Sunday, December 14, 2014

I like big packs, and I cannot lie

As much as I have lightened up my backpacking gear, there are times when I miss the 1990s. Specifically, the backpacks. I recall the joy of entering the wilderness ranger cache to pull out a brand new pack, mine for the season. Gregory, Dana Design, Mountainsmith. I happily surveyed each pack. Look at all the pockets! The loops, the straps! What was this strap even for? There were sleeping bag compartments, top lids you could unbuckle and use as a day pack, and side pockets galore. You could even buy cool little pockets to buckle onto the pack and put stuff in! The more stuff that hung off the pack, the better. I hiked on, a plethora of straps fluttering in my wake.

Sure, those packs were seven pound behemoths, and my pack weight often soared to seventy pounds when I counted the Forest Service radio, search and rescue gear, a pulaski wedged in the ice axe loop, and all the trash I could possibly find and carry (hammocks, old shoes. Tents. Cans, bottles,  cast iron frying pans, grills, tin foil to the max). But those packs were built so well that the load carried like a dream. Today's packs are feather light but they will never carry like that. I was young and fast and the weight didn't bother me then.

I wouldn't carry a seven-pound-empty pack today, because I need to be kind to my knees, just like I wouldn't carry the high tech gear we had available then: Whisper-Lite stove, first generation. Ceramic water filter. Cotton sweatshirts. Four pound one person tents. I have to laugh when people earnestly ask about saving four ounces, one puffy over another. Just cowboy up and hike, I want to say. We did it in the old days! And look, we are still alive!

This is a newer version of the pack I carried for years as a wilderness ranger. I think we had more straps!
I know weight matters. You can definitely hike farther and faster when not dragging a seventy pound load. Most of the time my full pack with water and food, for about 100 miles, weighs in the mid-twenties. I'm okay with that. I have seen too many near disasters to go lighter. Helicopters and I only work well when fighting fire, not for being plucked off a ridge.

I won't really change my mind on packs though. I tried one that was less than a pound, and it was amazing. But then I had to do a 24 hour water carry to a dry camp, and I didn't pick that pack. I knew it would drag on my shoulders and wouldn't stand up to 6 liters of water. What's the point of being superlight if you are miserable? Now I am in between. My pack is a well constructed one that tops the scale at (GASP) three pounds. It definitely would not hold up to the kind of wilderness rangering I used to do, but it works for what I do now.

Still, I'll always miss my behemoth packs. I carried them with pride through the mountains, off trail and across snowfields and clinging to the side of cliffs. I never once thought about cutting off straps to make them lighter. Instead of your base weight being "cool" now if it is below ten pounds, it was cool then to be able to carry a heavy load. We would have scoffed at people with UL gear. What was wrong with them, why couldn't they carry a load and still hike 4 mph? We could.

We hung our packs on the scale and groaned at their weight, but secretly we wanted them to be heavy, because it meant we were tough. Misguided? Probably. But we were twenty-five and thought we could do anything. Thought our seasonal jobs would be enough to sustain us, thought that people who could love us and put up with our wandering would always come along, thought we would never get old. So we hiked with what we had. And it was fine. We survived, and we always made it over the next summit, and we walked on to the rest of our lives, which did not include big, heavy packs and all the other things we left behind in that decade.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


I'll be honest here, because if you lie in a blog, what's the point? I really didn't feel like backpacking. More to the point, I was tired of overnights. Overnights are just a tease. It's a big gear-up for only a brief time outside. It's not long enough to forget about what you have left behind. I could hike out right now, you think, and be at home with everyone I care about. It takes longer than that to become feral.
Night #47. 3 to go to reach the goal. 

But I went, because the pull of inertia has taken too many of my friends. They no longer climb mountains or ride their bikes or do any of the things they used to do. I am starting to see what age can do to people and I don't want to give in. 

