Category Archives: General

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The Epitome of Cold

December 19, 2012.

Day 4: Oregon Badlands

Oregon Badlands

This trip had been an exercise in bending time and space. With no regular access to a clock, we paid little attention to time and hardly cared to power up a cell phone to check. The days were so short, we could roughly estimate the time based on where the sun was in the sky: morning, lunchtime-ish, or uh-oh it’s getting darker.

So we got up sometime in the morning with the intention of starting a fire and having a nice breakfast. I’d planned out every meal for this trip and today’s lineup included bacon, eggs and fruit. Much to my surprise, I awoke to find a thin layer of water at the bottom of the cooler and all of my food frozen solid. While Aaron nurtured a roaring fire, I fought with prying frozen eggs out of their shells. Yes, frozen eggs. In all my experience winter camping this was a first for me. I mixed some partially frozen almond milk into the egg slurry to try and bring it back to an egg-like consistency. Meanwhile, I was also preparing to fry up some bacon. I got a cast iron pan hot on the propane stove, then tossed in the bacon. Surprise #2: the bacon almost immediately burned and left little fat behind in the pan. It was as if the frozen fat just vaporized, leaving blackened chunks of burnt meat behind in the pan. Rats.

Frozen Eggs

To salvage the bacon I quickly put all the “cooked” strips into a foil pouch and tossed it near the fire to keep it warm while I fixed the rest of breakfast.

I kept all the grease in the pan, then poured in the frozen egg mixture. The eggs cooked nicely and absorbed all of that tasty bacon fat. Yum. At the same time I worked on peeling oranges with a sharp knife, then cutting the— you guessed it— frozen oranges into bite-sized segments.

Once the eggs were cooked, I unwrapped my bacon pouch and, voila, perfectly cooked bacon! I was floored. Bacon, eggs, orange-cicles and containers of yogurt made for a wickedly delicious and belly-warming treat. With that, we were ready to take on the day.

After packing up camp we hit the road for a few hours and stopped at the Oregon Badlands Wilderness just outside of Bend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since my guidebooks didn’t cover it and the website was, predictably, useless. We chose a short 3 mile loop, since daylight was already running short and we still had a bit of exploratory driving to do to find our last camp.

Our loop began at the Flatiron Rock Trailhead. We started up the Ancient Juniper Trail, following hordes of human and dog prints along a wide trail leading through the relatively flat, sagebrush-studded landscape. We stopped to admire the many large and twisted juniper trees. There were fewer cool rock formations than I’d expected. Maybe we chose the least scenic trail of the bunch. It was no matter, it just felt nice to feel the cold air on my face and get my legs moving. It was very cold and windy, as most of the trip had been, and the wide open plains offered no refuge from either.

Aaron and Jess in the Badlands

About 2 miles into the hike we turned on to the Flatiron Rock Trail, which led straight back to the car. Although we saw a few folks with their dogs at the trailhead, we never came across any hikers on our loop. While it was a pretty place to walk, there was nothing all too special about the park. Perhaps with more time or in another season I could come to appreciate the Oregon Badlands more.

I didn’t have a solid plan for camping tonight. I’d hoped that one of the Badlands Trailheads would offer up some easy camping, but being so close to the road and so close to Bend it felt really overrun with people. Huge, fancy ranch houses loomed over wide fields just outside the boundary of the wilderness. It would have felt like camping in someone’s backyard. So we decided to zip through Bend and head south on 97 to hit a Forest Road to camp away from civilization.

Ironically, we ended up pulling into a sweet camping spot just barely off route 97 (we could see taillights through the trees) just before the snow got too deep to drive through. Although the wind swirled intently down the road and howled through the treetops, our spot was calm and protected from the wind. Aaron made quick work of getting a fire started while I set up the rest of camp.

We still had a lot of wood to burn so we made it a mission to have a raging fire this evening. We powered through a big dinner, tasty S’mores and refreshing beverages while continuously feeding fuel into the hungry fire. What a great last night of camping!


Finish the story
Day 1: Snowshoeing Near Santiam Pass
Day 2: John Day Fossil Beds
Day 3: At Last, a Summit
Day 4: The Epitome of Cold
Day 5: Snow-tacular

View all the photos on Picasa.

At Last, a Summit

December 18, 2012.

Day 3: Fields Peak and Crane Hot Springs

Hiking up Fields Peak in winter

It was finally time to get down to business. Today promised to be a long day of hiking. Based on the snow level at camp last night, I knew we’d be wading through snow all day today. I chose a summer hike that held some potential for winter exploration, but I had little idea of what to expect.

We drove towards the McClellan Mountain Trailhead with the ambitious goal of hiking to McClellan Mountain and the more practical goal of reaching Fields Peak. Since we didn’t roll out of camp until 10am or so, I ratcheted down our plan to get as close to the summit of Fields Peak as possible.

We parked the car at a bend in the road where the snow began to deepen and the grade of the road ticked up a notch. Here we packed up and bundled up for a cold day. The sun was shining and the snow was light under our feet. We began walking uphill in the snow, aided by snowshoes. In less than an hour we reached the actual trailhead. I guessed the road walk added about 2 miles and a couple hundred vertical feet, round-trip, to our 4.6 mile, 1850′ elevation gain hike.

The Revised Trailhead

The trail was very easy to follow even under the snow. Aaron and I took turns breaking trail as we walked in and out of the trees. The desert forest was open and sunny, with views of the surrounding valleys and ridges at several points of the hike. Once we started getting views of big mountains ahead, I began getting excited about the prospect of reaching a summit.

The first real view of what looked like a mountain ended up being Moore Mountain, which was not on the day’s to-do list. I was pretty disappointed. Moore Mountain’s bare, white flanks glistened in the sunshine and just beckoned for exploration. But, I wanted today to be a success and I thought that Fields Peak was our best bet.

