“[H]iking was a ‘forced simplification of my life.’ We are in an era when the demand for our attention is exploding. … There is a danger that we can confuse being busy with being entertained and being relaxed with being bored. When hiking, we don’t just leave behind the customary distractions; we have to escape from our addiction to them.”
—David Miller, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
It’s been a busy summer. In addition to my pursuits in the mountains, my nine-year-old twin daughters have been on summer break. If I wasn’t driving them to and from camps, I was responding to the typical end-of-summer complaint: “Mommmm, I’m BORED!” At the same time I’ve been trying to keep up on my freelance business, which has resulted in a lot of late nights as I worked to finish jobs while everyone else in the house was asleep.
This weekend—with the girls away visiting family—seemed like the perfect opportunity to get outside with my hubby, Mike, and see some new territory. I was especially interested in a route that would not only be a good distance for me but also would give us the chance to spend some time together. After a little research, I landed on Easy Pass. This is one of the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge routes, which—based on my small experience of one prior route and lots of others’ trip reports—offer great challenges in beautiful places.
Easy Pass is a point-to-point route, and Mike and I decided that we would drive together to the Easy Pass Trailhead. We’d both go up to Easy Pass at our own paces; I’d then continue on while he’d head back to the car, drive around to Colonial Creek Campground and the Thunder Creek Trailhead, and hike in to meet me for the final couple of miles.
One of the highlights of this route are the views from Easy Pass. It’s a four-mile climb from the trailhead, initially winding through forest and then switch-backing up rocky fields under rocky cliffs. I was hoping for a marmot or goat sighting, but everyone was hiding from me. As you reach Easy Pass and look west, peaks tower dizzyingly above the Fisher River basin … well, that’s what people say, anyway. I happened to choose one of the first rainy days we’ve had in ages, and it was “No views for you!” throughout the day.
The top of the pass was breezy, cloudy, rainy, cold, and sans views. It was kind of exhilarating to feel the rawness of the weather for the first time in a few months, and I was excited for my solo adventure. I had on a wool shirt, tights, gloves, a knit cap, and my rain jacket, and I was still cold for probably an hour after the pass. What a change from even last week, when I was sweating in my lightweight sleeping bag on the Copper Ridge Loop.
I started down toward the Fisher River and found the next few miles to be mostly steep, rocky switchbacks. After last week’s fall on the Copper Ridge Loop, my foot and knee are still tender and I had committed even before leaving to be conservative to avoid further injury. So it looked like I had more hiking ahead! The trail is often overgrown, and with the plants wet from the rain, every step through them was like a waterfall flowing into my shoes. I think I could have walked through a river and had drier feet!
About two miles below the pass, I encountered one of the few people I’d see the whole day. This guy had been backpacking—starting from Colonial Creek—and seemed fairly disgruntled with the wet and cold night he’d spent out. He continued east, and I continued west. I would see no one else for the next 15 miles.
As I headed into the woods—and through more overgrown areas—I had bear phobia and every 10 or 15 minutes shouted out some woot-woots so any nearby bears would know I was coming. The phobia got worse as I hit a section with lots of bear skat on the trail, so I kept making noise and singing songs (Flintstones theme song, anyone?). I ended up seeing no wildlife all day, except for a few birds, so I guess it worked. (hahaha)
Once in the forest, the trail became more runnable, with only occasional overgrown and/or rocky sections. The rain had stopped as well, and while I had been gradually peeling off layers I stopped here to complete the process and reorganize my pack to hold everything. After Cosho Camp, the trail was even more runnable and often made me think of the Middle Fork Trail as it winded through mossy terrain, along the river with gentle ups and downs.
It was along here that I found myself easing into a contemplative, happy place. Internally my attention had shifted to my self—my breathing, my heart beat, my hydration and food, feeling the strength in my legs and confidence in my body. I felt the stress of the summer schedule slip away and I simply enjoyed being where I was, in the present. I no longer worried about bears, or work deadlines, or anything else. I almost think the lack of views contributed to this: because there was no reason to look up, to gasp and ooh and ahh, my world became more contained and I was able to ease into contemplation.
Between miles 12 and 13, the trail is washed out and there’s a fairly sketchy crossing. As I traversed this section, rocks and dirt poured down the slide below me, and I held onto roots that were sticking out of the hillside to ensure that I didn’t slide down too.
After the washout it was another couple of miles to the junction with Thunder Creek Trail. I was so excited to reach the junction—it marked a milestone in the journey, and I was feeling good.
From the junction, Thunder Creek Trail initially meanders along. After a mile and half or so, it starts a steep drop down to Thunder Creek. Here it was clear the trail was more highly used, including by horses: it was more beat in and beat up. Once down to the river, I filtered a liter of water to ensure I had enough to get me through the final miles, crossed a bridge over Fisher Creek and headed downhill some more to arrive at McAllister Camp at nearly 19 miles.
Between the McAllister hiker camp and horse camp, I encountered the second person of the day. This guy was also backpacking and was thrilled to hear that I hadn’t seen anyone in ages; he too was looking forward to some solitude on his journey.
Reaching McAllister felt like I was home free. In May, I did an out-and-back with a group of friends from Colonial Creek Campground to McAllister. I knew it was an easy run back and I now had landmarks that would help me track my progress. I looked down to Thunder Creek, where the rapids pick up before it roars into a slot canyon, and smiled at the memories from May.
After this section the creek gradually opens up and calms, and the trail ascends above the creek to wander along cliff-sides and through more forest. At this point, I was about an hour and half ahead of schedule and I wondered if I would see Mike on the trail or surprise him (probably sleeping) in the car. I trotted along and came across two more hikers, exchanged salutations, and kept going. With a mile and a half to go I crossed Thunder Creek on a bridge and then headed off again.
In the end, I came across Mike about 100 yards from the trailhead. He had just started out, thinking he’d have an hour or so to hike before we met up. Sorry, babe! I ran it in to the trailhead, and we took the obligatory “after” shot to document our successful meet up on this end of the trail.
Sometimes you take the right journey at the right time. I didn’t realize how much I was carrying on my shoulders until it slipped off midway through this route.
Outside of all my personal reflections, I will say this: Easy Pass is an awesome outing! Even without the views, it was so pretty and the trail is really enjoyable. I’ll definitely be back … next time on a clear day when I can see all the peaks!
Stats per the Garmin
7:56 elapsed time
7:08 moving time (guess I stopped more than I thought)