Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Type 2 Fun in the Grand Canyon

 "I'm unpacking my sunscreen," I text Camel. Good Stuff is stranded in Flagstaff and must take a shuttle. I stare at the weather forecast as if it might change. Rain in the inner canyon, for at least three days. Temperatures in the 40s. My least favorite kind of backpacking weather.

Of course, the forecast improves the day we are supposed to hike out. I'm annoyed by this, even if it's unreasonable. After the expense of getting here and one precious week of time off, it's hard not to be annoyed. But it is what it is. 

I panic buy a fleecy headband and waterproof socks, since I've left my boots at home, based on a better forecast. I'm bringing all sorts of things I don't normally: waterproof sacks, a pack cover, overmittens. The wild card is always in hiking with others; my companions may decide to bail early. Or they may not. I admit to myself that were I going alone I might bail too.

But I remember hiking the Washington PCT for three weeks in relentless rain. I did it then and we survived. I switch out my light hiking pants for soft shells. How many people get to see snow in the inner canyon anyway? We are fortunate. 

The picture above is of Frost on a ski trip. She looks 100% over it. Will I look like this on day 3? Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The tyranny of packing (a first world problem)

 "My pack without water and the first day's lunch is 33 pounds," Camel reported. Good Stuff did not say, but said he was "going light". I hurried to weigh mine. 27 pounds with one liter of water and four days of food. 

But I fretted. On this trip we have a whole gamut of possibilities. It could be sixty degrees, or it could be in the teens. We will be in ice and snow, and also not. The forecast holds a foreboding chance of rain (or snow). One day is an 18 mile day, some of others not so much. The nights are long, so reading is essential. Tights or pants? A pack cover, or hope for the best? Trail mix or not? (I almost always end up with extra trail mix) "I'm not bringing waterproof socks," Camel declares. But, he reveals, he has waterproof boots. Feeling silly, I pack my down booties, down pants, and down hat, plus handwarmers. There is no ultralight in winter.

Dog is my co-pilot.

 I've  pretty much stayed in this valley for two years. In that time I went on one hike that involved leaving the county. After section hiking the PCT for eight years,  it has been a big adjustment to stay home (I realize that this is a privilege not afforded to many). In that time I have apparently forgotten how to pack. In the end, I stuff just about everything in the rolling duffel and figure that I will sort it out the night before.

But travel is still a few days away, and there's still time to readjust. I have a few days off from work, and so I ski. I meet up with non-working friends on a weekday, an unknown luxury. What would that be like? They are both younger than I am and I ponder my life choices. We ski through the wildlife area, all three of us making spectacular crashes in the soft snow. We laugh and laugh. It feels good to laugh.

Another day I head solo up into the hills. Nobody is around, and my skis cut deep into the snow. Our skating lake is completely shrouded in snow, nobody having the desire to shovel it out again. I ski from the house up the snowed-in road, running into my neighbors, also on skis. I feel sorry for the people here who hate snow. They should probably move to Arizona.

Of course, I sometimes get tired of snow too. Thus this upcoming trip. It's been so long since I felt like life was normal, and I'm starting to think it won't ever really be again. So it's time to hike long trails again. This isn't long, about 50 miles, but I am eyeing some plans for next summer, two weeks if possible. The choices I am pondering are to go back to the Sierra, or to hike part of the Colorado Trail. I want to do these things while I still can, since none of us have any guarantees. 

Sierra: more people, a permit system that is challenging, but logistics are relatively easy. Colorado: haven't been before, logistics more difficult, lightning!! Which would you choose?

Thursday, December 16, 2021

heart of winter

 We approached the small lake on foot, armed with shovels and skates. To my delight, the lake had frozen smoothly, unlike the bumpy ice of years past. My skates cut cleanly through the light snow. We were the only people around. 

The thrill of skating on a backcountry lake was measured by the fact that this is a really short season. A huge snow dump was predicted, and nobody wants to labor for hours to shovel over a foot of snow each time they want to skate. There are no backcountry Zambonis! 

Still, you take what you can get, so we had two great days of skating. The next day I dragged a friend along, and the three of us sped along the paths we had shoveled. None of us will ever qualify for the Olympics, but we mostly avoided faceplants, and no bones were broken. Two good days of skating is better than no days of skating!

As predicted, the snow came in, perhaps trying to make up for the entire dry winter so far. We woke to a world of white, over a foot having dropped overnight. Hoping to get to the summit, we drove optimistically through deep snow, only to find our route blocked by an overconfident driver who was stuck. As we carefully backed down the road and turned around, other people appeared and got stuck too. Everyone, it appeared, was anxious to get out.

You don't live here if you want amenities, but we have the outdoors in great supply. It's always surprising to see a few hardy souls about in what most would term terrible weather. Coming down from the West Fork, I encountered two backpackers bound for Ice Lake. Did they know a big storm was coming in? Yes, they did. They had snowshoes strapped to their packs and were intent on gaining the lake. Feeling a combination of envy and puzzlement, I headed for my warm house. (The fact that they were carrying pepper spray spoke to the fact that they might not be from these parts.) On the way, I saw two different people I knew. We were all walking in snow, in temperatures in the teens, and we were all happy to be out.

The rest of the week was a flurry of unearthing the winter gear. Where was the glide wax? The skis? Gaiters? The dogs are the only ones ready.

What do you bring in a winter pack?  It's funny how you forget, but I managed to successfully launch for both a snowshoe and a ski. I floundered along in the sugar snow, trying to gain purchase. It's a lot of work, but once a track is set, the rewards are great. Sometimes it would be nice to live somewhere with groomed trails, but with groomed trails comes more people. When I see tracks made by others, I usually know who made them. That's the benefit of living in a small town.

