Williams Lake, September 28 – 30, 2017
Early Thursday morning – Williams Lake Trailhead – I’m thinking about all the switchbacks on the lower section of this trail, and how, back in the day, I used to take off on the original trail to avoid the initial marching up to where the trail turns into the Williams Creek Canyon. When this trail was redone to suit the horse-packing folks, it almost doubled in length – according to the oldtimers anyhow.
I have packed into Williams a number of times in the last 35 years, and I have found and used the lower section of the trail. Even veered off a few places up higher where it was possible to use sections of the original trail to avoid hiking the extra distance the new trail covers. Now, when I say “New,” that moniker is based on the way those oldtimers talk about it. The longer “new” trail has been the way it is since I moved to the Methow Valley – although I could swear there are more switchbacks on this lower section now, than my younger self remembers.
I have visions of just easing up the old trail to the canyon mouth, and chatted with Pasayten about such on the drive to the trailhead. Not a lot of response, but then he was busy driving, right? Being retired and being able to take off midweek usually means we get to enjoy both the trail and our choice of backcountry on our own. This morning there are a couple of other vehicles in the parking area, and since the trail doesn’t lead anywhere but where we are headed, we realize we’re gonna have to share the space. But it’s OK, because Williams Lake sits in a nice meadow bowl – there’s lots of room up there.
After signing us in on the trail register, Pasayten sees me looking off to the left of the trail. “You still thinking about finding the old trail,” he asks?
‘Yeah, it’s really only about a mile-and-a-half or so up that ridge to the canyon mouth, instead of – what – about 4 miles on the switchbacks? But I’m seeing a lot more deadfall over where the old trail takes off. Maybe we can hook on to it up higher where one of the switchbacks crosses it,” I said.
And so, away we go up the “new” trail. I do have to admit that the grade of this new trail is easier on my 74-3/4 year-old body, but I take a real good look every time I arrive at a point I know used to be part of the old trail. Truly, there is so much deadfall both of us comment that it would be a disastrous situation if this hillside caught fire. If it did, anyone up the trail would have to bail out the backside, up over Williams Butte, and down either War Creek to the south, or Reynolds Creek north of us. Or maybe even have to head over the Sawtooth divide and down into the Lake Chelan side. Good to know where you are, and that there is an escape route. The last few year’s wildfires have instilled a bit of caution in most of us venturing out into the backcountry, not just here in the Methow, but most of the western U.S.
We never found a way to try the old trail, so we just kept truckin’ on up, back and forth, switchback after switchback. Pretty easy hiking at this grade, but that can cause one to perhaps move faster than one should at the beginning of a 7.5 -mile trail that rises 3.800 feet or so overall. We switch off leading so that each has the opportunity to view something other than the leader’s tail end. Also this way we each get a fair share of the dust kicked up by whomever is leading. Not wanting to breathe the dust automatically creates a buffer zone, and there are stretches of trail where it’s almost like a solo hike.
About halfway to the lake, I found a seat, slipped off my pack, sipped some water and munched a bit of gorp while waiting for Pasayten. The woods and hills have really begun taking on autumn colors. The air still has a bit of a nip in the shade. Here and there, across the higher ridges, and on the peaks that are peeking through the trees, there is a slight dusting of snow, but looks more like just heavy frost. Where I choose to rest, the Aspens and Sumac are bright in their fall dress. Still a few hardy wildflowers here and there, but most are in the seed-pod stage. There are piles of rodent-harvested Lupine and other greens here and there along, and even right on, the trail. Spots selected to take advantage of maximum sunshine, to dry the winter’s food before it is tucked away near the burrow.
”What’s going on with your boot,” Pasayten asks as he arrives and stops next to me.
I look down at my boots and discover the left heel is delaminating from the boot’s upper. Kind of flopping down a bit, but not too bad. Missing some of the inner layer between the tread sole and the footbed. “Huh, I didn’t notice. They looked OK when I waterproofed them. Guess I’ll just have to walk carefully, and see what I can do after we get to the lake.”
