracious clouds of insects that had been haunting our camps thus far. For that alone, I loved it. But it also had some charms. Not a whole lot of shade, but great breeze. And once we got the tent up, in the early evening, the animals started making their presences known. A turkey calling so loudly it should have been next to us. Choruses of wolves howling up and down the meadow.
When I went outside of the tent to brush my teeth, I found myself looking down at the river. There was something odd about the water, how it was moving, and as I looked, I realized that there was an animal in the water, swimming along. I called Ambrose out of the tent, and he grudgingly pulled himself out. He did get to see it though, a beaver right outside our door practically. Too bad I didn’t grab the camera to go brush my teeth!
I went to sleep with a headache. I’d gone too long without washing my hair and was paying the price. I did wash it that afternoon, but usually the headache, once it arrives, goes away overnight after a wash, rather than right away.