Sunday, March 28, 2021
Sunday, March 21, 2021
Flash and I checked the weather. Again. Typically this time of year is a sure bet for the canyon. It can be chilly in the evenings, but sixty degrees is pretty common. I had wrangled five days out of my schedule and we were set.
Except, we weren't. At first it looked like just one rainy day. We could handle that. After all, we had hiked for three weeks in the rain on the PCT. I optimistically packed for rain, using dry sacks, pulling out my shell mittens and my rain skirt (or possibly rain pants, I thought.). Trying to attach my umbrella to my pack, I had an epic fail. Oh well, I thought, it's just one day of rain.
However, the weather forecast continued to get grimmer. One day looked okay--47 and sunny. But the following showed 100% rain and snow. Snow at 1300 feet! I felt like a wimp, but decided we had to postpone. Flash was in agreement. There was no point in risking hypothermia just for a backpacking trip.
Which left me with an unplanned weekend. After a ten mile ski on Saturday, I wasn't sure what I wanted to commit to the next day. The gym was calling my name, but I didn't want to waste a weekend day at the gym when I could get outside. Then I remembered: Freezeout! Typically by now I am able to hike this trail, and though this has been a good, though very warm and relatively snowless, winter of skiing, I wanted to hike on dirt. Starting at 3600 feet, the trail climbs to over 5000, so I knew that there could be snow. It could be a drive for nothing, but I decided to chance it.
Freezeout road is one of those mysterious places where there are houses parked back in the trees, off grid and silent, enough to make a writer's imagination go wild. In fact there is still a place where an escaped felon lived for a while before being captured. In all the years I've driven up there, I haven't seen any signs that anyone has driven into that place, and so I wonder.
I parked below the trailhead due to snow on the road and began the steep hike to the saddle. You have to love Forest Service mileage signs; having dragged a wheel on trails myself (the old school measuring before GPS was common) I know how inaccurate the signs are. This one claims that it is two miles to the saddle, but it's really about 3.5 (or 3, or 2.8, does anyone really know?) There are lots of switchbacks and steep pitches, but it doesn't seem to take long to get to the top. After last week's bonk, I was gratified to feel pretty good.
A few angled snowdrifts lay across the trail. If the snow had been icier, I would have turned around, but I was able to kick steps in with little difficulty. Soon I was at the top, grabbing my puffy jacket and staring longingly down in the canyon.
|Covid hair, don't care|
But this wouldn't have been a good weekend to camp there. A scary snowdrift blocked the way down; someone would have to inch across it at a steep angle, praying that they didn't have a one way ride down 2000 feet. Not today, canyon, not today.
When I got home, I saw that Flash had gone hiking today too. She sent me a screen shot of the weather in the area we had planned to hike. 100% rain and snow. No thanks, canyon. Maybe someone else would have gone, but I was fine with our decision.
Sunday, March 14, 2021
I slogged upward, deep in hour three of a snowshoe outing that usually takes two hours. Too stubborn to turn around, I was reduced to a simple formula: walk one hundred steps, stop and breathe, stare in frustration at the slope ahead. A victim of not enough food brought along, I was in the stages of an epic bonk.
But it was a gorgeous day, the sky a deep blue, no wind in sight, and no people anywhere. I knew that a thirteen mile snowshoe would induce cries of NOPE from my friends, so I went alone. Sometimes I just need to bust out something hard.
At first a snowmobile track perked me up considerably. I'm not a huge fan of snowmobiles. Back in the day, I rode them for work and we were constantly getting them stuck, having to haul out shovels and free ourselves. They're loud and some riders don't exhibit a lot of etiquette. However, they can be useful for speedy walking. I hoped against hope that one of them had broken a trail to the top of the mountain.
Alas, it was not to be. I arrived at the gate to discover solid, deep snow. As you may recall, I recently attempted this hike and turned around due to the snow. This time, I wanted to make it to the top.
I've hiked, run, and snowshoed up this old road so many times that I know where all the landmarks are. The place where an old trail takes off into the basin. The second emergency phone box. The place where you think you are to the treeline but it turns out you aren't. I've never hiked with headphones but I could see the appeal as my trek turned into a slog. I was wearing short snowshoes, not the best choice for deep snow, and the 4,000 foot climb seemed to go on a lot longer than it usually did.
But I pressed on. It was Saturday, and even though I needed to do a whole host of chores, it was easy to decide to put them off. The sun was warm enough that I shed all of my layers down to the base. I also drank all of my water and ended up scooping up snow.
Arriving at the place where the road breaks out of the trees, I discovered a new wrinkle. The road had disappeared! There has always been at least an outline of it in the past, but instead the snow spread across the mountain in blank white. Trying to stay on where I remembered the road to be turned out to be impossible--it was too crusty and looked like a one way ticket to the bottom. Sighing, I headed straight up.
|Not a great picture, but after slogging up there I wanted a record of my success.|
Finally I staggered to the top, and like always, it was totally worth it. The wilderness spread out before me, shrouded in snow. It was deeply quiet and the sun was so warm that I lay on some exposed rocks, turning my face up like a plant.
|Finally some bare ground! I basically collapsed here.|
Getting to the top of the mountain is only halfway, though, and I knew I had to force myself to go down. Acquiring a blister, I marched along, thinking of only one thing: the couch. For some reason, this hike had kicked my butt.
