Our last day :-( It was going to be hard to leave. I still had one of my goals to fulfill, which meant I was up at 5.30 am, camera in hand (batteries in pocket so they wouldn’t die on me – note to self: make sure you fully charge all batteries before heading out on a multi-day trip!). I walked up to the edge of the campground where I was able to get a clear view of Mt Hozameen. The morning light was gorgeous and I spent the next 40 minutes watching it change and taking photos of the mountains. Satisfied, I crawled back into my sleeping bag for another hour and a half or so before getting up again at 8 am.
We dropped and packed the tent while letting our coffee brew, and set things up so we could easily pack our bags while drinking our coffee. We were ready to leave by 10 am. As we left, we chatted to Tim about their plans for the day. They were going to head up one of the nearby peaks before walking back to the cars. We decided that a steady walk back was in order for us and before long we were on our way. The first part was the hardest, climbing back up out of the valley into the saddle by Third Brother. But a steady pace had us up and over in no time, and we settled into an easy rhythm as we walked back through the meadows. In total peace and quiet again. Just wonderful. Of course the views kept stopping us in our tracks and more photos followed, especially as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
By 12 noon we were back at the trail which led up to First Brother and we encountered our first (but far from last) day-hikers. We stopped for a snack break in sight of First Brother before heading on again. More flowers (wow!), more views (wow!) and yes, more people (meh). We were now running into people regularly, every few minutes. Just past the Bonnevier Ridge junction we met a family, and we played our part in convincing the kids that it wasn’t much further to First Brother and it would all be worth it :-) They looked a bit tired and dusty but I’m willing to bet they made it. We started our descent into Buckhorn camp and met more people, some of whom were clearly not enjoying themselves. We gave out our cheeriest greetings whenever we could, especially if they looked miserable :-)
Just as we entered Buckhorn (around 1 pm) we met a large family who also wanted to know how far to First Brother. Well, looking at them it was clear they weren’t equipped to deal with it so we told them about 2.5 hours to get to the top. For a typical hiker, the time would have been no more than 1.5 hours but these were not typical hikers. They looked like they had just piled out of their SUV or mini-van and started walking. All in trainers, most didn’t have hats, a couple had rucksacks and they probably didn’t have anything like enough water for the 10 people being dragged through the dust. We did our best to make it seem tough – mountain rescue didn’t need a call out from them. It worked: they all turned round and walked back to the trailhead. They weren’t the only unprepared people we saw, but they were the only ones that made the mistake of asking our opinion.
Well it was now time for lunch and we walked through the camp to find the little picnic bench we used on the first day. We dropped our packs, dug out our lunch and found a shady spot under a tree. No matter where you sit, those whisky jacks find you… By 2 pm we were ready to continue and hit the last slog uphill to the car. We met a steady flow of people heading down, probably desperately looking for the fabled flower meadows. It was understandable, as the area closest to the cars was completely devoid of any interesting flowers, and while there were plenty on the walk down through the woods to Buckhorn camp, you couldn’t call them meadows. Near the top we chatted to someone about that and when we told them where we saw flowers (and how far away it was) their reaction was “Well they don’t tell you that, do they?”. A bit of a mismatch between the reality and the tourist marketing there. Many of these people looked tired already (it was hot and the trail was very dusty), and probably went home disappointed.
Our uphill progress was steady and eventually we came to the last climb – up some steps, through the flower-free meadows and one last push to get back to the car. It was 3.15 pm and suddenly there it was. What a strange feeling: glad the car was still there (!) yet a little sad that the hike was over. We peeled off our boots (the duct tape helped but it certainly didn’t stay in place) and stepped into our sandals. It felt like quite an achievement :-) and a celebratory ice cream was in order. We stopped briefly at the Cascade overlook to stretch out and dry off in the breeze before spending an outrageous sum on 2 ice cream bars at the lodge. But they were worth every bite.
Final thoughts…. It was a truly magnificent hike, from start to finish. Between Buckhorn camp and Nicomen Lake, the trail was barely 2 boots wide. Tons of variety in scenery – views and flowers. A bit of wildlife here and there. Trekking poles were invaluable with a full overnight pack, and they really helped going both uphill and downhill. I fulfilled both of my goals for the trip: seeing a marmot and morning light on Hozameen. We did the right thing starting mid-week too. The scope for peace and quiet was enormous.
We will do that hike again.