We drove up on a Thursday afternoon, and I was very excited to see a deer and her fawn up above Middle Fork Road. Unfortunately, Ambrose couldn’t turn to look as he was driving and such a maneuoer would have required him to completely stop on a narrow, winding road. And even then, the animals were moving quickly and he might not have seen them. So he drove on and I felt the sight was an auspicious start to our first serious backpacking trip of the summer.
This was to a be a 5 day trip, longer, actually, than any trip that we took last summer. But it was something we needed to do, considering we have a trip to the Olympic coast planned that will be 6 days long.
I was a little bit worried about carrying my pack, because the amount of food I had to carry brought my total pack weight to a robust 38.5 pounds. I wasn’t entirely sure that I could carry that much weight, but, in the end, I decided to try because every time we stopped for a meal, the weight would decrease.
The night at the trailhead was uneventful. In the morning, I managed to get moving without too much coaxing and we set off before 6:30am.
|Ambrose put in our permit after I parked the car.|
Ambrose had originally proposed that we hike to the lowest crossing of Johnson Creek to spend the night before going on to Pats lake the next day, but I counter-proposed making for Pats on the first day. He then suggested that I go on to Pats lake and wait for him there, but I thought it would be better to stick closer. I ended up hiking ahead of him in segments and then waiting for him to catch up for most of the day.
|I waited at this streamlet crossing for Ambrose to catch me.|
I definitely wanted to make sure that we crossed water together, at least, the more challenging crossings, and especially the boots off crossings. I could definitely feel the extra weight of my pack as I hiked. My hips and legs got special attention as I made sure that the weight didn’t cause undue pain or injury.
The sun was up, but not yet shining on us as we crossed the Little Queens river for the first time that day.
|Safely across the Little Queens.|
I zoomed on ahead of Ambrose after that, promising to meet him at the second boots off crossing. I set off at a fast pace. When I did my run at work the previous Wednesday, I did some warm up time at 3 mph, and I thought about that pace and how it felt to walk that speed while I hiked. For my solo hike this year, I want to be able to average 3 mph on the flats. And I’ll be carrying about the same weight of food.
|Flowers abounded, though not quite as riotously as last July.|
|The sun has come!|
I forget what my segment times were from last year, so I can’t really compare, but I felt that I made good time to the second crossing. The burned out areas from last year were hardly recognizable anymore. Profusions of green growth had begun to fill out most of the areas, leaving the blackened tree skeletons as the only evidence of fire.
|Deer use the trail, too.|
After I sat down to take my boots off in preparation for the crossing, I heard something up the trail and turned to look. Instead of Ambrose, a deer stood where the trail started to head down to the water. It was so still while I looked and took a few pictures, but when I turned away and then looked back, it had begun to bound away up the ridge.
I honestly didn’t think I had moved all that quickly, but it was nearly an hour before Ambrose caught up to me, almost twice the time it had taken me. My butt started to get sore from sitting on a log.
We crossed together and agreed that I would hike about forty minutes and then wait for Ambrose, and that we’d eat at the next place I stopped.
|He might be slow, but he gets there.|
|Have I mentioned I love flowers?|
|The view for lunch.|
By lunchtime, I had a hunch that we wouldn’t be making it to Pats lake in one day. It just didn’t seem likely that we would hike fast enough to make it, especially considering we still had high pass and the substantial climb up to Pats to go. But we pressed on with optimism.
|I was so happy to see this tree had been cut by the trail crews.|
|Pretty feather – and a large one, too.|
|We were headed for that peak under the cloud.|
We continued the pattern of me scooting ahead and Ambrose catching up. I waited for him at the base of the chute, and then we got water just below the turn off to the High Pass switchbacks. The switchbacks seem to take me less time each time I do them. After Ambrose told me he did the entire chute without stopping (while I had stopped a couple times to rest), I was determined to do something similar to High Pass. Because apparently, I’m a bit macho. I stopped once for a picture and kinda paused when negotiating the downed logs, but other than that I powered up to that pass.
|I took a quick pause for this picture on the way up to High Pass.|
|This one’s from the top of the pass.|
Again, my butt started to get sore from sitting on the hard ground. I also was subject to a couple of harsh gusts of wind that blew grit and dirt all over my sunscreen covered skin. I generally like the Aloe Gator sunscreen, but the texture of it (kind of goopy), allowed the grit to stick to my skin. When Ambrose finally walked up, I decided to stick with him. The afternoon was wearing on, and I made a leadership decision that we would not be reaching Pats lake that day.
My thinking was that we would need about 4 hours to get up from the low Johnson Creek crossing to Pats, and we weren’t going to have 4 hours of daylight at our current pace. So be it. We hiked on, still hoping to make it farther in one day than we had last year on that trail.
|Our first trail snow of the trip!|
|We took a little break on the way down to Johnson Creek.|
|This huge log blocked the trail – and yes, we went around it.|
It was nice walking on the trail past the Johnson lake spur in the evening instead of the morning. The different quality of light gave the scenery new luster. Just before 7pm, we reached the crossing and began to take off our boots.
|Johnson Creek crossing.|
I was ready first, but I wanted Ambrose to cross first because he’s taller than me. So he went first, cautiously making his way through the icy cold of Johnson Creek. And then, because this time we knew better than to stop right after that crossing, we walked right to the next stream crossing in our sandals.
This creek is a bit trickier. The rocks are arranged in a kind of high couch formation and you can’t cross behind the “couch”. You have to step over the “arm” and then down into the “seat” but not too far down. The water was flowing very quickly, and Ambrose was taking his time with his foot placement and then –
It happened so quickly.
One moment, Ambrose is firmly planted, both feet, both trekking poles, and then next, he’s flipping over the rocks and getting pulled downstream. I don’t think I screamed, but I felt like screaming. I braced myself in the shallow water and shouted, “What can I do?”
He didn’t respond, so I thrust one of my trekking poles at him so he could grab on if he needed to. Instead, he grabbed a large river rock and tried to pull himself up, but the rock also slid. I wasn’t exactly panicking, but I could feel a rush of adrenaline and fear. No what-ifs, though. There was no time for what-ifs, only time to react and act.
Ambrose pulled himself up and climbed out of the water.
And I still had to cross. Knowing that he had fallen, and also knowing that I needed to get to him so that I could help him.
I did it. Methodically and as quickly as I could, I crossed the water that had pulled down my husband moments before, and then we walked up the trail until we found a spot with sunshine to assess the damage.
Ambrose stripped down and put on his spare clothes, which, miraculously, had not gotten soaked. His sleeping bag was also relatively dry. But the clothes he had been wearing were wet, and we spread those in a tree in the sun. I checked for a better camp site, but there wasn’t one to be had. So I pitched our tent on a bed of rocks.
We ate dinner and settled in for the night while the sun was still up. I was startled by the flapping of wings nearby and saw that birds were landing uncharacteristically close to our tent. Ambrose thought it was the guy lines on our tent, which are brightly colored and shiny. I didn’t know what it was, but I really wanted a picture of those birds.
|Oh, hello there.|
|Compare this to the picture above – those birds were practically flying into our tent!|
If Ambrose hadn’t fallen in, I might have considered going up the first set of switchbacks towards Pats lake. We probably could have found a more congenial camp site. But we did what we could, and I consider that we had a fine first day of hiking, with perhaps a bit more excitement than I would have signed up for.