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

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 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?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Time warp

As we drive into the town where I was the most lonely, I texted my friend a picture of the high school mascot sign. 

"Why, Mary, why?" he texted back. We both were there at the same time, suffering through life in a conservative town, where summers were scorching, winters freezing, and the dating pool shallow. To endure it, I used to escape to anywhere: north to backpack, west to visit friends, south to camp. I never, ever stayed home.

But my friends were riding a brutal bike race, and we were there to support them. We weren't a lot of support, basically watching them start, and then meeting them at one point to offer up Oreos and dried mangos. The race is remote and difficult, and it took them hours to complete. There was a 12 hour cut-off time. "Do you think I could do the 120 in twelve hours?" I asked J as we drove up in search of a trail to hike. He had done this race before, so he knew how hard it was, and how bad of a bike rider I am.

"Nope," he said.

"The 60?"


"The 30?"


Since bike racing isn't on my list of ambitions, every other competitor was safe.  

My friend T and I gathered up five dogs and went for a pleasant walk by the creek. We had a much better day than our suffering friends, whom we caught up with at the base of a big hill. They laughed as some of the 120 racers sped by-these people seemed like a separate species, especially as it was nearing 100 degrees. The race had drawn all kinds--the extreme athletes and the cruisers.

The next morning I went for a run past my old house. I almost didn't recognize it--had it really been so close to the neighbors'? And I had no memory of the neighbors. I must have known them, but was I gone so much that I never really did? 

I ran up into Garland Acres, most likely much slower than I used to run in 2002. Though there are new houses, the town basically looks the same. Businesses have somehow hung on, and there is still the strange lack of movement from the residents. I think of the time I lived here as the Lost Years, but they taught me resilience, independence and strength. 

As we drove through town on the way home, I noticed some changes. Yes, the Central Pastime bar was still there. The Thai restaurant where you'd better not show up hungry and also bring a deck of cards to pass the time. But there was a day spa, something that would have horrified the locals two decades ago. A couple of brewpubs. But there was also a I stand with the Hammonds sign (refer to the Bundy occupation if you are unaware) and the $39 a night motel. Some things never change.

Dear younger me, I thought. Hang in there, but don't run on so much pavement, your knees won't like you later. Don't date that firefighter, he will only move away and cause you heartbreak. Maybe stay home once in a while? Or not. Trust me on this, you will leave this place, and then you might come back, just for a visit. It will seem like twenty years went by in a blink. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

sleepless on sleepy ridge is still stealing my posts. Should I be flattered that a bot thinks they are interesting enough to steal? Well, if they steal it, I will say it: the real site is and buy my books while you are at it.

 We pored over the Hells Canyon map. Where to go? An unknown group of trails spiraled out from the Hat Point road, all on ridges. You never know what you are going to get from Hells Canyon--typically trails have vanished, swallowed by tall grass and time. You end up guessing, and finding pieces of them. But we were game to try.

I gutsily drove to Warnock Corral, to be greeted with a "4WD road" sign. If the road I had been driving wasn't classified as a 4WD, there was no way I was going further. We ventured out onto the Western Rim National Recreation Trail, which hugs the rim of Hells Canyon. Though this is an NRT, it gets way less funding than others, and is fairly obscure. The number of people who have hiked its entire length probably is less than 100.

Though it was tempting to stay on the rim, we decided to veer off toward Sleepy Ridge. In the distance, the rim looked treed, and we debated: we didn't want to deal with inevitable blowdown and no views. We could bail if we didn't like it, we determined. You should always have a backup plan in Hells Canyon.

Elk ran off in the distance as we traversed along singletrack that I could actually ride with a bike. On foot, though, we emerged into glorious ridgewalking. After about five miles we reached a spring, and a flat place to camp. You don't take water lightly in the canyon, so we decided to seize the spot and day hike from there.

