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.


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.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Not epic.

It was Labor Day weekend. Usually on a precious three day weekend, I can be found out in the wilderness and I unhappily realized that this was not going to happen. I had all three dogs, and they aren't quite ready for busy trails. In the past, it would have been fine, but we've been invaded by West Siders who snarl at seeing dogs on trails. My dogs are good: they don't bite, bark or jump on people, but they like to run along on trails and some people just don't like dogs, even if they aren't approaching.

To avoid confrontation, I've been sticking to running on less busy trails. But I really wanted to get out overnight. To complicate matters, it's bow hunting season, and trucks are everywhere. Even with bright harnesses and flagging, there's always the possibility a dog could be mistaken for a coyote. I puzzled over the map. Where to go?

Angela was going to Razz Lake, but it was on a busy trail and she had two dogs already. Whitney was going to a cabin in McCall, and she also had two dogs. The usual suspects were gathering at Indian Crossing, but there would be at least ten dogs and I didn't want to be dog police. Instead, I decided to go up to the ski hut. It's remote and steep enough that nobody would be there, with the added challenge of no water.

This hut belongs to the ski club, and even though I can't really ski to it (too steep for me), I snowshoe to it in winter. It's little more than a shack, but a beloved shack. In summer, though, once you get there you are pretty much stuck there, remnants of a long-since fire creating massive downfall that gets tiring to negotiate.

I hauled my ULA Catalyst backpack out of retirement and loaded it up with six liters. One dog carried two more liters and the others carried their food. Slowly, we inched up the Hill of Death and toward the shelter. The grass was golden; it was hot. Fall was coming but summer was still hanging on.

I haven't carried this much water since the PCT desert sections, and I was reminded of the many grueling days under a hot sun as we struggled on to a dry camp. I do miss those days and the camaraderie of the trail. It's been pretty isolating here for the past year and a half. I didn't realize how much those eight years of section hiking defined my existence. It's time to hike another long trail.

The hut was relatively undisturbed after the summer, a coffee cup not put away, a random tortilla in the weeds. The dogs settled in to a fruitless squirrel hunt while I split wood for the winter. We used to have this hut to ourselves, but during the long lockdown winter, people clamored for it. You have to be a ski club member to use it, but only a few people actually help maintain it. The huge stack of wood we had worked on last fall was gone.

I ended up with enough kindling to last for awhile, and read a book and watched the night fall from the cabin. In the morning, the puppies jumped on the bed to snuggle. What are we going to do today, they seemed to ask.

It wasn't an epic adventure. They are happy to go anywhere, even if it's waterless and not all that scenic. How interesting it would be to be a dog, put in a car and brought somewhere, following restless humans into the woods. But dogs always make the best of it, and even though I wasn't where I wanted to be, I would too.

For the rest of the weekend, I did something I never do. I...relaxed. I took naps in a hammock! I watched movies! It was deeply weird, but nice not to be on a schedule. The dogs and I ran up deserted roads and jumped in the lake. It was epic, in its own way.

Monday, August 30, 2021

A werewolf at Echo Lake

 I raced for Echo Lake. I had only a few hours of daylight and a steep climb ahead. A group of women stopped me. "Is the moon full tonight?" they asked.

In the years I have been on trail, I have gotten some strange questions, but I couldn't figure this one out. Either they were mistaking me for Google or I was a werewolf. Admitting ignorance, I plowed ahead.

Feeling pretty content with a 15 pound backpack, I tackled the 2200 foot climb. This was easy compared to how it was a few years ago--lots of downfall and route-finding. This lake, like all of the rest, has been discovered.

But not too much. I was the only one there when I arrived, and it looked like nobody else was coming. It was time for a victory swim. A cold victory swim.

It's hard to ignore that fall is coming. Gone are the days of recklessly packing--now I bring my puffy coat, gloves, and down pants. There is a feeling that winter is in the air and hiking will soon be over for the season. There were a lot of places I didn't get to, but this was night #27 backpacking for the year, which is a lot for the limitations I had this summer. Almost a month of staying in a wild place, with whatever I had carried in. 

