Sunday, January 27, 2019

A lot of cookies for a house

As we hiked to the Snake River confluence, we talked about how dumb it is that life revolves around work, and even if you opt out of working, you won't be able to survive without some source of income. "We should go back to bartering," I said. Although, I reflected, I don't really have useful skills to barter with, unlike my hiking partners. They could either nurse someone to health, make cool wooden things, or pack mules. What could I do? Make cookies? That's a lot of cookies I'd have to make to get a house. Or anything, really. Though, if I do say so, my cookies are pretty valuable.

The bighorns were out on the sunny side of the river.
Pondering this, we arrived at Eureka Bar. This is the earliest we have ever attempted this as a day hike (I once backpacked here in January and froze). But stalking the national weather service, we had seen it would be in the fifties down here. Green grass poked hopefully out from the dormant (we hoped) poison ivy. It felt like March, we decided.

Our dreams of lying in the sun on our secret beach were dashed however. Turns out that the angle of the sun in January doesn't even hit the Oregon side of the Snake, at least not on the beach. We hiked to a sunny point and watched the river (and a few jet boats) go by. 

It looked cold to be on the river, and we were getting cold too. Daylight was fading; it was time to go. Thus is the conundrum of day hikes. Never enough time. 

Eleven miles total hiking later we arrived back at the cars. Two of my friends are seasonals with the Park Service and had unlimited time before they started back up again, in March. They decided to head down to Dug Bar to camp. And the rest of us? Work awaited on Monday, so off we went. 

My temporary retirement is over, the longest I have ever not worked since 1988, about 33 days. It's good to be "essential" again (though they are calling it the more PC term of "excepted" this time) but I will miss all the days of unlimited possibility. Just like this reprieve to winter, it was a glimpse into how life could be. We drove back into January, and it's supposed to be cold. We are supposed to work. I guess. Until we come up with something better. Anyone want a bunch of cookies?

Confluences are magical places.
If you lived in a bartering society, what could you barter?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Snowshoeing in the Wolf Moon

What is the wind speed, maybe 30 miles per hour? I wince as ice pellets strike my face. The footing is terrible, punchy soft snow, my feet in their snowshoes propelled in strange directions feet aren't meant to go. Every so often my IT band sends up a little twinge, which worries me. It's probably inflamed from the three hours of extreme snowshoe sidehilling with a backpack from yesterday, but still, it shouldn't be hurting, why is it? I hate random pains like this.

I stumble through the snow to where J is waiting for me. On skis, he is having a much easier time of it. "I'm lucky to have a wife who is both beautiful and hardy," he says. I have to admit, I am feeling like neither. Yesterday we climbed to the backcountry ski hut, powering through deep snow, to spend the night. The climb had seemed especially difficult this time, maybe due to the snow consistency, and after reaching it we did an extra climb above it, just because.

"I can't get up, there's a dog on my feet."

That night the snow ceased and the full moon appeared. This, my Nez Perce friend had told me, was called a Wolf Moon. Why, I asked. Because, he said, the Native Americans said that wolves howled more during this time. Hoping to hear wolves, I walked out into the night, but there was no sound, just an eerie silence as fog filled the valley below.

No wolves, just dogs making beds in the snow. Do you see Ruby?

We had thought to spend another night, but the snow wasn't good for skiing, so we retreated, dropping down a thousand feet to the dreaded winter horror of rain. For some reason, there's often a January thaw, which none of us really appreciate.

We reach the truck in a soggy state. Some skiers bound for another hut, the Big Sheep, pass by. "Yippee, Big Sheep!" they exclaim in tones of dread. Skiing in the rain doesn't sound like a great idea, so we decide our small trek is enough for the day.

I stare down the foam roller. I'm not about to give up these treks, as difficult as they may be. I don't know about beautiful, but I decide to aim for hardy.

Ski hut, with "refrigerator" to the left.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chasing Spring

News flash: it's not spring. And I don't really want it to be, not yet. There's plenty of skiing and snowshoeing left to be done. It's only January! Let's not wish time away. But sometimes, a person who has been in cold temperatures since November wants to feel a touch of warmth. So, naturally, you go to the canyon.

Oh, Hells Canyon. So alluring, so inhospitable. We drove into the sun, where the temperatures were forty degrees, a heat wave. T had struck out cross country from the Hells Canyon NRA sign, off the lower Imnaha Road, several times before, and she proposed a quick warm-up hike to the Imnaha River from there. Sure, I thought, how hard can it be?
This was the easy part of the route.
As I should have known, when you ask that question, it always is harder than you think. Ill-advisedly wearing my trail running shoes, I picked my way cautiously down a steep chute, following my more sure-footed (and hiking booted) friend. A lot of it required the technical butt-slide maneuver, and I talked myself through the scree sections. Rocks tumbled with abandon, taking me with them. Some inadvertent hand placement on cactus occurred, and much skidding, but we finally emerged on a small, frosty beach.

"I think we came down a different way before," T said. No doubt! "You know, there are easier ways to get to the river," I said, notably driving to it. But there's something grand in knowing you are standing in a place where few have. 

