Monday, November 30, 2020

Exercise in November: it's weird

 Things I thought I'd never say:

"I forgot my mask."

"What time do you want to have Zoom Thanksgiving?"

"I didn't get picked in the adjustable dumbbell lottery."

"The gym is closed, so I did an aerobics video on Youtube."

"I have a five hour Microsoft Teams meeting today."

"Thanks so much for the hand sanitizer!"

"What kind of bidet do you have?"

My friend A and I were complaining talking about the difficulty of this time of year. The big snows haven't come, ice coats the trails, making running a hazard, and our usual winter escapes (for me, a long distance trail, for her, Mexico) are unavailable, at least if you are a person with a modicum of responsibility. So this icy, cold time (with no gym either) has forced me to change up my workouts.

The moraine has become the go-to for just about everybody. It is only an 800 foot climb to the top in a mile, but it is a huff and puff to run it. Once you are up there, though, you can run to the elk fence, which is typically snow-free this time of year. Or you can take it from the other, less-used side and run (or flounder, if the snow is deeper) on cow paths where there is hardly every anyone else. I have become very familiar with the moraine. I'm glad it is available.


In desperation, I did indeed look up a Youtube HIIT workout. I picked one for "bad knees', because I didn't want to leap around and possibly hurt something. To my surprise, it was actually a pretty good workout. Things have changed since the 90s!

I'm also spending more time on my bike trainer. I don't want to sign up for a virtual class, so I grimly pedal away in supreme boredom, trying to watch movies on my phone. The time inches by, punctuated by a dog or two showing up to see what I am doing. Why not ride outside, you ask? The answer: ice, and fear. 

For weightlifting, I've resorted to a makeshift routine of pull-ups (excruciating), and some dumbbell work with the coffee table as a bench. This is marginally successful unless I fall over a dog. It turns out that a tiny house is not really a good venue for exercising in.

Like everything else, it's weird. Usually at this time I am hiking in the California desert or in the Grand Canyon. I've hunkered in, which led to a frantic house reorganization, I am so tired of looking at the same four walls that moving furniture around has been entertaining. The bar is low.

Idaho is over there, but can't go!

However, I feel lucky that I am well enough to exercise, though a knee occasionally hurts. I wonder about my endurance, since I'm not doing multi-hour hikes for weeks at a time, but what can you do? I am waiting it out. The snow is coming, we must believe.

are you doing anything different for exercise these days?


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Ski Fit

In the 90s, when I worked in southern Oregon, our workplace was blessed with a gym. Not a fancy gym, but it boasted a weight machine, two treadmills, and one of those old school Nordic track ski machines. Myself and two old guys--who really weren't that old, now that I am approaching their ages--were the only people to take advantage of the gym. Jim insisted on the oldies station, so that was what we listened to. He took one treadmill and I took the other, and Dave manned the ski machine. We made fun of him for it, but he insisted it was a good workout. Now I am thinking he was right.



It's the same every year. Even though I know it's coming, the first big snow brings a scramble. Where is the maxiglide? The musher's secret for Ruby's paws? What do I even wear to ski? At the same time, the depressing seasonal reality sets in: you can be fit, but ski fit is something completely different.

Outings are completely different now; friends that used to go skiing don't want to go anymore.  "After the pandemic," they say, or they say nothing at all. I've learned through this who my true friends are. It is going to be mostly a solo winter, but a few friends in my Covid bubble still hang in there.

A and I push our way through the perfect kind of snow. Some people dream of groomed trails; we like breaking it through fresh powder. We spy wolf tracks in the deep snow. Strangely, nobody else is out. We take the road up, and even though I run it in the summer, it is harder on skis. A feels the same way. "I'm so out of shape," she says, even though she isn't. It's just ski fit.

We check out the pond. It looks frozen enough to skate on, but we don't have the nerve to test it. I want to go further--I always want to go further--but A wants to go back, and so we head down the steep trails toward the ski area. Typically I scream down these in fear, but today in the powder, they are manageable. 

The next day I go out solo and break a longer trail. Any tracks are gone, polished by the wind, so I navigate by memory. There's a long climb, longer than I remember from running this route in summer. Did I really run up this steep hill? I guess so. I only feel confident about my route when I see the trail sign and start heading back toward the pond. A hunter has postholed in on an old ski track here, ruining it, but there is plenty of room to safely descend the big hill. I arrive wind-blown at the ski area, where a few die-hards are skinning up. 

The next week, an odd storm will blow in, bringing 60 degrees and 80 mile an hour wind gusts. This hardens the snow into a gnarly crust, no good for skiing or snowshoeing. I try, get annoyed, and retreat. A friend texts: "Are you backpacking in Arizona this December?" No, I say. Even though I see friends traveling all over the place, it doesn't seem responsible right now. She isn't going either. "I hate this in between," she writes. I do too. The trails are icy, nowhere to run, the gym is closed, we wait for snow.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Fear of Cold

 A big storm was coming, several feet of snow in the mountains, and I wanted one long hike before it arrived. The snow was predicted to fall all day, but not intensify before four. Could I hike 13 miles and several thousand feet before then? Yes, I could.

