Today was going to be the longest day of hiking for us on the whole trip. We were going to hike from Mosquito Springs all the way to Sheepeater Lake – a modification on our original plan. When Bill was still coming with us, we were going to spend this night at the tarn, a small body of water where frogs like to congregate. The tarn is about a mile from where the trail has a junction to go down to Sheepeater Lake, or up to the Sheepeater Lookout. 

Our mantra for this day was the old one about eating the elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. All we needed to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. And the first bit we needed to chomp down on was getting to Chicken Peak. 
We got up at the same time as the day before, 5:30 am, and got to work. No time to dilly-dally! And no need, because it was again so warm (relatively, like 60’s). I didn’t feel rushed as I filled up my pack, took down the tent and fetched my bear bag. It was going to take the time it took. After warmups, we were off. 
The sun hadn’t quite come into view as we started, though it quickly caught us. We were on the ridgeline, after all, up high with nothing to block the sun’s rays. The trail was in good shape, and we moved quickly, finding snow on the trail, but not too much. It seemed like no time at all before we reached the pair of springs that we were so overjoyed to find the first time. This time we walked on by, no need to get water there. 
Ambrose again stepped off the trail to catch some better views, and he continued to talk while backpacking. His fitness has improved so much! In fact, it’s almost gotten annoying for me. See, he’s hiking faster now. I can now follow him without feeling like I’m going excessively slow. But that means I’m no longer zooming ahead and resting to wait for him. Therefore, I’m spending more time wearing my pack and on my feet, more time under tension. 
I kind of miss the rest breaks, to be honest. 
But it’s wonderful to be able to hike with my husband and chat with him as we hike. 
My mind likes to simplify the hike after the fact. But the trail remembers every bit that I forget. That mini switchback? Oh yeah, got to hike that before the place we dry camped. And then after that, it was so much farther to Chicken Springs than I thought. 
Yet, for some reason, the distance from Chicken Springs to Chicken Peak actually seemed shorter. 
Just before we reached Chicken Springs, there’s a trail junction. The sign points downhill and indicates the Salmon River is that-a-way. And it was there that I heard voices. I asked Ambrose to be quiet and then asked if he heard them too. He did. We thought we saw footprints going down as well, so we figured they were headed away from us and we wouldn’t ever see whoever was speaking. 
On the long switchbacks up to Chicken Peak, I took a break to dig a hole while Ambrose hiked on. It wasn’t far from there, so I caught up quickly, and then watched while he made a path across the massive snowbank blocking the trail. I sat on the dirt and took pictures and video. He made it safely, and then it was my turn. 
Getting off the snowbank is always the hardest part; this time, Ambrose chose a slide descent for us. Now, on this trip, Ambrose had specifically requested that I bug him more about taking pictures of me. So I did. I made my way carefully across the snow bank to an edge and handed him the camera before I took my slide down the snowbank. 
We didn’t go up to the lookout this time, because we saw it in 2020 and had no time for it. Instead, we started hiking down. This part of the trail is much easier to go down than up. It’s pretty steep at first, and then it gets rocky as it winds over to a saddle where we cross over to another ridgeline. 
The views from that saddle are some of my favorite. Deep valleys, bright green with growth, sparkling with hidden water, dotted with trees… I want to go down into those valleys. Ambrose plans to, one of these days. 
From the saddle, my mind had again elided just how far it was until the trail turned north again and brought us to the first of four (or five) springs. We planned to stop for water at the last spring, but it ended up being the second to last. Which was fair, because sometimes that last one is dry. The water break was nice, but all too short. The heat was starting to rise, and I was wondering if our pace was as good as it needed to be. We’d find out when we got to the next water, which would be the last for several miles. 
Oh, and the next section of trail had very little shade. It’s a recovering burn area, maybe 15 years post-burn. There are a lot of trees, but none of them are big enough to cast significant shade on the trail. But more trees means less views, so there’s some rewards for hiking in the hot sun. 
I actually love walking through recovered burn areas repeatedly over years. It’s fascinating to see how the landscape changes, how the plants grow and recover. Sure, the sun can get hot when there’s no shade and little water, but if I avoided areas that had been burned, I’d have very little of Idaho to hike. 
This section of the trail went pretty fast for me. We made it to the next spring right in time for lunch. The spring hosted a single big shade tree that we took advantage of, sprawling our gear and ourselves in its shade before getting to the work of filling our water bags and making lunch. 
Then the voices appeared. Three young men hiked up the trail. We scrambled to make room for them at the spring (though not necessarily in the shade). And then we moved away from the spring to a nice shady spot to eat and take our lunch break, giving them full use of the spring. 
They had hiked up from the South Fork of the Salmon River, a trail that asked them to climb something like 6000 feet on their first day. Yikes! 
They were planning to go to Sheepeater Lake, too, but their trail information came from one of their grandfather’s having hiked this area in the 70s and the 90s. I hoped they would be okay and be able to find their way. They hiked off before we were ready to go. 
Ambrose tried to take a nap, and I did a little reading while I finished eating lunch. Then Ambrose was ready to go. I was not quite ready, because I wanted to finish drinking my electrolyte drink. But I figured I could catch up to Ambrose so I told him to go on ahead. Once I was underway, I made sure to wet my hat at the spring as we crossed it, but I knew that wouldn’t last very long. 
This section is brutal. Not only is there still no shade, there’s the prospect of shade that gets cruelly ripped away. The trail seems to be approaching a shady copse of trees, but then it turns aside at the last moment, avoiding all shade. Oh, and it’s uphill. A couple thousand feet over a couple miles in the hot hot heat. 
It took me a lot longer to catch Ambrose than I thought it would. I felt completely alone as I hiked through yet more bear grass blooms, trying to remember the lay of the land from prior years. But it really does look different with all those flowers in bloom. I was just starting to consider stopping to dig a hole and sending Ambrose an inReach message to let him know when I spotted him up ahead. 
In the past, spotting him would be the next thing to catching him. Not this year! Every time I paused for a picture, I lost ground. I had to really up my pace (and take less pictures) to catch up to him. He really made me work for it. 
Now, my plan was to hike to the Sheepeater Lookout, and then go down to the lake to set up camp. We’d talked about that, and I thought we’d agreed. But some time after I caught him, Ambrose said he now planned on going down to the lake, skipping the lookout. The idea was to go back up to the lookout the next morning. 
In my years of backpacking, I have never chosen to hike up 800 plus feet first thing in the morning going back. And, although we’ve hiked to Sheepeater Lake four other times before, we’d never made it up to the lookout. Always too tired or something. I just felt in my bones that if we passed it by this afternoon, we wouldn’t be going back. 
So I said I would be going up without him. 

