Friday, August 14, 2015

The Wallowa Mountain Backcountry with Dog

Wisdom enjoying a rest and the view from Polaris Pass 

Ready to cross more mountains

Did you spot the trail?  
Wildfires in the valley caused the strange sky below Wednesday afternoon around 4 pm. We were camped at 7700 ft and out of harm's way, but the wind blew smoke and a hot breeze in our direction. I woke the next morning to ash on my tent. 

Frazier Lake, forever a special place because of Dr. Bob Hall (see previous post).

An Incredible Story from the Wallowa Mountains

Well, I wasn't sure how to chalk this one up. At first I thought Wallowas 1, Wisdom and I zero, but after making it back to the car in more or less one piece and with an incredible story, I'm going Wallowas 1, Wisdom and I point eight because really, only a few dogs could pull this one off...

Last Sunday, Wisdom and I pulled into Joseph, Oregon to these amazingly high and beautiful peaks exploding upward from the earth. Immediately, I was like, "Holy shit, Wisdom, those are some big fucking mountains." Not being much of a swearer that gives you an idea of the size of the peaks surrounding us. And we were about to head into them. For five days. With a backpack. Covering 50 plus miles. Suddenly all those walks I took at sea level on Long Island in June and July seemed a little, well, lame. Wisdom hadn't fared much better in the training department either with walks consisting of the park and to the end of the block in Portland. We'd be huffing and puffing, of that I was sure. 

The plan was to camp each night at an alpine lake where we could swim and wash off all the dusty and tiring trail miles. I knew Wisdom would love that. Day one brought us six miles up a mountain to Aneroid Lake, a beautiful blue sheet of water surrounded by glacial peaks and pine trees of varying heights. The Wallowa Mountains are breathtaking. I mean, drop dead gorgeous. I had no idea. Wisdom couldn't stop swimming and I couldn't stop staring at the scenery. It was the perfect stop. 

The next morning, day two, we woke early. I knew we had an almost 12 mile hike ahead of us on an exposed trail that went over not one, but two mountain passes. I wanted to beat the heat and any afternoon thunderstorms that might be rolling through. We broke camp and hit the trail by 815. It was a beautiful trail, easily the prettiest, most scenic one I've ever done. It was also the hardest. Up, up, up we climbed to where the air is thin and the breathing thinner. Wisdom hiked like a champ and we both made it to Polaris Pass (9395 ft elevation) in good shape. Coming down the pass on the other side was no walk in the park or walk on Long Island either. The switchbacks were long and endless. A million rocks with a million jagged edges played with our feet from the trail bed. Was there shade along the way? Laughable. But the majestic, harsh, and endless wild scenery made me feel like the luckiest person to be out there grinding out those switchbacks in search of lower ground. 

Wisdom's paws were a concern and I checked them regularly, but her little feet proved tougher than those mountains because soon enough she rolled into camp hardly worse for wear and eager for a swim and a nap. I was sure she'd be out for the count, rising only for dinner, before retreating to the sleep position. I should've known that nap would re-energize her. Soon enough she was ready for another swim and also decided she'd had enough of the squirrels raiding our camp and chased one over a pile of rocks and up a tree. After a bit, she returned to camp. Limping. The pad on her front right pad was torn. We were 9 miles of hard trail from the car in one direction and 18 miles of unknown, but possibly easier trail from the car in the other direction. Not sure what to do about that, I cleaned her pad as best I could, applied some antibiotic cream, wrapped her foot, and stuck it in a bootie. I also gave her a pain med. Within minutes, she asked to go in the tent, curled up on her bed, and started snoring loudly. As I lay there wondering about our predicament and what to do, I was happy at least someone was getting a good night's sleep. On a positive note, because I stayed up so late worrying, I did see a bunch of shooting stars fall across the lake. 

The next morning, day three, I woke up and cleaned her pad and did the whole thing over again. Her paw didn't look any worse, but it became clear to me that we needed to get back to the car sooner than later. I was worried about infection. Plus, we only had until Friday before Kimi would start to worry and possibly take action. We had to do the 9 miles of hard trail and camp along the way if necessary with our two goals being to get to the car as quickly and safely as possible and to get there by Friday night at the latest. 

Ok, I know what you're thinking- where's the incredible? This story is ok, maybe even mildly entertaining, but incredible? No. It's not even close to incredible. 

