We drove to the trailhead on Thursday, after I got off work at lunch time. It’s nice to be able to arrive at the trailhead before it starts to get dark. The trailhead was deserted except for a truck in the parking area, so we had the place to ourselves.

I set up the tent while Ambrose did other things, checking on our supplies and getting out dinner. I like setting up the tent. It’s something that I can do well by now, and sometimes it can be a little bit harder when two people try to do it rather than just one – though I do occasionally ask for help with the big tent, since it’s about my height but much wider.

I took advantage of the light to do some writing before we got ready for bed. We set the alarm for 5am so we could get going on our long day. And I didn’t hit the snooze this time… I just took a little longer to get dressed and ready than he did.

We were set to leave just before 6 when we realized that we had left the car at the campsite, which would be rude to do when we would be gone for 4 days. So I dropped my pack at the trailhead and went back to the campsite to move the car. I did it, rather than Ambrose, because his boots are so large that it can be difficult for him to drive in them. I don’t have that problem with mine.

I could have sworn that sign wasn’t there before…

As usual, I was a bit of a zombie on the first part of the trail, doggedly following Ambrose as he led the way. I hardly took any pictures until we got to the first crossing of the Little Queens River. I wanted to record that one though, because the guidebook insisted that it was a rock hop, and I begged to differ. It got above my knees as I crossed.

Not a rock hop!

As much as I disliked the cold, wet crossing, it did wake me up. I got my second breakfast burrito from Ambrose, ate half of it and hiked off. We agreed to meet on the other side of the second crossing for coffee. Since most of the trail we were hiking on this 4 day trip would be new territory, this would be my last chance to hike at my own pace until Monday when we got back to the Queens River section we had explored back in June. We both agreed that staying in sight in unfamiliar territory was safest.

I was in such a hurry to reach the crossing that I almost missed the deer hanging out on the trail ahead of me. I heard a branch crack and looked up to see it, hesitating ahead of me. I stayed quiet and managed to get the camera out for some decent shots before I kept going, wondering if Ambrose would see that deer too.

I resolutely avoided looking at my clock. I hoped that I would make it past the place where I’d made coffee the week before by 9:30am – but I still wasn’t stopping until after I crossed the river again. The trail passed quickly under my feet and I made it to the crossing by 9:17am.

Flowers taller than me!

The place we had coffee last time.

I did the crossing and dumped my pack on the ground just off the trail on the other side. I wanted to make the coffee in the bottles rather than making it in the pot, because I never seemed to get the amount of water right, but I didn’t have Ambrose’s bottle. So I compromised. I got what seemed like it would be too much water into the pot and boiled the water. I put 4 scoops of latte mix into my bottle and poured in boiling water. The water left in the pot also got 4 scoops.

Ambrose had appeared by then and made his way across the river. He gave me his bottle and when I poured I was not entirely surprised to see that it only filled about halfway.

He suggested I pour some off of my bottle into his. I didn’t really want to, because his was more concentrated than mine already, but I did. I’m too nice.

Even though I could have hiked off at my own pace until the trail junction that split to Browns Lake, I decided to stay in sight of Ambrose. After all, part of what I like about going out there is spending time with him. We might not be talking, but staying in sight still makes me feel like we’re together.

We got to the marshy lake too early for lunch this time, but we also didn’t want to stop there because there wasn’t enough shade to rest comfortably. We kept going in search of the perfect combination of water and shade.

We walked past a few streams that had no shade to offer, hoping to find the spot that would fit our criteria. But I was getting hungry. So when I crossed a small rocky stream (no more than 3 inches deep) and saw a copse of trees in the distance I waited in the scant shade offered by a large bush for him to catch up. I figured he could pick between hiding in the shade of the bush by the river or going to the trees, dumping packs, and walking the water back to the trees.

Water for lunch.

He chose the latter. When we got back to the water with our water bags and the cook pot to help fill them, Ambrose used the pot, while I used gravity to fill my bag. To the right of the trail, the water’s path dropped about four feet, and there was room for me to place the mouth of my water bag in the stream. Everything was fine until I needed the top to the bag. It was closer to Ambrose than it was to me, and so I asked him to pass it.

I forget, sometimes, that Ambrose is not a thrower (or catcher). I fumbled the catch and the top tumbled down the stream, clicking on the rocks below.

I give myself credit for not panicking. I propped the bag in a safe space before looking for the cap on the rocks at the bottom of the mini cascade. It was there, sitting on a rock, so I used my arms to lower myself down into the stream bed. I had to be careful with where I put my weight, because many of the rocks were loose.

I got to the bottom and grabbed the top without any issues.

Then it was time to get back up, a different problem altogether – especially when the rocks I wanted to use for footholds weren’t stable enough for my weight. So I used my arms and grabbed at bushes and grass that had stabilized the ground beneath them enough to take my weight. I pulled myself up and shut my water bag. Ambrose headed back to our packs while I filled the cook pot with water for lunch.

I let our dehydrated meal soak for a few minute while I set my water bag to refill my water bladder and got situated for cooking. I was just about ready to light the stove when I saw movement coming down the trail. Two hikers were approaching, and I alerted Ambrose. He had taken his boots and socks off for the lunch break, because they were a bit wet from when he fell crossing not the river, but one of the 6 to 8 inch streams (yes, I needled him for that).

