Wednesday, October 19, 2005

West Rim Trail - Day Two

During our first night on the West Rim Trail it rained a bit, though most of the time it was perfectly quiet, except for the sound of water dripping off the leaves or acorns dropping. I didn’t sleep well—typical for me on my first night out on a backpacking trip.

Sometime in the middle of the night a barred owl (whose call sounds like "who cooks for yoouu") started hooting, and to my surprise the sound scared Dog. He woke up, all alert, and started shivering. I calmed him down and for the rest of the night he cuddled as close to me as he could get. I think that's the first thing Dog has ever been scared of. The owl drifted off down the hollow after about 5 minutes. Then, shortly before dawn, a saw-whet owl (I think. At least it made the wacky noises that saw-whets do), also close to the tent, started in with calling, and Dog was scared again.

Dog is supposed to be sleeping on and carrying a special backpacking dog mat that I got for him. He does carry it, but he won’t sleep on it. He prefers to sleep on the nylon tent floor, which can’t be very warm or comfortable. I first laid out the mat next to me and soon discovered Dog was sleeping at the foot of the tent. Later, I tossed the mat down to the foot of the tent, and soon Dog was curled up near my waist. He’s a funny dog.

In the morning we headed out early, on the trail by 8 a.m., though in the gloom of the low clouds it was hard to tell if it was full daylight or not. I don’t think the west rim gets all that much sunlight even when it’s not overcast and gray.

We headed out of Steel Hollow and across an open area of blueberry bushes and mountain laurel. I’ll bet it’s spectacular when the plants are blooming in the spring. The trail here was not easy going. The bushes were thick, and the trail makers cut a very narrow path through the berry bushes. Often, the path wasn’t wide enough to use my poles on either side of me. For Dog it was probably even tougher as the bushes were about as high as he is, so he was walking in the bushes the entire time.

After a while we started a long, fairly gentle descent into Gundergut Hollow along the very rim of the hill. This section of trail was surprisingly difficult because the trail was both very narrow and its width steeply angled. The trail was cut along the edge of the mountain’s rim, rocky with shale and covered with slippery wet leaves. My left ankle was turned upward at a sharp angle as that foot was a lot higher than my right foot. Walking "cockeyed" like this was slow, made worse by Logan’s pulling to go faster. It’s one thing to be pulled uphill, but kind of terrifying to be pulled downhill with a 1000 foot drop just a few inches to the right. We were slow and lost time through here.

I also lost the basket of one of my hiking poles somewhere through here too, and my right pole collapsed a bit, and I wasn’t able to readjust it. I switched that pole with my longer left pole, which worked okay when I used the longer pole along the rim edge, and the shorter one on the uphill side. Once again, I expected the climb out of the hollow to be a lot worse than it was. In fact, I almost had myself convinced that we weren’t in Gundergut Hollow at all, but some other minor hollow and that the big hollow was still up ahead.

After the long and slippery descent, my feet started to hurt, though it was a minor annoyance, nothing unusual. It’s just that a constant descent while holding back the dog worked my feet differently than walking on the flat or even going uphill did. After climbing out of the hollow, we walked through more blueberry bushes. We came to an overlook, with nice views down Pine Creek. I think I actually took one non-beeping picture here. The fall color change was pretty far along, though probably still one cool night or two away from their peak. The mountain looked beautiful—mostly yellow leaves with only a few red colors in the mix. I scared a few grouse along here. Dog is uninterested in them, even though they spring up only 25-30 feet away. We take a break—I’ve discovered that Dog drinks more water than I do, though he weighs less than half as much.

After this nice break, we walk through more blueberry bushes. Dog wants to stop and smell every downed tree, as the smells from the local rodents really excite him. It doesn’t matter if it’s a squirrel or a chipmunk; if it’s a rodent in a hole he wants to smell it.

I am fooled by a sign just past the overlook that promises we will reach the West Rim Rd. in .2 mile. I know the trail is to follow the road for a short distance, and I think that is what the sign refers to. I soon start to think this is the longest .2 mile I’ve every walked, though eventually I realize the sign is a shortcut trail out to the road and not the road walk section of the trail.

Because we were so slow through the descent into Gundergat Hollow, I am starting to realize we won’t make our 10.2 mile trail plan today. Eventually we take a break at an open area in sight of a hunting camp. We are starting to get low on water, and it is only around noontime. From here, though, it really is only a short walk out to the road, which I hurry through as quickly as possible because of Dog. Because we live off the road system, cars are not something he has a lot of experience with. I think this is why he wants to chase every car he sees, other than mine, and I'm determined to hurry through this road section without him seeing any cars. At the end of the road section, we reach Fahnestock spring, which was supposed to be a covered spring but isn’t.

While Dog rests, I replenish our diminished stock of water. About halfway through filtering the second water bottle, my water filter quits on me. It doesn’t act as though the cartridge has filled up, as this is usually signaled by the pump simply getting harder and harder to pump. This time the pump simply sucked air and quit. I tried to examine and readjust it, but no dice. The filter is fried at least for this trip. (I still don’t know if I need a replacement part or a new filter.) And I only have about ¾ of the water I wanted to have in my pack at this point.

I know there’s supposed to be water at Bradley Wales picnic area, though I am not confident of this, given that it is after Labor Day. I have visions of the water tap being winterized, which means it’s turned off for the year. If that happens, I’m screwed. I can boil any water I do find, though that could create fuel problems. I only brought a single fuel canister as that should have been more than enough for the limited cooking I do. However, now I will have to boil all my water and that will use a lot more fuel. It will also take added time for the water to cool enough to safely put it into a plastic water bottle. I suspect I will be lucky if I get a full water bottle from a single cook pot of water. Since we are drinking over 2 quarts during the day and needing more for cooking at night and in the morning, this will be a problem.

I decide to only hike one more mile and camp just before Bradley Wales picnic area. This means we only walked 7 miles today but also means I can use the last of the filtered water from the spring in camp that night. Then I can hopefully get water for breakfast at the picnic area, drink as much as we like there and still leave the picnic area with full water. That would mean I probably wouldn't need to boil water until the third day. And, I reason, if we take the 2 mile short cut the next day, we should still be able to finish the hike in four days.

So I find a place to camp in an open area and settle in. This night's camp is noisier than the one in the hollow. We didn’t have owls, but we had rodents of various kinds scratching and barking. I hear a fairly close turkey gobble a few times but nothing larger than that.

I hang the food and settle in for the night.