Ambrose wanted to take the weekend off of backpacking. Waters were still running high and he wanted to have a day at home to recover. I proposed that we drive out to the Sheep Creek trailhead on Friday night, hike out about a mile and camp overnight in preparation to do a speedy run of 6125 on Saturday morning before driving home that afternoon.
6125 is what we call the route that we take to an elevation overlooking Twin Springs, ID. It is relatively short at 3.2 miles one way, but packs quite the elevation gain at approximately 3000 feet. Last year, my best time was around 4 hours, and Ambrose’s was around 6. I hoped that we would each improve, because we had spent the winter working our butts off at the gym in anticipation of a stronger hiking season.
So that’s just what we did.
We arrived at the trailhead before dark and parked the car in a wide gravel area at the side of the road overlooking the river. Then we gathered up our packs and headed off for our first actual backpacking trip of the season – the last two trips were car camping with day hikes. I was feeling a bit ill, so I opted to follow Ambrose rather than zip off to our destination. I tend to get dehydrated on our long drives into the wilds because our car doesn’t have air conditioning.
We moved at a good pace, and reached the established camp site in good time. This site has a fire pit and boards on rocks set up as benches. It is very close to Sheep Creek, and the sound of the water makes it difficult to hear anything but the rushing flow and the occasional glorping thud of rocks moving in the water.
I set up the tent while Ambrose filled up our water bladders and got himself settled. It was easy to fall asleep in the tent with the white noise of the water covering Ambrose’s snores.
|The tent is set up close to the river.|
|This site has plank benches and a fire pit.|
Not so easy to get up in the morning, but that’s typical with me. I try to be more cheerful than I feel in the mornings, because that makes for a better day, but I still prefer to sleep in over getting up at 5am. Still, the sooner we began the hike, the sooner it would be over and we could head home.
It isn’t that I don’t like hiking… it’s just that this hike is particularly evil, and has been a bit of a trial for me since we began to do it last year. Once again, it comes down to the ilio-tibial band issue on my right leg. I’ve been able to get around it, adjust my gait and figure out ways to prevent the pain from recurring, but it would be severely tested by coming down those 3000 feet, which, at many points, were ridiculously steep. On one trip last year, I came down in total pain the entire route, and had to endure the additional salt of Ambrose passing me. I’d had success in downhill hiking so far this year, but this could be different.
Ambrose insisted that we start the hike together, because after we crossed a bridge over Sheep Creek, we would have to cross a small stream that feeds into it. I scoffed, because my memory of the feeder was that it was no more than a hop wide, but the memory of the Queen’s River’s swollen depths made me agree with him.
Just in case.
The small stream was not very far from where we began, and it was exactly as I remembered it. I smiled, but didn’t gloat too much. I hope.
Then I was out of there. Ambrose paused to take his rain jacket off. He had worn it because the morning was chilly. I hadn’t worn mine, because I knew that I was about to work hard enough to ignore the cold. I was just getting into a rhythm when I came to the last flat spot I’d see for a while, a meadow up above the creek. I saw three deer streaking away from the water, and I paused to take them in and snap a picture. I even turned to see if I could share the moment with Ambrose, but he was nowhere in sight so I moved on to the beginning of the steeps.
|Two deer ran ahead while the rearguard followed up.|
The trail is open to motorbikes, which means that portions of it have been reduced to a pile of ball bearings thinly disguised as rocks and other parts are narrow singletrack. I was delighted to find that stepping with one foot directly in front of the other in the singletrack sections did not cause my knee to flare with pain. The ball bearings… well, my trekking poles helped a bit with those sections, but it can still be quite frustrating when your footing slides beneath your step.
I break down trails that I travel frequently into sections. 6125 has the section near Sheep Creek, the meadow, and then a series of ridges and valleys that must be traversed, all while climbing up, up, up. The first is the one with the trees. Then there’s the “W,” so named because of its shape. Next is the scar, where a large scrape of gravel cuts across the path. Finally, there’s the saddle, where the path tops the ridge and begins to follow it.
|The day started off cloudy.|
I hustled. I definitely didn’t want Ambrose to catch me, even though I wanted him to do well. I turned back to look every now and then, but never caught a glimpse of him. As I started the approach to the saddle, my left boot felt loose. I was planning on re-tying my shoes at the saddle. I didn’t want to stop, because it was hard to keep moving up the steepest section. But when I looked down and saw that my boot was untied, I did stop and retied both boots.
After cresting the saddle I hiked on through a section filled with bushes and flowers, continuing to head up, but not as steeply. Then there was a flatter spot, and I could see the city of Twin Springs off to my right, looking so small in the distance.
|These flowers and grasses won’t be green in a few weeks.|
I kept expecting the trail intersection I would take up to 6125 to appear, but it stubbornly refused. I traveled on, impatient and in a hurry. It had taken me about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get up to the saddle and I really wanted to make the top in less than 2 hours. I couldn’t remember what my best time to the top had been last year, but I thought it was right around 2 hours.
|The trail will get me there eventually.|
Even when the intersection did finally come into sight, the distance from it to the top of the peak was longer than I thought it was. I almost started to run, but I wanted to make sure that I had the energy to make it back down without injury. When I reached the rocks that Ambrose and I use to mark our turnaround point, I sat down and had a snack and a drink. I’d made it in 1 hour and 50 minutes. I lingered on top for about 7 minutes and then headed back. I knew I’d catch Ambrose somewhere down there.
But he refused to appear where I expected him either. I could see the saddle from the 6125 rocks, but he wasn’t there when I looked. I rounded a corner which gave me a good view into the distance and saw him.
|How about with some digital zoom?|
I hurried my steps to catch him as far back as I could. Once I caught him, we exchanged a kiss and chatted a bit. I let him know I was 25 minutes off of the peak (bragging? maybe a little), and then I continued hiking down and he continued hiking up.
I knew that the hardest part for me was yet to come. When I reached the saddle again, I tried to stay calm and not get panicked as I placed my steps carefully down the steep, rocky ball bearings on the trail. I thought that it would hurt. I dreaded it.
But it didn’t happen.
I kept going down. I moved at a slow, steady pace. But not too slow. I marked the sections as I passed them. I hoped I could make it in less than 4 hours, and that hope got more realistic as I kept moving and didn’t feel the old familiar pain in my knee.
|The tree section right before the meadow is the beginning of the end.|
I refused to let myself check the time as I came down. I made it to the meadow, and then to the tiny stream crossing. Just before the bridge, the trail was mostly flat, so I let myself run a little bit, hurrying to try and get the best time that I could.
|The trail seems to end in the creek…|
I came upon our camp site at 3 hours and 28 minutes, just after 9:30am.