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.

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