A dismal rain seeped through the trees as I climbed through the uninspiring first few miles of the hike to Aneroid Lake. There's no good way to say it, this is frankly a slog, with only partial views, but mostly rocks, a fairly unhealthy forest, and no break in the climb. Several fallen trees draped the trail, victims of the intense winds we had gotten a few days before. If it gets really windy, I'm turning around, I thought.

The rain turned to snow after three miles, and I had yet to shed a layer, unusual on this steep hike. I was wearing a rain jacket, a wool top and, yes, pants. Snow is always better than rain, but I worried it would start to fall so heavily that I would flounder in my trail running shoes. If the snow starts to stick, I'm turning around, I thought.

At the bridge that marks 4.2 miles, the snow was sticking, but I knew that after this point, the trail slowly begins to level out after a final climb. To get this far and not at least get some views seemed sort of criminal, so I pressed on. If the snow starts to get deep, I'm turning around, I thought.

The reward of the climb is a stroll through tawny meadows and views of the higher peaks of the Northern Blues. There were no footprints in the skiff of snow that was fast collecting. I was the only one on trail. 

Because I didn't stop, I reached the lake before noon. Gone was the crush of campers; the lake was still. Fog kissed the surface; there were no real views today. Stopping to eat an protein bar, my fingers quickly succumbed to the cold. It was, after all, only about 20 degrees. I couldn't sit and admire the lake; winter was coming. 

There is a private inholding at this lake and for a brief moment I fantasized about spending the winter in one of the cabins. I've always wanted this--extreme isolation for a distinct period of time. But not today; I had to get down the trail.

And none too soon, because snow had already filled in my tracks. As I hiked fast to get warm, the fear of cold crept in. Even though I carried all the gear I needed to survive, I thought of all the hikers who have disappeared in cold places. I get cold easily and this is why winter will always feel a little alien.

About a mile and a half down the trail, a woman appeared, hiking toward the lake. A kindred soul! "I figured I was the only one crazy enough to be hiking up here in this weather," she said. After she left I regretted I hadn't gotten her name. There are so few people who like to do the kind of hiking I do.

As I descended, the snow turned back to rain. My mittens were soggy and useless, but I wasn't cold any longer. Looking back, all I could see was white. The season of cold is here. 





Sunday, November 8, 2020

so long, Ice Lake

I pulled up my work Outlook calendar. Could it be? No meetings? Gleefully I blocked out the whole day. I don't take days off very often, but because I had to forego most of my vacation time this year due to, you know, a pandemic, and it was a rare 65 degree day in November, I knew I had to do it.

I had a conversation with S, who is the wilderness manager (a position I used to supervise). We discussed the tragedy that was Ice Lake and the further tragedy of the Lakes Basin. But what do you do, we agreed. Do you accept that these areas are concentrated use, sacrifice areas? If you put in a permit system or restrictions, people start spreading to lesser used, quieter spots. It is a dilemma that I have never been able to resolve in my entire career of recreation management. This lake sees particularly egregious behavior: parts of it are one long impacted campsite; people poop indiscriminately, pitch tents right next to the lake, holler and scream. Definitely not a wilderness experience.
No tents today!

But there's November, when it is safe to go to Ice Lake again. In the summer, I have happened upon 100 tents at this lake. The shock and horror of this, when a few years ago you might see two to three parties, is hard to overstate. In some years the snow starts in August and my chance to go there is lost, but not this year.

I saw no other people as I ascended the rocky switchbacks. It is about 8 miles and 4000' elevation gain to get to this lake; not very far, but too far for some: there is some kind of rescue here every year. Today, though, there was only sunshine and aspen leaves falling. 


Snow lay in scattered patches once I passed Adams Basin, and at the lake, a strong wind did not encourage loitering. It seemed as though the lake was breathing a sigh of relief--seven months to rest from the human onslaught.

Obligatory dog selfie

As I headed back down, a dog barked above me. I checked the trail--there were no other footprints in the snow besides mine and my own dog's. There had been only one car in the parking lot, a vehicle I recognized as the caretaker of the private cabins on the other trail. Feeling a bit spooked, I hurried down the trail. 

I'm always a little sad when winter comes and these lakes are lost to me, but they need a break. I don't know what the answer is; it's good that people can go out and enjoy the wilderness, but the wilderness can't handle all of them. A long winter helps. I'll be back in June (or July, depending on how much it snows).









Monday, November 2, 2020

Eureka Bar, again

I added up the many times I've been to Eureka Bar, on the Snake River, in the last ten years. There was the time I took two friends to show them the confluence. The January night where I built a campfire, something I rarely do. The day trip where the access road scared two other friends so much that they refused to ever go back. The times I have been there measure in the dozens, but it never really gets old.

