Sunday, November 17, 2013

To Rock Pile Lake

 Showers (the kind that come from plumbing, not from the sky) are really a wonderful thing.  I liked the one I took my first day in Big Lake Youth Camp so much that I decided to take another one really early in the morning before we left.  Muddy brown streams ran down my legs and into the drain the first time I showered, and I had to scrub with a piece of pumice to get all the brown off my heels, plus, working around the blisters was a challenge.  This time I just washed because I liked the feeling of the hot water and the clean smell of the soap.  I used up the last of my body butter, put back on my clothes and tossed the dirty towel in the hamper.  How great that the camp lets hikers use the shower rooms free of charge, but that might be self-defense, they let us eat in their dining room too.  It was about 6:30 when we left camp, squeaky clean and well rested.  The morning was beautiful!  Orange and red clouds streaked across the sky, the horizon was a deep shade of pink and the trees, even the burnt ones, left their dark silhouettes on the edge of the morning.

The first five miles went very quickly, through some forest and some burnt forest, and then we crossed a highway. People often ask me if I feel safe walking out in the woods- they worry about cougars and bears and other wild animals and things that might get me.  I have had to listen to countless stories about people being attacked by bears or falling off cliffs.  I am frequently asked if we carry a pistol or at least bear mace.  Here’s my answer: I don’t worry about bears in the wilderness any more than I worry about muggers in the city, and if you want to look at the statistics, 28 fatal bear attacks in CA in the decade of 2010, compared to 1,974 homicides in CA in the year of 2011. Although this site says that no fatal bear attacks have occurred in this decade. Yes, I feel safer with the bears. And though I could not find a single listed incident of a hiker being run over by a Mac Truck, crossing highways is really the only time I feel unsafe.    Well, and an occasional river crossing.  And once in a great while on a rocky ledge.   But bears I do not worry about. 

I expected the day’s hike to be rocky and uphill the whole way, seeing as we were rounding a ridge and hiking right below Three Fingered Jack.  There was a lot of fire damage again, but being an older fire, there was also a lot of wild flowers and undergrowth.  It was pretty steep in some places, and I am glad we did not have to hike it in yesterday’s pouring rain, but it was not the scary ridge walk I expected.  Sometimes, when I needed a bit of a breather, I would stare out at the landscape far below. The valley spread out like a carpet, green with trees and then grey and black from the damage of many fires.  I love days when the mist still hangs in the air and the mountains fade out in layers of blue and purple along the horizon. I spent a lot of time that day trying to figure out how to paint that scene, or capture it in a quilt for my new grandchild.  Something about that particular view of blue and purple layers of mountain is so peaceful and encouraging.

My journal says that I got a nap at lunchtime and that I washed my feet and changed my shoes.  I do not remember the nap, I do remember the mushy little lake deep in a burn area where I tried to get water and wash up.  The edge of the lake was so deep with ash that every step caused muddy rings to form and ebb out.  I finally found a rock to which I could wade/hop out, where I perched to fill my water bottle.  Washing my feet was useless- they just kept getting dirtier.   When I was done fetching the water I sat with my little towel and dried my feet clean, changed my socks and put on my sturdier Keens.  Then it was time to dig a little hole before we hit the trail again.  Finding a discreet spot is not easy when there are no trees and little underbrush, so I wandered away from Snickers and down to the left a little, where the undergrowth proved a little thicker.  I was just in the process of unbuckling  when I heard a whistle and then a voice.  A hiker walked right by me- not more than ten feet away!  It seems that the trail winds a bit more than I realized right through there, and though I had walked my 100 feet away from the trail in that direction, I had wound up right next to it on this side.  A few minutes more and that hiker would have had more scenery than he might have cared for!  We continued on and had a nice, uneventful afternoon, coming finally to a lake where we thought we might make camp.  To finish at Cascade Locks by Friday, though, we would have to do twenty miles every day until then. This lake wasn’t very picturesque, and it was only at mile seventeen for the day.  We took a rest, and then decided to move on.  The next lake, Rock Pile, was four miles away and supposed to be a good spot, so we heaved our packs back on and headed North.  It was a pretty steep four miles, but we can feel that two days rest and know we are getting stronger when a 21 mile day doesn’t kill us anymore.

From my previous posts it may seem that everyone on the trail is friendly and we are all out here having a party.  Not every hiker is immediately your best friend.  Two men that we met at Elk Lake kept crossing paths with us.  They were quiet, hardly said hello, kept their mp3’s plugged in and kept hiking.  We never learned their names and they never seemed glad to see us.  We had established camp at Rock Pile Lake and were in the process of making dinner when these two came in.  We waved hello, they nodded curtly in return.  Rather than go over and make friends we decided to keep to ourselves, too.  We had a nice burrito dinner with butterscotch pudding with ginger snap crust and listened to our audio story for a while.  A brisk, cold wind came scooting across the lake, but we were snuggled down inside our warm sleeping bags, watching the stars blink on one by one as the blue sky deepened and turned to purple, then to velvety black.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

2,000 Miles

The morning’s hike was hard work on rugged lava.  I have heard other hikers complain about it, and now I understand.  Besides just being hard and rocky, the uneven surface causes you to concentrate more and work harder to keep from turning an ankle or slipping.  I could feel the sharp edges through the soles of my shoes and with the sun out, the heat reflected back on us.  But it is kind of surreal and alien, so interesting in that sense.  I worked on capturing my shadow with the camera a bit today; I think I got a good shot or two.  Something about the monotony of the landscape increases my awareness of light and shadow.  I also notice my brain is more creative when there is less to look at- less trees, less foliage, mostly just rocks and more rocks.  The formations were often interesting, but still, there was nothing but rocks for miles.

