Monday, May 31, 2021

Misadventures in water

 If you are reading this on any site other than http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com, then it is stolen content. Don't give web scrapers clicks.

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

 Note: If you are reading this on any other site than http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com, it is stolen content. Do not give web scrapers clicks. Go to the original site to read this and other stories.

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.


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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Road Walking isn't Always Terrible

If you are reading this post on any site other than http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com, it is stolen content. Please do not continue to give this site your attention.

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

 This post first appeared on http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com. If you are reading it elsewhere, it is stolen content. Go to the original site for more and don't give scrapers clicks.

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. 


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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 (mountainsskin.blogspot.com) 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.