It’s Just Moore Mountain
Moore Mountain in winter

We continued along the trail, watching the trees get smaller and more twisted, as anticipation started to build. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement that comes from leaving the comfort and safety of the trees and entering the vast, open unknown. As we left the last gnarled tree behind, we entered a Martian landscape of wind-scoured snow dotted with tiny branches from the rugged shrubbery lying just beneath the surface. We cinched down our jackets tightly as we faced into the wind and kept pushing up. The trail spiraled up towards the summit. It re-entered a stand of trees and got steeper. Once the summit cairn was in view, we left the trail behind and angled straight up to the top. The combination of blinding sun rays, steady wind and bitter cold made it feel more like the summit of Everest than a 7000′ bump in the Oregon desert. But it was precisely the combination of wild, wintry conditions and the exhaustion of a hard day’s efforts that made the accomplishment feel so sweet.

Aaron coming up Fields Peak

Jess on summit

We celebrated on the summit after putting on extra warm layers and taking lots of pictures and videos from where we stood. We happily shared steaming, hot chicken soup from the Thermos I’d carried up there. The rest of lunch would have to wait until we were out of the wind. Once my SPOT message sent, we hurriedly left our prize behind and headed back to the relative safety of the trail in the trees.


As the conditions returned to warm and sunny, we stopped to take many more pictures of the rime-crusted trees, sweeping mountain vistas, and glistening snow. We devoured our PB&J sandwiches and basked in the warmth of the December sun.

The hike out was great. It was all downhill and the trail was already broken. We were riding high on sugar and the success of our summit. We arrived back at the car five and a half hours after we began.

Three hours of driving brought us through Burns, Oregon (the next Bend, I hear…) to Crystal Crane Hot Springs in Crane, Oregon. I went here last year for a soak and I finally had a great excuse to go back. We arrived well after dark. The cold air outside of the hot car was surprisingly exhilarating and hit me like a ton of bricks. I rushed inside to reserve a private tub room and soon we were in hot springs heaven.

Ready for a Soaking
Crystal Crane Hot Springs

For $7.50 each we got to soak in our own private little hot tub room, fed by the natural springs outside. Days of sweat, grime and soot blissfully melted away. After the soak—a shower—then it was off to find a camping spot for the night.

I remember having a hard time finding forest land near Burns so we drove back up 395 to a Sno-park/Campground called Idlewild. It was empty, of course, but the little car made it through the snow to a campsite so we called it good here. By 10 pm or so we were finally settling down to a home-dehydrated meal of beans, pasta and ground beef. It tasted gourmet.

It would be a cold night but I’d strategically planned a lazy start tomorrow morning so we could stay bundled up in our sleeping bags as long as we wanted.

Finish the story
Day 1: Snowshoeing Near Santiam Pass
Day 2: John Day Fossil Beds
Day 3: At Last, a Summit
Day 4: The Epitome of Cold
Day 5: Snow-tacular

View all the photos on Picasa.

John Day Fossil Beds

December 17, 2012.

Day 2: Smith Rock and Painted Hills

Painted Hills John Day

We woke up to cold, wind and sun the next morning having survived our first night in the wild. After chowing down some hot breakfast we took a short drive to Smith Rock State Park. We had no intentions of hanging out, just taking a few quick photos and getting on our way. The parking lot was eerily empty. A magpie squawked loudly from a tree just above my head.

Smith Rock

Why not stay? We had some driving to do. Besides, I’d been to Smith a million times, so I was happy to seek scenery elsewhere. We drove through Prineville and the Ochoco Mountains amid beautiful snowy mountains and sprawling ranches.

We made it to our first destination just after noon: the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds. Temperatures were chilly and the wind was still blowing quite furiously, so we got decked out in warm down jackets and wind protection, then headed out on the first of three very short trails. No one was here. The sun was shining through occasional clouds as we admired the bright colors in the hills.

My favorite hike here is the Painted Cove trail. This 0.2 mile loop is the prettiest little hike around. The boardwalk takes you right up against the colorful mounds, where you can truly appreciate the texture of the rock up close. These ancient hills were formed from a tumultuous volcanic history that deposited layers of ash, rock and minerals that have been eroded by wind and water.

Happy Holidays
Christmas socks at Painted Hills

The Christmas socks made a brief appearance in a sheltered spot on the trail out of the wind. I daresay this might have been the first Christmas sock sighting at this location in all the history of the fossil beds. I guess the dinosaurs couldn’t have celebrated Christmas. And I bet they didn’t mass-produce seasonal socks.

As we ate lunch, a light snow began to fall. It didn’t last long, but it did add to the beauty of the place. Reluctantly, we left and headed for the Sheep Rock Unit.

Blue Basin

We drove through Picture Gorge and stopped at the Blue Basin trailhead for a mile of hiking. The sky had clouded over but the scenery was still spectacular. We walked along a creekbed, crossing several metal bridges, as we ooh-ed and aah-ed over the milky green water pooling beneath our feet. The blue-green rock on either side of us was crevassed, eroded, and sculpted into interesting patterns. It was late by the time we ended this hike, so we wouldn’t have enough time to see the last item on the day’s agenda: the Alaska Cedar Grove some 30-odd miles away.

We drove in that direction anyways, to camp somewhere near tomorrow’s destination. We ended up at Billy Fields Campground in the Malheur National Forest. There was about an inch of snow on the ground, but it was the dry, fluffy stuff that felt as light as air. We had a picnic table, fire ring, and outhouse here. It was a classy place to call home. The sky was clear and we could see hundreds of stars. We broke out all the down we had to sleep warmly on this cold night.

Finish the story
Day 1: Snowshoeing Near Santiam Pass
Day 2: John Day Fossil Beds
Day 3: At Last, a Summit
Day 4: The Epitome of Cold
Day 5: Snow-tacular

View all the photos on Picasa.

Snowshoeing Near Santiam Pass

December 16, 2012.

Day 1: Prarie View Loop and Sahalie Falls

Prairie View Loop

Every year I try to get out and do some exploring over winter break. I’ve always done it solo, but this year someone was gullible adventurous enough to join me in my foolish road-tripping. Knowing I’d have a partner with me, I planned accordingly: nothing too crazy, but just crazy enough to make him want to hit the road with me again someday.