But I also started thinking about how I might persuade him to come up to the lookout with me. 
Ambrose is just about ready to go.

The sun hadn’t quite risen.

Snow on the trail! But too cold to put any under my hat.

Sure, it’s water, but it’s full of plants and bugs that love to clog filters.

More bear grass in the morning light.

We camped up here once. It has to be a dry camp, which we don’t prefer.

So. Much. Bear Grass.

On both side of the ridge!

This is near the junction where we heard the voices.

Ambrose is standing in a patch of bear grass that I pitched our old Duplex tent on the first time we came through here.

A lovely shade on this paintbrush.

Chicken Springs is flowing.

Part of the snowbank below Chicken Peak.

Ambrose crossing another part of the snowbank.

Ambrose watching me prepare to slide.

This was super fun!

The landing was a bit hard with the weight of the pack on my back.

I liked the way the light and shadows ran across the snow.

There’s such a sense of vastness when you’re out there.

It’s hard to pick a favorite view.
More bear grass on this side of the peak.

And more snow, even after we descended a good distance.

I always forget how far we have to hike before the trail turns left.

This really is a big year for the bear grass blooms.

I call these ant plants. I’m not sure what they’re actually called.

This is the last of the 5 springs.

I was happy to see signs of recent trail maintenance.

Heading down before we head back up the other side.

The last water for a while.

Yes, more.

I finally caught up to Ambrose!

A mushroom in a beam of sunshine.

We stepped off the trail to get this view to the east.

I got better at the selfie lighting, but my timing could improve.

To be continued…

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