Jen’s partner and another friend joined up with us in Eureka for a few days of hiking shenanigans. They were on their way west and their path allowed them to crash our hiking party.
We decided to do a section of the PNT that we could make into a bit of a loop, connecting the main trail with an alternate route. It seemed a foolproof plan – hike for a couple days, and then end up at the van. They’d drive us back to the end of the trail where we had left off. What could go wrong?
The guys re-packed the gear, transforming in front of our eyes from road-trippers to backpackers. After a short hike we reached Boulder Lake. This lake was nice, but our maps showed that we could reach another lake if we bushwhacked about a quarter mile up a stream. Downed trees and slippery rocks became our path as we searched for the hidden lake. Success!
We spent much of the afternoon playing in the water, practicing our log rolling (the only way to reach the water), and watching dragonfly nymphs scoot around. We warmed up and dried off by doing our best impressions of turtles.
Writing now from the top of Mt. Henry. Temperature regulation is hard here – the sun is hot, the shade it is cold. And there are so, so, so many ants. It’s like this is their ant hill. It was a pretty solid hike to get here – they’ve clearly been busy.
We are staying at the fire lookout tonight. We had to remove some boards from the door, but there is a visitor log with current dates, so it seems legit.
I decided to sleep out under the stars. How often does one get to sleep on top of a mountain? I made myself a little rock nest on the leeward side of a wall and was pretty comfy, except for three incessant mosquitoes. Just can’t catch a break. I finally fell asleep only to be awoken by something big moving over the rocks on the slope below me.
Naturally my mind jumped to, “Bear! Mountain Lion! A monster that will surely eat me!”
What else would make its way up here? There isn’t much here, except rocks, stunted scraggly shrubs, and tasty humans. My back to the stone wall, I shined my light, but the sound was out of range.
Silence. I started to relax. Then, off to my left, something big was moving again. Closer! And, even worse, it had gotten there silently!
This was my cue to head inside. If I was going to be eaten, I’d rather it be with friends. I turned off my light for a moment, to take in the night sky (resigned to the fact this might be my last view) before grabbing my gear and shuffling up into the shelter.
I popped my pad down on the one open spot in the middle of the floor with the quick explanation, “I got scared because I thought I might be eaten, and I wanted to share this moment with all of you”. They were understanding in their sleepy haze.
I was just starting to doze off in the shelter when suddenly, by the open doorway, there was a tremendous noise. We all jumped away from the sound, recoiling as if something had indeed come through the opening. Upon inspection, the terrifying racket had been caused by Jared’s poles falling over. Rather than setting them back up, I oriented the points toward the door in case I needed to fend off a wild beast. My evidence from earlier supported the idea that we could be attacked a any time.
Soon I woke to see the sky lightening through the doorway. I grabbed my stuff and went back out to my rock nest. The mountains were a spectrum of changing gray blues slowly brightening under a swath of vibrant pink clouds. There was no movement from the lookout for hours – I had this morning to myself.
Eventually fresh prints were found over by the outhouse. My terror had been caused by a charismatic herbivore. Those darn deer.
Today we had planned to start our loop back along an alternate route – only to learn that the alternate route was not maintained. We weighed our morale, the state of the trail, the heat, and the lack of water on the route and decided the best option was to detour from our original plan and head out on a side trail toward Yaak, MT. After a day of baking in the sun it was a treat to walk through a shady forest of giant cedars, crossing back and forth over a creek on quaint bridges.
The next morning we made our way into Yaak with help from Bob, our new friend with a sweet luxury camper van. With room for four smelly hikers and their gear, leather seats, and wine glasses suspended from the ceiling, Bob was doing retirement right. Goals.
You might be asking – but what about our van? Yes, the van, sadly waiting for us back on that random forest road. A story for another day!