Four Girls, Lost (sort of) in Pine Mountain Wilderness – Part 2
(Also, my e-mail malfunctioned, and deleted about 8 months’ worth of e-mails, so I’ve had to ask Jessica to send the pics again; I’ll add them to the post as soon as I receive them.)
After we reached the summit of Pine Mountain, Erin, Jessica, Jenny, and myself headed downhill, southwest along the Verde Rim Trail #261, chatting happily while we walked along the very clear path.
After 0.8 of a mile, we reached a junction with the Pine Mountain Trail #14, which headed northeast, looping back to its eventual junction with the Nelson Trail #159, which we had hiked earlier in the day. In retrospect, I think that most people who hike this wilderness must choose that “balloon” route. Although we didn’t hike the Pine Mountain Trail, so I don’t know its actual condition, I’m guessing that it is well-travelled and well-marked, like the trails we had hiked up until that point. Because, after that junction, our path grew steadily fainter; it was apparent that not many people choose the route we were going. We would keep an eye out for the trail itself, for logs laid down as erosion barriers along the trail by the US Forest Service, and for the occasional rock cairn, which would mark the way.
Eventually, though, with all our watchfulness, we lost the trail.
We even kept a fairly close eye on the GPS unit, which did show the trail. However, trails on the GPS are based on the topographical maps made by the USGS, many of them made more than 40 years ago. Lots can change in the course of 40 years, including the exact route of a trail. Sometimes, the GPS would show that we were directly on the trail, when there was no trail to be seen.
Compared to how badly we lost the trail the next day, that particular instance of losing our way didn’t seem to be of great concern; we found our way back fairly quickly. Then, we lost the trail again. And again. We even came to a sign, which seemed hopeful at first. But, the sign was down, and it was really unclear which way it had originally pointed. There seemed to be trails heading off in all directions from the point of the sign, when there should have been only one. We chose what seemed like the best route, and started off.
It wasn’t, in all likelihood, the best route.
However, we had the exact GPS coordinates of our expected campsite, and, as we headed down the mountain, we just struck out in approximately the right cardinal direction, sticking as closely as possible to the trail, as marked on the GPS unit, finding the actual trail when possible. But, for most of that section, we were pretty much off-trail.
This section of the Verde Rim Trail, from the junction with Pine Mountain Trail, to our campsite, was supposed to be about 2.4 miles. I think for us, it ended up being closer to 4 miles, what with picking out our own route, which did often include setting off on a route, only to find out that it wouldn’t work at all, then backtracking.
After about 10 miles of hiking*, we finally made it, in early evening light, to the GPS coordinates that had been handily supplied by an online hiker. These coordinates were supposed to have us cross a running stream. We were a bit concerned not to see any water in the creek bed, as we were counting on it to replenish our bottles. We decided, though, to find and set up our camp, then further explore the “stream,” to look for at least some pools of water.
After finding a small spur trail, we headed nearly due west about 100 yards, until we found the campsite. Frankly, the whole “campsite” idea made me a bit nervous. We were, after all, in a federally-designated Wilderness area, that of the “leave no trace” ethic, where one isn’t supposed to set up any kind of noticeable camp. However, it was apparent that a fair number of people, previous to us, had constructed this possibly-illegal campsite. They dry-stacked some rocks into a large fire pit, with downed logs surrounding it for chairs. And there was a clear space for a tent site. Illegal or not, it was a nice site for our tent. It was about 6:15, and Jessica and Jenny got to setting up the tent, and I started with dinner. Erin started back to the creek to look for water.
Eventually, Erin came back with the grim report that the creek bed, for about 50 yards in either direction, held no water. So… we were stuck with the water we had on hand. Thanks to the fact that Jessica had toted “too much” water — about twice what the rest of us had had — we did have enough for dinner, plus a few sips to get us started in the morning. We looked at the map again, and saw that there were potentially two more spots in which to find water, in a little over a mile from our campsite. So, that became the plan: ration water for now, hope for more in the morning.
We continued with our dinner plans, which saw a few mishaps, too.
This is rather an aside, but if you like homecooking, and you backpack or camp for extended periods of time, PLEASE get yourself the highly excellent book The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking by Gretchen McHugh. It was originally published in 1982, and reprinted in paperback in 2002. After checking out my local library’s copy multiple times, I eventually bought my own. That was seven or eight years ago, and I still LOVE this cookbook for camping and hiking. An Amazon review says:
Gretchen McHugh provides practical advice and guidelines on dehydration, equipment and meals for the backpacker who enjoys eating. The instructions and recipes are clear and easy to follow. Best of all, the results are very tasty!
We all could have easily bought our own freeze-dried food packs for our one dinner. However, since I have celiac disease, and can’t have even trace amounts of wheat, rye, or barley, almost all of the dinners available are off-limits for me. Plus, I liked the idea of all of us sitting down to a tasty, steaming pot, eating together, rather than simply pouring boiling water into our pouches and eating separately. So, I had prepared a beef and vegetable “stew” by making jerky, dried veggies, and dried tomato paste with sauteed garlic and onions with my stepdad’s food dehydrator. Combined with instant mashed potatoes, it was a yummy, filling meal. However, it almost didn’t happen.
First, we had a dickens of a time getting the fire started. There apparently hadn’t been enough rain in recent days to fill the creek, but there had been enough to soak pretty much every piece of wood and tinder we could find. We did have plenty of matches, and we could get the tinder to smoke a bit, and even to flame up, but we couldn’t get it to catch the wood. I kept thinking that Bear or Les could have gotten the fire going with no problem, no matter how damp the logs. I think my fire-starting skills are too dependent on liquid charcoal lighter. Thankfully, after Erin returned from her fruitless water-search, she was able to apply her wilderness fire-starting skills, tend to the fire and get it going strong. Whew!
Then, the hiking stove had issues. After the meat and veggies soaked for about an hour, I was supposed to simmer them for at least 30 minutes. However, the fuel canister wouldn’t stay locked to the burner, as it is supposed to. At first, Erin sat there, gripping the canister and the attachment hose, supplying fuel to the flame, which I lit. But, every time her grip would relax a bit, the flame would die, and we would have to start over. Finally, her arms got tired (little wonder!), and we switched. After a short time, I had to adjust my position, and with it, I adjusted the position of the hiking stove. I adjusted it so much that it toppled over, dumping a good portion of the stew onto the ground!!! 😯 Much of it stayed in the pan, though, and Jenny and I scooped what we could back into the pan, with apologies to everyone for probable grit and stray bits of bark and pine needles mixed in with their stew. Then, Jenny had the best idea of the night: She took a large, abandoned camp pan that had a hole in it, and placed it on the coals. We set the smaller stew pan into the holey pan, and this made a perfect stove. Soon, our stew was simmering fragrantly away.
After a filling dinner (with, shockingly, no detectable grit), we roasted marshmallows and stayed up, chatting until the last embers died out. Then, we climbed into the tent to sleep.
I didn’t sleep well. I have never been an insomniac, but with this pregnancy, for some reason, I’ve had the hardest time falling and staying asleep. However, I thought that, thanks to Erin’s comfy hiking pad, and weariness from the journey, I’d drop off with no problem. But, I could not get comfortable. I was strangely exhausted but not sleepy. Plus, I was very worried about my left knee, which had started hurting with about one or two miles left in the hike that afternoon. I’ve NEVER had any knee problems, even with playing sports in junior high and high school, and my itinerant running and hiking in all my adulthood. On top of that, even though I was wearing long johns, and using a goose down filled sleeping bag, which was rated to 40*, I was freezing. I spent most of the night awake. The next morning, I told Jenny, who had slept next to me, “You didn’t sleep very well last night!” She looked knowingly at me and said, “Well, that means you didn’t sleep very well, either!”
One funny moment: In the middle of the night, when all was quiet, I heard a low, guttural schnuffling and snorting sound. My body tensed as I thought, “A bear!!” Then, I heard rustling sounds, and it sounded like it was coming from outside. I envisioned a bear, rummaging through our packs, which were simply propped up against a log, a step or two away from the entrance to the tent. Or, the bear was trying to get at the food-filled bear bag we had hoisted onto a high branch. I listened for quite a while, debating whether or not to wake anyone. Then, I realized that the rustling sounds were someone’s nylon sleeping bag, rubbing against the foot of the tent. Shortly after that, I realized that the “bear” sounds were coming from Jessica!! 😆 She had warned us that she snored, but I was expecting actual snoring sounds, not the manly, low growl which was coming from across the tent… 😀 So, no bear. Whew.
The next day, we did see an abundance of bear tracks, all relatively fresh, and all heading in the opposite direction from us. That, actually, turned out to be one of the least exciting events of the day… The rest, I’ll have to save for part three. 🙂
*All the mileage on this trip is only approximate, because the GPS unit got turned off for more than an hour at some point during the hike. It was, according to the map, only 8.4 miles from the trailhead to the campsite, but in spite of the GPS being off for that period of time, by the time we got to camp, it showed more than 8 miles. So, it was 8 miles plus all the mileage we made during the “off” time.