Friday, December 15, 2006

Hiking from Panjab

Like a good cup of joe
mixed with hot chocolate, a
dash of wilderness solitude
hits the spot.
So, naturally, I set out for
Panjab on a bright morning
last week.
It's the easiest access point
into the Wenaha-Tucannon
Wilderness for me. And in
late July and early August,
with temperatures high and
humidity low, you usually
walk alone on Rattlesnake
The trail, No. 3129, crosses
Meadow Creek and climbs a
steep ridge. Really steep.
My GPS unit registered the
Panjab altitude at 3,010 feet
(as opposed to the 3,000 feet
on my wilderness map).
After I climbed 2.5 miles,
my GPS registered 5,219 feet.
My watch said 11:08 a.m.,
so I'd hiked at 1 mph.
Not very speedy. And I
didn't lug a big pack, either.
Just a day pack with a rain
jacket, a windbreaker, a nylon
sweater, a coffee pot (contain
ing a SnowPeak stove and
fuel canister), a cup, six packs
of hot-chocolate, a gob of in
stant coffee, six energy bars, a
first-aid kit, toilet-paper, a
trowel, a new pair of socks, a
water filter, a 100-ounce bag
of water and ice cubes that
weighed seven-pounds.
I figured the pack weighed
22 pounds. I also carried a
camera bag that weighed 10
pounds and had a strap that
gnawed at my shoulder.
I carried a 6-foot-5 bamboo
walking stick, which often
saved the skin on my behind
by preventing me from skid
ding across pointy rocks.
So, I left Panjab and walked
a log across the creek at 8:47
a.m., huffing and puffing from
the git-go.
Sweat soon dampened my
shirt sleeves and soaked my
back beneath the pack.
The trail travels southeast
on the east side of the ridge
for awhile. Then it switches
back and forth over the ridge,
with many scenic views.
A common nighthawk, or
bullbat, surprised me with a
``Boom!'' made at the bottom
of a dive. It ``boomed'' several
more times. I tried for a photo
and nearly tipped onto my
back. I gave up the attempt.
Sweat clung to my eye
brows and soaked my shirt as
clouds gathered to sprinkle
the dusty path.
A modest rain fell for five
Droplets cleaved to leafy
shrubs _ ninebark,
snowberry, service berry,
ocean spray and the like _
and soaked my nylon pants
and shirt as I brushed past.
Rain soaked my legs and
arms and shined my boots. It
dripped from my shirt sleeves.
It cooled my brow, but I didn't
pull on the windbreaker or
the rain jacket.
I reached the first meadow
as the rain stopped and walk
ing became easy.
I paused, wrapped in the
genuine silence if a distant
raven's call, my own breath
ing and the rubbing of my
floppy sun-hat's brim on my
collar when I turned my head.
I dawdled along and
scanned the woods for wild
I've seen deer, elk and bear
in the Wenaha-Tucannon, so I
had the 300-millimeter lens
on the camera. This time I
settled for shots of chipmunks
and butterflies.
Then I passed a hunters'
camp 20 feet from the trail. A
shelter frame remained, along
with stacked firewood, a fire
pit and a toilet made of pine
branches nailed to trees.
Cruddy toilet paper lay be
neath a seat smoothed with
duct tape.
Perhaps it was used when
snow hid it's ugliness. Per
haps. But it's a mess now and
deeply depressing.
When checking
unsuccessfully for water at
the next spring, I saw trash
among the trees: cans, a plas
tic gas jug and a rusted stove.
Alas, so much for packing it
in and packing it out.
I reached Indian Corral, the
five-mile mark, at 1:17 p.m.
and trudged half-a-mile to
Dunlap Spring for a break.
I hung the water bag, that
rattled with ice, on the sign
nailed to a tree and took the
coffee pot to the spring.
A weak flow drooped from
a two-inch-long, bright green
algae bloom at the end of a
pipe. I wiped away the algae
with a forefinger.
I made two trips to the
spring, filled the bag and
heated water for hot choc
olate spiked with instant cof
fee. I sipped it and ate two
energy bars.
My GPS unit measured
Dunlap Springs at 5,708 feet,
which meant a downhill trek
to Panjab. Being no tender
foot, I pulled my boots and
socks off and wound tape
around my big toes.
As I pulled on a cold, wet
sock, I remembered the new
ones. They felt good, and I
never had a single complaint
from my feet on the way back.
I left Dunlap Springs at 2:44
p.m. and reached the car at
6:23 p.m.
Grit lay on my face. My
nose felt sunburned. My shirt
felt stiff. My legs felt weary.
My left knee ached. I had a
lump on my right shoulder
from the camera-bag strap.
Yet, when glancing around
the empty campground, I
realized that I hadn't seen
another person all day.
I smiled and set the stove
on the tailgate. Like a good
jolt of wilderness solitude, a
cup of joe mixed with Swiss
Miss hits the spot.

Juniper Dunes

Cows by the dozen, in a
pasture less than 20 yards
away, raised their heads when
Sadie the Dalmatian scooted
down the ramp from the
Some bawled their concern.
They had calves and were
antsy, especially about dogs.
Or so I figured.
And they probably didn't
like my looks much, either.
Well, Sadie ignored the
bovine hubbub and circled the
truck with her nose to the
I snapped the fannypack
around my waist. It held two
water bottles, two peanut-
butter-and-honey Tiger's Milk
bars, Sadie's cup (with a lid),
my wallet and so on.
I stuffed the insulated bag
with the ham-and-cheese
sandwich and the baggie with
celery and carrots into the day
pack, along with rain gear,
wool gloves, coffee pot, Snow
Peak stove, a quart of water, a
vest, a Puffball sweater and
first-aid stuff.
I shouldered the pack,
looped the camera bag's strap
over my shoulder, picked up
the bamboo walking stick and
locked the pickup.
I approached the sign at the
gate. It said hikers may cross
the private land of the Juniper
Dunes Ranch to reach the
entrance to the Juniper Dunes
Wilderness during the months
of March, April and May.
Sadie followed as I waded
through tumbleweeds that
clogged the path. Anxious
cows crowded the gate.
They backed up an inch or
two when I pulled the
springbolt to open the gate.
Sadie leaned against my leg.
We passed through, and I
closed the gate.
Sadie wouldn't bother the
cows. She's too mature (old?)
for that, finally.
I wasn't so sure they
wouldn't stomp on her, how
ever, and anyone who seemed
to be her friend.
I appreciate that folks at the
Juniper Dunes Ranch allow
access to the wilderness.
So, I drove slow past their
house and barn to keep dust
at a minimum.
And I didn't want any
trouble with their cows. Or
anything else. So, I held Sadie
close to my leg to make her as
inconspicuous as possible.
Cows munched grass and
watched, suspicious but calm,
as we weaved among them,
close enough to touch or to be
head butted should the im
pulse arise.
We walked the fence line to
our left for about 75 yards and
passed two more gates. We
climbed a sandy hill to the
kiosk. Four people had
signed-in two days earlier,
three to hike for a few hours
and one to run.
I signed us in for six or
seven hours of solitude.
I unhooked the GPS from
the camera bag and set a
waypoint. I left the unit on to
track our route and draped it
over my left shoulder, on a
string and open to satellites.
As we climbed the first
dune, the ``Mooos'' faded
away. A faint drone of a dis
tant jet hung briefly in the air.
Then silence. Total.
A light, chilly breeze ruffled
my shirt. It chilled my face
and hands. I glanced back at
the pasture, the truck and the
I looked across the 7,140
acre wilderness, about eight
miles long and three miles
wide, and saw Rattlesnake
Mountain west of Hanford.
Congress set the wilderness
aside in 1984. It's bordered on
all sides by a combination of
private land and Bureau of
Land Management land, and
it's surrounded by a fence.
The BLM's Spokane office
administers the wilderness.
In the distance lay 30-
40-foot-tall, 150-year-old juni
per trees and more 130-foot-
high, 1,000-foot-wide dunes.
We moseyed along in a
southerly direction, pausing
often for pictures. I shot the
usual scenes, including one
aluminum energy-drink can
(that I pocketed).
I knew some tracks in the
sand: deer, rabbit, pheasant
(or hawk), mouse and beetle.
It's an up-and-down trek,
no matter what route you
take. Peaks (up to 1,150 feet)
and valleys (down to about
750 feet). Climbing straight
up 50-foot sandy ridges left
me puffing a bit.
Once a bunch of mule deer
bounded from a big sage
After awhile I checked our
track on the GPS unit. We'd
walked in a somewhat
straight line to the southwest.
Then, at 3.11 miles and
11:59 a.m., we stopped for
lunch near cone-shaped,
40-foot-tall juniper. I punched
a waypoint into the GPS.
I filled Sadie's water cup,
put on coffee, unwrapped the
sandwich, gave Sadie her
share and sat on the ground
to eat, sip and daydream.
About 200 yards away, a
clutch of mule deer watched
our every move.
After lunch we headed east
for a mile, up-and-down-up-
and-down. We saw a few
more deer. And, despite the
wilderness fence, several of
the dunes had ORV tracks.
Maybe they were old. Ve
hicles tear away the thin
sandy soil, and the tracks re
main for decades.
After a mile, I punched in
another waypoint, and we
headed north again.
We walked slow. I took pic
tures of dunes, ants seething
on an ant hill, coyote scat
consisting of juniper berries,
a pheasant egg (perhaps?) in
a sage bush and so on.
When we reached the gate
again, I checked the GPS. We
had walked 7.07 miles.
The GPS track for my in
tended triangle, however,
looked more like a dipper.
Our moving speed averaged
1.7 mph, and our overall aver
age was 1.3 mph.
My maximum speed was
5.8 mph, probably when I
tripped and danced several
steps to stay upright.
Our moving time was four
hours and eight minutes. Our
stopping time was one hour
and 24 minutes, for a total of
five hours and 32 minutes.
By the time we recrossed
the pasture, the cows had
moved away from the gate.
Not that a bedraggled Sadie
noticed. She tottered to the
truck, climbed in and stood by
her bowl.
It was past dinner time, and
she knew it.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Winter camp below Gunsight Mountain

