Sunday, October 28, 2018

Splitting wood in the rain is just about as much fun as you can imagine

I gripped the maul and eyed the round balefully. Usually splitting wood comes pretty easily to me; I've had lots of practice. But these rounds had been sitting in the fall rain for some time, and were spongy and unyielding. No need to lift weights today, I thought.

To top it off, a torrential rain beat down on my head. And it was my own fault.

I had split a few rounds here and there during the summer, but on sunny, warm weekends, who wanted to do chores? Not me. Putting it off until nearly November meant that the snow was soon to fall (in fact, some was forecasted the following week). I had no choice.

People sometimes look at my many hiking adventures and express admiration that I can get out so much with a full-time job. What they don't see is that I make choices, and one of them can be neglecting chores. I choose not to have a spotless house, for example. And I end up doing the needed chores at times that aren't quite optimum. Unlike my neighbors T&T, I don't have nicely sorted by size pieces of wood stacked and ready to go by the end of the summer. In fact, I can be sometimes found chopping kindling at dawn during a snowstorm. Sorry, late sleeping neighbors!

Humblebrag, I split all of the wood in this photo.

So this weekend wasn't one of beautiful trail runs or hikes. Instead it was..chores. On Saturday I joined a work party to do maintenance at the backcountry ski hut. It wasn't really my idea of a good time to chop MORE wood, and I'm not even a backcountry skier, but the company was good, and we heard wolves howling in close proximity, so that was cool.

I feel like if you use the trails or the amenities, you should give back to them. If you can't physically do trail work, you can donate money to trail maintenance organizations. I've heard people say that our taxes should pay for clear trails. Well, they should. But they don't. I won't go into the tiny budgets for trails that agencies get.

So to sum it  up, into every life a few chores must fall. And I'd write more, but the wood is calling.

Happy hut maintainers

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The last trip to the lake (for now)

Well, as it turns out, hiking 17, 27, 12, 28 and 26 miles in a row when you haven't been doing that on the regular makes you pretty tired for a few days afterward. I took two full days off from exercise, feeling a little slothful, but reminding myself that I had essentially backpacked a marathon three days in one week.

But the warm October weather drew me out. When my friend R suggested a hike, I selfishly suggested a flatter one. We hiked ten miles on the Hurricane Creek trail, which is not epic. I tend to avoid it in the summer, because it is where everybody goes. Close to town, relatively flat, and beautiful, what's not to love? But in October, the people are fewer. You can even go for a trail run without passing a horde of people. You can let your dogs run free without disapproving looks (there's no leash law here,  but some people don't like dogs).

The larches have turned the color of sunlight. Golden aspen leaves litter the trail. It was easy walking. We paused at the five mile turn around, eyeing the sign to Echo Lake. Only another three miles! So tempting. But I knew that it wasn't in the cards. Darkness falls early this time of year. And the trail is steep and rocky, not something I was up for. Next time, we agreed, knowing it would be many months before we would be back.

I decided to go for a longer hike this weekend, the 16 mile round trip to Ice Lake and back. As I started to hike, I wasn't really feeling it. My legs felt like they weighed a million pounds, and I huffed and puffed up inclines that I usually spring up.

I'd just go until the snowline, I thought. I had been told there was a foot of snow up high. But when I got to the snowline, I couldn't stop. It turned out it only took me about ten minutes longer than it usually does to get to the lake. And it was worth it.

The winters are so long here. It's mid-October, and I won't be seeing Ice Lake again until at least the end of May. It's not a place to venture in winter--the threat of avalanches is too high. I felt a little sad, saying so long to the lake for several months.

But, I was happy I had pushed through the malaise. I'm never sure if it's just laziness or something else that makes it hard some days. Erring on the side of laziness, I typically force myself to push through.

A few intrepid backpackers were heading in as I headed down. Since all the campsites were covered in snow, it looked like a cold night for them. But just like me, they were seizing probably the last warm weekend (I'm not so sure about hiking in jeans in the snow though. Please don't do this).

Maybe it's good that the trails close down in winter. I don't want to only have one hobby. Soon the snowshoes and skis will come out of hibernation. Even the ice skates could reappear. I'm planning my final PCT sections for this spring. It's time to let the mountains sleep.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Ashland to Crater Lake: Section Elusive completed!

I stood shivering at the intersection. The rain showed no signs of stopping. The trail from here on climbed two thousand feet, where it would likely be snowing. To my left, salvation in the form of Fish Lake Resort. To my right, the claim to be tough and continue.

