Friday, December 30, 2005

Eagle Cap Storms

Part 1

Lightning flashed.
The tent's aluminum-pole
skeleton shimmered.
Knobby toes at the far end
of my legs that lay flat on the
sleeping bag stood starkly
outlined against the pale tent
wall. They twitched slightly.
So did the hands that
clutched Agatha Christie's
witch-inhabited mystery novel
``Pale Horse'' against my
chest.
A soft rumble rolled down
the granite ridge to the east. It
sounded faintly hollow, like
an oak chair tipping onto the
maple floor of a vast and
distant castle hall.
Within seconds the rumble
built to a crescendo, and
chair, castle and known world
crashed around my ears.
KERRRRBLLLLLLAAAAA
AMMMMM!
Lids squeezed over bulging
eyes. Hair stood on end. An
impulse to scream into the
night swept over me.
More lightning crackled.
More thunder hammered
across my head and
shoulders. Rain hammered
the tent, too, and marble-
sized drops skittered from the
fabric into the night.
But I lay still, except for
twitching some.
Why, the worst that could
happen would be:
------------
Stormy thoughts occurred
to me that night in the Eagle
Cap Wilderness Area, about
6.1 miles from Wallowa Lake,
at the edge of Six Mile
Meadow. I'd been on the trail
since Sunday and walked
about 64 miles already.
My ride, fondly named
Darlene's Shuttle Service, had
dropped me at the gate near
the top of Minam Hill, about
10 miles east of Elgin on Ore
gon Highway 82, at 10:30 a.m.
When I reached Wallowa
Lake, I'd call and she'd re
trieve me. So, with no vehicle
waiting for a week at a
trailhead, I started the hike
with an unfettered mind.
Well, not quite.
I expected to encounter
SOME natural adversity along
the way. And several normal
misgivings nagged at my
head, such as: Will the food
last? What if a bear takes it
away from me? Will the stove
work? What if a tent pole
breaks? Will the trail be open?
What if I get an infected blis
ter or twist an ankle and can't
walk? What if a tree falls on
me?
Strolling down the first part
of the hike, I told myself to
RELAX and put silly fears
aside.
Besides, as Harry Roberts
said in his small book ``The
Basic Essentials of Backpack
ing,'' you don't have to be
smart to hike successfully.
He said ``attention to detail''
means much more than intel
ligence on the trail. Roberts
also said hikers should ``roll
with the punches'' and ``enjoy
the rain.''
Clearly, with some serious
concentration, I'd be all right.
My motto became: Relax
and pay attention to detail.
Later, beneath a 90-degree
sun, I pondered a less ideal
istic view of the great out
doors, however. In one of Sue
Grafton's mystery novels, de
tective Kinsey Millhone said
something like, ``Nature runs
uphill, dirty and sweaty and
itchy.''
By 3:30 p.m., sweat had
plowed furrows through the
dust on my face and neck. A
sweat-soaked shirt clung to
my back. Pants and socks
sagged. The pack's hip belt
had rubbed raw patches in my
flab. And, somehow defying
gravity, sodden shorts had
inched upward and
threatened to strangle me.
So, maybe 10 miles from
Minam Hill, I quit for the day.
Half an hour later, the
camp stood beside the river
and a small rainbow trout
danced on the end of the fly
line. Clearly, detective
Millhone's view of nature
missed an important clue.
After dinner, while sipping
tea, I discovered a blister on
each little toe. I'd started out
with Moleskin, a soft felt ma
terial with stickum on the
back, covering those very
blister-prone spots, too.
Oh-oh.
Would I be able to walk on
Monday? Many miles to go,
after all. A sign near the wil
derness boundary had said
``Reds Horse Ranch 17,'' and
``Minam Lake 43.'' And
Wallowa Lake would be 17 or
18 miles more.
Bravely I battled negative
thoughts. Then I snipped the
blisters with the Swiss Army
Knife's scissors and painted
them from the small bottle of
Second Skin. They stung like
the dickens.
The next morning I covered
the blisters with new Mole
skin and slipped on a pair of
thin double-layered nylon
socks, called blister-resisters,
beneath the light woollies.
Lo, the feet smiled when
they hit the trail at 7:15 a.m.
And, with frequent rest stops,
they smiled when they
stopped a mile short of Reds
at 3:46 that afternoon.
And I soon smiled, too.
After shucking the pack and
sweaty clothes beside the
green water, I carefully _
paying attention to detail _
took a running cannonball
leap from the bank.
Cold, clear water washed
over me. Nearly took my
breath away. Huff-puff. Spurt-
spew. Absolutely relaxed.
But, alas, on Tuesday that
laid-back attitude suffered a
setback. Between Reds and
the North Minam River, about
a zillion fallen trees blocked
the trail. I labored from 7:10
a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including a
half-hour for lunch and two
coffee breaks, to cover the
11.8 miles to Rock Creek.
After another river plunge
and more fishing near a green
buttercup-dotted meadow, I
wrestled with the prospect
battling deadfall all day
Wednesday.
Then, while reading Chris
tie's novel with my headlamp,
I experienced a revelation.
The vicar's wife, Mrs. Dane
Calthrop, told the hero of the
book, ``Always envisage the
worst. You've no idea how
that steadies the nerves. You
begin at once to be sure it
can't be as bad as you im
agine.''
Wow. I immediately
blended the idea with my
``RELAX'' motto. Relax, pay
attention to detail and expect
the worst.
At the absolute worst, the
14.6 miles of trail upstream
from Rock Creek to Minam
Lake would have a deadfall
every five feet.
It worked. After clawing
and stumbling through the
first clump of fallen lodgepole
pine and spruce trees early
Wednesday morning, I
laughed out loud. The next
barrier lay at least 100 yards
away. My worst fears would
never come true. Then the
deadfall almost completely
ended after 81/2 miles, at
Trail Creek.
------------
Thursday's storm surrounded me after I left Minam
Lake, crossed Lake Basin and
camped beside the West Fork
of the Wallowa River.
Lightning flashed and thun
der crashed. I lay in the
muggy tent on top of the
sleeping bag and watched
twitching toes outlined
against the taught pale nylon.
Then, again taking control,
I relaxed and envisaged the
worst: lightning could strike
the tent and leave one strip of
curled, burnt bacon-like
gristle smoking on the pine
needles.
Boy, I sure felt better and
immediately fell into a dream
less sleep.
Part 2
When the goshawk
swooshed from the shadows
screaming ``Skree, Skree,
Skree,'' the bottom slipped
from my stomach.
And down my leg.
My head scrunched deep
into my shoulders.
``Yiiiiippppeess,'' I said and
jigged from foot to foot on the
damp trail.
When the gray-breasted,
dark-winged, red-eyed bird of
prey screamed like a dry band
saw and swooped a second
time, its tail feathers fanned
and it swerved barely five feet
from my bloodless face.
``Yeooooooooowwwww'' I
said.
Shucks. What a time to be
penetrated by talons.
And after a week in the
wilds, too. A week more or
less without incident.
In six days I strolled 65
miles through the Eagle Cap
Wilderness: from Minam Hill
on Oregon Highway 82, 10
miles east of Elgin, up the
Minam River; over the pass
above Minam Lake; across
Lake Basin and part way
down the West Fork of the
Wallowa River.
I survived _ with minor
scratches _ hundreds of
fallen trees across the trail, 60
swatrillion swarming mos
quitoes and one blood-
curdling, thunder-and-
lightning storm.
I waded swollen streams
and lost the trail once near
Big Burn, about five miles
south of Red's Horse Ranch,
which forced me to
bushwhack for three hours
over 40-foot cliffs, across a
buttercup-dotted green
meadow and through jagged,
mucky thickets.
And, when I tried to avoid
wading the Minam River a
mile from Minam Lake, I fell
off a log jam into waist-deep
icy water. I smiled, of course,
and walked on with my boots
squishing.
Anyway, with just five miles
of trail remaining to Wallowa
Lake, I had to deal with a
crazed, red-eyed, winged
fury.
And I decided to stop the
bird in mid-swoop with my
trusty, although somewhat
bent and dented, Nikon cam
era.
So, on the bird's third
screeching pass I deftly drew
the camera from the handy
belly pouch made by Dana
Design of Bozeman, Mont.(
I bought the pouch for that
very purpose, you see. It at
taches to the backpack's
shoulder straps and stretches
across the belly. Carry a cam
era in it and you're ready
when a poignant scene un
folds.
Well, sure, the pouch also
allowed me to keep other es
sential items just a quick zip
away, too.
When a hunger pang
nagged at my belly barely an
hour after breakfast _ as it
did daily _ I didn't have to
stop, take off the backpack
and fish a snack from a side
pocket or from the main com
partment.
Why, I just unzipped the
pouch, pulled out a chocolate
PowerBar and munched while
I walked.
And since the pocket _
which cost nearly $30 last
winter at Mountain Gear in
Spokane _ also carried a
water bottle, I chased the
snack with cool water.
Or Gatorade or apple juice.
Especially apple juice.
In addition to camera,
water bottle and chocolate
PowerBars, I loaded the belly
pouch with sun screen, insect
repellent, compass, note pad,
pencil, reading glasses, mon
ocular, Swiss Army Knife,
lighter for the stove, a small
bottle of Second Skin and a
package of Moleskin, a soft
stickum-backed bandage, for
blisters.
Once along the Minam
River, downstream from
Red's Horse Ranch, and three
times in marshy Lake Basin,
clouds of mosquitoes swirled
about my head and shoulders.
With a quick unzip, I pulled
out the bug juice and rubbed
it on critter-covered hands,
face and neck as well as on
shirt shoulders and sleeves.
Why, without ready access
to the goop, those clawing
needle-noses would've
pumped my body dry.
And speaking of pumps, my
First Need water purifying
pump sometimes fit into the
belly pouch, too.
Usually, though, I tied the
pump to a strap on the
backpack.
Anyway, the First Need
pump worked almost per
fectly.
Some hikers don't worry
about purifying Minam River
or other wilderness water, but
I do.
I've heard too many claims
that Giardia protozoa live in
wilderness streams and lakes
these days. And if you get it, it
causes a severe fever,
diarrhea and other flu-like
symptoms. Who needs that? A
First Need system, according
to advertisements, filters out
this protozoa, among other
things.
And with the pump, you
don't have to boil water,
which takes time and fuel, or
use iodine tablets, which
makes the water taste like
IODINE.
Still, on a scale of 10, the
pump falls about 2.7 points
shy of perfection because you
need three hands to work it.
During the recent hike, I
pumped six to eight quarts of
water a day. While squatting
on a rock or a log and dangl
ing the pump's inlet tube into
the water, I braced the clean
bottle that held the outlet tube
between my feet. With the
pump and filter in my left
hand, I pumped with the right
hand.
It required less than two
minutes to pump a quart of
water. In the evening, I filled
two quart bottles, one pint
bottle, the coffee pot and the
Dana Design bottle.
During the day, I kept one
bottle half-full in the pack and
filled the belly-pouch bottle
from it.
Invariably, pumping
worked up a sweat. And, in
variably, I slipped and clat
tered into the water source to
fill at least one boot.
Other filtering pumps ap
parently work better than the
$37 First Need system, includ
ing a $240 one by Katadyn
and a $140 one by MSR.
Katadyn also sells an
expedition-quality system for
$700.
But for the difference be
tween $37 and $100 or $200
or $600, I'll pump and sweat
and fill the occasional boot.
Besides the First Need
pump did the job. At least I
think it did. I haven't felt sick
yet.(
Well, standing on the trail
with camera in hand and
dodging the screeching gos
hawk, I did feel a slight wave
of nausea. Or fear.
``Skree, Skree, Skree,'' said
the swooping bird.
Yeoooooooow, I mumbled
as it pulled from its 100 mph
power dive within bare feet of
my skinned-back eyes. Well,
heck.
Maybe I overrated the value
of keeping a camera handy on
a hike.
When you think about it,
it's no big deal to stop a diving
goshawk on color film, with
its red eyes gleaming, with its
razor-edged beak open and
with its glistening, gnarled
talons in your face.
Maybe we put too much
emphasis on pictures, any
way.
Didn't American novelist-
essayist Philip Wylie
(1902-1971) write years ago
something like: anyone who
believes a picture is worth a
thousand words can't read,
can't write, can't think and
has a paltry imagination?
So, I shook feeling into my
legs, squared my shoulders,
zipped the camera away and
ambled on down the trail.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Montana Fishing

