Monday, May 25, 2015

Nature's Obstacle Course

Six Mile Meadow is in fact quite beautiful in spring.
 Randomly I ran into a friend at a party. "We're doing a John Muir Trail shakedown trip tomorrow," she said. "Want to come?"

I had my heart set on getting into Hells Canyon. The window is closing there--soon it will be too hot, abandoned to the rattlesnakes. The friends I had planned this trip with had bailed but I was going to go solo. Because let's face it, solo can be easier. It takes only 30 seconds to make a decision instead of a debate. You can go as far or as fast as you want to go. And besides they were going to Six Mile Meadow. I had been there many times. But on the other hand, friends! I changed my plans, hastily throwing out the warm weather gear and substituting a stove and wool hat.

Six Mile Meadow, as is expected, is six miles in, a fairly easy hike. I planned to meet the others there, since I had a goal in mind: Horseshoe Lake. I wanted to see how far I could get towards the lake, although I had no expectations of getting there. Last year at this time the lake was still encased in ice and the trail was buried in snow. I got to the meadow in just over two hours and wandered around looking for the perfect campsite. Then I grabbed my pack and headed over to the river.
Still a lot of snow in those hills.
The first obstacle, the multiple river crossings, went fine. There would be no wading--the river was high and deep. I crawled across a skinny log, looking ridiculous, because, safety first. As I headed up the trail, I found an obstacle course: 47 trees across the trail (yes, my trail crew days, I count them), forcing me to crawl under, over, and around. It was like an outdoors gym. A less determined person would have turned around. But I was determined.

\But where was the snow? It was nowhere to be found. I was amazed to break out onto the lake's shore.

The earliest the lake has been ice free? Locals say so.


You could camp here. If you have the patience to deal with the fallen trees.

Icy winds reminded me that it was still spring, summer a few weeks off. I sprinted down the trail to arrive at the meadow just as my friends showed up. We sat in the meadow in the sun eating Fritos (don't judge). That night the meadow frosted and our tents were thick with dew. The sun didn't clear the ridge early enough so we stuffed wet gear in our packs and set off to deal with the 25 fallen trees on this stretch of trail. We leapt across small streams, sloshed through mud, and crawled under fallen logs. Trails here will never be easy. Wilderness rules dictate that no chainsaws will be used. But Congress allocates less and less money every year. The three seasonal workers that the agency can afford to hire for 70 days each can't keep up. Maybe like in the canyon, these trails will disappear too. I wish more people who used trails would spend a weekend a year helping to clear them instead of complaining.

My friends and I peered up the Ice Lake trail, trying to judge the snow depth. "Maybe next weekend?" I ask. We talk about calling in sick today and going for it. "I have Fig Newtons," one of us says. In the end we are responsible and head down the trail. There are plenty more days to come, at least as far as we know.



21 comments:

  1. Lovely! Hiking friends and solo treks are both good. Six Mile Meadow looks beautiful in your photo.

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    1. It's usually full of mosquitoes! But not yet!

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    2. The hordes have just shown up here!

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  2. Bring back the saws! This winter seems to be one of the worse for down trees and there just aren't enough trail maintenance volunteers or paid staff to manage these by hand. It's a circle when trails aren't maintained, they aren't used and less opportunity exists that users will volunteer.

    I'm heading out into another obstacle course of my own. Forest Jungle Gym 101!

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    1. I'm conflicted on saws but won't get into it here. At least the jungle gym keeps us flexible.

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  3. Don't you just love early season blow down? There are trails east of Mt. Hood that haven't been cleared in years (same issues - wilderness area and lack of funding). Although like you, I don't mind hiking solo, I do enjoy the company of friends. Fabulous photos of the mountains! You're tempting me to plan a trip east this summer! :)

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    1. Linda, I would love to see the pictures you could capture out here!

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  4. That looks gorgeous to me, even with the downed trees. Also: Yes!! to the Fritos.

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    1. Fritos can also be used as an emergency fire starter. So you know, dual purpose.

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    2. So can cheese puffs, I hear!

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  5. For all of the trail use conflicts, mountain bikes have long been effective motivators for trail advocacy and volunteer maintenance in the places where they're allowed. I actually support a certain level of segregation on popular trails, and even wilderness bans, but I wish more non-wilderness trails were available to bikers for this reason.

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    1. I agree with you on non wilderness trails. Bikers for some reason are more organized and outspoken and prone to advocacy than hikers (as a general rule, and I say this from years of working for govt agencies). I don't know why that is and it's frustrating. We get way more volunteer work done on our mtn bike trails than our others. Instead we get complaints and arguing from trail users (with some exceptions). I don't know why that is.

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  6. Hi Mary, I like your photos, I get a bit jealous of your trips. I'm thinking one Summer, I would like to spend it down in the lower 48 traveling the back roads and hiking. Alaska is no different when it comes to helping to maintain trails. It's everywhere. Keep posting those great photos.

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    1. Yes there is something great about actual trails which the part of AK I lived in did not have. However there are tradeoffs as you know. Like more people.

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  7. I managed to convince my son's Scout master to clear the trail to the waterfall we love to visit. He said if I marked it, the troop would make a camping trip up there and clear it. It will indeed need a chainsaw, too many big trees down to not have the saw handy. Just glad that we'll be able once again to get the older generation in my family up there.
    Your pictures are amazing. Love the one of Six Mile meadow with the tent.

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    1. Doritos can be used as fire starters too. The flavoring acts similar to gasoline. Scary that they are edible. Bring on the Fritos! Not just because they are my binge snack of choice, but because now I need to try them for fire starters as too.

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    2. Doritos can be used as fire starters too. The flavoring acts similar to gasoline. Scary that they are edible. Bring on the Fritos! Not just because they are my binge snack of choice, but because now I need to try them for fire starters as too.

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  8. I managed to convince my son's Scout master to clear the trail to the waterfall we love to visit. He said if I marked it, the troop would make a camping trip up there and clear it. It will indeed need a chainsaw, too many big trees down to not have the saw handy. Just glad that we'll be able once again to get the older generation in my family up there.
    Your pictures are amazing. Love the one of Six Mile meadow with the tent.

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    1. Your kids are good with saws I hear!

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    2. Teach them skills when they are young and it will pay off later in life.

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    3. Teach them skills when they are young and it will pay off later in life.

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