The next morning we did not sleep in. The plan for this day was climb, climb and climb some more. But first we had to go down.
We started the day by making one of the desserts we had brought as a kind of pre-breakfast. The dark chocolate cheesecake was more like a pudding than a cheesecake in texture, but it was much tastier than the banana cream pie from the week before.
We were able to get moving before the sun found us. Ambrose led the way, both because I was still in zombie mode when we started and because we had to go down before we could go up. The creek we had camped beside was a lot farther above the creek we needed to cross before we could start going up again.
At first, I thought we would be getting there soon as we wound down some switchbacks. But then Ambrose lost the trail and we had a nice little diversion following a stream up on what must have been deer paths. It seemed trail like… Until we turned around and saw where Ambrose had missed the turn of the switchback (I know, I missed it too, but I was in zombie mode!).
|In the right light, that snow looks like a hole in the mountain.|
|Following the pretty waterfall turned out to be a bad idea.|
We continued on the trail through a meadow where I stopped to dig a hole. The sun would get close to shining on us, but then we would descend just a little bit more and avoid it.
I thought we wouldn’t run into any bridges this deep in the wilderness, but we did, in a way. These weren’t bridges like the ones that we encountered close to the trailhead. These were more like wooden platforms laid across boggy land than what I would typically call a bridge. One of them had been partially shattered by a fallen tree, but it remained navigable.
I was beginning to worry this time that we had missed a turn off or somehow got onto the wrong trail. It seemed like we were hiking too far downstream of where we were headed. And I was hungry for a real breakfast. The cheesecake, though delicious, didn’t last long in my stomach once I started hiking.
|I thought we should be turning right, not continuing downstream…|
According to the guide book that we had, the crossing of Johnson Creek should be a “rock hop.” I don’t know what their definition of rock hop is, but it definitely is not the same as mine. There was no way that I would be able to cross that water without getting my feet wet – either in my boots or out of my boots.
|Not a rock hop!|
I chose out of my boots, as did Ambrose. We made it through the water, which came up above my knees, and settled down to cook breakfast and dry off a few steps from the opposite shore.
If only we had walked on about ten more feet!
Breakfast went well, and we got our feet all ready and set in our boots, but just a few feet down the trail was another stream crossing – one that wasn’t on our map or mentioned in the guide book. Had we known it was there, we would have crossed it before putting our boots back on or eating breakfast. But we didn’t.
And the last thing we wanted to do was take our boots off yet again.
So I took a few steps into the stream. I was able to get across to some rocks, but my way forward looked too deep, so I decided to turn back and just take off my boots. Reluctantly.
|Also not a rock hop.|
Ambrose, however, decided to try and make his way past me while I was still on the rock and debating about whether to make a try for the next step. I had a hard time keeping from yelling at him as he eased his way past me, almost knocking me off balance with his pack as he turned.
He discovered for us both that this stream crossing was also not a rock hop as he got water in his boots in the crossing.
Now, getting water in your waterproof boots within an hour of the car is one thing. The end of the trail is nearly in sight, along with the opportunity to wash your feet before they get too ripe. But this was the morning of day 2, of a 4 day trip. He was not happy.
Ambrose started up the trail while I was finishing getting my boots on. We both figured that I would be able to catch up to him. Or he would stop where the trail diverged, whichever came first.
We came across the place where the trail we were taking turned off from Johnson Creek. It wasn’t difficult to find. There were rocks built up clearly marking the first switchback turn.
I went ahead of Ambrose at that point, still keeping in sight, but rabbiting my way up the trail at intervals. I was feeling a bit sick to my stomach with the need to dig a hole, but the switchback meandered along a meadow at a rather steep angle. There just weren’t any convenient places to dig a hole. I ended up waiting for Ambrose to catch up and asking his advice before picking a spot.
It had ants.
It’s funny how everything can be fine, but then you see bugs and every little scratch of a blade of grass is something crawling on you.
No. It’s not really funny…
Ambrose had gone ahead when I stopped, but it wasn’t long before I caught up with him. The trail was lined with a variety of bright flowers as well as green grasses and bushes. We passed a few muddy seeps, but no streams as the long switchbacks transitioned around the ridge and became steeper.
Rocky terrain began to intrude on the green meadows that we hiked through. When I reached water that ran deep enough to easily scoop into the pot, it was a bit more than I bargained for. Not, thankfully, so much that we had to take our boots off to cross it, but the trail did briefly go directly upstream. The trail curved around the ridge a bit more and we stopped for our morning coffee break.
I dumped my pack and then filled the cook pot with water. This time I was going to get the coffee done right. I got Ambrose’s bottle and mine filled with the appropriate amount of powder mix (maybe a bit more than that), and then I boiled what I thought was way too much water in the pot.
|The trail heads upstream, in the water.|
Alas, I was wrong. I couldn’t fill either bottle completely. So I gave Ambrose a little bit more and contented myself that at least this time I had the higher concentration.
I had my boots and socks off for the break, which felt strangely luxurious. The sun came out from behind the clouds that had hidden it, just long enough to warm my feet and take some of the moisture out of my socks. We weren’t supposed to have such cloud cover, but I was glad for it. The beating sun could make a nice hike excruciatingly hot.
