Total Miles: 1137.6
Looking back at the hillside it was nestled into, surrounded by a maturing forest of pine, you have to shake yourself a bit to even wonder: that’s an outfitter up there? Even as it shrunk into the distance, I had to assure myself that it had not been a mirage.
Beginning just as the past few mornings have, the day was pleasant and still aside from the obviously smoky surroundings and the slightly suffocating feeling it imposed in the air: stuffy and inescapable. The terrain, too, felt familiar with a mixture of small burn areas spanning various ascents and descents, alternating with live forest of lodgepole and unripe low bush blueberry.
When we reached Flesher Pass, a highway that marked just shy of our halfway point for the day, we detoured down an old road bed that paralleled just below the highway to an off-trail water source. These little side adventures have been more common lately, as the trail has been fairly devoid of on-trail water sources leaving us the option of either carrying more water than we’d like or venturing forth to find it elsewhere at the expense of a few “bonus” miles.
Finding the beautifully flowing source we’d been looking for, we sat filtering our water and taking a lunch break just 20 feet below the cars zooming along the highway above. Surely none of them could be aware that just below them, two hobos sat in the most random of places, happily enjoying an early afternoon in the outdoors.
Belly full and pack laden with refilled water bottles, it always seems harder to restart my engine. But like a diesel truck slowly coming up to speed, eventually legs begin to find their familiar rhythm, sweat begins to drip, and miles begin to tick past one by one.
Climbing away from Flesher Pass, a new type of bedrock began to show itself beneath our feet: thin pieces of stone almost like slate but with the color of a European red clay tennis court. Occasionally clustered in little piles, walking across them made a sound not unlike thick pieces of hollow glass clanking against one another.
Gaining the height of the ridge we’d be following for most of the afternoon, the gray skies that had blotted out the sun were a welcome change from the sweltering morning. At least at first. The first few drops that fell aimlessly to the ground were harmless enough, until they started recruiting friends. Their tempo accelerating, we left the protection of the trees to find that the rain had seemingly defied the laws of gravity, traveling sideways on a stream of wind that was now free to whip us unfettered. The day’s transformation from Jekyll to Hyde was complete.
The rain would eventually relent, but the wind would have none of that. The exposed ridge we followed had nothing but small, twisted sub-alpine fir, its gnarled branches the price of having attempted to survive here. It’d only been perhaps a week since the trail had navigated terrain like this, and it was an abject reminder in how quickly the fickle mind of mountain weather can exact its toll.
But just as in the Robert Louis Stevenson story, eventually the serum runs out and Mister Hyde transforms into the good Doctor Jekyll once more. Its havoc wreaked, the wind did the same while the tail of the front responsible slid past, pulling back the curtain of clouds across the sky in a single unbroken line. Beyond, there was nothing but sun, and smoke, and blue sky, just as we’d left it.
Latitude/Longitude: 47.07460, -112.36413