Everyone agreed that the plan for today was to hike 15.6-miles to the Chairback Gap Lean-to. Quietman took off around 7:00 am but Boo Boo and I stayed back to visit for a while and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. In retrospect, this lack of urgency in our departure is probably where this day started to go horribly wrong.
The trail from the Wilson Valley Lean-to started with a small 300-foot climb and Boo Boo, who is a much stronger hiker than I am, soon started to pull away from me. I asked him to keep in touch and told him that I would meet him at Chairback Gap. The rocks through this section of trail seemed to be never-ending and it took a long time for me to struggle across a large talus slope at the base of a huge rockslide.
Going downhill for a while, I crossed multiple streams until crossing Wilber Brook at the bottom of my descent. From there, the trail flattens out for a while and soon crosses Vaughn Stream before crossing and following along the banks of Long Pond Stream for a mile or so. Luckily, the lack of rain over the past several days had lowered the water levels so that I was able to save some time by rock hopping across these potential obstacles.
At Long Pond Stream, I was already a couple of hundred feet into a 2,100-foot climb to the summit of Barren Mountain. It had been a long time since I had faced a climb of this magnitude and I can honestly say that I had not missed climbing. The trail on the way up was either a jumble of rocks or a ladder of roots and I felt like I was going nowhere fast. Although I’m not crazy about climbing, I do enjoy the views that are often the reward for the struggle and this climb did not disappoint. At Barren Slide, I got a nice view ahead towards Barren Mountain and a short distance later, I saw a spectacular view of Lake Onawa from the Barren Ledges.
Continuing the strenuous climb up the rough trail, I finally arrived at the summit of Barren Mountain which was adorned with the remains of an old fire tower. The view there was slightly obstructed, but still provided a nice look at the surrounding forests. Unfortunately, the forest showed many clear-cut spaces where the trees have been converted into paper and pencils.
The remnants of Hurricane Harvey were moving into the area, bringing some unsettling weather. It was already near 4:00 pm, and there was no way that I was going to cross four more peaks and make it the seven miles to the Chairback Gap Lean-to before dark. Keeping in touch with Boo Boo had become problematic because there had not been any cell service all day. So, when it started raining, I decided to get off the trail at the Cloud Pond Stream Lean-to in the hope that Boo Boo had done the same.
The 0.3-mile side trail to the Cloud Pond Stream Lean-to follows a slippery path around Cloud Pond which serves as the water source for the lean-to. After filling my water bag, I continued to the lean-to and discovered that it was empty. Where are Boo Boo and Quietman? Did they actually make it all the way to the Chairback Gap Lean-to over this terrain? I was crestfallen to think that after waiting for two months for him to catch up, that I had lost Boo Boo on the first day because I couldn’t keep up.
I didn’t want to set up my tent in the rain, so I prepared myself a space in the lean-to. Before nightfall, three women arrived and joined me in the lean-to providing me with some welcome conversation. The first to arrive was a woman named Kathy. Kathy is a hardy local woman who is out for her first section hike. I had seen her off and on for the past couple of days (she camped last night behind the Wilson Valley Lean-to) and she is doing a fantastic job on her first outing. Later, a couple of thru-hikers named She-Beast and Meadowlark arrived. After listening to She-Beast and Kathy talk about hunting, I could easily imagine her back home, jumping out of her pickup truck with a shotgun and pounding Budweiser beers with the best of them. Meadowlark is a retired elementary schoolteacher from Missoula, Montana. I have a daughter that lives just 50-miles away from Missoula in Seeley Lake and, after Meadowlark told me that she had been to Seeley Lake many times, we compared notes to see if they had ever met each other (they had not, but it is still a small world). Although I enjoyed having some folks to talk with, my mind was on my disappointment of losing Boo Boo.
Date: September 3, 2017
Starting Location: Wilson Valley Lean-to
Ending Location: Cloud Pond Lean-to
AT Miles Today: 8.7
AT Miles To Date: 2,094.4