We stopped for our morning break and dried out the bags and ponchos from last night’s rain.  Shortly after we packed up and moved on we came across a South Bound couple who had all their gear spread out on ferns and in trees too.  We had a nice little visit comparing notes and gear before we got back to the business of hiking. These were important miles and we were keeping track with the GPS, because today would be the 2,000 mile mark.  Pretty incredible to think that over the last ten years my husband has walked 2,000 miles.  Though I have done over half of it with him, this really is his goal we are working on, and the credit all goes to him.  I was so enormously proud of him, and for once he didn’t seem to mind the attention.  When we got to the spot on the trail where someone had written “2,000 miles” in stones, he let me take his picture and even posed. What an amazing accomplishment!  Not so much when you compare it to the hikers who have done that many miles in just four or five months, but still, how many Americans can say that have walked that many miles?

We moved through a large burn area and up some steep rises.  I stopped often to look at, photograph and take small samples of the wide variety of wildflowers growing in and around the old burned trees.  There were lots of bees buzzing from flower to flower and some gopher hills too.  It is amazing to me how quickly life springs back after the devastation of a fire.  It takes decades to replace the trees, but it does not take long for the flowers, the thistles and some shrubberies to fill in the empty spaces left by the downed trees.  Snickers was a little tired and stopped fairly often too, which is what allowed me time to do my wildflower thing.  Because guidebooks are too heavy to carry and pictures don’t capture things really well, I will often break off a small sprig of a flowering plant and press it in the back of my journal.  When I get home I can look it up and identify it and find out if it is useful for anything.  I know quite a few plants that are good as remedies (yarrow is good for fever or bleeding, chamomile will help relax muscles, pennyroyal keeps off bugs and when brewed as a tea can help with menstrual cramps..) and am always eager to learn more.  I know a lot of plants that are excellent sources of food, too, although many of Oregon’s greens were new to me.  Mostly, though, I just like the little flowers and find that it makes me happy to press them in my journal.  After finding out about them, I have used the dried wildflowers to decorate stationary or to frame as pictures.  A great hike is where I come back with lots of flowers pressed into my journal. By those standards the JMT was a great hike, and this one was only so-so.  It’s not really Oregon’s fault, this was late August and not so many flowers bloom then.   Berries, though, we had lots of berries!

At the end of a long burn area we came into our next resupply station, Big Lake Youth Camp.  The fire, which was huge, burned right up to the camp’s borders.  I could imagine all the Seventh Day Adventists standing in prayer and holding back the flames. Looking back, I’d have to say this was my favorite resupply stop on our journey.  The camp itself was the kind you see in movies and read about in books. There was a horse corral, an arts and crafts cabin, archery, and all manner of water craft (including ski boats), a BMX track, and a huge air bag out in the bay that kids jump onto and fall off of.  The cabins were cute and clean and numerous.  Little tufts of bear grass and pine trees grew in between every little nook and cranny. Immediately I had the notion that I had done my kids a great injustice by not sending them here for their summers.  The grounds were well kept and the buildings quaint, but where were all the campers?  The place was deserted- eerie quiet, no one in the business office and no one near the horse corral.  Finally we spotted a hiker who wandered over to us. It was the guy from Shelter cove whom I though looked like Harrison Ford.  All clean and looking spiffy, he said he had been there for a few hours and that a maintenance man had told him that today was their day off between camp sessions.  The door to the laundry facilities and the room where hiker packages were kept was open, and we were free to grab towels and take showers too.  Which we gladly did. 

More hikers wandered in throughout the afternoon.  Two very handsome young brothers from Boston and a cute young couple from Portland all lounged around in their towels waiting for laundry to dry.  Good thing there were no teenage girls in camp- those Boston boys were pretty dreamy with their tanned skin and buff muscles showing off in those white towels.  I never learned the girl’s name, but I call her curious. She and i sat in our towels at the edge of the patio and enjoyed the little treats I had tucked into this resupply: cocoa body butter, cucumber heal cream, and moisturizing hair treatment.  There was never a more beautiful day spa, as we sat in among the trees looking out at the lake and the mountains.  We felt a bit decadent, maybe even a little guilty, but it was so nice to share this little luxury with another woman hiker. 

We had done our laundry, showered, gotten our resupply and packed our food, visited with the other hikers and relaxed. I foraged through the hiker boxes and found a very nice down jacket in the lost and found. It was getting to be dinner time.  We had hoped for a meal in the dining hall, but since it was the workers’ day off, that was not going to happen.  As we were debating where to set up camp and what to cook for dinner, the camp director and his wife drove up. Very friendly and open people, they invited us, and the other hikers as well, to their home for dinner..  What a great meal we had with the five other hikers and this adventurous (he is a mountain climbing guide and has hiked the Himalayas) and gracious young couple.  We all introduced ourselves and explained our trail names, and as our friend from Shelter Cove did not have a trail name, we happily dubbed him “Ford.” It was great to have a meal based on vegetarian food, though they eat a lot of pasta, and everyone was full and happy. At the end of the meal the director got called off to remove a splinter from the foot of a resident child, and his wife went to put their daughter to bed.  The rest of us cleaned up as best we could, then wandered down to the beach to set up camp.  A family of ducks was very curious about these humans on their beach as they visited each tent, mostly looking for food I think, and then waddled off when none was offered.  We set up the shelter, mostly for privacy, and snuggled into our bags to watch the sun set over the lake. 