Give me just a few more paragraphs...

With the decision made to hike out, I went to talk to these three older guys camping near me before breaking camp. I understood from talking to them the day before that they were very familiar with the Wallowas and had just hiked in on the trail Wiz and I were about to hike out on. I wanted some trail dirt- a little intel about what lay ahead. I explained to them about Wisdom and my decision process and told them I felt really bad that she had to hike out on a torn pad. 

"How bad is the tear?," one of the men asked. 

"That's the thing," I answered. "I really don't know, but I don't think it's good." I told him the things I'd done for it and how I was hoping it was enough to get us back to the car and ideally, Portland. 

"Well, let me take a look at it," he said standing up from his chair.

What? Why would he say that? 

Barely daring to believe, I asked, "Are you a veterinarian?"

"He is," said one of his friends. 

"Retired," said the man, "but yes." 

I stood in astonishment. We'd seen maybe eight people in two days and here's Wisdom, with her torn pad and nine miles out from the car in the Wallowa Mountain backcountry, camped next to a veterinarian. And he was going to take a look at it. 

Now that's incredible, right?

Not only did he examine her paw, confirm it was a pretty good cut, flush it out, reapply the Neosporin, and redo her wrap, but he also gave me a handful of antibiotics and offered to watch her at camp while I salvaged some of my trip by hiking up to Glacier Lake and onto Glacier Pass for the views. "I really wasn't planning to do much today anyway," he said, "except hang around camp. If you want to stay another night, she can have a down day with me, you can see a little more of the Wallowas, and I'll help you wrap her foot again tomorrow before you head out. She'll be sore, but she'll be fine."

So, that's what we did. I climbed up to gorgeous Glacial Lake, took a swim, and then continued up the pass while Wisdom hung back with the vet. 

When I got back to camp later in the day, Wisdom looked as good as new, but I feared the next day would be tough on her. 

The next day, we woke early and broke camp. If Wisdom was to hike nine miles on a torn pad, I wanted it to be during the coolest part of the day. Before leaving, the vet wrapped Wisdom's paw complete with a cushioned pad to help comfort the blow. We doubled up on her antibiotics and also gave her another pain med. Then he and his friends fed us breakfast- blueberry pancakes and sausage. Still in a state of amazement, I stuffed all of my dog's gear in my pack and off we went. Wasn't Wisdom, unencumbered and high on pain meds and sausage, the happiest little dog kicking down the trail? I swear she would have done another 20 miles if I asked her to, but instead, I took her to the nearest drive thru and got her a bacon double cheeseburger. 

Home now, I'm still trying to wrap my head around how this trip worked out. This trip, born from a lucky star. Maybe because the Perseid meteor shower was in town? I don't know. And I don't think I ever will. 


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Who Says Camping Is A Summer Sport?

From below the bottom bunk in the guest room, tucked behind a large plastic bin filled with kayak paddles and ultralight cookware, came a beckoning. Cautiously, like the sound of hope when it's first forming, something called to me. That something was my tent. 

Immediately, I thought: Great. I haven't camped in awhile.

Then I thought: That's because it's January. 

Pshaw. One can't let things like extreme temperatures and the possibility of hypothermia stop one from having fun. Besides, I'd been wanting to do a backpacking trip in the snow for awhile, so the timing of my tent's beckoning was perfect. First though, I had to find out if there was any snow. While much of the country, especially the Northeast, had been breaking records with their amount of snowfall, Oregon, and specifically Mt. Hood, was experiencing a snow drought. For example, we hadn't had any significant snow since right before Christmas. Clearly, I needed to assemble a reconnoissance team for snow level information, and as luck would have it, two friends were coming into town the following week. Friends, who for whatever reasons, tended to say yes to my ideas and often believed I knew what I was doing. Well, one friend anyway; Meg rather quickly vetoed snow camping and opted to stay home with the hot tub instead. However, she did agree to hike out with us the day before our trip to gauge the snow. Camping in the winter requires a lot of gear and I intended to supplement our backpacks with a sled full of it. However, first I needed to be sure the white stuff was on the ground for pulling a sled with no snow didn't sound very appealing. 

