Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Type 2 Fun in the Grand Canyon


 "I'm unpacking my sunscreen," I text Camel. Good Stuff is stranded in Flagstaff and must take a shuttle. I stare at the weather forecast as if it might change. Rain in the inner canyon, for at least three days. Temperatures in the 40s. My least favorite kind of backpacking weather.

Of course, the forecast improves the day we are supposed to hike out. I'm annoyed by this, even if it's unreasonable. After the expense of getting here and one precious week of time off, it's hard not to be annoyed. But it is what it is. 

I panic buy a fleecy headband and waterproof socks, since I've left my boots at home, based on a better forecast. I'm bringing all sorts of things I don't normally: waterproof sacks, a pack cover, overmittens. The wild card is always in hiking with others; my companions may decide to bail early. Or they may not. I admit to myself that were I going alone I might bail too.

But I remember hiking the Washington PCT for three weeks in relentless rain. I did it then and we survived. I switch out my light hiking pants for soft shells. How many people get to see snow in the inner canyon anyway? We are fortunate. 

The picture above is of Frost on a ski trip. She looks 100% over it. Will I look like this on day 3? Stay tuned. 


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The tyranny of packing (a first world problem)

 "My pack without water and the first day's lunch is 33 pounds," Camel reported. Good Stuff did not say, but said he was "going light". I hurried to weigh mine. 27 pounds with one liter of water and four days of food. 

But I fretted. On this trip we have a whole gamut of possibilities. It could be sixty degrees, or it could be in the teens. We will be in ice and snow, and also not. The forecast holds a foreboding chance of rain (or snow). One day is an 18 mile day, some of others not so much. The nights are long, so reading is essential. Tights or pants? A pack cover, or hope for the best? Trail mix or not? (I almost always end up with extra trail mix) "I'm not bringing waterproof socks," Camel declares. But, he reveals, he has waterproof boots. Feeling silly, I pack my down booties, down pants, and down hat, plus handwarmers. There is no ultralight in winter.

Dog is my co-pilot.


 I've  pretty much stayed in this valley for two years. In that time I went on one hike that involved leaving the county. After section hiking the PCT for eight years,  it has been a big adjustment to stay home (I realize that this is a privilege not afforded to many). In that time I have apparently forgotten how to pack. In the end, I stuff just about everything in the rolling duffel and figure that I will sort it out the night before.

But travel is still a few days away, and there's still time to readjust. I have a few days off from work, and so I ski. I meet up with non-working friends on a weekday, an unknown luxury. What would that be like? They are both younger than I am and I ponder my life choices. We ski through the wildlife area, all three of us making spectacular crashes in the soft snow. We laugh and laugh. It feels good to laugh.

Another day I head solo up into the hills. Nobody is around, and my skis cut deep into the snow. Our skating lake is completely shrouded in snow, nobody having the desire to shovel it out again. I ski from the house up the snowed-in road, running into my neighbors, also on skis. I feel sorry for the people here who hate snow. They should probably move to Arizona.

Of course, I sometimes get tired of snow too. Thus this upcoming trip. It's been so long since I felt like life was normal, and I'm starting to think it won't ever really be again. So it's time to hike long trails again. This isn't long, about 50 miles, but I am eyeing some plans for next summer, two weeks if possible. The choices I am pondering are to go back to the Sierra, or to hike part of the Colorado Trail. I want to do these things while I still can, since none of us have any guarantees. 

Sierra: more people, a permit system that is challenging, but logistics are relatively easy. Colorado: haven't been before, logistics more difficult, lightning!! Which would you choose?








Thursday, December 16, 2021

heart of winter

 We approached the small lake on foot, armed with shovels and skates. To my delight, the lake had frozen smoothly, unlike the bumpy ice of years past. My skates cut cleanly through the light snow. We were the only people around. 

The thrill of skating on a backcountry lake was measured by the fact that this is a really short season. A huge snow dump was predicted, and nobody wants to labor for hours to shovel over a foot of snow each time they want to skate. There are no backcountry Zambonis! 

Still, you take what you can get, so we had two great days of skating. The next day I dragged a friend along, and the three of us sped along the paths we had shoveled. None of us will ever qualify for the Olympics, but we mostly avoided faceplants, and no bones were broken. Two good days of skating is better than no days of skating!