There was breakfast in the dining hall the next morning as all the new staff gathered to be briefed for the week and get their duty assignments.  We sat with the hikers but a lot of the counselors and staff came over and said "hi" and a few even sat at our table and engaged in conversation.  We felt so welcome. We were told that the assistant director, Ashleigh, was heading to town and could give us a ride through the burn area and up to the road, a skip of about five miles.  We were to meet him by the office, so we gathered our gear and headed up there.  Just as Ashleigh walked up, the clouds let loose and gave us a good wetting.  We asked if he knew what the weather report was, so he looked it up on his smart phone and reported that there was a 90% chance of rain with thundershowers.  Ugh.  We decided to stay.  That would mess up our time line, but we did not want to be out on an exposed ridge in a thunderstorm.  Ashleigh offered us a cabin for the day, and the night if we needed it, so we headed over there and made ourselves comfortable.  Jeremy and Curious joined us too, but the Boston Boys headed south and Ford had taken off before breakfast.  Throughout the day more hikers came in and out.  Some, like Ugly Sam the Lawyer and Lion Heart just stayed long enough to eat lunch or get their resupply, but others decided to spend the night in the cabin with us.  One Pint came in without a pack on; she had skipped this little section a day or two before to get a ride into Bend, and, committed to walking every step, had slack packed from the road to make up the miles.  Her partner, Quattro Via, who did not have the same commitment to covering every foot of the trail, was waiting with her pack at the road.  It began to pour, but, undaunted, they all put on their rain gear and headed up the trail, laughing and talking as they went.

We stayed cozy and dry in the cabin, did some mending, made a reservation at Timberline Lodge and talked to the kids. Campers and their parents started trickling in just before the down pour, and the air began to fill with the sounds of excited children and nervous parents.  After the (wonderful) dinner meal, we headed down to the fireside program and enjoyed the camp experience- songs and skits and a video introducing all the counselors and camp activities.  We stopped in the dining hall for brownies and ice cream, and i surrendered my wonderfully warm down jacket back to the lost and found.  The concrete floor in the cabin was hard, and we didn’t sleep as well as we had on the beach the night before, but we were warm and dry and grateful to be with other like-minded people- both the camping families who had come in that day and the hikers with whom we were bunked.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Under the shadow of the Sisters

We abandoned our usual MO of sneaking out of camp early in order to take our new bunk mates Peg and Joe to breakfast at the Elk Lake Lodge.  We had a wonderful time telling stories and getting to know one another.  They live just a few hours from our house and we all decided we should get together sometime after we finish the trail. We finally got back on trail about 11:00 and though it was good to be hiking on a beautiful day after a nice storm, it was a little sad to leave our new friends.
It was a beautiful day!  We walked through woods, meadows and prairies and finally had a good look at the Three Sisters mountain range. After a little climb and a sharp turn through the forest, we saw a little pika sitting on a pile of rocks. It is only the second time I have seen one of these elusive little rodents. As soon as he noticed us he disappeared, but we saw him peek out on the other side when we rounded the rock pile.  That turn put us out on the Wikkiup Plain, a large expanse of bunch grass that extended for miles beneath the shadow of the Southern Sister. 
The school teacher in me was so excited to be crossing a pioneer path; in my imagination I could see the native people’s wikiiups dotting the plain and hear the groan of the wagons and moans of the oxen as the pioneers passed through.  We passed some actual creeks too!  I got to scoop the cool, clear water out with my Sierra Cup, no filtering necessary! 

On the other side of the plain we began to ascend into the mountains again, and were passed by a
group of horsemen (and women) out for a ride. They warned us that there was a swarm of bees on the trail about ½ mile away in a pile of rocks.  After about ten minutes of walking every rock pile held suspicion and we approached cautiously, but each time the area was clear.  Apparently the bees had calmed down after being rousted by those huge animals and were not threatened by us. 
The creek we decided to camp near was almost hidden in a meadow, and the only place to camp right by it was too close to the water source (remember, must be at least 100 feet away) so we scouted about for a good, flat spot.  Snickers found a great one under a small grove of juniper, and we happily set up camp and made dinner.  It was the first time we had my sweet potato hash and I though t it was great, but my husband the carnivore had beef noodle soup instead. When I went back to the stream for water there was a tent pitched about 20 feet from the stream.  It belonged to a pair of local hikers who were out on the Three Sisters Loop trail, which we found out the next day was a very popular (and populated) trail.  We did not admonish them for camping too close to the water, though I felt we ought to have some polite way to talk to people about these breaches in trail etiquette. You never know if it is because they don’t know or they don’t care.  I offered them some of my hash, but being local hikers, not thru hikers, they declined, saying they had just finished a big meal.  That never stops a thru hiker.  We put up the shelter that night just in case of rain, and sure enough, we got a little sprinkling just before we fell asleep.  It might have rained more through the night too, but I never heard a thing. 

Broad meadows, burbling creeks and little lakes dotted the countryside below the watchful Sisters.  I kept getting that Sound of Music feeling, where I just want to throw my arms open wide and sing to the nature around me.  It happens occasionally.  This was one of those days where the feeling was too strong to overcome, but it is not as picturesque with a back pack on. I also usually wait until Snickers is out of sight- open displays of pure joy tend to embarrass him and ruin the moment for me.  I caught up to him in a small forest, tucking in between forest and meadows, when all of a sudden the meadow was interrupted with a cascade of rocks.  The lovely landscape was over taken by a moon landscape, and we were in the lava again.  

We did some hard climbing to get to a ridge, and looking behind us we could see the path of lava stretching into the distance.  There was forest around it and up to it in some places, but the dark red rocks were like a long scar on the land. We met many hikers along the way too- some day hikers, some out for the weekend, and a few thru hikers too.  We even met three south bounders, two of whom had musical instruments strapped to their packs.  What a treat!  They stopped and played for us for just a little while, some lovely, lively blue grass- just what I was hoping for.  The pair of thruhikers we met had decided to try to get to Big Lake Youth Camp by dinner time.  It was nearly noon when we met them and Big Lake was another 25 miles away, over lava and through a burn area.  We wished them well but doubted they would have time to get there before dinner.  A lake called Lava Camp would be our destination for dinner.

