Day 4: 7.5 miles
The next morning we took our time at camp until the morning’s sun warmed us through. Again we weren’t in any real hurry, afterall we only had around 11 more miles or so until the end of our journey. Realizing we had ample time I hung around the morning campfire filling up on, more than usual, tea and breakfast. Dharma, with tummy already full, sat basking in the morning sun. We could have lingered around the area until noon, exploring nearby. But, it was time to start heading out, wanting to ensure our last day would be short and sweet, so that perhaps we could explore a bit more. I figured we should get going.
As we departed from camp, I welcomed the deep green envelopment of rich forest vegetation again. On the high route we had followed part of the day yesterday, the landscape is still beautiful, though lacks the richness of riverside forests as they are drier and more exposed. It felt great to be on the river again. Dharma could splash in and out whenever she wanted, drink whenever she wanted and I didn’t have to carry as much water as before. Or so I thought.
The sight of Yarrow prompted me to stop and study Dharma’s paws for anything that might need addressing. A bit swollen. Shoving a handful of Yarrow into my mouth, I chewed until a nice moist, mass was formed. Taking the moistened wad which I smudged the poultice all over her paw, in and around her toes. That should reduce the swelling. As well as treat any unseen scrapes or irritations. Repeating the process for her three remaining paws, which she willingly allowed. Dharma and I are extremely close and have a communication all our own. I can sense when she is thankful. And I know she was thankful for this.
Not too long after leaving camp, I picked up a scent. Smells like bear. Dharma had also picked up the scent as she enthusiastically sniffed about. Shortly after we came across fresh tracks and scat. We might have just missed them, noting how the tracks disappeared into the hillside. It wasn’t long before we had to veer off of the main stem again. We are to follow another tributary to the next pass over. Feeling sad to leave the river once again we climbed up and out, following the new tributary as planned. It started out well enough, though the water was definitely much sparser now. The tributary was nearly dry. But there were still enough pools to fill up when needed.
Not even a quarter mile into the creek, natural debris from a massive old forest fire as caused much of the tributary to cave in and jam up. The already faint trail faded away into the washed out creek bed. We made our way over and under large fallen logs and in and around other natural debris. A bit annoyed we took ample breaks, making sure to stay hydrated. As we climbed it got warmer as well. Before too long, we followed the remaining stem up and out. Where it began to open up into shady forests again at the top. Happy to be out of that mess, we followed the trail back in the forest where we took another break and had lunch.
Realizing just how difficult that ended up being, I knew it must’ve been equally, if not more annoying for Dharma. As I did on many of breaks, I teased stickers from Dharma’s fur while we rested finishing off with a full message. I gently messaged each of her legs and back, finishing off with some relaxing ear rubs. Dharma looks up at me, thanking me with her eyes for the exceptional care. “Of course, Dharma. You take care of me. I take care of you. We take care of each other.” We then slipped easily into a short nap.
At this point I was feeling like the worst of the terrain was over. We had just climbed up and out, which means we have a pass to cross, then we’d be making our way back down to the next creek, where we will reach our final leg of the journey. Before we knew it, we were well on our way through the pass where the trail disappears again. It made sense of course, as this was a fire stricken area, trails often disappear beneath the shifting entanglement of debris, fine ash and dirt. A fine new layer of vegetation was growing all around, Nature was doing what she does best. Gracefully giving life.
When we reached the next tributary we must follow down to the creek, I felt a sense of alleviation, knowing we were getting closer to the end. If I could, I would stay out here for weeks longer, yet I was worried for Dharma. I can tell the journey days before, were starting to catch up to her. She’d gladly, and promptly, plop down for a rest where ever we’d stop. We needed to be diligent if we are to be taking more breaks than usual. Which I opted for seeing how much she appreciated and needed them. I did too.
Looking over to her… “Ready, Dharma?” She knew we were on our way again. As we began to descend into the dry ravine, I thought to myself, only a mile and a half down to the creek. Then we can find camp. What I thought would be a casual walk down, was a teased up mess of massive log and debris jams. Worse than the previous tributary. With a sigh, we carried on. Carefully climbing over, under and around the messy entanglements. Each placement of steps needed to be careful thought out before proceeding. I worried she might hastily jump over a batch of debris and become painfully snagged on the endless, sharp, broken protruding branches. I cued to her, to allow me to lead the way for most of the time. Unless of course it was obviously easier for her to get through. Intermittent clearings put a pep in my step. Feelings of being able to move more freely again quickly were re-met with more pep-snatching, debris jams. Massive debris jams. Sometimes it was easier to walk atop the criss-crossed fallen trees. Other times, it was easer to crawl under the entangled mess. Any which way you cut it, it was an exhausting endeavor.
After many, many frustrating steps, the ravine began to change from a narrow channel to a broader mix of river rock and debris. Before this point, not a single pool of water could be found. But now water began to surface atop the bedrock which made for a nice change in scenery. We were getting close. Dharma was tired. I knew it. As much as I tried to carry her it proved safer to just take our time. Plus, carrying an extra 20 pounds, on top of my already loaded pack weight, tired me quickly. I would carry her for about 50 to 100 feet or so before having to put her down again. At least it saved her the 50 to 100 feet worth of steps. I hoped it helped some anyway.