It's not easy to get to Eureka Bar. The drive is not for the faint-hearted, a slippery, rock-studded one-laner poised over the canyon. Meet a horse trailer and you have to back up for a long way. You'd better hope you're good at it. People have died on this road. It can take an hour to go 18 miles.

The trail itself is simple, winding from one river to another, but it is fringed with poison ivy and blackberry. You push your way through, hoping for the best. And then you make it to the bar, the hills colored blond, the sound of the river filling up the night, the moon glowing over everything. And it was worth it. It always is.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winter is for running

I know, I'm a freak, many of my running friends pretty much quit for the winter or retreat to the gym. But winter is when I run.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a huge fan of wearing spikes, discovering that the park is full of ankle-deep snow, battling howling winds, and bundling up in a million layers. I do like running in the summer, but I just don't do it more than a couple of times a week. Sometimes only once! Why? Because there's so much else to do! Hike, bike, kayak, swim!

So winter it is, though it seems crazy. The trails are mostly too snowy, though you can sometimes hit the sweet spot when enough people have packed them down with snowshoes.  Most trails you can't get to at all anymore, since the roads aren't plowed.You can't run fast. Throw those PRs out the window! The trails are too steep in the best of times. Add in a lot of ice, a few avalanche chutes, and some streams to cross, and you are lucky to do a ten minute mile. But who cares?  I just like to run.

Most of the time. I've been running for decades, and sometimes it is a chore to haul myself out there again. Every direction is uphill (really, it is) and there aren't a ton of choices. The Hill of Death route, with the Icy Road of Fear, the Lake Road of Desperate Wind, the Zen of the Rocky Moraine, the Route by Brian's House that Involves a Highway And Possibly Cows Being Moved, the Haunted Ex Roller Skating Mansion Run, and the Park of Many of the Same Short Loops While Trying to Avoid Dogwalkers for the Tenth Time.

Sound appealing? Actually, it can be. There's times when it's about ten degrees and the snow sparkles like little diamonds, catching the low-angled sun. I can check on the lake ice status, to see if skating is a possibility. The other night a fox ran across my path, barking. I check in with the horses by the park. I look for avalanches on Mount Joseph.

The Route Where You Can See A Single Farmhouse for Miles

I used to run with people. Julie, Brian and Ken were my marathon training partners, and we battled it out in the horizontal rain and wind for our long runs, stashing Gatorade and snacks along the road prior to our departure (this was before the days of comfy running vests). Ken and I ran dangerously along the fish hatchery road, avoiding fresh bear scat and singing loudly. On the fire crew I ran with other people all the time. I still recall torturing Jim when he asked how much farther we had to go. "Oh, a half mile," I lied, when it was a lot closer. Sorry, Jim!

 I kind of miss the social aspect, but I like running by myself now. Especially in winter, when it's a challenge to find somewhere not too icy and not too snowy. I have to be opportunistic about when I run, scheduling it around conference calls and meetings, so I tend to dart out the door when I see a window. I'm sure that people wonder if I work at all, because I am out there at all different times.

Occasionally I have to give up and run on the mill, but this is a last resort. There are only two at my small gym, and they are often occupied by the walker crowd. I feel guilty hogging one, and you can't watch TV (it's mounted above your head and you might crash). I don't listen to music when I run because I didn't start out that way and I don't want to be dependent on it. Besides, the cords. The disappointment of getting a Nora Jones song when you need a good rendition of "Swamp Buggy Bad Ass" (look it up if you want. But I warn you, look up "clean version"). So, no music. You can watch people going in and out of the bank across the street but that is about it.  I just am riveted by the display....56 mi. .57 mi. .58...No. No. No. (I recently saw a blog post by a woman who wears red lipstick when she runs at the gym. Um...)

Running isn't my first love anymore, but I still have a friendly relationship with it, so I'll keep putting on winter tights from 1990, wool zip T, jacket, mittens, hat, shoes that have holes in them (must replace), spikes and an optimistic attitude. If I start feeling surly about the whole winter running scene, I'll remember the Winter of Knee Surgery, where I was forbidden to run for three months, and then I started back running for two minutes, walking for five. I'm just glad I can run. Bring it, winter!

