I could see flashing from under my closed eyes. I hadn’t been sleeping for long when a massive and fierce lightning storm rolled through. Rain poured, thunder crashed, and I lay in my tarp willing the lightning strikes to pass me by and leave the terrain I still had to travel alone.
I slept hard, and in the morning decided on an extra special treat: dessert for breakfast! I had picked up a triple berry crisp when ordering a few things from Garage Grown Gear, and this caught my eye. A berry delight with my morning french press coffee? Don’t mind if I do!
I cruised up the road, noticing more and more smoke. I tried to find more trails…and always they petered out and I found myself on game trails searching for the real thing. I guess it doesn’t get more real than a game trail though, and it is a certain acquired skill to find them.
I decided to take a detour to capture some photos of a particular watershed that had some importance. Checking off a few conservation monitoring actions while on this hike? Sign me up!
I made another route decision after my 4-mile off-route adventure and decided to keep walking the road up to the top of Table Rock. There was an active fire lookout there, and I was curious about all this smoke in the air. There was a trail through Monument Rock Wilderness, but it was torched and my notes said it probably didn’t exist. So up the road.
I passed a primitive campground at Elk Flat and noticed with disappointment that cows had gotten in the spring. Guess it’s cow water for me; I’d suggest an enclosure to keep the poop out of the spring right next to the campground…
Then I came across a woman in the bushes. She was with the forest service and spraying invasive weeds on the side of the road. I picked her brain about the smoke and fires and learned, yes, there were a bunch of new fires, but no, they weren’t nearby. Whew!
I shared some stories and my encounters with recent trail work, and she said she would be sure to pass my appreciation on.
I was making miles, but the day eternally felt like evening…you know those wildfire suns that leave an orangy/red haze in the air? That was all day.
Since I had bypassed the trail through the wilderness, I didn’t get a chance to visit another notable drainage, so at a giant switchback in the road up to the fire tower lookout, I veered into the Monument Rock Wilderness for a few miles to take some more photos….and oh my…do I have a place at the top of my list to come back! The top of the ridge hadn’t been burned in the fire that claimed some of the lower reaches of the mountains, and wowowowow, I want to come back and explore, and it looks like there are more trails snaking their way through…
Once that mission was accomplished, I had some lunch and walked back towards the lookout. And the lookout! I have never seen a more dramatic and imposing lookout tower in my life. It was a mid-evil castle. It was a table of a rock that looked like a fortress, and i could see it for miles as I approached, could see its hulk overlooking the entire landscape. I guess that’s the point…
I took in the dramatic views all around, and let my sweaty back dry in the hazy light. I had more trail down from Table Rock through more burn area; yep, you guessed it, a trail that might not be there.
I went within shouting distance of the working tower to ask the lookout if they knew any info on the next trail…but that person didn’t respond, I could hear crackling from the radio, and I guess they were pretty busy after the hundreds of strikes that landed last night. As I have seen and will continue to see firsthand, this is a fire-prone landscape. Very fire-prone.
I hefted my pack on once more and walked over to the trail that started right under the summit. Another unmarked sign. I dropped off the back of the mountain into…surprise surprise, a giant burn area. Some thoughtful human had stacked cairns and even positioned burned logs to guide the way.
Just as I was taking some pictures and applauding the creative trail work, it ended. Looking at my map and phone, this “trail” had been taking me in the opposite direction than I wanted to go, but you know, these trails have been all over the place, so I never know if I should look for the trail where it should be, or where it happened to be.
When in doubt, see if the trail exists where drawn on the map. I made my way easily through the more intense part of the fire which burned almost everything clear to the ground. Then, to my horror, I ented the next zone of the fire…where only some of the trees are burned, some are standing, and some are resembling pick up sticks in front of me. Oh yeah, and there was a lot of new pine tree growth…super thick.
This is nightmare bushwacking. Pure nightmare. One step at a time, trying to push my way through without tripping or getting a stick impaled in my eye. One step at a time. I would eventually get out, right? I continued to work my way towards the line on the map and tried not to get overwhelmed. I looked for the path of least resistance in the trees. Finally, I spied a stand of timber that hadn’t burned…an island of refuge in the mayhem.
And then I found it! I found the trail! It was where it was supposed to be! These moments are pure gold.
The trail hadn’t been maintained in a while, but it was infinitely more walkable than what I had just been through. So much relief!
I neared the trailhead, but then the trail kept going for another mile and popped me out where there was no trail on the map. Huh? Go figure.
I walked road the rest of the afternoon, my feet increasingly unhappy with me. There had been no water since the dank cow spring…many miles ago, and I was rationing. I was determined to camp next to flowing water. I would hike as long as it took me to get there.
A lot of the drainages were dry, so I had to walk almost to the bottom of the mountains to find my babbling brook. And it was as good as I was imagining.