The next morning, we woke up pretty early. I had been hoping that the vaguely ill feeling that had been plaguing me for the last couple days would be gone after a night’s sleep in the outdoors. Unfortunately, I still felt out of sorts and not really ready for the kind of hike we were planning on doing. Still, I thought maybe if I pushed through the first mile, I’d feel better.
So I got up and got ready to go. Ambrose got ready as well, and we hopped into the car and drove over to the trailhead. It was close enough, I suppose, that we could have hiked to the trailhead along the road, but we decided against that course of action for this trip. We were going to try and climb a mountain, after all. No need for extra steps!
The morning air was damp, but smelled strongly of smoke. It almost looked foggy, but it was smoke that had been swept into the valley overnight. I drove us over to the trailhead and parked. There were no other vehicles parked there now; there had been one there yesterday, but it was gone. We would have the trail to ourselves, at least for a while.
Of course, we then had to make sure we were on the right trail. The trailhead had a sign, but there were a couple of paths that looked like trail coming out from there. We stuck with the one that started by paralleling the road, and that turned out to be the right choice.
The trail was nothing special in the beginning. The road was still close, so cars were audible. It led us through scattered tree cover and stretches of bushes, angling away from the road and towards the ridge. This hike may start out relatively flat, but it absolutely does NOT stay that way. A light uphill led us to a stream crossing. It was shallow enough for us to ford in boots – even my Softstars, which don’t have sealed seams. I had to be a bit more careful than Ambrose, finding rocks to stand on while he walked right on through. I do hope they come up with some completely waterproofed Softstar Switchback boots, because I love everything else about them.
Right after the stream crossing, and I mean right after, the trail took a 90 degree left turn and went uphill, angling up along the side of a ridge. Essentially, we were climbing up the side of a wide canyon. The smoke smell was still in the air, but as we climbed higher, it lessened. I was still dragging, but I figured we hadn’t quite gone a mile yet. If I just kept walking, I figured, then eventually I’d feel better about it. Right?
I looked up at Ambrose, pulling ahead of me again, and saw a deer up above him. I tried to point it out quietly, but he didn’t get it until I yelled “deer” and made a big gesture with my trekking pole. That also alerted the deer, unfortunately, so I wasn’t able to get a good picture of it. I should have taken the picture and then alerted Ambrose, but I wasn’t thinking very clearly. The uphill was making me feel worse, but I kept pushing through.
We finally stopped for a break, a bit before where Ambrose believed the trail would recross the stream. I was tired, but I figured maybe eating would make me feel better. I had a big snack, including a Built Puff and some candy. I wondered if I had perhaps not eaten enough the prior day. Well before I was ready to keep on hiking, Ambrose called the break over. I dragged myself up and kept on following him like a pack horse.
We did, in fact, reach the next stream crossing pretty soon after the break, but I think we had a good spot to break. Nearer the stream, it would have been cold and damp. The water was even shallower up here, and I had no trouble rock hopping it.
I had had some vague hope that the trail would mellow out a bit after the stream crossing. The trail took my hopes and smashed them, proceeding to a series of switchbacks even steeper than the trail we’d just been hiking.
I tried to focus on moving forward. There have been times on backpacking trips, when I’ve been days out from the trailhead, when I’ve just wanted to sit down and cry and quit. And those times have taught me that I can push further than I think. That knowledge gives me a bit of a reserve to tap into on days like this when I don’t want to hike. And, every time I push, I build up more reserve for next time.
The trail had a few flat sections. I reveled in those, but they were inevitably followed by another steep climb. And yet, even though I felt pretty bad, I didn’t forget to look around. As we got higher, we rose above the layer of smoke filling the canyons below us. I could almost imagine the smoke as fog, covering up an ocean, and the nearby ridges as islands.
I made sure to remind Ambrose to look back down, too. When we hiked closer together, he would talk about how the trail used to look. The ridge we were now climbing on was covered in grass and bushes, but the first time he came up the trail was hardly defined, and the grass was trampled to mud by the hooves of deer and elk. We reached a bit of a top out before the next break. The trail was transferring to another ridgeline, and we stopped in the sunshine and looked out over the smoke-filled canyon.
I made sure to eat heartily again. I was starting to think about where I might suggest turning back, because I was feeling worse the higher we climbed instead of better. I didn’t mind not having shade at this break, because I wasn’t warming up like I should be. I got up with less reluctance after this break, but that was only because the trail was kind of flat, maybe even a bit downhill, in this section.
We hiked on, crossing another small stream. After that stream, there were some spots that we could camp at in the future. We both knew, at that point, that we might not make the peak on this day, and it would be good to find spots to strike out from for next time. The trail continued to ascend, now through shady forest. Ambrose was looking for a particular spot to start heading off trail towards the peak, based off of his reading of the topo map at home and the GPS now. As the trail broke out of the trees, opening to high meadows, Ambrose found his spot. I was behind him, and still lagging as we neared 8000 feet in elevation.
I disconnected the camera from my pack and hooked it on to his, telling him to go on without me, because I wasn’t going to hike any farther on this day. I could see him wanting to turn back with me, but I’m glad he forged ahead. It reminded me of when I went ahead when we tried to climb Benedict Peak. I backtracked a bit to the trees so I could wait in the shade. The morning was finally warming up for me.
I first took a seat on a log, but when I leaned back, I saw the log I had chosen was under another log. Best not to chance that it might fall while I dozed there. So I went to the other side of the trail, where dirt under the trees had clearly been churned by many hooves. I thought the dirt might be comfortable to sit on.
