Thursday, February 21, 2019

Going in to Elk Lake the hard way

Was it cheating to have the snowcat take our overnight gear and food in to Elk Lake, if we skied in the eleven miles?  Having nothing to prove by skiing in burdened down with that stuff, we decided it wasn't. I've done the sled ski before, and if I didn't have to, I wasn't going to.  Free of our food and clothing, we set off on the closed road with only day packs.

We lucked out with the weather. The mountains were out, and we could take breaks in the warm sun.
In summer, you can drive to this resort. Or you can hike near it on the PCT, and take a steep side trail down if you want a $5 shower. But in winter, your options are snowmobile, fat bike, or skis. Of course, there is the snowcat option. You can ride in with them if you want to pay.

We didn't, though, so we set out on our cross-country skis, accompanied by a horde of snowmobiles. Turns out, this is a popular snowmobile route, and it can be annoying to share the trail with them. But once we accepted that we were going to see them, we could settle down and enjoy the ski in.

After a few hours we arrived at our cabin. There's a range of places to stay, from luxurious houses to camping cabins, with heat but no water. Ours was smothered in snow and the porch was boarded up with plywood. It appears that this part of Oregon is having a banner snow year.

Once I was at Elk Lake, I didn't want to leave. Couldn't I just stay there all winter? Maybe I could just go get my laptop and an air card and work there. It was so peaceful. In fact, it sort of felt like a snow cave:

My bedroom window "view"
We spent the next day skiing around the lake and exploring the nearby campgrounds. A layover day was highly worth it.

The campground is full all right...of snow.

Nobody's going to be using this outhouse for a while.
 Unfortunately, we couldn't stay in this paradise forever. It was time to go. We had come down 1500 feet in elevation and now had to climb out. The resort had ominously noted this, saying, "are you sure you want to ski out?" Yes, we were sure.

The ski out was much more brutal, with temperatures in the teens. My goal: to beat the snowcat. I succeeded. Then I faced a long drive home, fueled by the anxiety of a winter storm which closed the interstate after I passed through. But even with that, it was well worth the trip. I've been pretty much holed up at home most of the winter, and we've been pretty isolated, with the highways often closed. It was good to have a small escape.

Friday, February 15, 2019

My friends don't want to go back to the Grand Canyon.

I emailed my Grand Canyon friends in a flurry of optimism. "I have a big hiker credit, let's go to the Gems!" For those who aren't aware, the Gems are a series of canyons along the lesser-trod part of the Tonto Plateau, named after, well, gems--Slate, Turquoise, Ruby. Few people travel there, because access is difficult, involving a rough road that is impassible in wet weather to the South Bass trailhead, and then traversing, as the NPS direly warns, "30 waterless miles." (There MAY be water, but since reports are few and trickles scarce, it's best to be prepared). Another way you can go is to get down the Hermit or Boucher trails and go part way in and come back out. Neither is a great option, because you can't see much of it once you've spent the time getting down the Hermit, and in the first option you really want someone to shuttle you to South Bass rather than take that road twice. Complicated!

My Grand Canyon friends are the ones whom I met on a winter trip in the canyon, and we've been there several times since. This is really the only time I see them, and we get each other. Sometimes, one of us wants to walk alone, and that is okay. Other times, we walk together. It is a good partnership.

A few of the original "family". Some did not stick, and went on to do other things. This was in December!

The responses came back. "I can't go then." "I want to go somewhere else." And, "I like the canyon, but there's a lot of other places to see."

I get it, I do. There are so many places in the world to go. I don't know why I don't feel as enthused as they do about it. There are definitely places I want to see, but I can't get too excited about overseas travel, and in summer I get to see a lot of places through work and personal travel. I don't feel compelled to go everywhere. Is that bad? When I worked for the Park Service, I wanted to work at a new place every six months. I could hardly wait to explore some other park. Now, I feel sort of "meh" about undertaking lots of travel. I'm not sure why. Maybe the logistics and planning for my multi-year PCT hikes takes too much out of me and I don't want to deal with shuttles, airplanes, and other things you must deal with in travel.

Freezing at Plateau Point, but in good company

Also, there's just something about the Canyon. It's my place. I can't describe why.  I just feel at peace there. It is getting harder to like in places--the corridor trails are just too packed anymore for me to like them. But if you try hard enough, you can find isolated pockets. You can stare at the river, at the geologic layers of time, and feel absorbed into the silence and the march of time. At least I can.

