Mar 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm #1271348
Congratulations to Travis Leanna!
"Love Conquers All On The Trail
Thanks to everyone who entered their hiking stories during the Hyperlite Mountain Gear contest on Backpackinglight.com. After much debate, we chose this romantic and beautiful story submitted by Travis Leanna. Congratulations Travis! We hope you enjoy your new HMG Echo l Shelter!" –HMG
Thanks for participating! Click to view Travis' winning entry.
Ain't she purty?
To enter, simply post your favorite/best/funniest/most gripping hiking story as a comment on this forum. Bear in mind that minors read the forums (be as appropriate as you can muster), and that your story must not include anything illicit/illegal to be eligible to win (test this, and I might have to knock you into next week). There's no word limit, you can include photos, but please leave the gear lists out for once.
HMG is judging the entries, and the judges want to be moved in some way. Be descriptive and evocative. Be hilarious and persuasive. Be compelling and awe-inspiring.
Entries must be posted to the forum no later than 3:00 pm MDT on April 10. Winners will be announced April 12 at 7:00 am MDT. Winners must agree to their super-excellent story being bandied about the interwebs (BPL Forums, HMG's blog, Facebook, Twitter). The prize will ship by April 15.
Newcomers to BPL: you must create a user account to post to our forums. Please read our terms and conditions first!Mar 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm #1716728
I knew I should've taken a writing class in College…… lots of stories but poor at putting them down on paper…. Will we be able to read the top three?Mar 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm #1716782
@dan_quixoteLocale: below the mountains (AK)
is it ok if I just post this right now, and edit in an awesome story later? I just want mine near the top, is all. =)Mar 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm #1716893
@maxwelljLocale: Northern California
What a great idea! I look forward to see how it turns out.
Thanks for putting it on!Mar 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm #1716904
@mtn_nutLocale: Morrison, CO
I've got a few trips that are worthy to write about. mine might be more of a photo essay than an actual essayMar 30, 2011 at 8:45 am #1717157
@javapeteLocale: Great White North
Here's a few highlights of my 2009 thru hike on the AT…
I traveled for about 56hrs on planes, trains and a bus from Townsville Australia to Bangor Maine. Met my dad there, went shopping for food, shook down my pack and was dropped off at Katahdin the next day.
My hike up Katahdin started out late in the day, after the cut off, so I rushed up the mountain leaving my pack in the Rangers station. Things started off in a bit of a haze but looked good as the sun was shinning the whole way up, but then I got to the plateau and the clouds started rolling in. I made my way to the top and hung out for a bit (drank a beer) and was the last person to make my way back down, I immediatly started running into people that were going to be in trouble as I knew when they left the summit and how far they still had to go, no way they would make it before dark, so I made sure they all were comfortable with their situation, had water, food, lights and proper clothing.
I got to the rangers station just before dark and immediatly went to find the ranger to let her know of the situation and how many people would have a rough night hike back. After chatting for a while we got down to business, register and pay up for the night.
While I climbed Katahdin someone helped themselves to the cash I had and my credit card. The ranger was really nice and shocked that this happened, she let me stay for free, gave me some firewood and a lift to the lean-to. I couldn't do anything about it until I got to Monson, a little over 100 miles later. What a great start.
Leaving Gorham NH one of the guys I was hiking with had some friends come to hike with him/us for a few days. During our climb up Mt Moriah we split into three groups, Brad went on alone, Brian hiked with his girl friend and I hiked with her friend Jane and her dog. About a mile into the hike I had to carry her 20' x 20' tarp that she was going to abandon on the trail (Yes I tried to convince her prior to the hike that she would not need it) we hiked on and then about a mile later the dog jumped into the creek and destroyed his pack, SO I Put most of the stuff from the dog pack into my pack and we hiked on. Then it started to porring rain, Jane was shivvering, complaining constantly, wanting to quit and turn around but at this point we were closer to the shelter than the road so I told her she needed to push on. We got to the top of our first major climb and she was near hypothermia, I knew we needed to get to the shelter ASAP so I proceeded to carry my pack, her pack, and the dogs pack for the next 4.5 miles in the pouring rain. We got to about 3 miles from the shelter and reached a breaking point, she was pretty much hypothermic. We stopped and I got her drinking fluids, made some tea and told her to change into some dry clothes. She had NO dry clothes, everything in her pack was soaked. I gave her some of my dry clothes and raingear to wear and we hiked on, me still carrying everything. We got to the shelter just after dark, I got her settled, into dry clothes, her sleeping bag, and made her a hot supper…all the while she was just complaining to everyone around about absolutly everything. I stood out in the rain and drank the two beers that I packed in not saying a word for about an hour. The next day we found her the quickest way off the trail.
Thinking that I did such a great job, karma must be on my side…2 days later while climbing Mt Maddison, I slipped on a rock and knocked myself out, I was alone, I figure I was out for 30sec or a minute based on the amount of blood lost. KARMA EH!
Had a great time on Mt washington. As I was climbing down to Lake of the Clouds, trying to be one of the first people there so I could secure my spot for work for stay, I met a lady about halfway who asked me what time it was and if I thought that her and her two sons would make it to the top in time for the 5pm train down the mountain, I thought she would make it but it would be close. Then about 3/4 of a mile later I met a man hiking with his 3 year old daughter who looked very concerned, it was his wife up ahead and he feared that they would not make the last train. It took about 2 or 3 minutes for me to react but then I started jogging down to the hut. I got there, confirmed my place for wor for stay, asked if the last train was at 5pm, then dropped my pack and informed the hut staff that I was going to try and help. I ran up the trail, met the father, put his daughter on my back and continued jogging up the trail. The little girl was enjoying the ride but I was terrified she would fall off my back and kept telling her to hold on. we eventually made it to her mother and brothers who were less than a mile from the top, it was about 4:45 so I continued with the little girl on my back and told them I would inform the train conductor of their situation and get him to wait. I got to the train with a little girl on my back just as they were about to depart, I rushed over to the conductor, winded, exhausted, and said that he had to wait, that this was not my child, that her parent and sibblings were coming. He calmed me down, let me catch my breath and informed me that they decided to have an extra train run at 6pm. WHAT ANOTHER TRAIN AT 6!!! So I sat there with my new found friend, waited for her family, informed them that they were OK there was a 6pm train. I made my way back to Lake of the Clouds hut and it turns out everyone was talking about my rescue and all got a big kick out of finding out that there was a 6pm train. The caretakers figured that carrying a 3 year old up Mt Washington was enough work for my stay and gave me the rest of the night off.
MORE TO COME…Mar 30, 2011 at 10:00 am #1717193
(Note: this is posted on my site http://www.brownkatzoutdoors.com)
There Are Angels Part III
From Part I
“My God man!” he says, “What are you carrying? Did someone get hurt?”
He and his buddy are standing at the beginning of the next switchback down Georgia’s Blue Mountain, and as I carry the two packs toward him I tell him my wife is having a hard time.
"Tell you what,” he says as he drops his pack. ”Let me carry one of those down to the road for you.”
I don’t know who this guy is. I thank him, and I’m truly relieved. But I’m not surprised. With the way this trip has gone, I’ve been expecting him.
After the trudge down Blood Mountain, I’m really not in the mood for what I am expecting here at Mountain Crossings.
Fame can breed arrogance, and I am steeling myself for mistreatment. We make our way through the crowd to the door of the shop and there stands Joshua, the Woody Gap trail angel who appeared out of nowhere to give us a ride from Suches back to the AT. There he is, wearing his hiking kilt and showing off his unusual photography.
The Angel Joshua and his remarkable outdoor photography.
So this is the outfitter’s where he works. He’s all smiles and I’m grateful to see him again, a friendly face in this mob. I go in and talk to a young woman behind the counter, and she’s all apologies as she explains they only allow camping near the building during the spring thru-hiker season. The rest of the year they let the land recover.
She’s so nice about it all, despite the crush of people, I find myself okay with this. Besides, they’re right about the land.
Meanwhile, Mudpie has approached another employee, a young woman named Felicity. Mudpie asks if they sell reading glasses here, and Felicity tells her no, leads her to a little box and lets her choose from among three pair, free. Then Felicity checks on our mail drop.
It’s not here. She tells us the next mail is due on Monday at 12:30. We can’t camp nearby – which we’d planned on so we could shower and do laundry – and the next site with water is a mile and a half north.
That leaves staying in their hostel. I don’t want to stay in a hostel. I don’t want to stay in shelters, either. I don’t like the idea of staying some place with a whole lot of strangers likely to be making noise, getting drunk, smoking pot, staying up all night.
Mudpie loves the idea. She actually likes meeting people. And, she points out, the prediction is near freezing tonight. Grumbling, I agree to try it for one night. I’ve got some ear plugs in my pack. We go downstairs to check it out.
The Mountain Crossings hostel bunkroom
There’s this bearded old guy in the kitchen area. I ask him if he’s staying here tonight.
“I work here,” he says.
His trail name is Pirate, he manages the hostel, and he will become very important to us.
Turns out we’re the only people staying here tonight and tomorrow night. We go back to the shop, buy some snacks and wander around looking at all the gear. I buy denatured alcohol, some Esbit tabs as a backup, some more Micropur tablets and an MSR Sweetwater filter. I also buy a 1.8 liter Platypus Hoser. Mudpie’s been carrying our 3 liter version and it’s too much for her. Besides, I want to try out this new-fangled drinking tube thing she’s raving about. I meet Winton Porter and shake his hand.
I ask him if there is somewhere we can set up our tent and tarp to dry out.
“Right out front,” he says.
“Out front?” I blurt, confused that a shop owner would say such a thing.
“Sure. Anywhere out there.”
And so we do.
I can’t recall who it was, but one of them offers us a shakedown.
Porter and his staff have become famous for doing shakedowns of thru hikers’ gear during the season each spring. (See the story about them in Backpacker Magazine here) Lots of thru hikers start like we did last year – tremendously overburdened. They struggle from the AT’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain 30 miles to Mountain Crossings, where Porter and his staff go over all their gear and show them how to cut weight and stay safe. They do this for free.
Well, this isn’t the season, we’re not thru hikers, we’ve already bought a bunch of stuff and don’t plan to buy any more. But they offer it anyway. I ask what would be a good time when the staff is not too busy and they tell us after noon tomorrow, Sunday. So we go downstairs, choose bunks, unpack, take showers, do laundry, make dinner and relax watching a video.
Mudpie and one of the Mountain Crossings cats
When we unpack I find our lost water filter. Somehow I had managed to pack it under the trash compactor bag I use as a pack liner. I had gotten all upset for nothing, but forced to experience the good luck or God working or whatever that had Jim and Austen show up when we needed them.
The whatever continued. In the bunkroom I find two hiker boxes, where hikers leave stuff they don’t need for those who do. One box contains food, an outstanding selection of Ramen noodles. The other contains gear, and there I find a pot scrubber and a knee brace for Mudpie. Alongside I find some blue foam padding someone has already cut, and I make two sit pads for us. That, with the free reading glasses, replaces all we had lost or forgotten.