I was expecting to be on the Arizona Trail about now, or at least in the Grand Canyon, but we all know how that worked out. Covid is surging in our little town right now, and it feels irresponsible to travel, though a little annoying when everyone else seems to be. So I didn't have the desert canyons, but I did have Hells Canyon.

The road in off the pavement is only 13 miles, but it takes an hour to drive. It plunges precipitously down into the canyon, but the real nail-biter is the possibility of meeting another vehicle headed out. Please no horse trailers, I chanted to myself as I drove. Backing up on the narrow, exposed road requires a lot of fortitude. Fortunately, the whole area was deserted, despite the 60 degree temperatures.

There were only a few fishermen lurking about as I hiked down the trail. The poison ivy was dormant, with only the berries to indicate the true danger. As usual, I refused to wear pants and hoped for the best. 
It is a short, easy hike to the confluence, where the Imnaha meets the Snake, but I made it harder by indecisively hiking between potential campsites. The beach I usually choose was being taken over by willow and was in the shade already at two pm, so I ruled that out. The high bench basked in the sun, but wasn't close to the water. Finally I plunked down at a sandy spot near some boulders. 

The hunter moon rose big and bright over the unsettled water of the Snake. You can almost see the history here: the mute walls of the stamp mill and the mining tailings, the faces of the doomed Nez Perce. This is a magical place. It will never stop being so, no matter how many times I visit.





Sunday, October 25, 2020

What I did last summer

 Last weekend, before the severe cold snap with single digits and snow arrived, I hiked the two dogs up the access road to Mount Howard. This route is my fitness barometer---if I feel terrible slogging up the 4000 feet of elevation, then I know I need more exercise, less brownies, and more sleep. If I bound right up there, then I am doing all right. This time I felt somewhere in between. We easily gained the summit to a piercing breeze, too cold to stop and snack. With a perfunctory glance at the mountains, it was time to head down. 

A thick blanket of snow lay over the high mountain lakes, and I felt sad for the passing of another summer. Though 2020 has been awful and people have suffered. my enforced Covid stay at home summer meant that I hiked to places in my home range that I never thought I would reach. Without work travel twice a month, I was able to spend more time camping and less time in airports. The lure of the long distance trails was strong, but I didn't want to become part of the vacationing problem, at least until I could figure out how to do it safely. So I have only been out of the county once since February. This has been less hard than I imagined it would be.

This weekend, with the intense cold, I didn't venture too far into the mountains. I went for my first run, though not my last, in full-on winter gear: warm tights, a buff, and mittens. It felt invigorating and good, but I know by February I'll be sort of over it. 

I need a new winter sport, just like I took up paddleboarding last summer. It can't be something to do with speed. Just something to make staying at home through the cold winter months a bit more palatable. Suggestions?

Spruce is living his best life.



Sunday, October 18, 2020

Glamping

 As I headed up the Hill of Death, I was aware of two things: carrying five liters of water was still totally doable, and my winter boots were no longer waterproof.

I was enroute to the ski hut to do some maintenance, and I figured I might as well stay the night. Even though I would be staying in the hut, it still seemed to count as a backpacking trip, since I was carrying all of my stuff. It would be...backpacking glamping.

In winter, the trail is fairly obvious. It splits into two routes, the winter and the summer trails. In winter, the summer trail is sometimes scoured clean by the high winds that always blast this mountain. In contrast, the winter trail winds through deep woods and is always full of snow. Either way, it is a slog, though considerably easier without snowshoes (or skis, but I am not a good enough skier to descend the Hill of Death, so I don't try).

In summer, the trail is a little more obscured, and I congratulated myself when I found the crux move, an unmarked turn off the ridge, a short climb across a two-track road, and then another climb to the next ridge. This was followed by a traverse across a steep slope, the place where the winds will get you if you aren't careful. Today, though, it wasn't bad.

Today the climb seemed easy, even with the water weight. In winter, there is snow to melt, but not now. Except there was. A thin blanket of snow lay on the roof edge, and Spruce quickly jumped into it. Avoiding his area, I scraped some snow into a couple of pots for melting. 

The hut had held up well over the summer, and the only work I needed to do was split wood. That is a task that I find oddly satisfying, so I didn't mind that previous visitors hadn't replenished the supply. I ate a wrap and stoked the fire as a strong wind buffeted the hut. This wouldn't have been a good night for tent camping.

This wouldn't be considered glamping for very many people, but it was luxurious to not have the typical camp chores (filter water! Set up tent!) and to be warm with a fire in the stove. The dogs, despite having a whole cabin and not a measly tent, settled comfortably on my sleeping pad, refusing to share. 

A strange warm front blew through in the night, bringing rain and snow to the mountains above. Whenever I am at this hut, I start to daydream about living up here. I think about the route I would take far down to the stream, to carry up enough water to survive. How I'd carve out a running route through the trees. It's fun to think about.