The tent walls rippled. I lay
on my back, toasty warm with
the mummy sleeping bag
zipped so that only my nose
and cheeks felt the chill air.
I squinted at the darkness
and listened. What woke me?
Then, as my eyelids drifted
down again, I heard it. Rush
ing like a steam-driven loco
motive through the fir trees.
The tent fabric popped. It
rattled. My eyes snapped
wide. The tent jarred, leaned
against my right side and
shivered. A fine mist settled
on my face.
``Whoa!'' I mumbled and
blinked. The wind had
whipped fine snow in under
the vestibule and through the
mesh door. My jaws clinched.
Then the wind eased, and
the tent walls rippled again.
I worked my zipper, found
the LED headlamp near my
left knee (to keep the batter
ies warm) and shined it on the
lump to my left. Sadie the
Dalmatian was covered. And
she hadn't moved.
I pulled my legs from the
bag and felt for my glasses,
also in the sleeping bag so
they wouldn't fog when I put
them on my face. My watch
said 1:42 a.m.
I unzipped the tent's mesh
door and and fetched my
chamber pot, a Gatorade
bottle, from the vestibule.
When I put it back, the ther
mometer said 21 degrees. I
wriggled back into the bag
and zipped it around my face.
Snow pummeled the tent.
Wind shook it. I'd anchored it
by using the shovel to set four
corner snow stakes deep. I'd
stretched the vestibule and
the side panels tight with
dead tree limbs two feet long.
Snow slid down the tent's sides as
my eyes closed. The tent, a
single-walled Eureka! Zeus 2
EXO, would hold, surely?
I was tired. So was Sadie.
Excited, she had broken trail
as I pulled the loaded pulk (a
Ziffco Tow-Boggan Mountain
eering Sled) around for nearly
two hours before pitching the
tent in the shadow of
8,342-foot Gunsight Mountain
at Anthony Lake.
We had started in a snow
storm, but the sun shined
while I put gear into the tent,
stored stuff in the vestibule
and stood the sled in the snow
(so snow wouldn't cover it).
Tiny snowballs fell as I
shoveled a notch into a drift
to protect the stove from the
wind. Then I carved out a
bench to sit on in the Crazy
Creek Chair.
Kitchen set, I strapped on
snowshoes and fanny pack
again, and we hiked toward
the mountain. Sometimes the
sun shined, and sometimes
snow swirled. But the tem
perature remained in the high
30s. I sweated as we climbed.
And we climbed until drifts
became too deep for Sadie,
even if she stayed in my
tracks. My GPS unit said
7,327 feet, about 200 feet up
from camp.
We returned by the scenic
route and reached camp at
4:16 p.m. Sweat dampened
my longjohns, and I put on
another jacket.
Sadie wolfed her dinner
and hurried into the tent.
I sat on the insulated chair,
fired up the stove, emptied my
water bottle into a pot and
slowly added clean (maybe ?) snow.
I dumped a dehydrated Natural
High Honey-Lemon Chicken
with Long Grain and Wild
Rice dinner into the frying
pan poured put Swiss Miss cocoa into a flat-bottomed cup.
Fifteen minutes later I had
the hot chocolate mixed and the
dinner simmering.
With the
aroma of Honey-Lemon
Chicken in the air, I felt a
nudge. Sadie leaned on my
arm and watched the pot.
She ate her share, licked
the pan and scooted back to
the tent.
For another hour, the air
barely stirred, and sun bathed
the high valley. I relaxed on
the chair and melted more
snow. I filled two water
bottles, wrapped them in stuff bags to warm my
sleeping bag.
I chiseled a slot into the
snow bank and set the stove
and pot full of water inside, to
keep it from freezing, with a
block of snow at the opening.
When the sun disappeared
behind a ridge, I moved Sadie
from my Therm-A-Rest mat
tress and spread the insulated
chair beneath her bag.
I zipped into my zero-
degree bag, on my mattress,
and read. When my book-
holding hand chilled, I put on
a glove and read until I
dropped the book.
After the wind woke me, I
slept again until 5:38 a.m.
Wind and snow still pelted the
tent. I listened for awhile.
Then I pulled on pants
while lying on my back. I put
on a shirt, a jacket with a
hood and a second jacket. I
sat with my feet in the vesti
bule to put on boots and gai
ters. On my knees, I stuffed
my sleeping bag itto its stuff sack.
I flattened the mattress and packed it away.
I unzipped the vestibule,
and snow cascaded inside.
When I crawled outside, snow
covered the vents on both
sides of the tent and nearly
covered the tree-limb stakes.
It buried Sadie's bowl.
Snow also buried the stove bur
row. It had seeped inside to
freeze on the stove and pot,
which had ice shards in it.
Snow pelted my coat as I
heated water for hot choc
olate and ate a nature bar.
I packed all but the tent in
about 20 minutes. Sadie
stayed inside until I dug up
the stakes, and the tent fell.
She shivered in the wind. I wrapped her in her coat, which collected snow
while I packed the tent and
fastened it to the pulk.
I removed my extra coat
and strapped it to the sled. I
fastened the sled's har
ness to my waist, and Sadie
dashed ahead. She started on
the long way around the lake.
Why not? We had plenty of
time, and it was a beautiful
See photos at

Friday, November 24, 2006

Winter trip to Table Rock

Warm air rises.
It sometimes reaches gale force and freezes high in the mountains.
I learned this once upon a time when I poked my head above the ridge at dusk , about a mile from Table Rock.
A fierce wind, up from the flat lands, peeled my lips away from my teeth and iced my gums. My eyelids peeled back, too. Tears streamed across my cheeks.
``Wow! Look at that view,'' said fellow trekker Chris Howard as he leaned into the gale.
Breathless, I squinted and rubbed my eyes. And shivered, and hurried back to camp.
We'd pitched the tent on a slab of flat ice in a bowl 20 feet below the curlicued cornice and behind a stand of ice-blasted trees. The wind roared like a locomotive.
Or, as Chris said, like a waterfall. He said the high, freezing-cold air sucked the warm air up from the valley.
Blinking, I believed him. Somehow, though, the ridge and the trees protected our camp. Seldom did a tent wall even flutter. We felt becalmed and snug in our many-layered, cold-weather clothes.
Chris set the Whisperlight white-gas stove to melting snow for coffee, tea or hot apple cider and for dinner (dehydrated Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, by Backpacker's Pantry).
We'd also fill all four water bottles, two each, and wrap them in stuff sacks to warm our sleeping bags. With no clouds, the temperature would drop to 20 degrees. Or lower.
So, at dusk the wind roared and the stove hummed. I shifted from foot to foot, and Chris sat on a pad on a bench he'd shoveled into the snowbank.
Then, we peered again over the ridge. The sun resembled a dip of orange sherbet suspended in a haze above Portland (250 miles to the west). Mount Hood resembled a haystack. Mount Adams had a chunk missing near the top.
As darkness fell, bright lights in Walla Walla, especially those at the Washington State Penitentiary, glittered. We located Milton-Freewater, Prescott, Tri-Cities and, perhaps, Hermiston. An incredible view, although we'd stopped short of Table Rock to set up camp before dark. If only we hadn't missed the turnoff at the road to Griffith Peak^...^
Sunday morning we'd filed a Backcountry Registration form at the Bluewood ski area office and listed our return time as 3:30 p.m. Monday. Otherwise, we had no restrictions.
We left Walla Walla Sunday before 7:30 a.m. in order to ride the lift as close to 9 a.m. as possible. A $5 ride meant not skiing about 1,000 feet up to Skyline Road. Chris had no trouble getting on and off the lift, but I dropped a pole getting on and dragged my pack several feet. At the top, my cross-country skis shot from under me, and I landed on my tailbone with my pack in my lap. Just another day on the lift.
Then we sailed down Country Road Run to the ski area's boundary, slipped under the rope and reached Skyline Road, or Forest Road 46, in five minutes. I promptly turned left instead of right, and Chris called me back. We wanted to go to Table Rock, he said, not to Godman Springs.
Chris had skied to Table Rock before. He's a veteran of many winter outings, including several week-long trips into the Eagle Cap Wilderness and several expeditions up Mount Ranier.
Besides, he had our map. And our only pair of glasses. I'd left mine in the car.
Ah, well.
So we skied a couple of miles to Forest Road 64, where it heads back toward Dayton, and turned left.
When we came to another fork, we followed the groomed route instead of the single snowmobile track to the left. This was a mistake. Maybe I argued we should stay on the groomed road, which taught us to always do the opposite of what I argue.
Anyway, we spent half an hour not checking our map and compass and going the wrong way. Finally, Chris left his pack in the road and climbed a high ridge. I followed, and we saw Walla Walla too far to the south for us to be in the right place.
Then, a man and a child on a snowmobile drove by. Yes, we'd missed the turn. We headed back.
Deep drifts covered stretches of Road 64 toward Table Rock, and the snowmobiles had barely marked the snow's crust. Chris hardly broke stride and often became a dot in the distance. I dug my skis' edges into the ice and inched along, shuffling one ski ahead a few inches, then the next.
I didn't want to work up a sweat and get my clothes all soggy. And I didn't want to plummet a couple of hundred yards down the mountain, either.
We stopped at about 4 p.m. We'd go on to Table Rock the next morning and get back to Ski Bluewood before the 3:30 deadline. With the tent up and the sleeping bags and Thermarest mattresses in place, we cooked.
Chris slurped smoked oysters (Yuk!) with his portion of the Louisiana red beans, and I expected brutal late-night winds inside the tent. We sipped steaming drinks, took in the view and melted water until about 7:30 p.m. Then for two hours Chris taught me to play Backgammon on his magnetized set. He won, of course (he had our glasses).
Time after time he rolled the numbers he needed with the tiny dice that I couldn't read without my glasses. Or with his. I
'd need a four or six. I'd roll and say, anxiously, ``What'd I get?''
``Tough,'' Chris would say, ``you got a three and a five.''
Backgammon can be really a lot of fun.
We packed by 9 the next morning and skied toward Table Rock. In less than half an hour we topped a ridge and saw the lookout tower. It appeared to be at least another hour away.
Reluctantly (for Chris), we returned to camp, shouldered our packs and headed out.
At 11:15 a.m. we paused for snacks and to ``ski around,'' as Chris put it. I'd already fallen twice and he had to pull me, red faced, to my feet once.
So skiing around, especially up a vertical ridge, sounded like fun, really. Once on top, after all, you had to get down again. And I almost stopped halfway up, but Chris had reached the top and motioned insistently for me to continue. I did and discovered another magnificent view: Seven Devils in Idaho, the Wallowas near Joseph, the Elkhorns near Baker City, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. And everything in between.
From there we sailed out in less than two hours. We came down New Grade to the road from Dayton to Ski Bluewood, and I hitched a ride to pick up the car. Overall, I fell four or five times on the trip from our camp back to the groomed snowmobile trail. Once, crimson faced, I suggested Chris should take the lead.
``I want you to go first,'' he said. His concern made me feel better. You appreciate it when someone looks out for you on the trail.
Then I got to thinking. It isn't every day you can see a grown man with a 45-pound pack repeatedly tip forward onto his face at 50 mph and plow furrows into the snow.
And you'd miss that if you go first.