When I get up the next morning at 6 and wander into the kitchen area to make coffee I find some already made plus hot water in a carafe, bagels and croissant, Pop Tarts and a variety of add-hot-water stuff, including tea, cocoa, oatmeal and grits. Pirate gets up at 4 am everyday to do this for the hikers at the hostel, even if it’s just the two of us. Later he will give us a lunch of bean soup he made.
Breakfast at the Mountain Crossings hostel
Sunday, at about one in the afternoon, we carry our packs into the store and mention to the young woman behind the counter that we are supposed to ask about getting a shakedown.
“Oh, yes,” she says, “Alpine has been waiting for you. He’s right there.”
Before we go any further with this I want to explain something very odd and unusual about the people at Mountain Crossings. It is something I have experienced only once before in my life, at a very expensive, exclusive inn near the Swiss border in France.
They seem to anticipate our needs and to meet them like we are family. No sh…No lie. They act as though they were glad to help, even when there was no money in it. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Certainly at some point these people will tire of us and our problems and our endless questions, tell us they don’t have time to waste on people not spending much money. But they are as relentlessly friendly as Mudpie is optimistic.
Alpine is James Ingram, a highly experienced backpacker retired after 13 years as an Army Ranger, and those guys can hike. Alpine has like 20,000 miles under his boots. He brings us over to the backpacker clothing section of the store and directs us to unpack our gear, so we end up blocking real shoppers from the clothing racks. He then goes over almost every piece of gear we have, building a pile of unneeded stuff that grows and grows and grows, my tiny multi-tool and most of the rest of my just-in-case repair kit, the bear canister I bought to avoid hanging a bear bag, the smaller of our titanium pots and our second stove, windscreen, reflective base for it, and on and on.
Mountain Crossings does not prosthelitize for ultra-light gear for its own sake. They seek a balance between light weight and safety. And they don’t condemn comfort. I like this.
He has someone set up a teepee style tent for us to check out, since we tell him that’s what we hope to buy someday. He goes over what packs he thinks we should use, mine being the Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian I already have. I tell him I think the best for Mudpie would be a Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst, a 4600 cubic inch pack weighing just under 3 pounds. But Alpine convinces us a better pack for Mudpie is the Granite Gear Vapor Ki, the women’s version of GG’s famous Vapor Trail, at 2 pounds, five ounces and 3600 cubic inches. The Vapor Ki is $80.04 cheaper.
He helps us cut even more weight, opening our eyes us to trekking poles, which I had long-ago dismissed without trying, and loans us two pair of Lekis for the second half of our trip. The Leki sales rep happens to be there and Alpine has him give us a short course in how to use the things.
Alpine puts the stuff we don’t need in the back room to keep for us. When we retrieve our car at the end of our trip we will drive back here, return the Lekis, the glasses and the knee brace and get our stuff.
Alpine is teaching us as if we are on a thru-hike, since we told him that’s what we are practicing for.
He does it for four hours.
Alpine and Mudpie
That Sunday night we have the hostel to ourselves again. Next morning Pirate has laid out another breakfast before we even stir. We hang out, pack what we can, play with our new gear while we wait for 12:30 and the mail.
At 12:35 we go into the shop. We don’t even have to ask. One of the young women tells us the mail has arrived without our mail drop. Pirate is at my elbow. Somehow he also knows we were waiting for a mail drop.
“Come on,” he says. “I’ll take you into town so you can re-supply.”
“Why don’t we resupply here,” I say, gesturing toward all the packages of backpacker food.
“That’d be real expensive,” Mudpie says, and all of the staff standing around nods their heads.
Besides, this is thru-hike practice, so we’d better get used to re-supplying at regular stores.
We get in a van with Pirate and he drives us 18 miles to Blairsville. While he goes in a thrift shop for a bookcase, we hit a health food store to replace our supplements. Then he takes us to a shopping center and a big grocery store.
I’m carrying a cell phone. Its battery has died, presumably from the cold since I haven’t used it. I go into a Radio Shack next to the grocery store while Mudpie shops. I’m hoping to buy one of those battery powered quick charge things I’ve seen on the web, but the young man who helps me says they don’t have any.
“Why don’t you give me your phone and I’ll charge it while you’re shopping?” he says.
Turns out he is also a military veteran and he is planning an AT thru-hike. We have a nice chat and I encourage him to go see Alpine before he starts buying gear.
Mudpie has done a great job finding easy-to-cook food that will make pretty balanced, one-pot meals for us. As soon as we get in the van for the ride back, she gets on the floor and starts re-packing everything to save weight and space.
Mudpie repacking after Blairsville resupply
I’m actually sorry to leave this place. We buy two of Joshua’s photos and leave them and our hiking staffs with all the other stuff they’re holding for us. At about 3:30, we hike north with a new water filter, lots of Micropur, a full bottle of denatured, Esbit tabs for backup, grocery store food and yet lighter packs than we started with.
We’re headed over three days to Unicoi Gap. We’re going to cross the road there and camp just north of it about a mile. There’s a water source there and we’ll be able to get up early enough to hike back down to the gap and meet our shuttle ride at 8 am our last morning. All is well and I feel a kind of warm belonging to this trail community.
The weather turns bad. From daily sunshine and nightly moon glow it goes to constantly increasing wind, rain, mist and see-your-breath cold. The trekking poles are a great help, but even with the brace Mudpie’s knee is hurting. The trail is wet rocks covered with wet leaves and the down hills are pounding her. In some spots acorns lie in wet piles and feel like ball bearings under our feet. I transfer some of Mudpie’s gear to my pack and that helps. Still, we’re having a great time. I’m no longer the cynic. Whatever happens, either we or someone or something will take care of it.
The new water filter fails on its third use. In the rain. Some of our stuff gets wet, but Alpine had shown us Sea to Summit eVAC® dry sacks with eVent® on the bottom that lets air out. I bought two so our down bags compress but are safe from the water. I’m not a wreck over the water filter. We’ve got plenty of Micropur.
We’re behind schedule again and the weather keeps worsening. We set up our silnylon 10’ x 12’ tarp over our Double Rainbow ultra-light tent and seal the windward sides with leaves and duff. This gives us a dry, wind-free place to cook, change, pack and store our gear. We’re kind of having fun adapting. In the morning we push the leaves and duff back where we found them.
Our last day on the trail the weather has gotten even worse and Mudpie’s old rain jacket has wet out. Her poncho doesn’t work well hiking since she’s short and it gets in her way. We hike over two miles short of our goal, and make the Blue Mountain shelter. But when we get there we find the open side of the three wall building facing into the wind. The shelter is frigid and wet. I seal the opening with the tarp and a poncho and we have a calm and dry place to sleep. We break a rule that makes me nervous. We cook dinner in the shelter and I stay half awake all night fearing bears.
We have a long way to go in the morning and all down hill. If the weather is bad and Mudpie’s knee acts up, it will be a close call meeting our shuttle on time. We’ve never done a shuttle pick up before and have no idea how long the driver will wait for us if we’re late. We try to give ourselves plenty of time and rise at 4 am.
The weather is awful. The rain and mist are so thick there will be no daylight until 7:30 this morning. We literally can’t see our hands in front of our faces. It takes us two hours to get everything packed and get going, and we have a hard time finding the path from the shelter back to the trail.
Last year we had with us two Photon II key chain lights, which some say is all a backpacker needs. But over and over this past year I found myself imagining I was shining a very bright light into the woods on a misty night. After a friend showed me her small but powerful Surefire, I upgraded my old Mini Maglite with a 140 lumen Cree LED. The thing blasts through the rain and dark and mist this morning. Mudpie’s got one Photon Velcroed to her hat brim and another on a line around her neck. They barely illuminate a small pool at her feet. I’ve strapped one of my Lekis to the top of my pack to free one hand for the Maglite. I shine the light ahead to find the way, then back for her to see the path. The wind has toppled a tree into the trail during the night. There are branches all over. It is slow, slippery going.
Mudpie is going slower and slower. We’re not going to make our deadline.
Mudpie’s in tears. She’s standing a little up the mountain from me and her aching knee, the wet and rocky trail, the mist, the rush, have worn her down and now I’ve almost impaled her on my trekking pole. I forgot how far out the pole is sticking from the top of my pack and when I turned too fast it almost punctured her head. Now she’s terrified and crying. I fear she’s about to give up. I apologize, hold her, reassure her.
Then I take her pack and hang it on my chest, arms through the shoulder straps and the chest strap closed over the back of my pack. I’m carrying about 60 pounds, but its pretty well balanced front and back. I yank her pack to the right so I can see the ground. It’s finally dawn and we don’t need the lights. Mudpie can walk okay, now. We head down the mountain and I find I am imagining someone offering to carry her pack for me.
I don’t know his name. But he’s the angel who carried Mudpie’s pack to Unicoi Gap.Mar 30, 2011 at 10:40 am #1717227
What a great idea!Mar 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm #1717432
@junkLocale: The Great Lake State
On May 12 2010 I had open heart surgery to repair my leaking mitral valve and to remove tissue from my abnormally thick septum, which had both kept me from doing any strenuous activity for a long time. The surgery went well with just a couple of complications and after an 8 day stay in the hospital, I was able to go home and start the long process of rehabilitation. By July I was able to do some easy day hikes and by September the doctor said I could finally backpack again.
So early in October was the big day, I had been waiting and planning for months, my first solo overnight backpacking trip in over a year. I had all my gear ready, checked and rechecked, I loaded up my pack and then decided to use my smaller pack, so after transferring all my gear ( I thought ) I was ready to go.
It was a 4 ½ hour drive full of anticipation to the trail head , finally back in the woods. I couldn’t wait, even if the weather forecast called for rain turning to thunderstorms. Finally there, I parked the car, put on my raingear and started out on the trail. Light rain fell on and off, the forest was alive with beautiful fall colors sparkling with rain drops all around. I was having a great time until a weird thought popped into my head about 6 miles into my planned 10 mile hike for the day.
I FORGOT TO TAKE MY TENT OUT OF THE OUTSIDE POCKET OF MY OTHER PACK!
After a quick debate in my head , ( did I really forget my tent? ), I stopped to access the situation, yep, no tent, no other possible piece of gear to rig as a shelter, and darkening skies from the looming thunderstorm, it was game over. I turned around and made tracks back to the car, all the while in disbelief how I could’ve screwed up so bad after so much waiting and preparation. By the time I got back to the car the anger had worn off, after all, I was at least still able to hike at all.
