Robohiker hits the road: A slice of Central Oregon

July 25, 2010.

Freedom.

I got in my car on a hot, beautiful Sunday afternoon and drove down I-5, music blaring, headed for the woods of Central Oregon. This part of the state is one of my favorite places; it is sculpted so clearly by volcanic activity, presents a constant stream of showstopping views and has many wild places to explore. I have done a fair amount of hiking here and I feel there is much more to uncover in the years to come. With a limited range, my choices were whittled down to a few. But, dealing with a broken foot has brought new priorities to light and with that new trails to explore.

My first stop was the Hackleman Old Growth Trail on rt. 20 west of Santiam Pass. For my first “hike” on my own after breaking my foot, this was a real treat. The area is braided with trails so I tried to follow the intended loop as much as possible by staying left at most junctions. According to Sullivan’s guide, there is an interpretive brochure to accompany the loop but this is no longer. Old, numbered posts still exist in several places that must have indicated points of interest in the brochure. I wished that I would have had that to enhance my slow-moving experience.

I saw some familiar flowers and ferns, including some Indian Paintbrush. It reminded me of being in a subalpine meadow on some northwest peak; I didn’t realize they grew at lower elevations, in the forest no less. In my 40 minute walk I only encountered a few people, although road noise was always there.

The iWalkFree crutch seemed to work out okay for me. I wrapped my knee in an ACE bandage to keep it from getting excessively sweaty and sticky on the foam pad. I also used hiking poles for extra balance and weight distribution. I was really slow moving, but at least I could walk. And how many people with a shattered bone in their foot can say that?

From there I turned south on 126 and east on scenic route 242. This road absolutely blew me away. I never got stuck behind anyone (there weren’t too many folks driving this way) and the scenery was stunning. The road was just wide enough for one lane of travel in each direction. The forest threw up a dense wall on either side of the pavement. The road twisted and turned dramatically as it wove a path through this wild and unforgiving environment.

I stopped again at the trailhead for Proxy Falls. This one mile loop travels across lava rock and through fairly open forest to two viewpoints: upper and lower Proxy Falls. Two short spur paths from the main loop reach the best views. I made the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. This was a very challenging hike for me. First, it was incredibly hot. The ground was uneven, and it was difficult to negotiate the rocky lava flow sections. I had to make some interesting moves to get my crutch up and over the rock. Fortunately, I quickly learned that the traction on the iWalkFree was better than the traction on my running shoe, so I was able to trust the stability of the crutch 99% of the time. The rounded “foot” pad allowed for amazingly good purchase in areas with awkward foot placements and lots of jagged edges.

Several people asked me about my crutch and my injury along the way. All were nice, and friendly. The first guy I saw asked me “do you know how long this trail is?!” incredulously. I said yes, and I’d be fine. He seemed surprised that I would be out there. And this concern from a guy with a little green bird sitting on his shoulder. Yeah, I’m the weird one, dude.

I got to the junction with the first waterfall view and an older couple stopped me, saying that the view didn’t get any better but the trail got much steeper and looser. They recommended I stop at the viewpoint in front of me, which I did. That was good advice.

I continued back to the main loop, and decided to follow the other spur all the way to its end. I appreciated that decision because, to get there, I passed through a random, cold air mass that felt really good on my hot skin. At the terminus, the upper falls pours into a wide, shallow pool. I dipped my hands into the cool water and doused my head and neck a bit before moving on.

On the way back to the car I stopped to watch a slew of ants as they went about their business building a home in a fallen log. A huge pile of sawdust lay beneath a hole in the log. One by one, an ant would dutifully emerge from the hole with a particle of wood in its mandible. It dropped the wood outside the hole, where it rested atop the growing pile. The ant retreated and another soon emerged. Ants loitering about the pile would take pieces of wood from its apex and relocate them to the perimeter of the sawdust mound. It was absolutely fascinating. I certainly would have missed this engaging drama had I been walking at normal speed.

Exhausted and thrilled with my accomplishments today, I arrived at the car excited to seek out some free camping. I’d done my research ahead of time, so I continued driving along 242 to the second PCT crossing at the edge of the lava field to Lava Camp Lake (not to be confused with Lava Lake Campground). I stopped a few times along the way to take some photos and gawk at the immense piles of lava. Several spots were available at the camp, although all of the ones right on the lake were occupied. This was just fine for me since I soon learned that the mosquitoes had the last laugh here, and I am sure they were most concentrated at lake’s edge.

I spent a warm, peaceful evening with a bug-deterring fire, listening to the echoing ribbits of frogs and watching the sun set. It was a blissful way to begin my adventure.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa. Stay tuned for more stories on this blog.

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