It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Road Trip: Red Castle Lake

Our hike began at the China Meadows Trailhead, which was, according to Google, about an hour and a half from Evanston.  We wanted to be there by 9, so we left the hotel at 7:30.  Rob punched the location into his navigation system and it confirmed that it was about an hour and a half away.  Over an hour later, after we were well onto a dirt road that was getting more and more dirt-like and less and less road-like, and as the ETA got later and later, I discovered that his navigation system had routed us differently than google.  Hmmm.  I punched it into google, and it said that at this point there was like a one minute difference between turning back and continuing on the route the car had chosen for us.  So we kept going.  That was a big mistake.  

Soon we crossed into national forest land, and encountered cows along the side of the road.  It was pretty deserted, but we occasionally passed a pickup truck with a trailer off of the road.  I think people were camping there to hunt.  Then the road deteriorated to the point that the meadow alongside of us looked like a better route than the road;  and there were quite a few tire tracks through the meadow.  So we left the road and drove through the meadow, until the road became more passable.  Shortly after we returned to the road, there was a short section that was VERY rocky and went steeply up.  I was not sure we could make it up it, and less sure what we would find once we did make it up.  Rob got out and walked up to the top and decided we probably could make it up but wasn't sure what was yet to come.  So at this point, we decided to turn back.  

Rob was pretty annoyed (at me?) and was sure that we wouldn't be able to make the hike today, at all.  By my calculation, we would still make it to the trailhead by 10, and with an approximately 5 hour hike, I thought this was fine.  I was a bit worried about the car having enough charge to get us to the trailhead and then back to Evanston at the end of the trip.  We headed back and figured we would come up with a "rock bottom" charge for the car when we got to the correct turnoff (the one that Google recommends, and that the Forest Service recommends :P).  That turn puts you on a road that the forest service refers to as an "oil and gravel road".  I wasn't sure what that was, but it sounded better than driving through a meadow.  The road was bumpy and got bumpier but other than that, it was just fine.  We managed to get to the trailhead with a few percent more battery left than our rock bottom (and the last 30 minutes were uphill, so I figured the drive out would be easy) a few minutes before 10:00.  Phew.

Based on what I'd read, the route was somewhere between 9 and 12 miles (with 10 miles seeming most likely) with about 1500 ft of elevation gain.  But it starts at nearly 9000 feet, which I found difficult.  The trail is very well maintained.  There are many points where you have to walk across small streams or muddy areas, but they all had nice rock trails across them.  There were one or two crossings that I found tricky, but I am generally a very big wimp about balancing myself on rocks.  The first 8 o 8.5 miles slope up very gradually, at most 100 feet per mile, and then there is a one mile section of switchbacks where you probably cover like 500 feet.  The switchbacks were a bit exhausting (especially at that altitude and that far into the hike) but nicely maintained and overall very civilized :)   I found the hike to be very tiring (due to the altitude, I think) and my feet were killing me (I really need new hiking boots -- any serious hike results in a HUGE blister on one of my heels -- like 2 inches in diameter!) but I would not describe it as "hard".  But I did just want to get the hell out of my pack by the time we got to the lake :P  Rob's legs were destroyed about 6 or 7 miles in; I think his pack was too heavy due to his camera gear.  We probably should have load balanced better.  At some point I looked back and saw that Rob had acquired a walking stick.  It was a very nice-looking, sturdy stick.  I'm not sure Rob would have made it the rest of the hike without his stick to lean on :P

A lot of the hike was along a stream, and most of it was shady.  There seem to be differing opinions on the level of shade in the reviews that I've read.  There are sections out of the shade but they didn't seem to last longer than 5 or 10 minutes.  It was probably low 50s when we left and high 50s by the hottest part of the day, so the weather was perfect for being able to wear a lightweight long-sleeve shirt and not have to worry about sunburn.

Anyway, a couple of useful tips for the hike.  

- If you don't want to do the whole hike in in one day, there is an area about 7 miles in right near a bridge that goes over the stream (creek? river?) which has good access to water and lots of flat spots that look like good places to pitch a tent.  

