Monday, September 27, 2021

Yurt Life

 A thousand years ago, in 2019 when life was normal (but honestly, was it normal then? Not really) I bid on an auction item for a non-profit group that supports wilderness and I won. It was a night's stay in a yurt in Idaho. We all know what happened in 2020, and we didn't know what we know now (I had friends who were wiping down their groceries). Plus, we were in a stay at home order (I know, few obeyed this, but I did). We postponed until 2021, when surely things would be better.

Right? It turns out things weren't much better this summer, but at least I knew I could go to a yurt. I gathered up my friend Flash and we hiked in on a beautiful fall day. The aspens were putting on a show for us, and all around were the sounds of a creek and...sheep?

I didn't get a picture of the sheep. Here's Ruby instead.

It turns out there was a band of sheep just below the yurt, and a small wall tent nearby. Well, we would have neighbaaaaaaaaaaaaaas (Sorry). It would take more than a few sheep to dampen our spirits. The yurt was perfect, nestled in some trees with a view of the rugged wall of Hyndman Basin. It is mainly a winter ski yurt, but you can rent it in summer as well. With a relatively easy four mile hike in, the exception being the "hill of hell" in the last mile, it allowed for some carrying of luxuries such as down booties and down pants. There's even a sauna, though we didn't use it, and a two-burner stove and a water filter. Although there was an outhouse, it felt a lot like glamping.

We hiked far up into the basin, climbing over false summits to reach the highest point before the climb to a number of peaks. This was far enough for us, neither of us being peak baggers in particular.  A cold wind blasted us, a sign that winter was coming. We couldn't stay long, and headed down for a relaxing evening reading hut journal entries and reminiscing about our PCT days. We had hiked incredibly steep terrain day after day for weeks, with cold rain so constant our shoes never dried out. We were badasses, we agreed. 

The sheep moved out the next day and Flash had to leave, so I faced a night by myself. I debated: hike out and get up to my old stomping grounds in Stanley, or stay here? In the end, I decided to stay put and not try to do everything. I built a fire in the woodstove and wandered around the sagebrush, enjoying the views. In the morning, it was a unique experience to be able to pack up without dealing with a frosty tent.

I had planned an overnight backpacking trip in the White Clouds, but a formidable forecast appeared. Heavy snow, winds to 45 miles per hour. It would be foolish to head out in those conditions, so I sadly drove home, putting this on the list for next year.

I've long wanted to live in a yurt. They seem like a perfect compromise between a tent and a house. J isn't so sure about their liveability, but I plan to keep up the campaign. I love everything about them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Lake #62

I meet with one of my far away hiking partners via Zoom. He is retiring next summer and is planning an epic driving and hiking tour. The JMT, Glacier, Olympic, and many more. This is what I aspire to someday.  He decides to book a guided trip on the JMT because of the difficulty of getting permits, though I warn against it--it could go either way, but traipsing through the Sierra at your own pace is best. I consider this: I am going to try to take a month off from work next summer. Should I switch from the Colorado Trail (which has lots of lightning and rain) to the Sierra? Anything seems possible right now.

 I don't feel too envious-he is 64 and has put in his time. I don't want to be 64 yet. "I probably have ten or fifteen good years left," he says, though like everyone, he hopes there are more. I don't blame him for trying to fit it all in--I feel the same way. Lately, I drag myself out of bed having not slept more than a few hours, and with inexplicable joint pains. I will reset in October, I think. For two weeks I ate mostly vegetables and the pains went away, but that limited calorie diet with the exercise I want to do isn't sustainable. I need to figure this out. Snow is coming, and with it more time indoors to recalibrate. I need to stay healthy--there is so  much more to do.

"You've gotten out a lot this summer," he pointed out. I have to admit that's true, though it has been in smaller chunks than I would like. Still, it's been good. I am down to less than eleven lakes on my quest to visit all of them in the wilderness. Trying to beat the snow, I scrambled to get to one of them last week.

The approach is a longish one, with a continuous climb through unhealthy forest until I break out into a series of alpine basins, climb up to a pass and then hurtle down much of the elevation I have just gained. This is big country, and one of my favorite areas. I've been up here a lot, but it is still breathtaking. There are still some off-trail routes waiting to be discovered. The tourists have largely scattered, with a few bow hunters and some die-hard backpackers the only ones I see.

Few people travel to the lake I am aiming for. The lake is on a dead-end trail that has been obscured by blowdown and requires a treacherous descent. The map claims it to be a 1.3 mile hike from the junction, but it ends up being at least two miles one way, leading to a 16 mile day. In places, the trail disappeared completely, requiring some crashing through brush and puzzling out the next step. I am seriously questioning the value of this whole trip when I stumble n the swampy shores of a quiet lake.

A fire has left burnt trees on one end of the lake, but the rest is thickly forested. This isn't a lake with outstanding scenery, and I probably would not have gone if it weren't for my goal. It's doubtful many people go here. Back at camp, I unfurl my map. The remaining ten lakes will be harder to visit--most are off trail and some look impossible. Still, it is good to have possibility in my life. 