Up the Tucannon

Oh, my goodness!
My jaw dropped. There she was, Sadie the Dalmatian, head first in the water.
Her back end on the weedy bank. Her front end submerged, and her front legs pushing like pistons trying to back up. And backout.
I didn't know how long she had been snorkling, and I watched for a moment with dumbfounded awe, so to speak.
I'd been casting a rubber lure after steelhead near the mouth of theTucannon River, and Sadie had been standing by my leg in the tall, dew-soaked Reed Canary Grass. Then I'd put down the rod and taken out the camera to photograph reflections on the calm water.
So, you see, I didn't notice Sadie start looking underwater for fish.
Actually, she probably leaned over the water for a drink, and the weeds gave way.
Well, there she was, half in and half out. And there I was with the camera in one hand. I reached for her collar with the other, but it was too far under water.
The idea of pushing her in flitted through my head, but I rejected that, even though it might allow her to get her head above water and breath.
Yet, I grabbed her tail and pulled, dragging her from the water. She aimed glassy, red-rimmed eyes at me. She must have been holding her breath, though. She didn't cough and sputter. She just gave me that look and shook to splatter water on me and the camera.
Well, she did looked a bit embarrassed, too.
We had started that morning at the mouth of the Tucannon, with a soupy fog hanging over the water and the half-dozen boats with steelhead anglers. Anglers also fished the smooth water at the public access parking area half-a-mile upstream. One used a small pontoon boat.
After Sadie's snorkling episode, however, I hustled her back to the truck and toweled her off. She enjoys being rubbed with a towel, so that perked her right up.
Then we drove to Texas Rapids oln the Snake River off of the road to Little Goose Dam. I tossed the same rubber lure, a Swimming Shad type, about 200 times, and had one fish hit it as I finished a retrieve. The fish shot up from a patch of millfoil near the bank, hit the lure and swirled away. Its familiar red streak flashed in the sunlight. Big but not as big as a steelhead. Perhaps a smolt that didn't migrateto the sea.
Then we drove back to theTucannon, and after fishing a spot upstream from Starbuck without any luck _ I kept snagging the lure_ we crossed Highway 12.
As I drove along beneath a warming, late-morning sun and with the mammoth wind turbiness looming on the hillsides, I felt a yen to see the impact of the most recent forest fire.
The devastation left by last year's School Fire, which apparently started in the vicinity of CampWooten, remains depressing enough. Yet, soon after I turned left onto Forest Road 4712 at Panjab Bridge, I felt even worse.
The latest fire had crossed the road, burned down to the Tucannon River and beyond. It had burned well into theWenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in at least one area. A plume of smoke rose from one smoldering spot.
At road's end, we set out for Sheep Creek Falls. The School Fire had missed the drainage. Alas, that didn't happen this time. The fire burned on both sides of the stream and wiped out much of trail to the falls. Sadie had problems with the downed trees. I offered to lift her up, but she preferred that I leave her be to find her own route around them.
She ended up with soot or charcoal all over her back and legs. I had it on my boots, pants and shirt.
Oh, well
In the last hundred yards before the falls, the canyon narrows, and Sadie couldn't climb or circle the barriers.
So, I raced ahead, slipping and sliding and splashing at the edge of the stream. I knocked a notable patch of skin off my left shin in my rush.
The falls remain a special place, with water seeping from the moss-covered rock walls and glistening on the greens and browns of flora and stone.
I snapped a dozen or so photos and raced back to find a cross-looking Sadie stamping her feet in the trail.
We trekked downstream at a slower pace, and at the bridge I washed Sadie by splashing water on her and rubbing away some soot.
At the truck, I rubbed her again with the big towel. It was 2:04 p.m., and we had taken less than an hour to hike to the falls and back.
Sadie climbed stiffly up the ramp to the truck. She didn't hesitate, however, when I lay out her lunchtime snack. Then, as we drove home, I snapped photos of squirrels and deer along the road.
And I stopped at the Last Resort for coffee and bought a giant jerky stick for Sadie. She'd had a rough day, and shedeserved it
See photos at

Up in the morning, out on the job

Some days it doesn't pay to get outof bed.
Some days it does.
Sunshine warmed the chilly air as Iloaded camping gear, fishing gearand Sadie the Dalmatian into thetruck and aimed it toward MacksCanyon on the Deschutes River.
A nice drive, really, although I didn'tsee any Rocky Mountain sheepbetween Phillipi Canyon and Rufus on Interstate 84 as I often do.
Sunshine reflected on the deep canyon walls and the endless fields along the shortcut from Rufus toWasco that saved a us few miles. Then silvery Mount Hood (straightahead) and Mount Adams (to theright) gleamed in the sunshine as we wound westward from Grass Valley.
I took the short jog to Sherars Falls and counted a dozen-or-so anglers on the rough-stone cliffs that pinch the river into a frothy cataract. I turned back and nosed the pickup into Macks Canyon Recreation Area, which stretches for 17 miles along the river from State Highway 216, near the falls, over a tooth-rattling road to the Macks Canyon Campground.
Basalt cliffs, glistening water, anglers and the occasional rock squirrel highlighted the drive.The trip odometer said 195.5 miles at the campground, and. I selectedthe only stake-friendly site.
I made seven trips of 56 steps each from the truck to the site's picni ctable beneath a tree. I spread gear on the table and hung it from a limb. I spread the aluminum space blanket and pitched the Eureka! tent on flat, dried grass 20 yards from the table and between two dried cow pies.
Big ones.'
After stowing mattresses, sleeping bags and Sadie in the tent, I rigged up the 9-weight rod for steelhead and the 5-weight for trout.
I called Sadie from the tent for her dinner. She ate as I tied a green-butted skunk on the steelhead rod's line. At 2:38 p.m. we walked downstream to fish.
A rippling 20-foot-wide channel, overhung by alders and cottonwoods, ran between the bank and three islands in the stream. I fished an enticing hole below a fallen cottonwood, with about 159 fruitless casts.
Yet, fish broke water repeatedly in the riffle around the tree's waving tendrils. Then I discovered a mature stonefly on a dried thistle. Taking a hint, I hoofed it back to camp, fetched the trout rod and tied on a stonefly imitation and rubbed flotation Gunk! on it.
So, what happened?
In an hour 10 fish hit the fly. I caught and released three 15- 16-inch fat redsides rainbow trout. When I moved farther downstream, I caught two 12-inch bull trout and one more fat rainbow.
Sated with fishing, and tired, we moseyed back to camp. I unzipped the tent door, and Sadie lay down and watched through the mesh as I cooked.
Well, as I heated water for hot chocolate/instant coffee, cut up four potatoes (boiled at home) in the fry pan and squirted olive oil on them. I dumped a squat can of Bush's Beans on them and stirred the mess until it steamed.
Sadie barked and pushed at the tent door. I let her out and re-zipped it to keep bugs out.
Against my better judgement (beans, beans, good for your heart...), I shared dinner with Sadie. She licked the pan clean and returned to the tent.
I boiled water in the pan and rinsed it. Then, in the gathering darkness, I sat by the river and sipped a second cup of Swiss Miss java. When the sun fell behind a western rim, the temperature dropped like a lead sinker and the flying insects disappeared.
Yet, when I moved into the tent and snapped on the LED headlamp, a dozen black spiders dotted the nylon walls. I tried mashing one on the flimsey nylon to no avail. I tried to pick oneoff, and it fell on the sleeping bag and scooted out of sight. Sadie watched me with a wrinkled brow and perked up ears.
Well? I asked. Could you do better?
And she lay her head on her feet and closed her eyes.
I also lay down, wondered how the spiders got into the tent and decided to ignore them and maybe they would stay on the wall. Maybe?
I awoke later with Sadie standing up and breathing in my face. Unusual for her to move during the night, so I unzipped the tent. She went No. 2 directly between the tent and the table. It steamed by the LED lamplight.
I crawled out, shivered, and placed a big rock on it.
The temperature dropped into the 20s, and ice covered Sadie's waterbowl at dawn.I ate two bagels, toasted golden in olive oil, with strawberry jelly and cocoa java. I felled the tent, covered with frozen condensation, and packed away the gear.I put on waders, and fished a couple of holes for steelhead downstream from camp. After awhile, Sadie and I climbed into the truck to fish a few holes on our way back to Highway 216.
The clock said 9:59a.m. How time flies, I thought.
We stopped three times to fish. We stopped once to spread out the tent to dry. And we stopped a few times to photograph stuff like rugged canyon walls splashed with red sumac, anglers using long, two-handed Spey rods and a spotted rock squirrel.
In the early afternoon, we headed home.
Yes, some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed, but some days it does
See photos at

