Monday, November 14, 2016

Off trail in the West Canadas

Veterans Day Weekend 2016

It had been a while since Justin and I hiked and camped together. We contemplated a few different locations and ideas. As the trip got closer we settled in on an area we were both familiar with but have never been to together. This would be in the middle of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. We met at the Pillsbury Mtn trailhead and used the French Louie Trail to access the interior. While crossing on an old piece of lumber, Justin whacked the side of his head on a protruding branch. It left a small gash on his face. Lucky he didn't lose an eye. After a brief stop at one of the lean-tos we turned off the trail and headed towards Whitney Lake. We were glad the rain had held off, as the forecast called for it. While hiking however, it began to sleet.

We looked for an abandoned canoe or boat, but didn't find one. We bushwhacked around for a while and crossed a beaver dam. We pushed through some deep spruce thickets and headed towards our destination campsite. There were a lot of downed trees in the area, which made travel a bit slow. It was pretty though, with the sleet beginning to cover the ground. We eventually made it to our campsite. Nice rock outcroppings would make standing out by the lake very easy for water, and stargazing etc... We set up camp and began to collect firewood. There was plenty around. This site obviously doesn't get much use. It didn't take long before we had a decent pile of wood. The sun would set earlier now, so I started the fire and we cooked up some grub. By the time we were done eating it was past sunset and it was getting dark. A meteor flashed across the sky at 7:07 pm. Soon the moon would take over providing light. With the changing clouds, it was eerie.

The temperature was dropping quickly. We knew it was to be a cold night. I retired to my hammock and fell asleep rather quickly. Just as was forecasted, it got cold over night. My boots were frozen when I got up in the pre-dawn light. I restarted the fire with the remaining embers buried in the ash. I could tell we would be having a great sunrise view. I made myself some coffee and oatmeal. Justin was now up, and we both took pictures of the sunrise show over the lake.

We now had a whole day set aside for exploring. We consulted the map and made our plans. We would be off trail all day, except for some unmarked old trails. We headed to Little Whitney and then circumnavigated Whitney, almost. Took the old trail to Pillsbury Bay and then to Pillsbury Lake and back to Whitney.

 We found some canoes and boats along the shorelines. We borrowed one later in the day and paddled it to our campsite which would save us a few miles today and tomorrow. The canoe had a double bladed paddle which could be separated into two pieces. I used a small piece of a branch stuck into the handle to make a grip. When we first started paddling, we went over a shallow flat rock which took a bit of time to get off of. We took this as a sign to not dawdle on the water. The wind was brisk, so we headed straight to our campsite. Back at camp, I cooked my dinner early. Justin gathered some more wood. It was nice to eat dinner while it was still light out. I wondered how late I would be able to stay up. As night set in, it was obviously much warmer than the previous evening. Sitting by the nice fire, I could barely keep my eyes open. We had hiked quite a bit today, found some old camps and campsites. I was tired. I do not recall going to bed, but I know it wasn't too late. We had joked earlier about trying to stay up past 9. Not sure if I made it. I slept soundly. I was definitely warmer this night. After I restarted the fire and had some coffee, I packed up most of my stuff. We didn't rush out of camp, but also didn't just sit around. We returned the canoe to where we found it and then headed back to the our access trail. It was only a few miles away and most of the woods were open. It was easy to follow the old path. We stopped at the Pillsbury lean-to to see if some of our friends were there. We had heard they might be camping there Saturday night. We found it empty. We had some extra time so we checked out another old trail. We found some old junk along this old roadway. A few areas the blowdown was significant and we had to walk parallel to the old tread on higher ground. Eventually we hit a wet area and figured we would save the rest of this exploration for a later time, so we headed back to the main trail. We were back to our cars around noon. We had covered just under 20 miles, most of which was off-trail. Great time as always.