Because I had stopped so early the preceding day to stay at the Mike Urich cabin, I already had everything ready for a full day’s hike before I went to bed early. And because I didn’t need to pack up my tent, my 4:45am watch alarm propelled me to be on the trail and hiking by 6am. There was an entire hour of deep quiet hiking in the dark before the morning twilight began and the birds and elk started waking.
The trail crossed a ridge and entered a burned zone from which the rising sun was readily visible. By the time I had to stop to swap my headlamp for sunglasses, I’d already hiked 6 miles.
The sandy soil was absolutely chewed up with the hoof prints of elk using the same trail, and the bellows of hulls resounded from every direction.
On a couple of occasions, I accidentally sneaked up on one or more cows incidentally upwind of me. They wouldn’t hear me until I stopped. On one occasion, I was able to get my phone out and take video before they noticed me and took off running.
By keeping my breaks short and far between, I managed to finish the 21 miles to Sheep Lake by 5:15 pm. After picking out the campsite farthest from the water (in accordance with forest service regulations), setting up my tent, and cooking dinner while being serenaded by coyotes, I walked around the lake to visit with the three old men camped there.
They had just walked the 2 miles up from the parking lot at Chinook Pass, dropped their packs, and took a little jaunt up to Sourdough Pass (the last pass I had crossed before descending into the lake basin) and over to an adjacent pass then back the same way. I thought maybe I could yogi a beer or a shot of whiskey from the old fellows but no luck. They were a super fun bunch though.
Eventually, I gave up and returned to camp to finish out my nightly routine and prepare for another early rise.
Total distance: 21 miles