Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Blowdowns’

The trail snaked along the divide which in general means an extremely bumpy experience. When it couldn’t follow the divide directly, the trail sling shot us over a pass, deep into the valley, then rocketed us back up and over another pass on the other side.

Now, normally, this would be fantastic. High passes offered spectacular views and going into the valleys provided a wide array of water sources. However, when you’re gambling with thunderstorms, it gets interesting to say the least.

The same day that we got over Storm Lake Pass, we thought we’d have enough time to get over it and Rainbow Mountain before we dealt with typical afternoon mountain thunderstorms. Nope. One began to crash through around 11:30am when I found myself above treeline on Rainbow Mountain and noticed that the song I was listening to seemed to have extra bass in it…oh shit…thunder. Damn. I pulled the headphones out and shoved them unceremoniously in a Ziploc bag in my convenient, hand crafted, custom fanny pack (thanks Mom!) and examined the situation briefly.

I’m above treeline. The map showed trees higher on the other side than on this side. The trees directly below me are not uniform in the slightest and they are spread out. It would probably take me just as long to hike back down to uniform trees as it would to hike up and over. Great. I move upwards as fast as I could muster. The sky is turning a darker shade of gray. Boom boom boom. Fuck. That was loud and very close. I have two switchbacks to go. I began to run. Now, running with a full pack is awkward, so don’t imagine this is done gracefully. I crest the top and continue running toward the significantly more uniform trees on the other side. More thunder. Once I get to the white bark pines, I began walking swiftly again trying to get down.

About a mile down, I found Scallywag and E.D. chilling under some trees attempting to be dry and eat lunch. I joined them and we wondered if The Darkness had stopped in the trees on the other side.

The storm passed fairly quickly and blue sky began to emerge. Not long after, The Darkness appeared and we all basked in the warmth of the sun for a few moments before realizing we should be walking in the good weather. It gets tough when the weather dictates breaks and rest times instead of the body.

We got up and over another pass getting wet from rain on and off. We wanted to do more miles in this section but the weather and the constant ups and downs tired us out. We decided we needed to get to somewhere between Warren Lake and Rainbow Lake. I began to wonder about how many storms this area got because it had a lot of things named after storms and rainbows.

The stretch up to Warren Lake had switchbacks but some were hardly switchbacks. The trail went up steeply and was covered in rocks that my shoes didn’t want to grip well. By the lake, we were greeted by a large quantity of mosquitoes and Maverick going nobo!

We swapped beta on the next few sections and towns as well as what hikers were ahead and behind. All the while we swatted and murdered as many mosquitoes as possible.

Then having only a few miles left of energy, The Darkness, E.D., Scallywag, and I found a campsite that only thru-hikers would think of as a campsite. It was bumpy, weedy, rooty, and only flatish…but we were tired.

Lupines and Elephant Heads

The next morning, we walked up past Rainbow Lake, covered in lupines and elephant heads, and up toward Rainbow Pass. I stopped on top to dry out my tent and eat. The steep ups and downs had turned my appetite up dramatically. I felt like the Chester Cheetah in the Cheetos commercials where he turns the lever from “cheesy” to “dangerously cheesy” except it was “hungry” to “holy shit I’m starving and can’t eat enough.”

We only managed to get a few miles down to Johnson Lake before we decided lunch was in order. Partly because the lake was pretty and there was a great sitting log. E.D. and I stayed and began lunch while Scallywag went off to dig a cat hole. The Darkness decided she wanted to get up Pintler Pass before lunch, so she headed upward.

Then E.D. and I heard hilarity ensue. The trail made a sharp ninety degree turn away from the lake not far ahead and they had both gone to dig cat holes in similar areas. What we heard was them managing to have a conversation while pooping. That’s when you know you’ve been hiking with people a long time.

The best part about this particular lake was that there, the “North Montana” section ended on Guthook and we had to switch to “South Montana/Idaho.” We’re getting somewhere!

E.D., Scallywag, and I plugged upward and found The Darkness with a pack explosion on top of Pintler Pass complete with her tent tied down to dry out. We took a break there too.

Then Scallywag offered to share some of his jelly beans. He passed the bag to The Darkness and a sly smile grew across her face as she picked out one of each color. Scallywag didn’t notice at first, but when he did notice he gave her a menacing look which suggested that he would get her back for the atrocity of taking too many jelly beans.

