Around 4 in the morning, I had to get up to pee. When I got back to the tent, I couldn’t fall back asleep, and I could hear my friend rolling around restlessly. I finally asked her if she was awake, and she was. We chatted for a bit while lying there in the dark, eventually trailing off and drifting back into sleep for the short time remaining before the 6 am alarm. 

When I’m solo and really on it, I can pack up and be hiking in about 45 minutes. When I’m with my husband, we typically take between 55 and 75 minutes from wake up to leave camp. Because my friend does not have that kind of experience, I allotted us 120 minutes. We took about 127. 

It was very cold in the morning; so cold, that I offered my down jacket to my friend to wear, since I could wear my rain gear with my long johns under my hiking clothes and be okay. She took me up on it, though it didn’t fit her like it does me (she’s much taller). It was better than being out there with nothing at all for sure. 

I didn’t have anything to cook that morning for breakfast, but my friend did, so she worked her stove while I ate my cold cookie and filtered water. She did offer me coffee, which I had to sadly decline. I would have been happy to take that weight from her, but alas, no coffee for me at that time. I was giving my tummy a break from unadulterated coffee, and I wasn’t about to haul cream out into the woods, not even on a 3 day trip. 

At some point that morning, she finally had to dig her first hole. Backpacker milestone! I also had to dig a hole, which always delays me in getting on the trail, but the sun came out and got us moving a bit quicker, and we made it on to the trail a little after 8 in the morning. Well within my tolerance for the day’s hike. 

Good morning, tent!

Good morning, Stump Lake!

And, goodbye, Stump Lake!

Now, my friend was a bit skeptical about hiking the entire way back to the car in one stretch. It would be nearly 6 miles, and she still had a vivid memory of how hard it was to climb up there in 2 days. But I had the experience to draw on to know that hiking downhill always goes faster than hiking uphill, and I’ve taken many trips where my husband and I would hike 2 days out and 1 day back. I predicted we’d get to the car about noon, but assured her that even if we hiked at the very slow pace of 1 mile per hour, we’d be at the car by 2 pm. 

Thank goodness, my experience proved true. She wondered at how much easier the trail was as we hiked. Before too long, we both needed a break to change clothes; we had started with many more layers since it was a chilly morning, but the movement of the hiking soon warmed us more than comfortably. 

On the way up, there had been several little “trail problems” that had more than one solution. On the way up, I took one route, and on the way down, I made sure to take the other one, because I wanted to give my friend the experience of different ways. I also wanted to make it clear to her that while we may have taken one way on the way up, that didn’t mean the other ways weren’t worth using. 

One of these was a little boggy stream crossing that had log options on either side; different sizes and heights from the ground providing different challenges. The other one I recall specifically was a large log, bigger than I could stand over, and covered in rough bark. On the way up, I chose to go over it, even though there was a go-around trail, because the go around went uphill and I didn’t want to climb more than necessary. But on our hike down, we took the go-around, in part because it was painful to get over it, and in part because descending the go-around was easier than ascending it. 

Just a bit of uphill on our mostly downhill day.

The sun caught us.

Crossing the boggy section on the small logs this time.

Teeny-tiny waterfall.

Before too long, we made it to the no trail sign, and then all the way down to the stream crossing. Now, my friend’s crossing shoes took a long time to dry the day before, and I knew she didn’t have any other shoes at the car, so I suggested she take one of two options. Option one: use crossing shoes, and accept the possibility of having wet sandals in the car all the way home. Option two: cross in boots, and either get them wet and hike with them wet the two miles to the car, OR keep them mostly dry by doing a rock hop, which involved crossing that gap before reaching hoppable rocks. 

She, wisely, I think, chose to keep her boots on, but let me go first. 

My legs were too short to bridge the gap safely in a step, because the bank was very slippery. So I examined the gap, and saw a submerged rock a couple inches below the surface in the middle of the gap. If I could set one foot down on it just right, I might get my shoe a bit wet, but I’d be able to keep the other foot completely dry. A compromise, but one I was willing to take. Since I was hiking in Altra’s my heel did get wet when I put it on that rock, but not very wet. And when my friend placed her booted foot on it, her sole was robust enough to keep her from getting wet at all (her boots are not waterproof, but they did have thick soles – that started to come off of the uppers on this trip, time for new boots!). 

Making excellent time down the trail.

Though we went slower across these rocky sections.

So very close to a full rock hop.

I got some footage of her doing the rock hop, and then we continued hiking. I warned her to take care when we got to the section where we’d descend along a dusty section that has rocks like ball bearings, very easy to slip and slide to your butt on this section. Maybe because I said that, neither of us fell – I did come close, but that was more me tripping over my own feet that getting pulled down by the trail. 

When we got to the little footbridge, my friend paused and asked me if I’d heard that sound. I wasn’t sure what sound she meant, so I repeated it, to the best of my ability and she said yeah, that one. I was like, hmm, I don’t know. But then it repeated, and close enough for us to determine it was time to get out of the way. Three boys on mountain bikes flew into view. Two splashed right through the creek, and the third, seeing the splashes, decided to walk his across. Rather than using the little footbridge, he used what I had always thought was a useless narrow log in the stream to walk his bike across. Now I know what those logs are for! 

Hop those rocks!

Downhill hiking, yay!

Already back to the junction! 2 miles to the trailhead.

The cute little footbridge, small log, and me (photo by E.K.).

After they cleared out, we hiked on, and we passed the bikes near a swimming hole where we could hear the boys talking about how very cold the water was. We saw more people hiking in as we hiked out; that made sense, since it was a Saturday (we both wanted Sunday as a recovery day before having to back to work on Monday). Some of them were hiking with fishing gear, others just with hard seltzer. 

This mudhole has evolved in the years I’ve hiked this trail. 

It was a gorgeous morning for hiking.

We got to the trailhead without incident.

So glad to make it back to the car!

Close to the campground, we saw a guy sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek, looking like he was meditating. And when we came to the campground (just after noon!), we were greeted by barking dogs and the sight of a nearly full campground. I wanted to get to the pit toilet right away, but someone was in it. As soon as that person left, I made a beeline, but I saw she was handing off her TP to someone else and saw a conflict. She offered to rock-paper-scissors with me for the right to next, and I countered with “I just spent 3 days backpacking.” 

“You win,” she said, and graciously allowed me to go before her. 

Then my friend and I took some time to eat something and rinse off our faces in the creek. Before too long, we were ready to go. I was pretty tired by this point, so I had warned her that I would need to be singing along to music to keep me focused on the road – not that we couldn’t talk, but I would use the music to keep my mind awake and if we were talking, I’d use the talking to keep sharp. I figure it’s a lot easier to keep songs running than to talk constantly, so that’s what I do. 

I also made sure to drive straighter lines on the forest service road to reduce the possibility of car sickness. It may have helped. Traffic wasn’t too bad going down, though before we reached the highway, we beheld quite a sight. In the truck in front of us, the passenger was making sexy times with the driver. Both were in silhouette, and we could literally see the woman’s tongue sticking out and licking the driver’s face. I raised my camera to take a photo and they stopped for a bit, but then started up again, so I decided to film them instead, but only got a snap of a non-sexy silhouette. 

We drove some back roads and then cut over to 84. I got her home and then, somehow, made it to my own, where I got to collapse in the arms of my husband for a bit. Only a bit, because I needed to turn around all my gear for another trip the following weekend. 

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