Enjoying a picnic lunch and a foot cool down at Mathiau Lake, we met a man who asked us if we could take his picture.  Hiking by himself, he said, he doesn't have many pictures with him in them.  He noticed my two pair of Keens and said something about them.  Turns out he is an executive in the product development area at Keens, and part of his mission in being out on the PCT was to test a new pair. I offered my services if he ever needed anyone to test shoes.  He replied that he couldn't do anything about that, but handed us each a card for a free pair of shoes!  Coolest trail magic yet! 
Snickers and Veggie at Mathiau Lake. :Picture courtesy Tim McGuire, Keens

We arrived at Lava Camp late in the afternoon. Snickers was hoping for a ride into town from there, but the only driver we saw turned us down- his (four passenger) vehicle wasn’t big enough, he said.  There was an outhouse in the campground, but no water spigot.  We scooped and filtered water from the lake and I sat and enjoyed the scenery, ate some snack and made Vitalyte while Snickers visited with the only camper in the place.  I was fully expecting the guy to take off soon, and then I would get in the water and have a nice scrub, but Snickers decided that this was not the place for us to camp, and we were off once again, though rested, watered and ready for a few more miles, sort of.  He got way out on the lava in front of me, and for some reason I got all fearful and had a bad time of it.  The going was difficult, the path really rocky, with sheer drop offs on either side. I called to him and he did not hear me, I gave my mountain chickadee call and he did not answer.  Stopping to have a little cry, I gave myself a peptalk, pulled myself together and marched on.  I was still a little mad at him for leaving the beautiful campground without talking to me about it, but I was no longer freaking out. 

The trail ended in a broad, flat area connecting to a trail head parking lot.  Some wonderful trail angel had placed a shelf containing four big five gallon water jugs in the crossroads of the PCT and the trailhead.  I helped myself to a liter or two and we found a spot to camp, pretty near the road, but flat and comfortable.  We fell asleep under the stars; we didn’t sleep well, the freeway was too noisy. But that gave us several opportunities to watch the slow ark of the quarter moon pass through the sky during the night. Also we had to get up in the middle of the night and stretch the ponchos out over us to keep us dry from the drizzling rain. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kindness at Elk Lake

It rained through the night but was sunny the next morning.  We packed our bags and left camp very early, wearing our ponchos to let them dry.  We passed over a bridge and through a misty meadow. The sun began to beat down and Snickers heated up, so I put on his poncho until it dried. We were huffing our way up a steep hill when I began to overheat too and stripped down to just one layer.  There were a few tents still up at the lake where we first stopped for water, but no one seemed to be stirring. Whoever they were they were missing another beautiful morning. 
The vegetation began to change as our elevation changed, from fern covered slopes beneath a dense forest canopy to sparsely vegetated vine-covered forest floor.  Gone were my friends the huckleberries, and in their place were thimble berries (which are equally tasty but not prolific) and other plants I did not know.  I was busy checking out and trying to sketch the new plants when it started to sprinkle.  The ponchos went back on in a hurry.  Soon the rain began to get serious and thunder boomed above our heads.  Some of the peals were so loud we startled and looked at each other in surprise.  I was delighted! There is something magical about walking in the rain as long as you are dry and comfortable, and the thunder and lightning provided an added sense of awe. The first hour was amazing, and the second hour was still magical. The rain let up a little and we found a semi-dry bouldery spot upon which to have our lunch and dry out our ponchos.  Another cell passed over us and we quickly grabbed our ponchos and hit the trail- I didn't even take the time to put my socks back on, and they were wet anyway. The wonder of walking out in the rain, smelling the fresh wetness of the trees and bushes began to wear off in the third hour. By the fourth hour the trails began to be small streams, full of floating duff that kept getting stuck under my feet and between my toes. The Velcro on my poncho kept coming undone whenever I stepped too wide or the hem got caught on something.  And, being well hydrated, I had to keep stopping and taking care of that problem, too, which was a little harder to do beneath the poncho. 

A boy scout troop passed us, going in the opposite direction.  A few of the beleaguered boys, clad in all manner of ponchos and rain gear, asked us woefully how far it was to Island Lake- their destination for the night.  I just sort of shrugged my shoulders, not having the heart to inform them we had passed there nearly two hours ago.  Before I had to stay anything, one of the leaders answered “you don’t want to know boys…” and encouraged them to keep up with the others.  I guess the wonder had worn off for them, too.

After 16 miles, most of it slogging through the wet trails, we started to look for a place to camp.  Two main obstacles prevented us from being successful in the quest- it was only 3:00, and everything was soaked.  We knew it would be a wet night and our “tent” was already thoroughly soaked.  Only a thin groundcloth would separate us from the soggy ground, and I expected that it would be a long, cold night.  A lone hiker, with his tent’s rain fly pinned to his hat and wrapped around his pack, strode on by, noting that it looked like it was lightening up.  We got tired of searching through the forest for dry, level plots of land big enough to put our tarp out on, so we decided to push on through the upcoming meadow and to the other side.  While I stopped to clean all the junk out of my shoes, Snickers found a spot with good cell reception and called down to a nearby resort to see if they had available cabins.  By the time I got down to the meadow the sun was out, everything was green and sparkly and Snickers had his sites set on Elk Lake.

The next three miles were sunny and nice, but my feet were no longer freezing and the numbness wore off.  Walking was painful. Snickers marched boldly on, lured by the thought of a hot meal and a warm place to camp, but I was pretty pokey and whiney.  After hiking for twenty miles I didn’t really want to hike the extra mile down to the resort, especially since the manager had told him there wasn’t a cabin available.  My iPod was out of charge and I couldn’t hide myself in music, so I lagged behind and sang to try to cheer myself up.  Snickers was visiting with a pair of day hikers when I caught up to him; they were all smiling and laughing. I was not smiling or laughing. I was tired and wet and bedraggled and must have looked pretty pitiful. I did visit with the nice people for a few minutes, and then before we knew it we were at Elk Lake.  Quaint and rustic, the dining room was also bar, store, ice cream parlor, and, I think, dance hall.  A few hikers were out on the porch, talking, drinking and eating, but I marched right on by them without really even saying hi.  Many of them were planning to hitch in to Bend, and one was creating a hitch hiker sign on a scrap piece of cardboard.  When I paid attention I saw that it was my friend that Nice Young Man, but by the time I decided I should go say hi to him, he was gone.  

