Sunday, August 5, 2018
Today we march our legs back out onto the trail. We will start again from Road’s End, retracing our last 1.8 miles from yesterday until we reach the Woods Creek, Bubbs Creek junction. From there we will branch off onto the Bubbs Creek trail, heading toward Vidette Meadow.
It’s been less than 24 hours since we exited at Roads End, yet it feels like we’ve been off for weeks. We’ve only been off the trail for one night. We welcome the wilderness with eagerness and relax as the people on the trail become sparse.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, and most of the hikers are heading out today, after a weekend on the Rae Lakes loop. It’s a popular section of the trail we won’t be seeing. But we’ve been blessed with beauty, and more is yet to come.
It’s a hot day today. Although a canopy of trees keep us covered, sunlight bites at us through open gaps between the branches. We ascend a short series of switchbacks after cutting off onto Bubbs Creek Trail. In full sun now, the dust of the trail lifts in clouds around my feet, and stick to my sweating calves. I unbutton the front of my shirt. I had dampened it in the creek below, but it’s already beginning to dry. I envy the forest shade ahead.
For a full summary and map, check out our guide to The Big SEKI Loop.
A Creek-side Cool Down
We slow our pace to enjoy the shade of the trees, then come to a small beach where Avalanche Pass Trail meets Bubbs Creek Trail. Below a bridge crossing Sphinx Creek there is a shallow shaded area with a log, just off the trail. We plop our backpacks down, kick off our shoes and I wade into the water. It’s the touch of ice on weary feet. I bend to soak my bandana then wrap it around my neck.
I look back to the shore.
Rachel is sitting on a small rock, one foot extending into the water. As her right foot gets cold, she trades in her left foot. She’s decided it’s a good time to snack. She’s nibbling on mixed nuts from a plastic bag. She extends it up to me as come back to the shore. Mmm, I pull a Brazil nut from the pile and crunch it between my molars. I think about the calories in that one nutrient dense nut. There’s about 30 calories in one Brazil nut. They’re full of healthy polyunsaturated fats, and just one nut contains about 175% of the recommended intake for Selenium, a mineral, and powerful antioxidant.
The Brazil nut tastes like butter. I wash it down with an almond, and dried cranberry. Then I have a sip of water. We decide that Gatorade sounds good right about now. I fill our water filter with creek water, then allow it to drain into our empty bottles.
After several minutes of snacking and relaxing we decide we should probably continue on. We have thousands of feet yet to climb, and many a mile under foot.
Again we toss our loaded packs upon our backs. This routine is familiar. Are backs are heavier than yesterday, freshly packed with food to last us the remainder of our trip. Alas we leave our creek-side resort.
Brush Along the Trail
From our creek-side refuge, the trail ascends with consistency. We plop along, continually increasing altitude, but at a pace that’s reasonable. My legs are tired but not exhausted. It’s a climb I can keep up with. It’s a climb spread out over miles and miles of trail.
The trail follows along Bubbs Creek, with seldom views of it that appear. But mainly we’re surrounded by thick brush on both sides of the trail. These lush green leaves must drink from the invisible creek to our right. The humidity in the brush increases, and although we’re not in direct sunlight, the heat is all around us.
A tree snaps to my left. In the dense brush I hear something move. But see nothing. We can hear something slowly moving through the brush to our left. I position my head to peer through the branches, and I see a large gray rock sitting in the brush, another large stone to it’s right. I scan the area trying to make out shapes, and the source of the noise. Then a large brown shape moves across the top of the rock, parallel to the trail. We jump, and feel a sense of urgency to continue our journey down the trail. A large black bear, the largest I have seen appears to be foraging in the shade. We happily let him be and quickly move down the trail.
An Early Dinner in Junction Meadow
After hours of hiking, our minds have melded into the trail. There are few thoughts of the civilization we merged with yesterday. They fade away behind us in the dust our soles fling into the air. These legs were made for hiking, and that’s just what they’ll do.