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Klickitat Steelhead

The flashing highway sign
at the Lyle turnoff from High
way 14 said Highway 142 was
closed 20 miles upstream.
Pfui. Nothing clamps the
bicuspids more than a scheme
gone awry. It's like dashing
down stairs and missing the
last step.
Jarring, that's what.
``Well, drat,'' I said. ``We
can't drive to the bridge over
the Klickitat River at Leidl
Park. Of all the rotten luck.''
My wife Darlene let the
comment pass. Or perhaps I
just thought it instead of say
ing it aloud.
But, darn it, I wanted to
start at Leidl Park, off
Glenwood Road, and fish my
way downstream.
I especially wanted to fish
the riffles along the Stinson
Flat campground area. Once
upon a time I caught two fish
So, I sat at the turnoff,
clutched the steering wheel
and wrinkled the brow in
some perplexity.
I grumbled and pulled a
map from the glove box and
studied the options:
1, Drive back to the turnoff
to Goldendale near the Mary
Hill Museum and circle
around that way to Glenwood
2, Drive on down the
Columbia, past White
Salmon, and turn north on
Highway 141 to Corner-
Glenwood Road;
3, Take the primitive Fish
Hill Road to a junction with
Corner-Glenwood Road south
of Glenwood.
4, Go home.
Well, I rejected going home.
It was 9:52 a.m., and each
of the other options could
take several hours.
``I suppose we can drive up
as far as possible and fish our
way back,'' I muttered.
After a mile, however, I
pulled off at the Fisher Hill
Bridge, where pressing walls
of basalt squeeze the river
into a rowdy cataract.
One other vehicle sat near
the bridge.
``Someone may be dipping
salmon with a net from one of
the scaffolds,'' I said.
I parked and Sadie the
Dalmatian scooted down the
ramp from the pickup. I
hefted the camera with the
300-millimeter-zoom lens on
the shoulder mount.
I located one man, not dipp
ing for anything. He stood on
a ledge and tossed shrimp
with a spinning rod.
Then we continued up the
river. I counted a dozen ang
lers and six kayakers in the 15
or so miles to Klickitat.
Not a good sign. If fish were
biting, especially on a
Sunday, 50 or 60 anglers
would have tossed flies in that
stretch of river.
At a store in Klickitat I
asked a woman about the
road closure.
It was, she said, near where
the Little Klickitat River ran
into the Klickitat, just before
you start up the steep hill at
Wahkiakus (pronounced
``Is there a way to bypass
the barrier?'' I asked.
The woman spread a map
on the counter and pointed
out a route over ``primitive
gravel roads'' that led to
Glenwood Road.
I listened and tried to re
member the various turns she
described, but, finally, it
didn't seem worth the effort.
I thanked her, however, and
we drove on to the barrier.
We turned around, reluc
I drove slow for a mile or so
back down the river, with a
stop to photograph kayakers
in a rapids, until I found a
riffle to fish.
July, August and Sept
ember often spawn ideal fish
ing on the Klickitat.
I had checked the Worley
Bugger Fly Co. Web site be
fore leaving home, and its
photos of nice steelhead
caught earlier this month
hooked me.
To escape the baking sun, I
parked beneath a shade tree.
Slipping into waders made
me sweat through my shirt.
I rigged up the steelhead
rod with a floating line, a
16-pound-test tippet, a purple
wooly booger, and, with Sadie
dogging my footsteps, waded
into the cloudy river.
The Klickitat flows from
Conrad Glacier in the Goat
Rocks Wilderness and winds
through the Yakima Indian
Reservation at the foot of
Mount Adams.
During the heat of the day,
or during heavy rains, runoff
carries sand and grit that
cloud the river.
As I worked the riffle, Sadie
leaned close in case I hooked
a fish, and she could sniff it.
Alas, it was not to be.
We had nary a nibble there
or at the other riffles where
we tossed files.
The only action we had
came when Darlene sneaked
up on us with a camera.
That's when I really con
centrated on hooking a fish,
but all I snagged was a ten
sion headache.
Soon after that, I reeled in
the line and put away the
gear. Darlene opened the ice
chest and lay out sandwiches.
I dished up Sadie's dinner.
We all ate in the shade
while my sweaty clothes
Actually, it was a pleasant
ending to a fishing trip teem
ing with disappointments.

NOTE: The Web site ad
dress for the Worley Bugger
Fly Co is
Greg Thomas' book
``Flyfisher's Guide to Wash
ington'' explains how and
when to fish the Klickitat
River for steelhead. It was
published in 2003 by Wilder
ness Adventures Press.
Lyle, where the Klickitat
River flows into the Columbia
River, is 160 miles from Walla
Walla. It's 30 miles north on
Highway 142 to Glenwood
Road and another 10 miles to
Leidl Park.
Near Wahkiakus you may
walk or bike for several miles
along a closed road near the
See photos at

East Fork Lostine, Eagle Cap

Funny how a 39-pound
backpack can weigh
Or feel like it.
Must have something to do
with changing weather pat
Well, I reached that hefty
conclusion early on the first
mile of the East Fork Lostine
River Trail a few days ago.
That section of trail slants
steeper than a mule's ears,
and it's studded with dusty
stones and boulders to
scramble across.
It didn't seem so formi
dable, once upon a time.
Then I crossed the bridge
over the booming Lostine to
an easier section of trail.
Not easier by much, or for
For maybe a mile I trekked
parallel to the river and up a
thigh-burning 97-step tilt to
the switchbacks.
Ah, the switchbacks. Eleven
of them, if you count them the
way I do.
Some test the lungs with
huff-n-puff stress, such as
two, four, six, eight and 10.
Especially four, six and
eight. Eight, the longest, took
the medal for making me
sweat and huff-n-puff.
Nine rose like a cliff, but for
only about 20 yards.
By the way, to number
switchbacks I count ``one'' at
the first turn, ``two'' at the
second one and so on.
Finally, after the switch
backs and one final, steep100-
yard lean, the trail leveled out.
I strolled into and soaked
up the beauty of the East Fork
Lostine River Valley, with
Eagle Cap Mountain spark
ling in the distance.
It's 31/2 miles from the Two
Pan trailhead to the valley.
It's six miles from Two Pan
to Mirror Lake, at the foot of
Eagle Cap Mountain.
So, I breathed easier for
about two miles, waving at
clouds of mosquitoes when
ever I paused and indulging in
scenery that could put a lump
in a donkey's throat.
I snapped photos of stark
granite ridges and cliffs, of
bright green meadows decked
with mammoth granite blocks
left in place by ancient gla
ciers, of granite rock slides
cascading like waterfalls
down high ridges, of gleam
ing ribbons of the East Fork
Lostine and of deep blue tarns
reflecting the imposing Eagle
Cap at the head of the valley.
I snapped silver waterfalls,
red heather, blue jacob's lad
der and blue lupine.
I snapped tawny marmots
frolicking in verdant vales.
And, although I didn't know
it, I snapped blurred mos
quitoes in flight.
I heard pikas whistle
among granite rock slides, but
I never saw them.
Finally, at 4:42 p.m. and
about half a mile below Mir
ror Lake, I halted.
I dropped the burden for
the first time, jabbed at a
mosquito swarm and dug the
Jungle Juice (95-percent deet)
from the pack. I rubbed it all
over, including shirt and
pants, and it helped.
I'd lugged the load 51/2
hours, so I sat on a log, with
bugs hovering, and sipped
water from my 100-ounce
CamelBak. Ice cubes had
melted, but it was cool.
Harried by skeeters, I hur
ried 30 yards to a freshet and
filled the water bag, using the
old Pur filter, before spread
ing all the gear from the pack
onto the grass.
I set up the tent, put the
mattress, sleeping bag and
clothes bag inside.
I set the kitchen of food
bag, water, fry pan and
JetBoil stove by a log and
cooked hashbrowns and ham.
I ate on my feet to evade
mosquitoes. Then I ate two
English muffins with mayon
naise and catsup (from
squeeze packages) and sipped
hot chocolate.
Unable to sit, I strolled
toward mirror lake and saw
campers with eight goats and
two dogs across the valley.
Eventually, tired of blood
suckers, I fled to the tent and
I awoke at 10:21 p.m., went
out to look at the stars and the
moon in the 62-degree,
skeeterless temperature.
At dawn, I ate granola,
drank hot chocolate and
headed for Mirror Lake be
fore the buzzing pests awoke.
For three hours I hiked to
lakes and waterfalls to take
Once, a man and a woman
walked from their camp to
Mirror Lake's shore.
The woman pumped water
while the man stood behind
her and read. They poised
unaware by the lake, before a
granite slide and snow field.
I reached camp again a few
minutes after 10 a.m. and
packed up the gear.
I expected the hike back to
Two Pan would take three
hours. Alas, it took another
51/2. I paused often for more
photos, but that's not my ex
My excuse: Carrying that
50-pound pack downhill took
a heavy toll on my toes and
And, yes, switchbacks No.
8, No. 6 and No. 4 (counting
backwards) were brutal.
And that first (or last) mile
between the bridge and Two
Pan: It's a true toe-bruiser.

See photos at

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bike Ride

Stuffing the mountain bike
into the back of the truck
required twisting and grunt
ing, not to mention choosing
several appropriate verbal ex
pressions when I mashed my
thumb between the handle
bars and the tailgate.
The bike, however, slipped
out smooth as silk at Andies
Prairie Snow Park.
I dribbled it on the ground
and leaned it against a tire.
I fetched the daypack with
the water bag from the pass
enger seat and slung it on. I
draped the camera bag's strap
over my neck so the bag hung
against my left side.
I strapped it tight around
my ribs with a belt, to keep it
from flopping as I pedaled.
With gloves on my hands
and helmet on my head, I
swung onto the saddle and
rode to the south-side toilet.
After that I drifted to the
north end of the snow park,
crossed the highway and
pedaled onto the Horseshoe
Prairie Nordic Ski Area road.
Bumpity-bump! Rocks and
steepness made the first 200
yards a workout. Then the
road became smoother. I
turned left at each `Y' in the
By the time I reached a
``Road Closed'' barrier (I as
sumed bicycles were
exempted), the camera bag
required adjustment.
The belt cramped my ribs.
My left knee bumped the bag
with every pedal.
``I'm not taking photos from
the bike,'' I reflected. ``If I see
something to shoot, I'll stop.''
So, with that logic I stuffed
the camera bag into the pack.
It barely fit.
I turned on the GPS unit
and punched in a waypoint
(N-45 42.275/W-118 02.662 at
5,110 feet), which I forgot to
do at the snow park.
Perhaps I'd use it to tell
someone how to find that
Road Closed barrier someday.
Then I mounted again and
headed east or south (more or
less). Rocks bounced my
highly inflated road tires like
a tennis ball. I clinched my
jaws to keep from biting my
tongue or cracking a filling.
I visualized the softer,
wider Farmer John tires lean
ing in a basement corner,
gathering dust.
Oh, well.
On Summit Road I pedaled
uphill for awhile. Then I hit
32.5 mph on a long downhill
only to slump to between 5
and 7 mph on the next incline.
At the sign to Umatilla Rim
Trail 3080, I turned right, rode
past the pond and two large
RV campers, one with a ham
mock in the shade.
At Ninemile Ridge
Trailhead, the trail narrowed
to a one-track. Twice, in the
first 50 yards, rocky patches
nearly jarred me loose from
the bike.
Once I lost traction and
pushed the bike up a steep
Then the trail flattened, and
I zipped along at 14-15 mph,
with the North Fork Umatilla
Wilderness spread off to my
left and a breeze in my face.
I stopped twice to take pic
tures. I set a waypoint at a
wilderness-boundary sign
(N-45 42.480/W-118 05.523 at
5,162 feet).
I saw the tower on High
Ridge. It looked tinker-toy
sized. So, I turned around and
headed for it.
I sped back to Summit
Road without stopping,
swooping down breathtaking
dips and around sharp turns.
I passed the pond again and
tore downhill to the turnoff
for the lookout. A sign said
two miles. My bike computer
said I'd ridden 7.7 miles from
Andies Prairie.
I passed a campsite and two
yapping dogs charged after
me, followed by a man drying
his face with a towel and
yelling at the dogs to shut up.
Yapping dogs seldom bite,
so I kept going. For awhile.
The road slanted so steep,
and baseball-sized rocks
spread across the path in such
abundance, that I ground to a
I pushed the bike for 150
yards. Then the road turned
right and became less rocky
and steep. I rode again and
stopped to push for another
20 yards before riding to the
I removed the pack, sat on
the steps and sipped water
and scenery. Then I climbed
the steps to the platform be
low the final locked level.
I sat on some plywood, felt
the breeze on my face and
sipped more scenery in all
directions. Smoke plumed
near Cove, or tractor dust
A red-and-yellow helicopter
flew by at eye level. I heard it
and saw its shadow before I
saw it.
Before leaving, I set a
waypoint at the tower (N-45
40.956/W-118 06.118 at 5,310
The bike's computer said
9.0 miles or 1.3 miles from
Summit Road. It seemed far
ther, like five miles.
I rode swiftly down from
the tower. My elbow joints
and hands ached from the
jolting. I climbed the long hill
back to the pond on Summit
I left there to ride the
Umatilla Rim Trail again.
More kicks. I zipped along
too fast, but enjoyed the ride.
I stopped once to look across
an undulating sea of cone
head flowers toward a hazy
When the trail passed a
spur road, I turned back
toward Summit Road. I
stopped once to photograph a
vivid crimson paintbrush.
Then, on Summit Road, I
scooted all the way to High
way 204 and the snow park.
At Andies Prairie I set the
final waypoint of the day
(N--45 42.279/W-118 02.024 at
5,040 feet).
The bike's computer said
18.7 miles; 32.5 maximum
mph; a 7.4 mph average;
2:29:42 time.
I had started riding at 11:33
a.m., and finished at 3:12 p.m.
Give or take.
Oh, well. Twisting and
grunting, and careful, I
stuffed the bike into the truck
and headed home for dinner.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Photographing Birds in Flight

