Out from Lake Stuart and up Fourth of July Creek Trail
Before we retired Sunday, we discussed options for the last day of our trip, the actual 4th of July. I don’t like the hubbub of the fourth, and didn’t have any need or desire to get back to Bellingham early. Shannon and Kevin had options of parties to attend, and wanted to hike out and leave. Since we had two cars, we agreed that I would pack up and head out right after breakfast in pursuit of a local day hike, and they would vacate the campsite at their leisure.
I awoke early enough to capture the first morning light on Mt. Stuart from our campsite. It was a beautiful sight from a great campsite… and in some ways I was sad to leave. For my first backpack of the year, and the first ever with some of the new gear, I felt confident that I had figured some things out. My pack went together much easier for the return hike. I had eaten all of my food, which meant I could fill my bear canister with other things. The bear canister is obnoxious, but it’s required for my trip on the John Muir Trail, and I had brought it to resemble that upcoming trip as closely as possible. In preparing to leave Lake Stuart, I took more time to pack my pack, and work with it’s numerous pockets and compartments. Because it is a new pack for me, it takes time to learn it’s nuances. The pack I am using is an Osprey Ariel 75…which is plenty big for a multi-week trip, and I figure if I can’t get everything in it, I shouldn’t be going!
Shannon and Kevin were up before I left, and we said our goodbyes. I think we all felt good about what we had done, and that we had made the best of our four days. Even though we didn’t get to backpack the Enchantments, we made it there with a day-hike, got to experience Horseshoe Lake, and had good relational time. A winning weekend all around!
As I hiked out, I contemplated the trip and others to come. I felt good about the miles I had put in, although my feet were clearly not happy. I acutely felt each step in that 4.5 miles back to the car, and the discomfort was intense. I made the decision right then that the hiking boots were not going to make the cut. While I like the added protection and ankle support, my left foot was killing me…and that was after just three days and 40 miles, most of it day-hiking. I couldn’t imagine enduring that pain for 20 days and over 240 miles, almost all of it with a backpack. Last year I did the JMT in Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes…and it appears that I will be doing that again. For whatever reason, those shoes with my orthotics do not cause the same type of discomfort and pain, and the Enchantments trip really solidified that for me.
Fourth of July Creek Trail on the 4th of July!
Although I was tired and my feet hurt, I couldn’t shake the idea of doing one more day hike in the area before heading home. The hike I wanted to do was the Fourth of July Creek Trail. What better day to do it than on the Fourth of July! I left the decision to fate, surmising that if there was parking at the trailhead for the hike, I would do it. If not, I would head home. Since the Lake Stuart trailhead was absolutely packed when I got back to my car, and there were cars parked a long ways down the road, I reasoned I had about a 50/50 chance of hiking.
Apparently, not everyone was drawn to the Fourth of July Creek Trail. There were only four cars in the parking lot when I arrived. There was a big group of mountain bikers that occupied two of the cars. I thought maybe something was wrong with the trail what with so few people. I asked the bikers about the conditions. They said it was in great shape, and had recently been cleared of all debris. I looked at the trail notifications, and all it cautioned was that rattlesnakes had been seen on the trail. I vaguely remembered doing this hike back in my early 20’s, and recalled that it was steep, open, through quite a bit of burn-out, and very hot. This day was still a bit chilly, and I didn’t think heat would be a problem. I checked the guidebook, and sure enough, it was 4600 feet of elevation gain in five miles. But the book promised great views well before the top, and I figured I would go for two hours then turn back.
I changed my shoes, relieved to done with the hiking boots. The trail runners felt much better, and, encouraged, I hit the trail and started up. After just 1/4 mile, the trail immediately crosses the Fourth of July Creek. I was trying to avoid getting wet, and chose to cross on a log instead of over rocks. Somehow, I slipped and fell right into the creek! It surprised the heck out of me, and of course I got soaked. I scratched the back of my leg, and it was bleeding quite a lot. I thought maybe that was a sign from the universe that I was NOT supposed to go on the hike. I recovered enough to walk back to the car, pondering this. I felt discouraged, but decided not to give up.
I changed clothes and socks, and went at it again. By this time it was 11:15, and I told myself I would turn around at 1:15. For round two, I decided to take headphones and listen to an audio book I was almost done with. I must confess that sometimes I do listen to books when I hike…it’s a relatively new habit, and one I don’t plan to bring into my backpacking life. But sometimes when I hike I LIKE the distraction of listening to a good book…especially on a hike that promises to be as relentlessly steep as this one did.
Up and up I went. I passed some other hikers, and eventually the mountain bikers. They were literally pushing their bikes, as the trail was too steep to ride. They were headed up to the pass, then planned to zoom down a different and longer trail off of Icicle Creek Ridge. That’s a lot of work for some short thrills, but they were into it and excited. I continued on alone until about 1:00, then decided to eat lunch and turn around. The views were OK, although you could still see burned trees, which slightly bummed me out.
Just as I was preparing to leave, the mountain bikers caught back up to me, and I asked one to take a photo before heading down. He did, but also told me I was close to the top…only about half an hour more, he estimated. He said it was totally worth it, and encouraged me to keep going. I told him I would think about it. They moved on, and I thought, what the heck, I had come that far…and so I pressed on. The trail got full of flowers, and if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on just getting there, I would have taken some photos. The views continued to get more expansive, and I lost the burned trees. The chilly wind also picked up, as I was now close to 7000 feet. I started having a deja vu of Aasgard Pass the day before, and moved as quickly as my tired legs would allow to stay warm.
Soon I could see the top and where I was headed. I could also see that the views were not going to get much better, and that the clouds were coming in. I was close, but enough was enough! I didn’t feel like going to the very top, and it felt great to be OK with that. I put on my shirt and coat, ate my last power bar, and took a photo as my audio book finished up. I made the hike down in stillness, at a quick and steady pace.
I arrived back at the car at 3:45. I took stock of the physical body before driving home. My arthritic right knee was unquestionably sore, most likely from all the miles and the steep descents. I knew it would probably swell up and cause trouble for the next several days. My feet, however, were much better than in the morning, since I had switched shoes. Overall, I felt pretty darn good after hiking 50 miles in four days.
The trip definitely increased my confidence for the upcoming John Muir trip. I will be doing similar daily distances, albeit with a backpack. I have a better sense of my gear, and how to make everything fit. I still need practice on this, but I have a month to figure out all the remaining details and work out the remaining kinks….
Next up: First solo backpack trip (this time for real!), scheduled for later this week. Stay tuned for that!