Sunday, July 26, 2020

Adventures in Paddleboarding

When this whole pandemic started, I could see the writing on the wall. All work travel shut down (and is still shut down). While other people seem perfectly okay with flying to vacation, or taking long road trips, it doesn't feel respectful of the small towns to me. So I knew I would be staying here, for a good long time.

It seemed like a good time to learn something new, so I bought a paddle board. So far, I've been out on it three times. Trip #1 went like this: Slink down to the lake. Crap! Lots of onlookers, even at 7 pm. Also, a stiff breeze. I reluctantly inflated my board, because I was there, so had to try. Standing up seemed impossible, especially with an audience. I stayed on my knees, stroking pretty far out. This was fun. I spied someone else standing up. It looked and felt impossible. Coming back to shore, I tried to stand. That was a big nope. I slunk away in defeat, tempted to chuck the whole thing. But I had spent money on the board, so I had to use it.

The view is nice--when I'm not too scared to look past my feet.
For my next attempt, I decided to head for Kinney Lake. A reservoir owned by a ranch, it is frequented only by locals, mostly fishermen. Because there's no outlet, it stays warm, unlike the big lake, where a fall in could be disaster. Nervously, I launched my board.

Standing up at first is the hardest part, but after a bit I was able to stop wobbling and perform some semblance of a stroke. I was doing it! Happily, I circumnavigated the lake twice, scaring geese as I went. I knew a wave or a boat wake would be my undoing, but fortunately neither appeared.

Here goes nothing....
Trip number three was also at Kinney, though disappointingly the lake is getting silty. This time, an ambitious breeze ruffled the lake. I had to stroke harder to make a turn, and the waves under the board were disconcerting. But I was getting better, I thought. Maybe it was time to head for the big lake.

Not today, though. People who apparently have never heard of a pandemic crowded its shores, cars lined up farther than I've ever seen them. It was party central. I'll have to get up early and go down when there are just fishermen. Fishermen don't care. "You should drag a fishing line with your board," Todd says. Um...Nope! I'm not that good yet.

I don't know how people ever do yoga on paddle boards, or use them on rivers. (I've tried on a river once, and was able to stand up, but not going through riffles. No, just no.) But despite moments of terror, the paddle boarding is going well. I think.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

In which a man packing a baby is braver than I am

I nervously kicked steps into the angled snowfield. I could see Tombstone Lake, 1.7 miles and about 700 feet below me. I had already put a lot of effort in to reach this place, leaving my last campsite and descending 1400 feet, then climbing back up another 2000 feet to this pass. All that stood in my way were these darn sketchy snowfields.

The trip had started out easy enough. It was only about six miles to Echo Lake, where I dumped my camp stuff and headed up to the next lake, Traverse. "It's three quarters snow covered," a woman on her way out had warned me, but she couldn't say whether the lake or the entire area was covered. I chose to camp at Echo based on this information, but even though a skim of ice lay over Traverse, it was by far the most beautiful choice.

Traverse Lake!

Echo wasn't bad though. Nobody was there, because I had chosen to go on a Thursday. Working a lot of hours that week, I escaped my computer before I could fire off any snarky emails. The hike to Echo was steep and boasted forty switchbacks, but it was warm enough for a swim.

Echo Lake!

The next morning I headed to Tombstone. There has to be a way to stay on the same elevation contour and not descent and ascend again, but I didn't feel like trying to find it, so I took the trail. As I climbed to 8000 feet, some snow appeared, but the fall line was gentle, and I had it handled.

Or so I thought. The issues began as I dropped over the pass. Snow lay in big humps over the trail, meaning that I had to inch along at an uncomfortable angle. Looking down, I could see the disaster a slide would be. And I had Ruby with me; if I fell  and died, what would happen to her? Would she just loyally sit there? Even if I made it through all of the snow, would it be icy in the morning? I couldn't risk it.

Those darn snowfields,and these aren't even the steep ones.

Stomping  back to the pass, I tested my disappointment. Was I mad? I was surprised to find, not really. I felt as though I had made the right choice. Maybe if I had been with other people, I would have continued, but maybe not. I find myself being a lot more cautious these days.

I heard voices, and three people slogged into view. They had big packs, which I always take as a sign that backpacking is not a regular activity for them (although, maybe this isn't true. Maybe everyone likes camp chairs). The lead man was packing a baby, and didn't have trekking poles.

"The snow's kind of sketchy," I offered, but they were determined. I didn't hear any rescue helicopters, so I have to assume they made it. This made me feel sort of like a chicken, but an alive chicken is better than a dead one.

I found this bridge to nowhere on the Fake Creek trail.
Ruby and I pondered our next move. Hiking all the way back to the junction, we had already covered 13 miles. When I started to head back up to Echo Lake, Ruby rebelled. She laid down in the shade, eyeing me defiantly. I figured I could force her; she would like swimming in the lake and I wanted to be there. But, when you hike with a dog it isn't your hike any longer; it becomes the dog's hike. We headed back toward the trailhead, finding a nice camp by the river. Usually Ruby comes reluctantly into the tent, but tonight, after 16 miles, she scampered in and didn't move until four the next morning.

View from camp, night 2.