I knew from the guidebook and the map that we would be crossing Johnson Creek three more times before we reached its source, Pats Lake. But before we reached the next crossing, we got lost. The trail crossed a sandy banked stream and then disappeared.
|We got lost crossing this shallow stream.|
Ambrose and I wandered around a little bit before finding signs of the trail through tall grasses and boggy ground. We arrived at the crossing and decided once again that it was too deep for boots. At least this one wasn’t flowing fast over rocks. Instead, the water was smooth and clear. And deep.
|And then we found Johnson Creek again.|
It’s more comfortable to sit when taking off the gaiters, boots and socks, but I discovered that I could do it faster if I remained standing. This discovery was aided by the fact that the only dry spot I could find I used for my pack rather than my butt.
The trail continued to climb, and then curved back towards the creek again. This crossing was such a tease. I wanted to go right through it. There was a log about halfway across and I got out to it. But the footing wasn’t secure enough to make the leap to the other side. And the water was just a little too deep.
But I was done taking my boots off for the moment. I took a detour upstream and ended up crossing on a large log rather than through the water. Sure, it involved getting my boot sucked down into mud, but it was a nice change of pace.
As we continued to hike, the trail curved around and up. Fallen trees across the trail were infrequent, but some proved to be more challenging than others. One of them lay across a steep section of trail right at chest level. It would be a pain to go under it and impossible to go over it. I looked to see how it sat, and decided that it was small enough to lift.
|Near the top of the picture is the tree limb I lifted.|
I walked up to the tree and lifted it above my head in an overhead press. Ambrose walked up and just looked at me for a moment.
“Go under,” I said. “Now please.”
He realized what I was doing and passed safely under the branch. Then I had the problem of how to get past it myself. In retrospect, I should have gone under it, and then lifted. As it was, I had to toss it over my head a bit in order to pass under before it fell again. I ended up scraping my wrist on the bark, but otherwise got out unscathed and feeling strong.
|The blazed tree had fallen across the trail, but at least it meant we were headed in the right direction.|
|I’d never seen an egg that was naturally so blue.|
When we reached our final crossing of Johnson Creek, we were close to Pats Lake and there was a sign ahead. We decided to eat lunch. Ambrose got to cooking after I dug the cookpot out of my pack, and I walked off with the camera to explore Pats Lake.
|Final crossing of Johnson Creek!|
The sign turned out to be a marker for a place to tie up stock. Land managers didn’t want stock to be tied near the lake itself, and the area had solid posts with rings for tying. I explored the shore of Pats Lake and came back to Ambrose following the outflow of the creek.
|More Pats Lake|
|The origin of Johnson Creek|
After lunch, we had another long, steep hike to get up to Arrowhead Lake. I kept Ambrose in sight on the switchbacks, and took advantage of the time that I had to stop and wait for him by taking pictures of the lake as we rose above it.
Arrowhead Lake was nearly level with the trail when the trail rose to meet it. It seemed to be waiting to spill over. We rested a little bit and miscalculated how much farther we would have to go up to get to the 9200 foot saddle.
As we climbed above Arrowhead Lake, we began to encounter some more snow. Not enough to deter us, but enough to make me glad that I had gaiters on. I had just crested a section of snow when I saw a guy ahead of us. I let Ambrose know we had company, and then I heard dogs barking. The hiker held his dogs off the trail as we hiked past. We advised him that there wasn’t much snow below us, and we could see for ourselves that we were in for more snow before we could reach the saddle.
It was a little nice having the footprints of this hiker to follow as the snow covered the switchbacks, but that ended when he had clearly cut the switchback rather than risk walking along the snow. I couldn’t blame him for that choice, considering the terrain. I wouldn’t want to risk falling because of a misstep in the snow.
Ambrose and I followed his lead in cutting the switchback, a one-time exception for safety.
When I reached the 9200 foot pass, I dumped my pack and laid down on the snow. For some reason, it surprised me that the snow was so very cold. When there’s snow on the ground and the air temperature is over 85 degrees, I kind of forget that it’s still ice.
|Arrowhead Lake and Pats Lake in one shot!|
|The view from 9200 feet.|
Our goal for the evening’s camp was an unnamed lake at about 8650 feet. Hiking down wasn’t as difficult as hiking up, but it still took too long for my tastes. And we weren’t done with the snow. In order to get to the recommended campsite, we had to walk around the lake on a snow bank that stretched out over the water. Which means we had to take it slow and be cautious.
But we made the campsite and picked a spot for the tent that had a great view of Mount Everly, and, it turned out later, of the moon rising behind Mount Everly.
|Our destination at last|
I was so relieved to be done with the day’s walking. I got my boots and socks off before I started on my camp chores.
|Even with lows in the 40s, we didn’t put the rainfly up.|
Our coldest temperatures happened that night. It was actually a bit surprising that there was snow not 3 feet from our tent, but the temperature never dropped below 41 degrees.
|The moon and Mount Everly|