Dinner was great- Snickers actually had a hamburger that was too spicy for him and decided to order another.  I enjoyed a cup of mushroom soup and a green salad.  One of the hikers, a woman that had passed us early in the day, asked the people at the table next to us if they wouldn’t mind if she charged her phone at the plug right next to their table.  They ended up visiting for quite a while, talking beer and trail, and offering her a beer, a ride into Bend, and a beer tasting tour at their son’s restaurant.  By the time we finished dinner I was in a much better mood and we headed up the road to check out the campground. I was teasing about sleeping in the cabin we walked by (I thought it was the bathroom) when a man called out to us.  It was the day hiker Snickers had met on the way in to the resort.  He asked his wife if they could give us the cabin, saying he felt guilty sleeping dry in the nice warm cabin when he knew we had been out in the wet all day and shouldn’t have to sleep in the rain too.  Apparently I looked as pitiful as I felt. She agreed, but didn’t think they had to give up their cabin in order to host us; there was a loft.  Humbled by their generosity and thrilled that we didn’t have to camp in the rain, we gratefully accepted the offer, warning them that Snickers snores loudly.  They didn’t care and took us in anyway.  Tucked in our bags under the rafters we listened to the rain hit the roof.  It was hard to get to sleep; it seemed like we were already dreaming. 

Drying out our rain gear at the Elk Lake cabin. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 17

At Marden Peak Trail Chipmunk turned downhill to head to where U B and Muk Muk were due to meet her with her car.  Immediately after that we heard a horrible noise crashing down the hill from above.  First one mountain biker, then clusters more of them, came bombing downhill on a side trail and skidded to a stop just near us, trying to get their bearings.  We told them to be careful going downhill because there was a hiker just in front of them. They nodded, gave a quick wave, and then they were off, though followed in quick progression by another few clouds of noisy bikers and dust. Chipmunk told us later that they had NOT headed our warning and that she felt lucky to escape that encounter with her life.  An experienced hiker and comfortable with encounters with wild animals and weather, I don’t think she had ever been as scared on the trail as she was then.  The car and the hikers showed up right on time, right where they were supposed to be, and though she wondered where else her car had been that day (they were discussing locations of local hot springs as we hiked away) she did not ask and they did not volunteer. 

It was a little quiet after Chipmunk left; even Snickers said he wished she could have stayed longer, but we soon settled in to the business of making miles. I still felt like I had a hard little stone between my toes due to the blisters, but that was just an annoyance compared to the pain they had given me previously.  I switched off my hiking Keens for my waterfront Keens, trying to keep my feet comfortable, airy and dry.  Having gotten a late start, we only managed about 12 miles that day, but found a wonderful campsite at Bobby Lake.  We were able to wash up, eat dinner, filter some water and make camp well before sunset. Other hikers wandered in, and though we said hi and waved, we didn’t go over and make conversation.  Without need of shelter we stretched out beneath the canopy of the sky and watched as the stars twinkled in and the blue faded out.  There is that wonderfully deep blue/indigo color just as the stars are coming in that gives me such peace.  The Eastern sky was a dark veil and the western sky was soon enveloped as the sun slipped further beyond the horizon to light up the night in some other hemisphere.  Spending so much time in natural surroundings you can almost feel the diurnal motion as our little planet spins its way through the heavens.

Up at dawn and on the trail by 6:30, we were greeted by a bow hunter clad all in camo.  He was happy to be out on the first day of deer season, and with a smile and a wink said he’d be careful not to peg any hikers.  We moved quickly along through the cool, beautiful morning, though some of the going was steep uphill. At one point we passed a trail register, an old ammo box padlocked to a post in the middle of a trail fork.  Unable to determine why it was there, we took the time to figure out what it was, but did not take the time to write in it. 
We arrived at Charleton Lake at 10:30, too early for the lunch we had planned there, but no matter.  We set our damp bags out in the sun, cooled our feet and napped a little.  Our neighbors were a loud a large group of weekend campers, complete with Eddie Bauer tents, Coleman coolers and lanterns, and a Camp Chef standing cookstove on which one of the ladies was preparing pancakes.  Dogs and small children ran noisily about, splashing in and out of the lake.  At the point which a woman was trying to get her horse to walk into the water and drink, I decided to ask our neighbors for some water from their abundant plastic-packaged supply.  I introduced myself politely and explained that the only source of water for us was the lake and that our filter was buried down in my husband’s pack.  They looked me over suspiciously, but one of them grabbed a gallon jug and began to pour me some water.  I tersely said thank you and returned to my snoozing husband. 

We met a man and his son and their dogs who all sat taking a rest in the shade.  Their packs were stuffed to overflowing, pillows and sleeping bags, and maybe even a goose down comforter, were lashed to the back.  He was very overweight and sweating profusely, the son, a skinny blonde teen, sat on a boulder with his head in his hands, patiently waiting while dad caught his breath.  We briefly compared water notes and destinations, petted the dogs and moved along.  Not too long after that we were passed by a fast moving, long legged couple in shorts and tennies.  They wore buffs as hats, used trekking poles and wore dirty girl gators (a stretchy nylon cover to keep the dust and burrs out of their shoes.) Although they looked like thru hikers, they were very clean.  We had to ask.  Their names were Road Runner and Bill and yes, they had started in Mexico.  Soon all we saw were their backs, and then they were lost in the distance.