What’s more, it was day three of the 12 Days of Christmas Socks, and I had some serious picture-taking to do. This was bound to be a trip to remember.

As we drove over Santiam Pass I talked up the snowshoe trek that would christen our trip: the Prairie View Loop. According to Snowshoe Routes Oregon, this trip “is a good trail to take some snowshoe ‘newbies'” so I thought it would be a nice introduction to snowshoeing for Aaron. On a nice day it would offer up spectacular views for little effort and very moderate elevation change. Perfect. Although it was snowing today and there would be no views, I figured a short ramble through the trees would provide an excellent first experience.

If you were watching a horror movie right now, this is where you’d hear a suspicious noise in the background and yell “don’t go up the stairs!!”

We spilled out of the car, which was stuffed to the gills with firewood and winter camping gear, and suited up for snowshoeing. Lunch in the packs, gaiters and snowshoes on, ski poles adjusted, wind and snow layers packed away neatly, appropriate hats and gloves donned. Check, check, check. We were ready to go.

We got moving around 11 am. The route followed a gently inclining forest road that would be passable to motor vehicles in the summer. We took our first right up another road and wandered along past several other unmarked roads that did not exist on the map. Snowshoeing through fresh, wet, heavy snow is hard work, so the time passed quickly while the miles passed slowly. I had a hard time judging just how far we’d gone when we suddenly dead-ended at a Y-junction to nowhere. Both forks of the Y petered out to nothing, and there were no trail markings anywhere. According to the map, there was a sharp right angle in the trail that crossed a small creek and continued off in a northerly direction on the other side. But there was no sign of anything, and we’d barely just gotten going. I didn’t want to turn around yet. We poked around in the woods a bit, then turned to walk back along our tracks. I scoured the side of the trail and looked towards a valley that looked like the perfect place for a creek to be.

The Hidden Bridge
snow bridge

Buried deep in the trees was a little blue diamond with an arrow on it, barely visible from the road. Aha! We walked down to the diamond and after a little trudging, located the creek and a snow-covered footbridge. I carefully poked around on the bridge with my ski poles to make sure it was still intact, then crossed to the other side. Aaron followed after capturing some video, during which I am sure he was hoping to catch me falling in the creek 🙂

On the other side, we entered a clearing with lots of tree stumps and paths potentially leading anywhere. Aaron spotted the continuation of the road, so we got back on course. This road was covered over with lots of fallen trees, adding another layer of challenge to our snowshoe adventure. This felt like a long-forgotten route.

We arrived at another Y-junction, not on the map, and decided to turn left. This ended up being the shortcut we didn’t want to take, so on the other side we turned north again to try and pick up the non-motorized trail, which would be more interesting than the road.

Again, the junction with the trail was not well-signed, so we began poking around in the woods once we estimated we’d traveled far enough. Miraculously, we found it fairly quickly and headed off into the trees.

It was very pretty here, walking in, around, and over the snow-covered trees. Snow continued to drift down from the sky, making me feel as if I was ambling through a life-sized snow globe. Somewhere along the way we ducked under a large, umbrella-shaped tree to get out of the snow and eat some lunch. Then, we continued along the trail.

The trail abruptly ended at an impassable bog. Large trees littered the forest floor and everything in the general area seemed to be covered with inches of standing water. There was a blue diamond with an arrow pointing into a stand of thick shrubbery growing in the water. That surely couldn’t be the way? We looked around for a little while, then decided to bail towards the road, which was just a hundred yards away. We took the road back to finish the loop. The next hour felt like FOREVER. The snow had changed to wet snow and felt an awful lot like rain. My gloves and hat were starting to soak through. Group morale was starting to drop. We had no idea where we were or if we should have taken any of the unmarked junctions we passed. Based on our snail’s pace, I didn’t think we’d gotten to our junction yet. Okay, we decided, just a little bit further…

And sure enough there it was. A road sign saying 2 miles to the Sno-Park. 2 miles?! That didn’t jive with our map or any degree of common sense at all. But at least we knew it would get us back, so we took it. In 30 minutes we arrived back at the car–so the sign was probably wrong, or based on some creative Forest Service rounding rules. Four-and-a-half hours total? That was some intro to snowshoeing.

It felt really good to get those wet clothes off.

Sahalie Falls
Sahalie Falls in Winter

Since we were out there, we decided to take a quick run to Sahalie Falls. The parking lot wasn’t plowed so we parked on the roadside and ran down to check out the falls. It was raging. My camera was fairly well hydrated so the photos don’t paint the best picture, but trust me, it was worth the short walk.

We got back in the car and decided we didn’t want to camp in the rain/snow tonight, so we drove east. We stopped on BLM land outside of Smith Rock State park and called it a night.

The wind was blowing, hard, as we set up camp, ate dinner and relaxed by the fire. We put the tent up near a tree hoping for some wind protection but the rain fly was still whipping around all night. Day 1 was under our belts and we had much more adventure yet to come.

Finish the story
Day 1: Snowshoeing Near Santiam Pass
Day 2: John Day Fossil Beds
Day 3: At Last, a Summit
Day 4: The Epitome of Cold
Day 5: Snow-tacular

View all the photos on Picasa.

Hunchback Mountain: Hey ma, I found a stray hiker!

May 6, 2012.

Hunchback Mountain Trail > up, down, up, down…repeat

about 16 miles | 5000′ (?) ele. gain | 8.5 hrs

I’d earned a nice long walk in the woods after having a productive grading session on Saturday, so I chose an ambitious route to Devil’s Peak via the Hunchback trail. Sources estimated the mileage to be about 18 miles and over 6000′ of elevation gain. I wasn’t sure what the trail conditions would be like, so I packed snowshoes and a good amount of water and got an early start.

The Hunchback Mountain Trail was no joke: sections varied from very steep to ominously flat and very steep again. There were lots of ups and downs, which was nice for me because it required the down muscles to jump in and do the job when my up muscles got worn out. The trail was mostly in the woods, with a few mediocre viewpoints. The air was surprisingly cold for the forecast, and I’d wished I would have brought some warm gloves with me.

Within a couple of miles, I began seeing patches of snow on the trail and before long, the ground was completely covered. I got flashbacks of my last trek in the woods and felt prepared since I brought my snowshoes! The snow never ended up getting very deep, but it was wet and soon my Gore-tex shoes were saturated. As the sun rose higher, snow bombs dropped from the trees. I found my sun hat worked nicely; it deflected the bombs from sliding down my shirt or beneath my glasses.

I walked along in quiet solitude, following the occasional bit of pink tape, dreaming up a story to explain the snowshoe tracks in front of me. Someone had been up here recently; probably yesterday. The tracks all pointed uphill so I’d guessed a solo backpacker had come up to camp for the night. I imagined I’d run into the tracks’ owner once I got higher. A male, most likely. I’d figured between the ages of 35-55, in pretty good shape for hoofing it up here alone. I couldn’t explain why this person had worn snowshoes in what couldn’t have been more than an inch or two of snow underfoot. As the miles passed, the story in my head became more filled in with detail.

As I entered a small, open meadow, the tracks suddenly left the trail and headed to my left. Weird. I continued along, thinking that this must be near the person’s campsite. But soon, I came across snowshoe tracks facing in the opposite direction. Hmmm…

Cruising along, I revised the story unfolding in my head. My eyes glanced up from the ground and fixed upon a figure. It was a man in his late twenties, standing just ahead on the trail, eyes open wide. I said hi, smiled, and he shouted “Oh My God! I’m lost! Can you help me?”

Bewildered, I thought for a minute that he must be joking. Great, all the times I harass people about giving me a hard time about hiking alone and here I am, face-to-face with the one in a billion chance of running into a psychopath in the woods. Surely it doesn’t go down like this.

But the fear in his eyes and in his voice assured me that this poor guy was truly disoriented and in need of help. I calmly asked him some questions and pieced together the real story. He had hiked up Saturday with plans to stay at the Devil’s Peak fire tower. He got confused in the meadow and lost his way trying to find the tower. Fortunately, he had a tent (and about 30 pounds of extra gear) so he tent-camped overnight. This morning, he had been walking in circles for hours and had recently texted his girlfriend that he needed help. She had contacted search and rescue.

Yikes. I made sure he was set on food and water. He wasn’t injured, and appeared to be capable of walking back out to the ranger station, where we had both started our respective journeys. I accompanied him back down the trail about 5-10 minutes, past the meadow of confusion, to the point where both our tracks overlapped. I said goodbye when we were both comfortable that he could make it back safely, then I turned around and continued towards Devil’s Peak.

I couldn’t get the look on his face out of my mind. Before we parted ways, he gave me his girlfriend’s number to call to let her know he was okay. There was no signal in the forest but up at Devil’s Peak, we thought I’d be able to send a text. I did my best to ignore the labyrinth of snowshoe tracks and stay right on the trail. It became more difficult to navigate as the snow got slightly deeper. I lost the trail in a moderately sloping hill littered with blowdown so I bushwhacked up to a high point where I was sure I’d be able to get a better perspective. No luck. I wandered back into the woods, crossed a stream, meandered across another side slope leading to the ridge and was foiled again. At least this time I reached an open area with a phenomenal four-volcano view, cell signal, and a peek at Devil’s Peak. I decided to call it a day and unpacked my lunch.

I texted the number in my phone and within two minutes I received a call from the sheriff. A SAR team had been mobilized and they were waiting in the parking lot for the lost hiker. I gave them as much information as I could, then began to doubt my decision to leave him behind.

I begrudgingly said goodbye to the only nice view of the day and to Devil’s Peak, which lay probably less than a half mile away (plus a huge drop and re-gain in elevation). I carefully made my way back to the trail, fearing that I’d get myself lost. The snow bomb landing areas looked an awful lot like footprints, making it difficult to simply retrace my steps. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the meadow and then booked it down the trail in hopes of catching up with the other hiker as soon as possible.

The snow made quick and efficient movement easy in some areas and challenging in others. The hill climbing back up to the Great Pyramid Junction felt agonizing. At the top of the hill I ran into two other hikers, taking a break at their turnaround point for the day. We shared some information about the situation and I was glad to hear that the hiker was still trucking along safely. On the way out I passed two other groups of hikers who also reported that he was moving along.

Now practically at a run I raced down the flat portions of trail and stepped carefully over the steep, muddy slopes. At about 2 miles from the trail head I crossed paths with my friend and was happy to see him walking and in relatively good spirits. We chatted for just a short time before running into the SAR team, taking a rest on the trail.

The 6 members of the SAR team offered him food and water, took his pack, and had him sit down on a foam pad to rest. We all took a breather and talked for awhile as they radioed back to base and got ready to haul back downhill. With just about 1.7 miles to go there was still a significant amount of elevation to lose. They were all carrying overnight packs to be prepared for any situation.

We both walked out with the SAR team, which moved VERY slowly and methodically. Walking that slowly made the steep downhill feel like nothing 🙂 So this is how out-of-shape people do this, I thought…

We arrived at the parking lot around 4:30 pm, and I was relieved to be back at the car. It was quite a surreal day. I am sure that if I hadn’t randomly been up there that this man would likely have spent another night camping since it would have taken the SAR team several more hours to hoof it up to where I found him. I am glad that I was at the right place at the right time.

What lessons can be learned? I think the hiker did some things right and some things wrong. He did realize the gravity of his situation and called for help once he thought he was unable to rectify the problem on his own. He did not stray too far from the existing trail, and he was ON the trail when I found him. He was just so mentally out of it that he didn’t know where he was.