I once arrived at the Big Hole River, near Melrose, Mont., simultaneously with the salmon fly hatch. My eyeballs popped when the big multi-winged bug flapped like a loaded Huey helicopter across State Highway 43, between the sleepy communities of Dewey and Wise River, to drop its load of eggs on the water.
I swerved, missed the bug AND avoided the barrow pit. Well, heck, a salmon fly saved contributes thousands of eggs to next year's hatch. Who'd a thunk it. Salmon flies in mid-June. Talk about serendipity!
That sighting occurred last week on Wednesday afternoon, after I'd already set personal records for catching large brown trout on the Madison River between Quake Lake and Ennis and small browns, rainbows and brookies on the Firehole River, Nez Perce Creek and the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.
Actually, some of the fish on the Firehole and Nez Perce weren't big enough to be called ``small.'' More like ``teensy.'' But a few were 10-12 inchers. Anyway, I relinquished the fly rod early in the park, after hooking a couple of dozen fish, and concentrated on scenery, buffalo, elk and fellow tourists.
In the late afternoon, I headed back to the Madison River, a few miles below Quake Lake. But, heck, let me start at the beginning, because this six-day trip to some of the Blue Ribbon trout streams of the Western World, included a moment or two of despair as well as those drawn-out surges of elation.
Sadie the Dalmatian and I left Walla Walla for Craig in the dark that Sunday morning, at least I did. I didn't realize I'd left the collar at home until I paused the a nature break along the Clearwater River near Lewiston. What? No collar.
``See, Sadie,'' I said. ``That's what you get, darn it, for being so impatient.''
She had, you see, bolted from the house and jumped in the truck with the first load of gear I carried out. And she wouldn't get out. So, I left here there until I loaded up, took my final shower for the week and brushed my teeth. Then, with my arms loaded with last-second stuff (coffee cup, jacket, rain gear, extra boots, etc.), I left the collar hanging on the hook by the door.
And it was Sadie's fault. I worried about no collar with her name and address and her license and shot tags on it, just in case, from Lewiston to Lincoln, Mont. And I almost bought a new one when I bought a fishing license (non-resident, $67 for the year). But they only had camouflage colored ones, and she would still be without the tags, so I didn't.
Which turned out to be a good thing.
After I crossed the railroad tracks, passed a row of rigs with empty boat trailers and pulled into the nearly full, dozen-site primitive campground by the Missouri River at about 3:29 p.m., I fed Sadie the Dalmatian, pitched the tent under an alder tree and put a can of Bush's beans on to heat.
Then I rummaged through the permanent junk box in the truck, the one with the 50-foot cord, flashlight, flare, water jugs and other junk. And, by golly, I'd left Sadie's skijoring harness in it, with all of the tags.
Talk about serendipity.
So, I harnessed her up, and we watched the gophers. Must've been 50 or so gamboling on the grass and standing with feet poised chest high to whistle and survey the territory. After realizing their quickness at diving into their holes, Sadie made a tour of holes and resigned herself to watching them from a distance.
Three steps from the picnic table, the Mighty Mo rushed past a bit high and a bit dark. And, of course, wind riffled across the currents.
With beans and a cup of hot chocolate steaming on the table and a bagel in my left hand, I rustled about the foot box with my left hand. Looking for my spoon and fork.
Don't tell me?
With some slightly audible muttering, I searched every box and gear container I had. No eating utensils. I looked at the Swiss Army Knife on the table, with which I had opened the beans. And I looked across the row of boat trailers to the town, with a bar, a restaurant and a couple of fly-fishing gear shops.
I could borrow a spoon and fork. But I didn't cotton to the idea, really. I studied the tree's limbs. I could whittle a flat utensil easy enough. Then I found a nice, clean board in the grass. I less than a minute I had a rough spatula that worked fine.
By then the beans and the hot chocolate had cooled to perfection, too.
Ready to fish at last, I rigged up the 5-weight fly rod with a floating line and tied in a new 6-pound test 4X tippet. I tied on a tiny dry fly and changed into waders. I left the gtent doors open enough so that nosy gophers could get in without chewing through the door and drove two miles down the river to a hole I'd fished before.
I won't dwell on this high-water Missouri River fishing experience, except to say that the current nearly carried Sadie away at the first hole. And I worked the hole for a mere 30 minutes before I took the shivering Sadie back to the truck and dried her with a towel. I drove upstream to another hole. It was easier you fish, but no fish were rising. And the guys drifting by in boats fished with nymphs. So, I tried nymphs.
I fished, with Sadie looking like she'd been yelled at, until 8:32 p.m. without a single strike and limped back to camp. I followed Sadie into the tent, to keep her off my sleeping bag, and she found three fresh brown gopher nuggets on her sleeping bag. She looked at me as if her home and hearth had been soiled. And as if I had caused it.
She scowled and pushed the oblong tidbit around with her nose, until I picked them up and tossed them outside.
Then a storm blew in that night that threatened to bowl the tent with us in it into the Missouri. With the rumble of thunder, lightning flashed so close that the hair on my arms moved.
At dawn rain soaked the grass and the tent. I put on two coats, made hot chocolate and toasted a bagel that I slathered with jelly using my whittled spoon. I ate, put on the waders went fishing.
I fished hard all day Monday, with a lunch break back at camp. I hooked on giant rainbow trout. When it broke water, it looked about a foot wide at the middle. It snapped off the stonefly in about five seconds.
So, I felt depressed. Yet, I fished all the way down to Holter Lake. I bought coffee at a marina, and the woman gave me a plastic spoon and fork.
After a fishless afternoon, I met two guys at camp from Joseph, Ore. One owned the fly shop in Joseph. He had caught six fish and his friend had caught 10. They would have caught more, but they lost the anchor to their drift boat, which made casting to the fish difficult. Andy they mainly used nymphs, too.
So, I fished in the cold and wind without a strike until noon Tuesday before packing it in. It was only 130 miles to Ennis and another 40 miles or so to Quake Lake.
The Madison, however, appeared high and the wind blew. I drove south on US Highway 287, stopped at Varney Bridge and McAtee Bridge and fished briefly. Eventually, I drove up to Hill Top Campground between Wade and Cliff Lakes. All 18 sites were empty, so I chose No. 5 pitched the tent and ate more beans. Sadie and I spent more than an hour hiking the nature trail before turning in.
At about 6,200 feet elevation, the temperature dropped to 28 degrees, and the wind whipped the tall Douglas fir trees hard. I worried one would fall on the tent.
By 5:30 a.m. the wind had stopped, leaving the sky blue. I donned two coats and a sweater and toasted two bagels. I drove the six miles of dirt road slow and crossed the river. It still looked high and rough. So, I dove 30 miles to Bud Lilly's fly shop in West Yellowstone.
A chalk board there listed several area rivers, including the Gallatin, Madison and Firehole. The Gallatin was too high, but the Madison was fishable (with big nymphs and wooly buggers) and the Firehole was productive (with small nymphs and dry flies).
A young man there commented (snide?) about my Yankee hat, and I asked how the Mariners had done the last few days.
``But you're wearing a Yankee hat,'' he insisted.
``You shouldn't judge a person by his hat,'' I said, which didn't strike him as funny as it did me and he told me the M's lost to Montreal but the Yankees beat his team, the Astros.
I told him thanks and wandered away, wondering how anyone could be an Astros fan. Anyway, spent the $20 to enter the park and the $10 for a 10-day fishing license. It took forever to get past Norris Junction because of the buffalo on and beside the road. I fastened Sadie's leash to a belt around my waist, and she followed along easily.
I stopped a a dozen pullouts along the Firehole, including in the 2-mile canyon byway, and along Nez Perce Creek. I fished a bead-head pheasant-tail nymph and caught a fish about every third or fourth cast, not biggies. But I didn't care. I fished the Madison River in the park at two spots and caught three small cutthroat trout.
Then I headed back to stream below Quake Lake and took campsite No. 1 at the empty Madison River Camp Ground (across Lyons Bridge).
The river had dropped some by the time I ate dinner (more beans, with dehydrated mashed potatoes) and drove on the dirt road upriver to a fishing access parking area. With a clear, cool evening, Sadie and I hiked ab out a mile upstream. I watched a man and a woman fish a riffle with nymphs. I had planned to use dry flies, but the man caught two 18- 20-inch browns in about 15 minutes. And he didn't look like much of a fisherman, with short, awkward casts and rod tip held almost straight up over his head. The woman made smooth, 50 foot casts. But she didn't hook any fish.
And I realized why. She threw out too much line, which caught in the current and caused the fly to drag unnaturally.
Ah, ha! I thought. I caught lots of fish on the small streams in the park by dead-drifting the bead-heads (flies with copper or brass beads at the top of insect imitation).
Another thing I noticed: guys in drift boats floated about 20 feet out and tossed their nymphs toward the bank. Or, they parked and fished the riffles that dropped off shoals at the ends of islands in the stream.
My watch said 7:17 p.m. (still on Walla Walla time), which left about two hour hours for fishing. I tied on a No. 6 bead-headed black leach, with a green head. It also had a white hackle and a white-tufted rear, not to mention several white rubber legs.
Why that fly? It looked simply irresistible, although I'd never seen any kind of bug that resembled it in real life. And it was. Irresistible, that is. I continued upstream and waded across a channel at a shoals. I worked out about 20 feet of line, held the rod straight up to avoid drag and drifted the fly into a seam at the edge of the shoals.
I felt no Whammo! But I saw the floating line go under and move against the current. I pulled line with my left hand and lifted the rod higher with my right.
Twang went line! At least in my mind. And the rod curved. A 19-inch brown surged out of the water, caught the current and pulled a few feet of line from the reel.
Wow! I pulled the fish into calm water. It rolled on its side. I slipped the barbless hook free and rolled the fish upright. It lay still, and I thought about a picture. As I reached the camera, the fish flashed away into the current.
I caught six more browns and two whitefish before dark, and I only lost one of the green-black-white-bronze flies with wiggly legs. So, I had two left, which meant I smiled all the way back to the pickup and the campsite. So, for some reason, did Sadie.
I awoke at 4:19 a.m. (Walla Walla time) on Friday and could see a clear sky. My watch said it was 39 degrees in the tent, which meant close to 30 outside. I read for a few minutes, and dozed, determined to stay in the sleeping bag until 6:30 or so, when the sun reached the tent But it was tough, with all those fish in the river.
No other cars parked at the access area when I pulled in at 7:59 a.m. and set off upstream to the place I’d started the previous evening. I fished until 11:36, when my rumbling stomach insisted on food. I lost count of the fish caught. Either six or seven or nine or 10. But two more were whitefish, and one of them weighed about three pounds. The rest were browns.
And one was about 22-inches long , in one of those perfect situations. A guide and two clients fished a shoal in the middle of the river, about 30 yards across from me. I walked down below where the guide worked with on of the men, who looked like an NFL defensive end.
The guide was explaining how to cast the line and where. The other guy fished the other side of the riffle. The tableau froze in my mind when the fish hit my fly and leaped out of the water. It splashed and swirled so loud that all three of the men stopped to watch. The fish jumped twice more, and I brought it to the shallows and slipped the hook free. I didn’t look at the guys across the channel, but worked out 15 feet of line, flipped it on the riffle and walked on downstream.
After a lunch of granola with dehydrated milk, I decided to try the Big Hole, which would take me 150 miles closer to home.
And when I spotted the salmon fly on the road Thursday afternoon, I knew it had been a good decision.
I drove through Dewey and Wise River to the campground near Fishtrap Creek, about 23 miles from Wisdom. A flotilla of drift boats and rafts dotted the river, usually in twos with one oin each side of the river, casting toward the bank.
At Fishtrap, three Recreational Vehicles and a pickup shell had sites, but I pitched the tent at a site (free) that I’d used three other times.
Alas, after I fed feed Sadie, pitched the tent and put the sleeping bags inside and thought about opening a can of beans, I didn’t have my Swiss Army Knife in my pocket.
Panic washed over me. I began ransacking gear bags and boxes. I’d carried that knife for 20 years, and felt close to it. Besides, without it how would I open a can of beans.
A ton of disheveled gear lay on the grass and picnic table when I guy dropped by to BS. He was interesting _ a writer and photographer for fishing magazines _ and a fount of information about the area and how to fish the river.
So, we talked until nearly dark when he wandered to his pickup to cook the five small brook trout he’d caught earlier that day. I nearly whined that I wouldn’t have my usual beans unless I found my knife, but I didn’t.
And I didn’t find the knife, which meant I ate dehydrated hash browns O’Brien, tuna fish from a package (rather than a can), a bagel and hot chocolate. I probably pleased Sadie by not eating beans again.
Friday dawned clear and calm. Knifeless, I toasted bagels again and pouted. Then I remembered the Leatherman tool in the truck’s utility box. I felt better. I could at least open a can of beans with it.
After breakfast, I drove about five minutes upstream, parked by the highway and walked a quarter mile across a field to the willow-fringed river. I looked for salmon flies on the branches. Seeing none, I tied on the same wiggle legged nymph I used the day before on the Madison. I dead drifted the fly into the first promising hole and caught two fish, both browns in the 16-inch range.
We walked downstream awhile, and I flipped the fly out about 15 feet as we walked, I stopped at another promising hole. After 10 minutes of no response, reeled in the line and a fish made a strike at the fly and missed. I flipped the line out again, and stripped the fly in fast.
The fish hit again and hooked itself, which confused my certainty about the efficacy of the dead drift. As we neared the end of that stretch, I saw dark clouds building to the west. And the wind built to game force.
I started across the field and the rain hit. A deluge. I shucked my vest and pulled on my rain coat. Rain hit us in horizontal blasts. We hurried, but in the 15 minutes to the truck, rain streamed down Sadie’s sides.
She climbed into the truck and I rubbed her with the towel. I drove back to camp to check on the tent. Good thing. I’d left the doors down half way for ventilation , and windblown rain puddled on the floor and the sleeping bags. I spent 15 minutes wiping up the puddles.
I sat in the truck and nodded off until the squall passed. I fished again that afternoon, using nymphs and caught several fish, including one rainbow trout. Then, after dinner, a huge caddis fly hatch swarmed up the river 20 feet from the tent. I fished for an hour with dry flies, but didn’t get a rise.
It rained hard Friday night. I didn’t wait for the sun on Saturday. Packed up all the gear by 6:37 a.m. and drove up to the East Bank Recreation Site, about 10 miles. I fished for about two hours and caught one brown. About 18 inches.
I changed clothes, washing after a fashion with handy wipes, and started home. I bought gas in Wisdom, stopped to fish the East Fork Bitterroot River near Darby, where a man in a fly shop said the salmon flay hatch had just started.
When I explained that I couldn’t tarry to fish that day, he assured me the dry-fly fishing would be excellent from July through September for rainbows, browns, cutthroat, Dolly Vardens, brookies and whitefish.
Talk about serendipity.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Rocky Ford Creek

