I wanted Mrs. big_load to experience the magic of this hike, but time dulled my memory of how demanding it can be for some people. It didn't help that she started out with unreported blisters from walking too far in the wrong shoes in NY. She did OK until the final downhill stretch into the garden, when she took a tumble on the switchbacks caused by favoring her blistered foot (that's when she spoke up about it). It was also cool and very windy all the way in.
She perked up a bit after talking to 15-person trail crew spending their last night at the garden after a month of tending to the West Divide Trail and some others to make a big loop. I fixed up her feet and we had a nice dinner up the hill where I camped a few years back, and a few hot chocolates perked her up some more. Still, I pretty much gave up on reaching the mine and shootout cabin the next day, especially since we were slow getting up.
After breakfast, she was ready to hike as far in that direction as time and feet allowed, and she was much happier with the comparative flatness and lack of rocks. She was so focused on the trail that she would have walked right past the ball mill site and first cabin. She didn't enjoy the downhill stretch to the mine, but seemed less worried than I was about making it back to camp before dark, even though we were an hour late getting there, but she was right and after a bunch of pictures we were back with an hour of light to spare.
She celebrated by building a fire after dinner, fulfilling her main reason for hiking. She wasn't used to how readily wood that dry flames up, but I knew she'd enjoy it. It seemed a bit chilly by bedtime. It seemed even more chilly in the morning. The tent was frosted over, inside and out. Our water was all frozen, or nearly so, except what was in our pillows. Based on how quick the last few swallows of coffee froze in my cup, I figure the low was in the upper teens.
The cool weather helped us going up the hill. It was a long slog out on the rocky trails, a lot more miles in three days than she was used to. We tried an and failed to visit the cemetery in Klondyke, but at least I know where it is now.
After we got back, Mrs. big_load complained to anyone who would listen that it was the most grueling trip she'd been on, and that it wasn't worth the trouble since we didn't see anything all that special. Somehow, though, each discussion turned into a description of the wonders that you can only experience in this way, and she eagerly sent photos off to all her friends. I knew she would think it was a great trip once she forgot how much work it was.
Wildlife: We saw mule deer, a flock of turkeys at the garden, and some slightly menacing cattle near the high point of the return trip. There were was bear hair snagged on nails at the cabin by the ball mill. It looked like a good scratching spot.
Cabin and Water:The Powers Garden cabin has changed a lot since my last visit. The back room has been torn down (and apparently burned). A new water line runs from the spring to the cabin, and there is running water (for now) both inside and outside the cabin. I don't give it long, though. I verified that the cutoff valve that controls both taps has already failed, probably from freezing. Water was flowing pretty well.
Trail Info:Most trails are in pretty good shape, especially those worked by the crew. However, the trail that runs west from the saddle above the mine is thoroughly overgrown with Wait a Minute and other nasty stuff, to the point of being detectable only if you know it should be there. The crew said they offered to clear that one, too, but the Forest Service told them not to, so maybe it's going away.