Tuesday, August 24, 2004

An Appointment with Water, Part II

(Here is part I)

Now, where were we. Ah, yes. I brought a day pack and put my smaller water bottle and some items for dinner. I was able to avoid the "dog people" as they were all busy watching their pooches splash through the water yelping at one another. I reached the rope swing junction and proceeded up the trail. The first section thickened into a dark canopy of older coniferous trees with very little undergrowth. As the trail steepened, it opened into an area of thinner trees and lots of mountain huckleberry undergrowth (I think). I walked through a couple hundred knee-level spiderwebs hoping not to get nailed.

At one point I noticed the silence of the area by its occasional absence. An alarmed chipmunk snapping a twig sounds much louder when the silence becomes normal. I snapped my head over to see the commotion. When I saw the little 8 inch chipmunk I started laughing...possibly maniacally considering I was laughing alone. It remained quiet but a cool wind had begun blowing down the hill swaying the trees enough to provide a gentle shush as I hiked on.

After a mile or so, my right upper thigh started feeling very tired; perhaps it was a pinched nerve. In any case, I needed to stop a few times thereafter as I climbed to let it rest. Walking slower didn't seem to make a difference so I just pushed it until it bugged me too much each time.

But who cares about that? The important thing is that during one of these rests, I heard a very large snapping sound that definitely was NOT a chipmunk. Being a solo hiker in the middle of a giant (and sweet) field of admittedly barren huckleberry plants, my first thought was "bear." Then I immediately pooh-poohed the idea, but I startled whistling a little Jethro Tull tune just in case. The reality that a deer was hundred times more likely was just beginning to dawn when I almost got taken out by a mountain biker.

Luckily, he was quick on the brakes. Even luckier, the guy behind him was even quicker because the first guy was almost taken out by the second guy. The main guy said there were two more, so I decided to wait for them all before proceeding. The fact that they weren't supposed to be on the path wasn't as important as the fact that I was on such an "unused" path. Rather than argue or point out what they already surely knew (no bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail), I decided to leave them with their pre-Copernican view that they are the center of the universe. That brand of libertarianism is the reason why Libertarianism (see the big L) won't work. Too susceptible to cheating...but I digress.

The one good thing about my temporary adrenaline rush was that the bikers removed the remainder of the spider webs for me up the trail; a service for which I was grateful. The trail grew steeper and I marveled at their ability to keep a bike on that narrow, rocky, steep, root-strewn trail...and then forgot them. I reached the base of a steep slope of scree and I thought I might be nearing the top. I was not. It was getting cooler and a little windier.

I picked up an audible but not visible companion for about 1/4 mile as I quartered around the bottom of the scree pile. A Clark's Nutcracker or Gray Jay (both of whom are locally known as camp robbers) periodically chirped and followed me up the trail. After nearly two miles I reached the top...of a lower pass. Well, that sign at the bottom of the hill wasn't too accurate. I will get to that in a second. The wind was much stronger up here and it chilled me as the sweat evaporated on my shirt. This pass marked a trail junction and also another 3/4 mile climb up the hill. Gee, they were only off by almost a mile. There was a good deal of blowdown timber around and the anemic, possibly diseased or just storm-racked trees were swaying rather a lot. No big crackles though, so okay.

The clouds were looking dull grey and although I had my rain coat, I decided not to lug my heavy rain pants up the hill. Also, it was beginning to look like the clouds would block my views anyway, so I decided to bag the last leg and head back down the hill. As I descended down the hill, it seemed as if I was drawing the wind down with me. It was definitely growing stronger. My bird buddy wasn't around to heckle me on the way back. The right thigh apparently didn't mind going downhill so that was a boon. I trudged my way down to the rope swing trailhead.

I was heading back to camp and saw one group taking their dog around the lake. However, when I approached the splashing, barking zone, the other dogs were still there. Two of them immediately approached barking and assuming the two-dog version of a pack formation. One dog, a big black lab, was wagging his tail and seemed friendly, the other, some golden colored variety was definitely NOT so friendly. It tried to get behind me and the tail was down and it had the look that said it didn't like me.

(An aside: Can you believe we're only six hours into the trip and I haven't even gotten to the water part!)

The smug twits that should have been controlling their canines were trying to assure me that these were good dogs. I mentioned, rather loudly, that one wasn't following their pronouncements. I took a firm step towards the golden dog...luckily the black lab decided I was okay when he was called back. The golden dog retreated for a moment, then started to try to get behind me again. The idiotic owner thought that by telling me his dog was only 8 months old (and 50 pounds I noticed), he had somehow changed the dog's intent. When I finally started looking around for a weapon, the fool finally got control of his animal. I continued on to my tent site looking back every so often. It was one of those times that having a nice can of pepper spray to whip out just to use on the owners would have been nice. Luckily, I noticed no real camping equipment, so the self-appointed disruption generators and their mutts would be gone before long.

