Friday, September 22, 2017

Guarded Prognosis

I wasn't really a dog person before I met Cale. He is my favorite of all the dogs I have known. A big fluffy teddy bear, he has the sweetest temperament and personality. He is content to lie behind the couch snoozing or run around in the field.

He suddenly has developed a huge tumor on his leg; it seemed to grow overnight. The vet looked grim, saying that its sudden growth didn't look good. The tests will be back next week. It's the kind of thing where you steel yourself for the worst.

But aren't our whole lives full of guarded prognosis? Every time we step outdoors, our safe return home is sort of a miracle. We are so fragile and the world is so hard. I've never been able to understand the people who smugly say that everything happens for a reason. You just have to look around you to know that isn't true. Nature does have some kind of order but it also is a marvelous chaos. Who would want to live in a world where the strings are pulled for you? Better to fling yourself out there, take fantastic leaps, love with all you have without fear, stop thinking about what could happen.

Easy to say, of course, but harder when you have loved an animal and know they won't be with you much longer. My husband always says it is harder to leave the pets when he goes away than it is to leave me, because the pets don't know. It's the same way when something goes wrong. The pets don't understand. They watch you wrap their leg with vet wrap, trusting that you will make it all better. But you can't, sometimes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Burney: a different forest every day

My expectations for California's section O were not high. I had read other trip reports and a few terrifying things stood out. Poison oak. Bears. Downed trees. All in all, it didn't sound that great. 

But I had to drive right by on the way to a work trip, and this was an isolated section that would fill in a PCT gap. How could I resist? I couldn't. With some trepidation (and with the added weight of bear spray), I headed southbound from Castella, bound for Burney Falls.

I came upon this detour, but people had written "not that bad" and "Nah, do it anyway", so I didn't take it. It wasn't that bad. Do it anyway.

Because most thru-hikers should be past this point by now if they have a prayer of making it to Canada or Mexico, the trail was mostly empty. The few views showed a wide expanse of trackless forest. In four days, I passed through old growth trees, savannas, oak groves, pine forests, and wide rivers. Ranging from two thousand feet to nearly seven, this felt like a whole world compressed into eighty-two miles.

Squaw Valley creek, which hasn't been renamed on PCT maps but is called "Politically Correct Creek" on some Forest Service maps. I wonder how that slipped by the Washington Office.
There was poison oak. There were more bear tracks than I've ever seen (but no sightings). There were a few downed trees. But of the nearly five hundred miles I've hiked on the PCT this year, this was my favorite. It is also the scene of my longest day--27 miles, all uphill (northbounders have it much better). The next day I struggled to reach 20, so it all evens out. 

The best campsite ever, overlooking mountains and Shasta.
A few stragglers lined the trail, people without a prayer, but cheerful nonetheless. A Swiss guy was taking his time, stopping for hours at the creek to cook lunch. A writer earnestly told me how she had been doing thirty mile days in Washington State (which seems a little hard to believe given the terrain) but had to slow down due to smoke. Another man who mistakenly called me "sweetheart" (ugh) mansplained about the trail, but redeemed himself by saying, "I'm just so happy to be out here." And another Oregon escapee, who said he just had to get out of the smoke. All of us on one ribbon of trail, people who would never camp together in the real world. The trail brings us together. I love that. Seven hundred and eighty-eight miles to go (this math problem occupied many, many miles as I hiked).

Miles and miles of forest.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Stuff people say on trail

Guys! I found smoke free air in Northern California! I had to come down here for work so's this trail called the PCT, you may have heard of it? I managed to wrangle four days to hike another section! I'll post about that when I get home. The TL;DR version is: Low expectations=exceeded!

In the meantime, please enjoy the Stuff People Said on Trail. What are some less enlightened, or just odd, things people have said to you?

"I only filter water in lakes and ponds, not in creeks."

"Sweetheart, EVERY creek will have campsites."

"How come you picked up my hat and carried it with you when you found it? You're supposed to leave stuff on the trail in case people come back for it." ( wouldn't even HAVE your hat if I hadn't carried it until I found you).

"There aren't any bears up here. Bears only come up high to hibernate." (I've never seen so many bear tracks on a trail!)

"You didn't hike to Ashland this year. My house is right on the trail and I would have seen you." (Okay, that is just slightly creepy)

A strange sight: a man with a backpack, plus two full bear canisters. "I wear these strapped in front."

"I didn't see any poison oak on the trail." !!!!

"I've hiked the whole trail but I don't remember this part."

"My food is in ziplock bags in my pack, so I'm not worried about bears."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Adventuring in the smoke

Dear people of Portland.

