Encampent River & Red Mountain
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11:35. I lace on my leather boots and strap all the fixins on my pack. Itís 70 degrees and sunny, so I slather on extra sunscreen, though I know my skin will be pink by sundown anyway. At 10,000 feet, itís almost impossible to thwart the UV radiation. I leave the car with Henry trotting ahead, an orange bandana around his neck so I can keep track of him. His brown and white body blends in perfectly in the shadowed pine woods. We move up the dirt road to the south, passing by private property. After 20 minutes, we enter the Huston Park Wilderness. The trail heads to the south, a wide, easy path slicing through a spruce-fir forest that is conspicuous because of its greenness. Forests farther south and east are mostly gray from trees rendered barren through the triple threat of drought, fungus and beetles. Henry trots ahead, farther than Iíd like at times, but he always stops to wait for me if he gets about 200 yards ahead. His lanky legs and deep chest/narrow waist build allows him to chew up ground like breathing, and he is often 200 yards ahead of me. Luckily heís a happy go lucky pooch who has never failed to wag his tail at other hikers.
We pass through open meadows that smell sweet in the alpine sun, and the trail crosses several small streams that splash noisily and shine silver. Lupines bloom everywhere, and the air is thick with their sweet scent. At 12:30, we reached a large wet meadow through which the North Fork Encampent River flows. The trail crosses the river at the eastern end of the meadow, and just after crossing the river Henry and I turn left and strike off into the woods. We follow the river for about 150m, then find a quiet open spot amongst massive spruce trees to pitch the tent. My idea is to dayhike from this location, so thereís no need to hike too far before camping. The forest is very pleasant here.
I eat tuna and crackers for lunch. Henry sits and watches me intently, drooling from the smell of the fish. I throw him a few crackers that he expertly snags from the air and crunches down.
1:45. I assemble my flyrod and hit the river. The fishing is crazy. Brook trout boil the water every time my dry fly hits the glassy surface of the meandering river. I work my way downstream, fishing each hole until the fish are spooked before moving on. Henry stalks the tall grass, sniffing quietly, sometimes laying down in the soft pine duff beneath a conifer, taking note when I move on and following. In 2 hours I reel in 28 brookies, mostly small specimens under 8 inches, some as tiny as 4 inches, but a few in the 10-12-inch range. I use the same fly the entire time, a black dryfly with a white tail made of Henryís hairÖthe Henry special. It works splendidly, but then I suspect in this remote area with eager brookies, a pencil eraser would work just as well.
4:00. As Iím walking back to camp from down the river it begins to rain lightly. In the still, humid air, the mosquitoes take their toll. I retreat to the tent, take a short nap, and when I wake up the rain has stopped and the sun is shining brightly.
5:00. My stomach tells me itís time for dinner. No schedule to adhere to out here. I eat jerky, cheese, dried mango and granola; a simple, cook-free dinner. Henry nibbles on his kibble, but I can tell heís not really into it. I canít blame him.
6:00. Henry and I hike up Red Mountain to the northwest, reaching the top under cloudy skies and a brisk wind. I note that I have cell reception so I call Andra and talk with Ada and Fz for awhile, sensing vaguely that cell phone conversations while backpacking somehow break some unwritten rules of wilderness. Nevertheless, itís nice to talk to them. I can see the rain sweeping across the Zirkel Wilderness far to the south. Henry and I head down and reach camp around 8:00.
8:30. Sitting against a giant log near the tent, snacking on dried mango and sipping cold river water, listening to the sound of wind in the spruces. Henry has staked out a soft spot of spruce needles and is licking his paws. On closer inspection I notice the skin is raw on all 4 feet, and he is licking the dirt out of red, meaty wounds. This happened last year at Savage Run when we spent all day near in the wet meadows near the water. I think the water softens his paws too much, and then when we return to rocky trail, the skin just peels away. The sun comes out from beneat alayer of dark clouds, and the effect is beauty, everywhere. Orange evening sunlight coming under clouds is the most spectacular light there is. I sponge-bathe with river water, and crawl into the tent around 8:50, as the sky grows dark.
7:30. I wake up and the tent is glowing yellow. Shadows are gently swaying on the yellow tent rainfly, and Iím glad to know the sun is shining this morning. Henry and I get out of the tent and pack up camp. I had intended to dayhike to the south, but Henry canít handle any more walking than required. Iím worried I may have to carry him, his feet are so raw and bloody. Should have brought his doggie boots. We eat breakfast, he his kibbles and I a Pop Tart and granola. Birds chirp and flit in the spruces overhead. A red squirrel chatters angrily and Henry bounds off into the woods to find him, a futile search. The sound of flowing water wafts in to camp from the river 60 years away. It is supremely quiet, and I am saddened a little by the absence of my noisy dog, Makenzie, who paces and pants with such vigor that all other noises are drowned out. Her backpacking days are over, courtesy of arthritic hips.
8:40. We hike back towards the car. Progress is slow with Henryís injured paws. I stop and bandage them with guaze and tape. He looks ridiculous. The tape job lasts only half a mile before falling off. We stop often so he can tend to his feet. I read my book in the shade of a tree during these stops. I simply canít carry him, so we go slow.
12:00. We reach the trailhead, and head back to civilization. I feel I havenít even scratched the surface of this wilderness, so I will surely be back.
Young Abies lasiocarpa (subalpine fir)
Old Picea engelmanii (Engelman spruce)
Henry chills out at dinner
Pools on the river swarm with brook trout
Henry ascends the lupine-draped flanks of Red Mt
From the windy summit of Red Mt
Camp is down in the river valley below
Beaten fir trees at the summit
Red Mt from the south
Heading back to the car