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

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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?