How to get through the winter? Luckily I like to ski, and I have a new winter hobby lined up. Making my own backpacking food! I can barely choke down any commercial food anymore, and it isn't all that good for you anyway. I watched with envy as my hiking partner consumed fancy meals that she had dehydrated. I've never done that, mostly because who has the time, and because I often don't bring a stove. But it's never good to get stuck in a rut, and maybe time to pay attention to what I'm eating (a tuna wrap doesn't always cut it). 

The night was clear and cold. Stars came out. Eventually, an almost-full moon peeked out over the shoulder of the ridge. No werewolves appeared. OR DID THEY? I had to get back for a ten am conference call, so I packed in the dark and headed off by headlamp. The nights are getting noticeably longer; leaping out of the tent at 4 am no longer works as well as it did in July. 

I reached the trailhead at 8:15, in enough time to make myself presentable on camera. At the meeting, people from the Washington Office talked about a project. I was the only one who knew: last night I had been wild. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Route finding on Huckleberry Mountain

 I admit: I've been spoiled by the PCT. It takes a lot to get lost on that trail. Plus there's an app that tells you where you are. Though I carried paper maps and attempted not to lose navigation skills, it was easy to default to the Guthook Guide.

So when I found myself searching for the trail to Little Storm Lake, I experienced a momentary panic. One minute I was on a trail, and the next I was floundering through a meadow. To make matters worse, hunters have established well-used trails that lead to their camps, and which are easy to mistake for the main trail.

It soon became obvious: hardly anyone uses the real trail. The reasons for this were clear. The main trail runs along a waterless ridge, avoiding the springs below. Some of it is pretty sketchy, with lots of exposure. And the trail stays far above the lake, necessitating a careful picking your way down.

The area itself is little visited. It begins with a 2200 foot climb over two miles to the site of an old fire lookout. Then you walk up and down an undulating ridge with the before mentioned challenges. It's definitely not for everyone, but I'm on a quest to visit all 73 named lakes in the wilderness, and with only ten to go, I wanted to check this one off.

 It was disconcerting to be off the main trail, but I figured out where it was and climbed back up to it. With all of the false leads, it took five hours to cover the ten miles to the lake and I gratefully set up my tent in time to capture the mountain reflections in the water.

The way out was much simpler and I didn't get diverted to hunter camps. I passed a couple gamely ascending to the lookout site. They didn't intend to go further. Those were the only people I saw in twenty-four hours. 

I don't usually name the places I go, but I'm confident this one will remain remote and quiet. It presents enough obstacles to make a person think twice.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

60 miles Around Mount Rainier: Wonderland and Beyond

 I scrolled grimly through Recreation.gov as we drove the six hours to Mount Rainier National Park. The walk-up permits for the Wonderland Trail were disappearing. I could figure out a way to get halfway around the mountain, but then we were stuck. It was looking like our trip might be an exercise in futility.

Every spring the Wonderland goes on a lottery system, but we didn't get chosen for the early one, and the second lottery was ridiculous. Spaces vanished in seconds as people grabbed whatever they could, probably several people in one group and on multiple devices. We decided to risk the walk-up in an effort to hike somewhere different than our mountain range. It's been since 2019 (except for one Grand Canyon trip) that I have hiked anywhere else.

The ranger eyed us skeptically. "Have you ever hiked here before?" he asked. I didn't blame him: on our trek we saw obvious newbies and people who brought chairs, three sets of clothing, huge bottles of bug spray, and some who never made it to their assigned camp. He frowned at his computer. He couldn't give us a Wonderland permit, he said, but he could try something else. "Can you leave tonight?"

Could we hike ten miles starting at four? Yes, yes we could. We left with a cobbled together route that included part of the Wonderland and the Northern Loop, a somewhat wilder section of the park. Some of our days were short, but there were side trips we could take. After hastily throwing our packs together, we set foot on the Wonderland in a clockwise direction, heading for Mystic camp.

The air was remarkably smoke free and the mountain in our face as we made good time through the alpine country to camp. The campsites are nothing to write home about--mostly situated in forests, away from the nice features like lakes, but the next day we hiked up to the ranger patrol cabin to take in the view.