My friend called me the next day. She had gone skiing on another mountain. "It was really hard for some reason!" she said. "And I've been skiing all winter!"
Maybe there was something in the air? I have rarely been so tired during an adventure. "I can't move," I whined, forcing Jerry to bring me dinner (he is nice to me). Lack of food? Not enough water? I don't know. "I'm not going up there again until summer!" I announced.
Wisely, he didn't say anything. He knows I can't resist the mountain. Maybe next time I'll bring more food.
Sunday, March 7, 2021
I raced darkness as usual, searching for a campsite. I was back in the Wenaha, and just like last October, I had hiked to Crooked Creek, expecting to be able to cross the stream to a sandy beach next to the river. Just like last time, I was unable to cross. Apparently the creek had changed course, making the crossing too dangerous this time of year.
I had been lured back to the Wenaha because of a spring-like sixty degrees. How could I not backpack? March is a good time to visit this canyon, because the poison ivy hasn't leafed out and the snakes are still peacefully sleeping (a friend told me that a personal record is 40 snakes! FORTY rattlesnakes! That's a big nope). April is still good, but May is too late. I was reminded of a May trip where we set up our tents only to see a couple of rattlesnakes cruising across our campsite. Never again!
The trail had changed in the five months since I had been there. Already deteriorating then, a hard winter had erased trail tread in some dicey spots, and a mess of trees lay jackstrawed across. Brush scraped my legs, making me regret my decision to forgo pants. People used to trail run here. Now, it would be more like a trail walk.
I went back the way I had come, looking for a site. A fire came through here in 2017, and dead trees are still hanging ominously over former campsites. It was starting to get dark, and I'm not a big night hiking fan anyway. In these conditions, with the trail gone and just plain rocky in places, it wasn't a great idea.
Each dead stump started to look like a bear, and I was thinking uneasily of the wolf tracks I had seen earlier. I was also annoyed that my vision of the trip--lounging on a riverbank in the sun--was not proving to be reality.
But the trail provides. I arrived by headlamp to a sweet little spot I should have set up in earlier, when it was still sunny. (is this a metaphor for life? Don't let the good ones go by?) Happy now, I lathered up with tecnu (in case of poison ivy), fired up my camp stove and made dinner and hot chocolate.
There are few things I like more than waking up in a beautiful spot, which is why day hikes are a distant second to me. I noted that I had burrs in my hair from some of the off-trail tree navigation I had to do the day before. Alas, I will never be in an REI catalog, but that's life. The tent was frosty and the air cold enough for me to start off for the trailhead in my puffy coat. It was a Friday, so nobody else was around, and I felt like I was living my best life.
The second backpacking trip of the year was a resounding success, even if it wasn't the way I planned it. (I have actually backpacked every month since November 2019, except for February this year. February was snowy, and it wasn't happening). The trail provides but also teaches lessons. I needed those lessons.
Monday, March 1, 2021
I fidgeted, trying to write a visitor use management plan for a forest. It was sunny outside, and torture to be in! Lately I find that it is never enough. I had already been for a run, so why couldn't I just sit happily? Yet, I could not.
Finally I gave up and grabbed my snowshoes. Earlier I had run up the road to Kinney Lake, only to find it completely drifted in. A brave soul had tried to four wheel it up the big hill and had failed, having to back down. I wanted to get to the lake--it's one of my favorite spots. Tonight, I would get there.
I parked at the base of the hill and trudged up, running into some ice fishermen I knew on the way down. "We tried to beat a path," they said, "but it drifted in." My snowshoes crunched in the crusty snow, and I could spy a kite up ahead. It had to be my friend out kite skiing.
I arrived at the lake to discover him leaving, claiming it was too gusty. I had the lake to myself, and I walked out onto it. The view here never disappoints--I could see the Seven Devils in the distance, and right above me, the Wallowas.
A few disconcerting slushy spots sent me on my way before too long, but not before a pink sunset ensued. I hadn't been all that motivated to drive out here, but it was worth it.
Later, my friend P and I got on a Zoom. We were both working from home, but he wore a tie while I had on a hoodie dress. We were over it, we agreed. We needed something to look forward to.
We decided it was time for a jail break. We pondered on October for a hiking trip. All around me friends are going to Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica. I'm not ready for such far-flung travel (who wants to skulk around Hawaii in a mask?) but closer destinations, we agreed, by then, should be okay. I am luckier than he is, living close to the wilderness. It has been a lifesaver in a year where nothing much has been great.
Sometimes I wake up feeling like every day is the same, work, try to fit exercise in, sleep, cram cram cram. "You have a hurry-up personality," a friend observes, and while I don't really like that about myself, I have to agree that it often feels like there just isn't enough time. Will that change once I no longer need to work? I don't know. All I know is that I am trying to squeeze out every second that I can.