Day 62, June 25th
Start: highway 70, mile 1,289
End: camp at mile 1,319
Miles hiked: unknown, but at least 30
I wake up early and catch a ride with Mrs. Braaten to the trailhead, just a few miles down the highway. She drops carrot, a southbound hiker named William (who I call Billiam, I don’t think he liked it though), JrSr and I off around 6:30. Sweet, and early start, even with staying at a trail angels. I chug a Mountain Dew I’ve been carrying since the Williams at bucks lake, and soon I’m chasing down JrSr as we begin the 5,000 foot climb out of this canyon. We pass a cemetery with 5 gravestones. One has fresh flowers. Strange, I think. Belden is small, and this is a strange place for a cemetery.
Soon we’re climbing fast, and as we climb, the trail gets more and more faint. We’re having to fight trough bushes that completely overgrow the trail. We can’t even see it for much of the time, it’s so scant. But I don’t give a shit, I’m jacked up on Mountain Dew, and I’m like a bulldozer tricked out with NOS, thick bushes can’t stop this train.
Two miles of plowing uphill my brain begins to function normally. What the hell are we doing? Why is the trail not maintained… At all. This can’t be the pct. I check my halfmile app, it says I’m off trail, but it can be wrong sometimes. I check my physical halfmile app, and duh, we’re totally off trail. I can see the ridge we’re on, and I know we’ve gained about 2,000 feet from the altimeter on my watch. I survey the land. JrSr and I are headed north up a steep ridge. The pct heads west and stays in a valley. What an idiot, just following JrSr not paying attention to all the clear signs that we weren’t on the trail. Oh well, nothing I can do now but figure this out. I’m not hiking back and starting over again. I’m too stubborn for that. And too proud to admit defeat. As I look at the maps, look at the land, and read the sun, I can pinpoint where we are pretty closely on the map. I read it a bit, and decide I’m going to bush whack off trail, finding my way back to the pct in 15 miles. It’s a long way to hike off trail, but I’m pretty confident in my directional skills, and I know I can get myself to where the trail crosses a dirt road, about 15 miles northwest of where I’m standing.
“Junior! Stop!” I yell ahead, as he’s continued on as I was figuring out what what up. I run up the hill to him.
“We’re not on the pct, are we?” He knows. He’s not stupid.
“You can either go back the way we came, or follow me. I’m pretty sure I can get us back to the trail, but it’s going to be messy.” I say to him.
“You lead the way, boss.” He responds.
Like myself, he’s too stubborn to admit defeat. That 2,000 feet was tough. I don’t want to descend that, just to go back up a different direction.
I lead us up a very steep slope, trying to regain the ridge we were on before the weird trail dipped below. It’s about 600 feet gain to the top, and it’s a struggle. Loose rocks, and shifty soil makes it tough to get up. We put our poles away so that we may use our hands to get up and over the rocks and downed trees in the way, and maintain our balance on the slope. There’s no trail, so we just make our own way up.
Once the ridge is gained, I look for any sign of a trail. There’s none. But there are some animal trails from local deer, so we follow that up the ridge. Another mile and a half, and the ridge turns to a barren burn zone. The dusty ground is covered thickly with sharp plants. They cut our legs all up as we try and fight our way through. I pick point after point that I want to get to. At each place, I survey the landscape and my map, reading where it believe we’re at. Soon we’re off my map that I have. The maps only show the pct corridor, and the area that’s a few miles from it. I knew this would happen, but it still sucks. I’m pretty sure this ridge we’re on connects to the main ridge off the mountain, of which we can head due west on, paralleling the pct, just far, far above it. Eventually, the pct ascends the ridge, and we should be able to meet it there, if we head that direction.
There’s nothing we can do but continue on. I’m having a blast with this. It’s mentally engaging, unlike the trail. I have to survey the land, use my instincts, and make decisions on where to go and how to get there. That’s fun. I like the challenge, and feel pretty confident that it’ll work out. It would be easy to freak out, or panic in a situation like this, but that wouldn’t help anything. JrSr is a good sport as well. He’s noticeably tired, and has some doubt that we’ll make it, but I convince him that despite me being stupid enough to charge up a hill the wrong direction, I can get us where we need to be, and efficiently. We continue walking through poky bushes, my legs bloodied from the stupid shrubbery. We go up and over boulders, climb more steep ridges, and eventually get out of the burn zone and to the forest again. I believe we’re on the main ridge, and need to head west, so we do. There’s a 4×4 road up here used by the loggers, and I hope we’ll hit it if we just walk west, and we do after several miles bushwhacking on the ridge. We have an epic high Five to celebrate, and JrSr let’s out a sigh of relief. From here, we follow the little two track road 3 to 4 more miles and hit the pct.
“PCT! PCT!” JrSr yells as we hit the crossing off the trail.
“Twinkle?” Shouts a voice from the woods. Who could that be, I think to myself.
Out emerges carrot. “Why are you guys coming from that road?” She asks.
JrSr and I look at each other and laugh. How could it work out that the second we hit the pct for the first time today, 7 hours after starting our hike, carrot is crossing this same section. We tell her of our alternate route. “The dumb and dumber pct alternate” I call it. But hey, it all worked out! JrSr loved it too, once it all worked out. Says he’s never done anything even remotely like that. I’m happy for that. I did a lot of stupid stuff like this in Colorado hiking mountains, and feel in my element navigating off trail. I really like it, a lot. I imagine I’m being Andrew skurka or something, and totally geek out on it.
We all hike down the trail together. So easy and free. Just following a soft footpath through the woods. The rest of the day seems like a breeze, and we camp together with sheriff near a spring.
How wild it is, to let it all be 😉