Friday, July 23, 2021

Time on my hands on Hurricane Creek

 Most days, I have no time. I wake up ready to bolt. That is because I go to work very early in an often misguided attempt to get off work early (this rarely happens). I always have "things I need to do" running through my head. 

I don't write this to invoke pity; it is a combination of life choices and reality. I am sure many others feel the same. Where it becomes challenging is when I get a chance to camp, and it is hard to stay still.

I am sure we have all camped with them--the annoying types who can't just relax. They pace, they whine about being bored, they aren't self-entertaining. I strive not to be that person. 

Spruce and I arrived at the old miner's cabins at one in the afternoon. We had hiked nine miles, not far, but I had to be out early the next day (work, again) so I didn't want to go further. Back when I was section hiking the PCT, one in the afternoon was only half my day. Flash and I often passed incredible camping sites, saying wistfully that was too early to stop. That is the life if you need to put in big miles, which we did (work, once more). Even though it has been two summers since I did any long distance hiking, I still have that mindset.

But. It was another hot day, the trail sizzling. I set up my tent, thinking we could always move later. I poked around the old cabins. I know little of their history, except that copper mining used to occur in these mountains. Who were these people and what were their lives like, perched on a meadow far from town? I don't know.

Then I walked to the water. A waterfall and a perfect swimming hole presented themselves. Could I really just lounge here all day? Yes, yes I could.

For the rest of the day, we swam, poked around, climbed to a waterfall, and read (I did, Spruce napped). And it was amazing. I look forward to the day when I can do this more.






Friday, July 16, 2021

HYDH at Dollar Lake

This content was originally published on http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com. If you are reading it somewhere else, it is stolen content. Don't give them any clicks.

 If you are a long distance hiker, you have undoubtedly heard the term, "hike your own hike", or HYOH. It's a good sentiment, originally meaning, hike the way you want to, and don't let others tell you there is only one way to do a long hike. It's become more of a snarky comment now, as in, well, I wouldn't do it that way, but HYOH. There's also another rule to live by, HYDH--hike your dog's hike.

When Ruby started to whine and lift up her paws, I knew I had to do something quickly. The hot sand was burning her. Typically we don't have to worry about that here; when I lived in Central Oregon I often saw people grimly carrying their dogs, due to the high temperatures and red volcanic soil. But this summer is different than any other. We have been blasted with heat for weeks. It's easy to ignore if you can just go jump in the lake whenever you want, but sitting in front of a computer in a sweltering house has been extra fun. And wearing tank tops on conference calls is frowned upon.

It was time to get to a higher elevation. It was Sunday, but only two cars were in the parking lot. This was truly amazing and has mirrored some of my anecdotal observations so far this summer--there are less people in the backcountry than last year (when people were supposed to be staying at home). This may change, but so far it is encouraging. I don't say this to limit people but because the impacts from the crowds last year were discouraging. Like, poop right next to a campsite? Really?

The hike started off fine. It felt hot, but not overly so. I felt the tread in the trail--warm, but not burning. Although I had intended my destination to be Bonny Lakes, at four miles, I wasn't satisfied when I got there. Bonny is already getting swampy, pretty early on in the summer. I encountered a couple I knew who had spent the night there. "The mosquitoes were terrible," they reported. No surprise--Bonny is one of the buggiest places around. It was still early, so we had Dollar Lake in our sights.

Bonny Lakes (one of two)

Dollar sits off trail on top of a pass, and is in one of the most incredible settings you can imagine. I never fail to be impressed, even though I've been here many times. Impossibly, nobody was around, so I went swimming. The water was perfect and I regretted not bringing a tent. Day hiking just doesn't cut it sometimes.


We beat feet down the trail, but partway down Ruby started showing signs of distress. No problem--we would just cut through the grass until we got down to the shaded part of the trail. Everything seemed like it was going to be all right until the last mile, which is exposed and treeless. Ruby whined, but I couldn't carry her. We were going to have to run.

We ran as fast as we could, hoping that the limited exposure to the hot trail wouldn't burn Ruby's paws. I pondered: would we have to sit and wait until sundown? Could I possibly put the dog in my day pack? But mercifully we gained the river without lasting damage. I felt like the worst dog parent ever. Having a dog makes you less selfish about your pursuits, but it also can curtail them. 

I know people who don't have pets (or kids, or partners) for this very reason. They want to do what they want, when they want. I sometimes envy that. I'd be doing a long section hike (maybe a month long) if I didn't have the dogs. When I hiked the PCT, I would encounter people who ambitiously brought their dog; inevitably they would have to scale back or quit entirely. The same occurred with couples hiking. Some did fine, while others had spectacular breakups. I too, have learned from HYDH and hiking with other people. There are tradeoffs. Company is nice. Having a dog makes you feel a little better about creeps and mountain lions.

