Friday, December 13, 2019

Day 21: Priest Lakes

August 5: The day started with a short climb up Lookout Mountain before veering back down the mountain just before the summit. I was tempted to make the half-mile trek to the top where another fire lookout tower was located but decided not to. I wanted to get miles in this afternoon and the weather forecast called for Bonners Ferry to hit over 100 degrees. I was no longer located in Bonners Ferry, of course, and at these elevations, it was doubtful that I'd personally feel such warm temperatures, but it was going to be a miserably hot day--no doubt about that! At the lower elevations the trail passed through, I expected at least 90 degrees. I wanted to put my efforts today into distance rather than explorations.

Sunrise over Lookout Mountain--there's another fire tower at the top but the trail didn't lead to the top and I didn't take the 1/2-mile side trip to check it out. Sorry!

So I skipped the summit and followed the trail thousands and thousands of feet downhill toward Priest Lake. Temperatures soared as the trail descended.

The trail eventually led to a gravel road which my maps showed it following for about three miles, but I noticed orange flagging that seemed to mark a route on a faint trail which also cut between some switchbacks. I was all in favor of getting off the road--especially if I could shorten the distance I had to cover by following this flagged route.

The route cut off a switchback and led back to the same road I was on before. Fast, easy, efficient. I liked it! Not very long, though.

I followed these orange flags cross-country thinking maybe it was a PNT reroute in progress... Maybe it was, but they definitely wound up leading me in the wrong direction!

Which is when I noticed another orange flag leading off the road. There wasn't a clearly defined trail like the first one, but there was a faint-looking game trail and if I could cut another switchback and get off the road, sure--why not?!

I followed the flags off-trail (and off-road) again. The flags led downhill a short way and eventually made a sharp turn to the left. The sharp left turn had me a bit worried. That didn't seem like the right direction. In the distance, I could see where I needed to go and the route seemed to be going around a steep hillside. Maybe it would zig and zag and still get me to the right location?

Views of Priest Lake far below were wonderful! From Lookout Mountain, the trail headed thousands of feet downhill to its shores then followed the shoreline several miles northward along the Idaho Centennial Trail.

I followed it. The faint game trail eventually led to a fairly well-defined trail which gave me a bit of confidence, but it still seemed to be leading me in the wrong direction. The trail was in bad shape, though, with lots of blowdowns and little evidence of recent work.

At this point, I felt pretty confident that I had made a grave mistake. I should have stuck with the official trail and followed the gravel road, but I felt like I had gone too far to turn back now. Turning back would set me back by an hour or more. Nope, I pushed onward and doubled down on my bet.

Although the blowdowns were terrible at times, the thick trees provided a lot of shade from the burning sun.

The blowdowns along the last part of the flagged route were pretty bad....

And finally, the trail burst out onto a gravel road! I had made it! Well, almost.... According to my maps, I was still about a half-mile off trail having arrived at a paid campground on Priest Lake. A small day-use area with restrooms and trash cans were available so I walked across the road to the trash can to throw out my trash. May as well take advantage of the place while I was there! There were quite a number of people around but the beach seemed unusually empty of people.

The beach at the day use area next to the campsite on Priest Lake seemed surprisingly empty of people! (There were definitely people around... just not on the beach here!)

As I threw out my trash, I noticed a vehicle drive by which looked suspiciously like Gypsy's. I only got a quick glance as the car drove by--I certainly didn't expect to see anyone I knew out here and hadn't been looking for him--but the driver even looked a little like Gypsy. He drove past and was out of sight in seconds. Was that Gypsy? What was he doing out here? It wasn't even the trail here! It would have been nice to run into him again. I'd tell him he was smart for skipping those horrible blowdowns and bushwhack. The trail had been brutal since leaving Bonners Ferry!

I followed a side road through the campground preferring to stay off the main gravel road when I saw the same truck drive by again. Gypsy?! Again?! I rushed through the grassy area dividing the campground road from the main gravel road and waved to the truck that had already passed by. Maybe Gypsy would see me in his rearview mirror? Assuming, of course, it was Gypsy. I still hadn't gotten a good look at the driver--again, I wasn't expecting or looking for him! Maybe I should just stay on the main gravel road.... just in case he drove by a third time.

This gravel road seemed like a weird place to find a refrigerator.... In the off chance that maybe there was trail magic inside, I opened it to look--but it was empty!

I followed the gravel road for about a half-mile before it rejoined the official PNT which veered off the gravel road from the opposite direction at an intersection with the Idaho Centennial Trail.

The PNT followed the Idaho Centennial Trail for several miles.

The Idaho Centennial Trail was a mostly nice section of trail--fairly flat, level and shaded. But so freakishly hot late in the afternoon! There were a few annoying blowdowns blocking the path. Why?! Why can't these people maintain a trail--even so close to a well-traveled gravel road? Argh!

More blowdowns blocked part of the Idaho Centennial Trail... but nothing as bad as it was a few days ago!

The trail crossed a small creek which required fording. I decided to take my shoes off this time, but I'm not sure why. I didn't feel like getting my shoes and socks wet, so I didn't. On the other side, I found a set of hiking shoes that were completely soaked. That seemed odd. Someone crossed the creek with their shoes on... then took them off to continue hiking further? I wasn't sure what to make of the abandoned shoes, and I knew they hadn't been there long since they were still dripping wet.

