Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day 30: Willow Creek Pass to Arapahoe Ridge

After a slow and difficult morning, we finally headed back to the trailhead at Willow Creek Pass. We had not hiked far when we encountered a seemingly misplaced CDT sign tied to tree. The sign indicated we should follow a new trail straight ahead. The data book and our GPS waypoints indicated we should turn left. We later learned the new route rejoined our trail at the top of Parkview Mountain. Perhaps a new change for next year's CDT?

We crossed a few snowfields, then began to climb in earnest, moving cross country from cairn to cairn. But the mountainside pitched up so steeply that in many places you couldn't see the next cairn above you. Slowly but surely we worked our way up to the ridge. 

Walking along the ridge to the fire lookout tower on top of Parkview Mountain reminded me of the PCT as it makes its way along the ridge in Goat Rocks. Parkview Mountain is significant along the CDT because it is the last place a northbound hiker will climb over 12,000 feet on the trail. We ate lunch at the lookout tower, constantly on guard against the aggressive squirrels who kept trying to sneak behind us to steal food from our packs. 

Dark, threatening thunderheads were building overhead, so we quickly followed the trail to lower ground. We had not gone far when we met a pair of USGS geologists surveying, mapping, and studying geologic history of the region. It was interesting to talk with them. 

Although the CDT route follows a series of ridges down from Parkview Mountain, no trail exists in the area. Instead we played hide and go seek with a series of rock cairns as we attempted to follow the route cross country. Ground squirrels have dug an extensive network of underground tunnels and holes and our feet sunk deeply into the soft earth with almost every step. 

Fluttering clouds of butterflies filled the air as we descended from the ridge. Farther down, just before Troublesome Pass, we discovered another reddish rock wall, tall and impenetrable like that of a castle or fortress.  Bright orange and green lichen added color. 

Thunder growled behind me, while lightning flashed on the next ridge. We hurried along the ridge, but the threatened storm never came. 

We found a dry camp in a grove of trees along the ridge, right after another series of rock outcroppings. Although we had planned for a dry camp, we had consumed a lot of water during the heat of the day and, after dinner, found ourselves rationing our last pint of water. Thankfully, more water is just a few miles away and we will reach it early tomorrow morning.

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