Plus, they are cute.


So, HYDH. There could be variations of this: Hike your Partner's Hike, Hike your Cat's Hike (yes, there are adventure cats), Hike your Kid's Hike...But the important thing is, you are hiking.


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Friday, July 9, 2021

Bitten

 There were a lot of good reasons not to go to Mirror Lake. It's the most popular place in the wilderness, and as such, can be mobbed with hikers. The drive to get to the trailhead is composed of washboard and rocks just waiting to flatten a tire. But by far the biggest reason are the mosquitoes.

We don't have a big mosquito season. It lasts about two weeks as the snow is melting off. But when it is on, the bugs are ferocious. I have encountered angry hikers heading out early due to the incessant buzzing. And this year it was rumored to be early, on account of the dry spring we have had.

I found myself uttering those famous last words: "How bad can it be?" But what were the alternatives? This summer, I have to seize every wilderness opportunity I have available. The summer is already rocketing by, and I feel a sense of loss as we hurtle toward another winter. So I packed up and, dog in tow, hit the trail. By the way, I was carrying all of the dog's stuff. It was hot, again, and carrying a pack would make it hotter for her. (I KNOW.)

To my great surprise, there were actual spaces to park at the trailhead. I perked up as I trudged the switchbacks to higher ground. Some people coming out paused to acknowledge that the bugs were, indeed, bad. But how bad could it be? Some people's bad is not bad at all. 

I happily walked through my favorite part of the trail, where it opens up into big meadows and Eagle Cap Peak comes into view. This is such a beautiful spot that it is hard to feel as though you have any troubles. I passed a few struggling souls and came out to Mirror Lake.

My favorite camping spot was taken, but that couldn't dampen my spirits. A breeze kept the bugs away, and swimming was perfect. There's a reason everyone flocks to the Lakes Basin. I sat gnawing on my bagel, and it was then the true horror made itself known.

Mosquitoes! The breeze had stopped, and we were swarmed. Deet kept them away, just barely. I hauled out my head net and put it on the dog. She was not a fan, so I took it back. She looked miserable, so we walked. And walked. We walked to the next lake. And on the other connecting trail. And to another lake. While we were moving, the bugs couldn't get us.

All around the lake, campers had fallen silent. Sometimes this area can sound like a regular car campground, with clanging of pots and yells as people jump in the water, but not tonight. Everyone was driven into their tents early.

The next morning the bugs were waiting, since the temperatures had not dropped. I packed up quickly, anxious not to have a repeat. On the way down, I encountered hopeful backpackers claiming they were spending two nights. Probably not, I thought.

At lower elevations, the mosquitoes were mercifully absent. I found an outstanding swimming hole that I couldn't resist. When I got home the true nature of the trip revealed itself. I had been bitten so many times it looked like a rash. I definitely had met the expectations of the mosquitoes.

I would have to stay lower next time, I thought. I wasn't about to give up overnight trips just for a few bugs. They will pass, but so will summer. I packed up my bag again, determined to go back out. After all, how bad could it be?

Perfect swimming hole







Thursday, July 1, 2021

Running is easy (sometimes)

 Recently I went back to the town where I used to live. It was for a sad reason, but I managed to get out for a few runs. Hiking wasn't an option, and I wasn't crazy about venturing into an unfamiliar gym. So running it was.


Where I live, running is hard. The trails are tough: no such thing as flat or smooth. Studded with rocks and often crowded with tourists, they are not made for running, though I try it. Even the really hard core trail runners here walk a lot. I find myself choosing other forms of exercise, most of the time.

But where I grew up? There's now a plethora of trails. Some flat gravel, some flowing, all quiet. I waited for my uncertain knee to assert itself like it does at home. Strangely, my body seemed to like running again. It felt like the old days, when nothing hurt. 

I ran on some mountain bike trails that weren't here when I was young, and on some interior park trails that I recalled as being rooted and requiring navigational skills, but were now sweet pathways. If I still lived here, I'd be a runner, I thought.

It's interesting how where you live shapes what kind of athlete you become. A friend's friends are moving to Tulsa, because they get a relocation bonus. Tulsa! No backpacking there. What would I do? Run, I guess. If I lived where my inlaws do, I'd be a lake swimmer and kayaker. 

My life has even been shaped by where I've lived. In Southeast Alaska it was hard to be a hiker; no trails and too much rain. In Florida, I took to the swamp, slogging through water to explore. In Nevada, I rappelled into caves. 

