Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2010 Pasayten, Part 6

The run for home.

Morning on the wrong trail.

So it seemed like a good morning. After camping in a small spot right by the bridge (see last post) and not being eaten by anything, I set off for a nice walk down the ridge above Canyon Creek.

Backtracking after near-death fun.

The morning was cool but nice.

After a bit, there was the spur trail to the left, going up and eventually dead-ending somewhere after the dashed lines on the map gave up trying.

North side of Canyon Creek.

So I stayed on course. The trail descended at a shallow angle and all was fine with the world and everything.

The feared rain didn't come.

Then there were a few lumps, and the trail narrowed some, and seemed to have a thicker covering of twigs and detritus than it should. But it was the right place.

Because there was no other trail.

Nope. All dry here too.

And then after some more walking the trail got really lumpy, but what can you say? The rocks were part of the mountain, and the trail was on the mountain, so it had to be lumpy sometimes.

All was well.

OK, so what? Nothing here but the sign.

And then there was no more trail. Not the no-more-trail where it evaporates, or splits into 10 trail-lets, or goes under the snow. Nope.

In this case part of the mountainside was gone. Not too much, only about 30 feet (10m). It was a chute, cleaned down to mineral soil, right down the side of the mountain, ending in the rocks below, at the edge of the creek.

Shucks. Sometimes it's like that.

Plan B: Turn around and retrace the route for the last three days.

Plan A: Cross blank, empty space and pick up the trail on the other side without dying (which would muss up the entire experience).

I'm guessing this was Crater Mountain.

So, after crossing this 45-degree chute that was barely yielding enough to allow minuscule footholds after long and careful kicking, doing that with a full pack, sweating droplets of blood, and reaching the other side trembling with fear, and...

After not having lost footing, slid 300 feet (90m) or more downslope, under a log (maybe, or maybe getting decapitated instead), and crashing on the pointy rocks, well guess what?

Fooled ya!

No trail there either.

OK, here's the junction. Main trip almost done.

Across on the other side of that bald chute there was a knob big enough for three or four people to sit on, and around beyond that was vertical cliffs.

I still do not know where the trail might once have been, but there I was, all smarty-pants and brave, and screwed. Because I had to go back.

Not too bad, eh? Just retrace a few feet and get the eff out of there, but no.

Crossing that smooth, bare, almost rock-hard soil going back was also going upslope a bit. Just enough. Just enough to make it almost impossible.

Then my camera fell off.

Day hikers love stuff like this.

Yeah, right. Fell off. Bloop.

One end of the strap came out of the plastic buckle and while I was standing there supported by my toes, which were stuck into the only soft soil this side of death, shaking with fear, my camera fell off. And just sat there. And did not roll crazily down the side of the mountain.

"Jeez," I was thinking, "that was lucky. But on the other hand, maybe that's also the last of my luck."

So I had to let go with both hands and reattach the camera and tie a knot in the strap and sweat more blood for a while, and then failed twice in finding a reasonable way out of there.

You know (maybe), getting halfway out there and realizing it's no good? And then going backwards, squeaking with fear?

For a while it seemed like the only way not to die was to go down to the creek and hike out along that, miserably, forever, and maybe break one or two legs doing it, but even though the slope was covered with trees it was almost a vertical drop to the creek.

There were a couple of bushes in the chute, and I finally managed to make my way back by skirting just beneath them (holding two trekking poles in one hand -- hey, don't forget that) and grabbed at them a few times as I went by.

You know the kind of deal where one slip is your last? This was it.

Good places to immortalize yourself.

Super crapola.

That lumpy, dirty, unmaintained trail seemed really nice when I got back to it. I almost kissed it and bought it a beer.

I looked and looked and even went downslope a little, in case there was a switchback that had gotten overgrown or covered with duff, but there was nothing there. No trail.

I have no clue what happened to the original trail. It just got erased somehow. Still a giant mystery in my tiny mind.

Flats where Granite and Canyon creeks become Ruby Creek.

And yet.

You know how you find really strange things in strange places? Well there was one of those too.

While I'd been on the wrong side of the intersection so to speak, perched on the side of that little knob that had some soft soil on it, and had been looking around to the other side of it I saw footprints.

This is true.

Going right over the top of it. Or rather coming over it, from the side with the cliffs to the side with the smooth chute and what was left of the trail.

And the bridge. Nothing fancy but keeps your feets dry.

There were three or four prints. Boot prints. Tromp, tromp, tromp, angling down across the mossy top of this knob, and that was it. Pretty fresh too.

There is a saying for this: WTF?

Someone smarter and braver and way more accomplished than I had come through there, from the other direction, had crossed this knob, and then had gone off into empty space, in a straight line.

Or maybe he had been a bigger loser and the ravens were down there at the bottom pecking his rotting eyeballs out at that very moment.

First you overshoot, then backtrack down the highway.

I won't ever know because obviously that was not the right place for me, so after escaping I clomped back up the trail to the last turn, stuck my nose into the map for a few minutes, and took what obviously was the wrong turn.


After five minutes or so of going upslope the "wrong" trail curved right, to the west, and a bit later there was a faint trail to the left, going upslope. It was the real "dotted-line" trail. I let it run off wherever it went and stayed with the one I was on.

After a bit more forest hiking it's back to the first campsite.

The day turned warm.

Everything was cozy.

The trail was clean and smooth and wide and I was not lying on some rocks whimpering, and dying from the destruction of way too many important internal organs than would have been good for my digestion.

The trail sloped down gently, toward the west.

Looks ratty, bad photos, but you get some feel of the place.

So I'm a dope.

But a live one.

So I'm still here annoying people.

Too bad, eh?

Devils club. Spiky stems, umbrella-like leaves

Down low, where things get seriously flat, the two upstream creeks meet. Canyon Creek and Granite Creek end and Ruby Creek takes over. Shortly beyond, it flows into Ross Lake.

On the flats, in the shade, I had lunch and admired the non-homicidal landscape. A real treat.

Still dim during the morning inside the canyon.

All too soon came the end of the trail, and then it was back onto the highway to backtrack around half a mile (0.8 km) to the trail along Panther Creek. A few miles along it, a turn to the west, and you're back at a big campground with lots of parking.

Panther Creek in the morning gloom.

But first, one last night. Back at the place where I'd been the first night.

One of the fun parts of hammock camping is that you can stay places no one else can. This was well above the trail, and not visible from it, and just about perfect for a hammock.

Just so you know. (Campsite in next image.)

There was no brush. It was dry. There were mosquitoes but they were everywhere. Since this spot was a good 100 feet (30 m) above the water, it was much warmer there, and quieter.

Hammock camping lets you avoid obvious places like this.

The next day I passed one of three official campsites along this trail, glad that I didn't have to stay in places like that.

One of the other ones was midway along this trail, at a place called "Fourth of July Camp", but there is no water there at all, and it's still out in the open, though it is high up.

One of the peaks of North Cascades National Park.

A third place is on the south side, where Thunder Creek flows toward Colonial Creek campground, where the world turns back into pavement.

More of the same, slightly to the west.

So there I was, after having planned a long trip, gotten wetted out the first day, sprinkled on the second, seen clouds come in the third, having woken up the fourth day to see fog and mistaking it for more rain, and then having hiked out, and then the weather was clear, hot and dry for a week.

Hey. I am a dope.

Google's idea of the landscape.


Part 5

Part 4

Parts 1 - 3