Thursday July 7th, 2022, 0945-1945
Sherman Pass HWY 20 to rock slab camp just north of Profanity Peak, WEBO mm 451.2, Segment 4 Kettle Range
23.5 miles, Gain 4950′, Loss 5285′, elevation 5100
Another night in a soft warm bed was much appreciated. But I woke eager to get back on the trail. I bid farewell to Kerrie, as she was getting ready to lead her weekly hiking group somewhere north of where I’d be walking. There was a slim chance I might see them on trail. Just as I left the house, I got texts from 2 hikers and another from a Trail Angel. Kerrie had given the hikers my number the night before, mentioning that I too was looking for a ride to the pass. They had in turn given my number to Sarah, so she was letting me know she could offer a ride. Wow, I did’t recall ever being sought out to be offered a ride before! This trail sure has been spoiling me.
I met up with the 2 women hikers, Best Western and Honeysticks, as they were finishing breakfast. They were going webo to finish sections they’d missed the year before, due to the fires. They’d started in Metaline Falls this year. We all needed to get back on the trail at Sherman Pass, so we coordinated the ride with Sarah. It’s funny how easily and efficiently it all worked out, especially since I was going to just try my luck with hitching. Like so many trail angels, Sarah was a kind soul that ran a dog rescue. Apparently she’s fond of helping us poor stray hikers as well.
We took photos together at the pass. I was so excited to meet all these cool ladies and then sad that I immediately had to say goodby. I was tempted to just turn around and repeat my steps, just to be able to hike with them. They seemed like a lot of fun. Then It started to rain, so we all departed quickly. I didn’t even have time to put up my umbrella before it stopped again. At least it didn’t rain for the rest of the day. The weather forecast seems to have been way off the past few days, as today was yet another that was forecasted to be sunny only a day before. Then as the day arrived, there were clouds and the forecast was updated to show a high chance of rain. It’s as if the people making the forecasts were simply waiting until the day of to predict rain. But rest assured, nothing but sunny days were forecasted for the rest of the week!
Leaving the pass, the trail ascended and undulated through dense forest. It was more gold standard trail and I noticed fresh sawdust from recently cut downfall. Pretty soon I heard the sweet sweet sound of a chainsaw. Music to a hiker’s ears when you know it’s a trail crew working hard to make your way easier. I caught up to the duo and their 2 dogs (the supervisors) shortly. They were moving fast, with the sole purpose of logging out. I know a little about the strategies and operations of trail maintenance crews since I’ve been volunteering for 6 years to help maintain the Florida Trail. I’ve been a part of a week-long crew in the backcountry of Big Cypress several times. This year I’d like to attend the chainsaw training course so I too can be a sawyer.
Giving back to the trails is very important and feels so good to do. I think this should be a requisite for all hikers, especially thru-hikers. While I’m on my soapbox, I’ll point out just how clueless most hikers are about the extraordinary work that goes into building and maintaining trails. Some don’t even recognize a trail crew when they see one. Case in point, as we were working a section in Big Cypress, we came to one of the established campsites where there was a group set up for the weekend. We were running 2 noisy gas powered brush cutters, all wearing hardhats, and carrying other tools and gasoline jars. We worked right up to the camp and I even did some trimming with the brush cutter around the camp to clear some tent sites of high grass. We broke to have lunch, hoping to maybe at least sit at the picnic table. The campers just stared at us blankly and then one asked if we were just out for a dayhike! They didn’t offer to make room for us at the table so we went elsewhere to sit on the ground. Take note, if you ever have the pleasure of running into a trail crew, shower them with thank yous, go out of your way to help them in any way, and at the very least, acknowledge the hard work (mostly volunteer) they are doing all for your benefit! Better yet, volunteer to maintain trails so that you can have a better understanding of trails in general. It will even change the way you hike trails…for instance, you won’t be tempted to cut switchbacks or curse when having to step over water bars.
Seeing the 2 sawyers did get me motivated to help a little. For the rest of the day, I tried to sweep as many small limbs and trees as I could from the trail. With over 600 blowdowns in a 15 mile section reported by Best Western and Honeysticks, this was an unending task. I did manage to clear about 30 small (2 inch diameter) trees from the trail. While I got sap all over my hands, at least I was doing something to help while I hiked. If every thru-hiker could stop for just a few seconds to clear one small tree per mile, it would make a difference. As I like to say, instead of just complaining about all the blowdowns, try do something about them. It’s a great feeling and a way to get rid of my frustration to heave some deadfall down the hill. I like to practice my javelin throwing skills with the small trees.
Things did get a bit tedious after I passed the 2 sawyers. There were some big blowdowns that I had to go around. Steep slopes made this difficult in places. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be…. I’d seen a lot worse on the unmaintained trail along the Mogollon mountains in New Mexico. I’m grateful for all my past difficult experiences, because they have calibrated my tolerances. I can experience days like this as only moderately difficult.
Just before summiting Copper Butte, I came across the first hikers I’d seen on trail in my first week (beside the sawyers earlier). There were 3 backpackers and a dog. I wasn’t sure it they were thru-hiking the PNT or doing the more well known Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail. They didn’t seem to want to stop to chat so we just passed with a quick hello. I stopped to have lunch on top of Copper Butte, admiring the many splendid views. At 7140′, it was the highest I’d neen yet on this trail. I actually found a few tiny patches of snow on the backside, but they were melting fast.
My break was short lived, thanks to the intrusion of black flies. They swarmed me and their bites were fierce. What a way to ruin a beautiful spot. I continued on into the afternoon, noticing my entrance into a large burn area from the 2015 Stick Pin fire. I knew I was in for over 20 miles of this, but at least it was full of greenery and wildflowers. I passed through many miles where the small bushes \ trees (alder? Willow?) were growing in the trail. They made it to where I couldn’t even see the trail, but for a semi-straight line of bush. There was infact a narrow path still open through them, it was just a matter of pushing through to stay on the line…wonder off course just a bit and I would start tripping over the limbs. At least they weren’t thorny and their limbs were supple, so they didn’t beat up my legs much.
I was trying to make it 25 miles to a creek with a bridge (which I thought I might try to camp on top of, as had been reported by a previous hiker), but given my late start and the arduous trail, this was admittedly unrealistic. Campsites in the burn area are understandably hard to come by. The problem is camping under all the dead trees… it’s dangerous. I did push late into the evening to get to a nice rock outcropping, where there was one flat spot for a small tent and only a few trees threatening to fall on me. I’d have to take my chances. Most notably the site was rather open, with a nice breeze and good views. The creek bridge would have undoubtedly been a bug hell hole but here only a handful of mosquitoes and black flies found me. I sat on the rocks watching the colors in the sky, eating my dinner. It was a great way to end the day.