After a week of mostly fuzzy shots, I scrutinized my technique for photographing animals on the move.
By ``animals on the move,'' I mean herons, hawks, pheasants and so on in flight. Or, in the case of pheasants, I mean the skittish critters kicking up dust clouds with their pointy toes while streaking across a field, as well as when in flight.
My technique has been tug the strap around my neck to brace the camera, to focus and press the button. That's about it. And I've been lucky.
Once, on a very bright day a few weeks ago, I bagged sharp and colorful photos of eagles, pelicans and herons in flight at Charbonneau Parkand Ice Harbor Dam. Then I hit a fuzzy spell.
Several dozen shots of herons, pheasants and a variety of hawks and ducks _ they coulda been contenders _ended up as blobs that I, exasperated, erased without printing.
Three things may cause my blurred images: faulty camera settings, faulty focus and/or a shaky camera. Well, a professional friend has helped adjust the camera settings, so they're now under control. So is automatic focus. So I blame a shaky camera. And after trying and rejecting a monopod (too awkward for flying birds), I bought a shoulder mount. It's simple. You attach the camera, adjust the mount so you can hold it like a rifle, sight through the view finder (lens) and pull the trigger.
Then I drove into the country on arainy day for me to try the toy. I spotted a heron in a field, pulled over, stepped into the mist, aimed the camera and pulled the trigger.
I checked the trigger wire. Fine. I glared at the camera. The window showed an ``E.'' Huh! Empty? No flash card. Mumble. Mumble. Mumble.
I climbedback into the truck. ``Too far away,'' I said to Sadie the
Dalmatian, who looked at me with a tilted head.
``And it's too wet. Let's go home. And you stop moaning,'' I said. ``You can't get out. We're going home.''
So, on another rainy day at 7:39 a.m., Sadie and I set out with the loaded camera forRooks Park. I told my wife that we'd be gone about two hours. Black clouds hovered overTausick Way, and rain pelted the truck. So, we swerved and headed west for distant patches of blue to the west.
We drove slow on country roads between Walla Walla and Touchet. I shot meadow larks on fences and kestrels on powerlines. When they flew, I missed. Just too fast.
A belted kingfisher landed on a wire over a bridge. I passed the bridge, sneaked back and shot as it plummeted past trees to the water.
Drat. Just a dark spot in the camera's LCD window.
A rigid heron stood 50 yards from the road in a field. I stopped and waited for it to fly. I waited and waited andwaited.
It didn't move. Then I saw another heron down the road. I eased toward the second heron, and it flew. I got off a shot or two. More blobs. Hummm?
When I turned back, the first heron had also flown.
Then I passed a heron rookery beside the Walla Walla River. Some sat on nests. One flew in. One flew out. I took many shots. Some looked OK in the LCD. Even great.
Next, Sadie and I walked through a public fishing access toward the Walla Walla River. A cock pheasant boomed into flight. I snapped two shots. Two more blobs.
Maybe I didn't need a$150 shoulder mount. Maybe I needed one ofthose $1,500 image-stabilizinglenses.
Yeah, sure.
We drove on, and a muskrat crossed the road with amouthful of twigs. I got a shot that looked pretty good.
That's when a light went off in the old bean.
I'd been shooting with the automatic focus on. So, when a heron or a pheasant flies up with a background cluttered by trees, bushes, tractors or whatever, the camera became confused about its subject.
My best photos had backgrounds of sky, water or aroadside bank.
Of course!
No dunce, I clicked off the automatic focus.
Then a marmot scooted toward a burrow. I twisted the focus ring and pulled the trigger for another fair photo. Feeling better, I continued to the Wallula Habitat Management Unit at the mouth of the Walla Walla River on the Columbia River.
Maybe I could shoot a scampering black-tailed jackrabbit?
We parked on the North Road, above the wildlife refuge pond and hoofed it into the sage.
I shot a sad-looking robin hopping on the ground. I shot some ducks in flight.
Sadie eventually pushed through weeds and willows to the pond, and I took photos of her cavorting in the water.
OK shots, but not great. I thought some more about an image stabilizing lens. Maybe I'd mention it at home. We spent a long time in the sage, and we had one glimpse, but no photo, of a rabbit.
Oooops. The truck's clock said 3:09 p.m. Where had the time gone? Sadie also wondered and yodeled for her dinner all the way home.
And at home, more than an hour later, Darlene said,``I thought you were going tobe gone for two hours not all day.''
Shucks, I thought. Maybe itwasn't a good time to bring up the qualities of a $1,500 image-stabilizing lens. ``Is dinner ready,'' I asked brightly.
Alas, it wasn't a good time for that, either.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I love it when a spur-of-the-moment decision brings recognizable rewards. Far too often they leave me feeling like I just missed the last bus to Happyville. Or that I'd sooner be mowing the lawn.
Well, almost.
And, actually, for hours after this most recent one, I sulked along like a cat watching an empty bird feeder.
We didn't decide to go until 9:13 a.m., so we arrived at Othello at 11:38 a.m. on the final day of the 2006 Sandhill Crane Festival.
Then we spent about an hour poking along the usual backroads south of Highway26 looking for Cranes.
And it seemed like yet another fruitless Sunday trip to see cranes. My wife Darlene, Sadie the Dalmatian and I have made the trip several times. We spotted cranes once, mostly out in the fields.
Sadie and I made a planned trip once, on a Friday evening for the crane festival. We camped overnight in the CNWR and attended a couple of festival presentations the next day. Before camping, however, we watched hundreds of cranes fly from their day-time refuge north of Highway 26 (apparently near the Othello sewage treatment plant?) to feed at farmers' fields on the south side of the road.
It's a site worth seeing.
Yet, this most recent trip appeared to be another dud, unless we wanted to hang around for five of six hours until sunset. Well, still playing it by ear, we dined at Burger King before moseying into to the CNWR, west and north of town.
About three miles out oftown, we turned right onto adirt road. We drove slow, looking for critters in the sage or at the lakes. It's possible to see badgers, coyotes and deer from the road, along with egrets and herons at the lakes. Sometimes meadow larks and horned larks flit about along the road. Some people I know have never seen a horned lark, so I wanted to get a photo of one. Not that it's easy. Even ifthey stand still long enough, they seldom have their horns up and clearly visible. Anyway, we didn't see anything for miles along the dusty road, so I felt depressed about the whole deal.
``I can't believe we haven't even seen a horned lark,'' Isaid. And no sooner did the words slip into the ether than a bird landed on a post across the road, above a Don't ShootThe Squirrels They Are A Protected Species By The State sign. ``Look,'' I croaked. ``It's a horned lark.'' The camera with the shoulder mount lay onDarlene's lap. I snapped it up, turned it on and fired off afew shots from the window. ``Turn it off,'' I said toDarlene, meaning the truck's engine, to steady the camera.
She turned the radio off.
``No, the motor,'' I hissed.``Turn off the key.'' Oh.
I fired off another bunch of shots and realized I had the side mirror in half of them. I took a deep breath and clicked off a couple more. The lark wasn't real close, but I could see its horns clearly through the lens. Then the camera's battery died. As I slipped the dead one out and a fresh one in, a pickup rattled past at 50 mph and the lark flew.
I checked the LCD and clearly saw the bird's feathered horns. Well, I felt better. We drove on toward O'Sullivan Dam and turned back toward Othello on another gravel road. When we passed the nature trails at Upper Crab Creek, Sadie and I hiked the MarshTrail and the Frog Lake Trail.
Sad to say we saw no critter sat the marsh, and we found no water, or frogs, at Frog Lake. We did see several deer in the tall grass, however.
At about 4:09 p.m., we reached Macmanamon Road again, five miles from Othello. Less than a mile west of town, we stopped to photograph yellow headed blackbirds on a bunch of cattails. Then, as we drove south ofHighway 26, a flock of about 50 cranes dotted the sky. Then another flock, and another.
We drove back to Highway 26 and stopped at a wide spot beneath the crane's flight path. Flock after flock of the 4-foot tall birds with the 7-foot wingspan flew by.
I craned my neck to aim the camera straight up for photos as they passed. When darkness eliminated photographing the birds inflight, we headed home. I figured I had many photos of recognizable birds, including horned larks, yellow-headed blackbirds and sandhill cranes.
Not so bad.
It was one of those days that justify making spur-of-the-moment decisions. Not that there are any other kinds.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bears in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness

Generally, we expect bears
to live in the Wenaha-
Tucannon Wilderness.
And I had seen a few there
over the years.
Yet, I didn't expect to see
bears on a recent overnight
trip from Panjab Trailhead to
Indian Corral.
With luck, perhaps I would
glimpse a bear grubbing in
the woods or scampering
from a meadow.
But I didn't expect such
luck when I sloshed into the
dark woods on a muddy Trail
No. 3127 at 8:05 a.m.
The trail rose like a ladder
for five miles, from 3,400 to
5,400 feet at the green
By noon mud covered my
boots, gaiters and lower pant
legs. Yet, socks and toes in
side the Vasque Sundowners
remained snug and dry.
And the 39-pound REI-Mars
internal-frame pack, with
seven-pounds (100 ounces) of
water, still rode easy enough.
As I crossed the meadow, a
mound of shiny, fresh black
bear scat caught my eye.
``Ho,'' I muttered.
And, striding along, I
watched out. Just in case I got
too lucky.
At a furlong from Dunlap
Spring, I dropped the pack for
the first time.
With water bag, Pur water
purifier and camera bag, I
hoofed it to the spring.
Sad. Fallen trees, with fir
limbs across the spring. The
black-rubber water pipe lay
submersed in a puddle.
Squatting with a grimace, I
lifted the pipe. It dribbled. I
placed it on a small stone.
More dribble. Shucks.
So, I dangled the water bag
from a limb, topped it off and
went to pitch the tent.
With the Therm-a-Rest mat
tress, down bag and other
stuff inside, I left the door
open so visitors could avoid
ripping or gnawing.
As I strolled the meadow
toward Bear Wallow, not even
a squirrel moved.
When I turned back, Dave
and Sas Waldron of Western
Life Outfitters (U-B
Out&About, May 4, 2004),
rode my way.
They have the outfitters'
permit for the wilderness, and
they hauled hay to Clover,
two-or-three miles farther.
``Where's your dog?'' Dave
asked about Sadie the
``She's home,'' I said.
``Nursing arthritis.''
``We have one like that,''
Sas said.
Dave asked if I'd seen any
animals. I hadn't. He said
folks who recently spent five
days in the area counted 13
bears and at least eight separ
ate ones.
Later, with dark clouds spit
ting rain, I heated jambalya
rice, Hormel ham and hot
chocolate on the swift JetBoil
stove. Sans Sadie, I had to eat
it all and clean the pan.
Then, thinking ``bear,'' I put
food into a stuff sack and
hung it 25 feet up from a limb.
To relax, I walked another
one of the long, green
meadows that extend like
spokes from Indian Corral.
Hairy balsamroot, shooting
stars, bighead clover, lark
spur, grass widow, glacier
lilly, ball-head water leaf,
Gray's desert parsley and lu
pine gilded the green.
As I stooped to photograph
a bumblebee on a balsamroot,
I detected movement.
Bear. A round, brownish
one browsed at the meadow's
edge, 87 yards away.
Ah, a black bear. Brown
bears are grizzlies, and they
look different. Black bears
may be brown-cinnamon-
And black. Right.
I rose, aimed the camera,
and the bear scrutinized me
then went. I snapped photos
as it loped across the meadow
and into the woods.
I paused to reconnoiter and
spotted more brown a mile
away. My 8x24-power mon
ocular revealed four elk.
I strolled in that direction,
pausing once to lie down and
photograph a flower. That's
when the Waldrons returned
and passed half-a-mile away. I
waved. Sas waved back.
Then I circled for a quarter-
mile around an island of trees
to dry-gulch the elk.
Darn. Thundering hooves
thwarted my stalk, and I
snapped photos as 30 wapitii
stampeded past.
Had they heard me?
No way. Too sneaky.
Oh, well. My timer said 5:33
p.m., and rain clouds dimmed
the light, so I snapped the
camera into a plastic bag.
Then, as I rounded the
island, two bears browsed 60
yards away, where I'd first
seen the elk.
They didn't see me. Or, they
ignored me.
As I fumbled with the cam
era, they reached the woods.
One stopped to sniff at black
bear scat. I snapped photos,
mostly of bear butts as they
faded into the woods.
Rain and I arrived at camp
together, and I slipped into
the tent. I tugged on
longjohns, lay on the mattress
to read and doze with rain
drops tap-tapping at my door.
Sometime later, sunlight
seeped into the tent. I donned
boots, vest and stepped into a
calm, bright perfect evening.
I took the camera for a
stroll in my longjohns.
I saw nine deer and re
turned to bed at 8:48 p.m.
I woke at 4:55 a.m. and
roamed a meadow for an
hour. I ate granola, fetched
water and packed.
I chose a dry Trail No. 3129
out of the wilderness.
En route, I met four elk, a
marmot, a ground squirrel
and wildflowers galore.
I stalked a pileated wood
pecker that kak-kaked when
it flew away.
A thunder storm drenched
me halfway down Rattlesnake
Ridge, and I waded the knee-
high stream with my boots on.
I sat under a semi-dry tree,
emptied the boots and
changed socks and shirt.
As I slogged two uphill
miles to the truck, I found a
shiny dime in Road No. 4713.
Just luck, I guess, and I
picked it up.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nature's Fourth of July Fireworks

A thunder clap drove my
head deep between my
A lightning bolt sizzled
above the south horizon.
My eyes bulged like those
of a French bulldog whose le
boeuf pate hits the floor.
``Gees!'' I said.
Sadie the Dalmatian, who
cringes at snapping fire
crackers 16 blocks from our
house with the TV on full
blast, didn't even lift her
I had packed up the camp
ing gear, loaded Sadie into
the truck and driven into the
wilderness to avoid the
annual nervous breakdown
that she suffers from Fourth
of July fireworks.
So, while she nonchalantly
sniffed a squirrel's trail, I
twitched and shuddered at
thunder and lightning.
Irony? Well, I know one
when I see one.
Not that the thunder storm
came unexpectedly.
Soon after turning from
Oregon Highway 204 onto
Summit Road, I spotted thun
derclouds to the south.
Yet, we sped along bathed
in sunlight all the way to
Shimmiehorn Pond.
Once there we saw a trailer
and pickup at one end of the
pond, a car at the middle and
a group with three pickups
with several ORVs at the far
end. Two men at the pond
cast for small trout.
``Big crowd for such a small
pond, even on the Fourth of
July,'' I grumbled.
I stopped near the pond and
considered looking for an
other place, a flat, quiet place,
away from fireworks.
Then a person in the large
group picked up a chair and
put it into a pickup.
Ah, they were leaving.
To kill time, I drove to a
faint two-track trail and five
turkeys strutted in front of us.
Then a cow elk stepped
from the trees, and I turned
off the key, picked up the
camera on the shoulder
mount and clicked.
The elk ambled along the
meadow, pulling up the oc
casional mouthful of weeds
and chewing complacently, as
if we weren't there.
Hard-eyed Sadie studied its
every move. When I started
the engine and drove on, the
elk didn't look up.
Back at Shimmiehorn, I
took the empty spot.
Charred wood smoldered in
a fire ring, and I made two
trips to the pond with a gallon
jug for water to pour on it.
Both times Sadie waded
into the pond up to her chest.
The fishermen departed as I
pitched the Eureka! tent on a
flat, bumpy spot near a bush.
Five tent stakes slipped easy
into the ground. One bent. I
used a 27-pound rock to
anchor that corner.
Sadie, of course, rushed
into the tent and left muddy
footprints all over the floor. I
fetched a towel, made her get
out and rubbed up the foot
prints. Then I dried her,
somewhat, and spread the
towel on the tent floor. I set
her water and dinner just out
side of the door.
I tossed mattresses and
sleeping bags inside. At 4:28
p.m. I dumped a can of Bush's
Baked Beans into a pan with
chunks of English muffin.
I heated the beans on the
JetBoil stove and dined with
my feet dangling from the
truck's tailgate.
Then, despite a mild sweat,
I made hot chocolate.
After Sadie cleaned the
bean pan and I boiled water in
it, I took the camera, Sadie
and my cup for a walk.
That's when the thunder
and lightning nearly knocked
me down and dark clouds
arrived with rain.
With the temperature in the
80s, I walked in the rain.
When it passed, tall, sun-
drenched clouds remained.
By 6:39 p.m., I stirred-up a
second cup of hot chocolate
and stuffed the gear away in
the truck. I crawled into the
tent with Sadie and my book.
I sat briefly on my Crazy
Creek Chair, but it was
muggy inside and smelled of
wet dog.
So, I moved the chair out
side and sat with my bare feet
inside the tent, safe from ants.
More or less.
The Brunton Wind device
measured the temperature at
82 degrees. I hung it from the
tent and a few minutes later it
said 79 degrees.
As the sun slipped toward
the the horizon, it tinted
clouds the color of crimson
paintbrush or orange sherbet.
So, I put on socks and
shoes again, fetched the cam
era and followed Sadie
around to photograph clouds.
It was something to do.
When we finally slipped
into the tent and lay on our
sleeping bags, I fell asleep in
about 12 seconds.
I woke once during the
night to the patter of rain on
the tent. At 5:39 a.m. I
crawled into the dawn and
saw the man beyond the pond
removing scotches from the
wheels of his trailer.
Goose bumps popped out
on my arms. The Brunton
Wind said 59 degrees, and I
pulled a nylon sweater from
my stuff-sack pillow. Sadie
also wobbled from the tent to
stretch, yawn and sniff the
A group of turkeys moved
in the meadow below the
As I hurried to the truck for
the camera, I realized that
Sadie had slept all night with
out a single explosion to mar
her dreams.
``C'mon, Sadie, let's stalk
turkeys,'' I said and walked
toward the pond.
When I looked back, Sadie
stood up to her chest in the
pond and shook herself.
I waited until she caught
up, and sneaked after turkeys
in the dawn's early light.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