Coming home in a historic heat wave, I dropped the idea of running and took to the water. The (un-airconditioned) gym was already 85 degrees at six in the morning. Blatantly disregarding the rule against a propped open door, another gym goer took a kettlebell and kept it open, letting a semi-cool breeze in. Since this rings an alarm at the owner's house, I opted out. Instead I took my first glacier lake swim, and my adventures will center around water for awhile. Running can wait.

How does where you live shape your adventures?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Time warp

As we drive into the town where I was the most lonely, I texted my friend a picture of the high school mascot sign. 

"Why, Mary, why?" he texted back. We both were there at the same time, suffering through life in a conservative town, where summers were scorching, winters freezing, and the dating pool shallow. To endure it, I used to escape to anywhere: north to backpack, west to visit friends, south to camp. I never, ever stayed home.

But my friends were riding a brutal bike race, and we were there to support them. We weren't a lot of support, basically watching them start, and then meeting them at one point to offer up Oreos and dried mangos. The race is remote and difficult, and it took them hours to complete. There was a 12 hour cut-off time. "Do you think I could do the 120 in twelve hours?" I asked J as we drove up in search of a trail to hike. He had done this race before, so he knew how hard it was, and how bad of a bike rider I am.

"Nope," he said.

"The 60?"

"Nope."

"The 30?"

"Yes."

Since bike racing isn't on my list of ambitions, every other competitor was safe.  

My friend T and I gathered up five dogs and went for a pleasant walk by the creek. We had a much better day than our suffering friends, whom we caught up with at the base of a big hill. They laughed as some of the 120 racers sped by-these people seemed like a separate species, especially as it was nearing 100 degrees. The race had drawn all kinds--the extreme athletes and the cruisers.

The next morning I went for a run past my old house. I almost didn't recognize it--had it really been so close to the neighbors'? And I had no memory of the neighbors. I must have known them, but was I gone so much that I never really did? 

I ran up into Garland Acres, most likely much slower than I used to run in 2002. Though there are new houses, the town basically looks the same. Businesses have somehow hung on, and there is still the strange lack of movement from the residents. I think of the time I lived here as the Lost Years, but they taught me resilience, independence and strength. 

As we drove through town on the way home, I noticed some changes. Yes, the Central Pastime bar was still there. The Thai restaurant where you'd better not show up hungry and also bring a deck of cards to pass the time. But there was a day spa, something that would have horrified the locals two decades ago. A couple of brewpubs. But there was also a I stand with the Hammonds sign (refer to the Bundy occupation if you are unaware) and the $39 a night motel. Some things never change.

Dear younger me, I thought. Hang in there, but don't run on so much pavement, your knees won't like you later. Don't date that firefighter, he will only move away and cause you heartbreak. Maybe stay home once in a while? Or not. Trust me on this, you will leave this place, and then you might come back, just for a visit. It will seem like twenty years went by in a blink. 



Monday, June 14, 2021

sleepless on sleepy ridge


Hikemike.com is still stealing my posts. Should I be flattered that a bot thinks they are interesting enough to steal? Well, if they steal it, I will say it: the real site is http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com and buy my books while you are at it. http://maryemerick.com.

 We pored over the Hells Canyon map. Where to go? An unknown group of trails spiraled out from the Hat Point road, all on ridges. You never know what you are going to get from Hells Canyon--typically trails have vanished, swallowed by tall grass and time. You end up guessing, and finding pieces of them. But we were game to try.

I gutsily drove to Warnock Corral, to be greeted with a "4WD road" sign. If the road I had been driving wasn't classified as a 4WD, there was no way I was going further. We ventured out onto the Western Rim National Recreation Trail, which hugs the rim of Hells Canyon. Though this is an NRT, it gets way less funding than others, and is fairly obscure. The number of people who have hiked its entire length probably is less than 100.

Though it was tempting to stay on the rim, we decided to veer off toward Sleepy Ridge. In the distance, the rim looked treed, and we debated: we didn't want to deal with inevitable blowdown and no views. We could bail if we didn't like it, we determined. You should always have a backup plan in Hells Canyon.

Elk ran off in the distance as we traversed along singletrack that I could actually ride with a bike. On foot, though, we emerged into glorious ridgewalking. After about five miles we reached a spring, and a flat place to camp. You don't take water lightly in the canyon, so we decided to seize the spot and day hike from there.

The trail contoured across the ridge, where it disappeared. We had been expecting this, so we weren't fazed. But a mystery revealed itself. My map showed no trail continuing on Sleepy Ridge, while the USGS map did. Which was right? Deciding not to flounder, we headed for Jakey Ridge, crossing Medicine Creek and climbing up. This trail was less used, with numerous blowdowns that we had to push our way through. Short on daylight, we conceded defeat and returned to our camp for a satisfying twelve miles of effort. Twelve miles is pretty good for the Canyon, even if we were on the rim and not in the depths.

