Monday, August 8th, 2022, 1030-2045
Ross Lake Resort to Twin Rocks camp NCNP, WEBO mm 779.3, Section 7 North Cascades
26 miles, Gain 4200′, Loss 3200′, elevation 2750′
It was a bit noisy at camp overnight but nothing some earplugs and general exhaustion couldn’t handle. Someone was playing a guitar as I drifted off, which honestly sounded quite nice. I took my plugs out mid-morning, only to be woken by a neighbor banging pots around, as well as talking (to herself?). I assumed she’d gotten up early to start breakfast for her group but then noted it was only 3 am. I put my plugs back in and went to sleep. So did she apparently, as we hikers were the only ones awake at dawn, up and out before 7 am.
Wolverine and I needed to go back to the resort to do more charging and I still needed to claim my food box. The hike from camp to the resort made us appreciate what a solid Andrew did for us with the boat ride the night before. We had to climb several hundred feet and go nearly a mile back to the resort. A less than 5 minute boat ride had been the most direct route. I wished I could take a boat all the way to where our route split from the lake…aqua blazing. Karaoke didn’t need to return, thus resumed her western progress. We really hoped to see her at the end of the day, since we’d decided to try to poach off her permit through the North Cascades National Park. It seemed that it was impossible to call the rangers, so we would have needed to hitch to Marblemount to visit the office. We’d ran out of time trying to get a permit in Oroville (we really tried!), so we figured they wouldn’t mind if we added ourselves to an existing one…as long as we weren’t taking a space from anyone else, basically.
I got some chores done at the resort but zero work done online. They had decent wifi but I had enough going on with my food resupply and chatting with my partner. I didn’t even call my mom, as I don’t have wifi calling enabled. We were on day 6 since leaving Oroville…140 miles in 5 days, no cell service, no showers, no real food, and 90 some miles to go before having access to a real town. This was a long stretch. But I was very grateful for the little bit the resort was able to provide. They are very hiker friendly and especially thanks to the owner for the ride in his speed boat (I’ve never almost slid off a seat from acceleration before!). Would I love to take that baby for a spin…he did say they were hiring after I mentioned my experience with boats and ships. Not a bad gig for a summer.
I left after 10 and it was around 10:30 am when I finally started making progress towards the 25 miles to the designated camp. I was going to have to push hard. Which was a shame because the day was so beautiful. The trail wound around the lake, usually quite high above the shore. I had an impression that the trail was right next to the lake, but the steep shores prevented that. After 5 miles or so, the trail peeled away to go up Big Beaver river. This is where it entered some truly old growth forest, with massive cedars and other conifers. It looked like a scene from Jurassic Park, minus dinosaurs (just Jurassic-sized mosquitoes and black flies). Such a surreal setting and a really interesting Radiolab podcast put me in quite a zone. The podcast was about whether some sort of order dictates ecology and evolution or rather it’s all random chance and chaos. The evidence seems to suggest the latter, which is contrary to what we’ve all learned about survival of the fit and the drivers for a species to persist and evolve.
Applying this to my own realm, it was easy to see one side of the debate. These giant stacks of cells, arranged so orderly to produce a living creature reaching hundreds of feet into the sky, defying gravity and providing the framework around which the entire ecosystem was based. Such trees were surely the dominant species, outlasting us humans in their lifespan by hundreds of years. A strong case for order could be made by studying this forest. But by the end of the day, my view of the same forest shifted drastically.
I stopped for a quick lunch late in the afternoon. A cold stream, sparkling in the sun with a nice hole, proved irresistible for a plunge. It was hot, probably close to 100 degrees, and I needed a pick-me-up before a climb over Beaver pass. The trail had been lovely all day, well manicured and graded, soft as can be given all the duff from the trees. Magical really…an anomaly in nature. I’d heard it said that nature actually abhors trails and I believe it to be true. Trails are an animal construct, particularly for humans. We need big wide flat ones for our big vehicles to cruise along unobstructed at 80 mph. And occasionally we settle for little tiny ones, weaving through massive trees. But we neglect to recall that chaos reigns, obliterating little trails and even big roads in seconds.
As I neared the pass, I ran into some guys wearing park service shirts and equipped with trail maintenance tools. They’d clearly been busy, doing an amazing job at beating back the thimbleberry and other undergrowth that was constantly crowding the trail (is this order or chaos on a small scale…depends on ones perspective). I thanked them for their hard work and one of the guys apologized for the upcoming stretch along Little Beaver River. I’d read a note that it was a hot mess for about 5 miles, but I’d been hoping a trail crew had tackled it since the person had left the comment. Now here was a trail crew emphatically saying they hadn’t and it worried me.
Still I continued on great trail, noticing the fresh cuts of blowdowns, reduced to just sawdust on the trail. I started encountering a few downed tress along the switchbacks descending to the river, no big deal. Was this what they were sorry for? Everybody’s tolerances of rough trail are calibrated differently, based on previous experiences with bad conditions. I’d like to think I have a very high tolerance after dealing with a whole lot of BS… especially on the PNT. Once again, I was about to get schooled on a new level of tolerance.
Crossing the river on a big foot bridge, I glanced at my watch. It was 7 pm and if I held my pace, I could maybe knock out the 3.5 mile remaining by 8 pm and change. A few blowdowns would surely slow me down but nothing doing. Que that classic sound of everything coming to screeching halt, like a needle being ripped across a record. That’s the sound of Chaos taking hold. Suddenly all those massive trees that once stood orderly and admirably, reaching for the sky, were laid crazily in a wall across the trail. It looked as if a tornado had ripped through. I delicately picked my way around the mess but it was just one giant pile over and over again. Unlike the burn area around Bunker hill in the Pasayten, these had all been live tress, with their branches still intact and obstructing the way even more so.
There were also many sections where the trail had been swallowed by the main river and side channels. I’d experienced a similar scenario along the west fork of the Gila earlier in the year. A fire followed by heavy monsoons had led to severe flooding and erosion. Literal streams of rocks, boulders, and logs had washed down every watershed, creating massive pile ups in some places and also steeply carved chasms in others. This was all more of the same, a result of heavy rain and snow in November 2021 (as was explained to me days later). Every small creek and especially the bigger rivers demonstrated the reign of chaos. Trees that had stood the test of time and then in a flash, suddenly did not. Significant roads had been washed away, not to mention tiny insignificant trails. Survival and fitness of a species mattered not the face of such calamities. It all got wiped away.
My pace went to less than 1 mph and I fretted about the growing shadows. I hated to be caught out in the dark in this mess. Of course it had to come at the very end of my long day, when I was most tired and desperate to get to camp. At least it no longer mattered that I make it there to be in sync with the permit. No one was out here and no ranger would have faulted me for being delayed. I could have stopped at anytime to make camp…except that I really couldn’t. Where was there even a small enough of an open space to put my tiny tent? The ground was in upheaval everywhere I looked.
I maintained my cool and kept moving. It was 8 pm, then 9. I kept looking at my GPS as the tenths of miles barely went by. The camp turned out to be closer then marked and also the blowdowns let up a bit near the end. Wolverine and Karaoke were both already there and set up. I dropped everything to go get water then set up in the dark… conditions I’m at least well practiced at. I was still eating dinner at 10:30 pm, well past my bedtime, but I was happy and relieved. What a day… a trial much of my own doing but I’d persevered. My revelation at the end is that we create both the order and the chaos ourselves. It’s just a frame of mind.