On the way out, we began by climbing the gatekeeper cliffs above the river, but soon fear drove us from those heights--the scrambles were too death-defying. Instead we contoured around and found a deer path that took us back up to the road. Much easier! However, our "quick warm-up hike" had taken a big chunk of our day, leaving us only enough time to explore a powerline road for a couple of miles. 

Still, it's good to be flexible in the outdoors. We stripped down to one layer, unfathomable in January. That's why I love the canyon. I always emerge a little beaten up, but the canyon slowly unfolds its secrets for those who try hard enough.

This was our route out. See the river down there?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Temporary Retirement Chronicles

We arrived at the parking lot to find a huge amount of no snow--and no people. Where was everybody? The snow was perfect! Then I remembered--it's Monday!

This is a parking lot.
Though it's no fun being told that your job and salary are on hold for a higher purpose, this furlough has been eye-opening for me. I have never had this much time off at once. Even as a seasonal worker, I didn't collect unemployment like most of my peers. Instead, I moved across the country to get a winter seasonal job. I've never cashed an unemployment check--mostly because I felt an obligation to work if work was to be had. (There's almost always work.) My co-workers would return with glorious tales of skiing in Peru, hiking in Australia (Wait. I did take the winter of 1988 off to go hike in Australia. I didn't get unemployment though.).

So even though there are financial worries from not getting a paycheck, I get it now. The far off galaxy called retirement is going to be great! I just need to get myself there in one piece.

Which might not be as easy as it sounds. L and I went skiing again, and it was only partway up the climb that she casually mentioned that we would be returning via the downhill ski area. "I don't think I can do that," I sniveled. Going down a run on cross country skis? "You can," she assured me. As it turns out, no, no I couldn't. After terrified snowplowing, rocketing down the slope at great risk to the dogs ahead of me, and finally giving up and carrying my skis down a ways, that is one I can check off the list of Never Again. (L hasn't called me to go skiing again. I wonder why.)

There's the Seven Devils, over in Idaho
Another day I snowshoed up to the backcountry ski hut with some skiers. As the only snowshoer, I was able to keep up with the skiers on the ascent, but the descent was something else entirely. I left earlier than they did, taking the more exposed summer trail. Fifty mile an hour winds threatened to knock me over and had erased our earlier tracks. I staggered down the trail, thinking how this would not be the idea of fun to most.
Skiers getting ready to take on the Hill of Death.
The snow has been so deep that if you only ski on weekends, you can't keep up with making the track (we are at 93% of normal for snow). I headed up the Devils View trail hot on the heels of a snowshoer. I came upon him at the top, giving up and turning around. I was on my own, pushing snow with my skis.

There's skis under there somewhere.
So while I would rather not be dipping into my savings to pay the mortgage, I get why some of my fearless friends have decided to play now, maybe work later. It's strange to step out of the accepted routine--work, work, work--for just a little bit. I have kept myself on a work routine, sort of, by working my second job--writing my next book and promoting the older ones. But freedom, my friends? It's intoxicating.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Skiing to the Floor

I'm not a NYE resolution believer. I don't need a 52 hike challenge, or any other goal, to get me outdoors. In fact, the last time I made up a challenge (to sleep outside for 50 nights, having hiked to get to that place) it became more of a chore to complete than something fun. Getting exercise for me is more of a necessity; I don't need to have it as a goal. (That being said, I do hope to finish the PCT this year.)

So I started 2019 just as I began 2018, spending the day outside. Last year I was finishing a hike in the Grand Canyon. I didn't go this year, but my friends reported hiking out a day early--travesty! The snow is so good here that all of us are thrown into a sort of winter mania. I've been snowshoeing and skiing so much, with friends I never get to go with because I am always working, that I feel really tired and in need of rest. It is a good problem to have.

Freshly groomed Canal road-good for fast skiing

One day L and I skied out her back door and way up to the sky, breaking trail as we went. On the way, she talked about a place called the Floor, where someone had begun work on a cabin far, far up a road in the woods. They got as far as the floor and never came back.

Beautiful deep snow
To a writer this is intriguing. Nobody seemed to know the story, why someone would choose such an isolated spot, a place nearly impossible to get to in winter, supremely quiet and remote, off the grid, a place to hole up. I had to get to the Floor!

"It's pretty far up there," L said. We stared at the deep snow around us. It was hard work pushing through, and it would be quite the snowplow on our skinny skis to get back down. I was prepared to turn around in disappointment, but we pushed on. And then there we were, at the Floor. If only it could talk.

Since it had been built, trees had grown up, blocking much of the view of the valley. But still. I imagined someone discovering this place, picturing their cabin. It would be a retreat; nobody would ever bother you up there.

Where were those people today and what became of their dream?  Most locals I asked know where the Floor is, but all they know was that it was built twenty to thirty years ago and the owners never returned. "There's other foundations up there too," Joe says, remnants of dreams.

Fascinating. I wish I knew what happened.
The Floor