Sunday, March 7, 2010

first backpack of the season!


Hells Canyon, Cow Creek to Eureka Bar. Six miles one way. Easy.

The trail follows the Imnaha River to the Snake River and the heart of the canyon. Though beautiful, the canyon is a harsh place. In three months the heat will set in. This trail will bake in the sun. The poison ivy will grow waist-high in places. The blackberries will sweeten to a juicy tang, but their brambles will snarl the trail.

So this is the perfect time. Along the way I passed hordes of fishermen here for the steelhead run. Some backpackers coming out assured me that there were no campers down on the Snake, though, but I did encounter one, a lone man and a curly-haired dog, set up in a magnificent spot overlooking both rivers.

So I hiked on, to Eureka Bar. This was the site of a big mining operation. Stone walls crumble into the earth and there are gaping holes in the cliffs. Are the stone ruins remains of houses? I didn't know. Whatever they were, they occupied a million dollar piece of land.

I dropped down into a little creekbed where water still ran. Probably in mid-summer this creek would be dry. I was grateful for it, since I didn't want to filter water from the Snake (I've been warned against drinking that water. Too much ag run-off. Sad.)

The main trail left the river here and went high, but I decided to round another corner and came to the perfect beach, a small pocket of sand that looked like a perfect campsite. And it was. All night I listened to the river flow by. Once I looked out and the cold sky brimmed with stars.

The light dropped behind the rim of the canyon early, so I followed the sun, hiking up the creek and discovering three bighorn sheep. They appeared over the ridge and came downslope, passing a few hundred yards away.

The descending notes of a canyon wren, the first light on a spire. The peace. I read a whole book. I outlined some scenes for my novel. It was magical.

By the way: The Big Agnes Seedhouse tent rocks! It's billed as a two person. I guess. If both people aren't huge. It's really lightweight and sets up fast. You can even set up the fly only.

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