Day 3 of our backcountry adventure, and Hugh and I had fallen into a pretty easy routine. For me, it was very Camino-eque… hot, long days of walking, followed by lingering hours of rest, conversation and easy solitude. At home, we’d simply find something to play or do or clean. But in the wilderness, other than the basic chores of caring for our clothes and gear, and preparing our food, we rested our bodies and minds.
Start point: Badger Pass Junction campground (Jo29)
End point: Wildflower Creek campground (Ba15)
Distance: 10.3 km
Elevation: Gained ~320m, lost ~515m; highest point was Pulsatilla Pass at 2,345m.
Highlights: Fantastic views, trailfinding 101
Trail notes: We were pretty stoked to be hiking up Pulsatilla Pass. After the long slog through forests and endless raptor-bushes (willows), we would get our first pass of the hike, and hopefully see some mountain vistas from the top, rather than the bottom of the valley.
I think our peanut and raisin oatmeal was still lurking somewhere in our stomachs from yesterday morning, so we opted for an easy breakfast of nuts and protein bars. The heat had effectively killed our appetites, and although we were definitely getting enough water, this is probably the least I’ve ever eaten on a hiking trip.
Mr. D. had already left for Pulsatilla, and the three uber hikers were off in the opposite direction. We were the last to pack up camp, and were quite pleased to see low cloud cover this morning, with a bit of drizzle in the air. The temperatures, while still muggy, were slightly less and much more amenable to hiking up and over a mountain pass.
The path out of the campground hooked up with the main trail in the meadow along the valley floor where we left off the day before, and after a quick water bottle refill from the creek, we moved towards the pass. Our reward for two days of tree/bush-hiking was now a lovely forest trail that opened into a narrow, flowered meadow divided by a bubbling stream leading up the pass. The incline was moderately steep, causing us to stop and take in the view multiple times. The low clouds swallowed the terrain we’d left behind, and the cool mist felt amazing on our warm skin and sweaty heads.
The grassy meadow gave away for the last bit up Pulsatilla, where we picked our way along the rocky path and through snow patches to the top. Waiting for us on the other side was a broad hanging meadow dotted with tiny Alpine Forget-me-nots, buttercups, Pulsatilla (Western Anemone), and Indian Paintbrush, surrounded by peak after peak layering into the hazy distance. Water burbled down the pass into a glassy aquamarine lake, where one just wanted to loll and spend the afternoon. An earnest discussion was had regarding future trips, and the packing in of an inflatable dinghy.
Perched on a cliff above the lake, we were just finishing up our snack break, when Mr. D. came down the trail behind us. We’d assumed he was well ahead of us but it turns out he stopped along the creek early on to have a cooked breakfast.
He asked if we’d seen any bears.
Our bear radar was turned on pretty high, and no, we said we hadn’t.
“There are bear prints on top of your boot prints heading up Pulsatilla,” he advised.
Well – what the heck?? Pulsatilla Pass is a bottleneck, essentially, so if a bear (and friends) needed to get though it would be pretty noticeable. I’d even read a blog previous to setting out on this trip how a party heading to Pulsatilla turned around because a grizzly and her cubs needed the space to get through the saddle, and mama was not a happy camper to see humans as an obstacle. That party actually then turned around and hiked out Johnston’s Canyon that day – yowza, long hike! On the flip side, we learned yesterday how silent those massive bears could be even walking within 20 feet of you…sooo…
Hugh and I scanned the meadow. Once out of the saddle, there was lots of room for the bear(s) and the hikers to continue on the lake side. Nothing seemed to be moving…nonetheless, we continued on, but constantly checking out our surroundings with due diligence.
Following the meadows, we began to descend into the valley to meet up with Wildflower Creek. The descent was super steep and long…pity the hikers who would come up from this direction over the pass. Our paths crossed with Mr. D. once again, and we set forth all together to thrash through seven-foot willows creek-side. Seriously. Not my cup of tea. Raptor bushes all over again.
The trail was muddy and full of wet branches swatting us in the face. We came to an easy creek crossing – meaning, not deep – but then to pick up the trail on the other side became a challenge. We worked hard to spot cairns – thank goodness for the cairns – but this is the part where I actually got turned around 180 degrees. It’s that feeling where you are dead set that you should be heading the opposite direction from where you should really be going. And thoughts such as, gee, I should’ve been practicing with my compass as we walked… To be sure/unsure. Yikes.
Hugh and Mr. D. explained their reasoning as to directional choices, and we moved ahead on the very faint trail beside the creek (in the right direction!). We continued to do a bit of trail finding through the brush, watching for cairns or other indicators such as broken branches, footprints, etc. There was always a concern that we were following a game trail, too, versus the actual trail.
For the next several kilometres our movement was slow-going, cheerless bushwhacking through willows and mud puddles. We walked this way for at least two hours before the trail entered a more forested but open mossy area and descended steeply back towards Wildflower Creek. Knowing from the map that this campground was low, at about 1,830 m, it was a good sign we were close.
We arrived – QUITE JOYFULLY – to discover a very quaint little campground with neatly organized sites next to a tumultuous creek, a squeaky clean outhouse, and a charming food area with a fire pit. The ground between the trees was almost sproingy with moisture and rot, and lent quite a cozy, woodsy feel it it all. The campground was distinctly under-used, more than likely because nobody was crazy enough to make this hike.
Each of us pitched our tents immediately and peeled off our wet stuff. I swear a strange sucking sound emanated from my boots when I pulled my poor, puckered wet-fish feet out of them. We were all soaked to the bone. Not five minutes after settling into our tents in our warm, dry clothes, then the rain started. For two hours the rain fell steadily, as we hung out in our tents, napping.
It’s funny…dozing next to such a tumultuous creek, and having the constant pitter-patter of rain on the tent fly, deep in the forest, you begin to sense a pattern, a rhythm or thrum of a presence approaching, or perhaps voices. But in the end, it’s just the water. (Island? Others?)
At supper time, Hugh and I emerged, quite relaxed, and set up for dinner. Hugh started a nice smoky fire to chase the mozzies away, and I prepped dinner. Rays of sunlight found their way through the trees, and the whole forest smelled fresh and clean. The heat returned fiercely, though, despite the earlier reprieve.
For dinner, we had another win-win: Shepherd’s Pie and Hawaiian Rice with Chicken. Both super yummy, and perfect for the night. After we hung out at the fire for a bit, we cleared away our things, did some washing and re-hung our food bag at the bear poles provided near the back of the campground.
And off to bed by 7:45 pm to listen to some Vinyl Cafe, then slumber.
Tomorrow: Wildflower Creek to Baker Lake