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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.
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