The usual signs of winter are now here. My skis and snowshoes, propped up in the snowbank. Ski boots, drying out by the fire. Me shuffling out to the woodpile. People with shovels. The tire shop panic, with everyone wanting winter tires. The resurgence of our local winter road report facebook page. It took a while, but it's here. 


Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Signs of winter + poison ivy avoidance tips

 I bought a new tent. It's a one person, to replace the one I gave away this summer. Tents to me represent possibility and adventure. I only spent 37 nights (so far) backpacking this winter, but someday I will spend many more. I love tents!

I set it up indoors, making sure the cat wasn't around. He likes to attack tents. By now, my neighbor Mike has learned to see many tents set up outside. He generally wanders over to inspect the tent. However, the weather has not been great--icy and cold. Indoors it was.

Tents to me represent possibility. Where will I go? There are so many trails, but so little time!

It'll be a while before I can use it. I think winter is finally coming. I saw a few signs this week. I was running on an abandoned road and saw a random Christmas tree. 

And the backcountry lake is open for skating!

Skiing can't be too far behind.

Earlier this week I was able to hike all the way to Slickrock Falls, which is the first time I have ever been able to do this late in the season. While it was nice to go for a hike, this certainly isn't normal. I hoofed it up to the falls and back, only encountering a few other brave souls. Once at the falls, I looked longingly up at the route to Deadman Lake. I knew from experience it would take an hour to travel the mile up to the lake, and there's one difficult spot to traverse. It was so windy that I feared trees falling on me, and it wasn't the right time to attempt it. It is always hard to turn around, but live to hike another day.

But guys! I avoided getting poison ivy this year! I don't know if these tips below helped, but if you are as allergic as I am, you might give them a try.

  • The obvious--don't wear shorts. I used to not follow this rule, but it's a sure way to get PI. I wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. When I get to camp, I put these clothes in a plastic bag and put on my sleeping clothes. I carefully put on the hiking clothes the next day and wash my hands.
  • I wipe off my shoes with baby wipes and rinse my poles in water.
  • Technu during the golden hour. There are wipes or the lotion. Either works.
  • Anything dangling off your pack could brush against PI. Like your bandana, your pee rag (gasp) your sit pad...anything. Your pack, too, can become contaminated. Don't take it into the tent with you. Wash it in the bathtub when you get home. Wash everything!
  • Bring a change of clothes for the car ride home, or you may find yourself with PI on the car seats, to be a problem much later on. The oils can last for over a YEAR on things.
  • Rain gear really is the best for going through PI if you can stand sweating. Likewise, if you pass through PI in the rain, or in the fall when it is less potent, do so. The dormant phase, where it looks like dead sticks, can still give you a rash. You know the PI by the white berries on the stalks. Avoid! Avoid!
  • I don't bring a dog when I am hiking in PI. The oils can stick to their fur.
  • I sometimes use my poles to hold the taller plants out of my way, but have to remember what part of the pole was touching it and not touch with my bare hands.
  • The websites SAY that washing in a machine will nullify the PI but I am not convinced. I wash the clothes, and sometimes twice, in the washer. Then I run an empty cycle with detergent and vinegar. I am not taking the chance! I also wipe out the dryer with cleaner before putting any other clothes in, if I am not air drying at the time.
  • Another Captain Obvious: cold shower at first. Though honestly, I have done hot showers and haven't seen much difference. However, apparently hot showers open pores and allow for more contamination.
Any other tips?  How's everyone's winter going snow wise? (unless you live in the southern hemisphere. If so, can I come visit?)


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How to sleep for twelve hours

There's something magical about the Snake River in its wild stage. I've been to the confluence with the Imnaha River many times, but I can't quit it, despite the truly terrifying one-lane, switchbacked road to get there. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on that drive, but the end result is worth it.

I haven't slept much lately, subsisting on about four hours a night, which wouldn't be a problem if I didn't have to present myself, bright and sparkly, on video conferences starting at 7 am (darn you, East Coasters). I dream of naps, but there's just no time. What to do? Backpack in early winter, when you are forced into your tent at five in the evening.

I set out optimistically on the drive, and was rewarded by only having to back up once for a truck and trailer. I've written about this hike before; suffice to say that it's pretty easy, following the descending Imnaha River to the confluence. Once there, I was both elated to see no people and disturbed to see cows. I've never seen them there before and cows tend to like the same campsites as people. Fortunately, I knew of a secret spot where, for whatever reason, cows don't go, so I headed there.


There was only soft sand, willows and no cows. Heaven. Why didn't I do this more often, I pondered. But then would it be so special? I think not.

One of the great advantages of descending to under 2000 feet is that it can be warm even in late November. I had packed a plethora of cold weather gear but didn't need it. I sat in the sand and watched a few jet boats race back toward Lewiston, and then all was quiet. 

I crawled into the tent figuring I would read for a few hours and get back up, but to my surprise I fell asleep and mostly stayed asleep until six the next morning. I guess it's true--a big river cures insomnia. 

The next morning I had to beat feet as it had begun to rain, and the access road is nearly impassible once it gets soaked. People claim they need chains to navigate the slippery mud. As much as I love the area, I didn't really want to live there with only a couple of bars for sustenance, so I raced quickly to begin the daunting drive out.

My writer friend said, "the faithful old Snake, it just keeps rolling along and healing us." She's right.