Tolmie fire lookout and Lake Eunice

We hiked fourteen miles on Day 2, with a 3800 foot climb toward beautiful Spray Park, ending up in a developed campground next to lots of Wonderland travelers. It was a relief to escape back onto the trail. We took a side trip to a lake and fire lookout, and then descended three thousand feet to a delicious old growth forest and our third day's camp, Ipsut. This was once a drive-in camp but a flood destroyed the road, so it is quiet and unassuming now.

Old growth forest near the Carbon River

The fourth day we climbed from 2,200 feet up to somewhere in the low 5s, passing over a few sketchy bridges over the Carbon River. These bridges wash out frequently and it looked like this one was due for a disappearance soon. Because it was only five miles to this camp, we dropped our gear and day hiked up to a natural bridge and Windy Gap, returning to camp in late afternoon to find ourselves the only ones there.

The following day began with a climb back to Windy Gap and a big descent to the White River, where another bridge looked tenuous at best. Braving that, we undertook a 1700 foot climb and a rolling ridgeline to our last camp, Berkeley Park. The smoke had started to roll in, and my hiking partner was tired of being hot and sweaty, so we were not going to try to extend the hike. (I think I have a lot more heat tolerance than most people. I've hiked with several who seem way more affected by heat than I am. I was hot but I could deal with it.)

The last day was short, but we soon found ourselves in hordes of day hikers, all reeking of bug spray (unnecessary) and deodorant (why). I couldn't get out of there fast enough. This is the downside of a national park--so many people. 

In sum we hiked about 60 miles, ate a lot of food, and escaped our offices for one precious week. It was worth it.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Work travel diaries, California edition

This post first appeared on http://mouontainsskin.blogspot.com. Any other location where it appears is not authorized and considered stolen.

 I strolled through SeaTac, feeling overwhelmed. All of these people! The terminals were back to pre-Covid levels, and there was no escape. At least everyone is forced to wear masks, but there are a few renegades that try to get by with bandannas, which don't inspire much reassurance. I might be vaccinated, but I have lost any desire I might have had to be in crowds.

The last time I traveled for work was two years ago and it is likely that work travel will be curtailed again. I was determined to appreciate a week in a beautiful place.

The project was in California, and hiking time was limited. Besides, I surveyed the proliferation of poison oak along the trails and wasn't too excited about the prospect anyway. The hotel gym would have to do for exercise.

A thick layer of fog teased the land, keeping temperatures chilly. I watched surfers head out in wetsuits and tourists bundle up in coats.  But the farther up on into the forest we drove, the hotter the temperatures became, until we were in dusty, tawny landscapes with an entirely different type of people, who lived up there because they wanted to, despite the challenging access. I couldn't blame them. The longer this pandemic goes on, the more I want an escape route.

Still, it felt good to be out in the world, like a real person again. I continued my tour of fire helibases, stopping to see my friend Billy at one scorching site. I vowed to get my red card again next year--it has been hard to sit by and not help out in my own small way. My team and I ate at outside venues, and it was good to talk to other people besides the ones I have been bubbled with. Though the pandemic has probably been easier on me than on others, I didn't realize how starved I was for new and different locations and people.

The week flew by quickly and it was time to brave the airport again. I returned to my home town to find we were in a Substantial Risk category. Despite this, two huge events went on as planned. Things will never be normal again. But the landscape endures, at least so far. I sat in a climate change workshop, and someone wrote gloomily on the mentimeter: "We are all doomed." I hope that isn't true.


Friday, July 30, 2021

A trip where everything went wrong (but still turned out OK)

 I sat uneasily at Chimney Lake. As the hours stretched on, I could tell something had gone wrong. Should I stay here? Hike further back on the trail? Go over two passes again to where I had left my tent? In a recurring theme for Covid x 2 summer, nobody else was around, unlike Covid 1, where this lake was so packed, I avoided it like the plague (although, that saying is no longer relevant, since very few people actually avoided the plague. But I digress).

