Continued from Part 1

Ambrose caught up to me and I explained to him that the trail had disappeared. He did the same things that I did, looking for the trail to cross the stream, if it was visible anywhere ahead or if there were any markings up the bank indicating an alternate route. He didn’t find anything other than what might have been footholds up the bank, so we decided to go up and see what we could see.

I tried to use the camera zoom to find the trail beyond.

I was nervous to be climbing unsecured on a steep wall of ball bearings and rocks. I climbed faster than Ambrose did, and, well, maybe a tiny bit higher than was strictly necessary. It just didn’t seem safe to go down, no matter where I went. I finally ended up high above the trail, standing above a couple of bushes that held the dirt in place with their roots. I had an excellent view from there, and I decided, based on the map and what I thought was a trail continuing on next to the stream below, that the trail was simply washed out in one section.

I was able to match this terrain up to the topo map and determine that the trail should have stayed next to the stream and must have been washed out. 

Ambrose was having a harder time with the climb than I had. I found out after we were both back on the trail that he had fallen, sliding back down to the trail certain he was about to land in the water. That sapped his strength, but he managed to clamber back up until he was close enough to hear me yell over the rushing noise of the water. I told him not to climb as high as I had, and to cut across because it looked like the trail was there. He told me to slide down on my butt. Not the best method to prevent erosion perhaps, but a really good method when you’re probably going to end up sliding even if you don’t mean to.

Even though I was a lot higher up than he was, I beat him down to the trail with a fun/scary slide/climb. And it was the trail again, clearly washed out on this end as well. I wasn’t looking forward to the return trip, but I knew I could do it. We had gotten this far, and we would be able to get back.

I just hoped that there wouldn’t be any more crazy detours or scary crossings. I was running out of patience on what was supposed to be a nice easy hike to start our season.

The trail continued to climb. We were camped out at about 5000 feet and the summit of Sheep Mountain is over 8100. Up to the first log crossing, we had only gained about 400 feet, so we had a lot of altitude to chew up as we approached the start of the switchback that would lead us to the saddle of Sheep Mountain.

The first snow appears across the stream from the trail.

Patches of snow appeared across the stream, bridging it in some places, though not in a way that I would trust to hold my weight. I enjoyed the way that the breeze blowing down carried a chill from the snow it had blown over before caressing my face. The altimeter/barometer insisted that the temperature was in the mid-sixties, but it couldn’t account for the wind chill, which became more intense the higher we got. Not cold enough to get my gloves back on, but close.

A snow bridge that I would in no way trust my weight to…

We hiked up the trail without any more travails to navigate. The area around the trail widened out and we found ourselves in a muddy and burned up area. The stream had gotten shallow enough to ford without getting water above even my boot tops, though it still flowed quickly. Ambrose wanted to get a refill on his water, and I agreed that it would be a good time to stop, since the stream was intermittent according to the map. Plus, we would soon be heading up a switchback towards the saddle of Sheep Mountain and there were no streams on that section of the trail, intermittent or otherwise.

Looking back at Ambrose down the trail, I can see that we’re gaining altitude.

So we stopped and filtered water from the stream into our water bladders. Not very far past that point, the stream called it quits and disappeared. Then the trail forked and we started the extreme uphill portion of the day’s climb – although there were plenty of switchbacks so the trail itself wasn’t actually that steep, it just zigged and zagged.

The burned area.

As we approached a ridgeline that seemed like it would be the saddle, but it wasn’t (not nearly high enough at a mere 7000 feet), Ambrose said that he heard voices. I paused to listen, and I heard something as well, so we looked down on the trail and saw two tiny figures on the trail below. One had a bright yellow shirt on, and one wore a white hat – other than that, we couldn’t discern much about them. They didn’t appear to be wearing packs, and they started running as we watched, so we concluded they were crazy trail runners who probably had slim bladder packs for water. Or Lifestraws.

A panorama of the view from the ridgeline.

On the other side of the ridgeline from the trail, there was a cornice (snow off the edge of the ridge that looks like it could totally support your weight, but it really, really can’t). I pointed it out to Ambrose, because it wasn’t something that I had much experience with, though I knew he did from his days hiking with the Sierra Club. (Okay, I called it a couloir and he corrected me… a couloir is more like a crevasse.)

The cornice looks like it could be walked on, but it is just snow resting on air.

We kept hiking up, but I was paying attention to the time. I wanted to call a halt either at noon or when we reached the saddle, but I wasn’t optimistic about reaching the saddle before noon. Then, I rounded a bend and saw a large pile of melting snow snuggled against the trail. It was like a sign. A stop sign.

Looking back down the steep switchback.
This snow is melting on the trail, and I know it is a sign of things to come.

