Wednesday began with a two and half hour drive to Copeland, ID. We arrived at the trail head (1,750 ft) at 10:00 am and began hiking by 10:15 am. Mike Steiner, Scott Pitcher, Jake Digre, Kody Digre and myself all started up the trail. We had agreed upon a long first day of 13.5 miles with an increase of 1,000 ft. This would include 2 crossings of Long Canyon creek (crik), which was as tame as a daisy compared to last years roaring giant, and 2.4 miles of switchbacks.
Our trek in was shaded with mostly Cedar, Hemlock and White Pine all older than the lifespan of our company combined. There were numerous granite rock outcroppings and small streams flowing through the trail. Huckleberry bushed were also beginning to show as we pushed farther into the canyon, zigging and zagging back and forth toward the ominous sound of Long Canyon creek.
Mike, Scott and I had fallen into a pace of around 3 mph and we chose to stop for lunch at the first meeting of Long Canyon Creek. We refilled our camel backs and had a light lunch and waited for Jake and Kody to catch up. We waited nearly an hour and a half when they found us and we had lunch. We also gave a radio to Jake and Kody to keep in contact with them as we anticipated making it to camp near the end of dusk.
We reached the first river crossing (7 miles in) around 2:30 pm. We met a trio of hikers that were hiking out the way we were coming, talked for a moment and then had lunch. At about 3 pm, we had completed the first crossing of Long Canyon Creek. Past this point was new territory to all of us and we had to rely on the data I had collected and our gut feelings to find our way. It was a relatively flat road of 6.5 miles. We crossed three smaller streams and took a great many breaks. There were many board walks over the marshy spots and right as we were about to hit our limits, we rounded a corner and saw a fire ring. We immediately unloaded our packs, set up our tents and took off our boots. We all had sandals that we brought for camp. We then started making a very small dinner. I didn't want to eat but knew that I needed calories and nutrition after the long day we had.
Scott had set up his tent and immediately went to bed. No dinner for him. Once dinner was finished, I packed up all my food and strapped my .44 handgun to my side and went to go hang my pack up. I was looking through the dark with my headlamp and started hearing sounds. It sounded like the noises we made to each other to see how far ahead we were of each other. So I started making noises back for a good 10 minutes. Mike finally yelled at me and said, "Charlie, that is an Owl!".
About an hour and a half after we had made it to camp, Jake and Kody rolled around the corner and came into camp. We helped them get their hammock's set up and make dinner. We got their food hung up and then I hit the hay. The small flowing creek and the wind in the tree's put me to sleep as I stretched out and fell into a nice sleep.
We woke up about 8 am and got breakfast going. We all had packed in a quart of almond milk and some granola and since that would be an easy way to decrease the weight of our pack, we ate that first. Jake and Kody were a little out of their element and didn't get up and eat until around Noon. I was packed and had filtered about another four liters of water for the day ahead by around 10 am. I made a fire for Jake and Kody to eat their eggs they brought and Scott and Mike relaxed their bodies for the long trip ahead. The day was going to include doubling our elevation in half the mileage (taking us to 6900 feet by the end of the day) and no water until we hit the mountain lake we were planning to spend the night at.
We finally got on the trail at 1 pm. We were shaded by a thick covering of tree's and rarely say the sky as the covering was so dense. We started together but soon ended up splitting as the incline was starting to get more intense and Kody was not conditioned for it. Scott and I pressed forward at about 3 mph up hill through switchbacks. Mike thought that he would head back and push Kody a bit to keep him going.
The one thing that was really killing Kody was continually taking off his pack and taking steps smaller than his stride. This ruined his pace and lessened his ability to have stamina. We started counting off switchbacks and around number 30, MIke radioed us and let us know he wasn't able to stay with Kody as his pace was about .5 mph and his hip was starting to act up. He gave Kody the radio and pressed forward. Around 4 pm, Scott and I hit a fat patch of ground with loads of fresh huckleberries. We ate lunch and waited for Jake. Once Mike and jake caught up about 45 minutes later, we continued on and started getting to the top of the mountain. The trees were thinning out and we were able to see how high we really were. We started hitting the rocky patches and soon hit the trail split. To the front of us was the trail to Pyramid lake and we took the trail to the left which much resembled the stairs of Minas Morgul (these were the stairs that Sam and Frodo climbed to get through Mordor in the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).
Scott and I made it to the top of the ridge just as the sun was beginning to go down. We waited for Jake and Mike for about 40 minutes and didn't hear them. We started up the trail on the ridge toward the next trail split. We made it up to the campsite on the ridge and decided to stay the night on the ridge rather than hiking all our gear down and having to start the day with a half mile march up. I again gathered wood for a fire and got my tent set up. Jake and Mike joined us in camp about 25 minutes later. Once the fire was going and we had camp set, jake Scott and I made a journey down to Long Mountain Lake to top our water off for cooking and the next days hike. We went down to the lake hit an army of hungry mosquitoes, got out of there and headed back up to the camp. That was a gorgeous lake and there were plenty of fish and bats to entertain us while we were fighting off our nemisis blood suckers.