The plan had seemed so simple. I would travel the eight miles to Bear Lake to capture the best campsite for the group of friends coming in the next day. I would experience a night of solitude at this lake before six other people appeared. I would hike back to Chimney to show the group the way in to Bear Lake, which, if you don't know the way, can be tricky. What could possibly go wrong?

Bear Lake

Finally some horses hove into view. The group was getting packed in, and while this isn't really my thing (I carried all of my stuff), I have to admit, a chair can be really nice. The wranglers told me that the group was moving really slowly, one member of it experiencing chest pains. By the time the stragglers arrived, it was obvious nobody was going to Bear Lake.

Except me. I didn't have the enthusiasm to travel back to Bear Lake, pack up my stuff, and travel back to Chimney. Also, one member of the group had forged ahead and was AWOL without overnight gear. We speculated that she could have gone to Bear Lake. I would go back there and offer up overnight accommodations (a rain fly and a sit pad plus a few bars) and bring her back in the morning.

This is why I hike solo a lot, I contemplated as I climbed the passes again and dropped down into Bear Lake. Sure enough, the missing hiker was there, mystified as to why she hadn't seen us at Chimney (it was likely when the group had gone in to set up camp). A group of nice guys nearby had offered bagels and a tent, so she wavered between staying or going, but eventually decided to go. I explained the route and hoped for the best. She seemed confident, anyway.

The next morning I headed back to Chimney Lake, only to find two members of the group heading out. Their rescue dog had been sick all night and had torn a hole in their tent, and, sleepless, they were going to leave. Down to a group of four now. I recruited the hiker formerly known as missing, and we embarked on an ambitious plan to climb the pass (again), drop way down to Wood Lake, come back up and then go to Hobo Lake. It was a tour of lakes!

Wood Lake
Hobo Lake

The whole alpine basin was deserted. We were above the smoke and the swimming was perfect. When we descended to Chimney (again), I decided to do something that had long been a goal--swim to one of the islands in the middle of the lake.

See the island in the middle of the picture? That's the one!

Observed by a party of two who just appeared to be hanging around their campsite, I swam easily out to the island. A goal conquered! There was a small campsite on the island and I allowed myself to dream of investing in a packraft and coming back someday.

That night the dark side of Chimney Lake emerged. It's only five miles from the trailhead, and often attracts people who decide to talk loudly, play music and stay up way past hiker midnight. I fumed in my tent and contemplated rattling plastic bags in the morning, but in the end, everyone slept.

I left at dawn, after three nights in the wilderness. It's the longest I've been able to spend out this summer, and I was grateful for it. There's something good about being completely disconnected and away from the superficial. Next summer, a month, I thought hopefully to myself. I've already asked for the time off, and my supervisor has agreed. She's retiring, though, so I will be at the whim of whatever temporary person is put into that job. I still have hope, though.  

Friday, July 23, 2021

Time on my hands on Hurricane Creek

 Most days, I have no time. I wake up ready to bolt. That is because I go to work very early in an often misguided attempt to get off work early (this rarely happens). I always have "things I need to do" running through my head. 

I don't write this to invoke pity; it is a combination of life choices and reality. I am sure many others feel the same. Where it becomes challenging is when I get a chance to camp, and it is hard to stay still.

I am sure we have all camped with them--the annoying types who can't just relax. They pace, they whine about being bored, they aren't self-entertaining. I strive not to be that person. 

Spruce and I arrived at the old miner's cabins at one in the afternoon. We had hiked nine miles, not far, but I had to be out early the next day (work, again) so I didn't want to go further. Back when I was section hiking the PCT, one in the afternoon was only half my day. Flash and I often passed incredible camping sites, saying wistfully that was too early to stop. That is the life if you need to put in big miles, which we did (work, once more). Even though it has been two summers since I did any long distance hiking, I still have that mindset.

But. It was another hot day, the trail sizzling. I set up my tent, thinking we could always move later. I poked around the old cabins. I know little of their history, except that copper mining used to occur in these mountains. Who were these people and what were their lives like, perched on a meadow far from town? I don't know.

Then I walked to the water. A waterfall and a perfect swimming hole presented themselves. Could I really just lounge here all day? Yes, yes I could.