Do you run more in the winter? What are your challenges? Give me a lead on good warm running tights!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Boy and His Snow Bike

It was the weekend, finally, but I was mired in the start of winter blues. Not enough snow to ski, but too deep to reach the lakes, bitter cold, ice, horrific wind. "Let's go up the backside of Mount Howard," J said. "I'll ride my fat bike and you can hike."

Captain Crankypants made an appearance. "I don't know if that will be enough exercise," I whined. I know, I can be really annoying. Pity the fool who married me.

But in the end I went, having no better ideas and wanting to spend time with J (see, I do have redeeming qualities). The road up Mount Howard winds steeply into the sky, eventually culminating at about 7,000 feet. You can get there by gondola in the summer. In winter, the road is unplowed and generally deserted, as it is a major slog.

 This is J's first winter with his hand-built snow bike. It's the first one in the county and a lot of people have never heard of this kind of bike. He hopes to start a trend. Even though the snow was deep and I could almost keep up on the hills while he rode, he was smiling the whole time and refused to turn around, even when he had to hike a bike.

Spoiler alert: we didn't make it to the top of the mountain. Not so much of a spoiler: I really, really wanted to. But we would have needed snowshoes, camping gear, and all sorts of stuff we didn't have. It's always a little hard for me to transition to day adventures instead of overnight. They seem so...short. And hurried.

But...because I only do day trips, I have time to write, and time to catch up with friends, and time to make bread. Those things might not be as exciting as backpacking in the alpine, but they provide a balance. If I could backpack all year round, would I get sick of it? I guess I will never know.

J had a great day on his bike. He is in love with it, so much so that it lives in the main room of the cabin. The fat tires do add interest to the room, so I haven't complained...much. As we drove down from the trailhead, I noticed an uncontrollable fit of giggling.



I've married someone the opposite season as me. But seeing how much he loves winter makes me like it too, most of the time.

Who is the elf?
A couple things:  People! Those in the know: Hiking in the northern Sierra, when can I avoid massive clouds of mosquitoes? Do I have to wait until August?

Also, if you want to know more about what I am writing, the book coming out and the next one, I keep most of that stuff on here: Check it out!

Monday, November 24, 2014

We like the desolation

Going to Maui reaffirmed things I already knew. Given a choice, I like the wild, the windswept, the remote. J and I cavalierly drove the "back road", one that many forums warned against, that the rental car agreement would not cover. And the wild landscape was my favorite part. The good, along with the hours of snorkeling among multi-colored fish and green turtles. "But we like the desolation," J said, and it's true, we both do.

Great beach to walk to, not so great for snorkeling!

The not so good? People, so many people. So many resorts, so much development. Maui has a completely different vibe to me than the Big Island, which I prefer. And there were so many people desperately in need of a jog. Perhaps it's because I come from a fit community (a third of the people because they exercise, another third are fit because of their job and the last third are ranchers) but it was shocking to see what the average American now looks like. Don't get me wrong, I empathize greatly with people who struggle with their weight. I'm really only the weight I like to be when coming off a long distance hike, but that's not sustainable, because in real life, only the unemployed and retired could exercise 10-12 hours a day. But honestly, I did 
not see a lot of struggling. I saw a lot of sitting and a lot of eating. And I know that sounds really judgmental. I'm sorry. I just wish people knew how good it feels to be in shape.

Also? I'm not a beach sitter. The best beaches were the ones we stumbled to over lava rocks and slippery cinders.

Red Sand Beach. Not easy to get to, but not that hard either. A little hippie encampment was set up here.

Another thing I learned? I'm a vacation snob. My time off is so precious and hard earned. For each hour spent in an airport there's an equal hour of work time. Honestly? I can't keep at this pace much longer. The mountains--and sometimes the ocean--are calling. I don't know how much longer I can resist. But relying on my husband's income? Never been an option for me. Besides, how could I go play while  he was working? Unemployment? No. So here I sit, trying to figure it all out. Again.