As predicted, the snow came in, perhaps trying to make up for the entire dry winter so far. We woke to a world of white, over a foot having dropped overnight. Hoping to get to the summit, we drove optimistically through deep snow, only to find our route blocked by an overconfident driver who was stuck. As we carefully backed down the road and turned around, other people appeared and got stuck too. Everyone, it appeared, was anxious to get out.

You don't live here if you want amenities, but we have the outdoors in great supply. It's always surprising to see a few hardy souls about in what most would term terrible weather. Coming down from the West Fork, I encountered two backpackers bound for Ice Lake. Did they know a big storm was coming in? Yes, they did. They had snowshoes strapped to their packs and were intent on gaining the lake. Feeling a combination of envy and puzzlement, I headed for my warm house. (The fact that they were carrying pepper spray spoke to the fact that they might not be from these parts.) On the way, I saw two different people I knew. We were all walking in snow, in temperatures in the teens, and we were all happy to be out.

The rest of the week was a flurry of unearthing the winter gear. Where was the glide wax? The skis? Gaiters? The dogs are the only ones ready.




What do you bring in a winter pack?  It's funny how you forget, but I managed to successfully launch for both a snowshoe and a ski. I floundered along in the sugar snow, trying to gain purchase. It's a lot of work, but once a track is set, the rewards are great. Sometimes it would be nice to live somewhere with groomed trails, but with groomed trails comes more people. When I see tracks made by others, I usually know who made them. That's the benefit of living in a small town.

The usual signs of winter are now here. My skis and snowshoes, propped up in the snowbank. Ski boots, drying out by the fire. Me shuffling out to the woodpile. People with shovels. The tire shop panic, with everyone wanting winter tires. The resurgence of our local winter road report facebook page. It took a while, but it's here. 



 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Signs of winter + poison ivy avoidance tips

 I bought a new tent. It's a one person, to replace the one I gave away this summer. Tents to me represent possibility and adventure. I only spent 37 nights (so far) backpacking this winter, but someday I will spend many more. I love tents!

I set it up indoors, making sure the cat wasn't around. He likes to attack tents. By now, my neighbor Mike has learned to see many tents set up outside. He generally wanders over to inspect the tent. However, the weather has not been great--icy and cold. Indoors it was.

Tents to me represent possibility. Where will I go? There are so many trails, but so little time!

It'll be a while before I can use it. I think winter is finally coming. I saw a few signs this week. I was running on an abandoned road and saw a random Christmas tree. 

And the backcountry lake is open for skating!

Skiing can't be too far behind.

Earlier this week I was able to hike all the way to Slickrock Falls, which is the first time I have ever been able to do this late in the season. While it was nice to go for a hike, this certainly isn't normal. I hoofed it up to the falls and back, only encountering a few other brave souls. Once at the falls, I looked longingly up at the route to Deadman Lake. I knew from experience it would take an hour to travel the mile up to the lake, and there's one difficult spot to traverse. It was so windy that I feared trees falling on me, and it wasn't the right time to attempt it. It is always hard to turn around, but live to hike another day.


But guys! I avoided getting poison ivy this year! I don't know if these tips below helped, but if you are as allergic as I am, you might give them a try.

  • The obvious--don't wear shorts. I used to not follow this rule, but it's a sure way to get PI. I wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. When I get to camp, I put these clothes in a plastic bag and put on my sleeping clothes. I carefully put on the hiking clothes the next day and wash my hands.
  • I wipe off my shoes with baby wipes and rinse my poles in water.
  • Technu during the golden hour. There are wipes or the lotion. Either works.
  • Anything dangling off your pack could brush against PI. Like your bandana, your pee rag (gasp) your sit pad...anything. Your pack, too, can become contaminated. Don't take it into the tent with you. Wash it in the bathtub when you get home. Wash everything!
  • Bring a change of clothes for the car ride home, or you may find yourself with PI on the car seats, to be a problem much later on. The oils can last for over a YEAR on things.
  • Rain gear really is the best for going through PI if you can stand sweating. Likewise, if you pass through PI in the rain, or in the fall when it is less potent, do so. The dormant phase, where it looks like dead sticks, can still give you a rash. You know the PI by the white berries on the stalks. Avoid! Avoid!
  • I don't bring a dog when I am hiking in PI. The oils can stick to their fur.
  • I sometimes use my poles to hold the taller plants out of my way, but have to remember what part of the pole was touching it and not touch with my bare hands.
  • The websites SAY that washing in a machine will nullify the PI but I am not convinced. I wash the clothes, and sometimes twice, in the washer. Then I run an empty cycle with detergent and vinegar. I am not taking the chance! I also wipe out the dryer with cleaner before putting any other clothes in, if I am not air drying at the time.
  • Another Captain Obvious: cold shower at first. Though honestly, I have done hot showers and haven't seen much difference. However, apparently hot showers open pores and allow for more contamination.
Any other tips?  How's everyone's winter going snow wise? (unless you live in the southern hemisphere. If so, can I come visit?)