What decisions could have been different? For starters, he appeared to be inexperienced at backcountry travel, especially alone. I think he could have picked a shorter and more obvious goal for a solo overnight trip. Secondly, at the first sign of losing the trail he could have stopped and reassessed his objective. He didn’t have a GPS and I am not sure if he had a map. Since he was prepared for overnight tent camping, he could have set up camp and done a quick search for the trail to Devil’s Peak in the morning, with more sunlight and more energetic legs. Third, keeping your head is so important in these situations. He was not mentally there when I found him. He was likely dehydrated and not eating enough food. He was tired, stressed, and out of sorts. After initiating SAR he might have hunkered down in a sunny spot and relaxed, took his pack off, melted some snow, and let his brain re-focus.

I am so glad there’s a happy ending to this story. Devil’s Peak, I’ll get you next time.

Mt. Lady Washington

March 27, 2012.

Longs Peak Trail > East Slope of Mt. Lady Washington and back, give or take
about 8 miles | 3880′ ele. gain | 6 hours

The low snow year in the Front Range made this hike accessible to a couple of travelers who didn’t pack for mountain climbing. Sue and I left the empty trailhead in trail shoes and all the clothes we had in our carry-on luggage. I had brought a compass and first aid kit in anticipation of getting out on a hike. We borrowed some handwarmers and one set of hiking poles from Sue’s mom, and felt we were ready to take on this 13,000 foot peak.

The trail was immediately snow covered but the surface was hard-packed. Sue and I split up the hiking poles so we each had one and hoped the traction of our shoes would be good enough. In less than an hour we reached the start of the alpine tundra, as designated by a handy sign. It reminded me of being back in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We followed the trail as best we could, then retraced the steps of the last folks who came up this way and were nice enough to pack the snow down. We finally left the last tree behind and came out into a wide expanse of rock and snow. The wind was blowing consistently at about 10 mph but the sun was warm, which made the wind bearable.

The route description on SummitPost said to go up the boulder-strewn east slope to the top. This was going to be the easiest navigation ever. We left the trail where it became lost in intermittent snow and vegetation patches, tracing a straight-ish line through the massive boulders towards the top of the peak. To our left towered Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak, which we could barely see over the broad slopes of Mt. Lady Washington. My whole world was now filled with boulders. Bits of snow lingered between them; I zig-zagged back and forth among the rockpile, avoiding snow, and looking back to make sure I hadn’t lost Sue. As we ascended, the wind got steadily more noticeable and the air temperature dropped. I stopped every now and again to add another layer or cinch down my jacket’s hood, until all my layers were on and no more adjustments were possible. My legs were getting cold but my core was toasty warm.

Finally, I could see more sky than rock and I knew the summit ridge was close. I yelled down at Sue that we were almost there, but she had to come up really close to hear me since the wind was blowing so hard. We topped out on the ridge and were immediately blasted with a wall of fiercely blowing wind. Based on NOAA’s wind speed estimation chart, I’d say the average wind speed was about 35-40mph with gusts another 5-10 mph more. It became difficult to walk and my face felt frozen.

Sue and I made slow progress along the top. I could tell that this was not Sue’s favorite place to be but I was loving every second of it. Soon she made some hand signals to me that she would not go any further. I gave her a huge smile and big thumbs up as I continued along into the wind. I had to walk sideways with my hands against the rock and my back to the wind so I wouldn’t get blown off my feet. Occasionally I needed to stop and let the gusts die down a bit before taking another step. It was SO AWESOME! I could see the top of the peak, and I knew once I descended a bit I would be out of this hellish wind. As I pushed on I felt incredibly alive and present in the moment. I remember briefly turning into the wind to get a different view and it literally took my breath away–the wind was whipping so hard I couldn’t breathe. Another few sideways steps and I found myself just below the summit boulder, which is where I stayed to take some photos, scream into the wind, and check out the most amazing view of the Diamond on Long’s Peak. WOOHOO!!!!

Sue was probably freezing her butt off waiting for me, so I retreated as fast as I could back to where we parted ways. We decided to follow the north ridge down, since it was less steep than the eastern slope. The downside of this route was that we were not buffered from the forceful winds blowing in from the west. I utilized the crab walk technique to descend into less windy terrain. I had to stop for a bathroom break on the way down and noticed the skin on my legs was bright red from being assaulted by the wind. Nuts! We were both happy to make it back to the trail and into the more predictable 10mph wind, where we sat, de-layered, and ate some snacks.

I was absolutely amazed that we hadn’t seen anyone so far this entire day. The mountain was peaceful, enjoyable, and majestically scenic. A short walk along the trail brought us back to the junction where the trail went down to Chasm Lake. From there we had excellent views of the three peaks: Lady Washington, Longs and Meeker. It was really hard to turn around to go home. Sue led us out along the trail, or long staircase built into the moraine, until we lost the trail in snow. We followed footprints through deep snow that led us into the woods a very different way than we came up. Luckily, the prints brought us back to the trail proper and we made it back to the car in no time at all. The snow was packed pretty hard and was very slippery, so Sue took the poles and I used a fallen branch as a stabilizer during the last segment of our walk.

There were only a few cars in the lot when we returned. We passed two dayhikers as we descended into the forest. I still can’t believe that we were able to find solitude near Long’s Peak. Everything I’d read about this area mentioned the popularity and the crowds.

I’d say that, by far, this hike was the highlight of my Colorado trip. Having beautiful weather, some excitement from mother nature, spectacular views, a great hiking partner, and solitude made this trip one to remember. I can’t wait for another opportunity to explore the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

See the photos from the entire trip on Picasa.

Garden of the Gods

March 26, 2012.

About 7 miles of casual walking through the park…trails ? ?

On day 3 of my Colorado vacation, Sue and I drove down to Colorado Springs to have lunch with my grandmother and then explore Garden of the Gods Park.

This free city park has 15 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, a visitor’s center and extensive “Trading Post” as well as gorgeous desert scenery in all directions. We left the car at the Visitor’s Center and walked along the Gateway Trail to the popular central area of the park. From there we joined up with the Central Garden Trail, which was teeming with visitors. Red, orange and white rock formations rose into the sky around every corner. Rock climbers scaled these vertical walls while casual tourists slowly ambled beneath them. We escaped the crowded loop and continued southwest along the Scotsman/Buckskin Charlie Trail with the intention of traversing the park.