In addition to checking out the snow conditions, I also wanted to cache firewood. Knowing nightfall and the cold would come early, I understood we would need a fire unless we planned to be in our sleeping bags at 5:30 when evening and the temperatures plummeted making for a very long night in the tent. True we would be in the forest with wood all around, but it was also true that winter, delicate as it was this year, had come to Mt. Hood and said wood would likely be covered with snow. I had no experience starting a fire in the snow with wood that had spent the previous three months soaking up precipitation. No, we needed dry wood while out there in the backcountry, alone under the stars and convening with nature, so we stopped at the grocery store and got some.

Diana, Meg, and I at the trailhead
The next day with backpacks stuffed with timber, we started out on the Pacific Crest Trail- the very trail Cheryl Strayed herself walked years before in search of herself and the meaning of life. A heavy undertaking to be sure, but every time we slipped on a patch of ice or once again adjusted our many layers of clothing, the fact that Strayed did her hike in the summer when the trekking was easy wasn't lost on us. I'm sure some of you are thinking, yeah, but Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles; you guys only hiked eight. Please. We hiked in fake UGGs and snow pants. We pulled a sled and carried packs. We made yellow snow. Cheryl Strayed was in shorts and a t-shirt. Someone helped lighten her pack along the way. Furthermore, she skipped the snow. So, don't let the mileage fool you.

Meg, gamely carrying firewood for us.
Once we reached our destination, we considered whether or not to cache our wood for the night. Upper Twin Lake looked like it'd been deserted for days, but still, we felt it prudent to hide our only heat source just in case someone else planned to hike to 5,000 feet in elevation on a Wednesday night in January to camp for the night. Certainly, we didn't need anyone to spot our wood and conclude that the forest service had begun a new program in which they left bundles of dry firewood around Mt. Hood specifically for the convenience of winter campers, and therefore, burned it. So, we hid our grocery store wood under a mess of downed brush and hoped we'd see it the following day. Snow camping rule #1743: Don't take any chances with your firewood. 

Wisdom agreed.

By the time we finished making our wood the most stealth wood on the mountain, the sun was starting to set over Twin Lake. The reconnaissance trip a success, we snapped a quick picture and took off for the car. We still had to go home and go through gear for the actual Snow Camping Trip the following day. Now that we knew there was snow we felt more comfortable calling it that. 

Going through gear is one of my favorite things to do. When aiming to keep a pack between 22-25 pounds, it's a fun challenge to choose what's coming into the backcountry and what's staying at home from the comfort of the couch. I love examining each piece of equipment, considering its purpose, and determining if it makes the cut. If you don't already have a hobby that requires going through gear, get one. There's something extremely satisfying in the tangibility of choosing exactly what you think you'll need to accomplish your goal. I bet it's less than you think. Plus, you get to buy stuff. A lot of stuff.  

With gear sorted and packs packed, we left the comforts of home and hot tub the next day. Diana looked blissfully happy, Wisdom looked ready for adventure, and I don't know what I looked like. Maybe someone who could've used more sleep? At any rate, we were off.

At the trailhead, we loaded the sled and donned our packs. The sled was necessary because winter camping required an entirely different set up. The tent was sturdier; therefore, bulkier. The sleeping bags were rated to 10 degrees and bulkier too. Our sleeping pads had a high R-value; therefore- you guessed it- bulky. Our clothes were bulky too. Everything required space and lots of it, including our alcohol stash. After all, who knew if the wood we hauled up the day before would still be there, and we needed something to ensure our warmth.

An advantage to snow camping: no bugs. Another advantage: snow camping provides solitude and inspires a sense of accomplishment; it encourages one to trust in their own survival skills. Their own survival skills and the lucky star they were born under, that is.

Despite a couple of sled mishaps and downed trees, we soon had our lunch eaten and the tent pitched. Life was good in the snow. 

We spent the afternoon sipping whiskey, walking in the woods, and trying to get award winning photographs with our phones. What do you think? Did we get one?

As night fell, we were happy to find our wood where we left it. After an incredible amount of persistence, determination, and downright will, we got a fire. I tell you- it's no easy task building a fire on ice covered rocks in what was essentially a dug out snow bank in below freezing temperatures, but we did it. And it was delightful. 

As was our crab chowder cooking in the kitchen.

That night in the tent, we both felt the cold, but it wasn't too bad and didn't last too long. The key to being a happy snow camper, we decided, is having the right clothing. As they say, "There's no bad weather, only bad gear." 