 



Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How to sleep for twelve hours

There's something magical about the Snake River in its wild stage. I've been to the confluence with the Imnaha River many times, but I can't quit it, despite the truly terrifying one-lane, switchbacked road to get there. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on that drive, but the end result is worth it.

I haven't slept much lately, subsisting on about four hours a night, which wouldn't be a problem if I didn't have to present myself, bright and sparkly, on video conferences starting at 7 am (darn you, East Coasters). I dream of naps, but there's just no time. What to do? Backpack in early winter, when you are forced into your tent at five in the evening.

I set out optimistically on the drive, and was rewarded by only having to back up once for a truck and trailer. I've written about this hike before; suffice to say that it's pretty easy, following the descending Imnaha River to the confluence. Once there, I was both elated to see no people and disturbed to see cows. I've never seen them there before and cows tend to like the same campsites as people. Fortunately, I knew of a secret spot where, for whatever reason, cows don't go, so I headed there.

Confluence

There was only soft sand, willows and no cows. Heaven. Why didn't I do this more often, I pondered. But then would it be so special? I think not.

One of the great advantages of descending to under 2000 feet is that it can be warm even in late November. I had packed a plethora of cold weather gear but didn't need it. I sat in the sand and watched a few jet boats race back toward Lewiston, and then all was quiet. 

I crawled into the tent figuring I would read for a few hours and get back up, but to my surprise I fell asleep and mostly stayed asleep until six the next morning. I guess it's true--a big river cures insomnia. 

The next morning I had to beat feet as it had begun to rain, and the access road is nearly impassible once it gets soaked. People claim they need chains to navigate the slippery mud. As much as I love the area, I didn't really want to live there with only a couple of bars for sustenance, so I raced quickly to begin the daunting drive out.

My writer friend said, "the faithful old Snake, it just keeps rolling along and healing us." She's right.





Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Indoors.


 I wish I had exciting outdoor adventures to relay this week but that's not the case! The reason? I went to a book fair and sold some books! Well, technically the publisher sold the books but I sat there and pushed the heck out of them!

This was the first live event I've had since my latest book came out in April of 2020 (oh, the timing on that one). You would think people would have read more during the pandemic, but I haven't found that to be the case. Anyway, I drove fearfully through a large city, donned a mask, and saw more people than I've cumulatively seen in two years.

My exercise time was spent in a creaky hotel gym with equipment well beyond its expiration date. When I asked at the front desk if there was somewhere to walk, they said, "well, you can walk around the parking lot." So the gym, strangely named the Health Club, had to do.

On the way home, the interstate closed, as it does on a regular basis. This time it was a truck on fire. I chatted with another driver, who drives water tenders on wildfires. As I returned home, the snow began. It was quite beautiful but not everyone agreed. In the grocery store,  a woman complained into ger phone.

"Jesus! This weather. This is why I never travel. It was supposed to be sunny!"



At home, I geared up for a winter run. Layers, hat, mittens, where were the microspikes, where's the shovel? I encountered Scott, stubbornly trying to mountain bike in several inches of snow. "It's too slippery for my bike," he noted.

Tomorrow I walk across the street for a friendsgiving. Thanksgiving is a deeply problematic holiday if you consider the narrative kids in my age bracket were told in school. But while I hesitate to say Happy Thanksgiving, I hope everyone has one thing to be grateful for.


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Dispatches from the frozen tundra


It's hard to believe that somewhere people are wearing shorts, because it's sure not here. I'm back where I grew up, and the snow has come. I've already donned microspikes for runs, fallen on ice, and worn hats and mittens. Oh, winter. I have not missed you.

I'm sure I will get excited about skiing eventually, but today is not that day. Fortunately a slight warming trend brought a sunny day for trail running. I shuffled through the leaves, thanking the stars that I don't care about Strava or my pace. I cared about that stuff (though not Strava) for a long time. Now, I'm just glad I can still run. I enjoy it a lot more, even (gasp) stopping to take photos. 