It looked like a perfect cast.
Perhaps 27- to 30-feet of
line settled onto the water at a
45-degree angle upstream. A
split second later, almost as
an afterthought, the tiny dry
fly touched down and stirred
half a dozen minuscule circles
within circles on the stream's
surface. Line and fly floated
almost imperceptibly on the
invisible current.
It looked like a perfect day,
too.
Ravens sailed high over
head, their ``Rrrrr-Rrrrr'' calls
surprisingly clear despite
their altitude, and redwinged
blackbirds chuckled in the
cattail thickets along the
stream's banks.
Sun warmed the left side of
my face and the backs of my
hands as I lifted the fly rod tip
a tad and gathered slack line
slowly in my left hand. My
eyes squinted to see the fly on
the sun-bright water.
I'd left the sunglasses in the
car, of course. Heavy clouds
covered the area when I first
arrived at Rocky Ford Creek.
A blustery wind had
whipped riffles across the
water and rattled the desic
cated cattail stalks while I
rigged up the fly rod.
I removed the weary old
leader and tied on a brand
new 9-foot 3x leader. A 3x
leader, according to the infor
mation on the packet, would
withstand 5.8 pounds of pres
sure from a fish.
Rocky Ford Creek holds
rainbow trout bigger than
that, not that I've caught any.
But you often see them swim
by the bank while you fish _
six pounders at least.
Anglers may not wade in
this stream, by the way, be
cause of the sensitive banks
and bottom. In addition, ang
lers may use flies with barb
less hooks only. They may
keep one fish, and they're
supposed to stop fishing when
they do.
Anyway, I figured, with my
9-foot, 5-weight graphite rod,
even a 10-pounder would
have a difficult time breaking
5.8-pound-test line.
As I stood among the rat
tling cattails with my back to
the breeze, I opened my fly
box and selected a very small
nymph called a chironomid or
midge. It looked like someone
had wrapped thin copper wire
around a No. 18 hook with an
almost invisible bit of feather
near the eye of the hook.
With my spectacles perched
on my nose, I slipped the
leader through the hook's
hole, made a loop and twisted
the hook 10 times. This
wrapped the short end of the
leader several times around
the long part. I slipped this
short end through the loop in
the leader twice and pulled
the fly and the long part of the
leader to make a knot.
As I clipped the extra
leader, a raspy voice said,
``Where you from?'' A man
holding a fly rod stood a few
feet away.
``Huh?'' I said and blinked.
``I'm from Omak.''
``Oh. I thought maybe you'd
know where to buy dry flies
around here,'' he said.
Then, feeling a bit guilty, I
told him about the fly shop
and liquor store owned by a
man named Don Davis in
Soap Lake, less than 15 min
utes away. But he'd already
been there.
``He didn't have any small
enough,'' the man said. And
he reached his hand under my
nose.
``It's a No. 20,'' he said. A
blue pinhead-sized spot dot
ted his fingertip. At dusk the
previous day, the man said,
the trout had been rising, and
he'd tied on the tiny fly and
hooked three fish in a matter
of minutes.
``I didn't land any of them,
but they sure took after the
fly,'' he said. ``And this is the
only one I have left.''
I showed the man what I'd
tied on, and he said it looked
``pretty big.'' But I shrugged,
and he left.
My watch said it was 10:31
a.m., and I began casting.
After an hour, I realized I was
casting into the wind and that
by walking half a mile down
stream and crossing the
bridge, I could cast with the
wind.
So, I did. And the sun came
out and the breeze stopped.
That's when I could've used
the sunglasses but didn't want
to walk all the way back to the
car.
I fished another two hours
or so without a hint of a strike
when two men walked up to
fish on the other side of the
stream, at the very spot I'd
fished.
Yes, one of the men hooked
a fish almost immediately. It
jumped and ran and splashed,
which surprised me. Most of
the lunkers I'd hooked in the
stream had been heavy and
strong but lethargic. The
man's fish pulled free before
he could land it, but it prob
ably weighed 3 pounds.
As he continued fishing, I
studied the man's technique.
It dawned on me that he
fished with a dry fly. I could
tell by the way he pulled the
rod tip back slightly to let the
fly float down after the line
landed on the water. And he
didn't let it drift very long,
either.
Although I didn't see fish
rising, I eventually noticed
tiny insects flying over the
water _ very tiny.
When the men on the other
side moved on downstream, I
pulled out my fly box and
searched for a tiny blue dry
fly. I found four that appeared
to be tied on No. 20 hooks.
Vaguely I recalled buying
them when fishing in Monta
na. Pale Morning Duns or
Blue-winged Olives, or some
thing.
As carefully as possible, I
tied one on and rubbed gooey
stuff on it to make it float
forever. I cast maybe two
dozen times without results.
Then, a fish bumped the fly _
actually rose from the dark
water and bumped it. It made
my day.
Minutes later, the same
thing happened again. All
right! I'd obviously made a
major breakthrough.
Then I laid out this perfect
cast, and the fly rode high and
floated slow. Squinting, I saw
it clearly, about 25 feet away.
Then, ever so lightly, I
raised the rod tip and a small
circle of waves surrounded
the fly. It looked like an insect
had wriggled slightly on the
water. I waited a few seconds
and moved the fly again.
The water boiled and the
line snapped taught. My eyes
bugged. I pulled in line. Then
the fish pulled back and
ripped the line through my
fingers. The rod arched, the
reel screeched and the fish
jumped.
I retrieved 15 feet of line
before the fish jumped and
ran again. It ran four times in
the next few seconds, strip
ping line from the reel with
that screech that makes hair
dance on the back of my
neck. And it jumped three
times.
Finally, the giant rainbow
trout languished within reach
_ 18 to 19 inches long and
31/2 pounds, at least. The tiny
fly looked like a gnat on its
upper lip.
On my knees in the mud, I
removed the fly without
touching the fish. Then, when
I pressed the fish's dark green
back with a finger to see if it
was too tired to swim, it shot
away into the weeds.
That happened at about
1:38 p.m.
Other anglers will under
stand why, although I didn't
hook another fish, I cast and
cast and cast. And why I
didn't make it home in time
for supper.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Juniper Dunes

