Away into the Wilds with Dharma (2/3)

Day 3: 9.9 miles

The next morning started off daringly as the trails began to disappear just as soon as we left camp. This is the point of the trail where most people turn back and just what I was waiting for. This was a new to me route, which left me feeling greatly enthused at the sight of the fading trails, since I love traversing trail-less wilderness. According to my maps we were entering a particularly interesting area. Unless we wanted an especially tiresome day, we would have to head away from the river onto higher ground. This was my first course of action. Follow the eastern slope. But soon-after, I changed my mind and decided to scout the river below. I wanted to see what we might be missing down there.

The river at this point was filled bank to bank with massive, often slippery boulders, walled in with steep rock. Naturally, water rushed every which way, in a mix of deeps and shallows. Dharma, used her dog smarts to find the paths least resistant for her. Often using every available sandbar, jammed logs and dry boulder tops. She proved to be better at finding her way through than I did at certain points. Four legs vs two, it made sense.

After a while we climbed out of the tiresome-going rocky gorge. This time, opting for the oppositeside of the river, anticipating traversing yet another new-to-me route. Now following the westernridge-line far above the river. Though we could hear its rushing waters, the river was now out of view. Reaching a trickling, mossy, debris-jammed tributary, I had to make a decision. Follow the tributary to another connecting trail or, continue forward as was my original plan. At this point Dharma had heard something and began to growl. Calmly I said aloud, probably a deer. It made sense, since we were haphazardly following a deer trail along the steep mountainside. We crossed the tributary and continued forward. My decision was made. Stopping occasionally to rest, review my maps and assess where we could start making our way back down. Several small but deep cut crevasses along the ridge forced us further away from the river, to be able to skirt around them. The area was new to me and as much as I wanted to explore more, I knew we had to continue to make our way back down to the river, and eventually back to the other side.

While resting at one point, I noticed a small burrow where a Mountain tree frog (Dryophyes eximius) was sitting! Gasping in excitement, I wanted to get a better look. I hadn’t seen one before. Dharma, unfortunately,rushed over to see what I had gotten so excited about and scared the tree frog further into the burrow. Oh well. I needed to focus anyway. We needed to continue. Eventually we found a safe route down and once we returned to the river, we found a comfortable pebbled bank where a nice swimming hole glimmered in the sun. It was most inviting. After a quick snack, Dharma and I jumped in and boy was it cold! It made sense, though. The river was so narrow in this section, and because of its rich vegetation and steep rock faces, little sunlight reached it waters for much of the day. That was precisely why the swimming hole was so enticing to me, at that moment it was out in the open sunlight! It was refreshing, none-the-less. It is also, quite rare for me to pass up a swimming opportunity when one presents itself.

After the rest, snack and swim, we continued along the rocky river. It was an exciting and manageable endeavor, until we reached a humbling point. The boulderous, roaring river lead us to an impasse. The gushing waters bled into a very deep, narrow channel, a true gorge.

Mesmerized by the deep teal-blue, depths I stood in awe of both it’s beauty and magnitude. Nature had made her case clear. We would be returning to the highlands. Climbing up and out, onto now the eastern slope, it was Dharma who first picked up the trail again ahead of me. Old signage, pointing into the direction from which we came, stated “Trail Not Advisable/Difficult to Navigate”. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. I had anticipated the difficulty of this route in which I was well prepared. But as with every great backcountry adventure, surprises are always to be expected.

We continued along the trail passing striking sceneries of deep, dark waters, whirling eddies and magnificent rock outcroppings. Eventually the river quieted as it meanders away at this point where the mountain opened up into natural wild meadows. In the meadow stood an old cabin. Naturally intrigued we explored the cabin from all around, admiring the workmanship of chinked logs and rock-built chimney. I can only imagine that Dharma must have found it strange to suddenly find a “house” in the middle of this vast wild place. She sniffed about as I continued to admire the cabin’s spectacular setting.

