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Backpacking misadventures in the Teanaway

June 30, 2017

On June 10, I headed out on a multi-day backpacking trip in the Teanaway. I have had all the gear to go backpacking for years, including a small stove and and water filtration device, but the gear has been collecting dust in the corner of my room. It was time to put it to work.

I chose the Teanaway for several reasons — including my desire to explore it further. It is absolutely gorgeous, and I’ve always wanted to hear wolves in the wild.

I picked an 18-mile loop, which I planned to do over two nights and three days. I planned to start the hike on the Johnson-Medra Trail just north of the Beverly Campground. The plan was to go south on the Johnson Creek Trail, connect to the Way Creek Trail going westward, meet up with the Middle Fork Teanaway Trail heading north and join back up with the Johnson Medra trail eastward. The first day I planned to go eight miles, the second six miles and the last day four miles.

The night before my big trip I planned and I planned and I planned. I knew things could and often did go wrong. I took everything out of my camping bag and checked to see what was missing. I brought too much food in case I did get lost and needed to survive for multiple days. I googled how to use a compass to refresh my memory and how to tie knots.

The next morning I woke up bright and early and headed out to the Teanaway on the North Fork Teanaway Road. That alone was beautiful. I was halfway up the road when I realized I left my Forest Service pass on my work desk. It was mistake one.

The trail there

The trail started out fine. It was a bit overgrown and there were plenty of logs over it, but it was passable. It started to slope upward and opened up into a valley with soaring cliffs above me. I saw a butte in the distance and thought to myself, “I hope I’m not climbing to that,” but oh I was.

At this point I had crossed several creeks and streams. Knowing I had a water filtration device, I drank all my water two miles into the hike, mistake two.

A series of switchbacks started climbing up. I had seen them on the map, but for some reason the potential elevation gain hadn’t clicked. It kept climbing and soon I began huffing and puffing. I was beginning to think my pack was too heavy for this hike and I had brought too much food.

The switchbacks stopped and I got to another crossroads and thought I was at the top of the hill. The trail cut to the right, but then kept on going up. The hike started getting sketchy at this point and I was walking along a narrow cliff edge and had to climb a rocky incline.

After another half mile I eventually reached the top and the view was worth it. The Teanaway stretched out before me with dusty iron red cliffs dotted by evergreens and topped by the snowy peaks of the Stuarts, poking their heads out from behind. I have never been a particularly religious man, but moments like these are the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

Now the plan was to take my lunch at the top of the hill, but I was starting to feel thirsty. I hadn’t seen a single stream or creek in miles. So I headed out instead and immediately took a wrong turn.

The trail on top of the mountain was not clearly marked. I figured out I was going the wrong way because my compass said I was headed north. I hiked back and realized fallen trees had obscured the old path and you had to march around the hill to get where the Way Creek Trail continued. I was back on track.

On the way down the mountain, I encountered a flood of wildflowers. I saw red, blue, purples, yellow and white blossoms in a magnitude of varieties and shades I have never witnessed before on a hike. I also encountered a large pile of cougar scat and realized I was not alone.

A mile and a half later, I reached a dirt bike path, which went straight down with no switchbacks and afterwards came to Liars Prairie. At this point I still had not found any water and I was getting pretty thirsty. I continued on Way Creek Trail past Liars Prairie and came to a thin muddy stream.

Normally I wouldn’t have used such tepid water. But out of desperation I filtered the muddy creek water, which visibly had insects swimming around in it, and greedily sucked down the contents.

Feeling a lot better, I continued, but the trail was becoming quite bad. I have never seen a trail so overgrown by bushes and trees. I had to push my way through the undergrowth while keeping an eye on the barely visible line of dirt that ran underneath it.

Camping for the night

The camping spot I found was excellent and about 100 feet away from Malcolm Creek so I was able to pour out my muddy creek water and replace it with some nice crisp water. As I started setting up my tent it began to rain and so I began to race the weather.

The tent was a bit goofy and leaned to one side, but seemed durable. I then tried to put up my bear bag and that was where the real fun began. The rope I had wasn’t long enough to string between the first two trees I tried. Then when I tried to tie the rope onto a rock and throw it over the branch it kept getting snagged and twisted up in the trees, even breaking the first branch I threw it over.

I finally got the bear bag up between two trees. But instead of hanging in the middle of the rope it was right up against one of the trees and less than 10 feet of the ground so a bear could easily get it.

Despite my failure with the bear bag, my tent held against the rain and I spent a cramped, but dry night in the woods. I heard what I thought was a distant howl once, but not the chorus of wolf howls I had come for.

Second day

The next morning I woke up and my tent’s interior had held up against the weather. It was still sprinkling outside, but I thought was going to be OK. While I was packing up I realized I had forgotten my waterproof pants and my sweatshirt. I then started getting nervous.

I put my Under Armor on under my shorts, then my jacket, my wool hat and my gloves and prayed it would be enough.

I started pushing my way through the bushes and was immediately drenched by the moisture on the leaves. I had no idea that much water could come off of plants. Within 15 feet it was like I had jumped into a pool. Even my wool socks, gloves and hat were soaked through.

The trail was also incredibly bad. The river had washed out sections of it. There were saplings that had enough time to take root. At one point Malcolm Creek completely cut through and I could see the trail continuing on the other side.

The creek was about 30-feet wide and five-feet deep. I tried to ford it, but slipped in and my boots filled up with water. I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to stay another night without sufficient dry clothes. I had no other choice but to turn back and go nine miles to the car.

I was already exhausted from the first day and the unexpected amount of elevation gain. So I felt pretty unsure about trudging back up that hill. I limped backwards having to take numerous breaks from exhaustion.

The dirt bike trail was the worst part as it was steep climb straight up about for about 1,000 feet of elevation. My boots squishing as my feet swam in creek water the entire way.

I made it back to my car in surprisingly good time considering how much I was limping. I rang out my wool socks, poured the water out of my boots and left the woods.

My hike was more difficult than I anticipated it being, but I didn’t let it defeat me. Instead I took it as a good practice run for future camping trips. Next time I will not forget my warm clothing. I will bring more plastic bags to separate my dry from my wet clothing. Also I need to figure out how to lighten my pack a bit as my knees still hurt from going downhill.

Overall it was a gorgeous hike. It was not an easy hike and I do not recommend it for anyone but the experienced. Still if you’re looking for amazing views of the Teanaway, the Stuarts and wildflowers climbing to the top of Malcolm Mountain, give it a try as a day hike.