A couple of weeks later, I tried again, with success. Same trail, same gear (plus a tent), and had a great time, with beautiful weather to boot. No tent necessary this time ( Oh well ).Mar 31, 2011 at 3:09 am #1717641
my wife and i had a wonderful time in yosemite in the summer of 2009. our trip didn't start out that well, though. after a first visit to the valley i was ready to leave. boy, it was so crowded.
as a result, we talked to the rangers at the big oak station and extended our wilderness permit by two more days (from an initial one night stay in the backcountry). rather spontaneously, we decided to do a semi-loop from murphy creek/tenaya lake to poly dome lakes, then ten lakes, and out. it seemed like 20 miles to me. we had a topo map for some of the area, paired with a vague idea of how strenuous hiking in the sierras can be.
after spending the first night at poly dome lakes, the second evening we barely made it to the big lake on the ten lakes trail coming from the east. all we managed to do before nightfall was to put up our bug tent and go to bed. retrospectively, i think we might have suffered from a mild form of altitude sickness–exhausted, nauseated, no appetite.
just 20 minutes before making camp, at dusk, i caught a split-second glimpse at a pair of tan-colored ears running past us on the ridge above as were were approaching the lake. i didn't think much of it. it certainly didn't move like a dear. my wife and i decided to stay close together.
once we reached our destination and set down our backpacks, we didn't eat nor do anything else for that matter besides getting ready for bed. we claimed a spot maybe ten to fifteen feet away from the shore on the eastern side of the lake.
while my wife was changing outside of the tent, she suddenly noticed something walking towards our campsite. i was sitting in the tent, taking off my shoes. she saw some greenish reflection (my wife had her headlamp on) so she thought it was a person with a reflective strap. ske asked me to come out of the tent (with my back to her, sitting five feet away, i didn't hear nor see anything). with the stranger now maybe ten feet away, my wife said 'hello.' on that cue, the creature turned its head and took a good look at her with its big green eyes. fortunately, a few seconds later, the creature turned away from my wife and our camp and continued its stroll away from us and the lake.
we started yelling, me rolling out of the tent, bear spray ready, headlamps on full blast. no surprise, my wife was really freaked out. sure, i was anxious as well but tried my best to stay calm. there was no sign of any animal–it was gone before i managed to get out of the tent. so we retreated into our bug tent (how thin the mesh walls suddenly seemed…) and i did my best to calm my wife down. it was obvious, i told her, that the animal was not interested in her, i mean, us.
well, all the yelling and shining, as it turned out, left the animal rather unimpressed. about 10 minutes later we heard obvious drinking sounds from the lake–animal at the waterhole. the beast must have circled around our camp to get to the water. we didn't hear it getting there but it was obvious that it enjoyed the water. so we started the whole shining and yelling tohobohu again. tasty water trumped all our yelling, though. fortunately, some moments later, the animal decided to slip back into the darkness.
at that time we though it was a bear. my wife claimed the animal was too big to be something else and our minds were framed by the whole bear country context. the animal's nonchalant behavior and big reflective eyes left me rather confused, though. strange bear. the next morning we couldn't find any tracks either.
eventually, we talked to my wife's dad, a hunting guide, and he suggested that it was a big cat; and certainly not a bear. the eyes of a bear would have been small compared to the pair of big green eyes that my wife starred down.
so at the end, the question remained (at least for us) if we witnessed an encounter with a bobcat or a mountain lion. my wife insisted that the animal that she saw was much bigger than a bobcat, the head/eyes too far off the ground. in addition, we were above 10,000' which, after some more research, led us to believe that we crossed paths with a mountain lion.
i did not see the creature at all, only my wife did. i now think of the mountain lion as my wife's totem animal. it was a fantastic trip with everybody safe and healthy, including the cat.Mar 31, 2011 at 6:46 am #1717672
I have a funny story with a matching video!
On my 2010 Northbound thru-hike of the AT, a group of us decided to spend the night at the Captain's Place just north of Pearisburg, VA. The captain is a very nice man who lets hikers spend the night in his house. To get to his house, you have to cross a river using a zip line. When we arrived at the zip line, the captain hopped on the zip line and with one big push off the tree, flew across to the side of the river we were on without us helping to pull him across- just like he owned the thing, and he did. He helped us attach our packs, get on the zip line and we all went about 5-10 feet before having to be pulled the rest of the way by the ropes. We spend the night at the Captain's Place. We woke up, the Captain left to work, and we head off to tackle the zip line. Now seeing the Captain push off the tree with ease and make it across the river with one kick on the previous day, I decided why not try the same! Here's the video of what happened!
Word traveled fast and the video became a hit. Every time I saw someone I haven't seen since the zip line, the first thing they said is let me see the video! Even hikers that I was meeting for the first time knew about the video!Mar 31, 2011 at 8:58 pm #1718122
@xpatrickxadLocale: Upper East TN
"…and that your story must not include anything illicit/illegal to be eligible to win …"
Bummer because my best story involves gun smuggling, drugs, prostitution, a serial killer and more. I'm not even kidding.Mar 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm #1718163
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
Please tell me your trail-name changed to "Faceplant"!Mar 31, 2011 at 10:38 pm #1718172
@zalmen_mlotekLocale: Northwest CT
With Chris's travels and my fatherly duties, our backpacking adventures haven’t been as common as we might like. But in early November we made it back into the woods for another two-man slumber party in the cold outdoors. Back in March, Chris's first trip took us to Connecticut’s highest summit, Bear Mountain (not to be confused with Connecticut’s highest point which you’ll find at the border with Massachusetts on your way up Mt. Frissell). This time—despite ambitious plans to summit at least a couple peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains—we didn’t make it to the highest point of anywhere. Unless, that is, you count as somewhere the good graces that called us down from what nearly became our coldest night ever.
The clustered 4,000+ foot summits and alpine lakes of Franconia Notch State Park, along with the opportunity to drive the scenic Kancamangus stretch of Route 112, collectively summoned us to the Lafayette trailhead along I-93 in the western Whites. We had spent the better part of the previous day at the Kittery Trading Post building Chris's collection of winter camping gear and we were prepared to spend the night at either the Kinsman Pond Shelter or in Chris's recently acquired Eureka Timberline two-man somewhere along the trail. Or, I should say, we thought we were prepared.
We made it onto the trail at 11 on Sunday morning. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the gray clouds started not far above the trailhead. As always, I started out wearing more than would be necessary once we got moving. At the start, there was 1.8 miles of trail between us and Lonesome Lake. A steady climb with good footing, Lonesome Lake Trail allowed us to work up a sweat and make good progress quickly. Early on, a pack of early teens panted anxiously back toward the asphalt. One coming particularly apart at the straps pleaded, “How much farther?” Not far, bud. You’re almost there. Taking their time a couple hundred yards behind them, a pair of fathers was much less eager to get back to whatever they’d left behind when they took their sons and their sons’ friends into the woods for the weekend.
By Noon, we made it to the icy shores of Lonesome Lake where we found the recently-renovated Lonesome Lake Hut. Some large family, or group of families, was making lunch in the kitchen and playing cards when we arrived. Chris and I took the opportunity to enjoy our packed sandwiches (one pb&j and one hummus, cheese and green pepper sandwich each) before resuming our hike. This is where I began expressing concerns about the looseness of our sleeping plans. Let’s just make it up to the Kinsman Shelter and assess from there, Chris insisted. Even with the 4:30 sunset (the clocks had been set back at 2am that morning), we’d have plenty of time to get there and back if necessary.
Fishin’ Jimmy Trail took us from Lonesome Lake to Kinsman Pond (1.9 miles, 1200' elevation gain). Slowly. The occasional stretch of steady progress was routinely interrupted by one precipitous ascent or another. Without any kind of foot traction, we found ourselves carefully clambering our ways up the face of many icy boulders. More than once, my better judgment and outstretched hand pulled Chris back from a less-than-advisable effort. After its many ups and downs, Fishin’ Jimmy Trail came to an intersection from which we came upon and unloaded our sacks into the Kinsman Pond Shelter. Another thirty yards past the shelter we could stand beside the not-quite-frozen pond, itself. It was 3:00 and we decided to find a tree-limb for hanging our food-sack at night and get settled in.
We found a good limb that would keep our food out of a bear’s reach and, back to the shelter, came across a lone hiker and his very happy dog, Kirby. Not having stopped moving long enough to realize how very cold it was, we explained our plans to settle in. The lone hiker shared the next day’s forecast he had read: hurricane force winds and sleet. Chris and I looked at each other and turned to the man’s plans. He wasn’t camping; he’d be hiking out into the dark with the help of Kirby and his headlamp.
Chris and I took out our map to assess our options. We could dig in and hope that the night’s cold and the next day’s weather were survivable. Or, we could hike back to Lonesome Lake and pay the $35 each for the relative comfort and warmth of the hut and its accommodations. In the time it took us to open the map and discuss our options, our decision was rapidly being made for us. The cold started to bring back memories of our March trip in Connecticut where we impatiently scarfed down half-cooked chick-peas for lack of warmth outside our sleeping bags. This cold night, it was looking to be even worse. Add the potential difficulties hiking out the next day and our minds were made up. Back to Lonesome Lake; but not by the crags of Fishin’ Jimmy Trail.
We would take the longer, but surely safer, route: Kinsman Pond Trail for 2.8 miles until a left turn on Cascade Brook Trail that would take us 0.8 miles to the hut. It was 3:20 and the sun would set before we made it. Nonetheless, we showed ourselves the meaning of haste. It was slow going at first along the west shore of the pond, but once the trail widened we were able to enter a light jog until the trail merged with the Cascade Brook. The trail was mostly clearly marked but snowfall and a lack of traffic made for some difficult moments. Only once we needed to split up to find the next blue trail blaze. As the trail separated from the brook again we were able to enter a full-stride run for at least a half-mile before darkness made that unwise. With the sun down and our headlamps on, we came to that intersection with less than a mile left to the hut at Lonesome Lake.
Along that last stretch we came across Kirby and his dad one more time. They must have done some running too, or just made some great time down Fishin’ Jimmy. He seemed happy to see that we were headed for a more reasonable resting spot than an hour and a half earlier. We wished each other well and continued on. By 5pm, we surprised the hut’s 23-year-old caretaker as we became her only guests for the night. Or, I should say, her only welcome guests.
Earlier that afternoon, during our lunch-break, we had learned of a neighborhood black bear that had helped itself to some of the sweets that, for some reason, had been left outside the hut. As far as we could tell, at least a jug of molasses was liberated. If the cartoons are to be believed, only honey could have made the bear happier.
All this was news to our host, Ashley, who had arrived sometime since our lunch break. She had dealt with the bear before, but she didn’t know about the bear’s dream cache left outside. She explained that a scheduled airlift of the hut’s excess food had gone uncompleted over the weekend and that the previous care-taker must have forgotten to bring the goods back inside. Whatever the case, Ashley knew, we wouldn’t be alone tonight.
We put our shoes back on and headed where the bear would surely be. It may have scurried away as we approached or it may have just been hanging out in the woods licking molasses out of its jug. We never got a good look, but when Ashley’s flashlight shone into the woods behind a row of cabins, two little scared bear eyes could be seen looking back. Ashley made a bunch of noise to keep the bear afraid of people and the hut—despite its newfound perks—and we headed back inside with some bear-mauled boxes of food left-over from the hut’s busy season.
We hung out for a couple hours, ate all of our stuffing, beans and rice, and learned some tricks for drying socks and keeping warm (not at the same time) with a bottle of hot water. Ashley’s front row seat to American hiking habits made for some good stories, particularly about the Boy Scouts.