Leaving the cabin behind, we crossed a low-flowing creek where I decided to refill my water bottle. Knowing that now we had another decision to make. I tried to coax Dharma to drink water, as we may be entering a dry route. She wasn’t interested. Instead playfully she snapped at leaping grasshoppers. Eventually we made our way to the junction where in one direction, we could stay along the river, and on the other, we’d have to veer away from it to traverse a pass. Reading the topography, it looked as if the river turns into a steeper than before gorge, which would make it even more difficult and possibly impassable. I didn’t want to chance hiking a couple miles in only to find we’d have to turn back for the pass. We’d be taking the pass.

Easier and more passable are arbitrary terms at best. Actually the two choices may have fared the same level of challenges, just differing elements to work with. And depending on which of these challenging elements one is more willing to deal with, is how such a decision is ultimately made. Given the topography, I felt sure this would be our better option.

Figuring we could make the pass with the supplies we had, we trekked onward. As we began our climb away from the grassy meadows, we soon found ourselves faced with trails densely overgrown with thorny wild raspberry and locust. It seemed not a soul had traveled this path for years. There weren’t even signs of hacked brush. As we carefully climbed through, over and around the thorny vegetation, I calculated the distance we had made and found that we had significantly slowed our pace. At each break, I reviewed the map reassessing where we might ultimately stop for the night factoring in a couple of options. The dense path would intermittently open and close with the sprawling understory and definitely became tiresome.

When we reached our first clearing we celebrated the less challenging terrain with snacks and the last of our water. I decided we should carry on towards the second of the two options I had factored. Since I was more certain we’d have more water in the second option. The terrain over the passes wasn’t as challenging itself, as it was simply hot, dry and more exposed. We had about 4.5 more miles to go before reaching our reliable water source. The mileage didn’t seem all that much, but between the heat and multiple rest stops, it began to weigh on us. I still wanted to ensure Dharma could handle the journey. It was clear she appreciated the rests though it brought down our overall momentum and made the rest of the journey to camp very tiring.

Every possible tributary we crossed was bone dry, we had to get to the main creek which I was sure had water since it fed back into the main river. With two more miles to go we were feeling exhausted. Reflecting on the day’s previous events, the day seemed easily like two. But we had to continue. By now I was feeling rather parched and by the looks of Dharma, so was she. Dharma and I communicate in ways I think a lot of dog owners who are greatly attuned to their dogs do. I can sense when she understands what I am communicating to her just as well as she knows how to get through to me.

Resting, yet again. I talked with her. Rubbed her ears and said, ready to go get some water? Understanding and driven by thirst, she mustered up and began walking. This break was over. Within the last mile, the trail began to fade again under the sprawling prickly plants. Dharma waited, as I repeatedly pushed plants aside either with my feet, body or walking stick, before going through. Sometimes it was easier for me to walk through, and other times it was easier for Dharma to.

I can now smell sweet scent of water in the air! We were getting close! Finally, we reached the western slope of the main stem and though I could not see, I could hear the river below. We continued to push our way through with greater fervor at the thought of quenching our thirst. And just as we rounded towards the southern slope of the tributary, we began to descend quickly. We were now both in eye-shot and ear-shot of the glorious, life-giving creek. “Water, Dharma!”Quickly descending to the water’s side where I immediately drank a scoop full of water. Dharma drank with gusto, for nearly a minute, I’m sure. Now all we had to do was fill up our bottles and find camp.

Not more than, maybe a tenth of a mile away, we found a most perfect spot in the corner nook of where the creek remarries the rivers. Happy to be home again, we set up camp as soon as we arrived. Dharma happily drank and ate her dinner right away and rested in the tent while I rested and ate by the fire. I wasn’t able to read this night. For one thing, we arrived at our camp much later than previous nights and so darkness fell quickly upon us. But all was well as we welcomed a good night’s rest. It was an adventurous and long day.

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