Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 3 Easy Peasy
December 9, 2021 § Leave a comment
We met a lot of people on this adventure. Way more than in past adventures excepting Banff. The least number we ever saw was in the High Uintas where we met a Ranger, and then a guide with two charges, all on horseback. After that, nothing. This day would not be a high volume people day, but the two characters we did meet (Father/Son) were a real eye opener.
Our second morning was a little different than our first. For one, we weren’t in a hurry to get over two passes as all we had on the agenda for the day was mostly all downhill, or perhaps it is better to say our net elevation gain today would be a loss. About 1000 feet (304.8 meters) loss. No need to hurry for that. We would probably be done by 1 or 2 and then have the rest of the afternoon to relax, and maybe even cleanup a little in Vallecito river/creek. Another difference was our tree cover was greater, so the view of the surrounding mountains was obscured. That wouldn’t last long once we started to hike, but until that began, we were in the shade of mountains we couldn’t really see, and it was a cool night. I had my usual 3 times up for personal business, and my usual sleep issues, but that doesn’t keep me in bed.
I don’t remember what took Paul so long to get ready, but the others were ready before him, and I sent them on their merry way, and hung out until Paul was ready. Paul is an Adult, and more than capable, and I probably could have left him without worry, but these folks are all here on my invitation, and so I have a responsibility to see that everyone gets moving, and really the main concern is when you are by yourself, there can always be that question “Hmmm. Did they go that way, or that way?” It’s easy to get yourself twisted backwards, and I wouldn’t want him walking a half mile before realizing he was going the wrong direction.
So, it was Paul and me for much of the first half of the days hike because we gave those guys a decent head start, and there wasn’t really anything of interest to stop and wait for. There was a trail intersection, Rock Creek, coming up but that was less than a couple of miles away and would be too early to stop for a snack. It’s hard to recall fully, but the others may have had a twenty minute head start on us and as it turned out, the way ahead was full of small color. That is the wild flowers, and therefore all the creatures that love wildflowers, were in full bloom along the trail. I am not a flower expert. Hell, I am not even a flower novice. I am flower ignorant, so all I can say is there were yellow flowers, blue flowers, deeper blue upside down flowers, white flowers etc. There were also plenty of ripe red raspberries for those who wished to stop, and Paul and I surely wished.
It didn’t take long to reach Rock Creek, and though the others may have waited for a short time, their patience drained and they moved on. We were advised that the water out of Rock Creek, though safe to drink (more on that later), is high in iron, and had a very reddish-brown color to it. Maybe there were a lot of mines up Rock Creek, but it didn’t look like water I wanted to drink, and fortunately there were plenty of crossing water sources all along the Vallecito. Rock Creek was simply a larger creek draining a larger valley.
It wasn’t long afterwards that we ran into the son of the father/son pair. The first thing we noticed was the immense size of his pack. It was huge. We chatted him up and he and his Dad were finishing 30 days in the Weminuche. “30 days?! That’s a lot of supplies to pack in.” I exclaimed, to which his reply was that when he started, his pack weighed in at 120 pounds. Now, the young man in front of me couldn’t have weighed more than 160 pounds, wet, so the thought of carrying a pack that weighed in at least 3 times heavier than mine was a thought of exhausting punishment. He did indicate that they only climbed Hunchback Pass and camped up there for 5 days before moving on, so that was less than two miles from their car, which was parked back at the road we left the day prior. From there they spent the time summitting all the local peaks they could reach, before moving camp down into one of the many side drainages off the Vallecito to tackle all those summits. Nothing was really technical, but they had some technical gear if they needed it.
And then we met the Dad. I am taller than my Dad, and many of my friends are bigger than their Dads as well, and that was certainly the case here. If the son was 160 pounds wet, the father was 150, and carried the same pack, though his starting weight was 115 pounds. Staggering amount of weight, that neither my shoulders, hips, or knees wanted anything to do with. Then he asked us a question. “Where are you guys getting your water from?” This seemed like a very strange question to me, but recalling the warning we received about drinking from Rock Creek, and our proximity to it, I just figured he must be worried that we used it as a source, and I replied “We get all our water from the watershed, except for Rock Creek, which we warned was probably safe, but had a mineral taste.” That was when we were warned that all the water was toxic. “Toxic?” I asked. And then he proceeded to inform us that the US Government had been seeding the clouds with toxic chemicals, for the sole purpose of inhibiting rainfall since the end of World War II. You read that correctly. I made the decision right then and there that I wasn’t going to challenge him on those wild assertions and simply asked “Then where do you get your water?” This answer may, or may not surprise you, but with a serious face, he told us that one of the reasons their packs were heavy was because they brought their water with them. “For thirty days? That seems like a lot of water.” And if you didn’t think that this conversation was already just a wee bit tipping the scale towards insanity, then get this. “We recycle our urine and drink that.” I chose not ask what “recycle” meant because I think all that meant was they drank their piss, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they had some sort of closed system that recovered a fair amount of H2O from their urine, but then he said something like “It doesn’t taste as bad as you’d think.” “Sounds like you and your son had a great experience. We have to catch up to our friends, so we’ll be getting along now.” and that was that.
