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.
Whaaappp!
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
morning.
See photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com

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.
Might.
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 www.tripper.smugmug.com

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 www.tripper.smugmug.com

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
there.
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
Road;
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
Wah-kak-us).
``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
tantly.
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
dried.
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
wwww.worleybuggerflyco.co
m
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
river.
See photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com

East Fork Lostine, Eagle Cap

Funny how a 39-pound
backpack can weigh
50-pounds.
Or feel like it.
Must have something to do
with changing weather pat
terns.
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
long.
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
napped.
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
photos.
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
cuse.
My excuse: Carrying that
50-pound pack downhill took
a heavy toll on my toes and
knees.
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 www.tripper.smugmug.com