Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hiking to Maxwell Lake

``Ten miles in four hours
was only a lazy stroll, but not
in the dark across mountains
with (Nero) Wolfe for a pace
maker.''
Archie Goodwin,
``Black Mountain'' by Rex
Stout (1954)

Four miles in three hours
was not a lazy stroll for Karen
Mullen and me. And we didn't
have a sedentary, seventh-of-a-ton Nero
Wolfe to blame.
Or, darkness.
But we did
have a mountain. And it was
steep. Really, really steep, like a cliff face.
I met Karen, who lives in St.
Louis, last week at Shady
Campground, on the Lostine
River, as she headed up the
trail to Maxwell Lake.
We ended up walking the
arduous trail together and
sharing war stories along the
way.
I probably over did yakking.
But, I had time, and a captive audience: Maxwell Lake Trail is an
arduous trail, which leaves
the trial head at 5,440 feet el
evation, climbs to a pass at
7,760 feet and drops down to
the lake at 7,729 feet.
And over the first three miles, an improved portion of the trail with long and gentle switchbacks, we paused often beneath dark clouds to photograph the grand, stark scenery, with shots across the Lostine River drainage and shots south to Eagle Cap Mountain shining in the sunlight.
But that last straight-up
mile is a killer. I sweated
profusely. Huffed and puffed.
Fought dizziness, and won
dered if I was having fun yet.
I suspect Karen had similar
battles. When I asked
about her training for the hike,
she gave me a mock-vacant
stare and said, ``Training?''
Once, when I looked at the
trail ahead _ it was so steep I
had to lean way back just to
see it _ my heart sank. An
other half mile.
Quitting entered my mind,
briefly.
So, we plugged along. As
excuses to breath, we paused
often to watch Oregon juncos,
American flickers and golden
mantel squirrels flit about as
if we didn't exist.
Karen, by the way, works
as the Curator of Education at
the Laumeier Sculptur Park,
an open-air museum in St.
Louis.
The hike to Maxwell Lake
was the last day of her va
cation, before she headed
back to Portland to catch a
flight home.
She'd spent the previous
night in her sleeping bag be
neath a tarp at Shady
Campground.
Last week, she flew from
St. Louis to Portland, rented a
car and drove to Corvallis to
visit friends. Then she drove
to Spokane to visit more
friends. Then she drove to
Enterprise through Clarkston
and Anatone, and up the
Lostine River Road.
She told me those things on
the easy switchbacks, when
we could both draw almost
normal breaths.
Once, near the end of the switchback, I detected an
apparent notch in the moun
tain and foolishly predicted that the lake
basin lay just a few minutes
away.
``Do you have a watch,'' I
asked. Karen shot her wrist
from the cuff of her sweater.
``It's a quarter to 12,'' she
said.
Hum. I'd left my truck at
10:10 a.m.
``Well, that looks like the
top,'' I said. ``And it's about
right, two miles an hour with
just a day pack.''
But it wasn't. And I'd goofed, which wasn't bad enough. I made a similar suggestion many minutes later.
``Liar, liar pants on fire,''
Karen said with a weary voice.
And sure enough, that prediction also proved wrong when we saw the trail continuing
straight up the mountainside
for several hundred yards to
the side of a huge granite
rock.
``Looks like we have to
climb and around that cliff,'' I
mumbled and felt my face burn.
And we did. Fresh snow lay
along the trail as we reached
a pass and spotted the lake
below.
``What's the time,'' I asked,
with as jaunty a tone as I
could muster.
``A quarter to one,'' she
said.
``That last section must've
been a mile straight up,'' I
said. ``I felt dizzy a couple of
times.''
I breathed deep and looked
toward the lake a quarter-mile
away.
Tall, stark granite peaks
and ridges curved around the
south and west sides of the
lake and sloped down to the
jade-green water's edge.
Dark, threatening clouds tum
bled above the peaks.
Granite boulders and
gnarled alpine fir trees stood
on the north shore, along with
several fire pits built of gran
ite rocks.
Karen rested on a rock and
munched trail mix.
I circled the north shore for
photos of the lake with tall
peaks and sheer slopes re
flected in the water.
Then I removed my day
pack, dropped the camera
bag, slipped into my yellow
nylon anorak, and bit into an
apple.
Both of us expected to hike
the four miles to Maxwell
Lake in a couple of hours. It
took nearly three.
We left the lake at about
1:30 p.m. and reached the
trailhead at 2:52 p.m.. Less
than an hour an a half.
I felt good, and Karen ap
parently also felt pretty good
despite a back injury two
years ago.
It was her first The hike had
been her first one since she
hurt her back, and since he'd
spent a week backpacking in
the Isle Royale National Park
a few years ago.
Anyway, we said good by at
the trailhead. She planned to
drive to La Grande, and per
haps a few miles west on
Interstate 84 to camp at
Hilgard State Park. Then she
would continue to Portland
and fly back to St. Louis.
I put my gear away,
unwrapped my sandwich and
set off down the Lostine River.

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