“Probably do a temporary fix with some duct tape,” he says.
“Yeah, I probably could. You got some?”
“Yup, I do but it’s down in the truck.” Big grin! Don’t you just hate it when – – – “Don’t you have any with you either,” he asks?
“I’ve got some repair tape that will probably work but I’ll need to get all the dust and dirt cleaned off first,” I said. “Not going to take the time right now. Your turn to lead.”
OK, so now I’m following Pasayten and aware that my left heel is dragging a bit, but by making sure I set my left foot down evenly, it’s working OK. Soon I found that if I don’t kinda slide that heel forward before I weight it, it folds under my foot as the sole has delammed more On we go for a while, each moving at their own speed. Even though the heel of my boot is making me tread carefully, I catch up to Ray, and take the lead again We switch leading about every time we take a breather or a short, sit-down rest stop. We are across the rock slides and headed up the short switchbacks through the old burn, when Ray informs me that we got a couple of fellows on horses coming up behind us.
“How far back” I ask? “Still a ways, but I can hear them – probably need to find a spot off the trail and let them by,” he says. Which we do, and make it into a packs-off, water-sipping, sit-down breather.
When we hear them just around the last bend, Ray calls, “Hello.” The lead horse spooks, kinda crowhops a bit, and I wonder if it’s going to dump the rider. Not a real great scenario as it’s pretty rocky here, and it drops off some below the trail. The rider finally calms his mount down, and eases up alongside where we stand next to the trail. We talk to and pet the pony, chat a bit with the two fellows heading up for the day and some fishing. The riders tells they wished they were out for longer like we are. As soon as they’re past us, we saddle up and head on up the trail. I got going first so I’m pushing a bit – getting tired of walking, tired of having to baby my left boot, want to get to the lake.
Walking through a section of trail that is actually a ditch, where the trail is worn down through the topsoil. The sides of the ditch are seat level for me and I sit down and crossed my right foot up on my left knee, thinking I’ll just look real casual as I hear Ray coming up behind me. “Sitting down again so soon,” he asks? And then sits down next to me.
As my answer, I point to my right boot – the one I had lifted and so casually crossed. It’s heel has also delammed from the upper. Worse than the left boot, it was flopping underneath pretty easily if I wasn’t very conscious of how I placed my feet.
“Oh,” he said, “ well, you want to turn back?”
“We’re a lot closer to the lake than the truck,’ I said, “not going to matter if I walk out now or two days down the line, going to be the same problem. Besides, I think I can probably work out a way to hold them together. At least good enough to get me out of here. How far to the lake now?”
Pulling out his gps unit, my techno buddy informs me we’re just a few hundred yards, maybe a mile at most, from the lake – and then grins as he adds, “As the crow flies.” Don’t you just hate it when – – –
“Well, I’m not heading back now,” I said. “Let’s get ‘er done.”
And we did. Hiked up that last stretch of trail and walked into the beautiful meadows above the south side of the lake. Dropped our packs, stretched, and looked around.. I wandered around a bit, scanning for the perfect spot for my new tent. Turning around, I knew exactly where we were going to camp. Ray – Pasayten – is in his favorite position, sitting in his ultra-light chair.
“This is it, huh,” I say.
“Looks good to me,“ he says, “after seven-and-a-half hours walking. This looks just fine (or words to that effect).”
“Took that long, eh?” I asked.
“Yup,” Pasayten replied, “probably would’ve made it quicker if you hadn’t been dragging your heels the whole way.”
After getting camp set up and kicking back in my UL chair (mine’s not as UL as Ray’s, but the extra ¾ pound just adds to my bragging rights re. load-carrying), I turn on my semi-smart phone and check for service. Walking around the meadow a bit, I find a spot where I have one little green bar showing, so I semi-jokingly send this message to Andy, my son. “At Williams. Boots fell apart. Please get the Scarpa boots by my office door and run them up here tomorrow.”