Leaving aside the anecdote about the boy-poo left under a square of toilet paper on a cabin floor, consider the backpacking plan of the Boy Scout troupe that decided to divide the weight of its gear by some bizarre application of Taylor’s rules for efficiency. One boy carries only food, another, tents, and so forth. As if the original premise wasn’t bad enough, they put all the sleeping bags with the slow chubby kid. So when they arrived to their site, cold and tired, they couldn’t climb into their bags for another hour.
Off to our cabin, Chris and I did some jumping jacks and stretches to get the blood flowing, jumped into our bags and placed bottles of hot water in our respective crotches. Like a sauna, our bags and our toes warmed up and we slept as well as we had hiked.
We slept in Monday morning, making our way to the kitchen at nearly 10am. We didn’t putz around long. Just enough to share some of the morning with Ashley and enjoy the last of our food (Grape Nuts) and coffee. We took some photos, bought a Lonesome Lake patch, signed the guest book, said our goodbyes and made our way back down Lonesome Lake Trail. If we had waited much longer into the day to descend we likely would have encountered deceptively thin ice and undone any gains made on the dry socks front. But we made no such missteps. By Noon we were back at the Lafayette trailhead with dry socks and yet another adventure in the bag.
We definitely learned a bunch this trip, like checking the weather ahead of time. So thanks to Kirby’s dad and the early afternoon chill that struck Kinsman Pond for driving us back to Lonesome Lake. And it might be worth investing in some of those strap-on spikes for traction on ice when hiking in New Hampshire in November. But other than that, we did pretty well. Hey. At least nobody pooped on the cabin floor.
Mar 31, 2011 at 10:42 pm #1718176
My girlfriend (Gretchen) and I set out for Glacier National Park at 4:00 am from Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It was going to be a memorable 12 days.
Short rundown of our itinerary:
1. Drive to Little Missouri National Grasslands in North Dakota; spend the night
2. Finish the drive to Glacier NP.
3. Spend the night in the Flathead National Forest
4. Spend 6 nights in Glacier’s backcountry
5. Spend another night in the Flathead
6. Stay at the Village Inn on the shores of Lake McDonald for one night
7. Drive home
Like I said, we headed out in the early morning on the 30th. The morning was cool, the air was still, but the buzz of excitement had us energized. The drive through Wisconsin on I-94 is more exciting than many would think. While much of the Badger State is relatively flat and checkered with farmland, our dense, lush forests, moraines, drumlins, and various other glacial formations make for a decent drive through the state–especially north and west of Madison, through Black River Falls, and on to the great Mississippi River.
We entered, drove through, and left Minnesota without much to note. On to North Dakota! Now, for someone who has never visited the Great Plains, North Dakota was exciting for about 6 minutes. I missed my Wisconsin forests. However, once we started into the hillier Badlands, it became much more entertaining. The colorful canyons, buttes, and hills were a welcome sight, and it is always fun to explore a new terrain.
That evening, we turned off of I-94 onto Buffalo Gap Road into the National Grasslands (opposite of Theodore Roosevelt National Park), and drove up a rocky, rutted dirt road on which Gretchen’s Toyota Corolla seem slightly out of place. We picked a place on a small, flat patch of earth between two hills to pitch our shelter. That night was warm and clear, so all we set up was our two-person Bear Paw Tents Pyra Net 2.
[Sunset in the National Grasslands]
The next morning, we were up, cooked breakfast on some Gram Weenie stoves to the sound of some mooing gigantic black cows that were apparently free ranging, and continued our drive through the plains of Montana. Later that afternoon, for the first time, I set my eyes upon the great Rocky Mountain Range, shrouded in a gray, misty, rainstorm–a harbinger of weather conditions for the rest of our trip.
“That’s where we’re headed,” I said as I pointed out to the great peaks with renewed excitement.
“Wow,” replied Gretchen. The singular word was spoken like a child who was too encapsulated by awe and wonder to show outward excitement; yet the twinkle of joy surely danced in her eyes.
We drove on to our destination, which was an undetermined spot in the Flathead National Forest near West Glacier. I found a sign indicating “National Forest Access,” and turned onto the dirt road. The sky had clouded again, and thunder could be heard in the distance. Up went the MLD Trailstar with the bug net underneath. Lightning, thunder, and rain woke me up, but Gretchen slept right through it. We were in Montana. I smiled and went back to sleep.
The sun peeked through the towering pines as we sponged off the wet Trailstar, and the heavy, damp air left by last night’s thunderstorm began to evaporate. After breakfast we made our way to the backcountry permit office in Apgar Village, which to first-time visiting Wisconsinites on a sunny, warm, Sunday morning, seemed to be an incredibly charming and well-kept secret community hidden from the large populations. I still hold that view.
Gretchen’s Corolla was once again crawling up a rocky, winding road. This time to Bowman Lake Campground. We stepped out of the car and were greeted by the fresh scent of pine, clean mountain air, and amazing beauty all around us. We spent little time making final adjustments to our packs, and hit the trailhead around 11:00 am.
[Bowman Lake from Trailhead]
As you can see from the picture, the morning and early afternoon was beautiful. Oh, Nature’s little tricks… a thunderstorm popped up mid-afternoon, complete with pea-sized hail. We donned our pack covers and rain jackets, and onward down the trail we went. The cold rain and hail bounced off my jacket’s hood, soaked my hands on my trekking poles, and drenched my pants. But it was all good. It added to the flavor.
We got to Bowman Lake Campground late-afternoon and chose a site next to a Henry Shires’ Squall 2. We later found out that the owner of that tent was spending a month out on the Continental Divide Trail collecting data on wolves, elk, and ash trees, as their habitation was somehow intertwined–though I forget the exact function of the ash tree in that equation. The sky cleared, and the day became sunny and warm again.
[Bowman Lake Camp: our Trailstar and the lake]
I swam in the cool (freezing) water of Bowman Lake, soaked up all the scenery I could, and dried off to the realization that I felt more at home here than in any city. That evening, a family led by a guide from Glacier Guides came to camp. While I’m not going to criticize anyone here, I will say that their packs looked heavy! When I saw fresh veggies and other non-lightweight foods come out of their packs for dinner, it confirmed my suspicions. They were also most curious about our tiny Gram Weenie stoves. It was nice to know that my entire cookset weighed less than one of the green peppers they pulled out. But, they were a fun, nice group of people that Gretchen and I enjoyed talking to. A fire to dry out soaked socks and shoes capped the night.
Morning brought more sun. After breakfast we hit the trail and headed to Brown Pass. The trail led us through the forest and streams, with views of mountaintops peeking through the trees.
[Morning on Bowman Lake]
Also along the way we came upon some trees wrapped in barbed wire. Caught in the tines was some brown hair. Grizzly hair.
“Yep, they’re here alright,” I muttered with a sense of respect. The unfortunate events just a few days earlier in Yellowstone where a man was killed by a griz rang fresh in my mind. Even knowing the very small odds of an attack didn’t prevent that fear from creeping in just a bit.
[Grizzly hair along the trail to Brown Pass]
[Crossing Pocket Creek]
[Along the trail to Brown Pass]
After a brief lunch of tortillas, cheese, sausage, peanut butter, and hummus, we continued up the switchbacks leading to Brown Pass. With each step, the views became increasingly beautiful as we ascended up and out of the deep forests. Along with the expansive views came another thunderstorm. We could see the dark clouds brewing over a peak not too far to the west. I could feel the air change and the wind picked up. I pointed to the grayness with my trekking pole.
“I want to get to camp before that does,” I said to Gretchen.
“Yah, so do I.”
Its not that we would have been put off by another rain, but setting up our tarp over dry ground sounded nice.
[Storm brewing up and heading toward Brown Pass]
We threw up the tarp just as the rain started falling. A quick pitch of the Trailstar prevented most of our stuff from getting wet. We relaxed inside our bug shelter as the rain pattered on the silnylon canopy and the voracious mosquitos buzzed outside the permithren-soaked mesh.
“Ha ha!” I laughed out loud at those little buggers. I hate mosquitos.
A nap was in store before dinner as we waited for the rain to abate. As the storm passed, cool, damp air set in–the kind of air that doesn’t let a single sock dry out.
The sound of other campers getting into camp roused me from my nap. We were to share this campground with the same guide-led group we met the night before in Bowman. They were drenched. No pack covers. No pack liners. Bummer. They set up camp and their guide began cooking their meals.
I watched a few deer mill around camp and near the pit toilet. I do believe I could have pet one had I the inclination. They seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to nibble a sweat-soaked sock, pack, hat, or anything else left unattended. One took a fancy to Gretchen’s Platypus while we were in Bowman the day before. Thank God for Seam Grip and Super Glue. If anyone sees deer Poop with a blue bite valve and bite valve cover in it, you’ll know where that came from!
[Fruitlessly trying to dry gear at camp at Brown Pass]
That night we all ate dinner under either headnets or rain gear. The mosquitos seemed hungrier than we were. The sun poked out just long enough for us to see it set a deep, hazy red. The guide told us the haze and color of the sun was intensified by some fires burning to the south in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Sure was pretty, though. Later, as I lay inside my bug net and listened to the mossies buzz away, I just smiled and drifted to sleep.
This morning saw a shimmer of sun, but the clouds won out. Some rangers had come into camp to do some maintenance, including painting the pit toilet. Even the backcountry needs a pretty crapper. They also brought news of the weather forecast (scattered thunderstorms all week) and current grizzly activity. Apparently, some women staying in Hole-in-the-Wall campground a few nights before had a female grizz and her cub wander through camp. At some point both bears stood on their hind legs. What a sight that must have been! The same bears also prevented some hikers from continuing on the trail. Momma grizz didn’t want to move. According to the rangers, the bears were headed down toward the Lake Janet and Lake Francis area. So were we.
We broke camp and headed out into the hazy morning. Down the switchbacks toward Thunderbird Pond we went, and back into the dense, lush forests. Muddy trails and rain-soaked foliage soaked our shoes, socks, and pants. “Hey Bear!” became a commonly heard phrase that day, especially since we knew there were some bears in the area. We ate lunch at the Hawksbill campsite, then continued on to Lake Janet.
Gretchen and I were the sole occupants of the Lake Janet campsite. We took the opportunity to rinse off in the creek, which was amazingly cold (I just hope I didn’t do any permanent damage to my, er, well, you know.) The night became damp and cold, with temps reaching down into the mid 30s. By this point, I had become familiar with putting on damp socks before bed. They were always dry by morning.
Sun! We were always excited to see the sun. It meant cheerier days, more opportunity to dry clothes, and it was way better for photography. I took the chance to snap a few morning photos before we left the Lake Janet camp.
Today, our route backtracked to Brown Pass, but continued to Hole-in-the-Wall campground, which was considered by many to be one of the top campsites in the park.
“Today is going to be an amazing day,” I said aloud.
“Its all been amazing,” replied Gretchen. She was right.
[Sunrise at Lake Janet]
Even though we were retracing part of our route, it was like seeing all new scenery. The clouds and sun paint the landscape in completely different ways. Colors are different, water seems to change its opacity and clarity, and the very shape of mountains seems to morph with the presence of low-hanging clouds. It was actually a treat to be able to see the same landscape in two very distinct ways. Plus, the added sense of familiarity made the hike back up to Brown Pass seem new and old at the same time.