I happily crawled into my new Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 tent. This is the best tent ever. I am too impatient to mess with trekking pole tents, and what if I want to take my poles for a day hike from camp? I don't really want to collapse my tent while I am gone. I want something easy and quick to set up. This tent is amazingly light and roomy and while fitting in two people could be a challenge, a furry dog is easily accommodated. I love my tent so, so much. (However, now I have at least two other tents I should probably offload.)

In the distance I heard a disquieting sound. Wind! Another thing about Hells Canyon are the strange local winds. An unpredicted gale buffeted us all night, flap flap flap. I thought uneasily about the trees above us, but it was too late to move. There's something terrifying about wind that sets me on edge. The night was long and unpleasant.

 It got light at 4 am, and we blearily crawled from our tents, sleepless. "Good thing we weren't on Windy Ridge," I said, pointing out the aptly named ridge running parallel to ours. My tent had withstood the wind, so there was that. 

Facing a day of chores, I reluctantly packed up to go. There's a lot more exploring that can be done in this place. Hopefully without wind next time. Oh, and we didn't see a soul. There's something to be said for living here.



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Snakes or Snow

 This is the summer of my discontent, when obligations keep me close to home. Nobody reads a blog to hear whining, so I will stop there, but after a Covid summer where we were so slammed with tourists that we couldn't go to the places we loved, and now this one, it's enough to drive an adventurous soul around the bend. How many summers do I have left? Hopefully many, but you never know.

So when I had half a day and part of the next one to bolt, I cast about for options. While the valley is dry (and, disturbingly, we have a 2000 acre fire going..in June!) the mountains are pretty snowbound. I didn't relish the idea of postholing through soft snow again. But where could I go? Snakes or snowere the options: Hells Canyon or the wilderness. 

Because a condition of my escape was that I had to bring a dog, I couldn't choose snakes. There's a dog vaccine for snakes, but I hadn't gotten one for them, and I didn't want to get bitten by one either. Plus, the poison ivy is in full swing. The canyon window has closed shut with a definitive bang.

Snow it was. "You can definitely get up the North Fork of Big Sheep," J said. Why I chose to believe someone who hasn't been in the mountains for months (because of his ruptured Achilles) I don't know. Perhaps I chose to believe. As such I wore trail runners, telling myself that if I found snow, I would turn around.

I remembered the North Fork as being a beautiful basin lying under the McCully ridge, and I excitedly trotted up the trail. I had to park well before the trailhead, which should have told me something about the conditions, but I convinced myself that the trail was west facing and so would be melted out. The first mile went fine, and Ruby and I began to tackle the climb into Big Sheep.

Almost immediately the trail disappeared under snow. My heart sank. But then, how bad could it be? (Asking this question nearly always leads to my downfall eventually. But still I ask.) I decided to forge onward, opening my Gaia app when I needed to. Mostly I try to navigate by knowledge; having worked on trails for a long time, I can usually feel where they should be. But when a trail dives into deep woods and snow is over six feet, it becomes more of a challenge. Nervousness began to creep in. I knew I wasn't lost, but not seeing a trail is always disconcerting.

And the snow wasn't the firm, easy kind. My feet sank deep into the snow, and I fell a few times. Still, I pressed on, gaining two thousand feet. I couldn't give up now. Surely the basin would be melted out., I thought, though I was starting to have my doubts.

After an hour of struggle I gained the basin. A solid white surface greeted me. Setting up the tent on snow would be okay, but then I would be stuck there; my feet were wet and it wasn't worth the exploration to keep postholing around. I would have to melt snow for water, which is tedious at best. I realized the phenomenon: I was tied to an outcome.

I had dreamed of sitting in sun-warmed grass, reading a book, a stream an easy stroll away. This was not the place. I would have to retreat. I should have picked snakes, I grumbled. At least I could hike a long ways without wet feet or postholing. 

The dog bounded down the mountain, always picking the trail even though it was snow-covered. Here's a tip: when you have lost the trail, follow the dog. They know where it is. She didn't care that we were retreating, that we didn't camp in the basin. Be more like the dog, I told myself.

It's hard not to be tied to outcomes when you have very little adventure time. I fumed as we backtracked, the snow already getting icy and treacherous. This trail had very little camping opportunities, and I wasn't in the mood to day hike. I spend enough time at home as it is; I wanted to be out under the sky.

My mood improved as I came to the creek. Here I was, once again a short distance from the car. But it was warm, there was water nearby to wade in, and even a bridge to stretch on. It wasn't the outcome I had wanted, but it was the outcome I got. It was a lesson I need to keep learning, and we didn't get bitten by snakes, always a bonus. I guess I'll always choose snow.