Most of the rest of the afternoon we walked through a burn area.  I guessed the burn was from three to five years old, but Snickers thought it was probably younger- maybe last year or the year before.  At first it was eerily beautiful, then it was depressing.  I wrote my only poem of the summer.

Life Returns

Our friends the trees all lie dead
Charred, scorched, glistening black
Like soldiers on some long forgotten battle field
line after line they lie, silver corpses, bones bleaching in the noonday sun.

Far in the distance a mountain stands silent
the lone witness to the holocaust,
once hidden from the forest
now visible through the gnarled and leafless branches

New pines assemble at the base of their fallen ancestors,
young arms lifted in silent hymns.
Patches of pennyroyal and lupine decorate the ground
Blades of grass and licks of purple penstemon push through the ashy soil,
vivid reminders of life’s resolve.   

After what seemed like hours of walking through this recovering wasteland, we saw Road Runner and  Bill huddled together in the shade of a lone green tree.  They were eating potato chips and drinking Gatorade, a clear sign that they had recently come from town.  We talked a while, and then, sweating in the harsh sun, we moved along towards our next water stop. A young couple was already there, carefully filtering their lake water after having watched a few horsemen slough through it.  They recognized us from Crater Lake and told us they had camped near us at Bobby Lake the night before.  We mentioned Road Runner and Bill and they got so excited.  The older couple, who lived in their home town in Arizona, had contacted them through a PCT site before coming on the trail (funny how half the time when I type in trail it comes out trial- they are so similar in many ways)  and met with them, helped them through the planning stages and saw them off at the beginning of their adventure. They had not seen them for over a month and had heard that they were off trail due to a wedding and then a case of dysentery.  We all rested and visited, waiting for RR and Bill to hike by. The reunion was explosive.  Whooping and back slapping and laughter continued for several minutes.  Feeling like we were intruding on a family moment, we took off ahead of the others, but they passed us not too long after, and then we caught up to them as they were relaxing on the shore of Stormy Lake.

We sat and had a snack and then I went down to the lake to get some water, and, of course, eat huckleberries.  I said hello to a hunter and his dog, then washed my feet, face, arms and legs and sat in the sun on a rock in the lake just breathing in the clean air and watching the clouds scoot across the sky.  By the time I came back up the hunter and I were friends.  He told me of a friend of his who had hiked the PCT and that he had done a few sections himself.  He also told me he always keeps a six pack of beer in a cooler in his truck in case he runs into PCT hikers in these woods.  He was sorry to say that the truck was parked five miles away at the trail head.  I expressed what I thought was the proper amount of grief without seeming too pitiful or uncaring, and wandered back over to Snickers.  A few minutes later the hunter was back with a flask full of Kahlua and cream in his hand, offering it to us.  I poured the water out of my shaker bottle (I usually have a protein shake every morning for breakfast) and gratefully accepted the delicious offering.  We visited a bit longer, promised to keep an eye out for his girlfriend who was leading a pack team of llamas, and said goodbye to our new friend.  I never caught his name, but a cold rainy evening was made much brighter by his generosity and benevolence. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Shelter Cove

We drove up in Steve and Earleine’s big white truck, though we were  hoping they would drop us off a ways back so we could walk in the last little way.  It was a charming little spot. There was a wide bay on the lake, and a harbor full of all manner of boats.  Little cottages lined the road on the other side. The store itself was a log cabin with a large porch, all trimmed in little white lights. Hikers had made themselves comfortable there, unpacking their resupply boxes, eating pizza, lounging about with quarts of ice cream.  Our friend One Pint smiled and greeted us warmly, though she also noticed that we had arrived in a vehicle.  Hike your own hike is a phrase people use to minimize the difference in those who fastidiously hike every single step on the trail and those who will occasionally take a ride from someone or skip a small piece of trail.  But One Pint had a different phrase for us.  “You know,” she said, “hike your own hike, hitch your own hitch, whatever.”  Knowing that One Pint had dedicated herself to walking every step of the way I felt a little ashamed, but knowing how we felt the day before, I also was fairly convinced that if today had been a hiking day it would have been our last.   

It was a little like walking on to a movie scene.  There were members of the hiking community and there were  campers, main characters and those with bit parts and, over in the corner, just out of focus, sat a man in an olive green button down shirt and an Indiana Jones hat.  He looked like Harrison Ford, which exaggerated the movie effect. I watched entranced, as the characters interacted, exchanged dialogue and continued to consume pizza.  We obtained our supply box and packed our food bags, gave some food to an emaciated looking youth with a nearly empty pack, shared dehydrating recipes with people and handed out a couple of Snicker Bars.  Snickers ate a pizza and I cooked up some ratatouille- all I needed was boiling water from the store’s coffee shop.  I really liked our food this year and seldom felt the urge to eat store food. 

It was fun catching up with people we hadn’t seen in a few days, and meeting those we hadn’t yet met.  Harrison Ford wasn’t really a movie star, though we made up a good story about him taking to the trail incognito in order to learn more about trail culture because he planned to produce the story of Cheryl Strayed, whose book Wild. From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail had been on the best seller list.  The news that the movie rights were just purchased by Fox Searchlight and Reese Witherspoon was abuzz on the trail, and though there are a lot of differing opinions about whether increasing the trail’s public profile is a good idea or not, still it is always fun to be noticed in the media.  Anyway, back to Harrison Ford.  Though our fanciful story was more fun, it turns out that Ford was a broker from Arizona, doing just the Oregon section of the trail.  We talked about his grandkids who love trains, dehydrating food,  and general trail stuff. 