[Sun-kissed ridge at Lake Janet]
[Mirror surface of Thunderbird Pond]
We decided to eat lunch at Brown Pass before continuing on to Hole-in-the-Wall. The sun and warmth that reined throughout the morning were waning. Clouds were moving in again. No matter. We were about to see some of the most amazing views of our lives.
[On the trail to Hole-in-the-Wall. Bowman Lake can be seen to the left of center below the horizon]
The trail to Hole-in-the-Wall follows the side of the mountain. As you gently ascend, the view opens up and the entire valley lays at your feet like a giant mural. You look down and see Bowman Lake in the distance.
“Look!” I yelled to Gretchen. “That’s where we started!”
As we rounded the bend, more mountains kept popping into view. Then the campsite. Hole-in-the-Wall is a level, lush, cirque that sits between ridges and peaks. Several waterfalls feed into streams that crisscross the area before convening into one or two larger rivers that plunge off the edge to the valley several thousand feet below. From our vantage point, we could see where the water originated from snowmelt and fed the streams and waterfalls that eventually ran into the lakes we had swam in days before.
The sound of a helicopter interrupted the moment.
“Must be some tours,” I said. “That’d be kinda cool.”
“Yeah, but I’m certain our view is better than theirs,” was Gretchen’s retort.
And she was right. No matter how much “more” they could see by being in a helicopter, it simply couldn’t match traversing the land by foot. We actually knew the land. They were merely looking upon it.
The trail splits, and depending on your itinerary, you continue around the upper rim of the cirque, or you descend into the campground. Hole-in-the-Wall is an amazing little pocket of alpine fields, waterfalls, streams, and tiny stands of pines that have been disfigured or have grown with odd little bends and twists in their branches and trunks. We picked a site that is disconnected from the rest of the group; it requires a small stream crossing just to get to the pit toilet and cooking area!
Adjacent to our site was a stream fed by the cascading waterfalls originating from the peaks above. It was a mighty fine place to take a little shower. Every way you turned, your view was saturated with beauty. Mountainous peaks hovering in the distant mist, waterfalls, snow fields, and sun-drenched foliage of your immediate surroundings. This truly was a special place.
After chasing a deer around camp for a while (she was very interested in salty items) we cooked a fine dinner of Ramen, then watched a mountain goat teeter on a rock ledge far above us. He would not be the last we would see.
Before bed, I decided to take a solitary walk as the sun set, and dusk brought its cool, crisp air. This was a special walk. It would be my last moment alone before I was to open the door to a whole new chapter in my life. Tomorrow I was to ask Gretchen’s hand in marriage, on top of Boulder Peak. At this particular moment, this was my time to reflect. To rejoice. To take it all in.
I held up the ring, and snapped a photo with Boulder Peak inside the band. I smiled, put the ring back in its box and ziplock bag that I had kept deep inside the hydration pouch of my Exos pack, and slowly walked back to camp. I slept well that night.
[Evening view from Hole-in-the-Wall]
The clouds had stayed away that night, and the sun greeted us warmly. We packed and ate breakfast, and continued our journey. The trail between Hole-in-the-Wall and Boulder Campground was an extremely fun hike. Varying terrain and spectacular views filled our day, and was a seamless continuation from yesterday of the great interactive mural mother nature had painted for us. We ascended out of Hole-in-the-Wall, followed the higher ridge of the cirque, crossed small snow and scree fields, and pushed on towards Boulder Pass.
[Terrain and view as we approached Boulder Pass]
Following trails, footprints in snow, and strategically placed cairns, we made it easily over Boulder Pass. Here, we contemplated summiting the peak directly from the pass, or heading a short distance to camp and setting up our shelter before heading to the top. We opted for the latter. Marmots scurried as we walked over the smooth rock face that made up much of Boulder Campground. A quick setup of camp, and we were off to the summit.
After an initial failure at finding the best spot to gain the ridge up to the peak, we made our way up, past alpine grasses, trees, wolverine tracks in the snow, and loose rock, toward the summit. Down below us to the southwest was Pocket Lake, with Kinnerly and Kintla Peaks towering behind us. No, we were not in the company of giant 14ers or greater, but that mattered not. We had the most beautiful day on our shoulders, and we felt alive.
[Our goat friend who frequented the pit toilet at Boulder Campsite]
[Me, taking a load off]
[Campsite at Boulder Pass]
[Pocket Lake from the ridge heading up to Boulder Peak]
Now, Gretchen is afraid of heights in certain situations. Standing on a rock ridge, looking down at Pocket Lake was one of those situations. She initially froze and insisted I go on alone, but…what about my grand plans to propose on the peak!? I calmed her, and guided her up slowly until the ridge widened. All was safe. We reached the summit and found ourselves with a 360 degree view of endless mountains, illuminated by the most beautiful sunlight. The gentle breeze cooled the sweat we worked up climbing uphill, and we just took it all in.
Now was the time.
I set up my camera on a small tripod to take a shot of us together among the three rock cairns that marked the top of Boulder Peak. I set it for video. With camera rolling, I fumbled around in my pocket for the ring I had sighted Boulder Peak in the night before.
“Well,” I said to Gretchen. “I figure if we’ve made it this far…”
I fell to one knee.
“We can make it the rest of the way.” The box opened, and the ring sparkled as light danced around the facets of the stone.
She gasped and held her trembling hands to her mouth.
“Oh my God!” she cried.
[Frame excerpt from video of proposal]
Except one thing wasn’t right. She stared at me for a few seconds, and I back up at her. I had forgotten to actually ASK her to marry me!
“Do you have a question for me?”
“No!,” I sheepishly and jokingly said, which was promptly followed by me actually saying those four words.
“Will you marry me?”
“YES, I’LL MARRY YOU!”
We spent a bit more time at the summit, then began our way down the ridge back to camp. What’s more to say? That evening we cooked dinner with a couple from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I brought out some fine scotch whiskey I had been saving, and the four of us toasted to a wonderful day. Good conversation and a stunning sunset capped the evening of the first day of the rest of our lives.
[Sunset at Boulder Campground]
But the night wasn’t over. At about 2am, a thunderstorm from Hell unleashed a torrent of wind, rain, lightning, and thunder upon the camp. Rain was definitely misting through the Trailstar, wind was whipping us in all directions, and a rock slide very near our tent scared the crap out of me. Gretchen slept through that part of it. The rock slide was loud and close enough that it prompted other campers to poke their head out of their tent to see if we were ok. Once I was certain I wasn’t going to have large, pointy boulders rolling over us, I was able to fall back asleep. The storm was rather enjoyable at that point.
A windy morning was not much of a surprise, considering the night we had. But despite the wind and clouds, the sun struggled through. By the end of breakfast, the wind had swept away over Boulder Pass behind us, and a warm glow with a pleasant breeze had replaced all traces of nature’s turmoil.
[The sun pushing away the clouds]
Switchbacks slanted back and forth down the mountain as we headed for Upper Kintla Lake. The sun we enjoyed all morning gave way, yet again, to another downpour. Donning our raingear, we pushed on, back and forth through thick, wet brush, towering pines, and over rushing creeks. We passed a couple headed up to Boulder Pass.
“Where’d you come from?” the man asked.
“We were at Boulder last night.”
“Oh, were you in that storm? We heard it was pretty bad up there, and that there was a rockslide.”
Word travels fast, I guess.
“Yep, we were right in the middle of it!”
Lunch saw a break in the rain. We had stopped at Upper Kintla Lake to sit and eat for a bit before heading down to Kintla Lake for our final night. The ping pong game the weather had played all week continued. Sun cheered us up once again, and deep blue skies with its own mountains of clouds floated above.
[Upper Kintla Lake, looking back on where we had come from]
We strolled into camp at Kintla Lake and pitched the Trailstar as…wait for it…more rain came down. It didn’t last long, and we were soon out and enjoying our surroundings. I swam in Kintla, which was a gorgeous turquoise color. The water was relatively warm, which allowed me to spend more than a few minutes playing in the mountain waters. Loons dove in the distance, resurfacing dozens and dozens of yards away from their entry point. It became a game to try to predict where they’d pop up next.
Our campmates that night were three separate groups of canoers. Gretchen and I marveled at the equipment they had. After carrying near-ultralight packs for almost a week, we saw full-blown coolers, huge tents, many changes of clothes, large stoves, and a huge cast iron Dutch oven. And BEER. After talking to one couple, they offered us a couple of brews. It was pure delight to sit around the fire that night, nursing a cold beer. And, as coincidence may have it, they gave Gretchen and I nothing other than Honey Moon (makers of Blue Moon).
[Evening at Kintla Lake]
[Morning at Kintla Lake]
We had a leisurely morning before finishing the last 6.5 miles of our hike. We passed through thick, deep forest, burned sections from a 2003 forest fire, and eventually to the wildest place of all: Kintla Lake Campground (not to be confused with the backcountry Kintla Lake camp we had spent the night before). Loud cars, and worse yet, loud people were the first sounds to shatter the charm of the backcountry. Whiney little girls bossing around their parents and obnoxious drunk men were the wild animals here.
But we wouldn’t let it phase us. We were us, and they were them. For me, when I leave the backcountry, I leave a bit of me there, and I take a bit of it with me. The bits I take along act as a filter for the parts of “civilization” I don’t want intruding on me. The bits I leave act as a bridge so I can always visit the places I love.
[Canoes at the foot of Kintla Lake]
Despite our simultaneous joy and sadness of ending our hike, there were pressing issues. We needed to get to our car, which we had left at the foot of Bowman Lake some twenty miles away. Hitchhiking was in order. As we finished lunch, one of the couples who had canoed to our camp last night was just pulling up on shore. Jackpot. They were headed out past Polebridge, which would cut our journey back to our car by more than a dozen miles. We found another family to take us the rest of the way, and we reached our car early that afternoon. We were scheduled to stay at the Village Inn in Apgar the night of the 8th, so one more night in the Flathead National Forest was in order.
Before we checked in to our room at the Village Inn, we decided to drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road and do a few dayhikes. Avalanche Creek Trail was an easy, two mile hike through old-growth pines terminating at Avalanche Lake. The rushing water through Avalanche Creek had carved out the mountain stone over millennia, creating beautiful gorges filled with blue swirling water.
Our other hike was over Logan Pass to the lookout at Hidden Lake. The trail starts at Logan Pass Visitor center. People, people, everywhere. The weather had whipped up a nice cocktail of high winds, driving rain, and diving temperatures, causing everyone to cram into the visitor center. It was the role reversal of a zoo. Many humans crammed inside a small building with numerous large windows, while nature looked upon us from the outside. Touché, mother nature.
Once things settled down, we started along the trail, which for much of it was a boardwalk of zig zagging wooden planks. I assume this was to prevent hoards of careless tourists from trampling the sparse vegetation that dotted the expansive meadow that sat just below the pass. Once higher, the trail reverted to the normal dirt and rock path. We were accompanied by a mother goat and her kid. They ambled very near the gawking tourists, who occasionally rushed in too close to get a photo. We took in our fill of the scenery, and made the drive back to Apgar down the winding road, and found our hotel room.
