I hoped we weren’t disturbing the ICT hiker when our alarm went off, but surely he also needed to get going relatively early. He had said he hiked slow, but that means different things to different people. He was just starting to stir when I got out of the tent, and he didn’t emerge before Ambrose and I were ready. We left with a cursory goodbye as Clay was still getting packed up. The sun wasn’t over our horizon, but it was bright enough to hike without headlamps. 

Bright, and cold. While our nights on the high lakes and ridges had been unusually warm, we now woke up to a light rime of frost on the ground. Even Ambrose wore his down jacket as we started our hike. 

Chamberlain Creek was lovely as we hiked over the bridge, and I made sure I could find the junction that we’d taken last time. This time we’d be going straight on to Lodgepole Creek, a route we’ve taken several times before. It’s five miles from Chamberlain to the next source of water, and it can be a beast, especially in the afternoon. In the mornings, not so bad. 

Unfortunately for Ambrose, who I know wanted to test his new speed against this known section of trail, I was not feeling great. My feet were feeling tender, and my body just wasn’t feeling great. Neither of us were going to be in shape to make the extra 2 miles of hiking to get to Crane Meadows, so we reverted back to what our original plan had been, which was a campsite just off the trail near the junction to Crane Meadows. I mean, I still kind of wanted to do go to the meadow, but I also felt like I’d been wrung out by the day we hiked to Sheepeater Lake and hadn’t had a chance to recover. Ambrose felt the same. 

And so, we made our way towards where Lodgepole Creek crossed our trail slowly. I pushed myself past the point where I wanted to ask for an early break several times that morning. I misplaced where I was on the trail, and how close we were to the creek, several times. I knew we had the first big climb, and then a little saddle to switch ridges. Then switchbacks up. 

But my memory elided several sections. Long sections. It seemed, at times, like an entirely new trail rather than one I’d hiked before. I found myself growing frustrated with myself for how slow I needed to go. I just wanted to be there now so we could get on to the next section of the hike, from Lodgepole to the four-way junction, and then especially on to the section after that, which we’d only hiked once before on our very first foray into the River of No Return Wilderness. Alas, there were more switchbacks to hike up. More ridges to traverse. More, more, more!

I wanted more breaks. I wanted longer breaks. I was not feeling happy about not being the leader, and I was not feeling happy about hiking together. Not because I didn’t like being near Ambrose, I did and do like that. I just wanted to be able to hike ahead and take extra breaks like I used to when Ambrose wasn’t as fast. I am happy that he is hiking faster, but I had no idea how much harder hiking would be for me without those extra breaks. 

I think Ambrose was feeling a bit of frustration as well, maybe with the trail, maybe with my lackluster performance. It was break time, but neither of us really wanted to stop because we both thought that Lodgepole Creek was “just around the next bend.” This was a bad idea, skipping a break. We know this. But we kept hiking. Because “just around the next bend!” 

Pro tip: If I ever tell you that something’s just around the next bend when we’re backpacking together, know that this means essentially nothing. It could indeed be around the next bend. Or it could be ten bends down the line, the truth is no one knows. 

This time was one of the longer ones… It took us nearly two hours to actually arrive at the creek. So, we proved that we can hike when we’re a bit worn out for two hours without a break. But then we had a stupid fight at the creek over the water filtering, basically over semantics and the understanding of who was doing what. I was feeling a bit of a time crunch with the break times that Ambrose was giving me, so I was out of sorts. And, of course, we both needed to eat. 

The next section of the trail also seemed to stretch out way farther than I remember it being. I do think that it was rerouted since our very first time, but we’ve definitely hiked it along this route before. It’s just long, and a lot of it has little to no shade. It’s a relief when the trees start getting tall enough to cast a bit of shade, but the real relief doesn’t come until we enter the old growth forest that didn’t burn. It’s pretty amazing to walk into that old forest and feel how not only the air temperature but the very texture of the trail changes. It gets softer and even a bit moister, good healthy dirt, instead of packed sandy dirt. 

The softer surface was a relief on my feet. They’d start to ache about 20 minutes after a break ended, and I’d just grit it out until the next break. The nice thing about the Softstar boots was that the break really did make my feet feel better. With prior boots, once my feet started hurting for the day, they’d hurt for the rest of the day. I think it’s because they have room for my feet to be swollen, so I don’t have that constant compression happening anymore. 

Once we got to the old growth forest, it wasn’t far to the four-way junction, which is where we wanted to stop for lunch. 

I took my boots off since Ambrose said he wasn’t in a hurry. It’s actually quite nice to do a boots-off break at lunch I’ve discovered. Now that I’ve got natural foot shaped boots, my feet don’t need to get out because they need a break from tight boots, but just to cool off a bit. And get a bit of massage as thanks for their hard work. 