The trail contoured across the ridge, where it disappeared. We had been expecting this, so we weren't fazed. But a mystery revealed itself. My map showed no trail continuing on Sleepy Ridge, while the USGS map did. Which was right? Deciding not to flounder, we headed for Jakey Ridge, crossing Medicine Creek and climbing up. This trail was less used, with numerous blowdowns that we had to push our way through. Short on daylight, we conceded defeat and returned to our camp for a satisfying twelve miles of effort. Twelve miles is pretty good for the Canyon, even if we were on the rim and not in the depths.

I happily crawled into my new Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 tent. This is the best tent ever. I am too impatient to mess with trekking pole tents, and what if I want to take my poles for a day hike from camp? I don't really want to collapse my tent while I am gone. I want something easy and quick to set up. This tent is amazingly light and roomy and while fitting in two people could be a challenge, a furry dog is easily accommodated. I love my tent so, so much. (However, now I have at least two other tents I should probably offload.)

In the distance I heard a disquieting sound. Wind! Another thing about Hells Canyon are the strange local winds. An unpredicted gale buffeted us all night, flap flap flap. I thought uneasily about the trees above us, but it was too late to move. There's something terrifying about wind that sets me on edge. The night was long and unpleasant.

 It got light at 4 am, and we blearily crawled from our tents, sleepless. "Good thing we weren't on Windy Ridge," I said, pointing out the aptly named ridge running parallel to ours. My tent had withstood the wind, so there was that. 

Facing a day of chores, I reluctantly packed up to go. There's a lot more exploring that can be done in this place. Hopefully without wind next time. Oh, and we didn't see a soul. There's something to be said for living here.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Snakes or Snow

 This is the summer of my discontent, when obligations keep me close to home. Nobody reads a blog to hear whining, so I will stop there, but after a Covid summer where we were so slammed with tourists that we couldn't go to the places we loved, and now this one, it's enough to drive an adventurous soul around the bend. How many summers do I have left? Hopefully many, but you never know.

So when I had half a day and part of the next one to bolt, I cast about for options. While the valley is dry (and, disturbingly, we have a 2000 acre fire June!) the mountains are pretty snowbound. I didn't relish the idea of postholing through soft snow again. But where could I go? Snakes or snowere the options: Hells Canyon or the wilderness. 

Because a condition of my escape was that I had to bring a dog, I couldn't choose snakes. There's a dog vaccine for snakes, but I hadn't gotten one for them, and I didn't want to get bitten by one either. Plus, the poison ivy is in full swing. The canyon window has closed shut with a definitive bang.

Snow it was. "You can definitely get up the North Fork of Big Sheep," J said. Why I chose to believe someone who hasn't been in the mountains for months (because of his ruptured Achilles) I don't know. Perhaps I chose to believe. As such I wore trail runners, telling myself that if I found snow, I would turn around.

I remembered the North Fork as being a beautiful basin lying under the McCully ridge, and I excitedly trotted up the trail. I had to park well before the trailhead, which should have told me something about the conditions, but I convinced myself that the trail was west facing and so would be melted out. The first mile went fine, and Ruby and I began to tackle the climb into Big Sheep.

Almost immediately the trail disappeared under snow. My heart sank. But then, how bad could it be? (Asking this question nearly always leads to my downfall eventually. But still I ask.) I decided to forge onward, opening my Gaia app when I needed to. Mostly I try to navigate by knowledge; having worked on trails for a long time, I can usually feel where they should be. But when a trail dives into deep woods and snow is over six feet, it becomes more of a challenge. Nervousness began to creep in. I knew I wasn't lost, but not seeing a trail is always disconcerting.

And the snow wasn't the firm, easy kind. My feet sank deep into the snow, and I fell a few times. Still, I pressed on, gaining two thousand feet. I couldn't give up now. Surely the basin would be melted out., I thought, though I was starting to have my doubts.

After an hour of struggle I gained the basin. A solid white surface greeted me. Setting up the tent on snow would be okay, but then I would be stuck there; my feet were wet and it wasn't worth the exploration to keep postholing around. I would have to melt snow for water, which is tedious at best. I realized the phenomenon: I was tied to an outcome.

