Day 1: Critter Day
After breaking camp over at Pivot Rock Canyon, I headed out to backpack the eastern lobe of the Cabin Loop. Parked at the intersection of FR 139 and the Barbershop and headed out counter clockwise. Was a bit warm for my taste, but so much better than down in the desert. Barbershop Spring was flowing and the little meadow was all fern and sunflowers about chest high. Always take a deep breath here, listen to the wind in the pines and smile knowing I'm away from it all and back in the big country.
Hit the edge of a meadow and stopped to take a photo, but picked up some movement. A nice looking coyote was cruising the meadow and hadn't seen me. I watched him from about 250 feet away for a few minutes until he finally spotted me and dashed. Not much farther up the trail, I ran into two elk, the first of 15 on the day's relatively short hike. It obviously isn't hunting season yet. For one group of five, I just happened to see an outline of a head with two big ears up slope. This big cow and four others were laying out the midday heat. We all watched each other for a few minutes until I moved and they departed the area. Near the intersection of the Barbershop and U-Bar I spotted a turkey hen. Moved quietly and got close. She noisily took off right and her brood of teen turkeys quietly slipped away left. Add in hundreds of squirrels and thousands of birds, the day turned out to be a critter watching bonanza. Seeing all this is another benefit of solo trips -- less noise means more animals.
Made camp at Dane Spring. The cabin there is a bit more dilapidated than when I saw it last. The spring had a good flow of cold clear water running from the pipe. Still lots of watercress growing, but looked a bit ragged since it likes cooler weather. I'd planned to steam up some with my meal, but declined. It will be there next time.
Set camp and broke out the food bag. Peanut butter and a packet of honey liberated from the Starbucks in the San Jose airport provided an appetizer. Cooked up some fantastic dehydrated cream of broccoli soup. The main course was salmon and ramen with two packets of hot sauce freed from the Popeyes in the Vegas airport. I forage wherever I find myself. LOL. Some apple cider after night fall completed the gastronomic tour de Dane.
While having dinner I heard a very large tree crash to the ground across Dane Canyon. Looked around with a more critical eye and moved my hammock, one large snag being a bit suspect. With a cold spring water bath, I turned in to be serenaded by elk and coyotes off and on during the night.
Day 2 - The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday
Was trying out a new under blanket for my hammock. It worked great, but during the night I'd pulled out the sleeping bag and draped it over me. The morning was cool enough to make me hit the snooze button when the sun rose. Finally coaxed myself out of the hammock knowing I had Dane and Barbershop Canyons to cross and hoped to do both before the day warmed. Oatmeal (scorched the bottom of it, dang it), cowboy coffee, hydrated up, broke down the camp, loaded the pack, headed out.
Slipped into that mode where you just churn the legs and admire the surroundings and otherwise just go into your head. Cleared Dane Canyon quickly and soon found myself at the bottom of Barbershop Canyon, one of my favorite places. Stopped for some fuel and fluid, filtering out some more water for the afternoon push to Aspen Springs. Walked upstream just to admire the creek. A really nice pool held minnows, some 5 inch trout, and crawdads. Looked inviting for a cool down, but I resisted.
Approaching Pinchot Cabin I saw smoke north and close. Moved on to Pinchot quickly and dropped my pack to go check it out. The fire was large, but mostly burned out up against the north side of FR 95. This was the General Fire, I just didn't know it would get this far south. Didn't see any Forestry Service folks around. The smoke was blowing north and the fire looked contained, so I kept to my plan. After a break at Pinchot, the Houston Brothers Trail took me south to the meadow at Aspen Springs.
Set up camp across the draw from Aspen. I am in my summer shape, which is horrid, and thus the day's miles were long and the pack was heavy. Lounged in the hammock a bit to rest the tired legs and aching feet and let the day cool. Went to filter some water later and made friends with a brave little ground squirrel who was quite the poser. Some snacks and rehydrated baked ziti served for dinner. Watched a hawk hunting near the spring and then the bats came out.
Made some hot chocolate and took it over to the big rock near the old barn. Wonder how many people over time have sat on that boulder contemplating whatever they felt like contemplating? For me it was reaccessing my relationship with the back country. How far had I come in fitting in here, becoming part of the land and its inhabitants as opposed to just a visitor, learning to forego contrivances and affectations when venturing out. That journey is not yet complete to my satisfaction, but the chasm between me and the worthy goal is not as deep nor as wide as before. The night cooled considerably and I slept hard.
Day 3: Exiting Eden
All things come to an end. My other world was waiting. Today was a short hike out and a drive down to home. Did a cold breakfast, filtered some water, and packed up camp. Felt good but the legs just weren't too motivated. Hiking south on the Houston Brothers is uphill and the legs felt every foot of the climb. With a humid morning, I was soaked in sweat with in minutes.
Marveled at the shoulder high ferns. It seems the trail is used more by wildlife than humans. The mud held a huge variety of tracks - elk, squirrel, coyote, wildcat, human, mountain bikes. The southern portion of the trail is a moist conglomeration of trees, shrubs, mushrooms, moss, and rot. I scared up one elk and one something. I only got a quick glimpse of the something -- very black it seemed. Sounded more like an elk in retreat than a bear, but it was black. Don't know.
Turned east at the the junction with the Barbershop and found the old Jeep right where I left her three days earlier. Changed clothes and slipped into my old Keens for the drive. Took the long way north up FR 95 to further explore the fire and delay the inevitable just a tiny bit more. Called home when the phone announced cell service to let the concerned know I was safe. Of course there's far more danger driving the highway than hiking along a trail, but emotion and imagination trump reality.
The 4-day retreat calmed the soul. Can't ask for much more than that these days.