I looked through some of my old medals from decades ago and decided to toss them all. I'm not one to keep stuff; it just provides clutter. The first place ribbon? Don't need it anymore. 

Another day I ran on the county road, up and down some ferocious hills. Drivers negotiating the sheet of ice that passed for a road gave me a wide berth, no doubt wondering who the crazy lady was. I lost my nerve on one particularly steep hill and turned around. Better to live to run again another day.

It's been a quiet, contemplative week on the frozen tundra, full of writing and running and deep thoughts. The land heads toward winter. I head for home.

Ps. I want this sauna, don't you?




Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The No in November


 November. Is it good anywhere? Maybe in Australia. When I lived in Florida, we welcomed the cooler temperatures and the dipping of the jet stream (and the unofficial end of the hurricane season). But everywhere else I've lived, November isn't the greatest. Take southeast Alaska for instance. It was not uncommon to have rain every single day in November, and not just a happy mist either.

(side note: My friend Julie and I were obsessed with running, and would take off from our office in shorts and t-shirts, returning shivering. There was no shower, so we just wiped off with paper towels and went on with our day. Come to think of it, this probably wasn't the most appealing thing for our co-workers, but the rain did act like a natural shower)

Note that I am talking only about outdoor adventure, which in the scheme of things is not the most important thing in life. But it is important! Here, we get cold weather, some snow, but not enough to ski on, and ice. The other day I slogged along the trail in gym tights, short socks, no hat and running shoes. J looked askance. "It's winter," he reminded me. (He was wearing shorts, so he was a fine one to talk.) "It happened so fast," I whined.

In my defense, it was the finest fall I can remember. Every day was golden, with warm temperatures and picture-worthy leaves. It seemed as if it would last forever. Of course, it didn't. November has flipped the switch. Now it's time to hunt up the snow tires, find the micro spikes, dust off the neglected gloves and hats. I'm not ready! it's tempting to cry. But ready or not, the planet spins. 

"You're back!" the gym owner exclaimed as I darkened the door. It's true, I had neglected the gym for hikes, but now that snow is on the ground, I need to seek other options until there's enough for skiing or snowshoeing. I set up my bike trainer and queued up movies to watch. It's hard to have motivation in November.

The dogs, however, are giddy with the new snow. They roll happily and plop themselves on the ground. They get thick, furry coats. It's their season.

I keep myself motivated by planning adventures. Skiing into a cabin? Yes! Another attempt at winter camping? Well...maybe. Someday when I am rich and have time, I will fly away for extended warmer weather places. For now, I'll endure and try to enjoy it as much as I can (but really, does it have to be dark when I start work and when I end work? That just seems cruel).



Give me your winter adventures! I need motivation!



Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Larch Madness!

 I have all three dogs by myself again, so this has meant less adventure and more sticking to areas without people. It's hunting season too, which adds another challenge, and dogs sporting flagging and harnesses. 

What makes it better is that we are having a spectacular larch season. The larches, the only deciduous conifer, are always amazing here, since they show up golden in a dark forest, but for some reason this fall they stand out more than ever.

The dogs and I have some normal routes, which include little-known ski trails and an old logging road. First we drive anxiously to the parking area, checking to make sure no hunters are there. If there are, we move to Plan B. Fortunately, people are fairly predictable and we have been able to hike through sunlit groves of larches quite often.


Route one is a walk into the closed ski area. I can then connect a series of ski trails if I want to run, or hike longer. In fall, it is a quiet place with nobody around. We meander through tall grass and walk up toward the canal, logging a few miles. Soon there will be snow and we will be skiing here.

Route two is up a road closed to most motor vehicles. I hike this a lot in the winter, slogging with snowshoes. In fall it's easier, but no less strenuous. However, the view looking into the fogged in valley is gratifying. I hardly ever make it to the top with the dogs--it's a lot of effort to train them. But even though I don't get to 8000 feet, it's still worth it.
Route 3 is up a trail where few people go, because it doesn't have much for views until you reach the five mile mark. But at the trailhead, the views are outstanding. After staring at the larches, I head up the trail, sometimes going as far as the wilderness boundary. If I hang in there long enough, the trail opens up into an alpine basin.