After Pintler Pass, we went down into a valley then up and over another nameless but beautiful ridge that reminded me of Alaska Basin in the Tetons. We noticed that the elevation profile shifted after that from masochism to something “easier,” so we managed to push another ten miles to a spring.

However, rolling into the spring, we noticed that it was actually a mud puddle. The spring was also in a saddle which we thought would give some flat camping, but the entire area had burned leaving a mass of dead standing trees. The wind howled through them and we watched them sway dangerously. On Ley’s map, it shows that water can be found on either side of the saddle further down. Having no energy to climb another 1000 feet, we bushwhacked down about a quarter mile on the not as windy side of the saddle, found a stream, and cleared a bit of area to camp. A few of the dead logs took more than one of us to move. This area at least had less snags and less wind. We collapsed into our tents and passed out quickly.

Looking around in the morning made us laugh. Once again, no one but a thru hiker would call this home for the night.

The climb out of our less windy area was entertaining as our still tired bodies did not feel like climbing over extra blowdowns. A few miles up the trail, we took a break at Surprise Lake and wondered about whoever found the lake and was surprised by it.

As we exited the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, the terrain became a little more forgiving in terms of steepness. We would have a waterless gap toward the end of the section, however.

We came upon a nobo named Wall who told us some interesting things. One of which was how he had gotten rid of his sleeping bag for awhile, then realized that was a bad idea and had just gotten it back in Darby.

We got to Schultz creek and filled up with enough water to drink for the rest of the evening, dry camp with, and get us to Chief Joesph Pass.

Still having miles to do, we kept on walking. The miles didn’t look hard until we got to some blowdowns. Then more blowdowns. Then, the blowdowns got so thick that I couldn’t see the trail, even after climbing six vertical feet to stand on the highest one. A dirt road somewhat paralleled the trail for a few miles and the two crisscrossed. I had just crossed it about a tenth of a mile back. The blowdowns were so thick, I actually turned around and went back to follow the dirt road for a mile around the massive pile of blowdowns. Right before the road, I forced Scallywag to turn around and take the dirt road.

We intersected back with the trail a mile later and jumped back on. We saw we could jump on a mile and a half later too, but this section of trail didn’t look as bad…and it wasn’t. There were minor blowdowns, but ones easy to step over and not enough to be annoying.

Then we heard voices later and saw that the next road crossing didn’t actually cross… It just came close. E.D. and The Darkness were looking at the map and GPS.  The four of us continued onward.

Blowdowns… the trail’s there somewhere…

We came to another section rife with blowdowns. Most of these, we could just throw one leg over at a time and it wasn’t super taxing. A few, we had to go under which is definitely easier as a short person. I was grateful for my flexibility in this area.

Camping about ten miles from the pass, we stopped because we found live trees and dirt to camp on. Amazing…a campsite that non thru hikers might even deem a campsite!

The next day, we had an easy ten miles to Chief Joesph Pass where we could hitch to Darby on Loggers Day.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Mt. Hood and extending ridges.

I thought Mt. Hood was pretty neat from the south side, but from the Timberline Trail and the north side, I found myself stopping and just staring at the mountain in utter awe.  The gigantic ridges that sprang from the bases of glaciers shot out all around it, making Mt. Hood oddly resemble a spider with a central part of mosquito-eating awesomeness with huge legs extending outward.  To get to the Timberline Trail, we had climbed up on of those leg-like ridges to the Lodge.

Built in the 1930s as a CCC project, the architecture was something so admirable, even someone who knew very little on the subject had to stop and say “wow.”  Huge full, old growth trees made wide pillars supporting the structure surrounded by incredibly intricate carvings on banisters, railings, the ceiling and everywhere.  This is where we hung out while the wind ravaged the trees and the rain obscured our view of the beauty surrounding us.  The weather did clear somewhat in the late afternoon, but the wind refused to die which made the air temperature very uncomfortable.  When we heard about a bunk room deal, a “chalet” that the employee’s all seemed to call formally, we took it and it averaged out to be $15/person with five people sleeping in it.

So, we drank more beer, ate more buffets, hot tubbed, and relaxed at the end of our ten mile day.  We hikers took over the hot tub after dinner and only three other people stayed in, probably because they thought we were all crazy and they found us amusing.  At least the feeling was mutual because two of them, a father-son duo, told us all they had plans to climb Mt. Hood in the morning and found it weird that the company had second thoughts about renting them gear.  We had reservations as well, which we voiced very vocally and making sure they had enough sense to figure out when they were completely over their heads and needed to turn around.  We also tried to hammer into their heads that there was no shame in turning around.  Neither of them had ever done any mountaineering or even handled an ice axe.  They kept asking us where the route went up the mountain since they had not though to pick up a map or even do internet research of the various summit routes.  They worried me.

