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July 29, 2009

"Fiddling in the River"

Wednesday morning, we slept until 8:00.  It was the latest we had ever slept in while backpacking, but it felt great.  When we awoke, we were refreshed and happy and ready for adventure.

Our plan for the day was to do a short day-hike along the Fiddle River Trail.  John had read that there was a backcountry warden station located about three kilometers from the Utopia Creek campground, and our goal was to find it.  To approach the warden station meant that we would have to ford the Fiddle River - something that I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to do.  John indicated that it was possible to ford that wild river; all along the trail, he had seen a series of yellow markers in the trees, and he eventually figured out that those markers were used to show where it was safe to ford the river.  Still, he wasn't sure that he wanted to ford the river either; we would have to make that determination when we got there.

Hiking along the Fiddle River Trail.We started hiking around 9:30 that morning.  From the Utopia Creek campground, the Fiddle River Trail meandered along the trail, following the natural contour of the land.  About one kilometer from camp, we came to the steep section, where John had turned back one day earlier; truly, he was smart for doing so.  The terrain was full of scree and shouldn't be attempted by someone wearing a pair of canvas slip-on shoes. 

After cresting the ridge, the trail then dropped down the other side; and just as I stepped down from the top, my left knee faltered.  Up to that point, it had not given me any problems, despite all of the abuse that I had give it over the years:  from being knocked against a boulder while hiking in the Superstitions, to falling down while climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica, learning to ski in Sunrise, and hiking down on the Humphrey's Trail.  Now suddenly, without warning, my knee gave out on me!

The Fiddle River, early in the morning.John offered to walk me back to camp, but after a few minutes, I was able to get my knee to work again - although it was still a little painful to hike up and down hills.  Hopefully it would be better in the morning, when we had to hike up that steep hill; otherwise, I was going to be in trouble.

Despite my knee problems, we continued hiking down the Fiddle River Trail - which, thankfully, was much flatter after that steep climb.  At times, the trail followed closely along the banks of the river; other times, it pulled away from the water and twisted through the dense trees.  Along the way, we passed by two bridges that served absolutely no purpose, as they spanned small rivulets; that led me to think, "Why couldn't they just put these bridges over Utopia Creek?"

After hiking about three kilometers, we came to the place where we believed the Warden Station to be located; we could not, however, find the building.  We thought, perhaps, that we were in the wrong place; but as we looked upstream, we noticed that the canyon narrowed and the banks of the river were too steep for any type of structure to be built there.  "This must be it," John said, checking the GPS, "but I don't see anything, do you?"

"Nope," I replied.  I'm sure that it must have been hidden in the trees - if it was indeed there - but from where we were standing, on the opposite shore, we couldn't see it.  And we certainly weren't going to ford the river to find it.  Instead, we sat down on the banks of the river and ate our snacks while we tossed stones into the water.

Although we certainly could have hiked further, we decided to call that our turnaround point, to ensure that we made it back to camp before lunch.  Since it had taken us an hour to get to that point, we figured that it would take us another hour to return to camp...and we were correct.  We arrived at Utopia Creek shortly before noon - just in time to start cooking lunch.

Our lunch that afternoon came from a recipe that John had found in a book called The Well-Fed Backpacker, which he had purchased at the Jasper Park Information Center a few days earlier.  Lunch, for us, had always been a bit of a challenge, especially on a multiple-day backpacking trip.  The first day, we always bring sandwiches on hard rolls and that works well, but that doesn't work on the second or third day.  For lack of any better ideas, we usually resort to Kraft Macaroni & Cheese or Top Ramen - sure, they're easy to cook, but they get old after a while.

The Well-Fed Backpacker had a plethora of lunch suggestions, and the one that caught John's attention was a simple recipe for backcountry spaghetti, prepared with ramen noodles, tomato paste, mushrooms, pepperoni sausage, and cheese.  The combination of ingredients was excellent - so good that we decided to add this dish to our regular backcountry rotation.

Mary plays with her Dolly on the picnic bench, at the Utopia Creek Campground.We may have had an active morning, but the afternoon was as lazy as it could be.  The heat had returned, and we really didn't feel like doing anything else.  We spent part of the afternoon working with Mary on a writing assignment that we had given her (to write a journal of our entire trip, day by day), playing cards, and fiddling in the river.

Fiddling in the river was an adventure in and of itself.  Late in the afternoon, the three of us walked down to the Fiddle River, to play in the water.  We were hoping to cool down, but the water in the river was just too cold - so cold that we couldn't stand to be in it for longer than a few minutes.  John challenged us to stay in as long as we could stand it, but in the end, he was the only one still standing in the river, with frozen toes...

Nonetheless, despite how cold the water was, I still decided to bathe in it.  It had been so hot that I was sweaty and sticky, so right before dinner, I stripped down and washed off in the creek.  (Yes, folks, I was naked in the woods...go figure!)  The water may have been cold, but it sure was refreshing - and, it felt good to be clean!  Then, after I got dressed, I called Mary over and bathed her as well, in the ice cold creek.  She giggled and screamed every time the cold water touched her skin; but after it was all over, she smelled so much better!

We spent the rest of the evening at camp, eating dinner and playing cards at the picnic table.  I tried to get a good campfire going once the air began to cool, but I could never quite get it big enough to warm us up.  Eventually, we gave up on it; it just wasn't worth the effort.

That night, we decided to hit the sack a little bit early - around 8:00 p.m. - to ensure that we got enough rest for the big hike out in the morning; it was going to take every little bit of energy that we had to tackle that steep hill...

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