When my watch said 11:39
a.m. on Monday, my stomach
said ``Let's eat.''
I paused on a patch of sand
in the Juniper Dunes Wilder
ness, three hours from the
truck. A breeze cooled my
face and arms as I aimed
binoculars across mounds, ar
royos and dark juniper trees.
To the south, in Pasco,
spanned the silver Cable
Bridge. To the west, beyond
Hanford, loomed stark Rattle
snake Mountain. To the east,
south of Dayton, gleamed
snow-covered Table Rock.
Steel windmills waved on
Horse Heaven Hills and above
Vansycle Canyon.
To the north spread more
mounds, arroyos and juniper
trees and, nestled in a green
pasture, the Juniper Dunes
Ranch. My main landmark.
So, I knew where I was.
And my shirt pocket bulged
with my compass, in case of
fog.
I sought a place secluded
from the breeze. Several juni
pers stood to my right, half
hidden by a sandy ridge. A
cool, green carpet spread be
neath them.
I set up the palm-sized
Snow Peak stove and hung
the CamelBak waterbag in a
tree. I drained water into the
coffee pot and into a cup for
Sadie the Dalmatian.
I fixed the camera on the
monopod, steadied it with a
low juniper limb, clicked the
10-second timer and hurried
to fire up the stove.
I pushed the stove's red-
button igniter: Whoosh.
Water steamed in two min
utes. I poured it into my cup
with two packs of Swiss Miss.
Sadie and I ate a turkey sand
wich, an apple and carrots.
I set the camera's timer
again, hurried to the day
pack, leaned back, picked up
my cup and listened.
The breeze soughed
through the junipers. A
meadow lark warbled. A dis
tant raven whispered.
Sadie lay on her back with
her legs straight up.
I dozed.
Yikes! My eyeballs bulged.
Two-stroke engines screamed
like Bear Cat wood chippers.
I grabbed my binoculars
and raced up the sandy ridge.
Four dirt bikers shrieked
across a dune and into an
arroyo 80 yards away. They
wore bright riding suits, with
the leader in red. Helmets and
bright red, white and blue
bikes with high front fenders
glared in the sunlight.
Rear tires spewed sand.
Drat!
I stomped back to the juni
pers to pack. When my watch
said 12:39 p.m., Sadie and I
stalked eastward.
We crossed the dirt-bike
tracks, four six-inch-wide and
three-inch-deep gouges
across the sand, native bunch
grass and twisted sage.
Biting back bile, I trudged
across valleys and ridges
toward a tall, distant dune.
I paused to photograph
purple phlox, yellow bells,
yellow sky rocket, gold star,
balsom root and juniper trees.
Some junipers broke
ground there 250 years ago,
about the time James Lind
wrote his ``Treatise on
Scurvy'' that claimed eating
oranges and lemons would
cure or prevent the affliction.
And about the time the in
dustrial revolution started
Ah, well.
Shuffling along, we found a
4-point deer antler, and I
photographed it. So, big mule
deer do live among the dunes.
My altimeter figured the tall
dune to be 140 feet high. I
spotted my landmark, the Ju
niper Dunes Ranch, to the
north. We angled toward it.
Later, when I paused below
a ridge, all hell broke loose:
growling and snarling and a
gnashing of teeth.
My hair jumped. I jumped.
Sadie jumped behind my leg.
A snarling black and white
border collie slid to a stiff-
legged stop inches away. It
whirled and dashed away.
Sadie bristled and snarled in
hot pursuit. A man and
woman topped the ridge, yell
ing ``Katie! Katie!.''
Katie stopped. Sadie
stopped. They circled.
They sniffed as I climbed
the ridge and talked with the
people. They planned to camp
overnight. I said nothing
about a sign by the gate that
said no overnight parking.
Perhaps they asked per
mission at the ranch.
Then, after another hour, I
reached the last wilderness
dune and counted 12 people,
two on a blanket digging a
hole; three teenagers rolling
down a 60-foot slope; four
kids leaping down the dune;
and a woman holding a child.
A busy wilderness for a
Monday. And we all left our
marks.
Yet, people with the dog
and people turning the wilder
ness into a giant sand box
didn't clinch my jaws tight.
But dirt bikers did. Prob
ably because they mangled
everything in their paths.
And because they cut
through the fence to do it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Scenic Byway

Some names along the new Blue Mountain Scenic Byway roll softly from the tongue: Willow Creek Lake, Strawberry Mountain, North Powder River, the North Fork John Day River, Anthony Lake and Elkhorn Drive.
Others? Well, they're a bit stubby for rhythmic pronunciation: Heppner, Granite, Baker and Sumpter.
One or two stubby ones, though, sound smooth and stir the imagination.
Ukiah, for example, suggests soft, summer winds whiffling through streamside cottonwoods. You know, from the great ol' song, ``And they call the wind Ukiaaaahhhh.''
Anyway, at this very moment, signs and markers for the byway are being built. And a ribbon-cutting ceremony has been scheduled for this spring at the Morrow County start of the drive. Officially, the byway takes off from Interstate 84 at Arlington, Ore., (Exit 147) and winds about 130 miles to Baker, Ore. It's a two-lane, paved highway that's usually open from June through November.
From Arlington, you follow the Willow Creek Drainage 44 miles to Heppner. A mile east of Heppner, where I began the drive last week, you turn left onto Willow Creek Road, also called Forest Service Road 53.
At Willow Creek Lake, you can see Heppner, nestled in the valley below the dam.
About 22 miles from Heppner, you pass Cutsforth County Park. Few of the RV stalls were occupied last week, and the picnic area and the playground were empty. The ice-covered pond suggested why.
A few miles past the park, the road narrows. And this time of the year snow often puts a little icing on the asphalt. As a result, this is one of the stretches where you should expect to meet loaded logging trucks and wide-bodied motor homes pulling seven-masted schooners and flatbed trailers filled with 1962 Volkswagen bugs and Honda three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles.
Never, for example, expect to meet a logging truck on the occasional straight stretch. They only roar out of nowhere at the moment you slip across the centerline on a snowpacked curve. Then, there it is! The Phantom Logging Truck crashes toward you. Its square grill gleams as stark as the old drive-in theater movie screen in Cut Bank, Mont. Great slush walls shoot from its 20-foot-tall tires.
When it passes, you breath again and feel great about the byway's small moments of drama that enliven your day.
Then, maybe three more miles up the mountain, you'll pass the junction to Penland Lake. The lake has picnic and boating facilities.
From the top of the mountain, on a clear day, you'd be able to see the Strawberry and Greenhorn mountain ranges to the south. Even on a misty, snowy day, you see a mixture of rolling tree-covered hills and logged sections.
Ukiah is about 46 miles from Heppner (90 miles from I-84). From there, you could turn north to Pendleton (50 miles) or south to John Day. Or, you could follow Highway 244 to La Grande, after pausing a few miles from Ukiah to soak at Lehman Hot Springs.
The byway, by-the-way, turns right at Granny's Mini-Mart onto Forest Service Road 52. At about 13 miles from Granny's, you'll find a scenic viewpoint. From there, on a snowless day, you can see the North Fork John Day area, including such places as Pearson Ridge, Onion Flats and parts of the North Fork John Day Wilderness area.
Fifty miles from Ukiah, you reach Granite. It used to be a gold mining town. So did Sumpter, fewer than 10 miles from Granite. Between the two, you may visit an historical narrow-gauge railroad train and station.
Rows of rock and boulders, six to 10-feet tall, stretch for miles along various creek drainages and indicate how extensive gold, silver and quartz mining was in the area.
Apparently, five ex-Confederate soldiers discovered gold at Sumpter in 1862. And, on the Fourth of July, 1862, a group led by A.G. Tabor discovered gold two miles up Granite Creek. That's in James Waucop Tabor's book, ``Granite and Gold, The Story of Oregon's Smallest City.''
The author was A.G. Tabor's grandson. The first settlement, eventually Granite, was named Independence and located about a mile and a half from the present townsite.
At first the miners worked their claims by placer mining. Eventually they used dredges and high-pressure water hoses.
The dredges, considered very efficient, apparently worked the entire Sumpter Valley, and left many large piles of boulders and gravel. The dredges operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for two holidays a year. The Sumpter dredge, which sits where it stopped in 1954, resembles a Mississippi River boat. It weighs 1,200 tons and recovered enough gold to average $20,000 a month profit.
With the hydraulic method, miners would wash down hillsides with water sprayed from giant high-pressure hoses. The gravel banks would be washed through wooden troughs or sluices. Gold, heavier than dirt, settled behind small slats or riffles. Mercury was placed into the riffles to soak up the gold like a sponge. Later, furnaces vaporized the mercury to release the gold.
Logging became a big industry in the area in the late 1880s, and near Granite I saw a Timberjack 530A in operation. It's a long-necked machine that pinches trees off at the ground, three or four at a time, as if it were picking flowers.
Finally, from Granite to Baker, you drive 30 miles of the Elkhorn Scenic Byway. Incidently, the Elkhorn drive is a 106 mile loop from Baker through Granite, Anthony Lakes, North Powder, Haines and back to Baker.
From Walla Walla, if you join the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway at Heppner, the drive to Baker and back by the freeway through La Grande covers about 350 miles.
That's a good day's outing, if you pack a few granola bars and a thermos of coffee, or if you buy a sandwich at Granny's Mini-Mart in Ukiaaaaahhhhh.
Either way, you'll need plenty of strength to fully enjoy all the sites you'll see.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Night adventure

When the sun sets and the
moon rises, most people head
for the warmth and safety
they find indoors. Author
Vinson Brown, however, says
walking abroad in the wilds
beneath the light of the moon
may result in interesting and
wonderful experiences.
Brown's book is titled, Read
ing the Outdoors at Night.

