To Alex -

To Alex...who is far away in person, but never far from my heart. I miss you. Enjoy these snippets of everyday family life here in the states.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trip Report

If you don't mind, I'm just gonna start calling myself a backpacker right now. Seriously, I think I've earned the title after all the time I spend outside. So what if I've only truly backpacked this one time. I assure you, this will not be my only trip.

I. Am. Hooked! Besides, I have that upcoming trip with Sir S and just this morning, I booked another trip in September. See? Backpacker.

I'm sort of like that. I just know I'm going to love something before I ever do it and it eats at me until I try it. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful trip this was. In truth, I had a bit of angst when packing because I didn't know how my pack would wear and I was afraid of overloading. I ended up with 24.8 pounds so I guess it was good to worry. Well, I was at 24.8 before deciding at the last minute to bring along my 3 and a half pound Nikon, which, by the way, did not like being jostled in my pack because when I arrived back home after the trip, my card had been wiped clean. Yep, not one picture to show for the trouble of carrying it 14 miles. So, I learned two things about that camera. One, it's not worth the extra weight when I have a perfectly good Pentax that fits in my pocket and two, if I do bring it, don't travel with the card inside the camera.

About 10:15 Saturday morning, eleven hikers left as a group from the trail head at Nichols Lake. It wasn't long before we settled into our own pace and spread out along the trail and though I couldn't always see the lead person, there was always someone within sight. We had a delicious break from the absurdly high temps that have plagued us for about 6 weeks now and I'm pretty sure everyone made a comment about how lucky we were.
The first section was through beautifully shaded hardwood forest, not too hilly, but enough of a climb to make you feel it. It had rained hard on Friday, which brought out a variety of mushrooms along the trail. Lots of Bolettes and a few slimes and jellies, but we also ran across these.
I'm almost positive this is Crown-tipped Coral, which is edible. I had made the comment to my fellow hikers that most mushrooms seem to be edible, but the problem comes from those few that are absolutely deadly to eat and without being 100% positive in my identification, I'm not willing to take the risk of eating them. There are only four types that I will walk through the woods and pick with certainty, Morels, Oysters, Shaggy Mane and the puff ball. That's it. Anything else and I get out the books and start to research, and even then I probably wouldn't eat them. Some day I hope to be able to identify Chanterelles too.
Here's a nice little plank bridge to get us over a marshy area. We had no problem with marshes or bogs on this hike. There were a couple areas that might be a bit wet under normal circumstances, but for the most part our elevation would have kept us dry.
Then we come across areas like this along the trail. I said it felt like holy ground when we came around the bend. It stopped me in my tracks, although I don't think you'll get the same feeling just from the pictures. It was very cool.
And mixed right in were these crazy curvy trees. What the heck are they? I've seen them before, but I don't have a name for them. Anyone?
Oh, wait, we had eleven people, plus three dogs on the hike. The dogs were excited about going for a walk-about and had a bit of excess energy, so we stopped at either Walkup or Leaf Lake in an attempt to burn off some of their exuberance. Ha, didn't work. They were great on the trail, but man were they excited to be in the woods.
I love this picture. The humans shed their packs, their shoes and their socks and we got in the water as well. A couple people actually swam, but mostly we oohed and aahed as we walked in the shallows. Oh, that felt so good.
And no mosquitoes. That's one of the nice things about our semi-drought...the mosquito eggs are left high and dry and that makes hiking in the woods very pleasant.

Condon Lake has a high bluff overlook at which we stopped for lunch. I didn't mind the walking and I didn't mind carrying the pack, but goodness did those rest breaks feel good!

We dawdled, yes we did, and we didn't make Highbanks Lake until nearly 3:30 which means we really dawdled, but hey, we had no where to be. I had great plans for the Nikon once we got to Highbanks, but mostly I set up my tent and then sat at the picnic table talking with my hiking buddies while we all laughed about how tired we were and was it time for bed yet? One of the highlights was checking out each other's gear and hearing the pros and cons of different pieces, and during dinner we had a good time comparing the different foods we brought and seeing how easy it was to prepare our meals. It seems there was a lot of thought put into what foods to bring and every meal was delicious. Wait, is that because we had been on the trail and we were starving? I watched someone make a great stove top pizza and now I'm taking that idea on the trail with Sir S and I. He's gonna love that.
See these? I think they were called ground cherries, but they're actually a type of tomato. You peel the wrapper off, toss it on the ground (I know because we did that) and eat the inside, which is more like a tiny cherry and oh, so sweet. Very tasty and a nice treat after dinner, or during, because we didn't wait for the after dinner part.

Our site was right on the water at Highbanks lake. Nice view, nice sandy beach, the vault toilet was clean and there was delicious water from a tap. Ah, life was good. I managed to stay up long enough to see the guys build a fire, but then I crawled into bed for a much needed sleep. I don't normally sleep in, but I didn't emerge from my tent until nearly 8 the next morning. This is what I awoke to.
Views like this make for a very happy me!

Breakfast was with everyone gathered around the table again and then we slowly broke camp to begin our return hike. Lots of giggles and groans as people strapped on their packs. It does take a few minutes to get those sore muscles to cooperate. Again, a beautiful day for a hike and some more interesting scenery on the return trip.
This flower is cool, and I have no idea what it is.
I absconded with this feather my girlfriend found. Notice the iridescence at the end? Is it a turkey feather?

I think we were on the trail by 10:30 and back at the cars about 2:30, sore, tired and happy. A beautiful first time experience. Yes, I will be back on the trail with my pack loaded as soon as I can.  So cool to be a backpacker!

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