For the rest of the day, we swam, poked around, climbed to a waterfall, and read (I did, Spruce napped). And it was amazing. I look forward to the day when I can do this more.

Friday, July 16, 2021

HYDH at Dollar Lake

This content was originally published on http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com. If you are reading it somewhere else, it is stolen content. Don't give them any clicks.

 If you are a long distance hiker, you have undoubtedly heard the term, "hike your own hike", or HYOH. It's a good sentiment, originally meaning, hike the way you want to, and don't let others tell you there is only one way to do a long hike. It's become more of a snarky comment now, as in, well, I wouldn't do it that way, but HYOH. There's also another rule to live by, HYDH--hike your dog's hike.

When Ruby started to whine and lift up her paws, I knew I had to do something quickly. The hot sand was burning her. Typically we don't have to worry about that here; when I lived in Central Oregon I often saw people grimly carrying their dogs, due to the high temperatures and red volcanic soil. But this summer is different than any other. We have been blasted with heat for weeks. It's easy to ignore if you can just go jump in the lake whenever you want, but sitting in front of a computer in a sweltering house has been extra fun. And wearing tank tops on conference calls is frowned upon.

It was time to get to a higher elevation. It was Sunday, but only two cars were in the parking lot. This was truly amazing and has mirrored some of my anecdotal observations so far this summer--there are less people in the backcountry than last year (when people were supposed to be staying at home). This may change, but so far it is encouraging. I don't say this to limit people but because the impacts from the crowds last year were discouraging. Like, poop right next to a campsite? Really?

The hike started off fine. It felt hot, but not overly so. I felt the tread in the trail--warm, but not burning. Although I had intended my destination to be Bonny Lakes, at four miles, I wasn't satisfied when I got there. Bonny is already getting swampy, pretty early on in the summer. I encountered a couple I knew who had spent the night there. "The mosquitoes were terrible," they reported. No surprise--Bonny is one of the buggiest places around. It was still early, so we had Dollar Lake in our sights.

Bonny Lakes (one of two)

Dollar sits off trail on top of a pass, and is in one of the most incredible settings you can imagine. I never fail to be impressed, even though I've been here many times. Impossibly, nobody was around, so I went swimming. The water was perfect and I regretted not bringing a tent. Day hiking just doesn't cut it sometimes.

We beat feet down the trail, but partway down Ruby started showing signs of distress. No problem--we would just cut through the grass until we got down to the shaded part of the trail. Everything seemed like it was going to be all right until the last mile, which is exposed and treeless. Ruby whined, but I couldn't carry her. We were going to have to run.

We ran as fast as we could, hoping that the limited exposure to the hot trail wouldn't burn Ruby's paws. I pondered: would we have to sit and wait until sundown? Could I possibly put the dog in my day pack? But mercifully we gained the river without lasting damage. I felt like the worst dog parent ever. Having a dog makes you less selfish about your pursuits, but it also can curtail them. 

I know people who don't have pets (or kids, or partners) for this very reason. They want to do what they want, when they want. I sometimes envy that. I'd be doing a long section hike (maybe a month long) if I didn't have the dogs. When I hiked the PCT, I would encounter people who ambitiously brought their dog; inevitably they would have to scale back or quit entirely. The same occurred with couples hiking. Some did fine, while others had spectacular breakups. I too, have learned from HYDH and hiking with other people. There are tradeoffs. Company is nice. Having a dog makes you feel a little better about creeps and mountain lions.

Plus, they are cute.

So, HYDH. There could be variations of this: Hike your Partner's Hike, Hike your Cat's Hike (yes, there are adventure cats), Hike your Kid's Hike...But the important thing is, you are hiking.

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Friday, July 9, 2021


 There were a lot of good reasons not to go to Mirror Lake. It's the most popular place in the wilderness, and as such, can be mobbed with hikers. The drive to get to the trailhead is composed of washboard and rocks just waiting to flatten a tire. But by far the biggest reason are the mosquitoes.

We don't have a big mosquito season. It lasts about two weeks as the snow is melting off. But when it is on, the bugs are ferocious. I have encountered angry hikers heading out early due to the incessant buzzing. And this year it was rumored to be early, on account of the dry spring we have had.