Fumble along and... Read
the Darkness for `interest and
wonder' Whoo-oo-oo-oo?
Whoo-oo-oo-oo?
Who? What do you mean,
who? Shucks, your feet don't
fit on a limb.
Or, possibly: Who? Shucks,
you've been out of the woods
long enough to know who?
Sure, I could've said those
things. But the critter hooting
Who? Who? actually did have
feet that fit a limb. And, it had
probably never really been
out of the woods.
And, truth be known, it had
a very legitimate right to be
asking Who? Who? I was,
after all, the interloper.
And in the dark.
And all because of an inno
cent enough book, titled
``Reading the Outdoors at
Night.''
``Many people find them
selves in the dark,'' it begins.
And I knew the author,
Vinson Brown, understood
my plight.
The darkness was my old
friend, sometimes at mid-day.
Oh, Brown goes on to say,
``Some have gone for a walk
and found the dark coming
quicker than they imagined.
Others may have a car break
down and so may be on a
dark road for awhile. Some,
such as woodsmen and mess
engers, have to go through
dark areas as part of their
work. Others may be camping
out, and of course, be sur
rounded by darkness beyond
their fire and lamplight. Still
others may be vacationing in
a cabin on the edge of the
woods, lake, desert or some
other wild area. Their cabin
or tent may even be in the
midst of such a wilderness.
Some people go on hikes or
walks and get lost in the dark;
they usually become
thoroughly frightened.''
Yep, Brown seemed to
know me personally. I'd ex
perienced each of those
things, especially the one
about being a messenger who
had to go through dark areas
as part of his work.
``Yet,'' Brown continued,
``how few of these people
realize what a grand and still
safe adventure the dark can
be, and how filled with
interest and wonder!''
That's the line that put me
off my pumpkin.
On a hiking trip along the
Imnaha River, up from Indian
Crossing, in the Eagle Cap
Wilderness, I got to thinking
about how ``interest and won
der'' filled the darkness. And
this light bulb lit up in my
head.
When it got real dark, so
the interest and wonder
would be moving around
good, I'd take a walk. I'd ex
plore the darkness first hand.
On the second night out,
squatting before the tent and
watching the sun drop behind
the ridge to the northwest, I
didn't feel like crawling into
the tent.
Sure, the temperature
dropped 30 degrees, to about
35, when the sun set. And my
cold feet and aching back
said, ``Bed time!''
But my dumb curiosity said,
``C'mon, let's take a stroll.
Remember, the darkness is
filled with interest and won
der.'' And 1,000 eyes.
So, amid some pretty
severe grousing from feet and
back, I re-tied my boots,
pulled the stocking cap down
over my ears, slipped chilled
fingers into wool gloves and
set out across the meadow.
Halfway to the tree line, I
decided I couldn't see diddly-
squat and hurried back to the
tent for a flashlight.
Of course, Brown suggests
covering a light with red
cellophane, which many ani
mals can't detect, and fixing it
to your head to leave your
hands free.
But you gotta go with what
you got, I said, amazed at the
philosophical insight dark
ness stimulated. I checked the
light for fresh batteries the
way all outdoorsmen do. I
shined it into my eyes.
Squinting as I strolled, I
called up from my computer-
like brain the file I'd stored on
Brown's book: Sharpening
the senses. How to increase
vision at night. Being in the
right place at the right time.
Droppings and tracks: clues
to animal whereabouts.
Recognizing birds of the
night in action. Probing the
Nighttime World of Reptiles
and Amphibians (Here, I
quickly shined the light all
around). Meeting Insects and
their relatives at night. Listen
ing to nature's nighttime
sounds.
I stopped, turned off the
light and listened.
``The adventurer in the
world of nature after dark,''
Brown said on page 123,
``must first of all be at home
in the dark and unhampered
by unreasonable fear.''
I cast aside my unreason
able fears and stood there
shaking like an aspen leaf
with the reasonable one
screaming: ``Watch out! You
can't see diddly-squat?''
I snapped the light on
again. Just to check the foot
ing, of course.
Then, I shook myself. I was
missing the whole point of
Brown's book, I snapped off
the light walked slow.
Eventually, I put a foot
down and heard a squisssssh.
A cold, wet sensation seeped
down my ankle, under the
sole of my foot and between
my toes.
Light!
I'd walked into a swamp.
``Quicksand! Run!'' my
reasonable fear shouted.
Succkkkkk. That's the
sound the muck made when I
pulled my leg. Sloooop. That's
the sound my foot made when
it slipped out of the boot.
Ah, nature's nighttime
sounds. Holding the light in
my teeth, I leaned onto hands
and knees and dug the boot
from the mud.
To avoid the swamp, I clam
bered half a mile up the
mountainside.
Eventually I had to tip-toe
across a boulder slide. At the
edge of it, near a gnarled pine, several
angry nose-clearing snorts
shattered the night.
Demonstrating a rare
46-inch vertical jump and
hanging above the rocks with
the hair standing at attention
on my face, arms and legs, I
swept the area with the light.
BIG EYES!
The Brown file whipped
onto my mental screen, page
20-21, Identification Key to
Eyes at Night: Closely set,
large, bright orange eyes:
Bear; Bright yellow eyes, Rac
coon; Yellowish white eyes,
Bobcat or Canadian lynx;
Fiery white eyes, Coyotes,
dogs, wolves; Opalescent
green eyes, Bullfrog. ...
The light swept across dark
brown fur, about five feet tall,
clattering from the clearing
and crashing into the trees.
Ah, elk. My feet settled onto
the ground and the hair on
my face and limbs relaxed to
parade rest.
Eventually, I rounded the
head of the swamp high on
the mountianside, and a wax
ing four-fifths moon cleared
the ridges to the east. Sud
denly, I cast a shadow. Turn
ing off the flashlight I decided
this walking at night in the
wilderness could be fun.
To cool down after so much
exertion and fear, I sat on a log to rest, look and
listen. Soaking up the interest
and wonder I realized that
Brown had a great idea.
Who-oo-oo-oo? Who-oo-oo-
oo?
Who? Who do you think?
Vinson Brown. He wrote
``Reading the Outdoors at
Night,'' published by Stockpole
Books, Cameron and Kelker
Streets, Harrisburg, Penn.,
17105 ($9.95, paperback).
Say, you could even talk to
the animals in the dark.
Who'd know?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dry Falls Lake

Certain features make Dry Falls Lake, a stone's throw south of Coulee City in Grant County, nearly perfect for fly fishing from a float tube. A rock island divides the lake into north and south sections. The northern section's bank slopes too much for working a fly or spoon from land. And water 30 feet deep below the basalt rimrocks makes wading tough, unless you're very, very tall. Eight-foot tall cattails, shin-deep water and mud deter waders from the southern section. So, Dry Falls Lake anglers need to float. And that makes the wind a factor. On the highway, several hundred feet above the lake's western edge, wind often whips along at 40 miles an hour. On the water, the winds swirl. But only at 36.3 mph. So, because float tubes sit so low in the water, they're exactly what you need for the lake. Therefore, what did I do last week? Of course. I left my float tube in the basement. I'm using it to collect and study rare dust specimens and spider webs. When I rolled into the nearly filled parking area below the leaning toilet of Dry Falls _ with the canoe strapped atop the car _ I counted 15 float tubes bobbing around the lake. A drift boat, a two-man blue and yellow rubber raft and two 12-foot aluminum boats dashed before the winds. And as I rigged up my gear, two dummies in a long-green canoe sliced between the weeds and into the narrow launching slot. ``Too windy for a canoe,'' the older of the two said. ``It skims you all over the place.'' Still, both men seemed to be happy enough. So I probed, using the famed anglers' mind-meltdown perfected by Dr. Sprockett. Employing a jaunty French accent, I asked if they'd ``caught zem all.'' ``We caught some,'' the older guy said. ``My son-in-law caught a couple of 17-inchers. All rainbow.'' Ah, I wheedled, with what? ``He caught 'em on a zug bug.'' Well, I didn't have any zug bugs, not that I knew personally. ``Didn't we see you down at Lenore early this morning?'' the younger man asked. He meant Lake Lenore, maybe half an hour north of Moses Lake on Highway 17. That made it maybe 10 minutes north of Soap Lake and 20 minutes south of Dry Falls Lake. Lenore, of course, has earned widespread fame for its huge Lahontan cutthroat trout. Dry Falls Lake contains somewhat smaller but more feisty rainbow and German brown trout. No, I just come in from Lake Chelan, via Wenatchee, I told the man, shifting to a German accent. That's the scenic route from Walla Walla. But I plan to fish Lenore tomorrow, I added. ``It's a joke,'' he said. And I studied his face. He apparently meant ``joke'' to be ironic. I noticed the car he leaned against bore a Minnesota license plate. ``I've never seen such big, beautiful fish,'' he said. ``I caught two over 20 inches. He (the son-in-law) caught a 24-incher. A gorgeous fish. ``But it's just a joke.'' Well, at that moment, the rainbow of Dry Falls concerned me. My watch said 12:01, so I decided to eat lunch while I rigged up two fly rods. One _ a 9{-foot, nine-weight that I normally use when pursuing whales _ I loaded with fast-sinking-tip line, a 9-foot, knotless, 4-pound test leader and a barbless black woolly booger pattern. Such special fisharies allow only artificial lures and flies with single barbless hooks. One fish may be kept. The other, an eight-foot, 3-ounce, four-weight _ it felt like a toothpick compared to the nine-weight _ I loaded with buckskin floating line, a 2-pound test leader and a gold-ribbed hare's ear. At 12:52 p.m. I paddled onto the lake. Gear nearly filled the 12-foot boat: extra jacket, two fly rods, canteen, 80-pound rock to hold the bow down, fishing vest with fly boxes, fingernail clippers, needle-nosed pliers, camera and a spare blueberry muffin wrapped in a red bandanna. Then I fished. And I fished. I tried fly, after fly, after fly. Nothing. No bites. No nibbles. Only a blister on my left hand, between the thumb and index finger, from paddling. All the while, of course, I watched float-tubers catch and release fish. One guy, about 37 yards away, whooped when he hooked one. He finally lifted it. ``I thought it was a big one,'' he said. ``But it's only about 16 inches.'' Hummmph. ``That's five,'' he added. ``All on a peacock with a floating line.'' Hummmmph. Shuffle. Scramble. Dig. I wouldn't recognize a peacock that hooked my thumb. But I pulled in the sinking line and tried the floating line again with a bright streamer. Nothing. It had to be the float tubes. Or, maybe I just wasn't a very good fisherman? Maybe I'd never catch another fish? Obviously, I'd failed. I'd have to live with that. And pout. So, at 5:38 p.m. I paddled back to the car. With the sinking sun turning the water to gold, I dug my penultimate sandwich from the cooler, poured the last chocolate milk into a cup, set the coffee pot on the camp stove and pouted. Who needed fishing, anyway? By the time my water boiled, virtually every other angler had left the lake and a steady stream of vehicles rolled past the toilet. But the drivers all appeared to wear smiles. A frown etched deeper across my face. Eventually I studied the lake again. The wind had calmed. Two float tubes and no boats remained. Should I? I stuffed the cooler and stove into the car and paddled back onto the lake, lips pressed tight with resolve. Just north of the island in the middle of the lake, a mad impulse led me to tie a black, No. 4 woolly bugger onto the floating line. On the second cast, the fish struck very lighty. I guessed it to be 12 inches when I slipped the hook from its lip. It was 6:22 p.m. and the sun had nearly disappeared. At least I wasn't a total failure, but one fish in six hours didn't make a great trip, either. The next cast produced a 17- to 18-inch rainbow that leaped and flashed its red sides in the failing light. In the next half hour, I lost track of the fish I brought to the boat and released. Seven or eight? One, that appeared to have a six-inch wide red stripe, spit the fly after jumping twice. It was a monster that I had too much line out to control. One, a German brown about 16 inches, dragged the canoe for several minutes and felt like the lunker of the lake, but it was hooked in the side. It eventually became a breaded and baked dinner. By 8 p.m. I beached the boat and packed the gear by lamplight. The 30-degree chill didn't even register on my hands. And, after camping at Sun Lakes State Park, I fished from 7:30 until after noon at Lenore on Monday. I didn't even get a nibble, but I still smiled. Just feeling the canoe slip across the lake, with the sun shining on my face and the light breeze ruffling my locks, well, that was the important thing. Besides, the old, deflated float tube was safe in the basement collecting all kinds of new dust specimens for me to study over the winter.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Lightning flashes