In the morning, we had a lazy start eating buffet breakfast, sleeping in, packing and repacking.  It helped that we had to vacate the

Into the Tunnel

room by 11am so once again we had to return to vagrant status of bumming space in the open lounge near the bar.  Hop-a-long, Dead Animal and I examined the maps and decided that despite leaving around noon-30, we still had time to slackpack 18 miles and meet Dead at the next road crossing where we hoped to find a small spot to camp for the night.

We set off into a beautiful arena of blue skies and sharp mountain lines and excellent photographic moments.  It seemed as though we never had enough time to take a picture of Mt. Hood from each angle possible.  We realized quickly that we would have to keep moving to make it to Dead’s car and the rest of our stuff at a decent hour.  The terrain did not seem too terribly difficult on the elevation profile but in reality, going down off of one ridge, crossing a large stream, then going up the next ridge and repeating that over and over got tiring.  Some of the ups and downs were 1000+ feet each drop and climb.  The glacial melt water that came down off of Mt. Hood also presented interesting challenges.  Quite a few of them stopped us for a few moments to assess the best way across without a.) getting wet, b.) getting swept down stream over large rocks, and c.) getting to a spot on the other side where we could move toward the trail since some possible ways across would end in a small 10 ft vertical cliff that we couldn’t shimmy up.  The Zigzag river was the worst of those instances.

After several exhausting climbs, we went down, down, down, and took a short alternate that went to Ramona Falls.  It was a 2.1 mile swap for 2.1 miles of PCT with roughly the same elevation gain and loss, so we deemed it a worthwhile adventure.  It most certainly was magical in essence.  The falls themselves covered an entire wall that loomed above us and the water thinly cascaded down, almost vertically making a sheen that glimmered in the light that poked through the trees.  The area was visually water-rich and was completely green save for the water itself.  Moss grew everywhere and in so many varieties that both Hop-a-long and I stopped several times to examine certain strains we hadn’t seen before.  The moisture held in the air and we breathed in the freshness that emanated from the moss.

Getting back to the trail, we had another adventure.  We had to cross the muddy river that stretched wide and full of glacial melt water.  Supposedly, we would hit a horse ford first and had the option of going upstream a quarter-mile to where a bridge might or might not still exist.  We trekked up a bit, but saw no signs of anything promising except for two very large trees spanning the width of the river.  Relatively easily crossing them like balance beams, we got almost to the other side, but we found no fantastic way around the large root system that came up with the larger of the two trees except to scale some of them and pass between two large roots.

Once we escaped the roots, we had a sharp 1000 foot climb and then down to Lolo Pass where Dead waited patiently for us.  The climb had switchbacks, but after climbing over all the ridges, it seemed more difficult than it actually was.  Apparently, people tend to cut the switchbacks there because we saw giant signs saying “PLEASE DO NOT CUT SWITCHBACKS” at their beginning and end.

We found Dead Animal and Tahoe drinking beer at Lolo Pass and Hop-a-long and I immediately jumped on dinner preparations since the climbs had sucked all our energy and fat stores right out.  Drinking some good old PBRs and double stuff Oreos held the hunger off while we sautéed up some onions and peppers with soy chorizo and crammed all in tortillas.  Then ate two a piece.

Tunnel Falls

Looking at the maps, we saw we could do a 30 mile day into Cascade Locks, the last town on the Oregon/Washington border if we took the Eagle Creek Alternate (which we fully intended to do anyway).  We set our alarms for an early 5:00am and set off by 6am.  We grumbled because it was cold and dark, but we moved to stay warm and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

The first 14 miles blew by, pun intended.  We reached a high point where supposedly, we should have gotten a fantastic view of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. St. Helens, but the wind whipped up something fierce there and it was all either Hop-a-long or I could do to walk straight and half-run, half-get-blown down the trail to the trees where we could breathe and walk straight.  So much for that view!

Luckily, that meant we had just about reached the Indian Springs “Campground” where the alternate began.  We finally took a decent sized break…more than five minutes and searched for the trail.  The abandoned campground was blatantly obvious, but the side trail was not obvious in the slightest.  We re-read and re-read Yogi’s characteristic two paragraphs of directions and eventually we stumbled up the stream she mentions and blocked by a considerable amount of foliage was the sign we were looking for.

