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Weminuche Wilderness 1999

Packing out

Based on the lousy weather, we had decided for sure yesterday, barring a miraculous recovery in the weather, we would change our route, and head out. Originally, we had planned to hike about 6.5 miles to Squaw Pass today, and then out from there on Friday morning. We awoke to non-rain, but the clouds were hanging in the pass on the Divide above Trout Lake, signaling that if we did intend to hike the CDT, do not expect any views. ASTD were undecided at this point if they would take one or the planned two days to get out. A lot depended on the weather when they got to the potential campsite. They were headed north toward Ruby Lake. In contrast, we were headed south, up to the divide, and then down the Williams Creek drainage. We knew we had a long day ahead of us: about 10 miles or so, and 4000 feet of descent. Although I did not express it to Susie, I was concerned about the condition of the trail. I knew it was used, as are most of the trails, by horses, and I suspected that erosion was a problem.

We were out of camp by 8:20 am. I am not sure why we did it so quickly. Maybe we were just ready to be out. This had been some of the most disappointing weather either of us ever had backpacked in. We had fought the Colorado Monsoon, and decided that La Nina had beaten us this year. It took us about 30 minutes to get all the way to the pass above Williams Lake. The clouds moved in big time, and if there was any doubt about the decision not to go on as planned, that doubt was quickly erased. The descent to Lake was steep. The fog was so thick that I first mistook the Lake for a tiny pond that we were walking by. Passed the lake, the trail really deteriorated. It was steep, rocky, and heavily eroded. A few hundred feet elevation below the lake, it went into the trees, and turned into a sea of mud. Oh, one could hike a few tens of meters on decent trail but then it was back to avoiding the mud holes. It was really frustrating hiking, because of all the horrible trail that had to be avoided. About 10 am, we started a climbing traverse of a meadow, and noted that it had started to rain. Since our rain gear was already on, as were our pack covers, and our boots were already pretty damp from the continual hiking in the mud, what the rain meant was that we had to put up our hoods.

We continued on down at a frustratingly slow pace, trying to avoid the boot-sucking-off mud on most of the trail. At one rest break, we got up on a big rock, and then, when we started to hike, could not figure out how to get down, without jumping off into mud. There were to be four fords of Williams Creek or its tributaries. We did the first one (a tributary) with our Teva's on, as well as the second (of the main channel), right before lunch. A ford like that is usually good for wasting 20 minutes or so, by the time you take off your pack and boots, put your Tevas on, put your pack back on, and cross the creek, and then invert the process. Doing it in the rain adds to the fun. By the time we got to the third, our boots were soaked so we saw no reason to change footwear. In fact, with the increased rain, the creek was rising, making the ford more challenging. No problems though, we just held on to each other.

The fourth ford, now well down the drainage, was interesting. First, the creek was flowing pretty good, OK, very good. We're are not talking Chitistone River here, but there was enough water in the creek to really make you pay attention. With careful foot placement, we got across just fine, holding on to each other to steady ourselves. The cool water necessitated a pee break, so we went back in the woods to a little campsite just by the creek to do our thing. Next thing we knew, a horse party showed up at the crossing. Actually, it looked like a guide on horseback, pulling a pack horse, and a couple of good-ole boy hunters on foot. The guide went across fairly quickly, with the GOB's (Good Ole Boys) waiting at the edge of the creek. We couldn't figure what was going on. Next, lines were being thrown back and forth across the water, and it finally dawned on us that they were setting up so that the GOB's did not have to get their feet wet. Even though it was raining, we found the entire process amusing, and it added entertainment to an otherwise dreary day. It seemed as though the GOB's were either too wimpy or too incompetent to cross the torrent on their own footing, even though it should have been clear to them that the 100 lb woman standing along side of me had just done so. So they made the poor guide's horse, whose footing in the creek must have been miserable, cross the creek 5 times so they could keep their feet dry. And people wonder why I am not fond of horses: it ain't the horses, it is the high percentage of dolts that use them, and use them in places or seasons when they are clearly contributing to the destruction of the resource.

We let them go by, and started hiking again. The rain stopped and sun came out, and it seemed things were looking up, but the trail was still a mess. Down below the junction with the Indian Creek trail, the Williams Creek trail improved, but even so, we did not reach the car until 5:15, nearly 9 hours after we started. It had been the worst trail I had ever hiked!!

We headed on down the Piedra River Road, now focused on getting a room for the night, since we had planned to be at Squaw Pass that night. We were lucky: despite the infusion of Labor Day visitors for the weekend, we got a place at the lovely Super 8 Motel. Susie, in a fit of worry as to whether we could afford another night out, felt like we needed to hold down the price of dinner by going out to McDonalds. (I was going to make some kind of snide remark about the amount of investments she had, and the few thousand dollars a day she was up or down in the stock market would clearly shadow anything we could buy on vacation, short of a mountain view lot, but thought better of it when I considered her hunger-induced foul mood. One of the few advantages of carrying a 30-day food supply around one's middle is that you have a bit more flexibility to deal with hunger.) I begged and pleaded for a more reasonable post-backpack style dinner, and she eventually agreed to the Christian Barbeque place (I think she liked it because the food was good, and no- alcohol kept the dinner price down). As we drove down the Piedra Road, we enjoyed the beautiful golden lighting against the thunderstorm-blackened sky to the south. The folks in the high country would be in for another rough nite. I treated myself to the meat-sampler platter when we got to dinner (about 7:45 pm or so, after a stop off in the room for a shower), and Susie had no trouble downing half a smoked chicken.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 1999