The first five miles went very quickly, through some forest and some burnt forest, and then we crossed a highway. People often ask me if I feel safe walking out in the woods- they worry about cougars and bears and other wild animals and things that might get me. I have had to listen to countless stories about people being attacked by bears or falling off cliffs. I am frequently asked if we carry a pistol or at least bear mace. Here’s my answer: I don’t worry about bears in the wilderness any more than I worry about muggers in the city, and if you want to look at the statistics, 28 fatal bear attacks in CA in the decade of 2010, compared to 1,974 homicides in CA in the year of 2011. Although this site http://www.scaruffi.com/travel/calendar.html says that no fatal bear attacks have occurred in this decade. Yes, I feel safer with the bears. And though I could not find a single listed incident of a hiker being run over by a Mac Truck, crossing highways is really the only time I feel unsafe. Well, and an occasional river crossing. And once in a great while on a rocky ledge. But bears I do not worry about.
I expected the day’s hike to be rocky and uphill the whole way, seeing as we were rounding a ridge and hiking right below Three Fingered Jack. There was a lot of fire damage again, but being an older fire, there was also a lot of wild flowers and undergrowth. It was pretty steep in some places, and I am glad we did not have to hike it in yesterday’s pouring rain, but it was not the scary ridge walk I expected. Sometimes, when I needed a bit of a breather, I would stare out at the landscape far below. The valley spread out like a carpet, green with trees and then grey and black from the damage of many fires. I love days when the mist still hangs in the air and the mountains fade out in layers of blue and purple along the horizon. I spent a lot of time that day trying to figure out how to paint that scene, or capture it in a quilt for my new grandchild. Something about that particular view of blue and purple layers of mountain is so peaceful and encouraging.
My journal says that I got a nap at lunchtime and that I washed my feet and changed my shoes. I do not remember the nap, I do remember the mushy little lake deep in a burn area where I tried to get water and wash up. The edge of the lake was so deep with ash that every step caused muddy rings to form and ebb out. I finally found a rock to which I could wade/hop out, where I perched to fill my water bottle. Washing my feet was useless- they just kept getting dirtier. When I was done fetching the water I sat with my little towel and dried my feet clean, changed my socks and put on my sturdier Keens. Then it was time to dig a little hole before we hit the trail again. Finding a discreet spot is not easy when there are no trees and little underbrush, so I wandered away from Snickers and down to the left a little, where the undergrowth proved a little thicker. I was just in the process of unbuckling when I heard a whistle and then a voice. A hiker walked right by me- not more than ten feet away! It seems that the trail winds a bit more than I realized right through there, and though I had walked my 100 feet away from the trail in that direction, I had wound up right next to it on this side. A few minutes more and that hiker would have had more scenery than he might have cared for! We continued on and had a nice, uneventful afternoon, coming finally to a lake where we thought we might make camp. To finish at Cascade Locks by Friday, though, we would have to do twenty miles every day until then. This lake wasn’t very picturesque, and it was only at mile seventeen for the day. We took a rest, and then decided to move on. The next lake, Rock Pile, was four miles away and supposed to be a good spot, so we heaved our packs back on and headed North. It was a pretty steep four miles, but we can feel that two days rest and know we are getting stronger when a 21 mile day doesn’t kill us anymore.
From my previous posts it may seem that everyone on the trail is friendly and we are all out here having a party. Not every hiker is immediately your best friend. Two men that we met at Elk Lake kept crossing paths with us. They were quiet, hardly said hello, kept their mp3’s plugged in and kept hiking. We never learned their names and they never seemed glad to see us. We had established camp at Rock Pile Lake and were in the process of making dinner when these two came in. We waved hello, they nodded curtly in return. Rather than go over and make friends we decided to keep to ourselves, too. We had a nice burrito dinner with butterscotch pudding with ginger snap crust and listened to our audio story for a while. A brisk, cold wind came scooting across the lake, but we were snuggled down inside our warm sleeping bags, watching the stars blink on one by one as the blue sky deepened and turned to purple, then to velvety black.