Cool rocks beckoned off-trail visitation. One of these rocks had a piton shoved into a small pocket. I am sure the local climbers have explored every inch of the rocks out here. As the sun shone and the wind blew, we continued our journey with the Siamese Twins trail. The Siamese Twins was a rock formation that contained a small window; on a clear day we would have gotten a view of Pikes Peak through there. But, the haze from the wildfires blurred any distant vistas today.

A little more walking brought us to the Trading Post. We went inside to look at all the trinkets and treat ourselves to ice cream. We hung out in the sun for awhile, wishing we could store the Vitamin D for our inevitable return to gray Portland.

The last stop was Balanced Rock, which we drove past on our way into the park. This place was under attack by tourists big and small. Sue patiently tried to get a person-free shot of Balanced Rock while I explored the features on the other side of the street. I discovered an old stairway built into the adjacent rock feature, which must have led to some old view point or gift shop. The bottom of the staircase must have been removed to prevent people from climbing up there. Nearby was a sign warning of the dangers of climbing without knowledge or gear, referring to the fatalities that have occurred at the park. With all sorts of tasty rock so accessible to the average person, it’s not surprising that many accidents happen there.

We’d now seen all the major features of the park and simply had to make our way back to the car. We took essentially the same way back, except that we followed the other side of the Siamese Twins Loop and took the trail to the west of the driving route to connect back with the Central Garden. We got slightly different scenery and a bit more shade this way.

The crowds had died back a bit so it was slightly more comfortable to weave our way through the main rock features and take pictures.

Although it seems the park encourages people to drive from parking lot to parking lot in order to see all the sights, Sue and I had a wonderful tour of the park on foot. We actually got quite a large stretch of trail to ourselves once we walked away from the major points of interest. This is a gem of a park that I would love to visit again if I find myself in this part of the world in the future.

See the photos from the entire trip on Picasa.

Go West

December 27, 2011.

Deschutes National Forest > Glass Buttes > Horse Ridge Natural Area > Portland

* Click the map above to zoom in *

A couple more checkmarks

The snow never came down during the night, so I didn’t need to make a dramatic escape. I rose just after the sun did, planning to backtrack 50 miles before heading home for good. One of my goals of the trip was to tick off several “Unique Natural Features” listed in the Oregon Gazetteer that I had not yet visited. Glass Buttes was listed as a site rich with obsidian; this was the traditional obsidian warehouse for American Indians. They collected the precious rock to make arrowheads. I was excited to visit this place, since I was actually this close. I’d never had any reason to travel this stretch of road before.

I followed my scrawled directions to Glass Buttes and was greeted by a barbed-wire fence with an equally uninviting gate. I got out of the car and looked for an alternate entry point, but nothing was obvious. I was rather disappointed in all the extra driving to get here, but I didn’t want to be accosted by some angry landholder accusing me of inappropriately accessing private land. The wind was blowing, hard, and the cold morning air was being driven right through me. Hungry, I busted out my camp stove and whipped up a steaming batch of oatmeal. In the comfort of my car I polished off my warm breakfast while squinting through the sunlight at the beautiful butte rising up from the flat desert.

Defeated, and with many miles left to travel before reaching Portland, I turned and left. Nothing stood between myself and home, 200 and something miles away. Or, so I thought.

Horse Ridge Natural Area was my last shot at hitting a “Unique Natural Feature.” Located not far out of Bend on highway 20, I would be driving right past it in an hour. The familiar brown sign greeted me as expected, letting me know I had a patch of public land to investigate. At the Horse Ridge Trailhead, there was a map of the roads and hiking paths leading to, but not inside, the Horse Ridge Natural Area. That was good enough for me. I packed a very light bag and set off at a good clip up the trail. I walked for about 30 minutes before swinging around 360 degrees to take in the views and then returned the way I came. It was a pretty area, but I was set on getting back to town at a reasonable hour, and before the working crowd was heading home.

I was surprised to see, as soon as I hit the road again, there was a pointer for Oregon Badlands Wilderness. What! I had no idea this place existed! As my car careened into the lot, I poked my head out the window to read the trail signage. Damn. There were many miles of hiking paths there. Had I known, I definitely would have spent a day slogging around these trails. Luckily, the Badlands aren’t too far from Bend, making it not so hard to get back here. Endless adventures await me…

Reflecting upon this trip, I have made a few observations.

1. Traveling alone gives me precious detox time, where I can free my mind from work responsibilities and life’s other obligations. It provides an opportunity to reconnect with what’s important, and lets my mind filter out thoughts that do not serve me. As “dangerous” as some people think it is to camp and travel alone, I find this time critical for my own happiness and well-being.

2. Leaving some space for flexibility in a travel schedule affords time to take advantage of opportunities that come up. Scheduling every last detail hampers curiosity.

3. Adapting to the hand dealt by nature is a great way to utilize and develop problem-solving skills. I was not expecting the temperatures to drop as low as they did on this trip, so I had to pull many of my old winter camping trips out of the bag, and I discovered a few new ones. Being confronted with challenges is an enjoyable way to forge new connections in the brain and keep the mind sharp.

4. Most importantly, I absolutely love everything about these trips: experiencing solitude, feeling connected with nature, practicing survival skills, learning new things, and seeing new places. I am distressed that most people don’t understand why I need to get out there, and I am sad that many folks will not have these experiences out of fear. I hope that by telling my stories, I will inspire someone to try something new, and push him or herself just out of the warm, cozy comfort zone for the sake of personal growth and learning.

Read previous entries…
Dec 22: Small Town Oregon
Dec 23: Chasing Ghost Towns
Dec 24: Breathtaking Desert Hikes
Dec 25: Lava Landscape
Dec 26: A Hodgepodge of Delights
Dec 27: Go West

See the entire photo set on Picasa.

A Hodgepodge of Delights

December 26, 2011.