[Kid at Logan Pass, with Hidden Lake in the background]
[Continental Divide weather at Logan’s Pass. Cold, rainy air mass on top of us colliding with a clear, warm air mass in the distance]
Soap! Shower! Our tiny little room at the Village Inn was just what we needed to air out some gear and relax. That night we had a hearty meal at Eddie’s Restaurant (outstanding buffalo burger, by the way), got some beer, and watched the sun set over the mountains, creating a collage of deep blues, purples, and blacks. Sleep beckoned.
[From our room at the Village Inn]
[Evening settling in on Lake McDonald]
[Morning on Lake McDonald]
We were sad to leave. Our journey was over, save for the long, long, car ride home. This wasn’t an epic traverse of hundreds or thousands of miles through untouched wilderness. It wasn’t a summit of the world’s highest mountain. Hell, we didn’t even go incredibly far for a week’s time. But we didn’t need to. The test of oneself in the backcountry isn’t necessarily how far or high you can go, but what you take away from it. A man could walk a thousand miles and be unchanged, while a child could spend five minutes watching a caterpillar inch its way down a leaf, and understand the majesty of life. We were that child, and our trip took us exactly how far we needed to go. As I closed the hotel room door behind me, I looked out to the blue mountains framing Lake McDonald and smiled.
“I’ll be back.”
[The mountains disappearing into the distance on the ride home]
Mar 31, 2011 at 10:47 pm #1718177
@biointegraLocale: Puget Sound
"Bummer because my best story involves gun smuggling, drugs, prostitution, a serial killer and more. I'm not even kidding."
Sounds like NE TN! Post it on another thread (trip reports or chaff).Apr 1, 2011 at 9:25 am #1718339
@cameronLocale: The WOODS
My coolest backpacking experience to date was taking a group of emotionally disturbed boys on a short backpacking trip. Here's the link to the story I wrote up about it.
This remains my favorite trip because in this case I wasn't just having fun myself I was able to use UL backpacking to help some boys who really needed a hand.Apr 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm #1718542
I contacted HMG about putting links in this thread, because that's what I did also. They want the actual story here, not a link. That's a bummer because I've got a lot of picture I'll need to re-upload.Apr 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm #1718670
My husband and I have been backpacking and hiking since we were in our teens and when we had our son, this is of course something we were eager to share with him. We planned a leisurely vacation to Banff and Jasper National Parks with a lot of hiking. One side trip was to the Yoho National Park in BC for a day outing at O’Hara Lake. It’s pretty difficult to get into this area, you have to book several months in advance and entry is severely restricted.
Already a week into our vacation (with two more to go), our 5-year old boy was not super excited about another day out hiking. And this day was going to be the biggest of the vacation, not just in terms of distance and altitude, but also with unquestionably the most spectacular scenery (and with the fewest number of tourists!). We really wanted to make it Cathedral Basin, which was about an 8-mile roundtrip, but we were prepared that it simply might not be possible. But as with most young children, the sooner you can find running water, a stick or a lake, things turn around quickly so we weren't daunted. And we had a plan…
So off we went with our lunch, water and a LOT of cajoling to keep our boy going. About half way to Cathedral Basin, the complaining really began to amp-up. So we decided it was time to bring on the bribes (I know I’m going to get the bad mommy rap for this, but I knew it’d be worth it). We had a package of Starburst candy “just in case” and so we began to offer one every time our boy made it to some landmark; the top of this hill, that rock way over there, that big tree up ahead, etc. all the while carefully parsing out the limited amount of candy. The last half mile was pretty hard in terms of keeping him motivated, but as we neared the lake, the trail leveled out and our boy immediately cheered up as we each stood in awe of the magnificent beauty.
We enjoyed lunch, skipping stones, identifying plants, geological formations, a very curious marmot and the crisp alpine air. After everyone was rested, we decided begin the trip back. About half way down, our boy really was spent. He was tired, and we knew it, but we used up the bribe candy (there were only 10 pieces in it) and he’s not interested in the fruit, granola bar or other snacks. To add to it, we’re starting to run low on water and forgot the filter, so my husband and I starting to move with a little more urgency. We took turns giving him a piggy back ride when the trail would permit such a dangerous thing, we played games, and more to keep him going. Once we saw the cabins and more people again his mood lifted, we were back to O’Hara Lake. We had a nice cold drink, and everyone was treated to an ice cream and we sat on the porch enjoying this immensely beautiful place. Our son began telling a kindly older gentlemen about our adventure when one of the bellmen asked if we had checked in (you can stay at the lodge there). We informed him we were here just for the day, when he informed us that the bus had already left. Uh-oh.
We had gotten the time of departure wrong (completely our fault, no way around this one!). Our only option was to walk down the road to the parking lot, “it’s just 12 miles, all down hill” the bellman gleefully noted. As we stood there quickly combing through our options, my husband goes down the road, I go, is there anyone else, we’ll pay whatever for a ride, etc. A maintenance man comes around the building in a small utility truck (think one of those small truck/cart things you might see a guy driving at your local park) with three trash cans on the back platform. He overhears the conversation between us and the bellman and offers to take us down the road. “It’ll probably take about an hour, this thing doesn’t go too fast, but she’ll get ya there!” he told us. So we helped him unload the trash cans, and squeezed onto the back and laughed the whole way down the hill. For three weeks we saw jaw-dropping amazing scenery, glaciers, animals, plants, weather, etc. and what does our boy remember most fondly of this trip? The ride on the “go cart.”Apr 2, 2011 at 6:37 pm #1719119
One of several stories from one epic adventure through Espana.
My professor and I were a little over half way through our 500-mile walk to Santiago on the Camino de Santiago. We had come to Manjarin, the only town on a Spanish map which has a population of one person—a hospiteleros who claims to have ties with the Templar Knights, and thus upholds their traditions within his particular albergue. This being said, the guy is a character. His vision for the Camino is a little different than most caretakers along the way; it isn't first come first serve for places to sleep, it is largely based on how far you've traveled that day. That particular day, we had only traveled a little over 10 miles but spent a majority of the early afternoon relaxing and killing time in hopes that arriving late to Manjarin will make it appear that we've traveled a long, difficult day. We were wrong. The Knight didn't allow us to stay the night, nor sleep in his yard, but did allow us to stay for dinner. After a simple meal of soup and salad, the sun had begun to set amongst the surrounding mountains. With this, rain clouds were heading in and we were limited on time for finding a camp spot before dark. Also, being as we didn't have tents with us for the Camino, we knew we would be cowboy camping it somewhere in the brush for the night. The Knight warned us about the wandering Policia who search for camping pilgrims—camping is illegal in this part of Spain due to people starting uncontrollable forest fires—which didn't ease our thoughts.
So we set off from Manjarin with about an hour of daylight left, hoping to find some sort of place to sleep for the night. At this point, three others who were also turned down by the Knight joined us. Traveling about 2 miles, one of the pilgrims who joined us was telling us a story about a wild boar he had seen earlier that day. Now on the look out for boars and the Policia, we settled on a small area with surrounding trees to help shield us from the mountain winds. The clouds were still hovering above, and drops of rain began to come down as the sky turned dark. I managed to fall asleep fairly quickly despite the howling winds and light drizzle.
Pitch black, and no longer raining, I woke up to one of the strangest noises I have ever heard. A sound between a bullfrog and a howling monkey—and no less than 10 feet away from us in the shadows of the night—grew increasingly louder in each passing rhythmic roar. This was the first time it really registered that I was on top of the tallest mountain range of the trip, unsheltered, and completely vulnerable to whatever may come my way. My first thought, honestly, was 'dragon-bird.' Was this real, or was this some crazy dream? Furthermore, were my fellow partners hearing this too?
After what felt like an hour of roaring croaks, this dragon-bird flew away. The roars still coming, but fading away, I was hoping it wasn't coming back with friends. I sat up immediately, looking at the other four around me, who also sat straight up in bewilderment.
"What the hell was that!?" I said, half laughing, half still scared out of my mind.
We all shared a few laughs, my professor exclaiming how he thought the Policia had stumbled upon us and were yelling "Fuego! Fuego!," thinking we started a forest fire. The other, who had seen the boar that day, naturally was inclined to think the boar was ready to attack us.
I didn't sleep much the rest of that night, naturally, and was excited to see the sun rise. We concluded it was a crow—they grow quite large in the mountains there—and still have a good laugh each time we tell this story.Apr 3, 2011 at 11:48 am #1719325
I originally wrote this on my WordPress site:
The plan was to hike, then camp on the Big Piney Trail for one night in a small section of the Mark Twain National Forest: the Paddy Creek Wilderness Area in Central Missouri. The planning took a turn for the insane when my fellow traveler and I began to talk about what kind of food we should pack.
We went to the grocery store and picked up a bunch of fruit to dehydrate. Smart and healthy, right? But, while browsing the items in the store we started to get an idea. First, it was just the simple, innocent idea of packing the supplies to make s’mores in camp, then I believe pancakes were mentioned. But, as we walked by the jarred pizza sauce, my fellow traveler asked the question that will forever make me whisper “why?” as I stare far into the distance, glassy-eyed and lost, shaking my head, “What if we tried to make pizza at camp? I could dehydrate the sauce, and a packaged pizza crust could slide into my pack VERY easily…(More and more nonsense, etc.)” He needn’t say anymore; I was in. “Derrrrp, why?”
We picked up the food items for this challenge: Boboli Pizza Crust, Bartolli pizza sauce (which as promised, my fellow traveler dehydrated), some Hormel Pepperoni, fresh mushrooms and basil (also dehydrated, pre-trip) and of course, the most important item: TWO POUNDS OF MOZZARELLA CHEESE!! That’s not an exaggeration. It seemed right at the time and I cannot, to this day, explain why (“why?”). I remember that we both said several times that we liked cheesy pizza, plus we reasoned that since there were two other people coming with us on this trip, then surely they’d want some pizza too; especially after a long hike. But, perhaps key to this purchase of cheesy excess: a camp cheese grater, which had never been used, would be packed and put to work. Totally reasonable.
We brainstormed over the next couple of days about what would be the best way to cook the pizza in camp. We would be in the middle of the woods, and the area would probably be wet from a predicted, soaking rainstorm. So, we likely wouldn’t have a campfire. We’d have to rely solely on our gear: a flash burner and titanium camp pans.
The morning we left for the National Forest, we stuffed our packs to their capacity (lesson learned). We were each carrying around 40 pounds of crap for an overnight trip. Two pounds of that, remember, were CHEESE! We packed a few extra items for a plan B: such as a very flexible aluminum pizza pan, just in case it didn’t rain and a fire could be built.
Unfortunately, camping on the trail didn’t work out, due to the very, very well predicted rainstorm (that is another bone-headed lesson) and the fact that we got separated from the others in our party (another pathetic lesson). But, the pizza-making did ensue. Once we met our friends back at the car, we set up a rain shield over a picnic table and went to work. The pizzeria was OPEN.