We woke up the next morning feeling proud that we tried something new, something that few people do. Snow camping had been on a back burner of mine for awhile, but I could never quite pull it together. This trip reminded me of something I hadn't thought about in awhile: life is long and our best dreams sometimes take what feels an eternity to happen, but when their moment arrives, you know. You hear that tiny voice with its fledgling hope calling to you, softly at first as it takes hold and gains steam, eventually, consuming your being in the best possible way. And if you're lucky enough to have a friend who says, yeah, I'll come chase down your dream with you, know it will only be all the sweeter. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Snowmobiling and 3 Haikus

A landscape blended-
Rainbow clouds and snowmen trees,
Strangers become friends 

Black river golden,
Ducks upside down search below
for food and drowned dreams. 

Draped in winter's cloak,
the faithful but forgotten
dream of spring again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Old dogs, great friends!

November is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month, which the ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations established to bring attention to older pets that are often overlooked in shelters. If you're considering a new pet, please consider an older pet. My partner and I adopted a 7-8 year old girl last year who was overlooked for six months in shelter while those around her got homes. She has become one of the greatest loves of our life, and is the sweetest dog you could ever meet. She also makes us laugh. Every single day. If you're still asking why YOU should adopt a senior dog, check out these 10 reasons:

Emmy, running errands

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

the Redwoods in October

My cousin and I walked with giants. For four days, we would walk with them, some of the tallest living things on earth- the Coastal Redwoods of Northern California. 

We registered with the rangers and received our backcountry permits as a heavy rain blew in from the Pacific. Fortunately, we found a sheltered picnic area to organize our gear. Blowing rain and minimal visibility must not make for desired picnicking in Northern California for the place was empty. Lucky for us, too, because evidently, we had no shortage of gear to organize. Again, and I guess this question is always there when backpacking, how would all this gear, a picnic table's worth of stuff, fit into a 50 liter pack? But it did, and just before 4 pm, we walked into Redwood National Forest.

Before long, we came to our first stream crossing- Redwood Creek. 

Jenny walked upstream in search of a more shallow crossing, but alas, our calves were not to remain dry. 

As we hiked, the rain came down, and so did the sun. We meant to camp on the gravel bar of Redwood Creek, but after almost five miles of drizzle and an encroaching darkness, we decided to take cover under two good-sized Redwoods on the trail. They provided enough of an umbrella for a fairly dry dinner of wine, crab chowder, and a chocolate bar before we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night and hoped the tents withstood the rain.

They did. And so did we! Note my super cool, homemade, Oregon pot cozy (as if you could miss it). We ate warm and well all trip because of this.

At one point during the night, I quit believing it would ever stop raining, but by the time we finished breakfast the next morning, moved our tents to the gravel bar, and rehung the bear bags, the sopping trees were glistening with sunshine. I do believe my cousin and I glistened too. Although our spirits weren't dampened by the rain- there's no bad weather, only bad gear- they were warmed by the sun, and drying out with the things of the forest made us feel like things of the forest ourselves. Certainly, we were beginning to look like like forest things. Less than 24 hours in the woods, and already the dirt was thick.

Dirt and all, we hiked the remainder of Redwood Creek Trail that day to Tall Trees Grove, where the world's one-time tallest tree, The Libbey Tree, lives. Other, taller Redwoods have since been discovered, but their location is kept secret to avoid a parade of tourists (including backpackers!) from stampeding the fragile ecosystem in which they live. Things have not gone well for the park's most popular trees. When the ground around these giants is continually trampled upon it becomes compacted, and it's no longer able to hold enough water to sustain such a large tree. A price must be paid for this lack of water, and it's the tree that pays. The Libbey Tree is a prime example. At more than 367 feet tall, she was crowned the world's tallest tree in 1963 and was cause for celebration. Roads were built, paths were cut, and the ground was flattened. Thirty years later, her crown was gone. More importantly, so were her top 10 feet. First they withered, then they died. Her root system was no longer able to get the water it needed from the soil around her. Thankfully, the National Park Service seemed to not only learn, but heed this lesson, and these days the world's tallest trees remain mostly anonymous. In terms of Tall Trees Grove, currently only a certain number of cars are allowed access each day. Furthermore, the 45 minute drive that includes six miles along a bumpy, and often, muddy logging road only gets you to the trailhead. A 1.3 mile walk with decent elevation to the grove also awaits. Or, you can skip all that and hike eight miles along Redwood Creek like we did. Needless to say, with the average American walking less than a mile and a half a week (Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods), we didn't have to share Tall Trees Grove with very many folk. 