I had dreamed of sitting in sun-warmed grass, reading a book, a stream an easy stroll away. This was not the place. I would have to retreat. I should have picked snakes, I grumbled. At least I could hike a long ways without wet feet or postholing. 

The dog bounded down the mountain, always picking the trail even though it was snow-covered. Here's a tip: when you have lost the trail, follow the dog. They know where it is. She didn't care that we were retreating, that we didn't camp in the basin. Be more like the dog, I told myself.

It's hard not to be tied to outcomes when you have very little adventure time. I fumed as we backtracked, the snow already getting icy and treacherous. This trail had very little camping opportunities, and I wasn't in the mood to day hike. I spend enough time at home as it is; I wanted to be out under the sky.

My mood improved as I came to the creek. Here I was, once again a short distance from the car. But it was warm, there was water nearby to wade in, and even a bridge to stretch on. It wasn't the outcome I had wanted, but it was the outcome I got. It was a lesson I need to keep learning, and we didn't get bitten by snakes, always a bonus. I guess I'll always choose snow.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Misadventures in water

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In my new book, The Last Layer of the Ocean, I describe my uneasy relationship with water. I had always considered myself a land person until I moved to Alaska. There, I was confronted with water: the ocean was a living thing, influencing everything we did. I grew to understand water and to love it. 

Still, I have never felt completely confident in water. I like open water swimming, but I still like to wear fins, and I hug the shore. During a spate of strangely warm days, I convinced myself that swimming season was here. My neighbor's son looked askance when I told him I was going to Kinney Lake to swim. "It's going to be so cold," he warned.

I had touched the water the other day; it felt warm. Brimming with confidence, I drove to the lake to find a bevy of fishermen. Nobody was swimming, but nobody ever did here but me. The fishermen stared as I donned a swimming cap and fins. I had forgotten my wetsuit, but how cold could it be? I launched myself into the water. 

With the first stroke I knew this was a mistake. The water was shockingly cold. I made it a few feet before giving up. The fishermen stared as I crawled shamefully away. At my car, I pondered. I had an old pair of running shoes. I decided to run a few miles in my wet clothes to salvage the day. The fishermen stared as I ran off. 

Ruby thinks the water is just fine.

Okay, so swimming was out. Paddleboarding would have to do. I'm late to the paddleboarding game, because I was always fearful of falling in. I've been surprised to find that it's easier than I thought. My friend Marathon Chick and I paddled serenely across Wallowa Lake. The water is so deep and clear that we could see the bottom--and, unfortunately, the corpse of a deer. It must have fallen through the ice last winter.

We are going to have a few really hot days before the more normal temperatures set in. Do I dare return to the scene of the crime to try to swim again? Will the fishermen once again have something to stare at? Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Goldilocks in the backcountry

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There were many things I knew. One was that there would be snow, but not how much. Another was that I had limited time and had to make the most of it. Finally, I knew that I needed to be outdoors for the might. My day hikes were not cutting it. 

Ruby and I hiked hopefully up the West Fork of the Wallowa, aiming for Six Mile Meadow. Imaginatively named or not, this was only six miles from the trailhead and I was expecting to be able to get there. It was May, after all, it was time to get on with it. 

The trail was strangely deserted for a freakishly warm seventy degree day. Where were the tourists? Of course, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth, so I hurried past the Ice Lake junction at three miles and headed into the unknown. I was trudging a bit, though my pack weighed only 19 pounds. My thyroid levels have been all over the place and my doctor inexplicably had lowered my dose down to a level where I felt terrible before. "But I feel great," I protested. "Most hyperthyroid people do," she responded. I didn't want future health problems, so I glumly agreed to go with the lower dose. I wasn't sure if I was feeling the effects or just lazy, but it had taken me an hour to go the three miles.

Soon after the junction I ran into snow. It wasn't unstoppable snow, but quickly I became aware that my lightweight hiking boots, a concession to the potential snow, were becoming soaked. Still, I thought I could handle that. What's wet feet for one night? The snow then started becoming deeper and more pervasive. However, I was only half a mile from my goal. Nothing could stop me now.

