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.

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