Saturday, December 26, 2020

Staycations are not my fave

My Covid bubble friend and I arrived late to the snowpark, at high noon. It was way too late to even attempt the entire ten mile Hass Owl loop. We knew this, but we kept skiing anyway. We were in the same boat--in the throes of a staycation. We both were winter travelers who couldn't travel. Skiing a long loop wasn't the Arizona Trail, but it was something.

I get about three weeks of vacation time a year. I realize this is pretty special, but temper this with no bonuses, no raises unless I get a new job (which means moving), and being at the whim of whatever administration is in power, plus I've labored almost 34 years year-round for this outfit and you can see that I fiercely hang on to those three weeks as a benefit.

If you don't use those three weeks, you lose them, and you may imagine what a great three week trip might look like. Whoa there, partner! With at least 20 projects working for 20 different people, there is no way I can ever take that much time off at once. So what I have typically done is break it up into 100 mile chunks on a trail. 

NOT THIS YEAR THOUGH! I saved my vacation time until now, hoping against hope for an Arizona Trail or Grand Canyon adventure. Though others are flying and staying in hotels, I couldn't bring myself to do it (I'm sure being on trail is fairly safe, and driving less dangerous--or is it? It would take days to get to Arizona). So the dreaded staycation loomed over the holidays.

It has quickly become apparent that I am no good at a staycation. For the past nine years I have worked remotely out of my house, and while this is a great thing, it means I have spent many, many hours staring at the same walls.  I'm good at self-entertainment--I wrote three essays and revised my novel--but I wanted to go somewhere. Anywhere but this house!

Ruby enjoys her booties about as much as I enjoy staying home!

Cross country skiing ten miles really isn't that heroic, even if you are breaking trail most of the way. But it's still something. We stopped and gazed over the landscape. We could see Idaho, even if it wasn't prudent to go there at the moment. 

This staycation has made me realize that I'm not great at an unstructured life. I've never not worked--with the exception of three months in 1988--and while I look forward to a time when work doesn't dominate my days, I need to get better at hanging around the home valley. Some people can putter around all day and feel content. I am not one of them. But maybe I can get there? 

Dragging butt, my friend and I coasted down the last hill to our cars. It was nearly dark and we still had an icy road to navigate. It was a far cry from a 20 mile day on the AZT, but we had achieved our goal of getting away from our houses. Staycations rule! Well..sort of. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Cabin on the edge of the world

 I had only hiked the old packer trail to Cayuse Flat once before. It doesn't really stand out as a stellar option. For one, in summer a forest road comes in from above, and so you can be faced with a collection of 4 wheelers and pickups as you ascend the last switchback. During hunting season, a camp is often located at the trailhead, essentially blocking access. The trail is basically gone as it heads uphill, too, leading to a frustrating climb through tall grass and rocks.

But in a dry and cold December, options were minimal so I decided to give this trail another chance, driving past Imnaha and up the Hat Point Road to the trailhead. It was immediately obvious that few people hike this trail. A set of old footprints punched through the  crusty snow, which was how I was able to follow the trail through the woods. Otherwise, it would have been possible to flounder while searching for it. Trees had fallen and not been cut and the snow was deep enough that I was glad I had put on my winter boots. 

The trail headed steeply upward until it reached an old fence. Here, icy snow obscured it, and provided some worrisome travel. I couldn't kick steps, so was forced to head uphill to avoid these patches.

The last time I hiked this trail we went straight uphill at the fence, but I was determined to find the old route. Pulling out my Gaia GPS, I saw that it headed further south, made a big curve and then switchbacked up to the road. Soon I stumbled on a set of rock cairns marking the way in tall grass. I love finding old remnants of trail this way.

Up on top, it was bitterly cold. Cayuse Flat is an immense ridgetop. There were views of Imnaha Canyon, and farther away, the Wallowas. I headed to the buildings. Unlocked but clean, the house would be a great place to stay. I later learned that this was the Cayuse Flat Cow Camp. A friend told me that her daughter and family lived there in the summer. There was no electricity and she cooked on the wood stove, using a nearby spring to keep food cold. They lived on wild game and sourdough bread. It sounds like a pretty idyllic life to me.

