We didn’t have quite as far to go on this day, and a lot of the hiking would be downhill – losing all that elevation we had gained the day before. So we left a bit later, when the sky was actually light, but before the sun crested the ridge.

The start of the trail was nice. We had left the burned area behind and walked through shaded forest on a well-maintained dirt trail. I walked ahead because the men had business to attend to. The morning sky was hazy, but the air didn’t smell particularly smoky.

When the trail turned along a ridgeline, I stopped and dropped my pack at the side of the trail to tend to some business of my own. This time, I would not be caught out in sight of the trail. I was going to hike far enough off to be isolated. I could see Ambrose making his way towards me, but I didn’t wait for him. He would pass my pack and know I was behind him.

I climbed over the top of the ridge to get out of sight to dig my hole. A “toilet” with a view. When I made it back to my pack, it was just about time for break, but everyone was past me by now, so I had no way of telling them. I just had to hope they would figure it out.

And they did. They were stopped about a twenty minute walk from where I’d dropped my pack, sitting on the grass at the side of the trail in some shade. I joined them to take a break, but didn’t let the group linger long. The weather was currently perfect for hiking, and it wasn’t going to stay that way, so we had best make the most of it while we could.

We hiked as a group for the next section, along ridges, making our way to the fast descent that was coming up on the map, a zig-zag squiggle that would drop us a couple thousand feet down to Crooked Creek. The haze both concealed the views and added a degree of mystique to them.

The first drop was short, but steep, making Ambrose slow his pace for safety, while Bill and I went ahead. I stayed in the lead for a while, and I think Bill slowed down at one point, because I was ahead of both of them until I saw a campsite down across the ravine. I sat on a log and waited for the men to catch up so I could point it out to them.

We walked on as a group for a little bit before taking a break. There turned out to be a trail heading over to the campsite, so now we know how to get there. After the break, which was not in shade due to unfavorable terrain, Bill and Mike took the lead. I was in the middle while Ambrose took the rear guard position. The trail got truly steep at this point, and we were switchbacking a long way down to the creek.

I hoped to make it in one stretch, but my alarm rang for a break just after crossing a creek. I didn’t want to stop there because it was in shade and I actually felt a bit cold. But I did wait for Ambrose to get a bit closer before I hiked on, hoping to reach the bottom soon.

When it became clear that wasn’t happening, I stopped in some shade to wait for Ambrose so I could make him take a break. Bill was nowhere in sight, so I trusted that he would be taking breaks on his own schedule.

After the break, I went ahead on down to the creek. Bill was lounging in his chair above the creek. I dumped my pack so I could go find a place to dig a hole. When I came back from my business, Ambrose was walking along the trail in search of a better place to get water, since the trail was pretty high above the creek at this point.

So I went back to get my pack from where Bill was sitting and then followed Ambrose. I walked by a small stagnant pool and figured he wouldn’t want to stop there. And I crossed a tiny side stream, and I wondered why he hadn’t stopped there.

Then I heard Ambrose yelling ahead. I thought he said, “Stay there!” So I frowned and sat down at the side of the trail, figuring he had good reason. Then I realized he was yelling, “Hey bear!”

And I got up and found him sitting on the creek bank, still yelling, “Hey bear!”

Because just before I’d walked up, a bear had walked up, startling Ambrose – for a moment, he thought it was Mike, but then he realized what was happening. Lucky for him, the bear as just as startled and took off downstream before Ambrose could do more than blink.

So we figured we’d let the bear get a good head start while we ate lunch. And then it was only a few more miles until Big Creek where we’d camp for the night. Bill and Mike went first, and then Ambrose. I lingered to take some pictures of a flower, but I caught up to Ambrose pretty quick.

And then it was a hot slog along the creek through fairly overgrown trail until Big Creek. At Monumental Bridge, I didn’t see Bill. I looked around a bit, but didn’t want to go too far from the trail junction before Ambrose arrived. So I sat on the bridge and waited. Bill and Mike eventually appeared from over the bridge, and then Ambrose came.

We crossed the bridge together to find a good spot to camp. There weren’t a lot of great options, because we needed shade to hide from the hot sun. The place we found barely had enough shade for all of us, but we managed. And took turns dipping into Big Creek to cool off.

Ambrose and I ended up cowboy camping because it was so warm. And we decided that we’d split up the next morning, since Bill could hike faster and had a much longer drive home.

Mike is ready to go already!

Pretty nice trail to start the day.

Clearly, there has been some recent work on it.

Haze obscuring distant ridges.

The men were just past those trees, sitting on the grass and taking a break. 

More cute Mike.

Starting to head downhill.

Where’s Ambrose?

Neat little campsite.

Trail down to campsite.

Pretty flowers. No idea what they are.

The serious downhill begins.

Still heading down.

Cool little stream. 

Glad I saw this bugger before I slipped my trekking poles back on my wrists.

One of more than a dozen switchbacks.

Trail junction at Crooked Creek.

Mike getting a break from his pack.

Decent trail to start.

This is where Ambrose was when he saw the bear.

I couldn’t figure out the name of this flower either.

There were some pretty tall grasses across the trail.

There were actually two bridges, one across Crooked Creek and the other across Big Creek.

This is the one across Big Creek, called Monumental Bridge.

This is where we lounged most of the afternoon, and where Ambrose and I eventually spread out a tarp to cowboy camp.

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