The clock ticks. I've done so much in my life and there is so much more I want to do. All I can do is hope I am granted the gift of time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Sharing the trail

 L and I drove optimistically to the trailhead. I hadn't seen her in two years, courtesy of Covid, so we were chatting away as we approached the end of the rough road. We had already passed a few cars parked inexplicably along the side of the road, and a tent parked so close that our tires came within inches of where someone's sleeping head would be. All of this should have clued us in, but we still gasped in horror as the parking lot came into view.

Generally, this remote trailhead on a busy day would have about four cars. Today, at least twenty were packed in there. We exchanged looks of disbelief. It didn't look like my truck would fit, but we were locals, we could do it! Leaving the horse trailer plenty of room to get out, I backed precariously to a spot that probably was not really a spot, and we began our day hike.

The first hiker we encountered was headed out, bearing an external frame pack and a scowl. He ignored our greeting. Clearly he was not having a good day. We then saw a hunter (archery season is upon us) and a few backpackers, both headed in and headed out. A couple was doing a 14 mile loop, and there were also some day hikers. Finally I could stand it no longer and asked one group how they had heard about the trail.

"There was an article in the Eugene Register Guard," they said.

Boom, there it was. Write about something in a high circulation format, and people come.

On the positive side, it is always good to see people enjoying the outdoors. Everyone we saw, except for Grouchy Guy, was having a good time. We could see why. The lake was beautiful in the fall, the shrubs turning yellow and red. This is the best time of year in the mountains (it's supposed to snow this weekend).

We debated going further, but decided against it. The day was perfect enough already. When we arrived back at the trailhead, someone with a horse trailer had given up and decided to park in the middle of the lot, effectively causing difficulty to others. The tent was still pitched in the road, the occupants apparently deciding to risk their lives. It was hard to get too mad at all the people. Winter will be here soon, and everyone will go away.

I don't often enjoy day hikes as much as I do backpacking, but this one, even with sharing the trail, was the perfect length and the perfect company. We talked about the date, September 11, and where we were when we heard (L was at these lakes) and how life had changed since then. It was the right place to be on this anniversary.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Not epic.

It was Labor Day weekend. Usually on a precious three day weekend, I can be found out in the wilderness and I unhappily realized that this was not going to happen. I had all three dogs, and they aren't quite ready for busy trails. In the past, it would have been fine, but we've been invaded by West Siders who snarl at seeing dogs on trails. My dogs are good: they don't bite, bark or jump on people, but they like to run along on trails and some people just don't like dogs, even if they aren't approaching.

To avoid confrontation, I've been sticking to running on less busy trails. But I really wanted to get out overnight. To complicate matters, it's bow hunting season, and trucks are everywhere. Even with bright harnesses and flagging, there's always the possibility a dog could be mistaken for a coyote. I puzzled over the map. Where to go?

Angela was going to Razz Lake, but it was on a busy trail and she had two dogs already. Whitney was going to a cabin in McCall, and she also had two dogs. The usual suspects were gathering at Indian Crossing, but there would be at least ten dogs and I didn't want to be dog police. Instead, I decided to go up to the ski hut. It's remote and steep enough that nobody would be there, with the added challenge of no water.

This hut belongs to the ski club, and even though I can't really ski to it (too steep for me), I snowshoe to it in winter. It's little more than a shack, but a beloved shack. In summer, though, once you get there you are pretty much stuck there, remnants of a long-since fire creating massive downfall that gets tiring to negotiate.

I hauled my ULA Catalyst backpack out of retirement and loaded it up with six liters. One dog carried two more liters and the others carried their food. Slowly, we inched up the Hill of Death and toward the shelter. The grass was golden; it was hot. Fall was coming but summer was still hanging on.

I haven't carried this much water since the PCT desert sections, and I was reminded of the many grueling days under a hot sun as we struggled on to a dry camp. I do miss those days and the camaraderie of the trail. It's been pretty isolating here for the past year and a half. I didn't realize how much those eight years of section hiking defined my existence. It's time to hike another long trail.

The hut was relatively undisturbed after the summer, a coffee cup not put away, a random tortilla in the weeds. The dogs settled in to a fruitless squirrel hunt while I split wood for the winter. We used to have this hut to ourselves, but during the long lockdown winter, people clamored for it. You have to be a ski club member to use it, but only a few people actually help maintain it. The huge stack of wood we had worked on last fall was gone.

I ended up with enough kindling to last for awhile, and read a book and watched the night fall from the cabin. In the morning, the puppies jumped on the bed to snuggle. What are we going to do today, they seemed to ask.

It wasn't an epic adventure. They are happy to go anywhere, even if it's waterless and not all that scenic. How interesting it would be to be a dog, put in a car and brought somewhere, following restless humans into the woods. But dogs always make the best of it, and even though I wasn't where I wanted to be, I would too.

For the rest of the weekend, I did something I never do. I...relaxed. I took naps in a hammock! I watched movies! It was deeply weird, but nice not to be on a schedule. The dogs and I ran up deserted roads and jumped in the lake. It was epic, in its own way.