Until something did. Very fresh mountain lion tracks dotted the snow. Ruby looked anxious. I knew that I hiked in mountain lion country all the time. I saw tracks all the time. But this felt different. It felt like the lion was right here. If you hike with a dog, you are hiking that dog's hike. I didn't want to worry about Ruby puttering around the meadow and being pounced on. I stood in the snow and weighed my options. I had to turn around.

All was not lost. I would descend and then climb again to the basin below Ice Lake. I was pretty sure I could make that. It would mean adding on another five miles to the day, but it was nice out, I had escaped from reality, so why not?

A day hiker hove into view, the only person I would see. He was smartly carrying bear spray; if I had been carrying it, I would have pushed on. "There's going to be too much snow up there," he said when learning of my plans. He went on to Six Mile Meadow, his only concession to safety removing one earbud.

The hike up the endless switchbacks went swiftly and I gained the basin. There was no hope of going further. Snow shrouded the trail. I stood uncertainly in the one campsite. Snowbanks covered most of it and just to get water would be a flounder through knee deep snow. Retreat would need to happen, once again.

This was okay, though. I had always wondered about a sandy site on the river far below, and this would be the opportunity to camp there. I thought dreamily of sitting in the sun next to the water, reading a book. I hardly ever get to read anymore. Once we reached the river I bushwhacked to the site. There it was, just as I had imagined but--the river was raging. There was no way to safely climb down and get water, and I didn't want the dog to get swept away. This site wouldn't work either. 

I stomped across the bridge to inspect some campsites on the other side. The same river issue existed, not surprisingly. There was one last option, besides hiking out. I had directed a trail crew to a campsite near the trail junction many years ago. Over time, other hikers had used it. Set in small gravel, it was close to the trail, but nobody would be coming by now. I set my pack down and sat for a while, something I often do to get the feel of a campsite. 

It was slightly ridiculous to have hiked 15 miles to end up camping only three miles from the trailhead. If I wanted, I could hike out now, and sleep in a bed and eat something other than crackers, since my chicken mole dinner proved to be way too spicy. But what fun was that? We would stay.

That night something large crashed by. Bear? Elk? I wouldn't know, because I wasn't in the mood to find out. It turned out to be a peaceful night otherwise, in a campsite I would never have ordinarily picked. Turning around turned out to be okay.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Road Walking isn't Always Terrible

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If you have ever been on any long distance hike, you know the horror of road walking. Hikers hate it. Some "yellow blaze" (get rides to the other end) and others endure them, but nobody really likes them. On the PCT, I had my share of road walking, including a blistering 100 degree slog to the town of Seaid Valley, a hypothermic trudge on an endangered frog closure, and still another through the town of Agua Dulce. I have decided not to hike the CDT based on the amount of road walking. No thanks! Road walks are boring, hard on the feet, and sometimes dangerous, if on the side of a highway. 

But there is one exception! Road walks can be great if it is a closed (due to snow) Forest Service road and the views are outstanding. I was feeling cooped up and miserable, but the mountains were still covered in snow. The canyon window was closing due to snakes waking up. Where to go? I pondered. It was bear hunting season, so I didn't want to go to Grizzly Ridge or thereabouts. Then I perked up, What about the Hat Point road?

This road leaves steeply out of Imnaha and ends 22 miles later at a fire tower. A number of trails leave off the road, but are only hikeable in summer. There's a couple of scary single lane sections, but for the most part it is eminently driveable.

Except now. I decided I would drive as far as I could and walk as far as I wanted, finding a campsite perched on the rim. Under the guise of dog training, I took Spruce. We drove to the six mile mark, finding a large snowbank and some guys with a horse trailer who obviously weren't from here. They commenced to back down the road, while Spruce and I took off on foot. 

The many snowbanks made me regret my choice of trail runners, but the day was warm and the walking easy. We cruised along the road, finally deciding to turn around at mile 15 and make our way back to a campsite I had eyed for years. I rarely car camp, so I never stayed here, but I always admired its location. The only downside was no water, but there was a nearby snowbank for melting and life was good.

