It rained enough last night that again I woke up to a very wet tent and a very damp sleeping bag. Still, I rolled everything up tight and was hiking away from my little camp at 10,200 ft by 6:45. It’s only just light then, still a faded gray cast over every rock and tree and blade of grass. It was a cold morning, and wet condensation and rain clung to all the flora from the night before. Whenever I had to pass through bushes or long grass, my pants and shoes would get soaked in icy water.
Broken granite slab
After a couple gentle miles of winding through granite slabs and small meadows, I reached Lake 9797 (lakes are often named by their elevation) and knew things were about to change. From Lake 9797, my route would follow Goaddard Creek as it dropped three thousand feet in three miles through a narrow canyon to meet Disappearing Creek at their confluence. I had heard bad things: sharp rocks, primarily, but also some tricky route finding. I was imagining trying to traverse the side of a mountain made out of obsidian arrowheads, and was pleasantly surprised by the reality. It was steep, slow, sometimes tedious, and the rocks were both sharper and jumpier than the granite I’m used to. Indeed, sometimes it seemed like the rocks were already moving before I would even step on them. So the footing was slippery and treacherous, but overall it wasn’t a terrible descent. I had been prepared for worse.
Beginning the steep descent into Goddard Canyon
A harbinger of things to come
As I neared the confluence, the terrain became increasingly brushier, marking the transition from the steep-hill-sharp-rocks part of the descent down upper Goddard, to the bushwhack down lower Goddard. Again, I knew it was coming, heard bad things. I took an early lunch at the confluence to mentally and physically prepare, and to lay out my wet things to dry and take advantage of the warm sun bearing down on the canyon. This was another thing I’d heard, that the descent was hot, but in this case I was appreciative. I briefly considered camping there at the confluence, since I have this extra day to use up somewhere, but in case it rained overnight I thought the bushwhack would be substantially more pleasant if it were dry. So once my tent and sleeping bag had dried and aired, and once I had drank some water and eaten my crackers and salami, I reshouldered my pack and headed into it.
This last part of the descent was a little over three miles, and the terrain changed from brushy creek bed to brushy slope, from thorny bushes to stiff viny bushes to trees. Hikers are encouraged in the route description to link game trails to ease passage, and sometimes this worked so well for me I was blown away by the intelligent engineering of animals, the intelligence evident in the emergence over time of well-laid contouring paths that are easy and pleasant to follow. But they would end abruptly in a gully, or a patch of stiff brush, or where a rock slide crossed the way, or I would just lose track and be on my own again, pinched between gnarled branches that were, to put it mildly, unyielding. The manzanita is some of the worst: it’s hard, unbending limbs are at shin height, and after hours of fighting past it my shins hurt to the bone. (I read once about an old dueling style where men (always men) would don steel-toed boots and kick each other in the shins until one of them couldn’t take it anymore and the other would be declared the winner–I felt a little bit like I was the loser in a long duel with the manzanita).
For the first two and half hours, I felt rather cheerful despite being thrashed by brush, despite the steady accumulation of a horde of the most despised Face Flies (I ended up having to wear my headnet because they were so bad, and bushwhacking with a headnet on is harder than doing it without). Up to and through a ford of Goddard Creek to its north side near the end of the bushwhack, a ford which I had been warned was challenging but where I ended up doing it was okay–mid thigh deep, swift but not too much–I felt generally positive. It was only the last stretch of some contouring and descending that I had trouble keeping game trails and the manzanita were beginning to shred me a little past my limit of good cheer. Then I grew a little irritated. But the arrow of time is magic: it deposited me three hours after leaving the confluence on a forested flat. I crossed it a little dazed, for I had just completed the last serious obstacle on this journey.
Variations of brush
This is a game trail–amazing travel through otherwise impossible brush
Looking into the Middle Fork Canyon bottom
Well, I had to ford the Middle Fork of the King River, whose headwaters I had crossed just below Muir Pass yesterday morning, and who now was carrying the flow of many tributaries from around the range. It also is supposed to be a difficult ford. I found a good place just upstream of the confluence with Goddard Creek–crotch deep, swift, and wide–and found the Middle Fork Trail on the other side. That was my moment of relief.
A little over a mile later, I made camp. Grateful, and a little amused, to be through that strange and adventurous section.
With that over, I’m feeling the end more clearly, like a clarion call carried on the wind. It is only a little over twenty miles from here to Roads End, my exit, a distance I could do in a single long day. But since I have the time, I’ll stretch it out over two and half days, as long as the weather holds. Speaking of weather, though dark gray clouds gathered in the afternoon, they blew away without so much as a drop. It’s windy down here next to the river, at 6,000 lowly feet, but the sky is almost cloudless. Perhaps tonight will be dry after all.
About to ford the Middle Fork.
I am rather bruised after the descent and bushwhack today. My feet, my ankles, my shins–anything that has a bone close to the skin seemed to get bashed at one point or another, either by me falling off something or tripping over something, or just in the steady fight for space that defines a solid bushwhack. My clothes are the dirtiest they’ve been in the last near-forty days. But I feel a sense of lightness, a kind of boyancy, at having all the worrisome or technical parts of the trip behind me. Now the No Big Deal is just a general haze hanging in the air.
Resting in camp