Remmel Lake to Horseshoe Creek
Friday, September 8 In a word, snow. When we made are usual trip or two ex tentia during the night, we noted that the stars were out in profusion, and the Milky Way was easily visible. What a grand night. But by 5:30 am, precipitation was upon us. We lay in the sack for awhile, hoping it would blow over. It didn't, or rather, it came in waves. Susie got the idea around first light that since it wasn't snowing that hard, maybe we could get the gear packed up, and the tent rolled up before it got any wetter. I found a couple of trees near our tent that provided a modicum of shelter, and used them as a staging area for our gear. I love it when you have to move fast in the mornings. By the time we were semi-packed and it was time to have breakfast, it was snowing pretty hard, so we got under the tarp, and tried to stay dry and warm. Both of these were challenging tasks, as the wind kept shifting, blowing snow into our "protected" area, as if to taunt us. With breakfast out of the way, it was time for the sun to come out. Now that it had snowed on everything, a good warm sun is the best way to get everything wet.
We hoisted about 8:55 am, and headed around the west side of the lake, picking up the trail as it heads southeast toward Remmel Creek. If the Boundary Trail is one of the best trails we have hiked, in terms of condition, then this trail down from Remmel Lake is at the other end of the spectrum. It is steep, apparently has lots of horse use and little maintenance. A formula for erosion, big time, right down to the rocks that once were underneath the soil. In fact, the trail is a sea of rocks, and actually quite miserable. It is slow, having to pick your way through these natural bowling balls. There seemed to be at least a couple of miles of this unpleasantness, and the effort to descend through the stuff tended to warm us up, something we could all use. By the time we got to the bridged crossing of Cathedral Creek, the trail rocks had eased up a bit, and we were deep into the forest. Below the confluence of Cathedral Creek and Remmel Creek, the resulting stream is called the Chewack river. Or maybe it's the Chewuck River, depending on which map you are using. We saw these two spellings used interchangeably, and it can be a bit confusing. The trail, as it drops below 6000 feet, is deep in evergreen forest. As we rolled along, we noticed that the forest floor is littered with dead trees. All the blowdowns would make for challenging off-trail travel.
I don't regret staying in the high country for as long as possible: while the forest is pretty, especially with REAL SUNLIGHT filtering down through the trees, it has to play second fiddle to the sub-alpine zones of the Pasayten. We all stopped for semi-lunch at the junction with the trail coming down from Four Point Lake, some of us earlier than others. I think Susie and I would have dallied longer, but in the shade, the low 40's prodded us to keep moving. Shortly after, we came to a marsh that looked at first glance like it had been formed by some ambitious beaver. There was a small pond near the trail, and a dam downstream. But Ray reported later in the day that he had looked carefully, and could find no gnaw marks on the wood, and no other evidence that the industrious rodents had set up homemaking. The hike down the Chewack River was fairly unremarkable, but we all seemed to be enjoying the scattered sunshine; that is, when it wasn't snowing on us, which it seemed to do every 20 minutes or so. We had decided that we would try to move a bit further downstream than originally planned. Based on a gander of the topo map prior to the beginning of the trip, I had decided that the area around Mile 40, where Saddle Creek flows across the trail, looked like a promising place to set up camp. Up to that point, we had seen very few spots that had much flat area not covered by blowdowns. However, the Saddle Creek spot actually seemed to be pretty nice, or at least, as nice as we could tell when you blow through an area at a 2 mph pace. I gloated over my seeming ability to pick out a campsite from 2000 miles away, but I think Susie was more impressed with my dumb luck rather than natural ability. As usual, the crew was waiting for us at the junction with the Tungsten Creek Trail. Susie had been concerned that they were a half hour ahead, but it sounded like 7 - 10 minutes would have been a more accurate estimate. It was 2:45 pm, and the two of us had been moving at nearly 2.5 miles per hour for the last couple of hours.
Ray really wanted to push on further down the Chewack River, so we agreed, after a nice rest stop, to plunge ahead for no more than another hour. However, it was not more than a few minutes more, when we noted that the gang of five had stopped, and were searching around for spots to erect tents. I asked what was going on, and got a detailed and confusing explanation, but it seemed like those that were getting bushed were concerned that passing up this nice flat area with abundant sites would be foolish, and with the threat of more storms (there were a lot of black-bottomed clouds around), prudence had overridden enthusiasm for getting a bit closer to the end. So we set up camp in the woods just downstream of a clearing at the crossing of Horseshoe Creek. I decided to opt for a quick bath near the creek crossing, but I was not quite finished when it started to rain - ok, it was more like sleet, but I try to put the best face on things. I beat a retreat for the tent, and we were treated to a nice rainstorm for about an hour.
The transition from rain to sun was pretty quick, and after considerable prodding, and reminding Susie it was our last night, and that we had more than enough fuel to make it out, she agreed to a warm water sponge bath in tentia, while I got out our final evening's dinner. Sunshine was pouring into the clearing 50 meters to our north, so we moved the kitchen to that spot. Since the weather had been so wonderful, our cook-it-up-fast meal, which consists of a couple of pour-the-boiling-water-in-the-bag Mountain House dinners, had been saved until the last night. Such was OK by me, as I always enjoy a two-person serving of Lasagna. In the waning light, we built a small fire to burn trash and roast some budget marshmallows. A note to readers: avoid purchasing your marshmallows for roasting at WalMart. These miniature bricks-in-a-bag were so tough that it was nearly impossible to shove a pointed stick through them, unless you had whittled the point to something of the sharpness of a syringe needle. We laughed, and took digital portraits of each other, and discussed arrangements for the car shuttle, the last hurdle remaining after we made the gut-buster climb out of the river valley in the morning. While it seemed that the trip had been another great one, it was also clear that many of us were longing to be warm.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2000