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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


If you know what swamping is, you have probably done it. And you know that it is not an easy task, none of the glory of the sawyer, though part of your job besides throwing limbs and bucked up trees off the trail in the sawyer's wake is to look out for him (I've never seen a female sawyer on a fire or trail crew) and make sure that tree he is cutting doesn't fall the wrong way. For the record, of all the jobs I've done, trail crew with "traditional" (non-motorized) tools is the hardest job on the planet, but swamping ranks right up there. You wade through a mess of cut stuff, trying to punch it off the trail into places where there isn't room for it. You have to keep up with the sawyer and gauge just how close you can get to the saw to be helpful and remove cut stuff that he can trip on, but far enough away that you aren't endangering yourself or the whole operation. You have to tote the extra saw gas, oil, saw fixing stuff, and the sawyer's puffy jacket (or whatever else he wants you to carry). See? Not easy.

We backpacked to the nordic ski hut this weekend, dragging our stuff up the Hill of Death. I had imagined a lazy afternoon of reading by the wood stove, but J had other ideas. He was going to cut out a path to where the skiers started skinning up the mountain, and I was going to swamp!

melting snow for water
Yippee, I thought. It was snowing. But then I thought of all the people who use trails and never once pick up a tool to help maintain them. I don't know who they think does the work, the Trail Fairy? Yes, you pay taxes, but Congress decides where the money goes and it's not to the forest service. The least I could do was give a Saturday to the cause, even though I've spent most of my life swinging a tool. Isn't it time to let someone else do this, I wondered, as snow drifted down my fleece jacket. The problem is, nobody else is interested, not younger people anyway. All of the volunteer work parties I've led, and the ones I've seen, are people my age and older.

Swamping in the snow adds a new level of delight to the activity. You forgot about winter, so your socks are thin, and your feet are cold. Everything is covered in white. In no time everything is drenched. In two hours we might have gone a mile.

We trooped back to the cabin to warm up. During the night, snow fell unforecasted, so that when we stepped out to re-tarp the outhouse (yet another thankless task, but necessary), our feet sank in about a foot of new snow. There's no denying it: this snow will stay until June, maybe July.

There's a ton more swamping to do, but it will be on snowshoes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In search of six

When I turned an age that I had before believed was impossible, I decided that in order to endure it, I would start the 5-0 rule. That is, on the years where I turned an age with a five or a zero on the end, I would do something big. It didn't have to be on the day, just that year. I've only had the opportunity to do this a few times, with the following big things:

1. On one zero year, I got married. (That didn't work out so well. For marriage #2, I didn't pick a big year, and it seems to be turning out just fine)

2. On a 5, I backpacked the Overland Trail in Tasmania. I cashed in all my airline miles and it was really great. Looking for a good trip? Tasmania is pretty great.

3. And this year, with a zero, I decided to spend fifty nights out in the wilderness, for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, or backcountry if that wasn't possible, reached only by human power (so car camping did not count, but backpacking to a hut did).

It's surprisingly hard to get fifty nights in if you have a job, two houses, six pets ("It's midnight and I'm a dog! I want to go outsideIwanttogooutsideIwantogo..oh lots of things are out here to bark at! BarkyBarkBark Barkity Bark!" "Hey, I'm a kitten and I see you are composing an important document. Let me help you by running across your screen. There! I just deleted a bunch of text! Now I'm going to jump on your head!") and other obligations. I've made it to #44 though, with only six to go. When I am done I will post about what I have learned. In the meantime...

It is snowing. Which can be the death knell for backpacking. I know there are those who salivate at winter camping, and I plan to do it a little more, but honestly? You slog through the snow, carrying half your body weight, you hastily put up your tent before you freeze to death, and you dive in for a total of over fourteen hours. I just....don't get it. I want to, though. It would open up a lot more possibilities.

I'm pretty sure I'll get to fifty nights before my birthday in January. Though the high country is getting snow, we still have Hells Canyon for awhile longer. The poison ivy has died back, reports C, and the temperatures are still in the sixties. One night will go there, and three nights are spoken for at Big Bend National Park at New Years. Two more are unknowns, but I still hope to get to a lake or two before they are buried in deep snow. I'm running out of time, but the mountains are still calling. I'm not done with them yet.

Maybe that's all right. I don't like doing the same thing over and over, and it might be time to put the tent away and do something else. In winter, I run more, I ski, and reacquaint myself with the gym. I write more, and make bread. All good things that I don't have time for in the summer. There will be many more nights in tents in other years.

Do you do anything on the 5 and 0? Anything you want to share? Looking for ideas. And no, I am not going to run in one day my miles in years. That's just too far.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I feel it in the air, summer's out of reach

I couldn't explain why I felt compelled to hike to Mirror Lake. The forecast was horrible--forty mile an hour winds--and there was an unknown amount of snow up there. The road is typically a washboarded mess. There were so many things I should do instead--chop wood, order a propane heater, clean the house, write, grocery shop--all of the things that add up when you work ten hour days. Sometimes I think how great it would be if I didn't work: all of that time! Run whenever you want! Go to the post office when it's actually open! Get a haircut! But then I have to stop because I am seized with a deep jealousy.

Mirror Lake is typically tourist ground zero in the summer. Good luck trying to find a place to camp where you aren't observed, or even worse, a place to pee undetected. I've seen people carrying duffel bags here instead of backpacks, and all sorts of rule flouters. Its saving grace is that it is truly a beautiful lake, surrounded by peaks and other lakes, a sort of highly inhabited heaven. In summer, we stay away.