The thing I like best about larches is that even when it's a gloomy day, their bright color makes it look like little spots of sunshine. Unlike previous years, we haven't had our typical winds, so the larches are hanging on longer. I can't get enough of them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

It's OK to have a meltdown in Hells Canyon



 I was on my last nerve as we thrashed through a poison ivy forest and approached yet another muddy, wet footed crossing of Temperance Creek. We had been descending for six hours and the Snake River was nowhere in sight. Darkness would be falling soon, and I hadn't brought enough snacks. Whose idea was this, anyway?

Oh right. It was mine. It was October after all, and the high mountains were cold and snowy. Yet, I couldn't quite give up the idea of backpacking. The weather was an uneasy mix, but surely in Hells Canyon it would be warmer. The only friend who would possibly be up for this, Tinkerbell, was dubious but agreed to go. We mapped out a route that neither of us had been on and hoped for the best. You just never know with the canyon.

And here we were, finding out. The first five miles had been chilly and steep, going from 7000 feet to about 3,500. The trail was brushy but visible, and we made good time to the site of the Wisnor Place, an old homestead destroyed by fire a few years ago. Two outfitters, the only people we would see, were cheerfully trying to cut an enormous ponderosa pine from the trail so that hunters could get to their wall tent.

"There's LOTS of poison ivy," they said, "As tall as our horses."

We exchanged frightened glances. After thus bench, camping became non-existent, as the trail narrowed into a steep gorge. It was either stay here and play it safe, or continue into the unknown. 

But what is life without adventure, so we pressed on. The trail deteriorated until we were slogging in mud. Poison ivy as tall as my head lined both sides, impossible to avoid. We crossed the creek twenty times, our shoes irretrievably soaked. Finally near dusk, we stumbled onto the beach at the Snake River.

We were at the Temperance Creek Ranch, one of the historic old working ranches, now converted into a set of cabins where hunters could take a jet boat to and stay. The owner, one of the outfitters, greeted us and said we could camp in the trees nearby. Cooking dinner by headlamp, I folded my diseased clothes into a bag and hoped for the best.

When you drop six thousand feet into Hells Canyon, you really shouldn't get up early the next day and hike all of the way out, but a weather system was coming in, so that is what we did. A light rain fell as we navigated the poison ivy forest, this time bashing through without as much care. Tinkerbell had wisely brought waterproof socks, which she changed into at the Wisnor Place, but I had not had the foresight and endured freezing feet as we ascended.

The rain turned to hail, because of course it did, and we dove into the meager protection of stunted trees to find gloves and an extra layer. Wind whipped through the canyon. Snow fell. All we could do was keep climbing.

At the trailhead we stripped off our wet clothes and put on dry ones with numb fingers. I blasted the heater as we drove away from the storm. That was really hard, we agreed.

Tinkerbell munched thoughtfully on a Snickers. "It's OK to have a meltdown in Hells Canyon," she said. I thought back to all of my terrifying, frustrating, difficult, magical hikes in this canyon. She was right.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

On the beaten path







 As I approached the trailhead, a woman with a pack on walked down from the permit kiosk and accosted me. No hello, just "are you hiking alone?" Since it was obvious that I was, I said yes.

"Do you want company?" She asked.

I was taken aback. It's one thing to overtake people on the trail and start hiking with them. I've done that before and enjoyed it. But not knowing this woman's destination, her pace, or really anything made me wary. 

"I like hiking solo," I said and she gave me a thumbs up. I headed off, but fretted over the next 13 miles. Maybe she was afraid of bears. Maybe I could have made a friend. But then again, instincts.

Oh well. It was October and I was on a mission. Usually I stay off the beaten path, a well-known loop that takes you through some stunning alpine lakes. However, with the first dusting of snow, the tourists had retreated and I hoped for the best. 

My expectations were met as I hiked steeply through forest and into the alpine basin. Frost lingered in the high meadows and the bushes were red and gold. Best of all, nobody was around. I happily set up my tent at a lake I haven't visited for years. Clad in a puffy and hat, I stared out at a peaceful fall evening. Life was good!

I had the luxury of two nights out, so lingered the next morning to enjoy a protein drink, not leaving camp until the unheard of hour of 8. A few leftover snowbanks covered the trail north of the pass, but I easily made it down to an eerily deserted lakes basin. It was tempting to stay, but it was so early that I decided to press on. Two fishermen appeared, exclaiming that I was a strong hiker after hearing my itinerary.