Even though I wanted to reach the saddle, and the peak, I’ve learned enough by now to put together a few pieces of information:

  1. If there’s snow at 7200 feet, then there will be more snow at 8000 feet. 
  2. We were not prepared to hike through snow.
  3. This trail was of the type that can be most readily found by looking at the ground and saying, “huh, that looks like trail.” Not a lot of blazes or log cuts or anything helpful like that that would be visible if the entire way turned into a snow field. 
  4. We had 4 travails to get through to get back to the tent, and I really didn’t want to be exhausted when navigating any of them. 

Adding these pieces of information together, I decided that I would, reluctantly, propose to Ambrose that we turn back. I turned around and waited for him to catch up to me. He looked tired as he walked up, and asked me what time it was. I told him it was 11:40, and he said that we should stop for lunch. I told him there was snow and the trail and pointed it. Then I told him I thought we should turn back.

He agreed even before I pointed out all the reasons why it was a good idea. We had been hiking for about 5 hours and already encountered more obstacles than we had anticipated. We sat down on the side of the trail and enjoyed the view while we ate lunch.

The lunch view.

Ambrose framed by the view.

This pretty blue bird sat very still for this shot. 

I looked up the trail one more time at the snow melting onto the trail. I’d be back.

After eating, we started back down the trail. I moved faster walking down the trail than I could have in the past. By paying attention to my gait, I was finally getting a handle on the ITB pain. I feel like every time I figure out something that is causing the pain, I proclaim the issue to be over. Then it comes back and I have to figure out something else. But I felt good walking down the switchbacks, and I even walked a lot faster than Ambrose.

But when we reached the trail intersection and I pointed out how much faster I had walked, he insisted that he was letting me walk ahead without pressuring my speed. Also, he was working on his own gait, trying to walk without pain. We’re both trying to hike smarter this year.
We planned on taking a shorter route over the washed out portion of the trail this time, now that we knew what was going on with it. I kept an eye on the terrain, looking out for the area where the wash out was, because I was nervous. I didn’t want to fall into the river, and I also didn’t want Ambrose to fall into the river.

We were close when I was navigating a rocky, wet portion of the trail. I looked up and saw a guy coming up the slope. I stepped off the trail and shouted back to Ambrose that people were coming so he could stop off as well. The first guy went by at a slow jog, followed by a second guy, who started to warn me about the washed out trail. I told him I knew it was there and thanked him for the information. Then they were gone and we were practically there.

A better view of the washed out portion of the trail.

The other end of the trail was clearer from this end than it was from the other, but not that much easier to navigate. A tree grew above the wash out, and Ambrose said that we would just go over the tree. But when we got there, I found that I, at least, couldn’t do that. There was too much rocky, sheer space between the tree and the other end of the trail. So I went up.

Not as high as I went on the way out, but high enough that coming down was a nerve wracking experience. I ended up sliding on my butt down a good portion of the dirt above the trail, and somewhere up there my pants lost the battle against the rocks and dirt. I found a slice in my pants right on my seat once I came down safely on the trail.

Ambrose came down after me, and we kept on going, reaching the burned log in what seemed like no time at all. That one was an easy crossing, albeit a messy one. But I knew that the next one would be harder and scarier.

This log seems a lot higher when you’re on it.

The worst part was waiting for Ambrose to cross. I wanted to go first in a way, because I knew I could go a lot faster than he could. But his going first made sense, since if it could take his weight, then it could take mine, while the reverse wouldn’t necessarily be true.

We didn’t walk down this one like we walked up it though. We wrapped our legs around it and slid down while clinging for dear life. Okay, that’s what I did. I’m not sure what Ambrose was thinking while he made his way across at a rate I felt a snail could better. I went as fast as I possibly could, and gave another whoop once I made it. We only had to hike about another hour before we made it to the camp and could relax.

After a quick sit down and snack, we set off. Ambrose said we could meet up at the car, but I wanted to go through the detour together since it might present some difficulties. A trail can look very different coming from the other direction. It’s a good idea to stop, turn around, and look back at the trail when you know you’re going to be coming back.

The view back to the campsite. 

The trail was still quite wet in places. 

I almost stepped on this snake that was hanging out in the water on the trail.

So I tried to stay well ahead while also stopping to take photographs whenever I felt like I was far enough ahead that he wouldn’t catch me. I got farther ahead as we got closer to the campsite, and I actually had to wait a bit once I reached the detour. The water level had gone down in the last 9 hours, but not enough to get through the trail.

Plenty of daylight left before the detour.

Less water on the path, but we didn’t want to risk not taking the detour.

Trying to get back to the trail from the detour.

I led the way this time, and it wasn’t nearly as scary as it had been on the way out. I think part of that came from knowing that the campsite was so close. Once we got off the detour it was a very short walk to the car and the tent.

The camp at last!

By the clock on the altimeter/barometer, we got back around 2:30pm, after 9 hours and 21 minutes on the trail. Or so we thought…

Even though we used the clock, a clock isn’t necessary when you’re out backpacking. You can eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired and hike while the sun shines.

That didn’t stop me from giving Ambrose a hard time for not taking daylight savings time into account when he set the altimeter/barometer…

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