A ford! A ford! We must cross the water here!

The trail followed alongside Priest Lake with wonderful views often overlooking the lake and I stopped for a long lunch break at one of them. I wound up taking a 2.5-hour rest hoping to beat the hottest part of the day watching Netflix shows on my phone and reading my Kindle while admiring the views across the lake. I also set out my solar panel in the sun and put the sun to work!

It was a lovely place to camp but late in the afternoon, I packed up my stuff and continued onward. I had more miles to get done!

Priest Lake

The trail finally passed Priest Lake and headed into a thick cedar forest with cedar trees that looked like they could be a thousand years old. Some of the trees were absolutely massive, maybe 8-feet in diameter. It was a gorgeous area to walk through.

Then I heard a loud sound from a tree on my left. It was a bear! Climbing a tree! Holy cow! The bear climbed up the tree seconds--I had no idea they could climb a tree so quickly and efficiently! A monkey couldn't have climbed the tree faster.

It looked like a small bear, though. Not a baby, perhaps, but not adult-sized either. Maybe an adolescent? And my first thought was, Where the hell is mama bear?

It's a bear! In a tree! (Sorry the photo is so horrible. It was the best I could under such low-light conditions from a relatively far distance without my fancy camera.)

I looked around urgently but didn't see any evidence of mama bear. It didn't mean that she wasn't around, though, and I felt really uncomfortable not knowing where mama bear was. I pulled out my bear spray and back up away from the tree the bear had just climbed.

I really wanted to look at the bear in the tree and get some pictures, but I kept scanning the forest around me. My priority was mama bear! The bear in the tree was no threat me, but a nearby mama bear certainly could be!

I didn't want to continue ahead on the trail--if mama bear was ahead of me, that would be the wrong direction to go. So I stood at a distance, not sure what to do. Go forward? Go back? Go into the woods and swing far around from the tree the bear just climbed?

It was hard to know the best course of action without knowing where mama bear was! I decided to stay still for the time being--wait and see if mama bear showed. While waiting, I took out my point-and-shoot camera and snapped a couple of blurry, out-of-focus photos of the bear in the tree. What I really needed was my fancy camera with the 300mm zoom lens but I had mailed that home a couple of weeks earlier. But even if I did have it, I would not have felt at all safe to drop my pack and pull it out for photos. I needed to keep my pack on--just in case mama bear showed and I needed to make a quick exit!

The cedar trees in this section were gorgeous!

I stayed put for maybe half a minute when the bear in the tree started moving. He appeared to be coming back down to the ground. I didn't like this development at all. No! No! Stay in the tree! He couldn't attack me from the tree so I liked him being in the tree!

I decided to make a run for it down the trail. I wanted to make it past the bear before it was back on the ground. I'd rather have the bear behind me on the trail than ahead of me and not having a good way around it. So I put my camera away and dashed ahead with my bear spray ready--hoping mama bear wasn't ahead somewhere.

It wasn't until about 5 minutes later when I felt like I had gotten far enough away from the bear that I felt safe from any possible attacks from the mama bear--assuming there was still even a mama bear in the picture. The bear in the tree had been absolutely adorable, though! Such a cute little face!

It was getting late in the day now and the thick cedar trees provided plenty of shade, but photos were becoming hard to take in the low-light conditions until the trail came out of the woods. Now the trail followed several miles on a gravel road.

At one road intersection, the primary route turned right while an alternative route turned left. So far, I always stayed on the primary route and avoided the alternates but this time, the official PNT maps said, "The northern primary route is not recommended at this time." If the PNT folks officially recommends taking the alternate route, then that's the way I'd go!

I veered left.

The road walk was easy and uneventful. Mostly flat. Mostly....

As the afternoon wore on, the daylight continued to diminish. I kept pushing onward, though. There was a 17-mile dry stretch coming up--no water for 17 miles!--and tomorrow was supposed to be another 100 degree day. I wanted to get as close as possible to this 17 mile stretch so I could make it completely through the next day--so even though it was starting to get dark, I kept pushing onward. Every mile I did this evening was another mile I didn't have to get through tomorrow.

Ultimately, I had to stop. It was just getting too dark for me to take photos, but I did reach the end of the road walk and camped at the trailhead. It wasn't as far as I wanted to get, but I did finish 22.8 miles making it one of my longer days on the trail. It was definitely the latest time that I stopped for the day! The campsite wasn't at all scenic or nice. It wasn't even near water, but I would pass another water source--the last known water source--a few miles further up the trail and had stocked up with water at the previous source a couple of miles back so I was good to go for a waterless campsite.

All-in-all, a pretty good day--despite the heat! And I saw another bear! But the campsite at the end of the day was uninspired. I'd have much preferred one of those sites on Priest Lake!

I camped at this trailhead for the night.
Still lots of 'boulder turkeys' (i.e. grouse) on the trail!

I just love the bark on these trees!
Priest Lake
There are some wonderful campsites on Priest Lake and I so wanted to stay at one of them.... but I also wanted to put myself in a better position to get through a 17-mile dry stretch of trail tomorrow so I pushed onward.

1 comment:

Karolina said...

A fridge on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, a toilet seat on a desert - you do a few more trails and you will have furnished an appartment! ;-o)