What a day - a glorious day to explore the mountains! K and I headed out into 14 degree weather this morning - but the intense sun and blue skies warmed the air quickly. We headed up toward the sky.
Once we reached the roof of our trail system, I couldn't help myself - I had to take a photo of my beautiful K with the deep blue sky behind her.
As we descended through a deep forest, K became worried about something that I couldn't perceive. At one point, she sprinted a short distance into the dark forest barking. That's very rare for her - if she sees deer or coyotes, she doesn't bark as she runs at them. Then, she began to drool - gross, I know. But, whenever I've ever seen K drool in the forest, we meet a bear shortly thereafter. I used to leash her as soon as I saw drool, before I was confident in her recall around bears. It's early for a bear but I kept K close to me just in case an early riser is roaming. I never figured out what made her so jumpy.
If you look at K's face in the photo above, it shows stress - her brow was furrowed and she refused to stop scanning the woods. And, yes, the gorgeous drool is apparent. It's amazing how expressive a dog's face is.
After I left K at home to snooze, I left the house planning to do a completely different ride than what I ended up doing. As I rode along a connector trail, I noticed that no snow covered the hillside and cliffs above me. It's an area that's intrigued me for years because it has the potential to provide non-road connections to some other trails that I like to ride. So, I tossed my planned ride out the window and started pushing my bike up the at least 25 degree grade. In a lot of places, it would've been far easier to carry my bike, due to the rocks and trees strewn over the ground, but my back won't tolerate carrying a bike.
It's frustrating - there's a perfectly good forest road that accesses this area but two miniscule mining claims bisect the road, covering about 100 yards of it. Illegally, in my opinion, the claim owner has declared the whole road a no trespassing zone. It would be easy to use the road and build trails to go around the claims but this is a gun-toting guy who I want to avoid. So, I pushed my bike cross-country up the slope, staying away from trouble.
As I got close to the top of the rocky slope, I noticed a common sight around here - a mining pit. However, when I looked more closely, a tunnel or perhaps a cave led deep into the hillside from the bottom of the pit. The tunnel was pitch black and looked endlessly deep. Don't worry - I didn't climb down to investigate but my photo doesn't convey how deep this tunnel appeared to be. The author of "Beast in the Garden", a book about mountain lions in our area, actually went into some of these tunnels and found that lions used them as dens, leaving behind bones, pet collars, and all sorts of other signs. I didn't see any cat signs today, aside from bobcat scat on the trails.
After checking out the tunnel, a beautiful mountain panorama opened up behind me.
When I reached the plateau at the top, I knew generally which direction I wanted to explore and had a vague recollection of the topographical features from studying USGS maps. I found familiar 4wd roads and followed them to the end. Then, I discovered that someone else, a master at hiding trails, had the same route in mind as I did. By wandering through the woods briefly, I found his very faint trail. As I followed it deeper into the forest, it became clearer with cairns and logs lining its sides.
I reached a huge cairn, and that was it. Kaput - no more trail. And, I was out of energy to search extensively. I need to go explore again because I can't imagine anyone working that hard and abruptly ending the trail in the middle of the woods. I bet that the trail disappears for a short distance and then it restarts. A lot of our mountain trails do that and only the persistent searchers find the complete trail.
I love exploring the woods, especially when it feels like no other humans have trampled the ground in a long time. These deep woods felt that way to me. I occasionally glimpsed the eastern plains or the mountains, but aside from those instants, I was engulfed in the forest. I saw many animal trails, tracks, and scat. Elk, deer, coyotes, bobcats, pine martens, and other large unidentifiable animals had recently roamed this forest.
Today is the perfect example of why I love having my Spot Tracker. I had its tracking function turned on so I could map my route on a topo map when I arrived home. Also, I couldn't have used the safety rule of telling someone where I was going today - since I didn't know myself. I knew that I could hit the 'help' or '911' button if absolutely necessary.
All in all, I had a wonderful morning in the woods. I don't know if the trail that I found will ultimately lead anywhere but I loved being immersed in the mountain forest.