Well, not really, but maybe compared to their five miles a day. I dropped into a meadow by the river to discover where everyone was. Five groups were camped there. While everyone was spread out, I didn't relish that much togetherness. Plus it was only 2 in the afternoon. I quickly calculated: there weren't many campsites between here and the trailhead but I did know of one place. It would make the day a 16 miler, not an undoable feat.

As I expected, nobody was at the junction site, but suddenly a group appeared. They proudly explained their route. The beaten path, plus an extra side trip up to Poopy Lake *my name. "There's a guidebook that recommends this," they explained.

I retreated back to my site, feeling old school and missing the days when people figured loops out on their own. But who am I to judge? They were having a good time. They were so happy that I couldn't bring myself to tell them that their next day's hike, only five miles away, would bring them to a lake that had snow in the campsites. There should still be a few things to discover, even on a beaten path.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Happy out here

 I trudged toward Aneroid Lake, a destination chosen due to the trailhead proximity to my house (I name it here because it is well known and there are durable campsites). This would be another leave-work-early-get-up-early trip, less than 24 hours in the wilderness, but better than nothing. Because it was a weekday, nobody was coming with me. That was fine: I planned to hike as fast as I could, so that I could get there in time to visit another, higher lake. 

A few dejected hunters passed me going down, but I saw nobody on the entire trail. I had the campsites to myself, so of course I picked the best one: up in the rocks, with a view of the lake. Camp chores done, I bolted for the higher lake. This one is off trail, but only a few miles away. Once, I saw a wolf there.

As I trekked through the basin before the second climb, a hiker came from the other direction. He paused to ask me if the trail he had seen up above would pose a problem for his friend, who was coming down without a map. I reassured him that it was a dead end trail to a sign, and it would be easy to figure out. After twelve years of running around in these mountains, I know them pretty well.

We fell into a conversation. He was from Poland, and had retired eight years ago. "The best eight years of my life!" he boomed.  "I just live simply and don't buy anything."

Good advice, I said. I really don't buy much anyway. 

Then he said:  "I'm really only happy out here. Being home is all right, but..." 

I can relate. It's not that I'm unhappy at home. I'm content. But being out in the wilderness for days on end, not just for a little bit, is where I am the happiest. We parted, saying we would see each other at the lake, and I headed for my destination.

The small lake was windswept and cold. It wasn't a place to linger. I went back down to Aneroid to see if my friend who is a caretaker of the private cabins was around. The cabin was all shuttered up. It was time to admit: winter was here.

It's been a hard summer, but a good one for wilderness. I've re-learned what I've always known: do it all while you can. For me, that doesn't mean leaving my job security to live in a van, but it does mean to wander my beloved mountains as long as I can still do it. 

The Polish hiker and friend were nowhere to be seen, and the next morning I got up in the frost to quickly pack up and return to society. I rolled in to a meeting still in my hiking clothes (luckily on videoconference, it's harder to tell). I had thought this was the last overnight trip: it was October, after all. But I found myself checking the weather. Maybe it would hold out. Maybe I could still escape while I still could.

do you talk to people on the trail? What kind of wisdom have people imparted?

(probably the weirdest encounter was with a man carrying two duffel bags. He said they were full of Clif Bars, and he wanted to make sure he got an arm workout while he was backpacking.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

It all comes back to...

 There is a saying among professional recreation planners that "it all comes back to poop." We obsess over it, and there are reasons for this. Most people don't poop correctly in the woods, and we get to bury the evidence, or have to deal with it at campsites (yes, people will poop right at a campsite. I don't get it either). Despite the prohibition on having structures in wilderness, some managers have capitulated and installed them, because with increasing use, there is just no other way to manage it. But then you have to deal with what to do about the outhouse situation. Do you bury the hole when it's full and move the outhouse? Fly it out? Make a composting toilet, throw some lime in a bucket and tell people to use it, and hope for the best? These are all options being tried with varying degrees of success. There are also places where you have to poop in a blue bag and carry it for miles to your final destination. This is not a particularly fun experience.

So, it really all does come down to poop. When I told J I was going to camp at a certain lake, he frowned. "You're going to that poopy place?" he asked. He's not wrong. This lake has seen overwhelmingly increased use, due to both front desk recommendations plus the fact that it is a relatively easy, 2500 foot, 8 mile stroll. I have seen all sorts of beginner types on this trail. It makes me sad, because I used to be able to go there and only see a few people, but in the past decade it's been discovered. It's good that people are enjoying it, but for the love of Pete, walk a half mile to poop.