In the mid afternoon as the sun becomes less intense we emerge into a meadow the map reveals to be a junction, Junction Meadow to be exact. This is where the trail breaks off, to the south is East Lake, and to the east is a formidable series of switchbacks leading up up up to Vidette Meadow.
We eye a series of large logs situated around a fire ring, underneath the partial shade of limbs reaching overhead. I plop down in the dirt, and press my pack against a log, the meadow to my left.
“What’s for dinner today?”
Rachel twists the lid and flips her bear canister. The contents flop onto the ground.
“Well we have lentils.”
Yum lentils. Or maybe it was something else. I can’t recall. On the trail every meal seems memorable yet a secondary act to the main attraction. You walk in awe of the ether around you. You’re a silhouette in a dream world, where rivers rush and then cascade through valleys of stone and soak into the meadow grass where animals nest and graze in sun. Then your stomach twitches and reminds you, you are indeed awake. You are not a cutout of yourself spliced onto a green screen. The images you see are far from the filters of the endless Instagram feed of strangers. You are indeed here. This is real. You’ve been walking for 10 miles, surviving on a fistful of almonds. You are awake and you are hungry.
It’s an early dinner. But our stomachs don’t care. We scarf it down and I lay collapsed onto my side. Soon I will need to ask my legs to lift me. Then I’ll ask my arms to pull my pack, to where it will ride with the permission of my back.
“Haha… oh legs. Remember how I asked you to lift me from this dirt? Let me express my gratitude. Yet I confess I have more to ask of you.”
My body knows about the switchbacks ahead. My eyes spot the position of the sun, and know it is too soon for my legs to be done today. Besides, my mind has seen the map, and is lousy at keeping secrets.
At the bottom of the switchbacks, before we leave the meadow there’s a party of three people sitting along the trail snacking and chatting. They mark the gateway to our journey upward. We say hello and then push forward.
The trail is dusty, and the sun still warm. The dirt swirls up around our ankles and sticks to the sweat. We hear what sounds like thunder coming down the mountain. Shortly later a train of horses emerge around switchback, hustling down the hill, a cowboy brimmed man sits upon the lead horse, then a second one in the rear. I notice their blue jeans and think to myself how uncomfortable that looks. I watch and wonder, what’s the point in that? Is it a fashion choice because the function evades me. If I were a cowboy in the backcountry, I imagine I’d wear a jogging outfit.
Further up we pass the group of college students we had seen two nights earlier. They appeared much happier than we had seen them before, walking into the twilight uncertain of their destination. Clearly the backcountry lakes had baptized them and rejuvenated their spirits.
We push up through the dust, and pass a waterfall on our left as the trail eventually begins to level out. We walk into a cool forest, and see rocks bordering along the sides. Smoke waifs from a fire pit where three campers stand in jackets. Suddenly I’m chilled. The air in the woods is cool.
An Evening in Vidette Meadow
We walk a little further and notice a green meadow with some campsites etched along the perimeter, nestled off the trail. We spot a tent, and pick a spot to camp about 50 feet away. Pine trees provide a canopy and needles to pad our spines. The mountain peaks cap a view of Vidette Meadow.
I sneak off to dig a cat hole. Then return as Rachel’s prepping our camp. We start a fire and Rachel drapes clothes on a stone. The air continues to cool in correlation with the dimming of the light. We sip cocoa from our titanium mugs, that we grip with hands wrapped in mittens.
It’s been a long day. Rachel tells me that we did about 12 miles, all up hill, gaining about 4,500 ft. The last switchback alone accounting for about 1,500 ft. We crawl into our bivouacs, our cocoons from the cold. Rachel plays us an audiobook of Trevor Noah, and we quickly drift off to sleep.
I awake in the middle of the night, believing a bear is attacking our camp. I yell, awaking Rachel. She gasps and looks at me. I realize I was only dreaming and mumble something incomprehensible as my head drops to my pillow, a stuff sack full of dirty clothes.
It was a terror, just a night terror. Too often they strike me and shake me to my core. I drift back to the sleep.