Day 3 – 12.2 miles
The next morning I had a choice to make. I was just about out of water after making breakfast and I there were two possible routes I could take. I knew one would likely get me to a water source sooner, but might involve more navigational challenges and is a slightly longer distance than the other. Either way, I was between five to seven miles from the lively creek below which flowed directly into the river I will be following out. So knowing I would definitely reach water security with either discussion, I decided to let my heart chose.
As I stood at the crux of the two routes, my heartstrings tugged towards the lush beauty of the mysterious to me trail leading south. In fact, I could feel my heart’s tug towards that direction from the moment I arrived at the spring last evening. It wasn’t my planned route but it was definitely the most alluring.
I decided to take the trial most alluring.
Since the day before, just looking in it’s direction made me smile. I would actually be following it only for a couple of miles before climbing up and out, to veer onto a faint overgrown trail through some spectacular scenery.
Probably less than a quarter of a mile into the trail, I come upon some fresh bear scat where just beyond was a small but lovely pool of clear water. “That was fast!” But not entirely unexpected. The creek began to come alive with a steady flow of crystal clear water as I follow it downstream. I was set. There’s always a feeling relief when thoughts of water security are laid to rest.
I listen to the Hermit thrush’s song with delight while following the faint deer trail which meanders from one side of the creek to the other. Before too long, I arrive at my departure cutoff which climbs a couple of steep switchbacks up and out onto incredible ponderosa dominated flats.
This is not just any ponderosa forest, the ponderosas here are truly ancients, towering majestically high, spanning for almost as far as the eye can see in every direction. Truly all “yellow-bellies” (a nickname for ponderosas that are over a 110 years old). As far as ponderosa go, once they reach the age of 110-120 years of age they are considered mere teenagers! In their yellow-bellied state and beyond, they become drought resistant and quite resilient, capable of living for hundreds of years.
I’ve seen many wild ponderosa flats before, but perhaps not as stunning as this! Walking though the towering giants feels almost mystical. The sheer volume of natural wisdom towering over me is a magical experience, and being able to experience this solely, without another human being for many, many miles adds to the splendor.
The route I am on follows only a faint impression of a trail. The barely visible trail disappears easily playing trickery with the eyes which that too, I find magical. It feels as if this trail hasn’t been traversed for years. The distance views through and beyond the stands of ponderosa are made up of spectacularly stunning mountains, all of which call out to me, wishing to be explored my me. But alas, I must continue towards the river.
The walk through the yellow-bellied ponderosas makes me feel at home and thoughts of wanting to live amongst them entertain my mind, when far too soon, I reach the junction whose rightmost path will take me towards the creek below. Soon, I find myself zigzagging along drawn out rocky switchbacks, fully exposed again.
The humid air cloaks my body in a shroud of steaming stillness. I can smell mineral scents radiating off of rocky ground underfoot, and mixed with the scent of woodsy pine and humid air, for a brief moment, reminds me of being oceanside.
A turkey vulture casually cruises the thermals above me when, suddenly my presence catches his attention leading him to close into tighter circles for a better look. I can sense the creek somewhere below and through I cannot yet see the river, when majestic views open up to me, I can see where its waters carve through the forested landscape.
The heavy, moist air seems to intensify the sun’s rays, searing my exposed right arm, and only teasing short breaths of fresh breezes come and go, providing little relief. Finally, I can see a deep greened earth below. A grassy piece of land with a few, almost misplaced-looking, giant spruce pines who share their space with an old forest cabin.
As soon as I make the final descent to the cabin, I find myself before a generous patch of gooseberries. But before foraging, I unload my pack and set it beneath the giant blue spruce beside the cabin.
Now I am back onto familiar territory. I have hiked to this cabin before in the past, from the direction I will now be following for the rest of this journey. Still, the scenery is beautifully unreal and dreamy thoughts of living there, again fill my mind.
The creek which flows just beside the cabin is hidden behind thick riparian foliage. But before cooling off, I wanted to gather a few berries. Just in time for lunch, too! Picking a generous handful, I am caught up in the beauty of nature’s bounty. Mindfully, I tip a handful of berries into my mouth. The bursts of tart-sweet flavor force my eyes shut in sheer indulgence. As I savor the complexity of flavors exciting my tastebuds, I shake my head in disbelief of just how far we’ve distanced ourselves from wild and truly wholesome nutrition. Turning our backs upon our co-evolutionary truth, of plants and other foods our ancestors thrive on, turning instead towards mass produced berry-like counterparts we find in groceries across the world. Counterfeits. “Counter-fruits”, whose flavor will never compare.
