Cross the Creek, Pt. 1

  • Pete Johnson
Sunny dirt Trail in the woods

Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits[a] in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Joshua 3:1–4


Last Friday I invited a friend to go hiking. I offered two options. A ridgeline hike with lots of elevation and pain, or an OMH (Old Man Hike), a relatively flat hike, with pain. The pain factor comes in because neither of us has been able to get out and hike much this past summer. “Fall is almost over, and we need to finish strong!”, I said.  He chose the “easy” option. “I have a great idea then of where we should go,” I replied. I also invited two younger men, much younger, just in case we needed to be carried off the trail. We would depart early the next morning.
The trail of choice we would conquer was mostly known to me, for I had done a 3-4 mile in and out trip several times before. The part of the trail begins I was familiar with begins at mile marker 72 (MM72) of the Seward Highway and terminates at Johnson pass, known as the Muskeg Meadow Trailhead. This is a 12-mile one-way trek and knowing the condition of the trail the first four miles from mile marker 72 I calculated it would take us around 4 hours to complete. The first four miles of the trail from MM72 are incredibly well maintained. It has two new bridges that span two creeks which previously created some difficulty in crossing.
My “old” friend suggested that we begin at the Johnson pass end. I informed him that I had never been on that part of the trail before (neither had he), but I didn’t think it would be a problem. So, after dropping off a vehicle at MM 72, we drove to Johnson pass and began our 12-mile “old man hike”, with two young men.           
It was a cool crisp Fall morning, and the colors of the season were on full display. The trail started out somewhat narrow, overgrown, and wet. The trail was relatively flat as we had hoped for, but this six-mile section was not well maintained, nor had it been for quite some time, it seemed. The trail, for small stretches, would be open and clear, easy to navigate, then suddenly it would disappear, buried underneath ferns and alders making one doubt if they were still on the trail at all.
The traversing was slow! This was not going as I had envisioned. Instead of a brisk easy “Old man Hike” under the sun it was turning quickly into a bush waking experience consuming a lot of time and energy.  Nonetheless, hearts and legs were light, and we were enjoying the camaraderie and adventure of it all …that is until we came to the first creek crossing! Unlike the other part of the trail that I was familiar with, this side had no bridges. Void of any vestige of human interaction with the wilderness. It appeared that no one had given much thought to us or anyone else who would come this way. Who needs a bridge to cross over a creek anyway, right? Well, this one kind of needed one. You see it was located at the bottom of a canyon, only about 15-20 feet deep, but getting down to cross the creek was the problem. A steep drop, wet rocks and moss can cause a lot of problems. Due to the amount of rain that had been saturating the area, the creek was very swollen and moving fast. I have been known to disregard caution and press on, but this even made me take pause. There was, however, an immediate solution to crossing, it just happened not to be the most optimum one. There, stretched out across the gorge, was a small birch tree that had fallen over from the other side, spanning the 15-foot gap between the two sides of the gorge, and resting about ten feet above the raging creek. Oh yeah, and on the down stream side adjacent to this “natural solution”, was a 30-foot waterfall.
We spent over an hour, well I did, in an exhausting attempt to identify any other viable option to get across. I didn’t really want to shimmy across 15 feet of a canyon on a small, downed tree over a raging, swollen creek. So, we went upstream, up the mountain, to find an alternative crossing point, but to no avail. The further up the mountain we climbed, the deeper and steeper the canyon became, so we returned to the “natural solution” to weigh our options. Our options were simple, turn around and go back the three miles to the security of the truck and call it a day, or “man up”, and cross the creek. If we were to be successful in completing our trek, we had no other choice, but to cross that creek.  To be continued…