I get that there's a fire twenty miles from you and that it is raining ash in your neighborhood. I understand that it is burning in a place that you consider your playground and you are devastated. But in case you haven't noticed, this is what has been going on in rural towns every summer. No, it's not scary and apocalyptic until your house has been under evacuation order or you can see actual flames.

Sorry, everyone else. I find it interesting that until smoke and fire affects a metro area, it largely goes unnoticed by the majority of the population. And frankly, somewhat annoying. But that's enough of that! Living in the forest, you know that you are going to be faced with fire someday.

I am lucky; I don't have asthma or any other known health problems. I definitely sucked in enough smoke when I worked directly on the line as a firefighter, so who knows what is lurking there, hopefully nothing. Most people in town have decamped to the gym, but summer is short. If I can stand it, I am going to get out there.

So I did. With trepidation I drove the awful, washboarded road to the Canyon Creek Meadows trail. I had wanted to hike this short trail for a long time, but had been scared away by reports of hundreds of people on it. And since it was one of the few trails still open, I thought it would be packed. To my surprise there was only one vehicle in the parking lot. I happily hiked through a thin layer of smoke towards Three Fingered Jack. I guess it takes smoke to find solitude on this trail. That, and an excessive heat warning. It was supposed to be about 100 degrees. But if it was that or the gym, I'd take the trail.

If you stay on the main loop, this trail is only five miles, hardly worth the drive, but wait! You can go further. An unmaintained trail winds its way through some delightful meadows and eventually scrambles up on the shoulder of the mountain. We all have our difficulties and one of mine is descending slippery talus. I avoid this if at all possible. But the promise of a little lake drew me onward. It was worth it.

A little smoky, but nice lake!
Not wanting to go home so soon, I extended my hike by taking a left to Wasco Lake, which is mostly surrounded by a forest burnt in 2003, and climbing up to the fire closure at Minto Pass.

Since the first day was so successful, I decided to take on Tam MacArthur Rim on Day 2. It seemed a bit more smoky as I drove toward the trailhead. But here I was, committed, so I began the climb. One thing I have noticed about the smoke is that I feel more tired. I can't spring up the hills like I usually can. Otherwise, it didn't seem to hamper the hike all that much.

This is a new sign for me...
The views were pretty muted and after I had walked the ridge for an hour and a half I thought that it was probably best to retreat. I met a friend on the way up. "I need to get in a hill," she said, looking doubtfully at the smoke cloud. It had gotten a lot worse in the last three hours. I wished her well and beat feet.

Since then we have had one reprieve, when we saw actual sky for the first time in weeks. Today, though, it is the worst it has been in a long time. Today is not a day for heroics. Today is a day for the gym. Even adventurous souls need to know when to call it.
Not too bad? I can sort of see the mountains?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

why you should spend twenty-four hours outside

Sometimes it's easy to talk myself out of an overnight backpacking trip. All of the work, for just twenty-four hours? Wouldn't it just be easier to day hike instead? Who wants to drive anyway? It hardly seems worth it.

But I'm always glad when I do it. Staying out overnight forces me to slow down, unlike day hikes, where I march in, tag the lake, and march back out, only to discover the same home chores and schedule awaiting me. I read books. I swim. The only things I have to do are filter water and set up the tent. There's no internet (I don't get why people want cell service from their tent. Why? Don't you go out there to get away from all that?) and no dishes to do (still going stoveless!)

Santiam Lake was only five miles from the trailhead, a two hour hike mostly through forest.   I stretched it out by stopping at Duffy Lake to let the dog swim. She has recently taken up swimming and it is really cute to watch. Duffy's shoreline burned in 2003, but it is still a peaceful place, and nobody was around. Briefly I contemplated camping here, but it was early, so I headed on a sandy and slightly inclined trail to Santiam Lake.

A little smoke, but not bad.
Maybe the eternal fires of Oregon have scared people away, but I was able to find an enormous campsite all to myself, with a hazy view of Three Fingered Jack. Though I am used to walking all day, getting to camp early had its charm. Ruby and I swam, read a book (well, I did),  and explored the lake perimeter. She was on high alert all day, and only reluctantly came into the tent. To sleep on my feet, which wasn't the most comfortable. She is a true wilderness dog.

The morning dawned unbelievably beautiful, with a tendril of smoke over the mountain. I had hoped to read in my tent before getting up, but Ruby was having none of that. It was time to get going! So we headed out to the trailhead. Even though it was only 24 hours, it was enough to push the reset button. I highly recommend it.

The next day, I wasn't quite so fortunate with my day hike. I climbed up a steep trail to the site of a former fire lookout in the Pyramids, only to have my view completely smoked in. I hear this is a spectacular view on any other day.