A new group of two came in and set up camp while I was gone, so there would be people around. They were quiet so I didn't mind. One other group came in before dark but I was done hiking around for the day. I had some dinner (french rolls with Cheez-Whiz and trail mix, yum!) and started reading a book by Charles Le Guin, North Coast. While I sat against a log reading, I heard something just about a foot behind my head. As I turned my head, a loud fluttering burst forth and a camp robber fled to the nearest living tree.

I knew what it wanted, so I pulled a roll out of my day pack and ripped off a little hunk. I set it about 18 inches away on the log. The gray bird with the black eyebrow dropped down and snatched it up. It hesitated for a couple seconds and flew back into the tree. A high caw and within five seconds another was hanging around. I did the same thing and the second bird had some free dinner. There was a good deal of noise thereafter but only a blue Stellar's jay hung in the distance and never got any bread. Of course, that didn't stop the chipmunks from coming around. They were a bit more jittery than the camp robbers, but they would come within 5 or 6 feet to get bread. I went through the roll tearing off pieces alternately for the camp robbers and the little chippies. I enjoyed my warm, fuzzy Dr. Doolittle moment.

Well, the camp robbers followed me around for the rest of the evening, skittering around and cawing while I tried to lose myself in the ripples of the lake. Eventually I tuned them out and gave my brain a well-needed rest. It was definitely cold and gray, but still dry. It also smelled like smoke, but I didn't heed it until I noticed the whole lake basin was hazy with smoke. It appeared to be coming from the direction of my car, so I figured it would be better to stick it out at the lake if it was a real forest fire. I called Ladybug and they confirmed via the lovely Internet that there were no fires nearby. Given the brisk wind, it was probably from a fire far to the south.

I decided to turn in early, around 8 or 8:30pm. I laid out all the rain supplies I might need in case the tent flooded. I spent a fair amount of time trying to avoid dips and canals, but a hard rain could sometimes get creative anyway. I read for a while, then went to sleep. I woke up at about 9:30pm to the sound of rain drops. It wasn't too bad.

I never sleep well on the first night of a camping trip, so I woke up and shifted around frequently. Each time I woke up, it was raining harder (with a couple rare exceptions). About 2am, I noticed that a condensation puddle had formed in the corner where my feet were; a result of my sleeping bag sliding incrementally each time I turned over until it touched the tent wall. This causes moisture to wick into the tent and accumulate. The rest of the tent was bone dry, so I shifted my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. About 3am, my feet were wet because the bag shifted down again. They weren't cold, so I didn't worry about it. It was raining at probably a 1/4 inch an hour at that point. At 3:45am or so, I stuck my arm out of the bag and hit a wet spot in the middle of the tent. The waterproofing on the tarp seams had failed an water was dripping onto the tent floor from the ceiling. It was now raining at about a 1/2 inch per hour rate.

The batteries included with my flashlight began to die and I realized that my backup batteries were for my old flashlight; the wrong size. Luckily, my cell phone was plenty bright to illuminate the tent. Around 4:30am, I woke up for good. I thought I would be able to finish the night sleeping, but I envisioned sitting in my tent and watching it rain until it was time to go home. Also, the wetness was beginning to spread. I decided to put on my rain pants and coat and started packing. I found my wool socks so my feet would stay warm.

I preplanned how to keep things as dry as possible so I could keep a somewhat dry pack. I had plastic bags to cover my sleeping bag & pack stowed in the elevated tent sidepocket, so they would be ready immediately. I stuffed my food and clothes into the main part of the pack. I stuffed my sleeping bag into the stuff sack and bungeed it on to the pack in the dark. I positioned the pack to come out easily and I was ready to get out, pull out the pack, waterproof it, strike the tent, fold it and put it away in a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, it would be an hour until it would be light enough to do so.

I listened to the rain in the tent and probably nodded off a couple of times waiting for the morning. I unzipped the tent flap to expose the mosquito netting and watched the lake slowly turn lighter and lighter blue. When it was light enough to see what I was doing, maybe 5:30am or so, I scrambled out of the tent into the quality of morning light that Ladybug calls 'Blue Bayou.' Luckily, if you can call it that, the rain abated slightly so I was able to perform my machinations and get the pack ready in a few minutes.

I put a black garbage bag over the pack with a square cut out for the straps. With all my layers of clothes on, there was no way the waist belt would fasten, so I was looking forward to more shoulder digging. Luckily, the gallon of water was mostly drunk so at least that would only be a minor pain.

I took a last look at the lake and noticed that the rain had stopped leaving only the substantial drippings under the trees. The white alabaster log jutting into the water became a slate grey wet log again after the night's downpour. I dodged several pools of water on the trail, some rather large. I passed the first tent and the occupants were probably asleep. I passed the second campsite and found only an abandoned and soaked sleeping bag. Obviously, someone had it worse than I did and probably left last night. The dusty trail up the hill was now wet and covered in fir needles.