We crashed down the “trail” which really was a hiker-user trail that was not maintained to link the PCT with the Eagle Creek Trail.  I had to slow down considerably due to the steepness and not wanting my knees to give out on me.  Hop-a-long bombed down and waited for me at the first waterfall.  I was not about to have sore knees at the beginning of a 4,000 foot decent to the Columbia River.  The connector trail took out 2000 feet of it in just under two miles, then the Eagle Creek Trail (heavily used and very popular due to close proximity to Portland) took us down another 2,000 feet over several miles past a large array of waterfalls.

The entire trail was constructed with dynamite and had lines to hold onto since it ran the side of a gorge and the side dropped anywhere from 30-70 feet.  Tunnel Falls was the most neat; it had a hole dynamited out and we walked through it, behind the waterfall.

The best part: Dead Animal came hiking up with two pizzas (right side up in one hand) for Hop-a-long and I.  We were so hungry, we sat and ate it right there.  The three of us then meandered down to his car and then over to Shrek’s where we met some usual characters and some unexpected ones.

Read Full Post »

After two and a half days of shenanigans in Mammoth, we finally made it back up the free trolley to the free bus to the pay bus to Reds Meadow where we chilled with Snow Turtle and Aggassi.  Eventually, we left around 5pm and went about five miles up the trail.  It was buggy, but graded decently and the trail crews had cleared an amazing amount of downed trees.  There were also a ba-zillion side trails going every which way to and from shuttle stops.

We had a nice little campsite tucked into some trees, but so many mosquitos!  The bloodsuckers got me good a few times.

In the morning, we got to walking after a large coat of deet.  The trail climbed slowly pretty much all day unless it went up steeper.  Only a few times the trail went down that day.

For 14 beautiful miles we got our trail back; the PCT went high on a ridge and the JMT went down in the valley by a bunch of lakes.  It was pleasant not to have a herd of them hiking south, at us, for a change.

We had a scenic overlook lunch where someone had left a pair of boots unceremoniously.  Inspector Gadget had yogi’ed a fresh tomato from some Russian day walkers despite not liking tomatoes, so he gave it to Hop-a-long and me.

At 1000 Islands Lake, the JMT met back up and immediately we saw a swarm of JMTers, one of which was shooting medium format actual film who decided Dead Animal and I were good film subjects.

We had to climb over Island “Pass” which really was just a small ridge and wasn’t “passy” at all.  After a short descent we had to climb up Donohue Pass, which wasn’t too difficult, but being at miles 17-19 of a 20 mile day, I was tired and pissed at all the damn JMTers, most of whom didn’t know the person going uphill has the right-of-way.  I gave several of them dirty looks when I had to stop for them or I almost ran straight into them.

Dead Animal and I got to the top of Donohue pass around 6:30pm and had it all to ourselves.  We didn’t stay long, just did ESPN, ate a bar, and hiked down a mile to a lake with a large outlet stream.  Hop-a-long and Inspector ended up camping two miles before the pass.

We got up and hiked down to Tuolomne Meadows.  It was 3 miles down and 8 miles through a meadow.  The closer we got, the more people we saw. It was a wave of people hiking south.  I asked four hikers with large packs and water testing poles if they were signaling the mothership and they said “something like that I reckon!”

The Tuolomne Meadows store/post office/grill was all in the same temporary structure with some wonderful picnic tables outside in the shade.  As I walked up, I was surprised to see Neon, Onna Move, Trip, and even Drop Zone.  I grabbed some vegan chili from the grill and caught up with a bunch of them over some beer.  I slapped a Yosemite sticker on my bear canister that I packed for the last time. Natty, Swanson, and Magellan walked in and joined us.

We stayed there for quite some time, just hanging out on the picnic tables when Cactus, Extra Credit, Dubs, Wiz, Cheesecake (now maybe Mancake……..), Snowflake, Gator, Ornie, Ornie’s girlfriend who’s now hiking and Waffles jumped off the bus that came up from Yosemite Valley. When we realized what a crew we had, we went over to the campground with campfire food and took over a large chunk of the backpacker section. Leave it to the thru-hikers to be the other backpackers up past 8:30pm drinking and cooking on a campfire.

Read Full Post »