I took a half day off work on Thursday so Ambrose and I could drive up to the Queens River Trail Head and start hiking instead of having to camp at the trail head for the night. Our current vehicle does not have the capacity to carry both car camping (for overnight at the trail head) and backpacking gear; in addition, it isn’t pleasant to sleep in the car itself. Ambrose was thinking we might make a mile or two before stopping. I knew we could make the bivy site, a little more than 3 miles up the trail. 

Well. I knew I could make the bivy site for sure. I was pretty confident Ambrose could, but, I’ll admit, I wasn’t absolutely certain. Just mostly. 

Usually, we start hiking when it’s coldest, first thing in the morning, and don’t have to sweat the heat until later in the day. Today, we started hiking around 3 in the afternoon – the hottest time of the day around these parts. I had been debating whether to wear my warm, waterproof Outdoor Research hat, or my new sun hat, but as soon as I got out of the car and felt that heat, I knew it was a sun hat kind of trip. 

Ambrose was also not wearing his Outdoor Research hat; his hair is big enough that that hat no longer fully protects his face from the sun. Instead, he used a hat his dad had given him a few years ago, which worked much better for keeping the sun off his nose. 

We both changed into our hiking clothes after parking at the trail head. Before long, it was time to hit the trail. Time to find out how the trail had changed, and how we had changed. 

I knew that there had been a trail crew up the Little Queens River last fall, and I appreciated no longer having that big tree barring the start of the trail. But that trail needs a LOT of work. There are areas that were burned several years ago, and the burned trees are starting to fall by the score, many of them across the trail. There’s bushes overgrowing the trail that need lopping and chopping. The trail is passable, but there are some spots that get a little scary. 

Nice clear trail junction!

The first side stream crossings came as a surprise – they seemed to be coming too soon. My pack felt absurdly light; I hadn’t weighed it, but Ambrose insisted it was lighter than his 22.2lb pack. My calves ached, but more of a getting used to movement ache than something wrong. I typically get those little passing aches and pains in my legs and feet. The right ankle will start complaining, I’ll walk it out only to get the left knee chirping up, and etc… 

We don’t typically go into this area this early in the season. The Little Queens River trail has a ford less than a mile in that can get deep. But this is a low water year, and so we were able to get by that crossing with ease. We did make sure to change into crossing shoes BEFORE getting to the ford. See, the closest place to change to crossing shoes is this little sandy island. You have to cross water on the trail before you get there, but the sandy island used to be a nice place to change. No more. It belongs to the ants now. The last time I tried to change shoes there, the ants crawled up my legs and into my shoes and bit me. 

Even changing beforehand, I couldn’t wait for Ambrose to cross while standing on the island itself. I had to stand in the shallow water just off the island so the ants wouldn’t get me. Good thing it was in the late afternoon and the sun was shining down. The cool water felt nice on my feet for once. 

There were some snags. 

We took a brief break after crossing and then continued up the trail. There would be no more crossing of the Little Queens this day. Just a couple of side streams, including Nemesis Creek (not its actual name), which always seems to pull Ambrose down when he crosses. 

I focused on moving forward. There’s a little meadow that we’ve camped at once before; it comes just before the trail starts to climb. Ambrose paused there and asked if I wanted to camp there, last chance, and I just kept hiking. I didn’t even slow to consider his proposal. We were going to the bivy camp, by gum! 

And as we hiked on, I kept looking for the spot, even though I know it’s after Nemesis Creek. I was just looking around, taking it in, and continually being surprised when I stopped, because Ambrose was right behind me. Usually, I can hike for ten, fifteen minutes and get about five minutes ahead of him. Not today! 

There were particularly tricky downed trees after Scott Creek, on a part of the trail that is quite narrow, along a ridge where a step off the trail to the left is a long fall to the Little Queens and there is no stepping to the right. I could have squeezed under for the first one, but I’d have to take my pack off, so I decided to go over. Ambrose followed my lead, and we did make it, but it was a scramble. And then we had one more. 

Not an easy snag to navigate.

This one was particularly difficult.

But then it wasn’t long to Tripod, aka Nemesis Creek. I don’t know what it is about that creek, exactly. Perhaps its spirit is strong and demands tribute. But this year, it looked like crossing would be pretty easy. There were logs laying in an inviting bridge. I took the invitation, and went first. 

I was one step from the bank. 

One. Step. 

Turns out, that last step had 0 traction. My foot slipped out from underneath me and I landed kind of on top of the log I had just been walking on. As far as falls into creeks go, it wasn’t bad at all. Ambrose was behind me and he finished crossing before coming back to see if I needed help. I started by assessing my situation; no broken bones, no twisted ankles, hardly even wet. My pack had kind of caught on the log, and prevented me from having a hard fall or completely immersing. All I needed to do was sort myself out and figure out how to stand up. 

Which I did. 

I’m glad Ambrose got through that creek without falling in, but dang it, why did I have to? 

Tripod Creek strikes again!
Afterwards, I sat on the bank for a bit and had a good cry. I’d been feeling vaguely emotional all afternoon, and this was just the last straw. I needed to let it out, and I did, while Ambrose filled up our CNOC water bags for camp. We would both carry a full bag the quarter mile or so to camp so we wouldn’t have to come back for it. 

I felt shaken, but relieved, because that fall could have been so much worse. And it was a good reminder that my Altra shoes may have excellent traction, but they are not perfect. 

The bivy site was empty, as expected with the empty parking lot at the trail head. But there was clear evidence that it had been used since our last visit. There was a fire pit ringed with little makeshift log benches. At some point, I’m going to have to make a trip specifically to destroy that fire pit, since they aren’t allowed in the wilderness area. 

There were also two onions under a fallen tree. I moved them to the fire pit so I could move the tree over and make room for our tent. The tent was erected and our beds made up before the sun passed below the ridgeline. We ate dinner, and then settled into the tent. 

Once the sun was down, it got cold. And I somehow ended up on the side of the tent that the wind was blowing into, even though I run cold and Ambrose runs hot, so we usually switch that. It was so cold, that when I got out of the tent to make some water, I couldn’t stop shivering. It was the weirdest thing, just these big, wracking shivers that made it hard to relax enough to even pee. 

But the inside of the tent was nice and cozy – once I got dry socks on! 

Despite the cold and the wind, I slept well.

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