I launched from Bear Spring camp late and heavy. According to the map, the spring would be my last water source for 9 miles and seeing as I would be traversing high and dry ridges I didn’t want to toy with dehydration.
The camp had been lovely and I was somewhat reluctant to leave. Looking at the map I thought I might only need to cover 9-10 miles before reaching what appeared to be a flat spot near water where I could camp for the night. Thinking I would have fewer miles today didn’t help the motivation.
But finally I got my gear packed up and headed to Bear Spring to fill water. After two days of washes, creeks and slick rock pockets filled with crystalline sparking water Bear Spring was a bit of a let down. The spring was contained within a man made rock enclosure. It was still, stagnant, and cloudy. I immediately began thinking of it as “Bear Pee” spring. I was immediately thankful for my Sawyer Filter and glad I had not just brought chemical treatment tablets.
Most of the day’s walk was along ridge tops and high on the sides of looming transition zone mountains. Transition zones are biologically fascinating places. Not quite the high alpine of the more northern latitudes or high country altitudes, not really low deserts either. A mix of both where you might find yucca and prickly pear on a south facing aspect, a pine a few steps away on a shadier north facing aspect, and all the manzanita in between. The biodiversity of these places is breathtaking.
After only a couple of miles I had to stop to work on my feet again. Oh the feet. My aching, throbbing, angry feet. While I reapply blister care and tape it in place with athletic tape I really truly get it. The shoes. It’s these damn shoes. For most of my backpacking life I have worn trail runners for hiking. It’s what works best for me. Specifically I have worn last year’s trail runners. Fresh shoes were reserved for actual running. The shoes that were just a touch too old for running got downgraded to hiking duty. But I had to give up running a couple of years ago. My knees and adrenal system don’t care for running, so I had to quit. Rather than buy expensive trail runners for hiking alone, I had bought hiking shoes. It finally occurred to me that these damn shoes are the real problem. I have gotten blisters from them in the exact same places every time I’ve backpacked in them. No more. When I get home they are going in the trash. Ugh.
Along my hike I stood atop the highest point on my pilgrimage. I hit just over 7,000 feet on the knob of a somewhat unremarkable ridge looking out over some lovely views of corduroy mountains in the distance.
Continuing my hike I stopped to consider my location and have a snack. Two things quickly occurred. The first...I realized that my pace today was nearly double what it had been the previous two days. No, I don’t think I somehow walked myself into shape in two days. If anything I’m more worn down today and should be moving slower. The one thing that had changed was the trail itself. After two days of navigating the loosest, rocky rubble field of a trail I’ve maybe ever seen, today the trail was smooth and pleasant. My confidence was bolstered. It really wasn’t me. I hadn’t actually overestimated my abilities and potential trail pace, I had grossly underestimated this rugged, remote trail. Simultaneously I feel a little sheepish. Why had I allowed self doubt to so completely rule my first day? Maybe that’s another contemplation for another day. Another blog post. The second thing I quickly realized was the swarm of Juniper Gnats buzzing around the instant I sat down. Yuck. This would be no place for a snack. Keep moving lady. Keep moving.
More rapidly than I expected I rounded the Mt. Peely section of this passage into the cool pines. A quick stop to acknowledge the joy of passing out of the Mazatzal Wilderness and away I went, descending precipitously toward the Saddle Mountain passage.
Arriving at today’s 10 mile mark, I did find water. A tumbling, rushing stream in fact. But my hopes for a short day and an early camp were not to be. While I found the area that seemed to have a relative flat spot, it was choked with brambly bushes and dense vegetation. It was no place for a camp. According to the map, Mcfarland Canyon 3 miles away most definitely had tent platforms and it seemed that this might be my best bet. Oh well. What’s three more miles? Looking off into the distance I spotted a grove of tall fir trees at the mouth of a canyon. I was guessing that must be McFarland. It seemed dishearteningly far away, but also beckoned me on.
Much of the first half of the Saddle Mountain passage is rock hopping through a steam bed. Minus the water, this might be another tedious slog through a boulder field. But with the water brought from a wet, cool winter and spring, the path danced with glassy sunlight creating a magical fairyland oasis in the midst of the approaching desert lowlands.
Arriving at McFarland canyon made the extra miles worth it. It was spectacular. Lovely tent platform and a babbling brook nearby to enjoy and refill water reserves. For tonight...I was home.
Just after dark I climbed into my tent ready for a solid night’s sleep. No sooner had I finished zipping the tent shut than the wind gusted in so hard I thought my tent might blow over. I hastily jumped out to check and re secure the guy lines on the sides of my ultralight tent. Once satisfied that they were secure I got back inside just as the sky opened up and began to pour. The tall pines above me creaked menacingly. In winds this high, it would not be out of the question for one of these trees to come crashing down on me in the night. Yikes. There went my hopes for a solid night’s sleep.
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