Weminuche 2021- Day 4 Up, Up and Away
December 11, 2021 § Leave a comment
If you recall, we broke two long days into three shorter days, and today was the second of those days, and this day would be nothing but regaining most, if not all of the elevation we lost yesterday. Distance-wise it was a little shorter, but terrain-wise we would hit some big gains in two sets of switchbacks, where I believe each set was 20-30 turns. The feeling was that we would find something between the second and third set where we could pitch our tents, but until we got there, we wouldn’t know. We hadn’t seen anyone we could ask.
The morning was another fine morning where the mountains to our East shielded us from direct sunlight until long after we hit the trail. Our fourth morning, and everything is very routine by now. Before I even leave my shelter, I have dressed, re-stuffed my sleeping bag, deflated the air mattress and returned it to its carry sack, deflated my pillow, and broken down and rolled up my tarp. Then it is time for hot water and a little relaxation while I watch everyone else do their thing. Of course Kevin is already up, as is Jim, and by the time I sit down, everyone is up and moving.
With everything packed up, we scan the site for anything forgotten, or any scraps of garbage we shouldn’t leave, make sure the fire ring is definitely dead, and then back onto the trail. We still had a very short way South on the Vallecito before we would branch West onto the Johnson. On the way I could hear what sounded like wild Cataracts, and I veered off the trail to investigate and found a place where the river had narrowed, and the water was rushing through in tremendous volume. From my vantage point I espied the bridge crossing where my friends were just not crossing. They did not notice me, but I caught them up soon afterwards and just that little bit of distance was enough to trigger most of us to shed a layer already. While we were shedding we found an overlook of the river to the South where there was a lone fly fisherman laying out his line with poetic grace.
It was a beautiful sunny day as we crossed Johnson Creek to its North side where we would stay for much of the day. The level ground near the river gave way quickly to the beginning of our ascent. There was plenty of Pine Bark Beetle destruction, but there was a lot of new growth, and in many places this growth was Aspen. If you have never seen an aspen, then for a deciduous tree the one thing you notice is that they don’t produce a lot of seeds. They expand their terrain via their root system, so Aspen are a single organism all cloned from a single tree in an established area. With the deforestation brought by the Pine Bark Beetle, the Aspen has been given all the sunlight it needs to expand, and it was expanding up Johnson Creek.
The first set of switchbacks arrived and numbered, according to the track on my GPS device, 27 vertexes, or 28 segments, and squeezed between a choke point between Organ and Echo mountains. Johnson Creek took the shortest distance in many cascades, while we took the long way. No segment was all that bad, and some were actually quite short, and when it was all over we gained about 400 feet and our views began to open up a bit. Another of those experiences where you have to remember to stop and turn around to glance back at where we had been.
We found a nice level spot to take a break and get some water. One blight on the site was that someone, or some group had left a large Opsak (Odor Proof Bag) stuffed with garbage. Not sure how long it had been there, but though “Odor Proof”, a critter had nibbled at one corner and there was considerable condensation within the bag. I picked it up and would carry it to our campsite where we would burn it.
We stretched out in the sun, and those that needed water, as in me, found a path through the bramble to the creek and got what was needed. The sun shone warm, and off came the layers, and the boots to dry out from the morning’s sweatcersize*. If you have never done anything like this before, let me say that it is not unlike taking a long trip. When we were kids, we sat in the back seat(s) asking our parents “Are we there yet?”. Today, we all have GPS devices that tell us how much time and distance remain, whereas before we had to look at maps to see where we were, and how far it was to where we were going. It is exactly the same backpacking. “How much further?” “When does the next set of switchbacks begin?” Out come the maps, we position ourselves using the Garmin device, and then we look at the map. I have another app with downloaded quad maps, that has a feature where I can enable straight line measurements. “The next set of switchbacks is 6500 feet as a crow flies.” “We should be there in 30 minutes once we start moving again.” This usually goes down around the time that we all realize we need to get moving again, but because we are all reward-based, we want something to look to. Get to the switchbacks, and the reward will be once we get through those, we are within the section where we will camp. That’s a nice reward.
The next set of switchbacks numbered 34 vertexes, and raised our potential energy level to almost 11,000 feet. There was a cascade within these segments that was truly marvelous and loud. Another choke point where the water cascaded over huge boulders of various colored granite, some of it that gorgeous pink granite. With 35 segments, there were many vertexes to await everyone, and so we took our time getting through it, calling out each vertex as we completed it. “Twenty Four … Twenty Five”, though Walt and I disagreed on where one started. He counted out one larger than my count. Wishful thinking I think that was.
With that set behind us the question was now “How much further to our camp?” Looking at the quads there were three sections where the grade lines stretched out revealing “flatter” areas. The general feeling was to get as close to the last set of switchbacks so our start the next day would begin with them. As we walked through the other two “flat” areas, we didn’t really see any established sites, so now we had to hope the last one would have one for sure. We knew we would be close when we had to cross Johnson Creek again, and eventually that is where we found ourselves, and wouldn’t you know it, right there on the other side of the crossing was a gorgeous spot for two people. Up against a giant boulder that probably provided quite the wind break, when there was wind to break. A site for two, is not a site for 6, but after another 200 yards we found our camp site, just off trail to the North, a large area with plenty of tent sites and a very nice and welcoming fire ring. Our hike for the day was complete.
As the day pushed on, we knew this was our last “nice” day for now. Clouds were moving in, and using the weather request feature of my Garmin device, we knew the next day would be a wet one. We might even be breaking camp in the rain, but that was the next day. It was still Day 4, and we had a nice dry camp site with a beautiful view, and a delicious source of water near by. Everyone spread out and did their own thing to get camp set up, and before long we were sitting around a warm fire when Paul broke out the powdered hummus. For this batch we had the spice packet from his Pad Thai meal the previous evening. Paul doesn’t go for a lot of heat, and so he saved it so he could tailor some of the hummus for us heat lovers. As I had packed a small container of Thai Birds Eye chili peppers, I pulverized a few of them for a wee bit o extra heat and we quickly exhausted the “sectors” cut out of a couple of round flour tortillas. With still some hummus to polish off, I broke out my tofu jerky and we used that to wipe of the rest. It was agreed by all that the Tofu jerky went very well with the hummus, and we would repeat on subsequent hummus meals.
No one walked by the rest of the afternoon, and so we were alone again for our fourth night out. Our routines weren’t challenged on this day, and we all turned in by 9PM. Tomorrow would be a wet day as we climb up and over Columbine Pass at 12,674 feet.
*Sweatcersize – An activity that generates huge volumes of sweat, sometimes confused with exercise.