I take off my shoes and set them beside my pack under the massive spruce and walk barefoot, slipping behind the veil of creekside foliage to wash up. Settling in for a lunch break I take in the different sights, sounds and smells of being waterside. I am looking forward to the many river crossings that will make up the rest of my journey. We’ve received so much rain in the recent weeks that expect the water level to be high. I also look forward to finally being able to take a swim.
After filling up, I continue my journey across the creek and onto the river’s main stem. The water level is surprisingly low and I take into account the massively horrendous drought wed been experiencing prior to the arrival of the recent rains. Nature felt the pressures of long overdue rains and is making up for it by soaking up all the moisture she can while is it here. I understood as I continued to read the landscape. Nature’s dynamic is one to learn from endlessly.
I hike around five miles of river-crossings before finding a nook for the night. My camp spot sits just beside the river on a raised plateau, just off the trail yet I am entirely hidden, out of sight. If a hiker were to pass through on the trail below, I wouldn’t know it, nor would they suspect my presence. I love these kinds of campsites, tucked away, yet out in the open. While the campsite is seclusive it provides expansive views of the carved walls and spires of the riverside rock formations.
I peer out across the formations as the evening sun dances across their surfaces. the softening of illumination reveals unreachable nooks and crevices. Hearing common blackhawks squawk from somewhere above, I know the crevices act as sanctuaries for them. Thankfully so. For they can take refuge where no humans could easily go; to do so would be too risky. Good for them.
My appetite isn’t strong but I make up a satiating dinner anyway. With at least eleven miles left to go, I will be hiking out tomorrow. I figured I should eat to help fuel the rest of my journey.
After settling in, I read until the light fades into night. Not long after, I hear something small approaching the tent. My rainfly is open so I can see though the netting and see a toad hopping curiously up to me. I am laying on my side and find it charming the toad seems so curious of my presence. It stops and sits for a long while nearly a foot from my head as if conveying a message to me. But I don’t understand it. Still I amuse myself by talking to the curious toad, who doesn’t seem afraid of me one bit. After a long while of the toad veers off and disappears. But returns to the same spot to peer at me close up. Finally the toad disappears into the night and I drift off into sleep.
Day 4 – 12.2 miles
I don’t know if it is because I’ve hiked this remaining section a few times before, that the rest of my journey was somewhat uneventful.
During my day’s journey, I stop only a couple of times to fuel up and to take a quick dip in the unusually low waters. The low levels also made finding decent swimming holes challenging.
I half expected to run into other hikers today, since I was nearing the somewhat popular trailhead. I kept an eye out for tracks, following a pair of days old shoe tracks I spotted yesterday, and didn’t find any more. I did come across fresh bear tracks at the waters edge, which was a nice sight.
I was making good time as the miles seemed to pass by effortlessly. Good thing too, as the clouds were beginning to quickly accumulate. I was beginning to see the effects the recent massive rainfall had on the area. While I had expected a lot of damage in the burned area near the spring in the days before, I ended up seeing its resilience. This area too, had been singed and it showed. Firstly, while most of the massive ponderosas along the river seemed to have survived, some lay succumbed my fire damage and clearly, many younger ones did not. Most of the damage occurred from fire running up forested slopes away from the river.
Secondly, the trail traverses a few major rocky drainage that had been entirely washed away from the intense rainfall. I had to carefully step down into each one, mindful to not dislodge any rocks underfoot, to avoid creating a serious scree fall. After cautiously crossing over the last major drainage, the trail continues to rise up and away from the water’s edge for a mile or two before meeting the river once again.
Behind me, views open up and I see massive columns of clouds rising in nearly all directions. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been getting near-daily rainstorms, so I was surprised that I hadn’t experienced them the last few days hiking. Today though, may be different.
Within the last couple of miles the clouds continued to grow and looking behind, before reaching the last crossing, I was amazed at the fortuitous timing of this journey. I step into the last river crossing and into a green tunnel on the other side. As if magical portal dense with native foliage, the green tunnel leads me to the trailhead and to my journey’s end.
I walk the mile long road to where my car is parked with a smile, and just as soon as I reached my car, I hear thunder rolls from the direction I came. I was amazed both by the fact I barely escape the oncoming rainstorm and the fact I saw no other human soul on the 42 mile journey.
It was perfect.
Total journey miles: 42.5 miles