Lightning flashed.
The tent's aluminum-pole
skeleton shimmered.
Knobby toes at the far end
of my legs that lay flat on the
sleeping bag stood starkly
outlined against the pale tent
wall. They twitched slightly.
So did the hands that
clutched Agatha Christie's
witch-inhabited mystery novel
``Pale Horse'' against my
chest.
A soft rumble rolled down
the granite ridge to the east. It
sounded faintly hollow, like
an oak chair tipping onto the
maple floor of a vast and
distant castle hall.
Within seconds the rumble
built to a crescendo, and
chair, castle and known world
crashed around my ears.
KERRRRBLLLLLLAAAAA
AMMMMM!
Lids squeezed over bulging
eyes. Hair stood on end. An
impulse to scream into the
night swept over me.
More lightning crackled.
More thunder hammered
across my head and
shoulders. Rain hammered
the tent, too, and marble-
sized drops skittered from the
fabric into the night.
But I lay still, except for
twitching some.
Why, the worst that could
happen would be^...
Stormy thoughts occurred
to me that night in the Eagle
Cap Wilderness Area, about
6.1 miles from Wallowa Lake,
at the edge of Six Mile
Meadow.
I'd been on the trail since
Sunday and walked about 64
miles already.
My ride, fondly named
Darlene's Shuttle Service, had
dropped me at the gate near
the top of Minam Hill, about
10 miles east of Elgin on Ore
gon Highway 82, at 10:30 a.m.
When I reached Wallowa
Lake, I'd call and she'd re
trieve me. So, with no vehicle
waiting for a week at a
trailhead, I started the hike
with an unfettered mind.
Well, not quite.
I expected to encounter
SOME natural adversity along
the way. And several normal
misgivings nagged at my
head, such as: Will the food
last? What if a bear takes it
away from me? Will the stove
work? What if a tent pole
breaks? Will the trail be open?
What if I get an infected blis
ter or twist an ankle and can't
walk? What if a tree falls on
me?
Strolling down the first part
of the hike, I told myself to
RELAX and put silly fears
aside.
Besides, as Harry Roberts
said in his small book ``The
Basic Essentials of Backpack
ing,'' you don't have to be
smart to hike successfully.
He said ``attention to detail''
means much more than intel
ligence on the trail. Roberts
also said hikers should ``roll
with the punches'' and ``enjoy
the rain.''
Clearly, with some serious
concentration, I'd be all right.
My motto became: Relax
and pay attention to detail.
Later, beneath a 90-degree
sun, I pondered a less ideal
istic view of the great out
doors, however. In one of Sue
Grafton's mystery novels, de
tective Kinsey Millhone said
something like, ``Nature runs
uphill, dirty and sweaty and
itchy.''
By 3:30 p.m., sweat had
plowed furrows through the
dust on my face and neck. A
sweat-soaked shirt clung to
my back. Pants and socks
sagged. The pack's hip belt
had rubbed raw patches in my
flab. And, somehow defying
gravity, sodden shorts had
inched upward and
threatened to strangle me.
So, maybe 10 miles from
Minam Hill, I quit for the day.
Half an hour later, the
camp stood beside the river
and a small rainbow trout
danced on the end of the fly
line. Clearly, detective
Millhone's view of nature
missed an important clue.
After dinner, while sipping
tea, I discovered a blister on
each little toe. I'd started out
with Moleskin, a soft felt ma
terial with stickum on the
back, covering those very
blister-prone spots, too.
Oh-oh.
Would I be able to walk on
Monday? Many miles to go,
after all. A sign near the wil
derness boundary had said
``Reds Horse Ranch 17,'' and
``Minam Lake 43.'' And
Wallowa Lake would be 17 or
18 miles more.
Bravely I battled negative
thoughts. Then I snipped the
blisters with the Swiss Army
Knife's scissors and painted
them from the small bottle of
Second Skin. They stung like
the dickens.
The next morning I covered
the blisters with new Mole
skin and slipped on a pair of
thin double-layered nylon
socks, called blister-resisters,
beneath the light woollies.
Lo, the feet smiled when
they hit the trail at 7:15 a.m.
And, with frequent rest stops,
they smiled when they
stopped a mile short of Reds
at 3:46 that afternoon.
And I soon smiled, too.
After shucking the pack and
sweaty clothes beside the
green water, I carefully _
paying attention to detail _
took a running cannonball
leap from the bank.
Cold, clear water washed
over me. Nearly took my
breath away. Huff-puff. Spurt-
spew. Absolutely relaxed.
But, alas, on Tuesday that
laid-back attitude suffered a
setback. Between Reds and
the North Minam River, about
a zillion fallen trees blocked
the trail. I labored from 7:10
a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including a
half-hour for lunch and two
coffee breaks, to cover the
11.8 miles to Rock Creek.
After another river plunge
and more fishing near a green
buttercup-dotted meadow, I
wrestled with the prospect
battling deadfall all day
Wednesday.
Then, while reading Chris
tie's novel with my headlamp,
I experienced a revelation.
The vicar's wife, Mrs. Dane
Calthrop, told the hero of the
book, ``Always envisage the
worst. You've no idea how
that steadies the nerves. You
begin at once to be sure it
can't be as bad as you im
agine.''
Wow. I immediately
blended the idea with my
``RELAX'' motto. Relax, pay
attention to detail and expect
the worst.
At the absolute worst, the
14.6 miles of trail upstream
from Rock Creek to Minam
Lake would have a deadfall
every five feet.
It worked. After clawing
and stumbling through the
first clump of fallen lodgepole
pine and spruce trees early
Wednesday morning, I
laughed out loud. The next
barrier lay at least 100 yards
away. My worst fears would
never come true. Then the
deadfall almost completely
ended after 81/2 miles, at
Trail Creek. ...
Thursday's storm sur
rounded me after I left Minam
Lake, crossed Lake Basin and
camped beside the West Fork
of the Wallowa River.
Lightning flashed and thun
der crashed. I lay in the
muggy tent on top of the
sleeping bag and watched
twitching toes outlined
against the taught pale nylon.
Then, again taking control,
I relaxed and envisaged the
worst: lightning could strike
the tent and leave one strip of
curled, burnt bacon-like
gristle smoking on the pine
needles.
Boy, I sure felt better and
immediately fell into a dream
less sleep.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hanford Reach