- A little before mile 10, we came to a fork in the trail, with a sign that pointed right to go to Lower Red Castle Lake, which we followed.  But going left is better.  From the path that we took, we could see the lake but couldn't see how to get over to it until we saw some tents and basically brute forced our way through a bunch of bushes to our left to get over to where we saw campers.  Those campers were very friendly and pointed us to a really good camp site.  After setting up camp and wandering around, we found the trail that we should have come in on (and that we hiked out on), which was the trail at the left of that fork.  If we had taken that route, it would have been another 0.75 miles and we would have been led right past some great camp sites.

- The total hike was around 10.5 miles, according to my Apple watch.  It took us about 6 hours, which included many stops for snacks and whining.

- We saw TONS of people hiking out on our way in.  But when we got to the lake, there were only 2 other groups (one near us, one far away) camping there.  I assume this is because we went up there on a Sunday and on the weekend it's more crowded.

We were both pretty destroyed when we got to the lake.  Rob claims we were "delirious" hehehe.  I mostly just wanted to get out of my damn boots (and pack).  So it was a very lazy evening, once we had our tent set up and had filtered water from the lake.  I managed to produce a pretty nice cheese plate to snack on (I was in charge of provisioning and I was quite excited about the manchego and salami that I had brought!).  Rob wanted to shoot sunset, so by the time we were making dinner, it was cold and getting dark.  We couldn't manage to get our water quite to boiling for dinner, so we had lukewarm, not quite rehydrated chicken and dumplings.  It was more like chicken and croutons, which was still tasty :)  In hindsight, due to our delirium and exhaustion, we did not really eat enough.

Our plan for the second day was to hike up to Red Castle Lake (we were staying at Lower Red Castle Lake).  Details were once again sketchy in terms of how far it was, but it seemed likely to be 2.5 to 3 miles away.  We were exhausted and weren't convinced we were actually going to do it.  We talked about just walking around our lake and laying around in the tent for the day :)  Then our neighbors (who had packed up and were about the leave) told us we should really go up to the next lake, that it was only like a mile and a half, and there were moose at sunset.  Those two facts changed our mind about going there.  As we were chatting, one of the guys looked at Rob's sweatshirt and said "you dove Cordell Bank?".  Turns out he was from the bay area, dives in Monterey, and was familiar with Cordell.  Small world.

Since we were having trouble getting super hot water (our oatmeal that morning was a bit lukewarm, but the coffee was just right), I mentioned to Rob that you can make ramen (or most dehydrated meals) with not-hot water, it just takes much longer, and obviously results in not-hot food.  We decided that not-hot ramen noodles might actually be good, so after breakfast, we put a pack of ramen noodles in our pot with not-hot water and figured we'd see what that produced by lunch time.

We went for a short walk down to the lake and around it (to the left).  We found the perfect little rock for two people to sit on at the edge of the water and hung out there for a while.  We debated whether the nearest camp site was a better camp site than ours, but we had some pretty good sitting rocks at our site, just not right on the lake.

When we returned to camp, we found that the ramen noodles had plumped up quite a bit and were delicious.  In fact, I think they are more delicious like that than as soup.  After lunch, we came up with a plan for hiking up to the other lake.  We figured we wanted to be there an hour before sunset, then we estimated how long it would take to get there, and then we added an hour, so we could walk as slowly as we wanted :)  This turned out to be a good idea, not just because we walked slowly, but also because the sun sort of set behind the "castle" rock before it was actually sunset.  So "an hour before sunset" is more like two hours before sunset.  This is good because it means you can have a cheese plate and walk slowly back down without worrying about hiking in the dark.