I also had a very nice visit with some local campers who wanted to know more about this wild bunch who had overtaken their campground store.  Very intrigued by it all, the campers asked me lots of questions about food, mileage and gear and were happy to listen to my stories.  Then, along came their daughter who was even more curious.  She and I hit it off right away, sharing knowledge of local plants and edible wild foods.  She had even fixed wild greens for her family sometimes.  (Mine flatly refuses.) She ran to her cabin and brought me several plant identification books and said I could use them all afternoon- they were going out to pick huckleberries.  It was a great treat!  I identified the funny wild cucumber plant I had taken a picture of a few days prior which turned out to be, funny enough, wild cucumber.  Not palatable, but edible.  I identified a few more flowers but Snickers needed my help for food packing, so I returned the books to the store and asked the clerk to hold them for my friend, whose name or cabin number I did not know.  I guess you have to walk hundreds of miles to discover that people really are good and can trust one another. 
Our friend Chipmunk was due in later that day, so we wandered down to the thru hikers’ camp and looked for a site.  I mostly grazed on huckleberries while Snickers set up the shelter. It’s good to have a shelter around us in areas of population density (to a hiker that means more than four people per square mile) and it looked like we could be in for some wet weather. While Snickers and his feet took a needed nap, and with our shelter secure and nothing else to do, I wandered back down to the store, cracking up over the signs which asked hikers to “please use the porta potties placed in the campgrounds.” They know us too well.   
The store closed, the clouds began to gather over the lake, and the hikers sat about on the porch trying to plan what to do for the evening.  We had tried to rent a cabin, but there were none available.  Some of the guys were thinking of camping out on the porch, where there was plenty of cover.  After a while, one discovered that there was a list on the store’s door for people who had rented a cabin but hadn’t arrived before the store closed.  The note informed the late comers which cabin was theirs and that the lights were on and the keys were in the door. I don’t know if anyone actually took advantage of the situation, but there were a few tossing around the idea of squatting in the warm, dry cabins.   I sat on the covered porch with a few others and watched the rays of the setting sun streak like search lights through the dark clouds which had seemed so ominous just a few minutes before. Now those clouds were shining in silvers and golds and turning the sky a vibrant pink. Then came the lightning storm.  The beautiful jagged light cut through the evening sky and lit up the lake below. A young family stood out in the rain watching the day turn to night and enjoying the light show, but those of us who had been out in the rain too many times without a choice were happy to be watching from the porch where we were dry.  I thought about Snickers, enjoying the storm by himself back there in the campground, wondering if I should go join him but I stayed dry watching the storm with my new friends until Chipmunk finally drove up.

When we got down to the campground we found Snickers cozily tucked in beneath our poncho shelter, hardly aware of the storm at all.  The ground under the trees was almost dry, and he hadn’t seen the lightning either- I think he just slept through it. Chipmunk had a new tent and was glad to have the chance to set it up. We sat and talked for quite a while and she regaled us with the story of her drive through the pouring rain. Our friend Razor came by as he was heading to his tarp, so he stopped and shared a beer and a story or two and with us.

The next morning dawned clear and bright.  Chipmunk and I enjoyed hot oatmeal with lots of huckleberries. We were excited about finally getting to take a hike together. Her morning mission, though, was to find someone who could help her place her car up the trail so she could hike longer with us and not have to double back half way through.  She was hoping one of the campers would follow her in their car and then drive her back to the campground after she parked her car at the trail head.  Instead, one of the hikers heard her dilemma and volunteered to drive up later in the afternoon and pick her up in her car.  So this hiker, who is a teacher in real life, handed over her car keys to a complete stranger and trusted the guy (and his girlfriend) to bring her car up to her later on some poorly marked forest service road.  Crazy? not really, it is just easier to trust people on the trail. 

The morning hike was perfect. Chipmunk and I chatted and walked and enjoyed the snacks she brought along.  She was happy to be there and we were happy to have her.  We walked under a deep green canopy and alongside a flowing creek.  There were a few short climbs but our feet felt great and we were happy to be back on the trail.  Because we had eaten breakfast at Shelter Cove we didn’t need to stop for a morning break and decided to make our trail burritos for lunch.  We had planned burritos for dinner the night before, but since Chipmunk didn’t arrive until after dark we hadn’t cooked them.  She brought us some nice flour tortillas and got out her pocket rocket stove to heat up our burrito mix.  At home we dehydrated a can of refried beans (the vegetarian fat free ones) and to that we added ½ package of taco seasoning.  When we packaged it we added ½ cup of instant rice, some dehydrated onions, peppers and corn.  This mix rehydrates cold quite nicely, which we usually do at lunch time or whenever we are by a reliable water source.  Then at dinner we either heat it up and spread it onto the tortillas with some cheese or we just spread it on cold if we are dry camping and don’t want to dirty another container.  Lunch was good, Chipmunk was impressed, and we headed on down the trail.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blisters and Expectations

After consulting with others and our maps last night, we decided that today we would take the alternate route on the Oregon Sky Lakes Trail.  This was the old PCT and would climb less, be shorter, and take us by more available water sources.  That seemed like a no brainer.  So we snuck out of camp quietly- I teased Snickers that now people would be able to sleep because he and his snoring were leaving camp- and hiked along in the cool dawn light. 
It wasn’t very long before we were passed by Toots M’Goots and Tears for Beers. We had not yet officially met them, but we had seen them briefly at Crater Lake and saw them at camp last night.  Toot’s husband, Aloha, is trail supporting her and meets her at junctions to give her resupply and often provides trail magic.  The Two T’s knew us as The Berry Couple, and asked us about the local berries- which ones were good for eating and which should not be consumed.  Although I realize I run the slight risk of having no berries to eat if I keep telling people who will be in front of us about the berries they can eat, I also realize that most hikers are too busy hiking to pick and eat a lot of berries.  I had picked a lot of black current by the spring last night and still had some in a baggie, so I showed those to the girls and shared a few, and showed them the dwarf huckleberry. 
Dwarf Huckleberry, also called Whortleberry