The dripping continued and it was quite beautiful. The plants glistened and the parched woods seemed more like the lush forests of a Tolkien novel; like an Elven place. The upper thigh problem was worse going up the hill and I had to stop quite frequently. As I neared the top of the hill, the sky lightened and the rain stopped. I was hoping for a break in the clouds and a last view of Mt. Hood. Yeah, right.

The rain started again in earnest and quickly became a downpour. The trail once again turned into a maze of puddles and the Sylvan quality of the woods turned into a dingier Mirkwood wash of rain, mud, and drooping, beaten down plants. Then it started raining harder. I just started chuckling (probably maniacally) because I was alone in the middle of the woods and the pitter-patter of rain on my rain coat turned into a sound like a dump truck full of drum sticks spilling into a snare drum factory.

I kept walking faster because I was getting tired of it. With all the clothing on and the hiking, I was nearly as wet inside with sweat as I would have been without the rain gear. I finally made it back to the parking lot and dumped my pack next to the car. I had some sheet plastic in the trunk and laid it out in the back seat to accommodate my backpack. I removed my wet gear in the Forest Service outhouse and dashed back to the car before I got soaked again.

As bad as it was to hike in it, it started raining harder after I started home on the highway. I had to slow to 35 mph several times to keep from hydroplaning. In Welches, it was raining so hard that my wipers could not keep up on high at 35 mph, so I pulled off for a few minutes.

It was bliss when I finally got home, got into dry clothes and set all my gear up in the garage to dry. I was camping for less than 24 hours, but I was able to pack a number of experiences in even without doing all I had hoped to.

I look forward to doing it again! (this time the laugh really is maniacal)

6 comments:

The Moody Minstrel said...

Aw...after hearing the title of your story, I was hoping you were going to drown the dogs or something. Or maybe dunk the morons that owned them.

There are a lot of people that shouldn't be allowed to leave civilization.

The last time I went camping with Dewkid, we were pitched next to a well-seasoned camper with a lot of stories to tell. One of them was about the family that had occupied our campsite before us. Apparently they were a bunch of blithering idiots that were firmly under the jurisdiction of Murphy's Law and then some. They were the sort that would seemingly go out of their way to step in every gopher hole within a quarter mile.

Actually, as it happened, half the family wound up blundering into a nest of yellow jackets within a few hours of their arrival. It was then that the seasoned camper, after loaning them his meat tenderizer (standard field treatment for bee stings), said the following:

"Go back to the civilized world. You're not welcome here."

Apparently that's exactly what they did. It was probably the shortest camping trip they'd ever attempted.

It was a good story to enjoy over Mountain Dew and Apple Jacks.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Aw...after hearing the title of your story, I was hoping you were going to drown the dogs or something. Or maybe dunk the morons that owned them.

There are a lot of people that shouldn't be allowed to leave civilization.

The last time I went camping with Dewkid, we were pitched next to a well-seasoned camper with a lot of stories to tell. One of them was about the family that had occupied our campsite before us. Apparently they were a bunch of blithering idiots that were firmly under the jurisdiction of Murphy's Law and then some. They were the sort that would seemingly go out of their way to step in every gopher hole within a quarter mile.

Actually, as it happened, half the family wound up blundering into a nest of yellow jackets within a few hours of their arrival. It was then that the seasoned camper, after loaning them his meat tenderizer (standard field treatment for bee stings), said the following:

"Go back to the civilized world. You're not welcome here."

Apparently that's exactly what they did. It was probably the shortest camping trip they'd ever attempted.

It was a good story to enjoy over Mountain Dew and Apple Jacks.

DewKid said...

Aw...after hearing the title of your story, I was hoping ....

oh nevermind.

DewKid said...

I remember backpacking with some friends from work, back in my OHSU days. We selected a hike to a secluded lake (a pond really) somewhere around Mt. Hood. It was only 5 miles in, but it was nearly straight up. Not including a short encounter with a porcupine that left my buddy's dog in a bad way, it was a hellish climb. Arriving at the lake, however, I knew it was all worth it. Quiet, no motorhomes, and a light dusting of snow on the ground that said "This is your campsite, treat me well."

After relaxing a bit, and enjoying the quiet seclusion, a sudden clamor of noise appeared from the other side of the lake. A group of hikers and their ... Llamas ... carted up a load of equipment. Before we knew it, there were BBQ grills, house-sized tents, and even an inflatable boat on the water! They were loud, and didn't seem to care that there were others already there as they took over the limited space around the lake.

They left the next morning (we stayed for a few days), so it wasn't all bad, but it made me feel like I was cheated one day.

I should say that the dog (a wippet (sp?)) who got a facefull of quills did survive, even though the vet was unable to catch all the quills. His owner found quills coming out the dogs back weeks after the event, which made me appreciate the danger the dog was really in!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Llamas.........?

Don Snabulus said...

Como se llamas?