Day 14: Woods Creek to Baxter Creek (≈5.8 mi.)
Aug. 10: Today is supposed to be really easy—not many miles and no significant ups or down. We’re simply moving to put us into position for doing Glen Pass tomorrow and to avoid having two sequential killer days.
With no need to rush, it’s a lazy morning, and James and Andrew take the opportunity to read before hitting the trail. (Both are avid readers, and each of them must have brought along a dozen books. They’re also willing to carry them all day. Unless I know I’m going to have lots of time to read before the mules arrive, I’m unwilling to carry the extra weight.)
We leave camp (9,850) around 9:30 a.m. and immediately leave forest cover. The grade soon eases and the trail generally follows Woods Creek down the canyon, but we’re above it on the north side.
All at once the trail drops down to Woods Creek (8,547) and a very bouncy wooden-slatted suspension bridge that requires us to cross one person at a time. (“The Golden Gate of the Sierra” was completed in 1988.)
Tony goes first in order to set up his video camera and record our crossing. It’s 11 a.m., and we only have a couple of miles to go. There’s a couple with 5 llamas getting ready to ford the creek, so Kris goes over to talk with them.
Now, we’re not exactly sure where we are going to camp tonight. Neither Starr’s Guide nor Winnett and Morey’s mention the packer site where the ranger told us to camp. It’s somewhere near where Baxter Creek joins the South Fork Woods Creek and below the 10,000 foot line. It can’t be more than two miles from here.
With that vague knowledge, Pat, George and I start hiking. We’re not too worried about finding the site, and we’d rather eat our lunch there rather than now. If it’s not obvious, the advance party usually shouts as we go by. We climb and climb and keep on climbing. This certainly is not as easy as we were led to believe. It’s much steeper and we seem to be going much further than expected. When I get to the 10,000 foot “No fires permitted above this point” sign, I know we’ve gone too far. But, it’s lunch time, so we stop, eat and examine the map.
Now we’re not the only ones in a muddle, for here come Kris and Tony. Tony’s the one who talked to the ranger and has the best map. So, if he didn’t find the campsite, we know we’re not complete idiots. And, where are Mark, James and Dina? Did they just keep on going or did we miss them?
We’ve all seen what look like wonderful campsites—but they’re on the other side of the South Fork, and the South Fork is not something that will be easy to ford. As we head back DOWN, we come to a place where we’re at least on the same level as the creek. Tony and Andrew decide to push their way through the thicket of willows that line the bank to see if they can see a way across. Somehow Andrew finds a way across—probably on a log that none of us older folks are going to attempt. He walks south a ways, but can’t find a way for us to cross. Then we all start walking north, back the way we came—Andrew on one side of the creek and the rest of us on the other. Soon the creek is in a canyon; there’s no way to cross; and we lose sight of Andrew. But, we do find Mark or rather Mark finds us. James and Dina are at a site that’s back UP. So we start climbing again.
The site isn’t very good. It’s not very big and water isn’t very accessible; it’s down in the canyon below. We’re still wondering what to do when Debbie shows up with her mules. She says we can’t stay here with the mules, but she thinks she knows where the site mentioned by the ranger is. It’s back DOWN.
Now none of these distances associated with looking for the campsite have been really long (my guess is that they add up to between 1 and 1 ½ miles), but they’ve not been easy. Instead of climbing only a couple of hundred feet, some of us have climbed a couple of thousand. And everyone is getting a bit testy. Will this really be the last time we have to do this portion of the trail today?
When we get back down, we find that we have to push our way through a thicket and then go up and across the creek—which, thank goodness, is not a raging torrent here. No wonder we didn’t see it! The horses and mules have no problems, but we’ve got to change into our sandals before tackling this ford. Some find easier ways up the other bank than others, including me.
But it’s a lovely site. And all those thickets along the creek provide seclusion. So, people start taking turns bathing. Might as well enjoy the afternoon and accomplish something while waiting for the rest of the mules and our gear. But, the mules aren’t really that far behind; they arrive while Pat and George are bathing.
Once the gear arrives, Kris fills her sunshower and we women take turns washing our hair. It’s luxurious to be clean, have your tent up by mid-afternoon, and sit back and read in the sun. After a glass of wine or two, the hassles of the day soon fade away.
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