Day 11 (July 22): Another early morning on the trail. After rolling out of my quilt, I retrieved my Ursack. It was still untested by any critters, but that is totally fine with me. After setting it down I unzipped my fly and got ready to pee. Just then, Derek starts walking down the trail behind me. I camped only 5 ft off since the dead trees are so dense. I zipped back up, thinking it rude to pee while he was talking to me. We laughed about how far I made it after I left last night. It was probably only 1/4 mile. He hiked on and I proceeded to pee before packing up. I never ventured off to the pond. The water Derek gave me was enough to keep me going to the next crossing of Boulder Creek. Thankfully I didn’t even have to wait that long. About a mile from my camp I found Derek sitting at a weeping wall, just finished with collecting water. A weeping wall is a rock face with water running down it. This one wasn’t just a drip either, it had great flow. I filled up and took a break for breakfast while Derek headed on to make progress on the day’s climbs.
I ran into Derek again on the way up the next ridge. He gets slow on the uphill so he was taking a break. He also discovered he had some cell signal. I can’t blame him for taking a seat. I chatted and then hiked on. The trail coming down the other side of the ridge had massive down trees. Normally they aren’t a problem, but two of them made me shed my pack and get creative. I got pine sap on the inner thighs of my shorts. If I didn’t hike like a thru-hiker, at least I was looking like one (and smelling). Finally I came to Gypsy Meadows, a good break spot. It turned out to be too good since I took a nap. The sun stole my shade twice, forcing me to move.
Once awake again I did a little foot care. I put TP and Leukotape together to make a little padding on the ball of my foot. I did the same for the problem toe. Derek just caught up. I was surprised he didn’t pass during my nap, but told me he was getting sick. I felt bad for him. It’s only now as I write this that I remember I have Immodium, which may have solved half his problem. I didn’t go into many details with him though. I fetched water for a long stretch and passed him again not far down the trail. His goal for the night was Henry Lakes. I didn’t make it that far. I found a nice flat spot on the side peak. I kept expecting Derek to come by, but he never did. I did fall asleep for a few minutes, he could have passed then.
Day 12: Morning came, but I don’t see why it had to. I was in for a big climb right off the bat. Thankfully it was also the end of a long dry section. Water is heavy.
I felt pretty decent that morning as I made my way up Mt Henry. There was a lookout tower at the top and a spring on the way up. I grabbed another liter of water at the spring, plenty with what I had to get me to the next spot. At the top of the PNT I finally decided I’d go the extra distance to the top. Normally I would pass on by, but today I figured I would. Along the summit spur trail a dog ran down to meet me. His owner was starting the hike down.
The dog’s owner was one of the volunteer maintainers of that lookout. The USFS no longer maintains it for public use, so a couple volunteers hike all the way up there and do their best. The two of us chatted for quite some time on many subjects, including the state of the world. He had been up there for three days and I’m sure as happy as I was to talk to people. His dog became impatient, once even getting behind me and nudging me downhill. We soon parted ways as I made my last little push to the summit.
The tower was a cool sight, along with the views all around.
He told me I could stay, but I should make more than 2 miles in a day if I want to finish. It was furnished with a wood stove and a couple wooden bunks.
After my side excursion was a 3600′ drop. The massive climbs seemed to be the normal thing for the PNT. It was long, but mostly uneventful. A few trees were down on the path in a few spots and one required some limbo skills. It was getting hot in the day, the perfect time to reach Turner Falls. I gathered water and took the chance to wipe down and rinse a few of my salt-ridden clothes. I laid there thinking about staying for the night. It was only early afternoon though.
The best thing for a sore ankle and aching feet is a foot massage on rocky trail, right? No? Well that what I got anyway.
That section didn’t last very long and led to a wonderful little campsite along the trail. Someone had cleared the trees and even made a Lincoln Log style picnic table. Again, I really thought about staying. My motivation was near zero and a massive climb was just in front of me in the mid-afternoon sun.
I’m not sure how I mustered the courage to soldier on, but I got moving up the 1800′ climb. As usual, it was exhausting. Maybe Derek passed while I was at the lookout and I’ll catch him on the way up? I knew he had a schedule to keep. I didn’t see him, but I did find huckleberries. Lots of them. I was sure to shove a few fistfuls in my face. I don’t have a particular affinity for them, but damnit, if I hiked this hard to find them, I better eat some.
Upward I went eating more berries along the way. They had mixed flavors. Apparently there are several varieties and, of course, varying states of ripeness. All the while I got views of the grotesque dead trees. I had been seeing them since the bridge. They were dead and fallen, yet they didn’t rot in the dry air. Instead, the sun bleached them as they lay in their piles. It wasn’t even just a few trees here and there. Entire stands were laid waste, some stacked four high. What causes carnage like this? It was ugly, heartbreaking.
There was nothing to do but hike by them. Their fate was sealed, destined to painfully slow decay right where they lay. After several more miles of hiking down, growing frustrated at the inconsistency of the guidebook and the maps, I reached the road. I figured this must be the road walk to the Yaak, MT junction and the trail itself. I walked around a half mile before checking the maps on my phone. I was on an alternate! How could I have been so mindless? My poor feet carried me back to the junction with a wasted mile on them. Just before arriving I wondered why anyone would walk 1.9 miles of road instead of 1.0 miles of trail. I was worried. I grabbed my guidebook as soon as I set my pack down. The reason people walk the road is because there is no trail! Apparently the Forest Service had posted a note last year informing hikers. I looked at what was the start of the trail and logs had been stacked across the entrance, a common trail indicator that means “Don’t go this way”. You mean I have to walk that again? Screw it, I’m done for the day. Daylight was fading anyway. I just laid in the tall grass of the shoulder in the imprint of a hiker that slept there prior. I will just sleep here.
I was all tucked in when I heard a noise coming down the road. It was very remote, so I figured an animal, maybe a bear. But no, after listening for a few more seconds I hear the click of trekking poles on pavement, a sound I’m quite familiar with. Who is walking way out here? I was 9 miles from town and on USFS land. No one in their right mind should be out here (my sanity long gone). I see a gentleman making his way to my comfy spot on the shoulder. Then I realized it was Derek. I think he was a little surprised when I said hello. Due to feeling sick, he had taken a flatter trail after the waterfall. He had already walked 7 miles of road since then. His section was over, but he agreed to meet his wife at the bridge another two miles away. He had hoped that she would have noticed his SPOT followed the wrong path and gone down to meet him, but no such luck. At least he had stashed his pack and carried only the essentials. It was shortly after 9:00 when he continued on in agony. I figured they would drive back by around 10:00 to fetch his pack, but that came and went and then I fell asleep. Well after midnight, nearly 1:00 actually, their car drove past. Something must have gone terribly wrong. I felt bad that his trip ended on such a bad note. At mile 182, mine was just beginning.