When I finally snapped out of a long and cozy dream, it was already almost 8am. I had slept right through my alarms. And it was 9:40 before I left camp. Since the morning was basically wasted, I didn’t set any destination goals. I just wanted to get to sleep by a more reasonable hour and get a proper early start the next morning.
It was an easy level walk down to the Badger Ranger Station. It was all locked and boarded up and there was no privy, but there was a nice hand pump and a picnic table and a shady porch, so I stopped for a morning break. The flies were a little annoying, but not too bad. Butterflies were desperate for my salt.
A little ways from there, I had to decide whether to stay on the official trail and go up on the ridge and through the pass or take a shortcut staying on the creek. Some commenters said there were a lot of blowdowns on the hill and that it was a pud (pointless up and down). But I went the official route anyway and I was glad I did. There weren’t any blowdowns worth mentioning and the views were incredible. Beautiful wildflowers all along the ridge.
I stopped near the top of the ridge for lunch on a sloped bit of ground in the shade of a tree. There was just enough wind up high to keep the flies down. There were a lot of hoverflies and the like seeking my salt but only a few biting flies, and I wrapped my legs in my towel again to protect my calves.
After lunch I came over the summit of the ridge and went across a lower ridge to start the climb to the pass. I met a couple of men camped right by a creek there that hadn’t seen anyone else out there all day. I told them to modify their expectations–more of us would be coming through soon.
And I was right. After a pit stop at the top of the pass and a proper break on a rock just below it, I was passed by Josh, not-Mittens-anymore, and probably-Turbo-Jesus-from-now-on. (The same trio I passed the day before–their names are still in flux.) They said they would stop at the next campsite for dinner and then maybe press on to the next creek after that to camp. Seemed like a reasonable itinerary to me.
Before I could even pack up and follow them, a man came up from the other direction, probably a friend of the two I had met earlier, but definitely a friend of the wilderness. He worked with an organization specifically trying to protect the wilderness. They had bought out or gotten canceled all but one of the gas leases in the area, and were trying to get legal protections in place with the state, local, and tribal governments to make the place a permanent wilderness protection zone. Very cool work.
A few minutes later, I was down at the river and there was a huge crowd. Wing It, Snot Rocket, Ben, Hot Mess, and one other were there in addition to the three I mentioned above. Everyone was eating dinner together, so I joined them in doing that. Since I was the last to arrive, I was the last to leave. The four new folks were going to hike on one mile and stop. Turbo Jesus wanted to make a fire, so they would check out the next camp and maybe hike on to Elbow Creek if they didn’t like it. I committed to Elbow Creek since I needed to get some miles done.
When I finally left, I was only a few minutes away from the first camp. It was already crowded. Another group had come in with horses and mules, which were corralled in the nearby meadow hungrily cropping grass. One was wearing a bell which seemed likely to continue into the night. Who would want to sleep with such a crowd and noise?
Around 9pm, I came to Elbow Creek, and Turbo Jesus already had the fire going and the other two had their tent up. Josh and TJ were carrying in more firewood and improving the fire ring. Then, while I set up, they dried their socks and shoes. Apparently they had just charged right through all the creeks I had rock-hopped and tree-walked across and had wet feet. TJ suggested the next morning would start with wet feet and I offered to help carry a nearby dead tree to the river. We started to do that, but as soon as I looked at the crossing, it was clear it was actually an easy rock hop and we had been moving the tree unnecessarily. The workout felt nice though.
There was some discussion of the next day’s plans while I finished getting ready for bed, and it seemed those three would be taking an alternate and walking a lot farther than I wanted to, so I probably wouldn’t see them again after the morning. So goes the life of a slowpoke with time to spare.
At least we could all agree that getting up early was the plan.
Total miles: 16.1
Distance to Benchmark: 90.0 miles