Five short years ago I learned that one should never figure on shortcutting your way back to the car when hiking in the North Fork valley. It doesn't matter how close it looks on the map or how lousy the route was on the way in. Just don't do it. Why? Exhibit A.
Consider this Exhibit B.
It started off... if not well then at least ok.
Eric, Treen, and I were off for a leisurely wander in Hancock. I was working from home so we got an early start. The weather wasn't great, but it wasn't actively raining (hard) when we left the truck.
The first umpteen miles were on old logging roads. Not fun, but easy to follow. We looked at scat and the low cloud deck. No views would be had today, but Paperboy Peak would surely deliver for us. <groan> After all, it was just right there.
We were in snow before we got to the saddle between Boomerang Peak and Paperboy. We could go up the short 500 foot hill to tag Boomerang, but I wanted Paperboy. Besides, Eric had already done Boomerang. And the ridge to Paperboy looked really mellow on the map.
Yeah. And all these ridges in the North Fork are all gentle and stuff.
Turns out, the ridge was broken and littered with downed trees, steep drop offs, cornices, and mini talus fields. Treen was in heaven. Eric and I fought along the ridge, occasionally dropping to the north, but never very low. The final stretch was a big talus field just like the one I told Treen I wouldn't subject her to again. Oops.
Eric and I pushed ahead while Treen complained a bit, made some headway, complained more, and eventually went quiet. We were on the summit no more than a minute or two when Treen showed up. Apparently, she either got summit fever or really didn't want to be left behind.
We decided that rather than punish Treen on the way back we'd drop down the north face a little to the snow and sidehill. Except that really didn't pan out. So now we were faced with the decision of climbing back up 400 feet to the rocks and returning the lousy ridge and the road or sucking it up and bushwhacking to the car.
We could actually see the road where we needed to go. Even when the road was obscured it was directly in line with the setting sun and Calligan Lake so direction finding wouldn't be that bad.
What would be bad is the brush. North Fork bad.
You can almost hear the chants: Ridge Ridge Ridge RIDGE YOU MORONS!
So we went down.
The snow petered out and it was ok. We wanted to drop to a basin on our left, but a 30 foot cliff nixed that idea. So we trended right. And down. Somehow, miraculously, we threaded between 15 foot drops and found our way low into the basin.
That's where the brush lives. Not the little brush that's high in the hills. The man-eating brush that lies in wait for dimwits like us. It consumes with a thousand tiny little cuts. It turns you upside down, shatters nalgenes (seriously), and stains your dog red with blood... er... fruit punch.
Needless to say, it was not fun. When we finally got to the road we found ourselves 20 feet above it. Really? 20 feet was keeping me from putting foot to the firm gravel? After two hours in the soaking muddy stinking filthy brush I was 20 feet away? If it weren't for Treen I would have tried to downclimb right there. But that would have been a bad idea.
So we wound a little way around to a nice dirt ramp and used the dangerously steep dirt ramp right ahead of it. I should have backed away when Treen did a four-paw glissade down the dirt, but oh no. Not me. Certainly I can kick steps into this freakin' solid as a rock slope of certain death.
Well, I'm here now so clearly I didn't end myself there, but I had no controls sliding down. Eric took heed of my bad choices and found a better way down. We hobbled back to the car and fled.
Only 5.1 miles and 2,500 feet of gain, but ouch, it felt worse.