PNT Day 9: Old Growth

Today’s miles: 15.1

Total miles: 84.9

I don’t sleep too terribly on my sloped site, and am back on trail just after 6:30am. My morning routine is getting more efficient. I don’t feel that jazzed about today’s miles, since I expect to be deep in the forest all day with no views. But I am ready to be surprised, either with unexpected views or with forest magic of some kind.

The first couple of miles feel monotonous. I’m alone in dark stretches of the woods, calling for bears and just settling into a pace. I find myself perking up when I hit little patches where the sun filters through. The trail is mostly easy hiking through here, just rambling along with very gentle ups and downs. I’ve gone five miles before 9am, and stop at a creek to filter cold water and eat some chocolate covered cashews (a very good choice for my resupply box).

Early morning turn onto Big Beaver Trail, noting the posted signs about the fire closures on the northern half of the Copper Ridge loop.

I begin to see very tiny frogs on the trail. They’re no bigger than a quarter coin, and they’re everywhere. Every step I take seems to enliven more of them, and I have to do a lot of dodging and fancy footwork to avoid stepping on them. For fun, there are also periodic banana slugs to avoid, only these are a dull green color and not hopping, so I usually only see them at the very last minute. I feel more like I’m demonstrating some complicated dance than hiking. Later, an absolutely giant toad sits in the middle of the trail regarding me. It looks a bit perturbed to hop over to the side so I can pass. (Today also features one trillion spiderwebs strung across the trail, and by mid-day I’m very weary of having to constantly wipe them from my beard, my glasses, my ears…)

I’m walking through old growth red cedar for much of today. As you might imagine, it smells wonderful. In a few sections, the trees are jaw-droppingly huge. I can’t figure out a way to get a photo that will convey the scale. It does feel very special and secret, somehow, to be walking amongst these trees.

Old growth cedar trees, magnificent giants.

At just about nine miles for the day, I cross a stream with good sitting rocks, and stop for lunch. I rub the cold water all over my head and face. There is a break in the trees that provides me a beautiful view of the mountains while I eat (deli-style tuna packet, sesame sticks, mini Nutter Butters). I’d like to stay a bit longer, but there’s a path snaking up behind me that looks well-used by animals, and I begin to have a creepy feeling, as if something is right up there looking down on me. Almost certainly just my imagination, but it spoils the enjoyment either way, so I hike on.

View from my lunch break

I’ve been going very gradually uphill for a while, but that intensifies after lunch and soon I approach today’s major climbing portion. I stop to have water and electrolytes just before. It’s pretty steep, and a half mile into it I stop again at a good water source and drink nearly a liter. It’s hot, and I’m sweating completely through my shirt, but most of this is shaded (thank you, cedar trees) and I finish the remainder of the climb without stopping. Near the top is Beaver Pass shelter, and there are way too many bugs to stop for a picture. I keep on. Side note: it seems unfair to call something a pass when there are no views at all.

The trail rolls along flattish for a while, then begins a steep descent via many switchbacks. I hear a metal clanging sound below. Hmm. All day I’ve been following horseshoe prints and dodging piles of horse poo. Now I’m worried that sound is from a train of horses and here I am on the side of a mountain with no place to go. How will I make room? But around the corner instead I find a two-person trail crew, digging some drainages. I thank them warmly and continue down.

Several switchbacks later, I hear brief yelling below me. Not like my “hey bear” yells, but kind of explosive and angry. I stop, alarmed, but no other sounds emerge. How unsettling. I continue down, and soon see a horse train headed up my way. Crap. I walk back uphill until I find a place where I can squeeze off the trail for them. There’s one rider (a park employee), and about six horses and mules behind her. I ask if she yelled a few minutes ago. “Yes, that red mule back there keeps trying to kick the horse in front of it. Sorry to disturb your peace — nothing wrong but a cranky old mule!” Later, I hear her yell at the mule again above me.

Finally I reach the last of the switchbacks and take a short side trail to my campsite. It’s 3pm. I find two other trail crew members in the adjacent stock camp, and they point me toward river access for water. Supposedly there’s a shortcut across this river that would snip two miles off my morning tomorrow, but I can’t figure it out while I’m there getting water, and decide I don’t want to chance it.

Loved these giant fungi on a fallen tree—they looked like big snails! I’ve seen tons of cool fungi out here: bright orange frilly ones, huge brown ones the size of dinner plates, light pink ones that look like a sliced watermelon radish…

Over dinner I study my maps for tomorrow. The mileage is reasonable, but I will have one wildly steep climb (“one of the toughest on the entire PNT,” my trail guide says), and it might rain all day, if the weather forecasts I heard yesterday are still correct. I get in bed early, in case tomorrow is really rough.

Home for the night at Stillwell camp.

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