Near the beginning of the trail…

Over the weekend of the 21st of June, my husband and I drove up to the Queens River Trailhead again for a day hike. The last time we were there, we couldn’t get past the stream crossings. Okay, we chose not to try to get past the crossing of the Little Queens River. This time, we were both prepared to get a little cold and a lot wet in order to get past the river and see what was on the other side.

We drove up on Saturday morning. Which means we got up really, really, really early. Not my favorite thing to do, but at least driving at that time of day meant that we weren’t uncomfortable due to my car’s lack of air conditioning. The plan was to get there, day hike, spend the night and drive home in the (less early) morning on Sunday.

Our plan changed slightly when we saw that two of the three campsites were occupied at the trailhead. We put up the car camping tent before leaving for the day hike so we would have a space when we got back.

The water is much easier to cross with this nice bridge.

Shortly after the last bridge crossing the Little Queens, we came across an orange bucket at the side of the trail. I looked inside and found snacks in baggies. It didn’t make any sense to us, but neither was it our business, so we hiked on.

This was a scary crossing. 

The water levels had fallen since our last trip. The two feeder stream crossings that were daring and difficult before were now easy. Mostly easy. My boots did get a little bit wet, but not soaked. The water never entered the boot. And I got to try out my new gaiters, which are actually women’s and go up to below my knees. They helped keep the water out of my boots on those two crossings.

Still had to get our boots wet here. 

But the crossing of the Little Queens was not, as Ambrose says, a “rock hop.” Some sections were shallow, but most of it was knee to mid-thigh deep on me. We sat down on a raised portion of the bank and stripped off our gaiters, boots, boot socks and liner socks. I removed the lower portion of my pants legs as well, so I would have something dry to put on after I crossed. Then we each put on our FiveFingers shoes, which Ambrose thought would be really good for crossing, since they have good grip.

And they do.

But it’s not like you can feel your feet after 10 seconds in that water anyway.

Sure, I was colder overall when we were camped in the snow, but I still found a way to complain about how cold that river water felt. By the time I got halfway across, my legs were in pain from the cold, and it didn’t stop when I got out of the water.

It did stop soon after though.

Fording a river that comes up past your knees is an exercise in patience and care. With my trekking poles, I had four points of contact, and I only moved one of them at a time. Mostly. I mean, sometimes I would move both trekking poles if my feet were particularly well wedged, but I tried to stick to one, because that’s safest. Not in the least because those rocks under my feet would sometimes move after I thought I was secure…

Is that rhubarb? It looks like rhubarb to me.

Ambrose let me borrow his towel to dry my feet, because I had forgotten to pack one. We got our socks, boots and gaiters all back on and ate a snack before moving on. I was in a little bit of a hurry due to the encouragement of a full bladder. You aren’t supposed to answer nature’s call too close to water, so I tried to get far away quickly. When I found a reasonable spot, I let Ambrose hike past me, because we both knew I would catch him eventually.

Upstream of the crossing offers no better fording spots.

Eventually took a lot longer than I thought it would. For one thing, Ambrose has been hiking at a better pace this year. Also, I kept getting distracted by the profusion of wildflowers in bloom. I really am a sucker for flowers.

We paused to eat lunch about two hours after we left the trailhead. There weren’t any “good” spots for us to stop, so we just picked a spot on the trail and sat down. And nearly jumped out of skins when a guy walks up the trail from behind us and tells us there’s no need to get up as he steps over us.

Burned out sections have their own beauty.

Looking down on Ambrose from the top of a switchback.

The view from our lunch spot.

I’m definitely used to the ambiance of the trail to Stump Lake. We never see people out there. In the Sawtooth Wilderness, it’s been another story.

I just dig this tree.

After we ate lunch we ran into two backpackers and a dog headed back to the trailhead. Then we ran into an adventurous day hiker who was out with only a bottle of water (and wearing no shirt, though I won’t say that he didn’t have one on him).

The trail generally went up.

The trail alternated between traversing the desolate forests of blackened trees of the burned areas and brilliantly green meadows studded with flowers.

We reached this ford with only an hour left in our time to hike out.

Ambrose and I agreed at lunch to continue our hike only until we had been out for 5 hours. That way our day hike would be less than 10 hours. By the time we reached the second ford across the Little Queens River, we had only an hour left. Even hurrying, it still took us nearly half an hour to do the remove-the-boots, cross-the-river, replace-the-boots dance.

I hiked off before Ambrose was quite ready to go, because I wanted to get to the trail junction before time ran out. According to the map, there would be a split not far after this crossing, and I thought I could do it.
I did – and before we ran into our time limit. I waited for Ambrose by standing in front of the sign in an attempt to block his view. I wanted to save it like a surprise. Once he got close enough, I could hop aside and reveal it.

I didn’t really block his view though.

He still thought it was cute.

He made it! In just over 5 hours.

At the trail junction, one direction headed towards Neinmeyer Creek and the other stayed with the Little Queens. Our next trip would involve following the Little Queens to its origins at Browns Lake. But this time, we just headed back to the car.

We agreed to meet at the next river crossing, and I headed off trying to go fast. But I wasn’t all that much faster than Ambrose. He almost caught me when I stopped to answer a call of nature, but I did beat him to the crossing. I was taking off my socks when he walked up to the crossing. I might have been farther along, but I’d gotten distracted by the sight of a small rodent that I thought might be a pika. I couldn’t get a picture though, because the little guy was too quick and shy.

I started crossing the river while Ambrose was still messing with his shoes.

The water flows fast at the crossing, rushing over rocks and drowning out most sounds. So my first clue that Ambrose was, literally, right behind me, was when I turned around to see if he was still on the bank. I almost slipped and fell right there, but, thankfully, I did not. I don’t think a slip and fall would be lethal in that instance, especially since I was close to the bank at that point, but it would be awfully… cold.

After that, we had less than 2 miles to the trailhead, so I got to speed off and Ambrose did his own pace. But I only beat him back to the car by 17 minutes!

I must say, I rather like that he’s getting faster.

This is the bridge out of the wilderness, a sign that a rustic toilet is not at all far.

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