How to deal with ticks on the Deschutes River

Overcoming a modicum of
adversity, Sadie the
Dalmatian recently proved
that even an old dog may
glean new ticks.
On our recent tarry along
the Deschutes River, Sadie
caught and I released about
120 ticks.
I can't actually prove that
number since I lost count at 52 or 55.
That came halfway through
the second-of-three days on
the river.
And Sadie landed even
more ticks that afternoon,
although I have no documen
tation to prove it.
I didn't bother with
measurements, either. Yet, a
few females appeared to have
trophy-sized maws.
Without documentation,
however, my observations
may lack authority.
Anyway, going into this
trip, I didn't expect Sadie to
catch any ticks, let alone to
set a record.
Let's face it, as a gimpy
14-year-old, Sadie lacks the
same tick-rummaging
stamina that she once
She now prefers padding
along in my wake to crashing
headlong into tick thickets of
tall weeds and overhanging
In addition, my wife
Darlene apparently grew tired
of finding an occasional
creepy blood-sucker on a pil
low or a wall.
She encouraged me to DO
SOMETHING! or else.
So, I applied Frontline Flea
and Tick Control to Sadie's
skin between her head and
On several subsequent trips
to Bennington Lake, one of
our favorite tick-hunting
grounds, she came home with
no ticks at all.
We figured the Frontline
worked. Looking back,
though, another factor must
be considered.
We have a system of mown
paths around Bennington that
you may trot along without
actually brushing against a
tick-bearing weed or limb.
That's a key to NOT catching
ticks, by the way: avoid them.
You can't really do that,
however, in the tall reed ca
nary grass on the alder- and
hackberry-lined banks of the
Deschutes River.
Besides, even Frontline
doesn't keep ticks from falling
onto Sadie. It does, however,
encourage them to eschew
drilling into her.
So, they crawl off onto
sleeping bags ... and me.
Since I wore waders and a
rain jacket much of the time
on the Deschutes, I caught an
embarrassingly low number
of ticks: only eight.
They may seem plenty to
folks who prefer NOT to catch
ticks, as apparently a few do.
That's easy enough. Ticks
don't jump or fly, but they do
``quest,'' sensing a carbon-
based critter from 20 feet
away and waiting. So, stay on
wide paths, away from weeds
or limbs where ticks may
cling to your clothes or drop
on you as you pass.
If you wear waders or slip
pery clothes, they may slip
off. Or, if you wear light-
colored clothes, you may see
them and toss them away.
So, tick-shy people should:
1) stay on wide paths; 2) wear
long pants with the legs
tucked into socks; 3) wear
long-sleeves and button them;
4) button the shirt collar; and
5) wear a hat.
After visiting tick country,
check clothes, body and hair
(with a fine-tooth comb).
Check kids carefully.
I check Sadie repeatedly.
Yet, she often hides ticks for
After that long day of pick
ing ticks from her on the
Deschutes, we crawled into
the tent.
While reading with my LED
headlamp, I saw a tick on my
sleeping bag. Then another
on the tent wall. Then another
on Sadie's bag. Shivver.
I tossed them outside and
felt crawly all night.
Despite catching so many
ticks, Sadie hasn't had one
become fully engorged. Some
have became attached before
I found them.
And I've only found one
tick attached to me, on top of
my noggin, that I remember.
These are, by the way, the
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
or Dog Tick species. If they
attach and become engorged,
they may cause Rocky Moun
tain fever.
Along with fever, within
three to 12 days, you may
have severe headaches,
tiredness, muscle pain, chills,
nausea, and a rash.
The key, of course, is to
discover a tick before it sticks
to you. Then you pick it off
and release it.
Effective (?) methods of RELEASING
ticks include bonfires,
blow torches, dynamite,
sledge hammers, microwave
ovens and cuisinarts.
Anyway, you may have 72
hours to find a tick and feed it
to a blowtorch before it drills
you. When it's engorged, it
begins to infect you.
If, HOWEVER, you awaken
one morning, scratch your
arm pit and find what re
sembles a Thompson seedless
grape, don't grab a torch.
It's too late (or too early).
You should unattach it. Then
torch it.
I recently heard Garrison
Keillor say on the radio that
flame applied to the back of a
stuck tick makes it back out.
Not true. Ticks attach with
a glue-like substance and
can't back out even if their
butts ARE burning.
Use flame and you'll end up
with a third-degree burn.
If you're squeamish, you
may want a physician to re
move an attached tick.
I pull mine and Sadie's.
Pull an engorged tick with
your fingers, and you squeeze
infected blood from the tick
back into your veins.
So, you need to use tweez
ers or a special tool. Grip the
tick head as close to the skin
as possible and lift straight
back so as not to pull the head
off in the skin.
Wash thoroughly with al
Mainly, though, if you pay
attention and catch ticks
early, you won't have to deal
with ``engorged.''
So, a few people hate ticks.
Yet, the noble dog tick fits
into nature's scheme: to pro
vide food for birds.
And consider ticks' econ
omic value. Tick hunters
spend a fortune on gear and
outfitters. And tick haters
spend a fortune on repellents.
All that, and Sadie's
pleasure in catching ticks, in
spires me to apply a catch-
and-release approach that
protects the resource.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thief Valley Reservoir

Sadie the Dalmatian
straggled along the muddy
two-track road above the dam
at the nearly iced-over Thief
Valley Reservoir.
She paused to sniff bush
after bush.
I shuffled on, deep in
thought about the eagles, elk
and antelope I'd photo
graphed earlier. I passed a
sage-dotted and shaded cut
between two hills on my right.
I paid the dark cleft little
attention. Yet, it gave me an
uneasy feeling. Hair on my
neck twitched.
I stopped, turned slowly
and studied the shadows.
Yes! Thirty-three yards
away, peering around a bush!
A coyote sat on its
haunches and watched us. Or
it watched Sadie.
Did it drool? Humm.
Slowly, I lifted the camera.
Drat! The wily critter faded
away. Instantly. Gone.
Darn, I thought. A close
shot of a coyote would have
capped a great day of wildlife
Not that I didn't have some
good shots already. And, I
crossed my fingers, the scenic
shots should be good, too.
I'd started out to find
eagles, which gather in
Northeast Oregon in the win
ter. They may reach a peak of
about 250 in February and
Of course Northeast Ore
gon covers a space somewhat
larger than a postage stamp.
But people had seen eagles in
Union County. Apparently.
And I once saw three ante
lope beside the road between
Union and Powder River. In
addition, the Oregon Depart
ment of Fish and Wildlife
feeds elk in the winter a few
miles out of Powder River.
So, we had a plan. My wife
Darlene made a lunch for us,
and we left home at 7:28 a.m.
I unlimbered the
70-300-millimeter lens at
Ladd Marsh, appropriately
with a shot of a marsh hawk
(northern harrier) in flight. I
also photographed the old ho
tel (some say it's haunted) at
the hot springs. The wrecked
building is being refurbished.
Next, about 100 antelope
lazed in the sunlight 200
yards from the road about six
miles from North Powder.
Then I took the road from
North Powder toward An
thony Lakes and detoured at a
sign indicating the Elkhorn
Wildlife Viewing area.
It was a Monday, and we
had the place to ourselves.
Well, not counting the 100 elk
that dozed in the sunlight.
Snow covered the ground,
and I measured the altitude at
3,657 feet.
From there we took the An
thony Lakes Highway toward
Haines. Several hawks sat on
fences, in trees or sailed along
looking for mice.
Then darting crows caught
my eye. Three crows flew
after an eagle with its white
head and tail bright in the
``Look, Sadie, an eagle!''
I braked and counted two
eagles on fence posts with
sheep in the foreground, three
in a tree near a farm and two
in a tree near the road.
``That's seven eagles!''
The two ahead of me were
juveniles (or, perhaps, golden
eagles). It takes about four
years for a bald eagle to de
velop a white head.
I parked, let Sadie out, and
we stood by the fence. I took a
photos of eagles with the
70-300-millimeter-zoom lens.
I missed one that flew just 20
yards over us.
Sadie's gaze never left the
sheep. Oh. well.
Finally, looking for more
eagles, we drove on toward
Baker City. I didn't see any
and looped back through
Haines and back to where I'd
seen the eagles.
By golly, a mature one sat
in the tree near the road. I
stopped and photographed it
through the window.
It ignored me. Eagles ap
parently spend most of their
time sitting and watching.
Some people say they're rest
ing. I think they're selecting
from the menu or just ponder
ing the nature of things while
catching some rays.
On the way home, a few
miles out of North Powder, I
took the road to Thief Valley
Reservoir, to see if eagles
were hanging out there.
They weren't. Ice covered
the water. Sadie and I hiked
the mile to the dam, and as we
started back, I saw the coyote.
Finally, at 4:02 p.m., I fed
Sadie and unwrapped my
sandwich. I figured we could
be home for dinner by 6:07.
Unless we spotted more
eagles, elk, antelope or
coyotes. Or a colorful sunset

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gad! Drat and Darn. Sunlight illuminated thetippet and leader, but myfingers couldn't tie the simpleknot. Not in the wind. So Iturned my back to it. Mumble, mumble. It is a simple knot. Line upabout six inches of tippet andleader, bend them into a hoopand drag the tippet and leaderend through the loop threetimes. Then pull the loop tightand clip away the loose endsclose to the knot. Simple. When I had to start over forthe fourth or 10th time, Ipaused ro mop my brow.Sadie the Dalmatian watchedfrom a few feet away. Recent knee surgery limitedher activity, so we were goingto wade the shallowTucannon River and walk 100yards to fish at the fly-fishingonly Big Four Lake. She peered at me throughpale eye lashes. Well, heck, Ithought, let's see you tie thisknot and see if you mumble. Finally, I clipped the lineends away and tied on ahare's ear nymph. I lay therod aside and pulled on thewaders to keep my feet dry. We crossed the streamwithout a hitch, but the weed-tangled path to the peninsulainto the middle of the lake ledthrough a 6-foot-wide swamp.Sadie skirted the edge of it,and I sank up to my knees. Mumble, mumble. Glassy water bordered thefinger of land, but pale greenmoss and dark millfoil lurkedbeneath the surface. A sinking nymph would snag witheach cast. But I cast anyway. Big Four, by the way, receives several plants of fisheach season, including a number of lunkers up to four orfive pounds. On opening day,fish hover like small submarines in the shallow water. It's kind of like fishing in abathtub, though. By late in theseason the fish usually haveall been caught. So it seemed on Monday.No fish hovered in the clearwater, and no feeding circlesappeared on the surface. Near the end of the peninsula, I lay my fishing vest andcamera bag on the grass andSadie waded into the water toensure I'd see no fish. I cast the nymph manytimes. After hooking 18pounds of moss and millfoil, Ireached for my vest to put ona dry fly. Seven million black antsswarmed over the vest andthe camera bag, give or take a25 or 26. I brushed at them.Hopeless. I pulled a crawly flybox from the vest, and antscrawled up my wrist. I moved the vest and thecameras about 10 feet andtied a Joe's Hopper onto thetippet. I cast several dozentimes, and when the fly hit, aswarm of tiny fish attacked it. This continued until I accepted that no hookable fishremained at Big Four. Besides, I had to rectify thoseants on my gear. Reluctantly, I picked up thevest and, to my surprise, noants remained. None on thecamera bag, either. They'd gone home. We left, too, and detouredaround the swamp. I triedfishing the river but snaggedthe fly on a tall mullien stalk. So I quit. It was 1:46 p.m. by the timeI folded away the waders andfishing gear, and I ate yogurtwith trail mix stirred into it.Sadie didn't want any. Yogurtis one thing she passes up. Yogurt and broccoli. After that, we drove up theTucannon River Road toPanjab Bridge, turned left andcontinued to road's end atSheep Creek. We parked above thebridge. Sadie, who knows dinner time like the back of herpaw, gave me that ``I'mhungry'' stare. ``Let's walk up the trail,'' Icountered. I didn't want her tostrain, but I casual walkwouldn't hurt. Not her, any way. Seven minutes later, Istubbed my toe, fell facedown and jammed my handsdown to break the fall. Oh, My! Something stabbed a holein the heel of my left hand.Tears rolled down my face. Ipressed a handkerchief tightagainst the wound while Ishuffled and groaned. Minutes passed. Sadieleaned against my right legand followed my shuffles.When I could see, I examinedthe wound: a 2-inch long crescent cut, with a flap. Dark,weedy stuff protruded. I lifted the flap and pulledout debris. The puncture waswide and one-half inch deep,at least. I pressed the handkerchieftight and stumbled up thetrail. Pain dulled to a throb. Soon, downed treesblocked Sadie's progress, andwe turned back. I paused towash my hand in SheepCreek. Hurt? Oh, my yes. I used tweezers from mySwiss Army Knife to pluckblack specks from the wound. My eyes teared, and Icouldn't pick some of them.They'd wait until I got home. At the truck and moaning, Ifed Sadie. We headed downhill slow, and a snake lay inthe road. A rubber boa. A rare snake.I lifted it carefully with myinjured hand for photos. Not a common sight, I toldSadie. And I felt better aboutthe day's disappointments.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Grande Ronde Steelhead

