From rock creek to campsite on a saddle
‘Twas the night before hiking
And all ’round the campsite,
It was all to my liking
All tucked in for the night –
When outside of my shelter,
I heard a great clatter!
Everything now helter-skelter
Lights and shouting, feet a patter!
Ok, ok, enough of the bad rhyme. But it’s still not as annoying as being almost – almost – asleep, then having five more hikers walk straight into your site, talking loudly and shining their light into your tarp. I had been worried that too many hikers would show up here tonight and that there wouldn’t be space for everyone to squeeze in. With the fading of the day, my worries had faded as well, but it’s past hiker midnight now and here they are.
The worst part is that it is probably all people I like. Right now? I hate their guts. Tarps aren’t houses. Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I can’t hear you. It also doesn’t mean that you should shine lights right at my tarp – it goes straight through INTO MY EYEBALLS. J and I have both been jolted awake by the commotion, and it seems to take a long time for it to die down.
It finally does though, and I’m drifting off again when the second group of hikers show up. At this point the place is packed shoulder to shoulder with people. This group doesn’t remember to turn down their voices or their head-lamp high-beams either. Grump grump grump.
Morning comes though, and we get up on time for once (everyone else is, so it’s hard to avoid). There must be at least fifteen people here. It’s official – we’re in a hiker bubble.
The dreaded hiker bubble! I know some people enjoy the camaraderie, but for me, too many people “ruins my wilderness experience”. It’s nice to pretend you are alone in the world sometimes, but even on a wilderness trail that can be hard to do. For the most part, J and I have successfully avoided the hiker bubble, sometimes traveling with friends, sometimes not seeing other hikers for days, but generally staying out of a pack. The last time this happened to us was the start of the Sierra’s, leaving Kennedy Meadows.
Oh well, here we are – Dust Bunny, Cheeseburger, Guy on a Buffalo, Danger Spoon, the Reverend Blisster, all of the Siesta Fiesta tribe, Switch, Biscuit, 3D, J, me, and some more people back in the bushes, I don’t know how many. I filter some water, J and I both pack up, and get on the trail. So does everyone else. See, everyone else feels the pressure of the hiker bubble as well. We’re not city people anymore – we’re not used to this – so some hikers left before dawn, others linger over their morning coffee, trying to spread ourselves out.
An uphill climb, then long views to Mt Adams – the first of the Washington Volcanoes! Mt Hood can be seen to the south. The first water after Rock Creek has rows of hikers on either side, eating snacks and drying out their gear in the sun. Apparently the condensation was a big problem last night. “But not for us,” I whisper to J. “We’re ventilated. No condensation for us!” J just groans and rolls his eyes at me.
“I swear, if you mention ventilation and that damn tarp one more time…”
I laugh and stop quoting Ray Jardine to him.
We push on. We hike past Trout Creek because we still have plenty of water, and stop for lunch at the Wind River instead. It’s not the Columbia, but it’s wide and rushing with a lovely bridge over it and a sunny east bank, where we join Guy on a Buffalo. J and Guy discuss possible ways to summit Mt Adams when we pass by it; I wash my socks. Switch shows up and reads a poetry book in the sun. The sunlight is bright on the water. The simplicity of the moment is stunning.
With no definite stop for the night, we walk on into the forest, dappled and green. A hidden grouseberry here and there, a few huckleberries – I’m not entirely sure they’re edible, but I try out the salal berries too. I’m pretty sure a placard somewhere in Oregon said that the Natives of that part of the country ate them. The texture is weird – grainy and almost starchy – but the berry is delicious, spicy and complex.
At Panther creek the hiker bubble appears to be re-forming. Some hikers choose to stay, doing a short 17-mile day. J and I opt to continue up the switchbacks on the opposite side and help spread out the group. Up, up, up. We’ve been cruising all day, up and down through sunny forests hung with green moss, topped with green needles, surrounded by lacy green maples, carpeted underneath with green-leafed berry bushes. Every day in the woods is a good day.
At the top of the switchbacks the trail crosses a forest service road and we find Guy on a Buffalo, Dust Bunny, and Danger Spoon hanging out with a couple local trail angels out for a hike. This somehow turns into an axe-throwing party (Guy on a Buffalo might be ultralight if he decided to ditch his giant hunk of metal, but that’s just not his style.) It’s harder to sink the axe into a tree than I would have thought. All the boys get it on the second try except for Danger Spoon, who didn’t get to practice last night with all the other bros…
We’re not done for the day yet though. Danger Spoon and Dust Bunny opt to camp at the site we’ve been hanging out in, J, Guy on a Buffalo, and I keep going a little bit farther. You know, just two more miles.
I’ve made it one mile when everything goes black around the edges. “J, I’m going to black out. I knew we should have stopped for a snack… tell me you have some food handy.”
“Yeah, I’m hurting too,” J replies as he rapidly digs around in his pockets before my swaying gets more serious. “How about a clif bar?”
We stand in the middle of the trail and devour clif bars, which are delicious enough if we’re hungry enough. “Oh man, that was close. I think we need to stick to a strict five-meal a day eating schedule again. I can’t make it from lunch to dinner.”
“I think you’re right. Man, these clif bars just aren’t that great anymore.”
“Ha! Were they ever?”
J smiles at this.
A hidden flat spot on top of a small saddle on the ridgeline is home for the night. It’s out of the trail line of sight and it’s not marked on Halfmile’s maps – we may have the place to ourselves tonight.