 Oh the heck with it. I turned off to Fish Lake. Even though it was a holiday weekend, the weather was miserable. The dining room wasn't all that warm either, and the guy at the cash register didn't seem too excited about me spreading out dripping gear in there. But. There were two types of cabins available, the rustic one with cold running water and no heat, and the luxury one with heat. Of course I picked the one with heat, laying out all of my wet gear and watching it dry with satisfaction.

I love you, Fish Lake Resort, and you saved me. But, I had to turn on the oven to get it remotely warm in the cabin. About your heat...I think you need to turn it up.

I had been 90% sure I was going to quit. If it wasn't fun, why would I keep doing it? But when I texted my enabler, Beekeeper, for the weather, it looked like I had a window. Cold days, but clear. It was only 54 miles to the end. It looked possible.

The next morning dawned cold and clear. I headed out, meeting a few southbounders along the way. All of them were thru hikers who had had to skip this section because of smoke or because they had flipped up to Canada to make sure they stayed ahead of the snow. All of them agreed: the last two days had been awful.

There's lakes down there.

The trail climbed steeply to a high point where the wind whipped mercilessly. Below me I could see a myriad of lakes: the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Sadly, the PCT stays high on a waterless ridge, missing the lakes entirely. At 27 miles, I was ready to camp, but the wind precluded that possibility. Gritting my teeth, I ground out another two miles to an exposed but windless viewpoint. Diving into my tent, I shivered for hours under my sleeping bag until I finally warmed up. It was too late to be out here, I realized.

view from campsite
The next day I awoke to....rain. No! Looking at the map, I realized that if I pulled off another long day, 26 miles, I could make it to Crater Lake and be done, versus another night in a wet tent. I'm not usually one to cut a trip short, but I was over the cold weather and wet gear. It was time to call it.

The trail stayed mercifully flattish, coming through the Blanket Fire of 2017. I had been on this fire, though I had been stuck at the helibase and didn't comprehend the devastation. Hardly anything had come back in the intervening year. The misty rain continued as if it would never stop.

Spooky fire landscape
There is a Rim alternate trail that nearly every hiker takes. Why stay in the creepy woods when you can hike along the caldera? Unfortunately, the last mile I had to hike, reaching Rim Village, was straight up. I may have whimpered a bit as I crept upwards. After all, this was mile 26, after a 28 mile day yesterday. Turns out, maybe you should train a bit before you do that. And I don't mean just random trail running or occasional 16 mile hikes.

However, not even the chilly wind and rain could dampen my enthusiasm as I stood on the rim, surrounded by a few hardy tourists. I had done it, finished the Oregon portion of the PCT! In many ways, this was the most mentally challenging section so far, save the snowy bail-out in the Sierra Pelona last year. When I thought about it, safe and warm at my friends' house in Bend, I realized it was because of the trail being empty. There are some trails that I want to be empty, but part of what I like about the PCT is talking with other hikers, knowing they are experiencing the same conditions, knowing they are in love with the trail also. Hiking the PCT off season isn't for me; I like people too much (at least, this kind of people).

Plus, there's too much pushing daylight. It got dark at 6;45 and didn't get light again for twelve hours. I'm not a fan of night hiking--what's the point? I want to see where I am hiking, and there are too many potential predators out then. Twelve hours in a small tent is a long, long time.
Brief view.
It was with great satisfaction that I drove away from Section Elusive. It would have been easy to quit, and I almost had. Why I keep pursuing this PCT thing is sometimes beyond me. But now--with less than three hundred miles to go--I am going to see it through.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Ashland to Crater Lake: in which I reach a new low

The first hiker I had seen in two days was quitting. "I'm done!" he said, standing on Indian Memorial Highway. A pretty woman leaned out of the car, waiting to pick him up. We stood in the torrential rain, darkness closing in. "Do you need anything?" he asked.

I contemplated this. I was soaked, my feet freezing. I had already hiked 25 miles, and I was pushing to make two more to reach a three-sided backcountry shelter so that I didn't have to set up my tent in the rain. It was tempting to get in their car, be whisked away to a town, and quit this foolish late season endeavor for good. What was I doing out here? The trail was virtually empty. The hiker had told me it was snowing above us. I had read enough missing hiker stories to know this wasn't a great situation.

But still. This was my window. This section, which some of us had named Section Elusive, was nearly always on fire, choked with smoke, in snow, or filled with vicious mosquitoes. If I didn't hike this one hundred miles now, it felt like I never would.