Andy and wife, Jennifer, ran up Twisp Pass and over to Stiletto Lake to check on us oldtimers a few weeks back. They are out and about, up and down trails a lot, training for events, staying in shape
My phone is showing “Sending” “Sending” “Sending” and then “No Service” Then, as I move up the hill a bit, “Sending” “Sending” “Sending” Thinking it won’t go, or maybe not arrive until it’s too late, I compose another message, “Just kidding. I’ll be fine.” and send that, too. I leave my phone on and just stuff it in my pocket. I tried to call my wife, but couldn’t get past a ring or two before losing the signal.
Ray asks if I was able to call. “Nope, kept losing signal when I tried to call, so I sent Andy a message to run up here with my spare boots. Not sure it transmitted, out in binary heaven, I guess.”
“Which pair of boots did you ask for,” he said, “not the bean-buckets, I hope.”
“You know I got those waterproofed now. Stayed dry, even when I went wading ankle-deep in the Twisp River with them. I asked for my Scarpas, but I’m going to work up a fix on these de-lammed boots, cause I don’t this my message went out.”
Pasayten says, “I bet they show up tomorrow about midday.”
THE NEXT DAY – – –
After breakfast, I set about rigging a fix so I can walk out of here without stumbling and crashing down the trail. A loop of flat parachute cord running under the heel through the gaps in the tread lugs, and up over the instep does the trick. I can unlace the boots to get them on and off leaving the fix in place. I have more flat cord, so if one wears through on the rocky trail, I can replace it pretty easily. To test my repair job, I go fishing.
Both Ray and I caught a few last evening, but didn’t fish a lot after hiking in. One of the fellows that rode in past us came over to our camp and claimed he’d caught a couple of Cutts in the 20” range, said his friend had lost a bigger one.
Fishing today is just great. Exactly what I expect at Williams. Out of all the visits I’ve made, I only been totally skunked once – and I blame that on the weather that trip. To balance that trip, I have caught a number of 3+-pounders here, and one that scaled out at home at just over 7-pounds cleaned. Today, both Pasayten and I catch a few trout in the 20” range, and many more larger than 14” – we are tossing spinners. I use a single, barbless hook on my lures to increase my bragging rights. We both are releasing the fish we land as we enjoy the morning. I confess, he caught the biggest fish – today.
After lunch, Pasayten breaks out the UL Cribbage board again, and we begin playing while relaxing in y our chairs in the warmish sunshine. Much nicer today than when we played last evening with icy fingers and dripping noses – mine was anyway. Pasayten says he is watching for my spare boots to be delivered even though I keep telling him the texts didn’t go as far as I can tell. Bantering back and forth, we continue to play cards.
All of a sudden, Pasayten points to a head that came into view down the meadow, then two heads – it’s Andy & Jenn– and Neko, the wonder dog! I am honestly stunned! So much so that I rise out of my chair, dropping a really good Cribbage hand in shock! Pasayten simply says, “Told you they’d show up.”
There is almost no way to really say thanks when your kids go more than than second mile for you. Seven-and-a-half miles up 3,800 vertical feet because you asked, even jokingly, and carrying your spare boots. All joking aside, I felt totally blessed, extremely grateful, and just humbled by their generosity. I did refuse to let Andy carry my broken boots out – I mean, one has to draw the line somewhere, even if it is in sand.
We chatted. They power-barred up. Pasayten refilled their hydration rigs from his gravity-filter unit. Neko got his ears scratched by me. Andy made a few casts with my fishing rig, landed and released a few nice Cutts – no 20-inchers, but nice.. And then Jenn said, “Let’s go. We need to get to Lynden today!”
Unreal, but I can remember doing stuff like that when I was their age. BTW, they ran up the trail in less time than it took Pasayten and I to walk out. Took them all of two-hours-and-forty-some minutes to get up to the lake. Found out later, they bombed down the trail in about an hour less than that.
Oh well, they are about half our ages – Pasayten and I. And beside having more on the odometer, we can claim senior aches, pains, and attitudes, and we know just how important the journey really is.