Maui turned out to be mixed for me. I could get used to swimming in tropical water. And I'd save a fortune on clothes. No puffys, no boots, no gloves, no hats. Also, no pants. My hair looked great on Maui (darn you, hard water of Eastern Oregon!). In the end, though, it wouldn't be enough for me. Not enough hiking, not enough solitude. You don't really go to Hawaii for that. But where? Time to move on!

Except here. Hiking the Kings Highway. Not a tourist to be seen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Look....Really?

First of all, you must read this:

It seems to me that camping and hiking are activities where you can forget about the pressure to look good. FALSE EYELASHES?

Half the time, I roll out of the sleeping bag, shove a hat on my head, wearing the same non-cute clothes as yesterday I might add, and head on down the trail. I feel the same way about running in winter-who is going to look cute if they are trying to stay upright in the ice and make it up a big hill? Is it really all about looking feminine in the outdoors? Please tell me it isn't so.

To me looking feminine is looking strong. I admire the women who blaze by, like one whose trail name is Notachance. We saw her on the PCT on a long waterless stretch, her hair loose and tangled, her clothes obviously trail-worn. She was in her element. It was her fourth time thru-hiking. I also remember a female firefighter I saw on one of my first fires. She had her pack on, carried a tool, and also had two bladder bags (40 lbs each) hanging off her shoulders. This was on some mountain in Wyoming, and she smiled when she saw me, because women were rare then. To me, she was beautiful. False eyelashes? Mascara? I don't think so.

Then there's Anish:
Fastest known unsupported hike on the PCT! And she looks amazing!

This is a picture where I had on no makeup. It was day fifteen and I had just crested Forrester Pass, at 13,000 feet, in the Sierras. I had been wearing the same clothes for two weeks. It is my favorite picture of me, ever.
I think I look pretty darn cute.

So, I am not going to post for a week or so because I am heading to Hawaii, or as I like to think of it, "Two Hippies Visit Maui." I haven't had a real haircut in two years, and I doubt I will be wearing mascara (much less false eyelashes and a headband). But I think I'll manage to look feminine in the outdoors anyway. Aloha!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The last one to Sky Lake

"I should go to Hells Canyon this weekend," I declared. Pretty soon the road to the lookout would be snowed in, and I had never hiked down into the canyon from there. Also? The temperatures would be about 60 degrees or more lower in the canyon. The poison ivy has died back. Then J had to bring something up:

"It's opening day of elk season." Also? "There won't be much snow in the mountains. The snow we were in last weekend, it's all melted. There might be 3 inches, but that will be it."

I listen to him exactly why?

However, this is my favorite place in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It's a remote, wilder place than a lot of the heavily traveled trails, and you have to work for it. You climb steeply to these small basins and eventually over the pass you can see in the background. From there you can drop to some lakes that are rarely visited.

Nobody had been here in a long time. The snow got deeper as I reached 8,000 feet, about a foot, and I knew I wouldn't camp here. It was just too cold, the snow too deep, the forecast too uncertain. I had to descend. There's nothing like a basin completely covered in snow, with nobody else around for at least twenty miles, to make you feel small.

I had asked over six people to go hiking with me, and nobody wanted to go. Nobody is thinking about hiking anymore. After all, the lakes are frozen. You have to haul winter gear. It's hard work, and people don't want to do it.

I don't know if that makes me brave or crazy. Maybe a little bit of both.

Sky Lake is frozen!

I found a place far below that was free of snow and dove into the tent. It was five, and completely dark. Fourteen hours in the tent? I would read, I thought, and then eat dinner. I ended up falling asleep at five-thirty and never waking up until five in the morning, except to briefly turn over. I guess I needed to sleep! All in all I hiked 12 miles just to camp three miles from the trailhead! It was worth it, though, to see this magical winter world, all to myself.