In winter you can't linger long, but I planned to come back with a sleeping bag as soon as conditions moderate. Hunters often stay in this cabin, but if I can pick the time before they can drive in, and after the snow melts some more, this looks like a good place to sit and contemplate the edge of the world.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The winter I became a cold weather wimp

 It really hasn't been that cold. The lowest temperatures have been single digits, but normally it has reached the twenties and sometimes thirties during the day. But somehow, I have become a wimp. I have felt very cold this winter. I have taken to wearing a hat all the time, even just going to the post office. I pulled out some vintage items from my closet, including a puffy jacket of extreme puffiness, the North Face guide jacket. I bought it in the nineties, before puffy jackets were less puffy. Wearing it, I look as though I have huge biceps. I also resurrected some huge pack boots. Around town, I appear to have just come from base camp.

I scanned the weather forecast obsessively, wanting to get in one more backpacking trip. Even at a thousand feet by the river, it was predicted to only be forty degrees. Escalating to a high level of wimpiness, I decided that was too cold for enjoyment. I have camped in those temperatures before, but I didn't feel like doing it anymore. Angrily I unpacked my bag. It would have to be day trips from now on, until spring, or until I adapt.

Jerry mansplaining to Spruce and Frost how to skijor.

I'm not sure what is causing this wimpiness: thyroid? less body fat (I wish, but unlikely), but it has to stop. There are five more months of cold weather ahead. So I keep going outside, trying to adapt. Mostly this has taken the form of walking gingerly on ice or some skiing where I can find good snow. I gaze longingly at the dogs with their fur coats. Spruce is in love with the snow and rolls in it with enthusiasm. Dogs are lucky, though they suffer in the summer.


The other day we skied desperately through the trees trying to find powder. I wore long underwear, two fleece layers, a hat and mittens, and never removed any of those layers. We encountered many other townspeople following our tracks, hoping we had discovered the secret good spot. The kids couldn't ski at the downhill ski area yet, so they were being pulled by a car around and around the parking lot. You do what you have to do around here.

Kids being pulled by a car on skis.

 In search of somewhere new to go, I parked by the turn-off to Kinney Lake and ran up the dirt road. It is a short, steep run, hardly worth bothering, but it was good to try something different. The lake looks skateable, so this went on the list. Our little outside skating rink won't be open due to Covid, though it seems like it could have been managed, people didn't want to deal with it. Skating is hard because I'm not good enough to stay warm, so hand warmers it will be.

I'm hoping to lose my cold weather wimpiness soon. I love it when I walk outside on a thirty degree day and exclaim how hot it is. I have faith this will come. Until then, I'll be the one in the Puffy McPufferson jacket, big boots and a hat. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Climbing Tick Hill (Tamkaliks)

 It has been a very dry winter so far. To ski, we need to go high and even then you risk a face plant on exposed rocks. It's been cold, single digit cold, but the snow stubbornly does not come. My friends A and R debated where to go. We wanted to hike, but where?

I have to admit that I am feeling a little cooped up lately. I've cancelled five trips this year, and isolation is making me grumpy. I feel out of shape: in the past, the hikes where I amassed a hundred miles in five days are a thing of the past (at least this year). Where could we go?

The west and east forks would be too icy, as would the roads to the high trailheads. Rock Creek? I asked. Nope, we probably couldn't get there. We had been to the moraine often. Finally we settled on a place I had never been: Tick Hill.

There are reasons for this. For one, it is a half hour drive to get there, and I'm spoiled. And the other...well, the name. Ticks rank as one of my least favorite things on the planet. But it's not tick season now, and I was game to go anywhere I haven't been a hundred times this year of no travel. So, driving separately, we met up at the trailhead.

This is sacred ground, part of the Nez Perce Homeland. The place name is Tamkaliks, which means "from where you can see the mountains" (a lot better than Tick Hill). I felt very white and privileged as we took an old road and then ascended rocky switchbacks up to a gazebo and an ancestral cemetery, from which I could, indeed, see the mountains. There was no snow here, just a biting breeze to counteract the warm sun, a strange contrast in December. 

It was only a four mile loop, hardly worth the drive, but it served to satisfy our restless hearts for now. "The land remembered us," an elder said a few years ago when she and others came to harvest native foods from this valley. It's humbling to think that it was less than 150 years ago when Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were forced from this place. Some hikes are more than just exercise, and put much of my superficial complaints into perspective. 

We reached the parking lot in less than an hour and a half, and the dog refused to load up. I didn't blame her. The sun made it feel like summer, and we weren't ready to go. 

These words are attributed to Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, if what is recorded is true, this loosely translates as Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain)

We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit Chief made them. They were not; and would change the mountains and rivers if they did not suit them.

Less than 150 years later, the last sentence is still true.