I found myself uttering those famous last words: "How bad can it be?" But what were the alternatives? This summer, I have to seize every wilderness opportunity I have available. The summer is already rocketing by, and I feel a sense of loss as we hurtle toward another winter. So I packed up and, dog in tow, hit the trail. By the way, I was carrying all of the dog's stuff. It was hot, again, and carrying a pack would make it hotter for her. (I KNOW.)

To my great surprise, there were actual spaces to park at the trailhead. I perked up as I trudged the switchbacks to higher ground. Some people coming out paused to acknowledge that the bugs were, indeed, bad. But how bad could it be? Some people's bad is not bad at all. 

I happily walked through my favorite part of the trail, where it opens up into big meadows and Eagle Cap Peak comes into view. This is such a beautiful spot that it is hard to feel as though you have any troubles. I passed a few struggling souls and came out to Mirror Lake.

My favorite camping spot was taken, but that couldn't dampen my spirits. A breeze kept the bugs away, and swimming was perfect. There's a reason everyone flocks to the Lakes Basin. I sat gnawing on my bagel, and it was then the true horror made itself known.

Mosquitoes! The breeze had stopped, and we were swarmed. Deet kept them away, just barely. I hauled out my head net and put it on the dog. She was not a fan, so I took it back. She looked miserable, so we walked. And walked. We walked to the next lake. And on the other connecting trail. And to another lake. While we were moving, the bugs couldn't get us.

All around the lake, campers had fallen silent. Sometimes this area can sound like a regular car campground, with clanging of pots and yells as people jump in the water, but not tonight. Everyone was driven into their tents early.

The next morning the bugs were waiting, since the temperatures had not dropped. I packed up quickly, anxious not to have a repeat. On the way down, I encountered hopeful backpackers claiming they were spending two nights. Probably not, I thought.

At lower elevations, the mosquitoes were mercifully absent. I found an outstanding swimming hole that I couldn't resist. When I got home the true nature of the trip revealed itself. I had been bitten so many times it looked like a rash. I definitely had met the expectations of the mosquitoes.

I would have to stay lower next time, I thought. I wasn't about to give up overnight trips just for a few bugs. They will pass, but so will summer. I packed up my bag again, determined to go back out. After all, how bad could it be?

Perfect swimming hole

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Running is easy (sometimes)

 Recently I went back to the town where I used to live. It was for a sad reason, but I managed to get out for a few runs. Hiking wasn't an option, and I wasn't crazy about venturing into an unfamiliar gym. So running it was.

Where I live, running is hard. The trails are tough: no such thing as flat or smooth. Studded with rocks and often crowded with tourists, they are not made for running, though I try it. Even the really hard core trail runners here walk a lot. I find myself choosing other forms of exercise, most of the time.

But where I grew up? There's now a plethora of trails. Some flat gravel, some flowing, all quiet. I waited for my uncertain knee to assert itself like it does at home. Strangely, my body seemed to like running again. It felt like the old days, when nothing hurt. 

I ran on some mountain bike trails that weren't here when I was young, and on some interior park trails that I recalled as being rooted and requiring navigational skills, but were now sweet pathways. If I still lived here, I'd be a runner, I thought.

It's interesting how where you live shapes what kind of athlete you become. A friend's friends are moving to Tulsa, because they get a relocation bonus. Tulsa! No backpacking there. What would I do? Run, I guess. If I lived where my inlaws do, I'd be a lake swimmer and kayaker. 

My life has even been shaped by where I've lived. In Southeast Alaska it was hard to be a hiker; no trails and too much rain. In Florida, I took to the swamp, slogging through water to explore. In Nevada, I rappelled into caves. 

Coming home in a historic heat wave, I dropped the idea of running and took to the water. The (un-airconditioned) gym was already 85 degrees at six in the morning. Blatantly disregarding the rule against a propped open door, another gym goer took a kettlebell and kept it open, letting a semi-cool breeze in. Since this rings an alarm at the owner's house, I opted out. Instead I took my first glacier lake swim, and my adventures will center around water for awhile. Running can wait.

How does where you live shape your adventures?