So, I have other potential canyon goers on deck, since my canyon family no longer wants to go.  It's sad! But we all move on.

is there a place you keep going back to and can't seem to quit (besides where you live)?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Conquering the Hill of Impossibility

 I sat in the pub, watching the snow pile up. We were well on our way to a foot and a half from one storm. A couple looked outside and groaned. "We were having a good day until THIS started," they said. Why you would live in a snowy place if you hate it, I wondered.

The rest of us were busy making plans. I had one goal in mind: to ski down Hays Maze in cross country gear! As you may recall, I failed miserably a few weeks ago, resorting to walking with skis.  Though I am not really a "goal" person, I was determined for redemption.

"Just take the T bar up," J said. Though it was a Monday, it was a mandatory powder day (the lift runs, and people chip in for the diesel). I stared in horror at the T bar. I had seen people fall off it at a high speed, and others grab and miss. One hard thing in a day was enough. I hadn't brought skins, and the long way around to the top would take until dark.

The snocat hove into view and our eyes lit up. We would bum a ride to the top. Luckily Willie was in the mood for company, so I hopped in for a unique, plodding ride to the top. Being in the cat reminded me of driving swamp buggies back in the day. We swayed and tipped our way to the top, but Willie said we wouldn't tip all the way over. I chose to believe.

At the top, two skiers appeared, having skinned their way up. I felt lazy as I put on my skis, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. I stared down the easiest run on the ski hill. It looked pretty hard to me, but if I stayed off the groomed part, I thought I could make it. And I did, only falling three times into soft, fluffy snow.

Though skiing down the Hill of Impossibility had been conquered, I don't think I'll become a downhill skier anytime soon. Lifts and skinning up just to ski down aren't what I like. Instead I enjoy the meditative slog through flocked trees. Yes, I am strange.

 I have felt a twinge of guilt this week for only skiing. I haven't darkened the gym door in a while. I haven't done a pullup. Crunches, what are those? And I only ran once. But it's hard to waste this good snow.  The trails are deep and silent. I don't know where everyone else is, but they are missing out.

As I type this, another storm is blowing in, with dire warnings of impossible driving and major snowfall. Much of the west is getting hammered, and the PCT in the Sierra in June, my last trip, is up for question.

If it snows enough, I may tackle the Hill of Possibility again. Or, I may just go back to my slogging ski trails.

 Either way, winter is just getting started.  We stared with anticipation at the lake while on a mid-day ski. It is trying to freeze over. This has only happened twice in the ten years I've lived here. There's always hope that it can happen again.

So what should I do today? Run? Go to the gym? Nope. It's a ski day today.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

leaving no trace

Over the years I often dreamed of finding a small cabin in the woods, far removed from humanity, and moving in. A few things have kept me from doing this, for one, the knowledge that I would in short order turn unkempt and socially awkward without a small amount of human interaction. But the dream still remains.

Once I stumbled upon the house of someone who had done just that.. Perched near the restless coast, it was only accessible by foot or a dangerous boat ride. It was a treehouse built in an Alaskan wilderness, a truly magical spot despite the fact that if everyone just plopped down on public land and did this, the place would be ruined (And all the stumps really bothered me). Later I learned who had done this. It was a man whose goal was to stay in the wilderness for a year. He had brought skis for winter and lifted in a wood stove for heat. Because you can't live on beach asparagus alone, he must have been resupplied, which didn't seem fair. After he left, the cabin was a secret guarded carefully from the Forest Service, which would burn it down. Even though I worked for them, I couldn't bring myself to tell. As far as I know it's still there.

Could you burn this down? I don't think so.

The headland as viewed from the treehouse.
I was reminded of this place when I recently watched the movie Leave No Trace. It is the fictionalized account of a father and daughter found living in Forest Park in Portland. They had been there for four years, and only some off-trail runners detected them. Well-meaning authorities relocated the pair to a horse farm, where they were given housing. But only a short while after going there, they vanished. Nobody knows where they are today.

The movie is beautiful and haunting. I highly recommend it. Ever since, I've been seized with a desire to know where the girl is. She would be 26 now. Did she keep living in the woods, or did she trade it in for the life that most of us are content to live now? I wonder about this.

We probably all have kind of crazy dreams we won't ever pursue, for all sorts of rational reasons. What are yours?