Sunday, April 11, 2010

Confessions of a Wilderness Klutz

It’s true. I’ve slapped my face with branches, had to replace a tooth, nearly been swept away by a fast moving stream and now this.

You get to the Wenaha River Trail by driving (quickly) through the ghost town of Flora, with some big creepy abandoned buildings and then spiraling down through many gravelly switchbacks to Troy, a small village nestled in the canyon. This first photo is Troy from above.

The trail happily dips up and down, sometimes kissing the river, other times high above.

I decided to do a shakedown trip of my new backpack (an Osprey) and to get out of town and down a few thousand feet to spring. It was a good choice; the flowers are in full bloom along the trail—arrowleaf balsamroot, pale white lilies, shooting stars and deep purple violets. While it’s obvious this would be a searing hot place in July, in April it was just about perfect.

Some people I knew had been there the week before and had camped at the four mile mark. That wasn’t a very long day so even though their campsite was enticing, located on a point right next to the river, I pushed on to a trail junction, about six miles up. This place had possibilities so I hung out for a little while, gauging the desirability for an evening campsite. Some factors go into this: nice trees? River view? Decomposed elk heads? Bear poop? And the unexplainable: does it feel right?

Then I spotted a small tent set up in the ponderosas. This could go one of many ways. The inhabitant could be weird. Or want privacy. Since I didn’t see anyone and couldn’t decide either way, I elected to head another four miles down the river trail to a place I had read about called Fairview Bar.

I must digress here. On a river, I have learned, any flat area of land, whether it be composed of sand, cobbles or forest, is called a bar. On the ocean we called these beaches. Which could also be misleading, as the commercial fishermen would tell us that their wives weren’t along on the boat with them—they were “staying on the beach”, meaning they had stayed home. Confusing!

Onward I trudged, bypassing a marginal campsite near the Hoodoo Trail junction, continuing with PODs—pointless ups and downs—that were beautiful but tiring. Finally I arrived at the bar, to find it to be a nice open scattered ponderosa forest. This would do . (Although I did find a decomposed elk head, and, in the morning, bear poop, old though.)

The next morning I awoke to find heavy frost on my tent. Any move inside made it snow, with icy droplets soaking my clothes and the sleeping bag. As usual, I vowed to myself to stay in the tent until the sun hit it, and as usual I got up before it did.

So here’s the klutzy part. I hiked the four miles back to the junctions (the tent was gone) and attempted to unfreeze my water bladder. In the process of doing so I accidently sprayed myself with pepper spray! The circumstances are too much to go into here, but in case you have ever wondered or been tempted to do this, my advice would be to avoid it. Luckily, I sprayed my leg only. But in case you are still tempted, let me relate what it feels like.

Burning pain! For hours! If you are lucky enough to have a water source, you can dive in and provide temporary relief. But it doesn’t last long. In the meantime you are forced to hike past smiling floppy-hatted birdwatchers who take their sweet time getting out of the trail.

This is perhaps the time when someone would pipe up to say that you should never hike solo. However, I feel fortunate that I didn’t have a hapless companion. Sometimes having someone along is license to flap your hands in the air and whine, expecting them to take control of the situation. I like figuring things out myself, and I knew the pain would go away. It was just pepper spray! But note to self: Never wonder if pepper spray will stop a bear. It will!

At least the pain distracted me from the even more painful realization that my backpack is sadly not all that comfortable. Adjustments are in order.

It was still a good hike, though.


  1. You're amazing...and loved the photos. Glad pepper spray was pointed toward a leg and not a face. Did that once on a bike -- don't try to spray a menacing dog with the wind in your face. Beautiful place....good problem-solver wilderness gal

  2. Ouch! Like the previous commenter said, thank god it wasn't pointed at your face!

  3. I will remember this if you ever take me hiking. Maybe I'll ask you to leave the pepper spray home.


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