This fire lookout must have felt a little cramped for its occupant.
Since then smoke has settled in thickly and more closures have occurred, making just about everywhere off limits. I'm glad I was able to get out. For the first time ever, I look forward to rain.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Trapped by fire, but open to possibilities

Of course, not really trapped, not like the people across the road who had to evacuate. But trapped because almost all the trails are closed and the air quality is listed as "hazardous." As such, the choices are to drive 50 miles over the pass for cleaner air or to venture out on the one trail system near the house which is still open, taking chances on future lung problems. The gym is packed, people I haven't seen all summer in there taking up room on the machines.

This summer, largely, needs a do-over, but you do what you can. The dogs and I haunt the only trail system that remains open near town. I get to know this trail really well. Right now, cone collectors are out there, gathering pine cones into large bundles (for wreaths?). People have been camping out there all summer in open defiance of the 14 day camping rule. I get to know their camps and which ones to avoid. I wonder what they do all day out there in the piney woods. There's no water, and it is dusty and hot. My feet acquire a patina of brown that requires scrubbing to remove. But I kind of love these trails. I can run right to them on another trail connector. They're easy and flat. No staring at my shoes to prevent face plants. I will miss them when I leave in another month.

And where am I going? I don't know. I used to love the uncertainty of an unplanned life, but now, not so much.

Without going into it too much and risking ire over politics, the job situation as dictated by the current administration means we have to leave our lovely mountain town for a few years. I can't even think about it or it will break my heart. So instead I think about new trails to explore. You are never really trapped, it seems.

With that in mind I find a lake that looks to be out of the fire closure. It's only a five mile hike, putting it into day hike territory, but I really want to camp. What to do after only a five mile day? I have fallen into the PCT trap of walking all day. Will I get too restless?

But still. Being in a rut makes for a boring person. I'll give it a try. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks to Olallie Lake: the wrong way

It was sometime on my second day, the day of the push to Timberline Lodge, when I became aware of a simple fact: hiking southbound on this section was way harder than going north. A simple look at the elevation profile would have revealed this, but I hike a lot with others who study these profiles and can rattle off ominous predictions of the day ahead: "we have a thousand foot climb at the end of the day!" I always kind of laugh at this, because what are we going to do, sit on the trail and cry? No, we are going to take what the trail gives us.

However, at this point, climbing up from the Sandy River, I did feel like sitting in the trail and crying. The hike up from Cascade Locks had been steep enough the night before. I had raced the sunset, finally setting up my tent in the creepy, stick-crunching woods as darkness fell. Then there was more climbing as the trail left the Gorge completely, heading for Timberline Lodge (the word "timberline" might have been a clue).

But as I slogged upward, the coolness of the forest and the gradual opening of the alpine landscape made me forget the slow pace I was putting down. And there were so many northbound hikers, farther along in their PCT quest than they should have been due to all the fire closures and skipping the Sierra. I wouldn't have wanted such an army at my heels, and it was fun to see them approach. Some just raced on past, but others stopped to say a few words. I met one man on a beautiful plateau above Indian Springs camp. He told me he had seen two stretchers being wheeled out from the falls area that I was headed toward (This turned out to be two 19 year old girls who had inexplicably fallen that day. Very sad). We talked about the two women who had drowned this year in Yosemite. Then we parted, never to meet again.

 One truth about this section: you don't need to bring sunscreen. This was the green tunnel, occasionally teasing me with glimpses of Mount Hood. It was pleasantly meditative to walk this way, the miles ticking under my feet. I added up big days: 21, 24, 24. Sometimes I feel like I am made for this, to just walk and walk and walk. If I had known about this trail in my twenties, I would have hiked it all in one summer.

As I walked along a forested ridge, an animal running toward me froze in the trail and wheeled around to run in the opposite direction. I loped along behind, trying to figure it out. I had initially thought it was a fox, but the tail and the face were wrong. Finally I figured it out: it was a young mountain lion! Mountain lions have their kittens anywhere from April to July, and this was a little one. I sat on a rock to let it get ahead, hoping that mom had also left the area.

Timothy Lake=paradise.
After magical and warm Timothy Lake, perfect for swimming, the forest changed to a dryer type, more and more pines showing up, only the Warm Springs river and a few iffy springs available for water collecting. The trail had obviously dipped onto the dry side of the Cascades.
As is always the case, as soon as I am fully immersed in the trail, hiking 24 mile days by 5:30, it is time to leave. Which is all right. I wasn't all that envious of the northbound hikers I saw. When I can only go out for a little bit, it's worth more to me. I don't get picky about where I go, and it doesn't get old. That's not to say I wouldn't love a full summer to hike. If you get this currently, be grateful!

With the completion of this section, I have walked all but 150 miles through Oregon. If the fires recede, I may be able to finish this year.