From saddle before Gibraltar peak to past Fowler Creek
I’d noticed the stars disappearing during the night, which I attributed to clouds, but we wake up to a thick haze of smoke instead. We’re on a saddle, and it’s thick, gray smoke on both sides. “Where’s the fire?”
“I don’t know,” says J. “Do you have service up here? Check the internet.”
We don’t want to walk blindly into a fire, but the internet doesn’t tell us much. If we were in danger, hopefully it would. We’ll continue on. Just not right this minute… It’s a leisurely morning for us. We’ve been making good miles in good time lately, and it’s taken off some of the stress of meeting mileage goals. Walking twenty miles at 2mph takes much longer than at 3mph.
Everyone seems to have a different way of managing mileage goals. Pillsbury, for example, holds herself to a rule of walking at least 8 hours a day. Every time she starts or stops she starts or stops her watch. At a 2.7mph pace it’s easy to fit in twenty miles, says Pillsbury. Namaste, on the other hand, allows himself one half-hour break for every hour he walks. A twelve hour day gets him eight hours of walking… and about twenty miles. J and I don’t set any time limits for ourselves, count our breaks, limit our breaks, or do anything concrete to manage our time. We have a stopping place in mind, and if we’re running slow, we either walk faster, walk for longer, or reevaluate our goal. (Lots of reevaluating goes on.)
Our goal today is Fowler Lake, about 22 miles from our camping spot. If we walk really fast, that’s only 7 1/2 hours of walking. Piece o’ cake. So we dilly dally the cool morning away.
We set off down the trail, past the impressive Gibraltar peak, all volcanic rock, and down the valley of the West Fork of Nelson Creek. The wildflowers are either blown or dusty looking, but the thimbleberry bushes are full of green thimbleberries… and a few red ones. Our first berries! We’ve been stuck for the past few days in the gap between wildflowers and berries. Hopefully it will be a short one.
I have to say, Northern California still looks exactly like I expected. Big, rounded mountains, carpeted with trees. All day long. J bags on it, but I like it. Sure, it’s not a seventh wonder of the world, but it’s green and mountainous and wide.
Water has started to be something I think about again, something to plan for. It was lovely in the High Sierra, where crystal clear streams ran straight across the trail every other mile, but we left the promised land. We’ve had to start going off trail to find creeks and springs, plan our stops more wisely. Today we have to walk down a paved road a ways to get water from a stream running into a culvert. I know that Namaste is not too far behind us, but I’m really hot and dirty and I’d like to bathe. George Carlin says you only really need to wash the four key areas: teeth, armpits, feet, and crotch. My percentage isn’t good. “Holler if you see somebody coming,” I say to J, then drop my drawers and do a speedy bucket bath.
“Living on the wild side, huh?”
“Living the dream!”
I don’t know what this thing is.
I get dressed again just in time. Namaste comes walking down to the creek. He’s in and out, but we stay a little longer, and I wash all my socks and underwear and shirt. I know we’re planning on staying at a lake tonight, but I’m just a little tired of being dirty.
A little dilly dally here, a little dilly dally there, and it’s 4:30 and we’ve got 9 miles left. Great. “If we hustle, we can get to the lake by 7:30,” I calculate.
“Lead the way,” says J.
An hour in to our late afternoon hustle and we’re both hurting. I can keep this pace for an hour, but three hours straight?
It’s awful, but we do it. My legs feel numb and weak, my feet feel pulverized. Now, where exactly is the turnoff to the lake? “It should be around here?” I ask J. He consults with the maps.
“I think this old jeep road is it,” he points down a slope.
“Let’s do it.”
We follow the old road and red flagging down, take a side path, come out onto a very steep slope, and skid down onto a smooth, wide dirt road. No lake. “Where the heck are we?”
We consult the maps again. Two geologists, and we can’t figure out where we are on the topo map. “Well, I’m hornswoggled,” j finally exclaims.
“You and me both,” I reply dejectedly.
A closer examination and we realize that the map had switched from 40 ft contours to 80 ft, and the area is much steeper than we’d expected. We’re also farther than expected – the road we think we’re on is a mile past the lake. If we follow it, we should get right back to the PCT. “We’ll have to go another mile farther after that to get water now. And then hopefully just set up camp.”
“Let’s get started then,” J answers.
The road does take us back to the trail, and we do find Fowler Creek, but we do not find a place to camp, unless we want to start sleeping at a 45 degree angle. So we keep walking.
Three miles farther than planned, we finally scuff a flat spot into a little drainage. We saw fresh lion footprints and old lion scat right before camping. The weird noises coming from the forest don’t help us settle down. “You know, this might be the first night out here where I’ve been creeped out to be sleeping outside,” I mention.
“Oh, I’m completely creeped out,” says J.
Creeped out and exhausted, we go to bed. It’s hot here, and in my shorts I’m still sweating, sticking to my sleeping pad and bag. Mosquitoes whine just outside the net-tent. Gonna just be one of those nights, I guess. Better luck tomorrow maybe.