Two things appear certain.
First of all, when you find
walnuts beneath a tree, it's a
walnut tree.
So, those big, old dead
looking trees in the flat along
the Columbia River across
from the old Hanford site are
probably walnut trees.
From a distance on Sunday
they looked like locust trees,
with their dark, rough bark
and their brittle-looking
naked limbs.
Yet, as Sadie the Dalmatian
and I shuffled along beneath
them, I saw the tell-tale clue:
a scattering of dried walnuts.
Many of the broken nuts lay
on the ground in half shells.
But they were walnuts.
The trees have stood there
for many decades, and some
are gonners. Dead bark peels
from limbs and trunks. Some
may perk up in another few
weeks, sprout leaves and pro
duce more walnuts to scatter
on the ground.
Perhaps.
And second of all, my
coyote call won't be
answered. Not soon, and not
by a self-respecting coyote.
I saw one coyote after we
zig-zagged for about four
miles from the locked gate to
the cliffs and ate lunch across
the river from the reactors.
The locked gate, by the
way, is about nine miles up a
graveled road from the
Ringold Fish Hatchery,
At the gate, we met three
adults, two kids and a dog. As
I donned my daypack and
slung the binoculars and cam
era bag on my shoulders, they
moved off the road toward the
hills on the right. I never saw
them again. Or anyone else.
Sadie and I followed the
road for one-quarter mile. It leads to a
second locked gate in about
three miles, but we left it near
the flat, with the large, dark
trees in the distance.
High, rugged cliffs on the
right felt dramatic, and the
flat stretched from the road
for several hundred yards to
the river. Looking upriver,
with the rugged white cliffs
towering above the road, the
flat extended for half a mile to
the steep ridges.
Our route followed me
andering game trails near the
river. Beyond the flat, yellow
bells and wild parsley
sparkled in the green grass.
A zillion deer tracks
marked the hard-packed
trails, and geese, pelicans,
cormorants and mallards
preened on the river.
Sounds carried in the near
silence, too. Did voices filter
down from the cliffs? Nope.
Geese honked from so high
above the cliffs that I could
barely see them without the
binoculars.
Once past the flat, we fol
lowed a game trail up a
cliffside overlooking the river.
The trail made sharp ascents
and descents and clung pre
cipitously to the cliffside.
I wore no jacket, but sweat
dampened my clothes. I drank
often from the tube to a new
CamelBak Unbottle water bag
stuffed into the daypack. The
100 ounces of water in the
bag weighs 6.91 pounds.
It's so convenient that I
sipped and forgot Sadie.
Then, from high on a cliff, she
looked down at the sky blue
ness of the river and moaned.
She wanted water. I
searched in vain for her cup
in the daypack. So, I squeezed
the tube and water ran into a
binocular lens cap. Three
slurps cleaned it, so I refilled
it until she walked away.
We left the gate at 11:16
a.m. When we reached the far
cliffs, beyond the overlook at
the second gate on the road, I
guessed the time at 3 p.m.
I carried three Cliff bars for
lunch, and we worked our
way down the steep banks,
over wide slippage crack in
the earth near the river. Sadie
splashed into water up to her
chest and drank a long time.
I basked in the sunshine,
and we shared a Chocolate
Chip Clif bar.
As we climbed to the bluff,
the first coyote watched from
50 yards. When it moved, I
whistled. Maybe it would stop
for a photo? No way.
We climbed, and a coyote
sang. Off to the right. I froze.
Such a perfect sound. Intense,
pure notes.
It sat 30 yards away, its
head, shoulders and front legs
visible beside a big sage bush.
It stretched its nose to the sky
and sang again. A chill ran
down my neck and back.
I touched the camera, but it
had the wide angle lens.
So, I sang my coyote song.
Ooops.
Wow! The songdog
bounded four feet straight up.
It hit the ground and puffs of
sand spurted behind its feet.
Gone.
Sadie's tail drooped. Her
head hung between her front
paws. And she blushed.
Darn critics.
We didn't mosey back. We
climbed the highest ridge, and
I scouted the quickest route
though the canyons.
We reached the gate at 5:36
p.m. Although Sadie's reac
tion to my coyote song stung
a bit, I bought her a snack on
the way home.
A very small one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cummins Creek, a walk with Sadie and Nero Wolfe

When Sadie the Dalmatian followed her nose off the trail and into the tall wild rye grass, my peripheral vision caught the movement.
Boy, am I glad.
Really, really glad. I'd been scanning the high slopes across Cummins Creek for Rocky Mountain sheep, but when Sadie made a nervous jump back from a clump of tall grass I lowered the binoculars and watched. She pushed her nose ahead slowly, then a white tail snapped straight up, with a curl at the top. A wide, hair tail.
Oh, @%$&!
``Sadie! Here! Come!''
To my intense gratitude, she did. She heard the panic in my voice. No doubt.
But, she came slowly watching me wave frantically, then looking back nervousely over her shoulder.
But she came.
And the skunk, which had raised its tail into a defensive firing position, held onto the spew. Whew!
For about seven seconds I considered taking a picture of the skunk and actually took half a step toward it. When I did, Sadie did, too. And I smelled that distinct, pithy odor, but faintly. So, knowing when retreat is the best part of valor, I gave it up and hurried on down the trail, putting away the camera and the binouclars as I walked.
That was actually the most intense moment of the three day hikes I took last weekend. Well, if you count Friday and Monday as part of the weekend. Anyway, I've been thinking about my impulses to go take a hike.
Nero Wolfe, who weighs a seventh-of-a-ton, has given me a clue. Not that Wolfe does much walking. He does, however, often need time to think.
He put it this way, ``I need a little time to arrange the inside of my head, and my dinner will be ready shortly.''
That's pretty much my philosophy: I need a little time to wander, and my dinner will be ready shortly.
Wolfe, of course, is a world-renowned genius. When he takes a ``little time'' he closes his eyes, leans back in his custom-made chair, clasps his hands over his girth and works his lips in and out.
I, on the other hand, am not handicapped by genius. And who really wants to sit and just THINK.
No, I do my best intra-head arrangements while meandering along some remote trail with my bamboo walking stick in my hand.
And the remoter the better. So, last Friday, the day of the skunk, Sadie and I walked about 3 miles up Cummins Creek, off the Tucannon River Road.
It's an easy walk along an old road with high walls on each side. I've seen deer, elk and Rocky Mountain seep grazing on the slopes there in the past, along with hawks, turkeys, porcuines and a number of other birds. And skunks, of course.
Sadie flushed a turkey from a thicked of dead ferns on a hillside last week. It flew about 20 yards over my head.
That day, even before the skunk episode, I felt a bit like the Al Capp character, Joe Btfsplk. Remember, he walked around with a rain cloud always over his head, and Capp pronounced his name as if it were a Bronx cheer (made by sticking the tongue between the lips and blowing to make a sound.)
Anyway, sun shined on the canyon walls, but three times it rained on me. I'd put on my rain jacket, and the rain would stop. I'd take off the jacket, and it would rain. At least I had the rain jacket.
Then on Sunday my wife Darlene, Sadie and I spent hours driving around the farm fields south and west of Othello looking fruitlessly for sandhill cranes. Finally, we drove into the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and eventually came upon the Crab Creek Trailhead and interpretive trail through a marsh along the stream.
We spent an hour or so drifting along the path above the stream. Bright golden currant blossoms bloomed, and red-winged blackbirds warbled. Once, a mink slipped along the bank on the other side of the creek.
It was a pleasant way to break the tension of a craneless trip, and the interpretive displays made interesting reading.
Then, on Monday, I again drove through Dayton, out Patit Creek Road, over Hartsock Grade and up the Tucannon River Road. I had the fishing gear, the fanny pack and the day pack.
Yet, I passed the lakes that have recently been stocked with fish and drove all the way up to Panjab Campground to take a hike. I checked out the stream crossing to Rattlesnake Trail (No. 3129), which climbs the ridge above the campground into the Tucannon Wilderness.
Crossing logs bridged the rushing water, but snow high on the hillside hinted that I walk somewhere else.
So, we drove five miles up Forest Road 4712 to the Tucannon River Trail at Sheep Creek. Pine needles covered the trail through a dark wood, and our footsteps hardly broke the silence. After an hour or so, we reached a patch of deep snow. Then another.
Once we saw large bird tracks in the snow. A crow, I thought, or maybe a turkey. Then two pileated woodpeckers flew from the trail and into a tree. I readied the camera, but the big red-headed birds went kak-kak-kak-kak and disappeared into the woods.
Eventually, we waded snow up to my kneecaps and Sadie's bellybutton. I checked the GPS unit, which indicated we'd walked 3.44 miles. That's a straight-line measurement, so I estimated we'd walked four miles, counting twists and turns.
We'd walked for nearly two hours, and snow soaked my gaiters. The inside of my head seemed well arranged. Sadie must've felt the same. When I asked, ``You want to go back?'' she churned up snow as she galloped back down the trail and around the first bend.
We reached the truck in 94 minutes. I put on water for hot chocolate, gave Sadie her dinner and opened the lunch Darlene had packed for me.
``My dinner will be ready shortly,'' I said. But Sadie didn't even look up.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Polaris Pass, Eagle Cap

The trail over Polaris Pass receives irregular maintenance, if any, but I don't mind.
It crosses the pass and switches back and forth down a high canyon wall of scree.
Or talus.
Boots often slide there, tipping your attention toward possible skin-scrapping tumbles, or worse, and clogging your breath abruptly in your throat. Jaws tense and teeth grind.
Near the end of the scree, the trail fades away except for a rock pile at a switchback.
But it feels good to finish the touchy talus. It's a sense of accomplishment that you wouldn't feel on better footing. Besides, well-maintained trails draw crowds.
On one trip, I met another hiker near Anaroid Lake on a Sunday and a group of horsemen near Frazier Lake on a Monday afternoon. So, it's all right to leave some trails in a rough and uncrowded condition.
Anyway, I enjoyed that trip across the scree.
Then, alas, I reached a narrow, bushy section of trail.
``Bushy'' meant oceans of alpine fleeceflowers that submerged the path. I've read that elk graze on the flowering tops of these plants, with their thick stems and lance-point-shaped leaves, and that Nez Perce people roasted or boiled the roots and ground the seeds into flower. Supposedly the plants also serve as a ``soil binder'' at high, tilted elevations.
Well, after a rain, they certainly soak a walker's clothes. Now, I don't mind wet nylon pants, which dry quickly. These fleeceflower seas, however, sopped my pants. They seethed down my legs, across my ankles and into my boots.
Drat. My Vasque Sundowner MX2s never leaked and seldom caused blisters. Yet, as I squished along, more and more water seeped into the boots, and I expected chafed spots at every step.
I was lucky, though, and didn't pause until my watch showed 12:13 p.m. Then I munched a bagel and poured 2.3 pints of water from each boot. I stuffed a small chamois-like polyester PackTowl into each one while I changed socks, finished lunch and slipped into rain pants.
Then, with belated insight, I tugged the pant cuffs to the outside of the gaiters. Then another light clicked: I could have left the nylon pants out of the gaiters, too, a