Is that enough about poop? I think so. Despite the fear of TP flowers, I wanted to go to the lake. I can't go in summer, not unless I want to be part of a train of people. Fall seemed like it would be OK, and it was a Wednesday. Leaving work at noon, I hurried up the trail, happily encountering only a couple of groups headed out. I asked one of them if it was crowded. "Um, you'll find a spot," he said.

This wasn't a glowing recommendation, but I pressed on regardless. In just under three hours I reached the lake and surveyed the scene. The lake's popularity is well deserved. It is stunning, especially in fall.

I saw five groups, which seemed like a lot for a weekday, but I was able to find a private spot. Just in time, too, because a vicious storm blew in. I dove in my tent, realizing that I am out of practice for rainy weather camping, but also glad that I had a free-standing tent with the wild gusts of wind that came down from the high peaks. Fortunately the storm was short-lived, and I went for a post-dinner wander.

Soon I discovered an odd cache of gear. In the bushes there was a large, heavy sleeping pad, a water bladder, some clothes, and a big tarp. The items looked like they had been there at least a year. I pondered what to do. I didn't have enough room in my pack to haul this stuff out. In the end, I left it and told the Forest Service. This would remain a mystery.

Night falls really early now, and I retreated to my tent. In the morning I would hastily pack up and hike rapidly to the trailhead to make it to work. Everyone was still in their tents when I left. And believe it or not, I saw no poop. Things might be looking up.




Monday, September 27, 2021

Yurt Life

 A thousand years ago, in 2019 when life was normal (but honestly, was it normal then? Not really) I bid on an auction item for a non-profit group that supports wilderness and I won. It was a night's stay in a yurt in Idaho. We all know what happened in 2020, and we didn't know what we know now (I had friends who were wiping down their groceries). Plus, we were in a stay at home order (I know, few obeyed this, but I did). We postponed until 2021, when surely things would be better.

Right? It turns out things weren't much better this summer, but at least I knew I could go to a yurt. I gathered up my friend Flash and we hiked in on a beautiful fall day. The aspens were putting on a show for us, and all around were the sounds of a creek and...sheep?

I didn't get a picture of the sheep. Here's Ruby instead.

It turns out there was a band of sheep just below the yurt, and a small wall tent nearby. Well, we would have neighbaaaaaaaaaaaaaas (Sorry). It would take more than a few sheep to dampen our spirits. The yurt was perfect, nestled in some trees with a view of the rugged wall of Hyndman Basin. It is mainly a winter ski yurt, but you can rent it in summer as well. With a relatively easy four mile hike in, the exception being the "hill of hell" in the last mile, it allowed for some carrying of luxuries such as down booties and down pants. There's even a sauna, though we didn't use it, and a two-burner stove and a water filter. Although there was an outhouse, it felt a lot like glamping.

We hiked far up into the basin, climbing over false summits to reach the highest point before the climb to a number of peaks. This was far enough for us, neither of us being peak baggers in particular.  A cold wind blasted us, a sign that winter was coming. We couldn't stay long, and headed down for a relaxing evening reading hut journal entries and reminiscing about our PCT days. We had hiked incredibly steep terrain day after day for weeks, with cold rain so constant our shoes never dried out. We were badasses, we agreed. 




The sheep moved out the next day and Flash had to leave, so I faced a night by myself. I debated: hike out and get up to my old stomping grounds in Stanley, or stay here? In the end, I decided to stay put and not try to do everything. I built a fire in the woodstove and wandered around the sagebrush, enjoying the views. In the morning, it was a unique experience to be able to pack up without dealing with a frosty tent.

I had planned an overnight backpacking trip in the White Clouds, but a formidable forecast appeared. Heavy snow, winds to 45 miles per hour. It would be foolish to head out in those conditions, so I sadly drove home, putting this on the list for next year.

I've long wanted to live in a yurt. They seem like a perfect compromise between a tent and a house. J isn't so sure about their liveability, but I plan to keep up the campaign. I love everything about them.

https://svtrek.com/huts


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Lake #62

I meet with one of my far away hiking partners via Zoom. He is retiring next summer and is planning an epic driving and hiking tour. The JMT, Glacier, Olympic, and many more. This is what I aspire to someday.  He decides to book a guided trip on the JMT because of the difficulty of getting permits, though I warn against it--it could go either way, but traipsing through the Sierra at your own pace is best. I consider this: I am going to try to take a month off from work next summer. Should I switch from the Colorado Trail (which has lots of lightning and rain) to the Sierra? Anything seems possible right now.

