The first rays of sunshine hitting the tooth. 

We got up promptly at 6. Today was a day with a strict agenda. We needed to get back to the car as quickly as possible, so we could drive home before dark. I mean, we could have driven home in the dark, but it isn’t preferable on those roads. Not to mention I had to go to work the next day, and driving home after dark would mean a short night of sleep.

Goodbye, Johnson Lake!

It was Ambrose’s turn to cook, so I focused on getting dressed and packing up. It was cold enough that I decided to leave my long underwear on under my hiking pants and shirt – low 40s when we woke up, and low 50s when we left camp.

Why, yes, that is frost on that log. It was cold!

We ended up being almost completely packed up by the time we ate breakfast. Ambrose had experimented with frying the spam in the pot before cooking the grits and freeze-dried eggs in the same pot.

Ambrose often experiments with cooking, and I very often like the results.

This was not one of those times.

The spam had burned onto the bottom of the pot, and the char flavor permeated the grits and eggs. I was hungry enough to eat it, but I still complained about the flavor.

We headed out at about a quarter to 8. That’s not too bad, but I think we both want to get that morning get ready time down. It would be nice to be able to wake up and get moving in an hour or less.

I proposed that Ambrose lead the way out, since this was his first time to Johnson Lake. That way he would gain experience with the area – experience I already had since I’d been there before. And I promised to correct him if he went too far astray.

So he led the way from Johnson Lake to the main trail, and, just to show me up, he didn’t get lost once. Though I probably could have let him get lost at one point, but instead I pointed out the blazes he had missed…

Once we reached the main trail, we parted ways. The plan was for me to hike at my speed back to the car and get rested up so that when Ambrose arrived at the car he could hop in and I could drive us home. I was excited to see much time I could gain over him, and set out feeling decently awake despite not falling asleep on time the night before.

He had to stop right away for a call of nature, and I knew I’d have to stop soon, but I wanted to gain some elevation first. When I climbed over the level of the trees on the switchbacks up to High Pass, I looked back and saw him approaching the start of the switchbacks. He saw me and waved, and I kept heading up.

This is a picture of Ambrose. 

He’s out there somewhere!

There he is!

I stopped for my own call of nature after High Pass, but I still managed to keep ahead of Ambrose. I made my way down the switchbacks, thanking the trail crew in my head for clearing the logs from them.

View from High Pass to the south. 
View from High Pass to the north. 

I was going fast. I knew from experience that my feet would start hurting soon, and I wanted to get to the car before that happened. But I also like pushing the pace, even though this would be the last hike of my season, and a part of me wanted to make it last. A bigger part wanted to beat the pants off of Ambrose, time-wise.

I noticed that the stumbly wall of rocks across washouts on the trail had become smooth paths, or even rocky stairs. Each improvement I noted brought another smile to my face.

Wilderness stairs.

Even expecting that I might run into the trail crew again, it was a surprise when I came upon them. I said hello, and thanked them for their work, and was off again before I could even remember to mention the mountain goats or show them the pictures.

I mean, I hardly paused to take pictures.

Not many flowers remained, compared to June and July.

Huge improvement.

The hike goes much faster downhill, and once I had reached High Pass, it was all downhill. Before I knew it, I’d reached the Neinmeyer junction and then the crossing of the Little Queens.

Now it looks like a tarp (the trail crew base camp).

Yes, it’s a rock hop. Barely.

For some reason, the distance between that crossing and the next one felt longer than usual. I think it was because my feet had begun to hurt. Plus, I was anticipating that next crossing. I was not planning on taking my boots and socks off for it, like I had on the way up. Instead, I would chance flooding my boots by walking right across it.

The clouds were positioned perfectly to make this tree look like a smokestack.

On the one hand, cold water in my boots would make my feet feel a bit better, but on the other hand, water-logged feet end up feeling a lot worse the longer they stay in the wet. Not to mention stinky. I hate stink-foot.

So once I arrived, I analyzed the crossing. I chose the path that I had avoided on the way up, because it involved too many wet branches. This time, the branches were not wet, and even if they were, I didn’t care. I’d taken off my long underwear in the heat of the day. Okay, warmth of the day. It really didn’t get hot on this trip.

Yeah, still not a rock hop…

I made the fastest crossing I’ve ever done, stepping high and shoving my trekking poles down with authority. My gaiters got a little damp, but no water seeped into my boots. I was only a little disappointed that I didn’t get a cold water hydro-massage on my feet for the last hour of hiking. Or so.

I made it to the car before 1pm, after about 5 hours of hiking. The trailhead was mostly empty, with only a couple cars and no people in sight. I made coffee with the waiting french press in the car, and drank a carton of coconut water.

Since I started the chronometer running after we left, I estimated my time to be closer to 5 hours.

I expected Ambrose to arrive within an hour of my own arrival, but that time came and went. I finished drinking my coffee and poured his into my bottle. I debated bringing out a tarp and sleeping pad so I could nap on the picnic table. I read, and I waited.

I ended up dozing off in the driver’s seat of the car with my feet up and out the window when he finally arrived, about 2 hours after I’d gotten there. He was a bit wrecked, having had a bout of dehydration to combat as he came down the trail.

But he’d made it, and after he changed his clothes I began to drive us home.

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