Polaris Pass, Eagle Cap

The trail over Polaris Pass receives irregular maintenance, if any, but I don't mind.
It crosses the pass and switches back and forth down a high canyon wall of scree.
Or talus.
Boots often slide there, tipping your attention toward possible skin-scrapping tumbles, or worse, and clogging your breath abruptly in your throat. Jaws tense and teeth grind.
Near the end of the scree, the trail fades away except for a rock pile at a switchback.
But it feels good to finish the touchy talus. It's a sense of accomplishment that you wouldn't feel on better footing. Besides, well-maintained trails draw crowds.
On one trip, I met another hiker near Anaroid Lake on a Sunday and a group of horsemen near Frazier Lake on a Monday afternoon. So, it's all right to leave some trails in a rough and uncrowded condition.
Anyway, I enjoyed that trip across the scree.
Then, alas, I reached a narrow, bushy section of trail.
``Bushy'' meant oceans of alpine fleeceflowers that submerged the path. I've read that elk graze on the flowering tops of these plants, with their thick stems and lance-point-shaped leaves, and that Nez Perce people roasted or boiled the roots and ground the seeds into flower. Supposedly the plants also serve as a ``soil binder'' at high, tilted elevations.
Well, after a rain, they certainly soak a walker's clothes. Now, I don't mind wet nylon pants, which dry quickly. These fleeceflower seas, however, sopped my pants. They seethed down my legs, across my ankles and into my boots.
Drat. My Vasque Sundowner MX2s never leaked and seldom caused blisters. Yet, as I squished along, more and more water seeped into the boots, and I expected chafed spots at every step.
I was lucky, though, and didn't pause until my watch showed 12:13 p.m. Then I munched a bagel and poured 2.3 pints of water from each boot. I stuffed a small chamois-like polyester PackTowl into each one while I changed socks, finished lunch and slipped into rain pants.
Then, with belated insight, I tugged the pant cuffs to the outside of the gaiters. Then another light clicked: I could have left the nylon pants out of the gaiters, too, a
The trail over Polaris Pass receives irregular maintenance, if any, but I don't mind.
It crosses the pass and switches back and forth down a high canyon wall of scree.
Or talus.
Boots often slide there, tipping your attention toward possible skin-scrapping tumbles, or worse, and clogging your breath abruptly in your throat. Jaws tense and teeth grind.
Near the end of the scree, the trail fades away except for a rock pile at a switchback.
But it feels good to finish the touchy talus. It's a sense of accomplishment that you wouldn't feel on better footing. Besides, well-maintained trails draw crowds.
On a one trip, I met another hiker near Anaroid Lake on a Sunday and a group of horsemen near Frazier Lake on a Monday afternoon. So, it's all right to leave some trails in a rough and uncrowded condition.
Anyway, I enjoyed that trip across the scree.
Then, alas, I reached a narrow, bushy section of trail.
``Bushy'' meant oceans of alpine fleeceflowers that submerged the path. I've read that elk graze on the flowering tops of these plants, with their thick stems and lance-point-shaped leaves, and that Nez Perce people roasted or boiled the roots and ground the seeds into flower. Supposedly the plants also serve as a ``soil binder'' at high, tilted elevations.
Well, after a rain, they certainly soak a walker's clothes. Now, I don't mind wet nylon pants, which dry quickly. These fleeceflower seas, however, sopped my pants. They seethed down my legs, across my ankles and into my boots.
Drat. My Vasque Sundowner MX2s never leaked and seldom caused blisters. Yet, as I squished along, more and more water seeped into the boots, and I expected chafed spots at every step.
I was lucky, though, and didn't pause until my watch showed 12:13 p.m. Then I munched a bagel and poured 2.3 pints of water from each boot. I stuffed a small chamois-like polyester PackTowl into each one while I changed socks, finished lunch and slipped into rain pants.
Then, with belated insight, I tugged the pant cuffs to the outside of the gaiters. Then another light clicked: I could have left the nylon pants out of the gaiters, too, and the water would have drained to the outside of the boots, rather than inside them.
A lesson learned late beats a lesson not learned. Maybe.
The rest of the descent to the West Fork Wallowa River Trail passed quickly. I photographed two large bucks and many waterfalls. I reached the trail junction at 1:37 p.m. Too early to camp along the river, so I headed toward Frazier Lake.
While cloud curtains rolled down to obscure granite peaks, I'd set up camp by 3:42 p.m. The rain-soaked tent and damp sleeping bag, from the night before, dried in minutes. I rubbed seam-sealer along the tent's top seam that had dripped the night before (it would prove watertight in that night's deluge). I cooked ham and hash browns, with a bagel and hot chocolate for desert. Then, after exploring for an hour, I hit the sack.
Rain fell heavily during the night. But the sky cleared by morning and, after a two-bagel breakfast, I left the tent to dry somewhat and climbed the two miles to Glacier Lake.
The scenery along the way stopped me often. Then, with clouds capping the granite walls and periodic shafts of sunlight breaking through, I spent 20 minutes taking pictures around the lake.
I hated to leave. But, back at Frazier, my tent had dried. I packed up and started the 3.7 mile trek to Six Mile Meadow.
A mile below Frazier Lake, I passed an outfitters' camp for guests, with two white-walled tents and a large nylon tent.
Then I passed two hikers and one group on horses. The group on horses headed for the outfitters' camp, I supposed, where they would stay several days and day hike to Glacier Pass and into Lakes Basin.
At 1:49 p.m., I reached Six Mile Meadow and counted 16 people parked under a tree, with backpacks and debris spread about them. Then four more young guys showed up and plopped their packs within arm's length of mine. A large one ordered two smaller ones to ``stay here and guard the packs.'' He and another large one put on shorts and went to swim in the river. I sat for 30 minutes, but it was too crowded. I lifted my pack and trundled off toward Wallowa Lake. It would mean a 13.8-mile day, making a 33-mile trip overall, but at 2 mph I would reach the car by 5 or 5:30 p.m.
And I preferred to walk the trail alone than spend the afternoon an night in a crowd.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fall in the Eagle Cap Mountains

Late fall may be the best of times to hike into the
Eagle Cap Wilderness, not that there are any worst
of times. The worst of times are when I can't go.
Anyway, a two-day trip to Frances Lake last week
had everything going for it. Sunny. Cool. Calm. No
mosquitoes. Goose-pimple scenery.
I parked in the shade, filled out a permit, snapped
Sadie the Dalmatian into her pack and grunted into
my backpack.
Although I wore wool-polypropylene longjohns
beneath nylon pants and shirt, I felt the chill of the
fall air on my hands and face and considered putting
on a sweater but decided hiking would warm me.
It did, although the pack felt fairly light at 40 to 45
pounds. For a one-night trip, it would suffice.
It's funny, but I could visualize each item I'd
crammed into the pack but didn't have a clue where
I'd crammed some of them. Such as the compass?
The pack held, for example, six bagels, one
package of Buddig Ham, two packages of dehy
drated Idahoan Garlic Mashed Potatoes, one pack
age of dehydrated Richmoor Hashbrowns O'Brien,
one package of dehydrated Mountain House
Granola with Strawberries, three Clif bars, a tube of
Folger's instant coffee, six packages of Swiss Miss
hot chocolate, a tube of honey mustard and a tube of
strawberry jam.
It held two pairs of socks, one pair of longjohns, a
polyester-filled nylon vest, a thinsulate sweater, a
polyester-filled nylon sweater, a polyester-filled ny
lon jacket, a rain coat and rain pants, a pair of
fleece-lined nylon pants, a balaclava, a pair of wool
gloves and a pair of Gor-Tex overmittens.
And it held the primary stuff: two-person Eureka!
four-season tent with a space blanket ground cloth,
two winter sleeping bags (one for the dog), Therm-
A-Rest mattress, Pur water filter, WhisperLight
stove and repair kit, cook pot/frying pan/potholder,
two bottles of water, first-aid kit (including moleskin
for blisters), water bag, toilet paper/trowel,
headlamp, mystery novel, insulated coffee cup,
camera, goodies bag (plastic knife, fork, spoon, pot
scrubber, toothbrush, aspirin, batteries, film, etc.),
50-foot nylon cord, one towel, two dish cloths, two
red bandanas and a small flashlight.
Since Frances Lake supposedly held fish, I car
ried the four-piece fly rod, a film canister with 10
flies and a reel with floating fly line and a 9-foot,
2-pound test leader.
I figured the 9-mile hike, one way, would take
between five and six hours. The trail climbs from
5,280 feet to the pass at 8,610 feet in 7 miles. It drops
to the lake at 7,705 feet in 2 miles. Long switchbacks
angle at about a 9-degree grade.
I started at 10:59 a.m. and soon sweated enough to
dampen my clothes. Just short of a mile, the trail
crossed a dry streambed. When I reached the
second dry streambed at 5 miles, I had one half-
quart of water left.
I enjoyed the climb. The pack felt comfortable. My
feet remained anonymous. I gawked at the Lostine
River Canyon scenery. I spotted the Bowman Trail
one lake. And mammoth, gray Marble Point loomed
grandly above me on the upper switchbacks.
No wildflowers bloomed, but a strong, pleasant
odor blossomed at several places along the way _ a
tobacco-like (snowbrush) or sweet-clover-like smell.
But I didn't see either. I sniffed pine and fir boughs
and many dry weeds. Only the yarrow seemed
smelly enough, but the odor remained a mystery.
I reached the pass at 3:07 p.m. and looked down
into one of the grandest lake basins in the Eagle
Cap. I looked for a long time.
Ringed on three sides by brown, red and granite
ridges _ some sharp edged and some rounded _
the spear-point shaped lake glistened in a long
north-and-south valley. A glistening stream me
andered into the north end of the lake. Lake Creek
drained from the south end and formed several
ponds. (Lake Creek, I knew, rushed into the Lostine
river near the Guard Station.)
Whitebark pine trees and subalpine fir trees
covered the lake shores and dotted the ledges and
slopes. Rocky debris, including car-sized boulders,
also lay on the ledges the slopes.
A cavity below Twin Peaks on the eastern ridge
(Hurricane Ridge) suggested that a meteorite
blasted into the ridge and splashed debris down the
mountainside. Or maybe it was a volcanic eruption?
I reached a camp spot about a Tiger Woods golf
shot with a driver from the lake at 3:52 p.m. By 4:30
I'd pitched camp, fed Sadie, rigged the fly rod and
put the water bag, the water pump and a bottle into
the tent bag and headed to the lake.
I pumped water while Sadie lapped from the lake.
Then I guzzled a long draft. I tied the bottle to one
end of the tent bag, draped it over my shoulder and
began fishing my way around the eastside shore. I
fished halfway around the lake and back without
seeing a single fish rise.
The temperature plunged when the sun slipped
behind the west rim. I filled the 2.5-gallon water bag
and hung it from my right shoulder with a cord.
So burdened, I trudged to camp. I cooked dinner:
two fried-ham-on-bagel sandwiches with mustard
and mashed potatoes. I sat on a rock and ate and
sipped coffee/hot chocolate as little stars twinkled.
In bed I read briefly before sawing logs. I awoke
for good in a faintly lighted dawn at 6:21 a.m. My
watch listed the tent's chill at 29 degrees, but my
water bottles beside the sleeping bag hadn't frozen.
I donned the vest, sweater and coat. The wool
gloves and the balaclava felt good. Sadie stepped
from the tent, stretched and shivered. I dug her coat
from her pack and wrapped her in it.
Ice covered Sadie's water bowl, but it broke up
easily. The thermometer left on the rocks said 23
degrees, and ice swelled the water bag. I carefully
broke it free to avoid damage to the fabric.
While frequently glancing at the scenery and
listening to the calm and silent morning, I organized
the gear while frying two bagels in olive oil. I made
coffee/hot chocolate and ate the bagels with jam.
Then, by 8:05 a.m., I had packed everything but
the fly rod. Sunshine flooded the valley and sparkled
on the lake. I removed coats and sweaters, including
Sadie's, and set off to fish around the west shore. I
spent two hours at it and concluded that the stories
about fish in Frances Lake may be exaggerated.
Finally, I wrestled the pack onto my back and
headed up the hill. It took an hour to reach the pass,
with the final few hundred yards passing slowly
because of the step-slowing view.
A bit sore-footed, I reached the car at 2:47 p.m.
and looked forward to being home for dinner.