Antelope Reservoir > Charbonneau’s Grave > Pillars of Rome > Pete French’s Round Barn > Diamond Craters > Crystal Crane Hot Springs > Burns > Deschutes National Forest

* Click the map above to zoom in *

I didn’t have much on my agenda for today, so I pulled out the Oregon Gazeteer and the bible as written by William Sullivan to look for places to visit. I came up with a couple of notable sites on the way to Burns. Along the way, I also followed interesting-looking brown signs. It ended up being quite a full day.

First I detoured to Charbonneau’s grave in Danner. This middle-of-nowhere homage to Sacagawea’s son is graced with an American flag and treasures laid out around the gravesite. In the distance, cows mooed and dogs barked. There was a nice little sign explaining the life of the man, and a groomed walking path tracing a circle around the site. It was a charming way to start the day.

Next I traveled to Rome, where a lonely cafe was open for breakfast. I walked in and took a seat among people who all appeared to be related to each other as well as the man working the counter. I was served some weak coffee and, eventually, a decent breakfast. Tom and Jerry played on the TV overhead. Folks stopped by, said hello to everyone at the counter, then proceeded to serve themselves coffee or walk back into the kitchen. It turned out everyone in this town was related to each other.

Pillars of Rome

My next stop was the Pillars of Rome. These tall, beautiful rock walls were easy to find with the directions I’d printed from the Internet. There’s no official pullout or trail for viewing, so I thought I’d find a good place to park the car and then wander around once I got close. It turned out that I was trespassing on private land, which I figured out as soon as a beat up, old, yellow pickup truck came driving down the gravel road where I was walking. A gritty old man in the truck asked me what I was doing on his land as I humbly explained that I thought I was on public land. The map labeled much of this land as belonging to BLM, i.e me, and it was really confusing for me to figure out what was and was not okay to be exploring. I apologized and turned back towards my car. I was disappointed, since it was such a beautiful morning and I was enjoying a pleasant walk.

A little flustered, I hit the road again to drive for another long stretch. I noticed a marker for Pete French Round Barn, which sounded dreadfully boring, but it was another excuse to get out of the car. As I approached I noticed a sign for a Visitor’s Center, and it was open! Hooray for human contact (and a cold beverage).

I was welcomed into the gift shop by an old man who turned out to be a font of local knowledge. We talked about all sorts of things: the Barn, Diamond Craters, ranch life, government bureaucracy, his family’s heritage, and the education programs at the Visitor’s Center. I was enthralled. I walked around the Visitor’s Center to see the historical collectibles on display, then flipped through the myriad of books for sale. I had to force myself to buy only one. This place was great! On my way out I asked for some pointers before driving to see the local sights and he was extraordinarily helpful. If you’re ever out this way, be sure to say hello to Dick Jenkins.

The Round Barn awaited my visit. It was an impressive-looking structure, with rustic wooden planks and stone walls. The barn was used to train horses back in the day. They say this barn was one of the first with this unique circular design. While I didn’t know the first thing about training horses, I still thought it was a mighty beautiful building.

Onward to Diamond Craters. There would always be more lava to be seen on these trips. With my Diamond Craters Auto Tour booklet in hand, I drove to stop #5, where I began my tour. At each stop, I got out of the car, walked around a bit and read aloud the geological description printed in the booklet. I had fun being my own tour guide, weaving down more gravel roads and hiking through Oregon’s past all laid out on display.

Just like the day before, the cloud cover made it nearly impossible to get a decent picture of the lava. Plus, the features at this site were so enormous, I thought the best way to experience it would be from the air. Nonetheless, I stopped dutifully at each viewpoint, read the text, and looked around. It would be one of the last opportunities to experience such a quiet, desolate location before heading back towards civilized life.

But the day only got better from here; next stop: Crystal Crane Hot Springs. These springs were developed but not resorty. There was tent and RV camping available in addition to rental cabins. The natural pool outside was available for a nominal access charge of $3. I opted for the private room with a tub for just a few dollars more. The outdoor pool was swarming with kids and I knew that would not be a relaxing time for me. Inside the room was a long aluminum tub with a faucet pumping in water from the hot springs. I got it to a nice, hot temperature, stripped off all the disgusting camp clothes I’d been living in for the past 5 days and got in the water.

It was the most relaxing hour of the trip. I emerged from the tub refreshed and excited. My admission fee also included access to a shower. Squeaky clean, I hit the road for a dinner stop in Burns.

I’d read somewhere that Burns was slated to be the next Bend; an old working-class town turned resort destination. A short drive through town proved that this prediction would not likely come true in the near future. Most everything was shut down, and I daresay some tumbleweed likely blew across the road as a lonely banjo played. There were a few chain restaurants and banks, plus some local shops scattered here and there. I couldn’t find any sort of downtown strip, so I parked and walked into the only store that had lights on, Gourmet & Gadgets. Inside were shelves full of unique and handy kitchen gadgetry, from stand-up cookbook holders to colorful wire whisks and top-of-the-line cookware. There were jams, baking mixes, fancy chocolates, and hot sauces. There were cookbooks, knife sets, and decorative kitchen kitsch. It was like walking into heaven. It was almost closing time, however, and since I knew I wouldn’t be buying anything I didn’t want to waste the proprietor’s time by browsing the aisles after 5pm. I made one purchase, a packet of candy cane hot chocolate powder, and then departed. I knew that would come in handy later in the evening.

At the local bar, a dive for sure, I ate an enormous burger and fries and then split town. The sun had set long ago, so I was left to find a suitable campsite in the dark. My first stop was no good, so I set my sights on a faraway gravel road that led into the Deschutes National Forest. I figured it would take me at least 2 more hours to get there. Fortunately I was making my way through a 10-disc audiobook; that kept me company for the long haul.

It felt like forever, but finally I made it into the depths of the forest. Wood was abundant; it took me 5 minutes to round up enough wood for two nights of campfires. The wind picked up as I started the fire and intermittently, light snow drifted down. Surprisingly, the temperatures were in the low thirties and it felt like summertime. I was melting in the multiple-layered cold weather suit I was wearing. I sipped my minty hot cocoa anyways, as the wind brought with it a bit of chill. I was worried that I’d get stuck here, trapped in a web of snow-bound gravel roads, and so I slept in my car that night. That way, I thought, I could leave at a moment’s notice.