We rehydrated the pizza sauce and grated the hell out of those two pounds of cheese. We ripped the pizza crust into sizes that would fit inside the Snowpeak pan. Then, we slathered on the sauce, sprinkled on the mushrooms, basil and pepperoni; and piled the cheese high. We placed the lid on the pan to let the goodness melt.
And buon appetito, we had the best (and hopefully, mercifully the only) steamed pizza of our lives:
Lesson: don’t take equipment/ingredients to make a pizza or pancakes or ice cream or donuts or beer into the woods. Absolutely, do not EVER stuff something like two pounds of cheese into your pack…Just don’t.Apr 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm #1719345
Here is my entry. This took place along the PCT in the year 2000:
“We have a problem.”
“Huh? . . . Oh $#*!”
I had first learned of it a few days earlier. I was hiking along the trail and could hear the sound of a dirtbike in the distance. I’d been seeing dirtbike tracks on the trail for nearly a week, and I was mad about it. They aren’t allowed on the PCT. Hearing the sound of the bike now made me even madder. And it seemed to be getting closer.
I turned and saw a helmetless dirty guy with dark hair and a slight stature bearing down toward me. Simultaneously angry and a little scared, I turned and faced him, standing my ground in the middle of the trail. I raised my trekking poles slightly . . . ready . . . for something. I’m not quite sure what. As he got closer I could make out something strange affixed to the back and side of the dirtbike, many times longer than the bike itself, one end dragging in the dirt behind it.
What is that?
I squinted. Whatever it was, it was big. I glanced up and saw the rider smiling. I was so baffled that I stood staring as the bike went by, unable to think quickly enough to realize I wanted to confront him for riding on the trail. As he passed, I looked down again and realized he was dragging a long bundle of rebar.
Hmm. He’s doing trail maintenance.
It still angered me that he was riding a prohibited dirtbike on the PCT, but it seemed obvious that he had the permission of the powers that be to do his work, and they probably also granted permission for him to use the dirtbike to do it. I relaxed, turned around and started hiking north again.
A minute later, though it was silent, I could sense something behind me. I turned and saw a dog running as fast as it could muster. It gave me an offhand look of desperation as it passed me, barreling down the trail and trying its best to catch up to the guy on the dirtbike.
Ten minutes later I turned a bend to see the man whacking a long section of rebar into the ground with a mallet and the dog curled into a ball on the trail, looking as though he had been there resting comfortably for days.
“Where you headed?”
“North. Toward Belden.”
“Oh. Did you hear about the fire?”
No, I had not heard about the fire. This can’t be good.
“No. There’s a fire?”
“Yeah, north of Belden, on the other side of the highway. A big one.”
“I will. Thanks.”
The next day, having not seen another person since the dirtbike rider, I stopped to cook a meal right on the trail, as it was the only flat spot I’d seen in a while. The water was nearly boiling and I was relaxed and in a near meditative state on account of the silence around me.
Hearing Beaker yell my name split the silence so violently that I jumped, hitting my cook pot in the process. It teetered to the left, nearly tipping, but then settled back down. This all happened in the span of time it took me to realize that I would need to move my leg to avoid getting boiling water spilled all over it, but before I could start to move it.
“Geeze, Beaker. You scared the $*#T out of me!” Ignoring my statement completely, Beaker exclaimed, “I haven’t seen anyone in days! How’s it going?” It was good to see him.
Over the next few hours, Beaker regaled me with stories of his upbringing, the pranks he and other students pulled at boarding school, and his antics in college. I always loved Beaker’s stories. He had a lot of them. And they were always good. The ones he told me this day had me so enthralled that I didn’t initially notice that it looked hazy around us and it smelled like a campfire.
“Hey, did you hear about the fire?” I asked.
“Yeah, crazy.” A few minutes later we came to a clearing and could see a massive white and red mushroom-shaped cloud in the distance — right where we were headed.
“I wonder if we are inhaling our resupply packages right now?”
Passing Bucks Lake Road, we came to a trailside register. On it was a recently posted sign warning of the fire north of Belden, and informing of an alternate route north of the highway running through town. I filled out a self-registration form to place in the box: “Heading to Belden. Will figure out the alternate route after that.”
I later learned that, shortly after leaving that register, a ranger had stopped there and replaced the sign. It then read: “This section of trail is closed due to fire. Hikers shall take alternate route along road to Buck Lake.”
It was disconcerting, but not hugely surprising, when I came around the corner.
“We have a problem.”
“Huh? . . . Oh $#*!”
About 200 yards in front of us, and about 100 feet from the trail, grew a medium-size tree on top of a hill. It was on fire. Blackened manzanita bushes, still sparkling, crackling, and smoking, lay before us in every direction. I walked forward and found the silence of my footsteps on the light ash covering the trail remarkable, but not as eerie as the immense heat I could feel coming from both sides.
Stepping gingerly, we pressed forward to get a better view, wondering if the fire had passed, rendering the route down to Belden now safe to descend. In the middle of the first of innumerable switchbacks leading down to the town below, we stopped to assess the situation.
“Well, most of it looks burnt.” Indeed, the ash was so think that my shoes left an imprint an inch deep. “It might be safe since there isn’t any more fuel left.” As the last rays of sunlight left the ridge, and we contemplated our options while surveying the steep rolling hills below us, we were overcome by a soft but terrifying sound. It was a deep and resonating WHOOSH that can’t really be described. The smoke clouds on the far side of one of the hills came to life with a glowing angry orange color.
“Maybe we should turn around.” “Yeah, good idea. Yep, let’s turn around.”
In the meantime, my mother had heard about the fire on the news and had rushed to Buck Lake. She managed to locate where the trail crossed the road leading to the lake, and then had located the trailside register. She opened the box and found my self-registration form, stating that I had headed north and would then take the alternate route. Looking at the sign now posted there, she saw that, as far as the sign stated, the alternate route started right there, and involved a road walk to Buck Lake.
She drove along the road to Buck Lake, and along the rest of the alternate route headed north out of Buck Lake, but didn’t find me. So she called the Sheriff.
We had already hiked over 20 miles before we turned around, and it was 16 more back to the last road we crossed – the one leading to Buck Lake. However, we were highly motivated. Fear of being burned alive can do that. We hiked by headlamp, and we hiked fast.
As our watches ticked past midnight, though, the adrenaline high wore off and we started to fade. When we got to the only creek between the fire and the road to Buck Lake, we rationalized that if the fire managed to advance that far, we could jump in the stream and hopefully avoid death. Had we not been so tired, we probably would have realized that this idea was preposterous, but the siren call of sleep was too strong. We threw down our groundsheets, sleeping pads, and bags, and fell asleep quickly.
We awoke just as the first rays of sun started to filter through the thick haze surrounding us. There were no indications that the fire had grown imminently close, and we were both still perfectly alive. Then Beaker tried to kill me.
I hopped down to a large rock in the middle of the stream with my filter and water bladder in tow. Fiddling with the connections, and then pumping through a filter element that probably could have used a scrubbing, took time. Beaker was already packed and ready to go, and he was bored.
Strewn about the trail in random places, and at precarious angles, were many large cross sections of logs which had been cut out by trail crews clearing blow-downs. Each was four or five feet in diameter, and three to four feet thick. I’m not sure how much they weighed, but if you told me 300 pounds, I wouldn’t disagree. Some were lying flat on the ground, and others were perched at an angle leaning against those lying flat.
Beaker leaped upon a flat one. Then he jumped about 4 feet to the top of another one. There were no others close enough to leap to, so he set to work finding something to do with one that was perched at an angle leaning against the one upon which he was standing. I looked down to my task of filtering water, and I could hear him straining over the sound of the trickling water. I didn’t think anything of it, but a moment later, I heard him yell “Oh $%*t!”
I looked up. Beaker had gotten the section of log up on its side, and it slowly started to roll . . . toward the creek. It looked like it was going to land about 15 feet upstream of me. Interesting. I wondered if the splash would be large enough to get me wet. The log, now moving more quickly, hit a root and shifted course. Now it was going to land about 4 or 5 feet away from me. I sighed in resignation that I was going to get soaked. About 10 feet from splashdown, the log hit a rock. My eyes widened as I watched it head straight toward me. Everything that happened next moved in slow motion. I pushed myself into a standing position, but it felt like doing so took hours, and the log was nearly on me. Looking at the bank in front of me, I realized I couldn’t leap toward it without leaping over the advancing log, and that was just not going to work. I didn’t have time to look behind me, and even if I did, I’m not sure I would have wanted to turn my back to the 300 pounds charging toward me. I leaped straight up and backwards, having no idea where I was going to land.
While I was in mid-air, I watched the log smack into the water and wedge itself with a horrendous thud between the far bank and the rock upon which I had been sitting a fraction of a second ago. Pieces of bark flew into the air. My feet hit the water with a small splash, and my right foot landed on a rounded rock beneath the surface. I shifted my weight to my left foot to regain balance. As I could feel the cold wetness of the water start to filter through my shoes, I looked down at the rock. The edge of the log was about an inch from my half-filled water bladder, but had not actually touched it or my water filter. I looked up at Beaker. He stood staring with wide eyes and his mouth hanging open.
“How ‘bout you finish filtering my water for me while I change my socks?”
“Yeah, ok, sounds good.”
While barreling down the trail at a more than respectable clip, we frequently could hear helicopters or planes fly overhead, only about a hundred feet above us. I wondered aloud if they were searching for us, but quickly dismissed the idea because these monstrously loud machines seemed to be heading to their destination – the fire – with purpose. They sure didn’t seem to be scanning the ground.
We reached the road in short order. Beaker and I stood on opposite sides of the road with our thumbs out. We figured that quickly getting to a phone should be our highest priority, and that would involve getting a hitch, in whichever direction, as fast as possible. One car went by without stopping, but the driver of the second, headed toward Buck Lake, was happy to offer a lift.
Ten minutes later we stood in front of a restaurant, and in front of the restaurant stood a payphone. I quickly called my Dad. He seemed incredibly distraught, and had actually stayed home from work out of worry. He said that my Mom had already driven up to Buck Lake, and that they had informed the Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue that I was missing in the vicinity of the fire. This struck me as having been blown out of proportion, but I suppose that’s what parents are for, even once their kids are adults.
I called the Sheriff’s Department and told them I was fine and they didn’t need to search for me. They didn’t seem to have any idea about who I was or what search was being conducted.
Beaker and I sat down in the restaurant and ordered. Just as soon as the waitress left, my Mom walked in the front door. She seemed exhausted and somewhat relieved, but she also seemed to react to the situation less intensely than I expected. My Dad had seemed a lot more hysterical.
My Mom sat down as our cheeseburgers arrived. I took a giant bite and smiled. Before I could finish chewing, the front door opened again, and the Sherriff’s Deputy walked in.
“Is this your son?” he said to my Mom.
“Yes, we finally found him.”
“You know you had a lot of people worried about you. Why did you continue down the trail after it was closed?” he said to me.