In his book Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck wrote, "The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable." 

I agree with Steinbeck, and knew when we were out there that my photos weren't coming anywhere close to capturing what I was seeing, experiencing, or feeling (words wouldn't either), but I'm going to post my pictures anyway. Although not great, I like them. My cousin's photos are pretty great though.

( Jenny)

Jenny and I quickly realized the importance of having some other object in the photo to help show the enormity of these trees. We were also surprised to learn we often needed a flash, a really high ISO, or a slow shutter speed (something I didn't have control of on my point and shoot) to combat the low light even on a sunny afternoon. Big trees = big shade.

One of these trees is the Libbey Tree, but I'm not telling which one. Just kidding- it's the one on the left. 

A few more from where we had lunch.

A pretty nice spot to spend the afternoon.

Back on the gravel bar that night, we talked about how our setting reminded us both very much of Alaska in terms of look and feel. And the more we looked, the more we felt. The more we felt, the more we talked. Soon we were discussing the likelihood of a bear joining our tiny expedition. Never a good thing when camped on a river miles from the car, with no one else around. Spotting a big cat print right next to my tent earlier in the day likely didn't help things. However, the two of us kept our heads from wandering too far, and ultimately, had a great night's sleep. We were both woken sometime in the night to the magical sound of an elk bugling, and Jenny also heard an owl. I listened to a sad, soulful-sounding animal, a bird, I assume, calling out repeatedly to the night. Nothing ever answered its call, and eventually, it moved on or stopped. I'll never know.

The next day, we hiked out to the car for the second leg of the trip. But first, we had to climb a tree. Sometime, probably during the rainstorm Friday night, a Redwood fell across the out and back trail blocking our path. Here's a picture of me standing on its double trunk as I attempted to scramble over it. 

Five hiking miles later, plus a four mile drive (just long enough for the body to stiffen), we commenced our walk to the beach- seven miles through old growth Redwoods and Fern Canyon to camp at the foot of the Pacific Ocean. 

We started strong, excited to reach the beach. A couple of miles later, a hummus lunch under the big trees provided even more fuel. But by mile 5, I was beat. I needed a lift, and boy, if Fern Canyon didn't provide one. A sweet little canyon with ferns growing from its vertical walls, my cousin and I entered with glee. The creek, with its fallen trees, boulders, and many water crossings, was fun to navigate. I half expected an Indiana Jones movie to be filming, and wished briefly for a crumpled fedora and shoulder bag instead of my grungy backpack and bandana. 

Fern Canyon

We paused for a nip of Goldschlager, and a toast to the canyon and waves crashing in the distance.

Perhaps hard to believe from the picture below, but I only had one nip. Ok, maybe two. 
Sometimes we are reminded that we truly are our parents' children.  (picture by Jenny)

A mile later, we were at the beach. Well, kind of. We were at the parking lot for the beach. The actual beach still lay a good half mile of dune grass in front of us. The campground, on the other hand, was a mile and a half down the dirt road on which we stood. A decision was required. We could take the road and shave off a half mile, or we could walk the extra bit of distance out to the beach, avoid the road, and hike the last two miles of a 12 mile day in the sand with 30 pounds on our backs. My cousin wanted the road; I intended to finish on the beach. Walking roadside was not in my plans. I looked out at the dunes once more. "Forget it," I said, and we walked that last mile and a half down the road with zero regrets. You want a secret to life? Know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em. 

Plus, Gold Bluffs was waiting. 

And with a much more manageable walk to the beach too.

Not that we were up for much walking.

Recovery was quick though, and soon we had set up camp. We felt luxurious with bear boxes, toilets, and potable water less than a quarter mile away.

Just before sunset, I walked out to the beach to thank the trees, the mule deer I saw laying in the sun after the rain, Fern Canyon, this most amazing spot on the ocean beach, the sun, the rain, the warm breeze coming off the Pacific. In short, everything. Nothing new and nothing big. Just a little prayer for the natural world, I suppose.

I would have ended this post with that, but the next day on our hike back to the cars, a bird flew overhead. Distance and the need for a high ISO made for a poor picture, but here is my best shot of a barred owl, our trail magic for the day, on our last morning in the Redwoods. We watched until it took off, and then we took off too. Not that we wanted to.