Continue the story!
Dec 22: Small Town Oregon
Dec 23: Chasing Ghost Towns
Dec 24: Breathtaking Desert Hikes
Dec 25: Lava Landscape
Dec 26: A Hodgepodge of Delights
Dec 27: Go West

See the entire photo set on Picasa.

Lava Landscape

December 25, 2011.

Leslie Gulch > Jordan Craters > Antelope Reservoir

* Click the map above to zoom in *

Christmas morning. As a kid I remember anticipating rushing downstairs to see the lights blinking on the tree, shiny presents piled up under its branches. My brother and I were allowed to dump out the contents of our stockings before my parents woke up, so we ate candy and played until the sun rose and my parents awoke from their slumber. We’d open presents and then wait for the cinnamon rolls to come out of the oven. There was a mad sugar rush that started early and lasted for the entire day.

On this Christmas morning I awoke with a different excitement. For breakfast, I snacked on the various dried fruits and other treats my parents mailed me the day before I left Portland. I didn’t want to fiddle with the stove on yet another subzero morning. I drove back out to the cabin and parked at the entrance to Dago Gulch for one last hike before leaving this pristine canyon wonderland.

I stepped out of the car, already forgetting how cold the air was. I stuffed my head into a balaclava, put on the obligatory Santa hat, zipped up the pink puffy and walked quickly up the old road. It was so cold I had to walk quickly to stay warm. I had heard about the bighorn sheep population that resided in Leslie Gulch but I very much doubted I would be able to see any wildlife at a pace like this. Oh well, I was happy to be able to walk around a bit, knowing that today would be a crazy driving-down-gravel-roads day. I never liked walking on roads, so after about 15 minutes, I called it good and turned back towards the car. I’d realized that I’d forgotten my camp chair back at the campsite, which meant nearly 10 miles of backtracking and two more trips over the worst part of the road in my car. Poor Scion. My head wasn’t in it. As I was furiously marching along the road, I heard something big flush out of the bushes to the right of the trail. Startled, I looked up to see two coyotes booking it up the side of the canyon. I stood there, frozen, as I watched the graceful beasts get as far away from me as they could. There was no time to take a picture, since I knew they’d be gone before long. I watched them disappear into the brush, and then continued marching back to my car.

I drove for a couple hours, swinging through Jordan Valley for gas, then spending more time with my good friend the gravel road on the way to Jordan Craters. Jordan Craters is a BLM site that includes a relatively recent basalt lava flow. The only notable feature on the tour brochure is Coffeepot Crater. The last mile of the road to Coffeepot Crater is recommended for 4-wheel drive vehicles but the Scion rose to the challenge again. In the parking lot I fired up the stove to melt what little ice I could extract from my Camelback so I would have enough water for a hike. After knocking the pot over and spilling half of my precious supply, I ended up with about a half-liter to ration throughout the day.

The official marked trail system at Jordan Craters is one mile long. I decided to spice things up a bit by doing some cross-country travel. The landscape was mostly flat, with the one large hill near the parking lot serving as a landmark. I started to the right of the hill, walked along the edge of the lava, then turned to walk across the lava’s surface. It reminded me of a long-forgotten asphalt basketball court that had buckled and cracked through years of disrepair. I stooped to look at the shapes created by the ancient lava flow: streams, holes, bubbles, clamshells, ribbons, pockets, and waves. Hopping from one fold to the next I found myself feeling much like a little kid, exploring this alien landscape.

When I had my fill of the lava field I veered back towards Coffeepot crater. The Sullivan guide mentioned a way to get down to the bottom of the crater, but it looked sketchy from every angle. I jumped the gun and began following what looked like a faint footpath into the crater. All the rock was loose and slippery; even the vertical rock walls looked like they could crumble at any second. I’d wished I’d had a helmet with me, although if any rockfall hit my head I’d probably be in big trouble with or without a helmet. Once safely at the bottom of the crater, I walked around on the shifting piles of gravel, rock and debris. It was really cool down there; the video doesn’t do it much justice. In my exploration I noticed what looked like a moderately sloping path up the talus to the crater’s edge. So, that’s the trail, eh…

At the surface I took two more detours: one path led straight back into the lava field along another swath of grass, and another path led towards a row of spatter cones visible from the road. The cones made interesting shapes as they jutted up from the black waves of lava. They were colorful, too: red minerals were much more vivid in these amorphous projections of lava. The footing was not as nice near the cones, and I’d pretty much had it with my adventure. After taking some pictures I made a run for the road and walked back to the car.

Lots more driving brought me to Antelope Reservoir, where I’d camp for the night. A small BLM campground sat perched on the edge of the beach, with three open campsites available. I was really excited to have a lake full of fresh water to resupply my empty bottle, but my excitement dimmed as soon as I stepped out of the car. I could hear that the lake was frozen. Hoping I was wrong, I grabbed two bottles and walked across the rocks to the lake shore. Crap, I was right. The whole thing was frozen solid.

I walked back to my campsite with a new plan. I emptied out a nylon shopping bag and went back to the lake to gather ice. In no time I had smashed enough ice along the frozen water’s edge to fill up the bag. Back at the picnic table, I fired up the camp stove and began the mundane task of melting ice, then pouring it through my high-tech bandana filter to extract the pebbly bits from the water.

While all that was happening, I scoured the area for wood. Dried, sun-bleached sage branches lined the beach. There wasn’t much big stuff to gather, but after some creative harvesting I managed a reasonable pile of fuel for the evening.

Continue the story!
Dec 22: Small Town Oregon
Dec 23: Chasing Ghost Towns
Dec 24: Breathtaking Desert Hikes
Dec 25: Lava Landscape
Dec 26: A Hodgepodge of Delights
Dec 27: Go West

See the entire photo set on Picasa.