We eventually caught up to our friends where we found them stretched out and relaxing in the full exposure of the warm sun. Our friends, apparently did not quiz the son or the father much about their adventures, so we relayed our findings. “Did you say that he said that they drink their piss?” “That is exactly what I said.” We all decided right then that we weren’t going to experiment and see just what was the going on with that. We may all have taken a sip of our creek water, licked our lips and remarked on its deliciousness. Though I am now referring to Science Fiction, but the new Dune has been released, and on Arrakis, the Fremen wear a special suit that recovers and recycles much of the wearers water. Not so science fictiony is on the International Space Station they regularly recycle all their water, and thus do recover the H20 from their urine, however, I think we can agree that is way different than what these two men were engaged in. Allegedly.
Again, the others set out before Paul and I were ready, but we didn’t wait too long before following, and soon we were one big group again moving along the trail in and out of tree cover. As we lost elevation, and the sun neared its apex the warmth of the day was felt by all. We hadn’t a clue what our camp site would have, or be, so when we came across a site that was along the creek, we stopped for our official “Lunch” and many took an opportunity to take a dip in the cold waters of the Vallecito and “Clean” up a bit. Personally, I think I removed and soaked my wool T-Shirt just to get the salt out, and then used the evaporation technique to cool down when I put it back on. It was dry in no time.
Once we were back on the trail, it wasn’t really all the long before we came to a large camp site on the river that would be our site for the night. The site was huge with a nice fire ring, and as with all the sites, plenty of dead dry wood just lying around. There were a lot of mounds, termites I believe on the southern edge of the site, but the rest of the site was clear. Access to the river was easy, and before long camp was established and everyone, in their own time, took advantage of the creek to do a little washing up. With the sun unobstructed by any clouds, we just pulled our chairs over to the edge of the river, and basked in its warmth. We dried quickly, and many of us opened up our boots, pulled out inserts, and hung our socks nearby and let those items get a good airing out.
We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, and absorbing mildly absurd amounts of UV radiation before getting the fire going and setting down to the task of dinner and our usual routines for the evening. The fire was warm, and as is usual it is Kevin who first asks “What will the next day bring?” and we break out the maps and scan the trail ahead. The trail up Johnson Creek is mainly defined by 3 major sets of switchbacks, and the idea would be to get somewhere between the second and third sets and look for a camp site. The paper map I had was too high level to discern anything, however I had two sets of quads downloaded onto my phone, and both showed a somewhat flat area with “vegetation” coloring about 2/3 of the way to the last set of switchbacks, and we all felt there should definitely be something there that suits us.
This night was also a Creme Brulet night, and I have found that the best way to prepare that is to start that early, and simply let it set for an hour or more until everyone has long finished their dinners, and talk of hanging the food and turning in starts to get discussed. “We still have to eat this Creme Brulet!”, and I open it up, take the first bite, YUM, and then pass the contents along. One bag usually makes the rounds twice before it becomes fodder for the fire. With food consumption now complete, we tied up our food bags. Having a sailor along has given us a new skill and an extra precaution in hanging our bags. When 6 guys hang 6 food bags from one rope, that is a heavy load to lift up. Even harder is actually getting the bags high enough, as unless you can gain a purchase point to push the load higher at the know, you can only really relieve the weight of one bag from the bottom pushing up, and that isn’t always enough. The initial pull has to be a good one so that before friction arrests the procedure, the bags gain a good bit of height, but sometimes, and certainly on this night, the lower bags were within reach of a tall bear. That is when Paul suggested that we loop the securing rope back across from the securing tree, and thread it through the bottom loops on a few bags and then pull that across to the securing tree again, thus elevating the bottom of the bags out of reach of any potential bear intruders. In fact I think Paul actually tied a loop know in the middle of the rope between the load and the securing tree, and we used that to pull the bottoms up. I wish I had a picture of it, because I am sure I haven’t described this in a way that most people will understand.
With all that out of the way, we enjoyed the last moments of our fire, and again did our best to minimize any issues with it before turning in. It was another clear night, and as with the previous two nights, there was almost no wind, so flattening the fire as much as possible, and then filling it in with the fire ring rocks is more than sufficient to arrest any fears of having the fire spread outside its boundaries. My sleeping arrangements were right next to the river, and that was the white noise I used to slip in and out of consciousness all night.