Neither of us made much effort to move off of the trail. There was plenty of room to get around us though. They hiked by, the first one saying either that we were the first people he had seen in four days, or for days, depending on whether you ask Ambrose or me (for days). The second one seemed to be resentful of our presence, but maybe he was just tired. They had been at Browns Lake.

Sporadic cloud cover kept the heat from being overwhelming.

After Ambrose and I ate lunch, we hiked on. It didn’t seem like much time passed before we reached the right angle turns that led to the steep climb, or, as I was thinking of it, the hell chute. Here, I did strike out a bit ahead of Ambrose. I prefer to take the steep sections in big chunks, going until I reach either the top or a nice spot to rest. Ambrose takes the slow and steady method. He may not get there quickly, but he gets there.

I reached the turn off away from Browns Lake and settled into the only available shade while I waited for Ambrose to catch up again. I also snacked, working on my Pocket Fuel – a combination of almond butter, cocoa, sugar and espresso. Delicious, but with a problem. It is difficult to get it all out. By the time Ambrose caught up, I had settled on a solution. I got out my knife and sliced it open from the bottom. I didn’t want to waste a drop of it.

Now we were headed up trail that we had never before walked. We were in the midst of a burned forest and we knew from the map that we were about to hit a zipper of a switchback.

The only evidence the fire left of the sign are these burned nails.

It may not look like much, but this is the main trail.

For the first time, we began to see trail markers. I had been beginning to think that the wilderness area didn’t have such things, but we saw blazes, cut logs and buried logs that helped us get through the burn where the trail didn’t always look like trail. Or when everything looks like trail…

One thing that was nice about hiking up switchbacks in a burned out area was that it was really easy for me to keep an eye on Ambrose. I tried to stay no more than one switchback above him. A few times, when I had to maneuver past a fallen log or tricky rocks, I would watch him cross the same obstacle from above to make sure he made it through alright.

With maximum zoom, I could make out the alien tree above Browns Lake.

When I reached the turn of one switchback, I saw the valley we had hiked through earlier spread out below me. The sight was incredible. I could see the trail in the distance, a white scar through green grasses. I waited for Ambrose to get there so I could enjoy the view with him. Even though I took photographs, it’s not the same as standing there next to someone, sharing the entire beautiful view.

The valley below.

Zoom reveals the trail in the valley.

It was a good thing that I stopped there rather than continuing up in the hopes of a better view at the next switchback, because the trail left that ridge entirely after that. I traversed several ridges before the switchbacking start up again. I had to slow down there a little bit so I could still stay in sight. Mostly.

Not long after that, I reached the couch (which is another name for a saddle, or the low point between peaks that is also a high point between valleys). Naturally, I dumped my pack on the ground and laid myself down on it while I waited for Ambrose to arrive. Once I heard him getting close, I yelled out to tell him that it wasn’t much farther.

Wind usually whips through saddles. This can be irritating or even dangerous on a cold day, but the sun was beating down and the wind felt delicious.

Relaxing on the couch.

We could see the tarn we were aiming to reach in the valley below, and after Ambrose had a few minutes to rest, we started down the trail. Ambrose led at this point. I’m not as fast going downhill as I am going uphill, so it makes sense for him to lead when we go downhill. Not that I have any trouble keeping up.

We encountered our first snow of the trip, but the real trouble came from some fallen trees. One of them required some contortions to get through and Ambrose paid a toll when it ripped his pants near the crotch. I was careful to avoid that particular section when I passed through.

This tree took a bite out of Ambrose’s pants.

The trail seemed to go on for longer than it should, probably because we were both getting a bit tired and hungry. Finally, Ambrose told me he thought we should just camp off the trail where we were, since there was a stream visible to the right of the trail. I wanted to hold out for the spur trail to Johnson Lake. I actually wanted to go all the way to it, but I knew he didn’t. So I looked ahead down the trail and saw two prominent rock piles about fifteen feet away. I pointed them out to Ambrose, because they sure looked like cairns marking a trail to me.

Yes, the log was high, but Ambrose and I both went over it.

Ambrose turns off the main trail at the rocks. 

They were, but the trail led directly to a muddy bog of a stream crossing. We made our way up the other bank and found a flat area to make camp. We didn’t even make it to the tarn, but we had water and got to stop for the day, so it was a win.

I took care of the tent while Ambrose filled our water bags. We both put on anti-bug stuff and got our boots off. I set my socks to dry off in a small tree. Ambrose cooked dinner, but I ended up helping. My help mostly consisted of offering the comment, “did you forget to add the milk?” when he found his mashed potatoes were way too dry. I also stirred the milk in.

I did not put the rain fly up when I set up the tent, but I did make it easily accessible. It was hooked in on the wall behind our backs, and folded in on itself. That way, if it started to rain, either one of us could get out and quickly arrange it over the rest of the tent, but we could leave ourselves a view through the mesh in the meantime.

It didn’t rain, but the moon was bright when the clouds let it shine through.

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