What I love about the canyon country are the wide open sunsets and sunrises, and this area didn't disappoint. Spruce bounded out of the tent at 5 in the morning and I followed suit. We retraced our steps back to the car. The entire trip had been a short 15 hours, but it had been just what I needed.

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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Following the Snake: four days on the Idaho side

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Where do you go when it's snowy everywhere? You head for the river. Spoiler alert, it can still be cold. But Flash and I were longing for a real trail, and last year our planned trip came right at the moment of a stay at home order. (Note, only a few of us actually followed that order.)

Iconic Hells Canyon shot.

We arrived at Pittsburg Landing in a snowstorm/rain which didn't bode well, but being hardy types, we soldiered on. Out goal the first day was a mere 5.5 miles, to the campsites at Kirkwood Ranch. These are civilized sites, with picnic tables and the cleanest bathrooms I've ever encountered. 

We gazed with dismay on a terrifying sight. There were at least 25 tents and twice that many people huddled against a bitter wind. Kirkwood was a big nope. Hoping the trail would provide, we kept going.

About a half mile later, a small beach appeared. A tent was set up on the far end of an adjoining beach, but we managed to find a small site that blocked the wind. We felt lucky to have found it.

The following morning we rallied early to take on the next section, a rocky climb up to Suicide Point, then a rolling hike across the benches of the canyon, remnants of old ranches rusting in the sun. Most people stop at Kirkwood; besides seeing a raft flotilla across the river, we were alone in a vast landscape.

Yard sale at camp 1. Photo by Flash.

The Sheep Creek ranch was deserted; a caretaker is in residence for much of the season and river trips stop there, but it was obvious that nobody had been there since last summer. The campsites were spectacular though, so we decided to stop for the day.  I wandered up the trail that eventually led to Hells Canyon rim, dreaming of other hikes, other days.

On trail. Photo by Flash.

Our objective the next day was a long day hike to Bernard Creek. It is possible to hike past that point, though you may encounter more poison ivy and some brushy conditions. With light packs, we made it to the cabin by mid-morning. It is in a lovely spot, with a creek and a fine back porch for a snack break. An interpretive panel told us about some of the history of this place. A woman lived here with her husband, and would walk to a spot along the river to meet another woman who lived on the other side. They would holler across the river, trying to have a conversation to combat loneliness. People were tougher back then. 

We arrived back at our campsite to a terrifying sight. A group of music-listening guys were setting up a huge camp near the ranch building. Any hope of a peaceful evening was dashed, so we decided to relocate downriver to one of my favorite campsites of all time. It included a brief but amazing river swim.

Kirkwood was deserted as we passed back through. Tempting as it was, we had long drives the next day, so we defaulted to a motel in Grangeville to break it up. There we ate the most expensive pizza in the universe and contemplated our life choices. I've hiked about 1000 miles with Flash, and after a year of isolation, it was reassuring to be back to normal, even if only for a few days. We had covered fifty miles, but had gone way back in time in the canyon. 

Note: So far I am leaving this blog as is, but some complications have arisen. Not only has content been stolen, but in June the "notify by email" feature is going away. Do you get those notices? I'm trying to gauge how disrupting this will be. 



Monday, May 3, 2021

Hike Mike steals content!

 I typed in the title of my recent post because I was at work and wanted to send a picture from it to an ill co worker. (I don't log into Blogger at work.)  To my surprise I found my last three posts on a site called Hike Mike. Don't go there and give them clicks. It's obviously a fake site with a bunch of stolen articles perhaps gathered by a bot, because the contact and other about info just has gibberish.

Blogger and WordPress are no help because that site isn't hosted by them. My blog isn't literature but I don't spend time writing it to have it stolen. So I'm going to write one more adventure post and see if it gets stolen. If so, this blog is going private with a password.

