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
Trail.
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
minutes.
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
creatures.
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
truck.
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
ground.
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
sign-in 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
ranch.
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
thicket.
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.