Sunday, July 31, 2011

Running down a dream

Everywhere I've lived there has been some nearly unattainable goal or destination, shrouded in mystery. In Nevada it was the fabled Moon Dome, a cave room with walking passage, decorated with delicate formations. In Idaho it was Swimm Lake, reachable by a death-defying scramble up Grape-Nut talus, a lake whispered about by wilderness rangers because it had no footprints, no messy fire rings, no signs that people had ever been there. In Florida it was Royal Palm Hammock, a grove of rare silver-barked trees rumored to grow deep in the swamp. In Alaska it was the sub-four marathon. Some of these I achieved, others I never found.

Here in the Wallowas, for me, the place is Deadman Lake. A small scrap of blue perched just below the Hurwal Divide, it remains elusive. A few people I know have glimpsed it from the ridge above. A couple of people have actually been there. I have my sights on this lake; for two years I  have stared at the map, the daunting contour lines, the fin of rock where it lurks, but have never made it there.

The first serious attempt occurred yesterday. In retrospect, we made all the classic mistakes. Leaving the trailhead at 8:30, way too late. Hiking on a 90 degree day. Not knowing the route beyond "you go up near Slickrock Creek." Still, we pressed gamely on, finding ourselves on a loose, shifting mountain. The phrase "I'm scared" was uttered more than once. Clearly this was not working.

This is Slickrock Creek. The brown looking stuff is left over snow from an avalanche.

We decided to angle over to an area of retreat, but then noticed that the climbing got easier. "Let's just go up a little ways," I said. We started up a much saner route, finding a line of footprints of some lone soul perhaps bent on the same destination. It was then that a small storm decided to blow through like a child's temper tantrum. We retreated to a small grove of trees to think things over.

Here's a couple of dorks waiting out the storm.

The sky was dark; rain lashed the trees. In this country it is impossible to tell what can happen. There are no clear patterns. Prudently, J decided we should go back. "We're only at 6100 feet," he said, studying his GPS. Deadman Lake is at 8674 feet. "We still have four hours of climbing," he said. "I don't like the look of the weather."

Childishly, I sulked, which led J to observe that I am goal fixated. "It's the journey, not the destination," he said cheerfully as we picked our way downslope. Sullenly I looked up at the sky, which taunted us by clearing to bright blue. Still, it was a sweet summer day. We paused by the river to eat our sandwiches. The journey, not the destination. I hope to get better at this. But goal fixated or not, I'm going to try again. I kind of like having a destination that isn't easy. I may get there, I may not. It gives me something to journey towards while I learn to stay in one place. Staying, I find I need those markers, those places still mysterious.
The lake is up there somewhere.

Here's a big show-off crossing the creek on the top log. (I walked on the bottom one).


  1. Lots to like here, including and especially the photos! You will get there some day, and meanwhile, it's good to have a dream to run down.

  2. Awww, you guys look so happy in those pictures :)

  3. If that's what big dorks look like, I hope I'm as happy as you two! Love the pics from this - nice to see some of those places without snow. Geez, the WIR gig should be spring to summer, not all winter long!

  4. Deadman Lake has always been alluring to me also. I've seen it from Hurwal. My wife and I made one foray up Slickrock Cr but came to where the drainage came down a steep marble face that looked almost walkable, but risky. We took the right fork instead and while Kathy hung out in some trees I ventured quite a way up the drainage, mostly on talus. The whole way there was a sigificant rocky ridge between me and where (I presumed) the lake basin lay. No GPs so I don't know how high I got or how far away the lake still lay. I want to go back!
    Moscow ID


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