“The sign we passed at the Buck Lake Road register said the trail was closed only north of Belden, so we didn’t think we were on closed trail.”
“You had a lot of people out searching for you.”
I seriously doubted that seeing as how the aircraft above us didn’t seem to be looking down along the trail, and how the Sheriff’s Department seemed not to know who I was, or anything about a search, when I called. I simply stared at the Sheriff and said nothing.
“Well, why didn’t you call? Weren’t you carrying a cell phone?”
“It doesn’t get reception and it’s wasted weight.”
“It gets reception out here.”
I just looked at him. He stared back at me. Neither of us said anything. After about ten seconds, he softly grunted and walked out the front door.
I turned to Beaker. “Isn’t this cheeseburger great?”Apr 4, 2011 at 8:35 am #1719723
A LA BAMBA
"I hate camping".
That's the conversation my son and I had on the Inca Trail. It felt better to express it out loud, and it served as a bonding experience for us to be in total agreement that: this sucked.
Which it wasn't supposed to. The Inca Trail is an idealized dream, the trip of a lifetime; the epitome of cool: father/son trip, world famous trail, being in Peru, all that good stuff. But us Colorado boys are not used to the extremely stringent rules here: you have to go with a guide. And guides only go with commercial groups. And commercial groups take four days, start at the same place, camp at the same places, finish at the same time and place. There are no options; all Inca Trail trips are replicas of each other. It's like chinese restaurants: 100 years ago, some guy opened the first chinese restaurant, then the next 100,000 guys copied him precisely, so every chinese restaurant, from Anchorage to Anaheim, has the same menu, the same decor, the same waiter with a surly attitude.
Same on the Inca Trail: there is no way out of the rigid format; it's like the hiker is an automobile part moving down an assembly line, and every day at the proscribed time, one of the workers connects some food to you – the same food they serve every time – and then the assembly line stops for the day, and you have to sit around with nothing to do but be waited on, which is the last thing a hiker actually wants.
Everyone is required to stop hiking for the day, at like, Noon. The fabled Inca Trail is 26 miles long, and despite the tourist brochures, it isn't any harder than it sounds: 26 divided by 4 still equals just 6.5 miles per day. You get up, the cooks make you porridge, you walk for 4 hours, you stop with 100 other people in a muddy trampled campsite devoid of vegetation, then you sit there in a tent in the rain until you are allowed to start walking again the next morning.
So maybe it's not exactly that we don't like to camp; maybe it's just that we truly do like to hike, but the anti-camping sentiment was the conclusion we were forced to draw, while sitting in our tent, in the rain, in the middle of the day, on a beautiful trail, that we weren't allowed to walk on.
The final night we rolled into some sort of funky lodge. Which was better: instead of hanging out in a tent in the rain for hours, we could hang out under a roof in the rain for hours. Actually, it was way better: they had beer. And other libations. Soon it got seriously better: most of our trek mates were Argentinian college students, who weren't very good hikers – 4 hrs/day was probably about right for them – but expert party-goers: siesta is 2 pm, dinner at 9 pm, standard bedtime is 1 am. It was going to be a hot time in the old town tonight.
Around dark a guitar came out – who knows from where this materialized – and a fellow trekker turned out to be a good singer. I was particularly impressed with his version of "La Bamba" – the original, authentic, pre-Richie Valens version – turns out the verse "a la bamba" is slang for "at the dance", and he got things going, aided in no small part by the national drink down there, the "Cuba Libre" (Free Cuba). Known as Rum and Coke here, the style is to mix it up in two liter plastic bottles and pass it along.
Dancing was good. We had been socially restricted the whole trip by a language and cultural barrier, both of which are removed at a real party. It was hot and steamy inside, cold, dark, and wet outside, and everyone was sick to death of the Chamomile Tea they served every day on the trek, sick of the schedule, frustrated that their vacation that was supposed to be so amazing was actually sort of annoying. But 'a la bamba' the guides couldn't tell us what to do, and couldn't dance either, so these frustrations were about to be remedied.
A few of the guys started shouting at me: "Avion! Avion!" What? I knew "Avion" means "airplane" … oh I get it! So I took a run at them and jumped … sure enough, they bent down, caught and lifted me into the air, and we went running giddily around the room, me being carried aloft with my arms stretched outwards like an airplane, crazy Argentinians whooping it up. Might not look so good on "Dancing With the Stars", but it sure was working that night. Free Cuba.
A circle formed, and as the bottle was passed around, each person took a turn in the middle, showing off their best salsa moves, the rest of the circle cheering them on. Everybody was supportive, everybody was good, there was no slow or fast, young or old, good or bad … you threw everything you had into it, everybody loved what you gave. Free all of us.
Then it was Galen's turn, and without hesitation he stripped off his down vest in a dramatic flourish, and strutted into the circle while twirling it around over his head a few times before letting it fly randomly off into the crowd. My son, the soft-spoken Engineering graduate? What the heck was he doing? He was break dancing … I didn't know he knew how to break dance … he probably didn't … but he spun around a few more times, then flung himself down onto the floor on his back, still spinning, in the middle of the wildly cheering crowd, us the only Norte Americano's, him showing them how it's done, feet in the air, head in the clouds, a common language and a solid bond.
The next day we ambled into some ruins called Machu Picchu. It was good: clouds on the peaks, jungle below, and some nice stone work. At 11:00 am the tourist buses arrived and a few hundred people piled out; our signal to leave.
Good trail. Nice place. But what I really liked was the camping. Camping's great. I can't wait until next time.Apr 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm #1721175
I don’t care how many times I’m told that killer whales are not interested in me and my kayak, there will always be The Fear. Because The Fear is all that matters. It is what keeps me going through the days and nights. In the cities. In the woods. Down the rivers. Up the hills. Because without The Fear, would we still have the tales to tell?
The thing about Alaska is that you can never get truly comfortable. It is too vast. The killer whales are too hungry. The wolves. The bears. The rain. You survive the whales and get ashore, grizz is waiting, waiting, always waiting. Around the bend. Behind the bushes. We’d see them every day. Working for the forest service we were told that the only thing predictable about patrolling Misty Fiords is its unpredictability. The only thing predictable about grizz is that she’s unpredictable. The only thing predicable about the weather……is the rain.
All summer we had been seeing this big old mama grizzly and her two cubs on the long rocky shore of Cheecats Cove. They had been grazing the river grass in the spring and when the first of the salmon started making their way back to the river they were there. Feasting. Always feasting. By late august the salmon were easy pickings. Cohos and chum lay sideways barely moving in the ripples of our paddles you could pick them up and kiss their slimy little mouths if you were so inclined and they wouldn’t even bat their gills. And always the bears lumbering along the shore. Cheecats was a place to paddle along. To linger and to marvel at but never to come ashore. We knew there were bears everywhere we had to camp but for some reason we all steered clear of Cheecats Cove.
Late august. A rare afternoon break in the rain. The waves start picking up as a fierce wind comes in off the ocean. Killer whales are beneath us. I am paddling along in my plastic seal shaped kayak. – But no, they never attack.
Sure. Ok. Sure. Some day I will be eaten. There is no doubt.
And the waves are really picking up. We have six miles to go before we can even think about pulling off to set up camp for the night. But that’s not going to happen. The waves are breaking over our boats and pulling us out to sea. We have no choice. Tonight we are sleeping at Cheeecats Cove.
No bears as we pull in to the creek edge but the signs are everywhere. Big piles of dung, not steaming, but big, and a slaughter of salmon with their faces and brains eaten out. Carcasses everywhere. The eagles are in a frenzy.
I turn to my partner. We have no business being here.
What are we gonna do? She replies. This is madness.
That’s why we’re here right? For the madness.
Ah.. It is now.
So we set up camp above the creek and this place is just straight up beautiful. A true paradise. The creek is singing –welcome home welcome home–. The mountains in the distance like reluctant gods waiting for the shroud of fog to garland them with evening rain. And the forest to our backs is dark and deep the way forests should be. A hundred, hundred miles between our faces and the next.
In the long, long Alaskan dusk we drink red wine from a thermos and I pull out of an eddy one of those dog salmon and we gut it and toss the organs to the eagles and we walk out to the far edge of the cove far from our camp and the waves are slamming the shore and we build a fire and wrap the fish in rock weed and throw it on the coals and go tramping along the creek looking for trouble.
Come back and eat and the night barely darkens us in its breeze and there is no place in this world that I would rather be. Really. No place.
I’ll keep the gun tonight
Alright. Good luck.
And sleep doesn’t come easy but it comes. Dreams. Wilderness dreams. Laverne standing beside a blue stop sign bangs a knee drum. Strange scenes from another life. And then……..
There is no sound like it. Nothing on this earth or the next can compare. That low growl in the near distance. The calm thrashing getting close, closer……. and then it stops.
Then The Fear. When there is no sound left and you know just outside your tent she is waiting for your move. And what to do? I call over to my partner in the tent to my left.
You hear that
Can you see anything
Do you wanna go look
You got the gun.
Ah yes the gun. I scored a perfect ten on the target shooting during training. Nailed three shots at thirty yards and then three shots in ten seconds. One at thirty yards, one at twenty and then one at five. Supposed to simulate a charge. The idea being that one shot won’t stop her. Two shots won’t stop her. The third. Yeah. Maybe. If you hit her right.
So I’ve got the gun. Hehehehe. And I’m in my underwear. And I disengage the safety and scratch an itch on the back of the only neck that I will ever own. Unzip the fly and step out into that twilight looking for to find.
She’s closer than I thought. Twenty yards? Fifteen? Wow. Big. And then she stands at my arrival. Whoa. Real big. Bigger than six or seven of me’s. eight me’s? Big. That is a big bear. And she is looking at me. Her teeth are looking at me. And I’m in my underwear. Those teeth. And how about those claws? Those teeth and those claws. And I’ve got the shotgun pointing at her.
She shakes her face and then brings her body back to the ground. Swats at the skunk cabbage and takes three quick steps and then stops again. Damn. I haven’t shot her yet. Am I waiting for something? Am I going to die?. I used to write poems about wanting to be eaten. I still want to be eaten. Someday. When there is nothing left to do or say. Far from here. Far.
But she stops. And she turns her gorgeous face to the creek. Her two cubs are sitting behind a moss log looking up at us. She growls at them and they scurry up into the darkness beyond. Into the brush. And she turns and looks at me again as if to say…..ah, what do I know. What do I know what she would say. If she had the words to say. –You’re not ready to be eaten–. Maybe. And then she turns and follows her cubs. And then it is just me again. Holding the gun. In my underwear, looking at the mountains beyond glowing in the light of the half moon peeking from behind the clouds. First time I’ve seen the moon in months. The sound the creek makes on its endless flow over the boulder stones. The wind against my only face.
In the morning we pack quick and breakfastless. And push off into the sea who is all softness and calm and calling. The killer whales await.
It’s such a long short life we live.Apr 7, 2011 at 8:55 am #1721374
Mike St.Pierre (HMG)Participant
Thanks for all the great stories! Keep them coming.. we will select a winner early next week.
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