I was right. I managed to snuggle down into quite a comfortable spot in the dirt. But a few things made me move. First, I thought I might need to dig a hole. Second, the dirt was beginning to leech heat out of me to the point where I was starting to feel cold again. And, lastly, the sun was on the move, as usual, and my spot was about to be no longer in shade.
I continued hiking down off the trail through the copse of trees. It was almost like a trail. I followed the route down and down, not wanting to go too far since I’d have to climb back up, but also curious. Why did this feel like a trail?
The answer turned out to be because it is used like a trail. Maybe thirty feet down from the trail, I found a metal post thrust into the ground and a bench made from a large split log. It looked like the perfect place to wait for Ambrose to return.
After I dug a hole, away from the bench spot, I tried the bench out. It was perfect. I mean, a little lumpy, but no bugs protested my presence. I could almost take a nap!
But if I were to fall asleep, I needed to make sure Ambrose could find me. I unclipped the carabiner holding my bandana/pee rag from my pack and hung it on a small tree where it would be visible from the direction Ambrose was going to come from. It would move with the wind and, hopefully, alert him to my presence if I were to fall asleep.
I settled onto the bench and watched as birds started to fly over and investigate – as long as I held still. And not five minutes after I hung up the bandana and settled onto the bench, I saw Ambrose coming down.
When he got closer, I made some noise and directed him to come down to me. He sat on the bench and marked the spot on the GPS while explaining what had happened.
He had thought he could take the ridgeline over to the peak, but when he went off trail, he accidentally cut a switchback instead. And as he continued, he realized that this was not an approach that he could safely take by himself. He turned back.
And then he noticed that there should be water nearby, based on the GPS. I went looking, and there was in fact water, sufficiently deep to filter from, very close to this site. That site would definitely do for an approach camp the next time we try to hike Newman Peak. And there will be a next time.
Ambrose and I sat and talked for a bit on the bench, letting him get a rest before we headed back down to the car. I realized that I had likely been starting to suffer from altitude sickness, which is why I felt worse the higher we got. I don’t know why, but that kind of thing can be unpredictable.
The way down was a lot faster than the way up. We probably could have pushed through all the way back to the car without eating lunch, but by now we’ve learned better than that. We stopped for lunch while still fairly high up on the ridge, under the meager shade of a short evergreen. Then on down we went.
I was hiking faster than Ambrose at this point, in a total reversal of our usual paces. Since I was now hiking faster on the downhill than Ambrose, I figured that was just more evidence that I had been starting to get altitude sickness. I made sure not to hike too far ahead of him, just in case he needed help. But we made it all the way down past the second stream crossing without incident.
After that, there wasn’t an incident per se, but we did run into some people. They were also hiking down, but they hadn’t gone as far up as us. It was a large family group, more than seven people, plus kids and dogs, and they paused for us to pass just before the last stream crossing. Ambrose heard the kids asking one of the adults why we were so smelly, and he explained that we had been working hard. I thought that was funny when Ambrose told me later, but I didn’t catch it at the time.
I could hear them pausing at the stream to play in the water a bit. We hiked on the last stretch back to the trailhead and got into the car with relief.
I almost drove past the campsite; only Ambrose’s reminder got me to turn on time. For the rest of the afternoon, we drank water and chased the shade until it was time for dinner. We listened to an audiobook for a bit, though that was spoiled when some folks decided they had nothing better to do than drive their very loud motor vehicles up and down the little stretch of road we were camped next to.
Soon after dinner, the sun disappeared behind the ridge and we retreated into the tent for the night. I’d asked Ambrose about the bouncy mattress and he had just expected that I’d finish pumping it. And I would have, if he would have left the pump out instead of putting it away. . . So, I pumped it up to a nice firmness before we settled in for the night.
The next morning, I got up and made myself some tea for the drive home. Usually, I bug Ambrose to do the cooking, but I decided to let him sleep in a bit. After all, the whole reason I was driving on this trip was to thank him for being my driver for the ICT trip. Why not demonstrate my thankfulness a bit more by getting my own water boiled?
We had a bit of breakfast, and then headed out. I didn’t want to wait too long. There was traffic to consider, which would probably be worse later in the day. And I wanted to go to the roadside hot spring. I hoped getting there early would mean no one else was using it. Indeed, when we arrived, it was available for us.
I love that hot spring. It’s so nice to have a “hot bath” after a camping trip. I got my fill of hot soaking, and then I drove us the rest of the way home. We stopped for milkshakes, one last treat for our last outing of the season.
|The sun hadn’t crested the eastern ridgeline when we left the tent.|
|But the morning grew bright before we left the car.|
|The first stream crossing – notice the sharp turn of the trail on the far side!|
|The deer was up on the ridge to the right.|
|It ran far and fast, but I caught its rear.|
|The trail had a little reroute around this fallen giant.|
|I dragged myself along behind Ambrose.|
|Smoke filled the valley below.|
|The second stream crossing of the same stream.|
|More valley smoke.|
|I love how these shots turned out.|
|Ambrose is nearly at the point where I will stop for the day.|
|He took this picture to illustrate why he was turning back.|
|Ambrose’s smoky shot of a switchback.|
|A zoomed in shot of Newman Peak, courtesy of Ambrose.|
|Metal pole at the bench spot.|
|Ambrose taking a break on the bench.|
|The smoke was thinning out a bit.|
|The descent went faster. Funny how that happens.|
|The amount of smoke depended on the valley.|
|Trail heading down.|
|Last crossing of the day!|
|Almost there, the car’s just behind the center trees.|
|Selfie next to the car.|