The hike up was indeed pretty easy.  There were some annoying sections where you are walking over ankle-turner rocks, and some small stream crossings, but there was nothing hard either technically or in terms of exertion.  It did seem like we were almost there for quite some time, and just when you think you are almost there, you come to a clearing that after walking across, you have to walk up a short steep section (though it's almost like walking up stairs, so not difficult, just tiring).  Then there is a long walk to actually get to the water.  I think it was around 2 miles.  But it's better that we thought it was 1.5 :)

On the way up, we were walking through a nice forested area (probably the nicest part of the walk) and I saw a moose in the forest!  It didn't have antlers, so that was a bit disappointing, but it was a moose!  Rob did not have time or the right lens to get a real picture, but we got a "proof of moose" picture.  I'd never seen a moose before, so that made the whole hike worth it!  Anyway, once at the lake, Rob was taking pictures for a while, so I took some pictures of him taking pictures.  Then when I got bored of that, I found a nice sitting rock, and made us a cheese plate.  It was a pretty awesome cheese plate for being 12.5 miles from civilization.  Well 12.5 miles from the car, civilization was way further than that.  After the sun had deposited itself behind the castle, we headed back down to camp.

On the second night, we were much more organized about dinner (okay, I was much more organized, and Rob followed orders).  We had dinner before Rob's evening photography plans kicked off.  I really wanted to have late night hot chocolate (and oreos) but didn't want to have to schlep back to our bear bag late at night.  So after dinner (rehydrated beef stroganoff, this time made with boiling hot water), we put boiling hot water in a thermos, hot chocolate powder in our mugs, and oreos in a bowl.  Then we packed up all of our trash and food and hung the bear bag.  Then after Rob's photo fun, we listened to a couple of podcasts in the tent and had hot chocolate and oreos.  And we just had to clean up our dishes before going to bed.  Rob set an alarm for 11 or 12 to do some photo things.  I didn't really know what he was doing, but he said it would only take 10 minutes to setup and then he would go back to bed.  So I got up with him so I could see the stars and milky way (which was very visible to the naked eye).  It was not nearly as cold as it had been the night before.  After Rob doinked with his camera for a bit, we went back to bed.

I woke up a couple hours later and heard something in the vestibule (where our backpacks were).  It sounded like something scratching at either the tent or our bags.  I'm sure it was some sort of rodent.  I listened for a while and then woke Rob up.  He tried to scare whatever it was away basically by punching at the side of the tent, and that seemed to work.  Not that much later, I woke up to what I thought was really bad wind.  It was very noisy in the tent (but perfectly warm).  Rob woke up and hopped up out of the tent and took off.  I wasn't sure why.  Then I figured he was worried about his camera blowing into the lake.  It seemed like he was gone for a while, and when he came back, he stuck his camera in the tent.  I asked if he was worried about the tripod blowing away.  Apparently it wasn't actually wind that I was hearing, but rain.  It had just started to rain, so the camera was okay.  Unfortunately the doinking Rob had done earlier in the evening was to setup a long exposure shot to start 3 hours later, and it had not quite made it to that time when he had to pull the camera inside.  After Rob got back into the tent, it started to really pour.  Or that's how it sounded in the tent.  It was not that wet the next morning, so perhaps the tent just magnified the sound.

The next morning, Rob took some early morning pictures, we had breakfast (reasonably hot oatmeal and coffee) and packed up to hike out.  The hike out was reasonably pleasant.  My toes were still killing me from the hike in, so that was kind of unpleasant, but well, it was all downhill, so there was a lot less complaining.  The hike out was not substantially faster than the hike in -- I think it took about 5 and a half hours.  We took a 5 minute break every hour for the first 3 hours.  Then my watch died, which meant that I could no longer pace our breaks and had to keep asking Rob for time/distance.  As you can possibly imagine, Rob was not too amused by that :P

I was quite delighted when I saw the car, because it meant that I could change into flip flops :)  We headed back to Evanston (with plenty of charge) and we were so hungry.  I had been thinking we would stop for lunch on the hike out, but we ended up just consuming all of our trail snacks (nuts, trail mix, dried mangoes).  Since we were in Wyoming, and we had encountered so many grazing cows, we decided we should find some steaks for dinner.  A bit of research revealed one supposedly good steak place in town, but we couldn't get a reservation until late enough in the evening that I surely would have gnawed my arm off before then.  So instead, we went to Cattle Company Steakhouse.  It's attached to a motel, and not a very impressive looking place, but the steaks were VERY tasty and so were the sweet potato fries.  They may have been the best sweet potato fries I've ever had.

No comments: