This gorgeous buck wandered confidently into and meandered around my camp for several minutes. He did not seem to be threatened by my presence, only curious.
As you can see from the disrupted ground, Ben had been worked into a bit of a frenzy by our uninvited guests from the night before. I was not surprised by their return visit that morning.
Despite the restless night, I felt remarkably spry and on my A-game. I had an early and productive rise. Not only was I able to create some photographic content, my packing system was beginning to grow more fluid and routine. I made good time leaving camp and felt optimistic about the adventurous day to come.
As I left the Sock Lake camp site and headed East down the hidden river trail, I spotted the source of my uninvited guests. A few hundred yards below me was a camp site inhabited by three people (two women, one man) and at least eight pack animals. A few of the horses and mules had been staked to the ground, but most of them had been set free to roam with neck bells.
As I hiked down through their camp area, my presence with Ben began to create a commotion of its own. The residents of the camp site made an effort to gather their stock and deter them from following and harassing us on our exodus.
Walking past their camp site gave me an awkward and uncomfortable feeling in my gut. It was the first time on my trip that I felt an urgency to move through quickly. I'm not sure if it was the people, the commotion, or the surprise encounter - but something felt odd or unsavory.
I actually had made up a story in my head that I would tell in the situation of encountering people that gave me a weird vibe:
I wasn't a woman alone. I was meeting my husband just up the way...
Now, I'm not in the habit of lying... I just felt it wise to not be 100% forthcoming about my situation if I felt in any way uncomfortable. And, it wasn't a TOTAL lie... my husband would be meeting me... but he wasn't "just up the way."
Luckily in this instance, it seemed more appropriate for me to move through quickly without conversation- BECAUSE of the commotion with the livestock.
So I beat feet and moved HASTILY down the trail.
The early morning air was cool and slightly humid. Also, much to my delight, the trail meandered at a gentle downhill slope. I was able to jog along - covering a lot of ground quickly without much effort or risk of injury.
I carried on for a few hours in this fashion until I could feel the heat of the day on my arms. Soon the trail grew soft and dusty, puffing out small clouds of dirt with every step.
The landscape was sparse and ragged. A forest fire had cut through leaving black ashy skeletons of trees amid the dry barren soil. There were no opportunities for shade.
Soon, I realized that I was making such good time, that it seemed feasible for me to bypass that day's destination of Gates Park and push on to my next days camp. Skipping ahead like this would gain me a rest day further on. Because I was feeling spry and the day was young, it seemed foolish not to.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye- I noticed a Continental Divide Trail sign. I nearly passed it. It was in such a location, that if I wasn't paying attention- or just happened to be looking at the scenery, I would have missed it. The sign marked a slight, nearly hidden trail, that doglegged backwards and to the right off the main line from Sock Lake Campground.
As always, I retrieved the map from the top lid of my pack to make sure I was heading in the right direction. EUREKA! This little dogleg trail that headed down a steep slope to cross the river was indeed the trail to Rock Creek. By taking this trail I would bypass my current destination and jump ahead a day.
Before packing up and taking the trail, I took a moment to eat a granola bar and drink some water. Ben, the trickster who likes to play games, loved to bump the bottom of my Hydroflask as I was drinking- causing me to spill water down my shirt.
Red Shale Creek was running high enough that I'd get wet in the crossing. Much to my delight, some previous hikers had laid a few skinny trees across as an aid. I was able to hold onto the higher wispy and wiggly one in my hand while balancing across the sturdier bottom tree- all while leading Ben across on a long line. Ben splashed across with a lot of enthusiasm and no hesitation. I was lucky to have such a good horse on this trip.
We trotted along the trail at a great pace that day. We covered about 16 miles, and a lot of it at a slow jog. The weather was fine and comfortable, and I was able to find my way easily with no obstacles.
We reached the Rock Creek Cabin area late in the day after passing a pack trail going the opposite direction. The site was heavily wooded and shady with a cool damp feeling from the river nearby. In front of the cabin was a large open coral made from lodgepoles. There was not gate, and I couldn't figure out how to close it off, so I tied Ben to a post inside. I left him there for a few minutes while I walked across the trail to pump clean water from the river.
As I carried the collapsible bucket of water over to give Ben a drink, I saw that he had nervously pawed up the soft red dirt and shale ground. He was clearly uncomfortable with me being out of sight for any duration of time. It was annoying and endearing simultaneously.
At the cabin, there was a large pallet of wooden shingles that the Forest Service was using to repair the roof. Being that I didn't have a shovel to repair Ben's pawing, I borrowed one of those shingles and attempted to move the heavy shale dirt back to its original state.
Before I was able to find a campsite further up the way, it started to rain. I made the decision to pitch my tent on the concrete pad of the covered porch so I wouldn't have to hike with wet gear the following day.
Ben spent the night tied to the hitching rail in front of the cabin. I felt bad that he was already running out of pellets and the grazing was mostly bear grass that he refused to eat. I offered him some of my granola bars and oatmeal which he consumed gladly.
Knowing that I had another huge day of hiking ahead of me, I went to sleep and set my alarm for EARLY.
To be continued.... PART 6 : MY LAKE + THE CHINESE WALL
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