Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bowman Trail, Eagle Cap Wilderness

I tramped steep and dusty
trails for six hours before
dropping my backpack for the
final time of the day.
How dusty?
Well you may ask: So dusty
that within a dozen steps, dirt
coated my cheeks and the sun
screen on my lips.
So dusty that the mouth
piece of the 100-ounce Camel
Back water bag tasted like
So dusty that within the
first half mile, a quarter-inch
coat of dirt covered. ...
Well, really, really dusty.
How steep?
What trail isn't steep in the
Eagle Cap? And the trails to
Brownie Basin, Chimney,
Hobo and Wood lakes rank as
``more difficult'' among Eagle
Cap experts.
In the five-miles to Chim
ney Lake you ascend from
5,200 feet to 7,604 feet.
You waddle around six
switchbacks, including a half-
mile hump up the canyon's
head-wall. And it is steep.
I left the truck in the park
ing area at 10:08 a.m. and met
a man and woman on the fifth
switchback, near the three or
four easy stream crossings at
the head-wall.
They'd camped at Chimney,
along with two other parties,
and they'd seen a group with
horses camped in the basin.
Near the basin, with dust
clouding in my face, I met two
women and two dogs, also
from Chimney.
They'd left one party there,
and also noted the horse
group at Brownie.
I reached the basin at 12:59
p.m., after, if you'll pardon
the redundancy, three hours
of a dusty uphill plod.
I stayed on the main trail
above the basin, a scintillating
meadow framed by granite
peaks and ridges in a half-
circle to the south and west.
I pondered dropping into
the basin, finding a campsite
and shedding the pack. I
trudged upward, however,
snapping photos with the
small Kodak.
As I passed Laverty Lake,
below Chimney, I spoke to a
man and woman with a dog
beside the water.
A few minutes later, Sonya,
Christopher and Merlin
caught me as I took photos of
distant Eagle Cap Mountain
to the south.
I snapped their photo, and
Christopher snapped mine
with Sonya and Merlin.
We continued, and they
soon left me in their dust. To
coin a phrase.
Chimney Lake typifies the
beauty of the Eagle Cap's
high, clear lakes below sheer
granite walls.
I dropped the pack for the
first time and walked along
the lake with the camera. I
snapped the lake, some flow
ers and a tarn with writhing
deadwood that suggested a
Nessie-like head.
Then, at 2:57 p.m., I began
the 1.2-mile trek back to
Brownie. Halfway back, I
drank the last of my water,
cold to the last drop with the
ice cubes from home.
I walked slow, soaked up
the scenery and the dust and
stopped at 4:03 p.m. at
Brownie Basin.
I picked a slanted spot that
ought to catch early sunlight
the next day. I pitched the
tent on soft ground 100 yards
from the stream and 50 yards
from an ash-filled firepit.
I filled the CamelBak from
the cool stream with the
Sweetwater pump and
guzzled freely.
I spread the kitchen on a
rock, boiled water in the
JetBoil stove for coffee/hot
chocolate. I sipped and
chopped Hormel ham while
more water boiled for the
Idahoan mashed potatoes.
I ate and cleaned the plate.
That's when I missed Sadie
the Dalmatian the most. She
licks a plate spotlessly clean,
but steep, dusty trails make
her stay home these days.
As dusk arrived at Brownie
and I lay in the tent, heavy
footsteps and voices ap
proached then retreated.
Or so it seemed.
I crawled from the tent to
see a bevy of llamas a mere
chip-shot away.
A man approached and
apologized for stopping so
close, but they had to set up
camp before dark.
No problem.
He had five and his partner
had five, and they had two
friends. He invited me to visit
the next day for tequila.
I would leave in the morn
ing, so I'd pass unless he
offered a Tequila Sunrise.
Probably not, he said.
Back in the tent I stuffed
my pants and shirt under the
edge of my Therm-A-Rest
mattress to ease its slant.
I read an Agatha Christie
mystery until nearly 11 p.m.
to discover who dunit?
And Sir George Stubbs
killed his wife. Surprise!
At 6:41 a.m. I emerged from
the tent. With 36-degree tem
perature, moisture covered
the grass and my single-
walled tent, inside and out.
No one stirred in llama
land. I lay gear on the rock,
ate granola with hydrated
milk, made coffee/hot choc
olate and awaited the sun.
At 7:33 a.m. it peeked over
the peaks and touched my
tent that the basin's slope
tipped just right.
Brownie did a heckuva job
(really). I dried the tent inside
and out with a pack towel.
Then neighbor Tom Orwick
dropped by. He's from
Corvallis, and we talked about
llamas and life for a long time.
I hefted the pack at 10:01
a.m. It felt lighter than the
original 38 pounds.
As I headed down the hill,
past the llamas, I met two,
Sky King and Arlo (Guthrie),
and said so long to Tom.
Pausing seldom, once to
photograph a round-eared
pika in a garden of granite
boulders, I stepped gently to
avoid jamming my toes and
reached the truck at noon.
On the drive home, I
stopped for coffee and at a car
wash to spray a heavy coat of
dust off my boots.
It made me think: You can
rest from steep trails and
spray dust from you boots,
but you never forget visits to
the Eagle Cap.

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