Date: August 15, 2017
Miles: 39.2 miles (63.1km), from Shelly Meadows to Grider Creek Campground at mile 1,647.
We wake early, pack our packs and start walking. I’m on the trail 6:15 am. The spot I chose to cowboy camp last night was a bit too close to a meadow and the small creek running through it so my sleeping bag got wet from condensation.
We plan to push for 35 miles (56.3km) today to a small spot in a canyon with no other camping spots close by. As the trail starts to climb back up I enjoy the beautiful scenery and how great my new shoes feel. When all you do is walk all day, the shoes become your best friends.
The climb is a long one. While the scenery is gorgeous, there’s not much happening – I just walk. I’ve grown tired of all the music on my phone, and as I don’t have any new audiobooks to listen to, the time goes by really slow.
The trail goes up and over a ridgeline, back down a bit, then again over the ridgeline, and so on. This is what we do every day – walk up and down mountains. At one point the trail goes through a part that looks like an old burn section.
I catch up to Sunshine and her crew and hike with them for about an hour but as they want to hike at a faster pace I soon hang back as I’m in no rush. Other than Sunshine’s crew I don’t see anyone on the trail all day.
After about 21 miles (33.8km) I stop for lunch alone. Not a single soul walks by the entire time I eat. After lunch, I pack more bars in the bottom pocket of my pack so that I can walk without stopping for the rest of the day. I’m planning to eat dinner in camp.
After lunch, the trail drops down to a forest and after a while down to the canyon where we’ve planned to camp. As I walk further the canyon gets narrower and narrower. There are hardly any flat spots beside the small river running at the bottom. This explains why there’s only one camp spot on this entire section.
The trail gets really lush and at times a bit overgrown. I keep crossing the river multiple times over small bridges, hopping from one side of the canyon to the other.
Soon it gets dark but I’m still a few miles from the camp. I hike the last miles with my headlamp out and once I reach the camp spot, I find it’s just a small outcropping next to a bridge, barely big enough for Sunshine’s crew. They’ve all huddled up on a single groundcloth as that’s all the space there is.
They’re already sleeping but they wake up and tell me they’ll make room at the foot end. I don’t really want to squeeze myself into such a small space and wake them up more. I tell them I’m ok and that I’ll walk back up to the previous bridge hoping to find some flat spots there.
I walk back the 0.2 miles to the previous bridge but there are no possible spots to sleep in there either. I turn around and walk back to the next bridge trying to find any flat spots I could squeeze into on the way. I look for a spot under the bridge and even contemplate sleeping on the bridge but as it’s so narrow and not really flat, I’m scared I’ll fall to the river while sleeping.
The next marked camp spot is almost 5 miles down the trail where the canyon ends. It’s already 11 pm, meaning I’ve been on the trail for almost 17 hours by now and I’m tired. My legs are sore from all the climbing, and my eyes hurt from watching the trail in the beam of the headlight. But there’s not much I can do.
I keep walking on hoping to find a small patch of flat ground to camp on. Sadly the canyon is shaped like a V, with the trail cut into the wall, so there really aren’t any flat spots around. The fact that it’s pitch black at this point doesn’t help either.
After about 20 minutes of searching, I see what appears to be a small flat area down by the river. I start climbing down but end up almost causing a small rock slide and realize if I fall down here and hurt myself, it’s going to be a while before anyone’s going to find me.
I get down to the river safely by climbing a fallen tree and start to get ready to camp. As I’m unpacking my pack I notice there are a lot of fallen trees around here and the ones that are still standing are making a strange noise in the wind. I put my headlamp on full power and realize I’m in the middle of a burn area with all the trees badly burned and barely standing. I quickly remember how the firemen told us not to spend too much time in the burn areas as the trees can fall and snap unpredictably. As I’ve already seen this couple of times myself, this is the last place I want to sleep tonight.
I quickly gather my things and climb back up on the trail and decide to haul ass and get to the next campsite, making this a long night and totaling over 40 walked miles for today.
Feeling kind of spooked about the burn area, and noticing that the trail is covered in poison oak, I put my phone on the shoulder pocket, blast some Slayer at full volume, and put my headlamp on full power. I’m hoping that the music will let all the mountain lions know I’ll fight if I have to, and the headlamp is so that I can see the poison oak better.
And then I start running down the trail.
All I can see for the next hour and a half is the small circle of light from my headlamp penetrating the darkness and lighting up the trail. I don’t remember much about this section other than it was dark, I was tired, and there was a ton of poison oak. Or so it looked like in the dark.
Finally, little past 1 am, I reach the end of the canyon and find a camp spot across the river. Trying not to wake other hikers camping here I scout for a secluded spot a little of to the side and start setting up my camp. As I’m doing so I notice a familiar tent not far – Sam? I recognize his pack, poles, and shoes so it’s his for sure. I caught up to him!
I leave a note outside of his tent letting him know where I’m at and to wake me up in the morning.
19 hours of walking and almost 40 trail miles done. Today was a really long day but I’m happy I made it here.