I lost my balance when I
lurched onto the rock's flat,
rugged surface. Dizzying cur
rents of the Grande Ronde
River and a thrashing wind
didn't help, either.
Anyway, panic struck as my
body tipped head-first toward
the thigh-deep channel I'd
just waded. My legs moved to
catch up. I twisted for a giant step
back into the channel with arms whirling.
My right hand gripped the
fly-rod handle hard enough to
squeeze sweat from the cork.
If it had any.
I tumbled forward at the
bank, broke my fall with my
left hand, and took a deep,
relieved breath.
Red-faced, I peered through
specs blurred by water drops
for anyone who had observed
my uncommon grace.
Whew. No one. I lay the fly
rod gently on the rocks,
checked the camera bag.
Whew again.
Water, however, soaked the
sleeves of my jacket. I pushed
back the hood of my jacket,
loosened the string holding
my glasses in place and wiped
the lenses with a bandanna.
Finally, breathing more or
less normally again, I waded
back to the rock and climbed
on top. I worked out a cast
with the 9-foot, 8-weight
steelhead fly rod and threw
the green-butted skunk fly
pattern across the current.
It drifted into a possible
steelhead holding spot behind
a barely visible boulder.
I made another 11 casts
before I eased from the rock
into the current and worked
slowly downstream to the
next hole.
I had left home a few min
utes past 6 a.m., driven 134
miles and started fishing on
the south side of the Grande
Ronde river where it flows
into the Snake River at 10:16.
That included driving three
miles upstream from Hellers
Bar to the bridge and nearly
three miles downstream on
the narrow Rogersburg Road.
I parked a few hundred
yards from the mouth of the
river and rigged up. Ten min
utes later, I nearly fell on my
I fished carefully down
stream to the Snake River. I
worked out three or four false
casts and sailed a 40-foot toss
at a 45-degree angle onto the
edge of the Snake's current. I
mended the sink-tip line up
stream, and it floated into a
I imagined an 18-pound
steelhead lying at the edge of
the riffle and smashing the fly
that drifted past its nose.
And I snagged a rock, or so
I thought, and lifted the rod
tip. The line moved upstream.
I tugged, and the line tugged.
It didn't feel like a steely. I
tugged harder and the rod
bent. I reeled in the slack line,
and line stripped off the reel.
I walked upstream in the
shallow water as several feet
of line peeled off and stopped.
Then I saw a fish tail, all
splotched and sick looking. I
pulled, and the fish rose
higher in the water: A
spawned-out salmon. About
25 pounds, snagged in the
I hated to lose the fly, but I
aimed to cut the leader if I
could get close enough.
As the fish inched closer, a
jet boat roared downriver and
waves rolled the fish up to my
feet, and the hook pulled free.
I watched the riffle for sev
eral minutes, and saw several
of the splotched fish.
Then my watch said 12:42,
and I broke for lunch.
I boiled water for tea with
the SnowPeak stove and ate a
turkey sandwich. An Iron gate
behind me creaked when the
wind hit it. I decided it made
that sound when I wasn't
there. I looked in vain for
Rocky Mountain sheep on the
rugged canyon walls.
On my way upstream I
passed two other fly fishers. I
parked again, walked up the
road for another quarter mile
and fished back to the pickup.
I hooked something and had
it on for about seven seconds.
It felt big and strong, but,
heck, it could've been a
walrus. Or not.
At 2:03 p.m. I headed up
stream once more and met a
tall rooster pheasant standing
in the road. It looked me in
the eye. I stopped and
honked. It walked toward the
truck until I couldn't see it
over the hood.
I go out with the camera,
and the bird sauntered into
the roadside shrubbery.
I fished another stretch be
fore the bridge until after 3
Then, as I drove down the
north side of the Grande
Ronde, I saw a fly fisher with
a fish on. I parked to fish.
On the fourth cast, I hooked
a steelhead. It swirled with its
head out of the water for at
least 30 seconds.
I quit at 4:18 p.m., after the
sun disappeared behind the
canyon wall.
I set up the stove to boil
water for tea as I changed
clothes and stowed gear.
And I saw the fly was
ruined, body shredded and
green butt bedraggled.
And I knew the feeling. It
had been a long, hard day

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tripping to the Oregon Coast

Sadie the Dalmatian thinks
I wimped out on our recent
trip to the Oregon Coast.
Well, here's the true story.
We arrived at Lookout State
Park and selected site C-10
for our tent at 1:41 p.m. on a
I donned my rain jacket and
pants. I wrapped Sadie in her
coat. And we rushed to the
On the way we passed a
sign that cautioned us about
sneaker waves and high
winds. We crossed the berm
and stepped onto the sand.
The sign was correct. A
gust nearly toppled me.
We turned south, with me
leaning into the wind that
flapped Sadie's ears. She
breathed through her mouth
and squinted. I squinted, too.
Just a few raindrops fell,
however, although heavy
clouds swirled low. I slipped
two camera bodies into plastic
bags so that each lens pro
truded from the opening.
We spent almost two hours
combing the beach and hiking
back through the woods.
As we neared our camp
site, the heavy rain began.
It fell steadily as I pitched
the tent, and Sadie rushed
inside. I huddled beneath the
pickup shell's raised lid to
dine on beans and hot choc
Darkness fell while I
stowed gear and locked the
truck. I unzipped the tent's
vestibule and backed inside.
I zipped the vestibule and
sat with my legs through the
tent's door. I undressed by the
soft illumination from an LED
I left boots (with a flashlight
and the truck keys inside) and
rolled up rain gear in the
With some grunting, I
pulled off my pants, rolled
them up and stowed them
behind my clothes-bag pillow.
Then I squeezed into my
share of the sleeping space
beside Sadie, who took up
half of my mattress.
She opened her eyes, but
she didn't raise her head. I
tucked her sleeping bag
around her and wriggled deep
into mine.
I checked the time (5:39
p.m.) and the temperature
(50.8 degrees).
The surf 200 yards away
reminded me of a busy free
way. I opened my book and a
Snickers bar.
I ate the Snickers and
dozed. When my eyes popped
open again, the tent thumped
and wobbled. The nylon walls
fluttered in the LED light.
Rain spritzed against the
rainfly. I lifted a corner of
Sadie's sleeping bag. A curled
front foot covered her nose,
and she opened one eye.
I dropped the bag back over
her, put away my book and
turned off the light. I slept
some, dozed some and
listened to the wind some.
I used the pitstop jug once,
at 11:47 p.m. Brrrr.
Wind and rain buffeted the
tent when I turned on the
headlamp and checked the
time again, at 6:17 a.m.
At 7:38 a.m., I sat up. I
pulled on my pants and boots,
put on rain gear and stumbled
into a 2-inch-deep puddle
around the tent.
I hurried to the toilet, 70
yards away.
Still wearing her coat,
Sadie followed. Wind flapped
her ears as she sniffed among
the weeds.
On the way back, rain, blew
parallel to the ground. It spat
tered my chest and face. It
spotted my glasses.
I put down the ramp, and
hounded Sadie into the truck.
I lit the propane stove and
put the water on. I squirted
olive oil on an English muffin
and put it into the fry pan
with a dozen turkey slices.
I set a jug of grape juice on
the tailgate with the stove, the
pot of water, the fry pan and
the bag of muffins.
A gust crashed into the
truck like a locomotive.
The truck wobbled. The
juice and muffins toppled to
the ground. The pot lid clat
tered into the grass. The fry
pan turned over. And the
stove went out.
I started over and finally
stood with rain pelting my
raincoat and shared breakfast
with Sadie.
I stowed the gear, and we
walked 56 yards to check the
beach: Wind, rain and high
tide. And sneaker waves?
No beach combing. Not yet,
anyway. We drove to the loop
around Cape Meres,
Oceanside and Netarts.
The storm never let up.
Rain slammed through the
window when I stopped to
photograph a flock of white
At Cape Meres the wind
blew Sadie's coat up to her
neck twice as we walked to
the lighthouse and to the Oc
topus Tree, a giant Sitka
spruce with several trunks.
Even plastic bags didn't
keep the cameras dry.
We returned to camp at
11:18 a.m. and found one side
of the rainfly snapping like a
flag. Water had blown under
it and onto my mattress.
My sleeping bag remained
dry, and I could wipe up the
water with a towel. Yet, it
didn't seem worth the effort.
I sat in the truck to ponder,
with Sadie watching through
the back window. A weather
report on the radio said we
were having 40 mph winds
with gusts to 60 mph. A new
storm front approached.
I saw Sadie's face in the
``Let's go home,'' her ex
pression said. ``Please.''
And 18 minutes later I had
sleeping bags, mattresses and
sopping tent stashed into the
back of the truck, and we
headed home.
And Sadie's smile stretched
from ear to ear.
That's my story, and I'm
sticking to it.