When we made it back to the camp, Kody had just arrived (about 2 hours behind the rest of us). We had dinner (tried to eat as much as we could to lighten our packs) and realized how much we over packed. Since there were no trees that could have supported the weight of Jake and Kody's hammocks, Jake bunched with me and Kody with Scott. We closed the night with a view of the cosmos that can't be replicated and hit the sack.
We woke up to the sun beating in on us and the temperature spiked quickly as our tent acted as a convection oven. We all woke up, got food and made a fire to ward off the impending mosquito army that was charging up to greet us. We got packed and made it onto the trail around 9 am. The majority of the day was going to be ridge walking. We got some of the most gorgeous views of the creation. We were kings of the world sitting nearly 7,000 feet in the air with nothing to rival us. The wind kept the sun from heating us too much but our skin took a beating. I certainly got the most of it as I am not in the sun as often as the others.
We hit the Parker Lake trail head around Noon and met a pair of hikers that had just come from the lake. We chatted and they were going to be making the loop also but in reverse. We said goodbye and headed down a treacherous half mile decline to Parker Lake. If we could have avoided this lake, I would have. But since we needed the water, we made the trek to the lake. We reached the lake with our legs killing us and our sweat glands extinguished.
Scott was the first to dip his feet in the lake and mike did the same. I dropped my pack and grabbed my water filter and began filling up. We filled everyone's water with mine (as Mike's had malfunctioned) and then got ready for a rest. Kody was on his own again as none of us could keep pace with him at .5 mph or less. Jake set up his hammock and had a rest and Mike and I made a game plan fro the remainder of the day. We decided that we would head out from the lake around 3 and then hike past parker peak until we found a campsite that was suitable so that we didn't have 16 miles to sojourn through on the last day. We assumed that Kody would either find us at the top f the ridge or on our way back up and we would split into a pair of teams again. Since Kody had an empty 1 gallon jug, we wanted to fill that with water and use it for all cooking that night.
We started feeling a light drizzle and packed up, and headed up the steep, uneven trail to the ridge. About half way up, we met Kody. Mike and Jake dropped their packs, grabbed my water filter and all Kody's water containers and headed down to the lake to water up. Kody got a water bottle to keep him hydrated on our journey to a campsite. We kept in contact via radio and Scott and I helped Kody through the rough parts. We soon came to the summit of another ridge and stopped to admire the view. We continued on and found a small campsite that we rearranged to meet our needs. Scott scouted ahead a little bit while Kody and I caught our breaths. We radioed into Mike and Jake to let them know we found camp for the night and that they were about 45 minutes out.
We moved the fire pit and began gathering firewood. Scott and I shared a tent, so that we would have less takedown time in the morning. Jake found two trees that barely help his weight and Kody also found two trees to make the hammock work for the last time on the trip. We ate the rest of our food and turned in early to prepare for an early evac at around 2 am.
We awoke to a shout of, "It's 2 am! Get up!". We gathered our things shivered and got packed. We had a small and light breakfast and got our headlamps roaring. With no fire to let us linger, we were on the trail by 3 am. We traveled through the early morning with glimpses of the most radiant stars I have ever seen.
We kept conversation going to ward of the animals and made our way through a bolder field and the dense forest. The entire day was down hill and was going to be exhausting on our knees, hips and legs. It was grueling but we stayed together through the early morning and then again, split up once we were on the switchback trail to home. It seemed never ending. I kept thinking to myself that those hikers were crazy for taking this way the first day. We went in and out of tree shelter and found that this portion of the loop was much less traveled as the trail was not well maintained.
Mike and I trodged ahead and Jake, Scott and Kody fell behind. I started to hike out infront of Mike as he had to stop and use the lack of facilities. As I was nearing the car, I heard a faint chant behind me and here come Mike chanting the Ranger anthem down the mountain running to the car. Minutes later we hit the end of the road and took our boots off and waited for the others to join. Mike went down the road to retrieve the car and I heard Jake come down the trail.
Scott wasn't far behind and ended the trek with a loud, emotional yell and smashing his hiking stick into a tree. We heard Kody reply to our calls about 2 hours later and I (now in sandals) ran up the trail about 500 feet to grab his pack for him and head toward the car. We climbed in and headed for home. Long Canyon is a huge accomplishment to add to our list of completed hikes. There is something about sweating, bruising and burning with your brothers. We will forever we closer together and better off for making this trek together. This was a hike for the record books and will not be forgotten. Take a look at the pictures that were gathered from the trip in the gallery: