Sunday, August 30, 2020

I'll clean my house in the winter

 Like flipping a switch, fall has come to the mountains. We awoke to a breeze with a bite and temperatures in the low thirties. It was clear: summer is gone.

We had backpacked into a lake accessed by a steep user trail, descending from the main trail to a place few people visit. As usual, cars had been parked way down the road, but we knew nobody else would be here. To get to this lake requires a lengthy climb and then a rocky, slow descent. I won't name the lake here; it is on the maps. If you want to get there, you can. 

Old miner's cabin on the way to the lake

A fire the year before reached the lake, burning to the water's edge. The usual campsite was surrounded by terrifying dead trees, and some had fallen already. A steady wind convinced us to pitch our tents in a safer spot. It will be a long time before this lake heals. I showed my companion the piles of white ash, a sign of severe fire. It was likely that no seed bed remained in these places, and even though we have had a wet, lush summer, nothing has come back yet. However, this place is resilient, and perhaps in my lifetime it will be safer to camp here again. 

It was perhaps one of the last lake swims of the summer, so I had to do it. We read our books and thought about all the places we have been. In a Covid silver lining, I have now hiked almost every trail in this wilderness, and have about 12 named lakes to get to, having been to 57 (not all this year). We agreed that next year is the year for travel, should that be a possibility.

Shivering in our puffys, we packed up the next morning for the slog back out. On the ridge we pondered the possibility of descending to the unnamed lakes far below. It was likely even less people had ever been there. Of course we wanted to go.

But not today. We rolled into town late on a Sunday afternoon. I walked into my house in dismay, realizing just how unclean it was. Don't get me wrong, I vacuum on a regular basis, clean the kitchen and the bathroom. But I knew that a deeper clean really was needed. But who has the time? I'd rather be outside, and with fall kicking in, time was getting short. I'll clean my house in the winter.

Sunset at the lake of burnt trees

Monday, August 24, 2020

temporarily misplaced

 I've sort of had it with life, I thought grumpily as I ascended the Bowman trail. I ticked off a list of things I was tired of: behavior on social media, people recreating outside of their areas, bad things happening to good people, summer leaving too fast. I could have gone on, but a family descending stopped to talk. As we discussed routes, I noticed the wife looked really familiar. "Are you...K?" I asked. It turns out I had gone on a kayak trip with her in Alaska circa 2005. So strange! Feeling more heartened, I turned away from the crowds and onto the less traveled route.

I thought nostalgically of Southeast Alaska. Kayaking through a myriad of small islands. The indescribable smell of the sea. Rain that fell soundlessly, a curtain of mist. The people who shared their hearts with me. But like all things, that time passed. I was glad I was here now.

Arriving at John Henry Lake, I assessed the situation. A man stumbled around in a head net, and his partner was already in the tent. Mosquitoes hung in a dense cloud. Oh hell no, I thought, and fled.

This meant adding on about eight miles to the day's total and a massive descent to 5,500 feet. I arrived near dark but it was worth it: a lazy river wound through a lush meadow, and except for a few voices at a campsite I never saw, nobody else in view. 

The next day I ambitiously arose to climb a thousand feet to a lake, descend that thousand feet, and climb another three thousand feet to a final lake. Why do I do this to myself? Maybe because I feel summer ending fast, the inevitable stranglehold of winter approaching. Try as I might, I can't love winter as much as some. I'm not a big fan of winter camping, being stuck in a tent by five, and I don't enjoy being inside four walls all night, every night. I don't like icy roads, nowhere to run, and freezing because my only heat is wood heat. While I get that some of these are choices, and I would hate living in Florida more (been there, done that), I mourn the loss of summer every year. 

But it was still here, so I climbed the deserted trail to Green Lake. The lake itself was underwhelming, and that is just because there are so many more that are spectacular. Back at the meadow, I packed up camp and headed out, an annoyed Ruby at my heels. She hates her backpack and will run when she sees me taking it out. I get it, it is much easier without a pack.

Green Lake

We arrived at Bear Lake at one-thirty. It was easily enough time to move on, but the lure of swimming and reading a book was too much to resist. Besides, we had covered thirteen miles, which for a leisure backpacking trip seemed sufficient. Later one other group arrived, but fortunately kept their distance. They did, however, have an illegal campfire.

Ruby at Bear Lake

Not suspecting any problems, I climbed out of Bear Lake on the user trail the next morning. On the ridge, a thick fog covered the landscape. Where was the trail down? I sighed. For some reason, I can't ever find it going down. No worries, I would just scramble down another way. (it is all rocky, so I wasn't leaving a trail. Leave No Trace.)

Here, I made a critical error, down-climbing too low. I wasn't lost, I rationalized. I knew basically where I was...but where was I? My GPS was unhelpful, showing me for some reason heading away from the main trail (the user trail isn't on it). Up in this basin, everything looks the same. I fought a small feeling of panic. That was ridiculous; I could see Lookout Mountain in the distance. I just needed to find the main trail. Finally I caught a glimpse of Wood Lake, a landmark I recognized. Now the trick was to contour higher without getting cliffed out. 

Which was harder than it might seem. A few gorges lay between me and the main trail, which meant I had to climb up, then climb down. I wasted about an hour doing this. Where was little Hobo Lake? I knew it was around there somewhere. Finally I arrived; I was back in familiar ground.

Little Hobo Lake

On the beaten path, campers were illegally set up in a meadow right by the lake. Why, why why. I didn't like the moments of feeling lost, but there were some advantages to the wild country I had just wandered through. Most of the newbies are at least sticking to the main trails. There was still plenty of space to get lost in.


Monday, August 17, 2020

don't post about it

 Recently a friend chastised me for putting a pretty picture on Facebook. I shouldn't do that, he said, because people will go there and trash the place. While I understand the sentiment, my Facebook page is private and limited to people I already know. I don't accept "friends" who don't have backcountry ethics. However, I am aware that this blog isn't private, and I could be doing the wilderness a disservice by posting about it. I'll have to think about this. Respond in the comments if you have thoughts.

Anyway, last weekend's adventures revealed the good, the bad and the ugly. The good: we tromped into a wild and remote basin. It was crisscrossed by elk trails, and old hunter paths, but basically we felt like the only humans on the planet. Note that I am not telling you where it is.

Then we climbed to intersect the main trail. The humans there were still sparse, and we met some nice ones. The bad: we saw a pretty large group heading to Jewett Lake. Also bad: a nice guy we met said there were five other parties at Glacier Lake the night before. Five! Before this year, you MIGHT have one other group there. We continued on to Dollar Lake for the night.

This is a fairly well-known destination, and it is rather easy to get there. Sadly, in the year that I had not visited, toilet paper and poop have proliferated. The bad: some of it was right by the campsite. I mean, seriously people! Walk a little! Bury your poop! Facepalm, I don't know why this is so hard for some to get.

It was still beautiful, though. I have to believe that the wilderness will survive our assaults on it. At least the winters are long and cover our multitude of sins.

Monday, August 10, 2020

where other people don't go

 "I thought we were the only crazy ones out here," a man hiking in jeans and carrying an external frame pack said. We stood on the Trail Creek trail, which plummeted from 8400 feet to the Minam River at 5000. The trail hadn't been cleared in years, with huge trees across the tread. I thought about the old days, when pack strings probably traveled this trail, heading up to Traverse Lake. Soon this trail would be gone, with just a few enthusiasts like us on them.

wild country

It had already been an interesting trip, starting with a three thousand foot climb through some of the prettiest alpine country in this wilderness, then down the little-used Granite Creek trail, dropping almost four thousand feet to the river. I regretted every luxury item I had brought along, though these are few. At the river, we jumped into the icy water. 

Sky Lake

Earlier, as we approached the trailhead, the line of cars spilling out of the trailhead and far down the road was terrifying. It's hard to see a once undiscovered place become discovered. Horrified, we sped to the lesser-known places, forever banished from the lovely Lakes Basin. I don't know why people like camping within sight and sound of others, so even though I love the Basin, it is forever lost, at least before Labor Day.

Echo Lake

But this hike, an ambitious 50 mile loop, guaranteed that we would mostly be away from crowds. I guess that's what I have to do these days. I was reminded of my wilderness ranger days when we would encounter Boy Scouts, miserably trudging on a fifty-miler. Loaded down with huge flannel sleeping bags and jugs of water, those kids were certain to never backpack again. 

Traverse Lake

How is it August already? I'm sad that summer is almost done so soon. An alpine summer is the loveliest thing, and we had such a rainy spring that fire season so far has been non-existent. The temperatures have barely been above seventy degrees, and the nights are cold. It has been just about perfect, and it is hard to let go.

But not yet. A few more weeks are left. We are already looking at the maps, finding the old trails. The places where nobody else goes.  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

while I still can

Sometimes I wonder about the point of self-absorbed blogging about my various adventures, when so many people are suffering and the world is not a very nice place, at least not right now. Who really cares if I hike a trail? 

But what else is there to do? The wilderness is the only place where everything feels right, at least now. I still read blogs (the few there are left) and I like imagining those adventures, even if they are epic pursuits I would never attempt. I like knowing others are out there in the mountains too, all of us searching for something.

This weekend I had an ambitious plan. I was going to find Pop Lake! This small blue dot on the map had, at one time, an actual trail to it. However, this trail was probably only in existence in the 1930s, and the very few reports I read on it suggested there might be a user trail, but no semblance of anything constructed. I was inspired, even though it would be cross country, up a high pass. And I was solo. I happily paid for a subscription to Gaia, gathered my map and compass, and was ready. Or so I thought.

I hadn't planned for an excessive heat warning, and I actually whimpered as I climbed toward Lookingglass Lake, my first stop. In retrospect, climbing a couple of thousand feet, descending those same thousand the next day, then ascending all that again to get to Pop Lake wasn't that wonderful of an idea, especially at near ninety degrees. I was starting to get a glimmer of that fact, but was distracted by T &T coming down the trail. 

Strangely, we had both chosen the exact same trailhead, a couple of hours (but one tank of gas!) from our homes. We chatted for a bit and they moved on to their base camp. I headed upward, to find an enchanting lake with huge rock slabs from which to slide into the lake. Perfection!

Well, except for a few mosquitoes. I had blissfully imagined that since they didn't show up in mid July, that we would be free of them this year. But no--they were late, but here. They usually only last a couple of weeks, but this year, who knows?

Late in the evening, another couple hiked in, with a dog that had a clangy bell on its collar, and hastily put up hammocks pretty close to me. Annoying, but in the morning I heard the man say something about "the girl on the rock," meaning me. Since I am way too old to be called a girl on the regular, that made me happy.

I set off for the Pop Lake adventure, but the heat was on, even at six in the morning. I trudged down to the meadow and back up again, arriving at Cached Lake as two men were leaving. "We're doing the loop," they informed me. This was a rugged route with lots of elevation change that I had initially dismissed as being too short (it's only about ten miles, if you count the connector from the meadow). 

I sat at Cached Lake. Suddenly my ambition was lacking. There was no obvious route to Pop Lake and the pass looked foreboding. Plus I had the dog, and I wasn't sure about dragging her up there. I had initially thought of setting up a camp and going light, but then I wasn't sure about going off into the unknown without a lot of gear. TLDR: I chickened out.

I would come back with a hiking companion, I thought. But all was not lost. I could also do the loop! I set off to climb the pass, soon overtaking the two men (I never saw them again). Though I had to ascend to 8,000 feet, descend far down and then climb up again, hiking here felt remote and wild, unlike the main trail. The trail junctions were unmarked and once I crested the final pass, a sign warned intimidatingly that it was not maintained. Huge boulders and rolling rocks made it clear.

Looking from the pass

Arrow Lake was my intended campsite, but once I arrived, it was way too early, and the lake was actually a pond, no good for swimming, though picturesque. I picked my way down to Heart Lake, which was great for swimming but a mosquito buffet. I had set up my tent, but climbing in it at only five in the evening seemed silly. I would have to find a dry camp.

Arrow Lake

Fortunately I came upon a rock bench that would do. A few ambitious mosquitoes lurked about, but mostly it was better. Ruby eyed me dubiously. We had covered 14 miles and probably rougher terrain than if we had just gone to Pop Lake in the beginning. I knew the next day would be a challenge, dropping 1500 feet through rough territory, but overall, it had been a good trip. 

Sometimes I wonder why I do this; even though my trips aren't nearly as epic as others', they aren't a leisure tour either. But then I know why. There are so many people who can't do this, who once could. I'm doing it for them. I'm doing it while I still can.
View from Dry Camp