If anyone has ideas on how to protect content let me know. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Return to the Canyon, part 3: Creepy camp and farewell for now

 Please note: if you are reading this anyplace other than The Mountains are Calling ( then you are reading stolen content. Please report this and let me know in the comments. Thank you.

I was on the trail by dawn. Even though I only had a short distance to hike, 6.5 miles, the high winds predicted would not be pleasant on the high, exposed Beamer trail. Early in the morning, the walking was slow but easy, climbing in and out of the side gullies and treading with care on the eroded sections. For the entire hike, I saw nobody.

At Palisades, I knew I had to find someplace sheltered. There wasn't a lot to choose from. A few skimpy bushes and some boulders; nothing looked good. Then I followed a narrow trail into a grove of trees. There was a campsite, obviously used before. The sweltering air barely stirred. This would have to work.

I immediately named it Creepy Camp. Some blood, fairly recently drained from some creature, pooled on a rock. A claustrophobic path led to the river, adding to to the creepiness factor. However, the beach was magnificent, a small slice of sand where I could wade in happily.

I looked across the river at a beach on the other side. A woman appeared, pacing the sand. There were no boats in sight. Had she been left behind? The roar of Lava Rapids drowned out any attempt at communication, and swimming the river was not an option. I watched for awhile as the woman continued to pace. It seemed like a canyon mystery never to be solved, but then I saw some rafts pull over and pick her up. I found out later that there's a route from the North Rim that comes down there and hikers often hitch rides over to Tanner Beach.

The wind began to blow and I retreated to Creepy Camp. As scary as it was, it had been a good choice. Camping in the sandy sites would have been impossible. 

The next morning, unscathed from any creeps, I packed up and headed back to Tanner. Several people were there, with tales of effort and failure in reaching the beach the night before. This theme was repeated as I hiked out. It was clear that some people should not be on this trail and did not know what they were getting into. 

I had planned to camp on top of the Redwall, but a strong wind discouraged this notion as did all the people hiking down who planned to camp there. (It was only about 4 groups, but this was way too many for one spot.) Hoping to find something suitable, I poked around 75 Mile Saddle and found an acceptable spot with a great view. My brand new thermarest pad predictably deflated as it had the past several nights (don't buy an Uberlite.). I was only a few miles from the trailhead, but I needed one more night in the canyon.

I gained the top before eight the next morning and pondered my life choices. It seems like I have hiked most of the Canyon trails; there isn't much left to do on this side. Even some of the off-corridor routes are getting busier. Is it time to find somewhere else to go? I don't know. It's hard to give this place up.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Return to the canyon, part 2: Cruising the Beamer (sort of)

 I nervously packed up and started on the Beamer trail by six. The other group that was heading on the Escalante route was leaving then too. We all knew the future: another blazing hot day on exposed terrain. I loaded up with three liters, overkill for 6.5 miles, but I knew it would not be at a fast pace.

"The Beamer kicked my butt," a former desert rat had told me. "It's the hardest trail in the Canyon!" I had heard about exposed shelves above the river where a single misstep could be your last. Endless gullies to climb in and out of. A miserable slog, several trip reports agreed.

The first part of the trail traverses above the river, drops into a few gullies, and then stomps along in deep sand to the next major campsite, Palisades. This part wasn't hard. Where was the narrow part, I wondered. When would the butt kicking begin?

I strolled into Palisades to discover a rafting trip. They gave me an orange. Looking around, I saw mostly sandy, sun blasted campsites. No way was I going to spend all day here (though in cooler temperatures it would be fine).  I would proceed with my new plan--hike all the way to the confluence.

The Beamer gets more serious after this point. There's a steep climb to the Tapeats and then a narrow traverse, broken in and out of various gullies. Some of these were rough and marked with cairns, but I still had to occasionally search for the route. But the views more than made up for my slow pace. 

After a couple of hours I saw the last legal campsite far below me (you can't camp at the confluence due to sensitive wildlife habitat). I puzzled over the supposed butt kicking, which had never materialized. Also, people had agonized over the narrow section. Where was that? I hadn't even noticed. What I did notice was that it felt like I was the only person on the planet.