Suddenly before us was a beautiful mossy spring on the northern slope, where deliciously clear water poured out in several places. Time for a drink of fresh water! We hadn’t ran out of water yet, but the spring looked so enticing, I took the time to drink and refill my bottles. Dharma drank from it as well before plopping down onto the wet, mossy carpet for a rest. She looked exhausted. Thankfully we were now only about a quarter a mile away from the creek.
That last quarter mile seemed to drag on as extreme exhaustion declared its presence over us. We were nearly dragging our feet into camp.
Camp was nestled along side the creek shrouded by thick stands of willow. One could only hearthe running water behind the verdant concealment. To reach its clear waters, one would have to wade blindly through thick, boggy banks. Thankfully, our water supply was still strong and we needn’t mess with resupplying until morning.
As usual, Dharma rested in the shelter while I carried out camp duties. With Dharma fed, dinner eaten I decided to make another cup of tea. Reflecting on that last arduous mile and a half, I was thankful to finally be resting at our new home for the night. The evening warranted a relaxing cup of wild hops tea. Hops which I collected along the river early on our hike. It was an arduous day, but not bad. Tomorrow will be easier, I just knew would be. Based on the maps it seemed like we would be getting our causal last day of hiking after-all.
I read only a little, before irresistibly falling into a much needed, deep slumber.
Day 5: 4.2 miles
This was it. Our last day traveling these wilds. Last night’s rest left me feeling recovered though Dharma I’m sure, could have rested the whole day. I slept soundly enough until Dharma had heard something after we fell asleep. Growling to the unknown, I petted her until she relaxed back into sleep. The night before I saw several tracks of Elk which seemed to cut right into the thick willow stands and reeds. Willow thickets abound with all kinds of life. It’s normal to hear all kinds of sounds within these verdant stands.
Our camp spot wasn’t the most ideal, as it would take longer for the morning’s sun to reach us in this particular spot. Packing up in the chill of the shadows, prompted me to want to get moving sooner to warm up. Finishing up the last of the chores and packing we were up and moving by 7:00 or so. We only had around 4 miles left. I promised Dharma it would be a relaxed hike out.
Around 1 mile or so we stopped for our first break where I finished my morning snacks. I gave Dharma some water and looked over her paws again. Seems she had a small cut right above her front paw, where one’s inner wrist would be. Most likely from the difficult climb down that entangled mess. Thankfully, Yarrow grew abundantly. It didn’t take long to find some growing nearby. I prepared the fresh poultice just as before and smeared it over the small wound, where it impressively clung too. As we trekked onward, I stopped to check it periodically and was surprised by how it easily stayed on the wound.
At one point, Dharma “tapped” the back of my heel as I walked. When I turned to look towards her she looked at me as she sniffed about. Wandering off the trail a few feet, her eyes never left mine as she prepared herself for her morning poop. We had left earlier than usual and so she hadn’t already take care of business at camp. While she relieved herself, her gaze remained steadfast onto mine. Amazed by her brilliance to let me know she needed to poop, while also asking me to not to get too far ahead of her as she did so. Even though we often “talk” and communicate, I’m continually amazed by her ability to communicate precise things with me.
One last gentle enough up-and-over, and we’d be descending to where my partner and I had agreed to meet. It was indeed a relaxed day as we enjoyed breaks in the warming sun. She’d lie at my feet as we rested, watching Abert’s squirrel’s erratically sound the alarm of our presence. A wee bit wiser than on our first day out, she quickly resorted to observing rather than chasing. Easily by the end of our first day out this behavior was adopted. One learns quickly in the wilds where one should conserve their energies. Never expending any more energy than what is absolutely necessary. She knew this.
On one of our last break spots, we sat beside a downed tree. I enjoyed watching her as she raised her gaze up to face the sun. She seemed to deeply enjoy the sunbath. It did feel good. The sun both warmed our body’s and spirits. And before we knew it we were on our way to the trailhead. In the last half mile or so, she sped up around me and took lead. I wanted it this way. I wanted her to feel just what she had accomplished. You did it, Dharma! I picked her up and snapped a shot of the two of us as the trail head. So proud of her. She deserved a much needed rest.
We arrived at the campground where we sat awaiting my partner’s arrival. We were about 20 minutes early from the time we had agree to meet so I took that time to wind down from our journey. It felt good. All was well and I was more than content.
My partner arrived right on time, with a couple of our good friends. They brought out beer and snacks and we chatted about the journey for a while before heading back for home. Dharma happily accepted the snacks and comfort offered to her by my friend, while I happily drank and ate mine. It was a pleasant surprise, I wasn’t expecting.
The drive home was beautiful too, as it paralleled the wilderness boundary. The views of vast wilderness tugged at my soul already eager for my next journey out. As we drove we were met with a pleasant surprise of a young black bear in the forest. We watched from afar as the bear effortlessly scaled a tree. Aware of us, yet not quite frighted, we looked on for a while as the bear foraged. Dharma didn’t care. She was happy to be resting.