But not now. As I slogged up the switchbacks, thinking that the trail had become more difficult in my absence, not a soul appeared. Fresh bear tracks were pressed into the snow. I started wishing I had brought my tent, but as I crested the final hill, 7.3 miles later, the full brunt of the wind hit me. Unlike in summer, today Mirror Lake was an inhospitable place. Six inches of snow covered the ground and the lake boiled with waves. If you could even put up a tent, you would be hunkered in it for many hours, hoping it would hold.

Day hiking is okay, but I've gotten my backpack weight down enough that I can almost move at the same speed with or without it. I don't like tagging a lake and leaving, and going back the same way isn't as interesting as waking up the next day in a sweet place and hiking out. Today was a day hiking kind of day, though, and I knew that I couldn't linger long, even though I had enough gear to survive if I needed to. There's not a lot of daylight, and you have to stay on the move.

The snow has come fast and sudden this year, and this will be the last trip to Mirror until next year. Probably I'll do what I usually do, slog as far as I can get in July before snow turns me around. It's a short season up this high. We're lucky to get what we do get.

As I trotted along the lyrics of a song we used to hear all the time when I was younger ran through my head:
Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, I can feel it in the air, summer's out of reach. Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone..

The sun will go down alone at Mirror Lake for months to come. Don't look back, you can never look back...

I did look back, though. I looked back at snowy Eagle Cap peak and thought that we can't disregard all of the things we have right now, empty trail, empty lake, the fitness to hike fifteen miles, the love I never thought I would ever find. There's always something to complain about, like a job that keeps me sequestered from the mountains I love. The trick is to capture what is good and know that it will pass, like summer, because all things end, even if it breaks our hearts. But we have it right now.

The trailhead was empty. I went back home. I looked at all the things I should have done that day. And I didn't do them. I sat on the couch with my kitten happily sleeping on my lap.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I think I was in Albuquerque

At least, that's what my travel documents say. I mostly saw the inside of conference rooms. Work travel, when you don't have a car with you, can be challenging. I feel uneasy without a stockpile of food nearby, and I always make sure there's a hotel gym, if I can't run outside. You don't really want to run outside in downtown ABQ, by the way, unless you enjoy panhandlers and overall sketchiness.

So these things happened:

1. A lady in the gift store told me her life story as I tried to edge away with my chocolate, ranging from weight problems to a career change. She was nice but she was standing between me and my chocolate!

2. I discovered the interesting machine that is a Spin bike. Three of us spun along to nowhere, accompanied by Ebola TV. (Spin bikes are kind of fun actually. I like standing up).

3. I saw a man in a kilt, another one whose fashion accessory was a bandanna tied around his head, and various very, very short skirts on millennials. Not entirely conference attire, but to each his own.


5.  Two different people said I looked like someone they knew, and two others thought I was my sister. (I get people saying I look like someone they know a lot. Do you? It's weird. It has happened all my life).

6. I SIGNED MY BOOK CONTRACT!!!!!!!!! Yes, I am getting a novel published by a REAL PUBLISHER. (more on this later). Psst:  published writers! I need to put your names down for copies to be sent to you! If you don't like it, you don't have to review it or blurb it, I just need names now, before November 1! Message me and I will....will...send you cookies!

7. I found out that my ex's long term girlfriend has MY SAME LAST NAME. Which is not common. And kind of creepy.

8. I got lost in the hotel twice and had to follow a creepy labyrinth out to the lobby. Seriously. Who locks all the stair doors so you can't climb the stairs?

9. As I was giving my presentation, a marathon was being held on the street below. I snuck some glances at the people running. I don't pay to run, but it was inspiring to see the different shapes and sizes struggling along out there. Also, lots of cheering which I pretended was for my presentation.

10. I won a Deuter day pack at the silent auction for $70! Score!

What are some things that happened in your world this week? Please comment! I love comments!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just me (and a few gutpiles)

It's fall now, no denying it, and the backpackers have disappeared. Where are they? Probably at home, doing other stuff. After all, it gets dark way early now. It snows, sometimes. You have to totally abandon the ultra light idea and go heavyweight, with down booties, a real tent, snow stakes.

Which reminds me! Guess what, guys! If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am a habitual gear forgetter. But I haven't forgotten anything in a long time. Until my Elkhorn Crest trip, where I forgot my spork. "Darn," I groaned, looking around for a stick to carve. But then my eyes lit REI snow stake! Guess what, it's perfect! Kind of like a big chopstick! So the uses I have identified for this item now are: emergency eating utensil, cat hole digging implement, vampire killer, and, I guess, staking your tent.

Digression alert! But back to the empty woods. They're not quite empty. This week I hiked to Ice Lake, a place that gets hammered in summer. Sitting by the lake, I mused: I'm all alone here. Then two shots rang out from the basin below. All alone except for a gutpile, actually.

Ice Lake
 The hunters here don't camp much. They silently appear from the bushes in camo when I least expect them. They regard me curiously. "Going for a day hike?" one asked as I hiked uphill with a pack of hugeness, full of four liters of water for a dry camp. If that's my day pack, I thought to myself, I'd hate to see my overnight one. But they're all very nice, and don't seem to shoot wildly, unlike other states I've hiked in (I'm looking at you, Idaho). You know, if people make the effort to hike, I have to appreciate that, even if they are out there for other reasons than I am.

The animals have vanished too. It's like they know. And there's just a different feeling out there now. You can't swim in the lakes anymore unless you like hypothermia. You have to hike in pants. And  you know, you just know, that snow is around the corner.

The skiers are running around all wild-eyed, even though they know that a full snow cover won't be possible for months. Us backpackers don't get a lot of sympathy, because the skiers have suffered through an impossibly warm and dry summer that came pretty early.

I'm still hoping to get a couple more nights out before winter sets in (I'm up to #44). I'll snuggle in my zero bag, with snow stake in hand, a good book to read, and hours to go before daylight. It's hibernation camping, and it's all right.
This thing is awesome. Really.