The small beach had an overhang which was perfect for one tent. After a refreshing swim I headed to the confluence. Even though I had been told that the sky blue color of the Little Colorado was a sight to see, I still gasped in amazement. A few river rafts were parked there, and the clients were floating down the LCR to the main river. The water was warm and swimmable, even with a skim of limestone in it. It was close to one hundred degrees at two in the afternoon, but this was heaven.

I finally returned to my campsite for a starry night, the sound of the river, and nobody else around. I knew the next day would bring a return to Palisades and wind gusts of over 35. Unless I wanted to be blown off the cliffs for a one way trip down the Colorado, I would need to start early. For now, there was nowhere I would rather be.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Return to the canyon, part one: to Tanner Beach

 I sat in idling traffic, feeling more annoyed by the minute. In total, it took three hours to travel the four miles from just outside Tusayan to the entrance gate of Grand Canyon National Park. While admitting that I was part of the problem, I also couldn't believe the traffic jam. In all my years of coming to the Canyon, I have never had to wait to get in. Maybe I've just been lucky.

I had built in an extra day before my permit started in case the flights were weird, so I spent an exorbitant amount of money to stay on the rim. Hiking along the rim trail was also deeply weird. There were more people than usual, and no international travelers. Just white people as far as the eye could see.

I drove to the Tanner trailhead to scope it out so I could leave by dawn the next day. A trio of intrepid explorers were packing to go in. "I've been in the canyon 90 times," one of them felt compelled to say. He also mentioned that the trail I was planning to connect to, the Beamer, had "kicked his butt." I felt more and more nervous. The Park Service's description of the Tanner and Beamer isn't overly welcoming. The words "nasty" and "eroded" feature prominently. Also, a heat wave had descended on the canyon. It was going to be in the high 90s, and one day the winds were going to gust to 35. For Pete's sake, I thought, why am I doing this? Is this really dumb?

My nervousness had reached a high point the next morning as I stepped onto the Tanner, burdened with four liters of water. The sun was just beginning to rise, and it was still cool. Many trip reports bemoaned the first mile and a half, which descend 1800 feet. However, I was relieved to find that it wasn't scary, just painfully slow. There were some scrambles, and careful feet placement was required. 

It took an hour and a half to reach the top of the redwall, where the walking became briefly easy before diving down through the sandstone, which was composed of rolling rocks. Still, I was enjoying myself as I came upon a man trudging upwards just past what is ominously named Furnace Flats.

"I'm halfway!" he declared. It was clear that he wasn't even close to halfway, but he insisted, "Look, there's the watchtower! It's really close." He then described how fit he was and that he had hiked nine miles every day of his trip. I left him to his delusions, knowing I was only about an hour to Tanner Beach. A river oarsman on a layover day joined me, hefting a large umbrella. I looked on enviously. I have a trekking umbrella and remain unconvinced of their benefits, since they seem to inhibit airflow, but shade in the Canyon is a wonderful thing. However, I can't seem to find a good attachment to my pack, so I left mine behind.

I hit Tanner Beach in less than five hours, and my butt wasn't kicked. It was only eleven, but the temperatures were reaching roasting. I didn't relish the thought of a sandy hike to the next beach, so I decided to swim and read for the rest of the day. I'm not normally good at this, but there's something about the Canyon that invites relaxation. I hurry through life as it is, why not sit still for a while? The water was breathtakingly cold, but refreshing. I saw several rafting trips hurtle through the rapids.

I sat and contemplated my life choices. I had planned to move my camp three miles to Palisades, stay there for the night, and then do the 12 mile day hike to the confluence with the Little Colorado the following day. The high temperatures and predicted wind dictated a change in that plan. I had read that the Beamer had very exposed, narrow sections. A friend in town had claimed that the Beamer had "kicked his butt." That was two reported butt kickings. I was nervous about the following day, but the sound of the rapids and the bright stars drifted me off to sleep. I was back in the Canyon, a place that for whatever reason, seems to be my place.