I forced a smile. "I'm good." I watched the car drive away. Had I made a huge mistake, I wondered as I dashed through spooky woods to reach the shelter. Inside, I gratefully rolled out my sleeping bag and clicked on my headlamp to reveal a large rat eyeing me hopefully. But in the contest between hypothermia and a rat, the rat won out.

The section had started out the day before in warm weather, passing near Ashland through tawny grasses and views of Pilot Rock. My only pause was when I happened upon a dead deer in the trail. No apparent wounds showed a cause of death, but I spotted mountain lion tracks further up the trail. Glad now that I had brought my heavy can of pepper spray, I hurried on. Making 17 miles before dark, I hastily threw up my tent and crawled in. Twelve hours of darkness awaited.

Nice tawny fall scene
The next day the rain began. At first it was just a light mist, and I happily whipped out my trekking umbrella. I hadn't used it before, not sold on it, and it became apparent that the lashing mechanism I had hoped would tie it securely to the pack wasn't going to work. I sighed, collapsing my poles and holding the umbrella with one hand. At first I congratulated myself for bringing this nine ounce item. I didn't even have to wear rain gear! But reality set in. Umbrellas are great in light rain but in heavy downpour what is sticking out--arms and legs--are going to get wet. Just a little less wet.

Pilot Rock

Sharing a shelter with a rat was a new low, but it turned out to be the right move. It was still raining heavily the next morning, and I thought about just staying there, waiting it out. But there was no guarantee the rain would stop. It had been forecasted to last only one day, but obviously someone had gotten it wrong. With a sigh I shoved my feet into wet shoes and headed out.

Someone left this book with many pages of a continuing story. Hikers had added to it as the summer went on.

These were the absolute worst conditions for hypothermia: forty degrees, a wind, and rain. I sloshed along in misery. Why was I doing this? What drives me to complete this darn trail? After ten miles I came to an intersection. Two miles downhill lay potential salvation--Fish Lake Resort. Ahead lay more miles of rain-soaked trail, the trail now a river, deep, deep puddles. Which would I choose? And if I did go to Fish Lake, would I quit right there? I thought about it. Maybe this section Elusive wasn't meant to be hiked. I could quit gracefully and just go home. I stood there for a minute, deciding.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

the spine of the imnaha divide

I dragged myself toward Dollar Lake. I had hiked many more miles than I had planned, the result of not taking a map seriously when it looked like a long climb. Water had been scarce and the side trails unmarked. When I had approached my originally determined camp spot, the lovely and remote Jewett Lake, I had that feeling.

Dog above Jewett Lake
You know the one. Or, maybe you don't. There are some people who can just plop down anywhere without a care. Unfortunately, I am not one of those. As much as I love Jewett Lake, it just didn't feel "right". I can't explain why, but Ruby looked at me with a puzzled expression as we retraced our steps back to the trail. Dollar Lake it would be, another hour and a pass away.

I had already climbed up the North Imnaha Divide, not seeing another soul as the trail wrapped around magnificent tawny and gold vistas, the North Fork Imnaha River glinting far below. This part of the mountain range sees few visitors. It feels ancient and wild. I passed a small wildfire, smoldering in some trees, and stopped to call it in. A small spring, the only water for miles, glittered across the endless flat. It is a magical place.

Tenderfoot Pass, not a soul in sight
But I had miles to go. At Dollar Lake, a couple, the only people I saw for two days, regaled me with their weeklong adventure. They had been places few tourists go, the best kind of people to talk to. Although, they asked me if I were retired. Granted, I probably looked like I had been on a rough journey, but did I really look like I was retirement age? Retreating, I set up my tent on the sandy beach rimming the lake. A stiff breeze buffeted the tent--a major backpacking fail. I had pitched my tent in the only windy place in the whole area. Too lazy to move, I huddled in my backpacking quilt and waited for morning.

Dog on horizon

Dog in water
As I hiked down Dollar Pass and toward Bonny Lake in the early morning, elk bugles split the air. Bonny Lakes themselves were much more gorgeous than they ever are in the middle of summer. In summer, you are plagued with mosquitoes and swampland, but now it was an autumn paradise. It was hard to leave, but as usual I had places to go, things to do. You need to leave a place while you still love it, so I moved on, only to discover a herd of illegal cows munching their way through the wilderness. Herding them along, I made quick time.
Bonny Lakes, why do you make it so hard to leave?
There's places you go when you need wide open spaces. This place is one of those. Luckily, the lack of water and of alpine lakes (these are mainly ponds) will keep most people out. They'll never know what they are missing.