So there you have it, beaten by a man packing a baby. That's all right though. The lake isn't going anywhere. Neither am I.
Tired dogs sleep all night.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Backpacking with my people

Every other place I've lived, I've found my "people." You know what I mean. They're the ones who are up for the same type of adventure, with whom you can be comfortably yourself, who are fun and don't judge you for doing something like, for example, hunting pickily for the best campsite. But finding my people has been hard where I live. There are surprisingly few backpackers, and many are older and retired, so they prefer to adventure on weekdays, when there are less tourists. Plus there is just that indescribable chemistry when someone just gets you.

I had only been on one backpacking trip with A, but when she emailed to ask about snow levels, I decided to see if she would be up for a trip. She was, and so was our mutual friend A2 and her daughter. I don't see them much because they live in the next town, 75 miles away. We perused the maps--there was so much snow, where could we go? I recalled my goal of seeing more of the south end of the forest. I don't go there often, because who wants to drive two hours when there are trails just two miles from the house? But with a southern exposure, these trails might be more open. A plan was born.

I'm still unclear about why so many people feel it is OK to vacation during a pandemic, and I felt a little weird about driving 75 miles to meet them, but we masked up and drove to the trailhead. I had been here once before, for a day hike, but as we hiked further into the mountains I was amazed at how different it was on the other side of the mountain range. The wide white granite and lush vegetation were very different than my steep, snowy side.

Coming into our base camp meadow

We only hiked about four miles before setting up a base camp. This was the best approach for this area since trails spiraled off in all directions and we could cover a lot of ground without having to do a lot of backtracking. Having a few hours left in the day, we ascended a steep trail to visit both Bear and Culver Lakes.

Having covered about twelve miles in an afternoon, we headed back to camp to find ourselves with plenty of company. Some people had settled into desperation camps when the established campsites were not available. Feeling fortunate, we settled by the creek with our food bags, glad we had budgeted another full day.

Our ambitious plan was to make it to the top of the ridge, from which we had heard there was a glorious view. It was clear as we ascended that the snow had only recently left; remains of an avalanche littered the slope and a few snowfields had only the remnants of footprints. It appeared that most people were content to sit in the meadow below in their camp chairs. Not us, though. We forged past a little tarn and headed for higher ground.

Catched Lake

However, snow blanketed the final chute, so we made the wise decision to turn around. That left us time to bound over to Eagle Lake, which was still partially frozen.

The chute is off to the left
Eagle Lake

None of us wanted to leave. We schemed about pooling our remaining food and climbing to a high point to text our significant others. We're not coming home, we imagined saying. In the end, of course, we hiked out.

I love hiking solo, but lately it has been feeling a little lonely. The last two weekends I have hiked with people, and it is different, but in many ways more fun. A2's daughter is only 32, so for a change I had someone to chase on the uphills instead of feeling like I had to hold back. That was nice.

And it all evened out, because I am slow on the downhills. We hiked a lot, ate a lot of chocolate, and laughed. I had re-found my people.

Monday, July 6, 2020

more elk than people

We moved up the trail at a blazing 1.5 miles per hour, trying to beat the night. Our late start--after six-and the dubious state of the route had slowed us to this pace. It was obvious that the trail had not been cleared in decades; huge downfall from the 1989 fires forced us to fling our bodies over or attempt to push a way around. In the wet meadows, the trail disappeared completely, and we floundered, finally spotting long-ago cut logs high on the hillside.

Back in the day, there used to be trail mileage markers on trees. This one made sense, but later we saw an 8 that was confusing.
This was a place I had never been, on the south side of the forest. Over here most of the lakes are really reservoirs, constructed in the early 1900s to serve as reserve for agriculture down in the valleys. Old construction debris still lies on the landscape. Despite that, the reservoirs are cool and deep.

We attained Clear Creek Reservoir at nine in the evening, far past when I like to be still hiking, and it was apparent that nobody had camped here in decades either. Finally wedging the tent in to the only space we found, we settled in for a night interrupted by the chorus of frogs.

This is a fresno, a shovel for moving rocks. There's lots of old equipment from the 1900s scattered around this lake.

The next day we planned an ambitious route: another downfall-choked climb to Melhorn Reservoir, then hiking up on the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain and across the ridgeline, hoping to intersect with another ancient trail that led back down to Clear Creek. I had my doubts about this, but I wasn't solo, we had plenty of daylight and snacks, and it was country I hadn't seen before. After Melhorn, the traveling became easier and the views spectacular. Ridge walking is one of my favorites.

It was clear that the landscape had changed dramatically with the fires, and the forest is still recovering, thirty years later. Very few people come here, and on the Fourth of July weekend, we saw more elk than I had seen in years. While we were gone for two nights, a bear clawed the truck. This is wild country still, and it gives me hope, when the lakes on the other side get more and more crowded.

After twelve miles we started looking for a way down. We could see the reservoir far below us, but it was surrounded by cliffs. There was no sign of any trail. We carefully picked our way down the least fear-inducing slope, finally finding the old trail just as we gained the shores of the lake. It, too, was covered in downed trees. Soon these trails will vanish completely, but I can't say I am too sad about that. It's good to have some wildness left.

Camp guard dogs.

On the way out, we encountered our only person of the trip. A young guy, he was happily biking along, unaware that his day was about to change. We warned him about the hike-a-bike coming up, but he seemed unfazed and up for the challenge.

This is an unlikely place, not where I would have gone on my own. I probably won't be back--there are plenty of other places to go. But the thrill of discovering something new took the sting out of being stuck in one county for what feels like could be a long, long time.

We stumbled upon a small pond. You don't find things like this on the beaten path.