 I don't feel too envious-he is 64 and has put in his time. I don't want to be 64 yet. "I probably have ten or fifteen good years left," he says, though like everyone, he hopes there are more. I don't blame him for trying to fit it all in--I feel the same way. Lately, I drag myself out of bed having not slept more than a few hours, and with inexplicable joint pains. I will reset in October, I think. For two weeks I ate mostly vegetables and the pains went away, but that limited calorie diet with the exercise I want to do isn't sustainable. I need to figure this out. Snow is coming, and with it more time indoors to recalibrate. I need to stay healthy--there is so  much more to do.

"You've gotten out a lot this summer," he pointed out. I have to admit that's true, though it has been in smaller chunks than I would like. Still, it's been good. I am down to less than eleven lakes on my quest to visit all of them in the wilderness. Trying to beat the snow, I scrambled to get to one of them last week.

The approach is a longish one, with a continuous climb through unhealthy forest until I break out into a series of alpine basins, climb up to a pass and then hurtle down much of the elevation I have just gained. This is big country, and one of my favorite areas. I've been up here a lot, but it is still breathtaking. There are still some off-trail routes waiting to be discovered. The tourists have largely scattered, with a few bow hunters and some die-hard backpackers the only ones I see.




Few people travel to the lake I am aiming for. The lake is on a dead-end trail that has been obscured by blowdown and requires a treacherous descent. The map claims it to be a 1.3 mile hike from the junction, but it ends up being at least two miles one way, leading to a 16 mile day. In places, the trail disappeared completely, requiring some crashing through brush and puzzling out the next step. I am seriously questioning the value of this whole trip when I stumble n the swampy shores of a quiet lake.


A fire has left burnt trees on one end of the lake, but the rest is thickly forested. This isn't a lake with outstanding scenery, and I probably would not have gone if it weren't for my goal. It's doubtful many people go here. Back at camp, I unfurl my map. The remaining ten lakes will be harder to visit--most are off trail and some look impossible. Still, it is good to have possibility in my life. 

The clock ticks. I've done so much in my life and there is so much more I want to do. All I can do is hope I am granted the gift of time.




Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Sharing the trail

 L and I drove optimistically to the trailhead. I hadn't seen her in two years, courtesy of Covid, so we were chatting away as we approached the end of the rough road. We had already passed a few cars parked inexplicably along the side of the road, and a tent parked so close that our tires came within inches of where someone's sleeping head would be. All of this should have clued us in, but we still gasped in horror as the parking lot came into view.

Generally, this remote trailhead on a busy day would have about four cars. Today, at least twenty were packed in there. We exchanged looks of disbelief. It didn't look like my truck would fit, but we were locals, we could do it! Leaving the horse trailer plenty of room to get out, I backed precariously to a spot that probably was not really a spot, and we began our day hike.

The first hiker we encountered was headed out, bearing an external frame pack and a scowl. He ignored our greeting. Clearly he was not having a good day. We then saw a hunter (archery season is upon us) and a few backpackers, both headed in and headed out. A couple was doing a 14 mile loop, and there were also some day hikers. Finally I could stand it no longer and asked one group how they had heard about the trail.

"There was an article in the Eugene Register Guard," they said.

Boom, there it was. Write about something in a high circulation format, and people come.

On the positive side, it is always good to see people enjoying the outdoors. Everyone we saw, except for Grouchy Guy, was having a good time. We could see why. The lake was beautiful in the fall, the shrubs turning yellow and red. This is the best time of year in the mountains (it's supposed to snow this weekend).

We debated going further, but decided against it. The day was perfect enough already. When we arrived back at the trailhead, someone with a horse trailer had given up and decided to park in the middle of the lot, effectively causing difficulty to others. The tent was still pitched in the road, the occupants apparently deciding to risk their lives. It was hard to get too mad at all the people. Winter will be here soon, and everyone will go away.

I don't often enjoy day hikes as much as I do backpacking, but this one, even with sharing the trail, was the perfect length and the perfect company. We talked about the date, September 11, and where we were when we heard (L was at these lakes) and how life had changed since then. It was the right place to be on this anniversary.