After lunch, we started down the eastern branch of the junction. It was, as I remembered it, a nice bit of trail. Its only failing is that there’s no water, though this time we came across a small streamlet that I absolutely would have used if I’d found it the first time. I’d call it desperation water. 

That section also took longer than I wanted it to. It meanders around Hand Meadow, never really giving any views of it. My understanding is the trail used to go through Hand Meadow, but after a fire many years ago, they rerouted it to allow the elk more undisturbed habitat. There is a section of trail where the meadows are a little in view, but I didn’t really look this time. That would have meant looking back, and I was very, very focused on moving forward at this point. I just wanted to get there and be done for the day and maybe take a nap. Judging by the amount of scat we saw, the elk are appreciating the trail reroute.

The trail makes a turn when it leaves the Hand Meadows area, and I remembered climbing up the side of the ridge the first time we came by here, looking for a place to dig a hole. After we passed by that section, I knew that I had to keep an eye out to find our campsite. 

I was looking around at everything, looking for the camping spot that I found the first time we hiked up. It was down from the trail, away from the junction and had good access to water. What more would we need? 

I thought I’d spotted it at one point, but I wasn’t certain, so we kept hiking. That was the correct choice, because a bit farther on I saw it for sure. At last! Camp! Finally! We made our way down from the trail and dumped all our stuff at the first shady spot. 

Yeah, turns out that was practically on top of an ant hill so we ended up moving from there.

I went to get water while Ambrose took a nap in some shade he found a bit up on the hill. I got the water bags filled, but I was getting a bit stupid with exhaustion/hunger. I had a bit of trouble figuring out where to hang the bags for gravity filtering. After his nap, Ambrose was refreshed enough to step in and help me. I clearly needed to eat. So, I found some shade of my own and cracked open my chocolate almond butter. 

I hadn’t brought this particular nut butter out backpacking before exactly. It’s by Noosh, and last year we had brought out single serving packets of it. I like the flavor and texture, very smooth for almond butter. So instead of getting a bunch of little singles, this year we just got a jar. The only problem was that it needed stirring! The oil had separated and there was nothing to do but get to work stirring – carefully. I didn’t want to spill any of the oil. Those were the calories I really needed! After much stirring, I decided it was good enough to eat and got to work. It’s very calorie dense, and that’s just what I was looking for on that day. 

After I got replenished with food and water, I found a place to set up the tent. There were less options that I’d thought there would be, but part of that was because of the ants. I prefer not to disturb those kinds of habitats if I can avoid it. I ended up relatively close to the fire ring, with a log as a border. I was almost done setting up the tent when I realized Ambrose was just sitting in the shade watching me when he could be taking picture of me! So, I took a brief break from pitching to go put the camera in his hand and demand a photo shoot while I finished up. He obliged. 

Then we chased the shade, and worked hard on recovery. That meant eating and drinking for both of us, and some self-massage for me. I try to rub CBD balm into my feet every night when backpacking. The massaging helps my feet feel better, and the balm helps keep hot spots from developing into blisters. As soon as the tent was in shade, we retreated inside, eager to get a good night’s sleep – especially since we planned to sleep in a bit.

Ambrose is ready to go – Clay is just waking up behind him.

I’m ready to go too!

Frost on the ground!

Here comes the sun.

Selfie on the bridge over Chamberlain Creek (best one yet).

There’s the junction we aren’t taking.

Svelte Ambrose is warm enough to take off the jacket.

I am lagging behind.

The sun isn’t torturously hot yet. 

In the center of the horizon is a little bump. That’s Sheepeater Lookout. We climbed it 🙂

How are we not there yet?

More uphill…


These trees are a lot taller than the first time we hiked through here.

The bear grass hasn’t quite bloomed yet on this ridge.

Lodgepole Creek is surely just around the next bend.

Ambrose crossing Lodgepole Creek.

The second crossing.

Now here’s some blooming bear grass!

Now for the exposed part of the day’s hike.

I can’t wait to get to the old forest.

There’s more shade here, but it’s still very warm.

Ah, now it’s cooling off.

Here’s a good spot for lunch.

Yes, I absolutely would have gathered water from that puddle if it had been there in 2016.
Every time Ambrose or I touched a bear grass bloom, a poof of pollen would fill the air. I don’t think I could have captured the cloud of pollen if I tried, but I got it by accident. 

This beautiful old forest section is taking longer than I expected to traverse.

Ambrose is taking the brunt of any spiderwebs spun across the trail.

Almost past Hand Meadows.

Haven’t been here in years!

It almost looked like someone had built a wall here.


Packs leaning on a tree and water bags hanging from a tree – photo by Ambrose.

Ambrose got a picture of me finishing my pitch of the tent.

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