I was excited for the day.  I thought that we would finally be hiking by lots of lakes and not have to carry water.  I guess I was expecting terrain like the Sierra Mountains.  We hiked along on a dry, hot trail, my blisters starting to really hurt again.  I stopped frequently to air out my feet and change my socks, and applied the 2nd skin blister pads which Drop Biscuit had given me.  I was trying to enjoy the nice weather and the scenery, but my brain only wanted to focus on my sore feet.  The first water source, a small lake, was supposed to be just ¼ mile off the trail.  I was happy about being able to soak my feet and have fresh water, but as we approached the lake, all we found was a mudhole.  Disappointed, we decided not to muck our way through the mud to where the water was, so we turned around and headed back to the main trail, stopping to have a snack in a hunter’s camp, frustrated at having wasted half a mile.
The next water was better, still not great, lots of bugs swimming around.  We tanked up, filled our water bottles and moseyed along, still overheated, still a bit grumbly that these lakes were not the swimming sort of lakes.  At lunch time we finally made it to a real lake!  We spread out our ground cloth and began a proper picnic. I couldn’t wait to get into that beautiful lake, but a cloud cover had come in and a cool breeze was blowing.  I decided to stretch out for a little nap first, enjoying the beauty of a lazy day by a lake.  I hadn’t watched too many clouds drifting by before I realized I wasn’t watching anything at all.  I was awakened by Snickers’ movements.  He was packing up his bag, putting on his shoes.  But wait!  I hadn’t taken a swim yet.  My feet didn’t even get wet.  He was of the opinion that with the blister pads on I shouldn’t douse my feet, and he was ready to move on.  So we moved on.  Sometimes when you hike with a partner, no matter how much you love them, you have to make concessions that you would prefer not to make.  This was one of those times.  I suppose I could have hollered and caused a fuss or just refused to move on until I got my swim, but at that point it was easier to put up with my bad mood in having missed a swim than with his bad mood of having to wait for me.  Aware of the choice I was making made it easier, but still, my feet wanted a soaking.  I plugged in my music and tried to get lost in it.  Actually, after the rest, my feet felt pretty good and only my feelings were aching.
The trail was hot and dusty.  We passed a few more lakes, but not beautiful ones, and none of them close enough to get to.  I was in a mosey mood, wanting to stop and enjoy the lakes, but Snickers wanted to push on and get to our destination lake and take time there.  Ok, I could go with that plan. I enjoyed the lakes in passing, carried water in my pack and hiked.  Then the trail got rougher and dustier.  After a while it was unclear whether or not we were on the right trail, even though they are fairly well labeled through Oregon.  Someone had written PCT in sticks with an arrow that headed up a trail that was not labeled, but we trusted our map instead.  The dusty trail spilled out onto a gravel road, and we weren’t sure we were even headed in the right direction.  The gravel road led to a paved road, and the signs confirmed we were headed to Crescent Lake, but I had my suspicions otherwise.  The paved road was oily and reflected the sun’s heat.  We hiked on, our feet hot, both unhappy.  No cars came by to give us a ride.  We continued to follow the road and signs and ended up in a forest service camp ground at a boating lake.  There were lots of trucks and campers and boats, a few people wandering around.  One man was fairly friendly and directed us to the camp host site for information, but the camp host was not at home.  Downcast, we turned around and headed to the shore of the lake.  Finally, I would get to soak my feet.  I was trying not to be a whiner because I could see that Snickers was in a bad mood too, he couldn’t decide whether to water up and move on or remain there for the night. I was in favor of pushing on intellectually, as I don’t like to walk for miles and miles only to arrive at a lake populated by  cars and trucks, but my body was not so sure about moving on.  Snickers took a swim, fully clothed, while I sat on the beach and glowered.  What was supposed to be a fun day with lots of lakes had turned into a blister ruined hike where we got off track and ended up having to throw our sleeping bags down in the middle of a camp ground full of RV’s and rednecks.  Refreshed, my husband decided to stay there for the night, and I was too tired to care.  I changed clothes, went down and took a nice long swim, and came up feeling much better.  As we were drying on the beach, a woman who had been sunning in a lawn chair approached us cautiously. “Are you hikers?” she asked us, and once we answered affirmatively, we were on a different level with her.  Friendly, talkative and sweet, Earleine told us the story of their lives, how they camp here all the time mid-week, but never on the weekends, how they had met a PCT hiking woman named Katie and helped her out…  She told us their campsite number and invited us to come by later, which we did, after dinner. Steve, Earleine’s husband, offered Snickers a beer, and  Earleine offered salves and ointments for my feet.  Spirits considerably buoyed, we wandered back to our ground cloth and slept beneath the stars. Well, we slept until about one in the morning, when I started feeling big wet drops on my face.  I dug into my pack and pulled out my poncho, covered my head and most of my sleeping bag, told Snickers it was raining, and tried to get back to sleep.  Valiantly he got up, covered us both properly by staking the ponchos at the corners, and we slept snugly underneath our make-shift cover.  I was glad I had not been the brat I could have been that day.

We awoke to the chirp of ground squirrels, who were quite curious about us, and very bold.  I fed them cashews from my trail mix, sketched them in my journal and sat in the sunshine. Rather than hike on in iffy weather on sore feet, we had decided to take our new friends’ offer of a ride to our next resupply.  I think Snickers was on the verge of giving up- he kept talking about visiting his uncle in Washington or camping at Solduck Hot Springs (which is one of my favorite spots.)  Much more invested this year than in year’s past, I was not about to let some blisters get the best of me.  We played with the friendly ground squirrels- one even jumped up on Snickers’ back while I was giving him a massage- ate our breakfast, dried our laundry, then finally climbed into the truck with Steve and Earleine and headed to Shelter Cove. 

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel (Chipmunks have cheek stripes)