Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm back.

It's been a long time since I've posted anything in this blog, but it recently occurred to me that I've been generating more potential content for it now than I ever had before, and that it might be good to start documenting some of it again.

I still walk or ride my bike to work every chance I get. A small change is that I moved even further from work, so I get an extra 4 or 5 miles in each day, just commuting. The big change is that I've taken to hiking and backpacking in a more committed way than I ever had before; not just for fitness, but for adventure, which I've once again developed a real hunger for.

There have been a lot of changes in my life, and while things have been stressful, getting outside has provided tangible relief as well as inspired some decisions about what I'd like to do with myself in the future. One exciting aspect is the potential for some real freedom in the coming months. The kind I haven't had in years due to work and home life. The kind I could really do something with.

I like to think that I'm the kind of person that follows through with things once he says he'll do them - or at least that's the person I'd like to be. For that reason, I'm not ready to declare that I am going to thru hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail this coming season. There are still too many variables I might not be able to control before April, but that is my hope.

To that end, I have begun doing everything I can to prepare myself for such a trip. I've been rabidly consuming any information about the trail I can get my hands on. I've been training with increasingly longer and more difficult day hikes and backpacking trips. I've been adjusting to what it means to do these things alone. I've been putting myself in situations that are challenging, and then rising to those challenges to be more comfortable facing them the next time around. I've been researching the gear I'll need and making plans to collect it. I've been working out the logistics of putting the rest of my life on hold for so long while I'm gone and saving to pay for it.

But talk is cheap. I'll write more about that when I'm actually doing it.

Lately, the hiking has led me out to the gorge a few times a week, focusing on trails Northwest Hiker labels "very difficult". In the past two weeks, that has meant ruckel ridge, and multiple ascents of Mt. Defiance. Since the last trip is still fresh in my mind and involved a little backpacking, I thought I'd recount the tale here.

My parents had been visiting the town of Hood River this past week, and asked if I could meet them there on their final day for breakfast. I figured this would be a great opportunity to work in another hike, and having come fresh off my first climb of Mt. Defiance, I thought I'd take advantage of the extra car as a shuttle to try a longer approach that started further west in the gorge at the Wyeth Trail Head (exit 51), on a hike that would end at the Starvation Creek Trail Head (exit 55), where most hikers begin and end their Mt. Defiance hikes.

From the campgrounds at Wyeth, gorge trail #411 immediately begins a steep ascent up the face of the gorge through a series of switchbacks that climbs an impressive 3840' in the first 4 miles from river level. At the top of the trail, you continue a short distance along a ridge before descending 500 feet down the south side, which you then have to regain before reaching North Lake.

The following photos were taken during this first section.

Early in the initial ascent, the west end of a switchback terminates at this creek.

This is the last few feet on the way up to the ridge. Most of the trail up to this point was similar terrain, although much steeper.

This is the best photo you get of yourself when you hike alone without a tripod. This is me at the top of the ridge.

Another shot of the terrain on the ridge before the initial descent.

It was very damp on this hike. The kind of fog that condensed on everything and created big drops of rain that originated in the canopy and soaked the forest floor. The variety of fungus that had sprung up this weekend was impressive.

North Lake is great little shallow alpine style lake, similar to the other two lakes in the area; Bear Lake and Warren Lake, which I later passed on this trip. All three are full of crystal clear chilly water, flanked by talus slopes, contain trout, and have primitive campsites on their banks. I liked the campsites on North Lake the best of the three, although I pushed on to Bear Lake before nightfall on this go. North Lake has a small peninsula with a few places to camp on it on the east end. Being on the end gives you good privacy from other campers if they're present. This late in the season I had all three of the lakes to myself, so it wasn't an issue.

A photo of North Lake from the north side.

A trout cruising the shallows on the east end of North Lake.

From North Lake, trail #413 cuts to the east toward Bear Lake and Mt. Defiance. My plan for this trip was to camp at Bear Lake, which would put me in a good position to get up on the Defiance Summit early in the day, and back to my car early in the afternoon afterward. The trail between North Lake and Bear Lake is relatively short with slight changes in elevation until the cut-off trail #413A to get down to Bear Lake, which descends about 100 feet.

This is typical of the climate between the first two lakes.

Descending down into the Bear Lake, I was a bit concerned about the night ahead of me. The forecast was for relatively warm dry weather so I opted not to pack a tent, but everything was dripping wet and cold, and the wind gusts were bone chilling. I immediately decided I'd need to build some sort of structure to stay comfortable until morning. I put together a primitive windbreak near an established fire ring, stashed my gear under it, and collected the driest wood I could find for a fire. With some luck and persistence, I managed to build up enough heat to start burning the larger wet stuff, and to cook and stay comfortable. The wind off the lake carried the hot air through my shelter, and I stayed comfortable in my bag for several hours. Then the rain started. I woke up around midnight, when large drops of water began pounding my exposed face. I did pack a Mylar emergency blanket, which I was able to drape over the shelter, trapping more heat, and providing a barrier against the falling rain. I crunched and contorted to get as much of my body under it as possible, and remained in my cocoon until first light. In the morning, I packed up my soggy gear the best I could, cleaned up the camp, and hiked back out to the the trail to Mt. Defiance.

As good a place to settle as any.

The shelter and the fire.

You must keep warm however you can.

The view from inside the shelter.

The trails the sparks were leaving in this photo illustrate the strength of the wind coming in all night.

Trail #413 from Bear Lake to Mt. Defiance is a straight line cut through the forest, and a steady climb. I knew this trail would take me to the area of the mountain, but I was a bit unclear where it would meet with the defiance trail. Eventually, I emerged from the wooded trail onto a talus slope it looked vaguely similar to a slope just above Warren Lake. It was fogged in and tough to get my bearings, but I had assumed there was a good distance to go to get to the summit. It turns out I was already practically standing on it. A hundred yards or so from that spot, the radio towers sat, obscured only by a patch of trees and the fog. I perched on the rock containing the summit marker, laid out some of my clothes to dry, and sat for an hour or so, facing where Mt. Hood should be, hoping for a view of the nearby peak. The view never came. Twice to the summit of Mt. Defiance in one week, and not a view to be had. Oh well.

The summit marker for Mt. Defiance.

From the summit, I began the familiar descent toward Warren Lake on trail #417, and from Warren Lake I took the Starvation Ridge trail #414, to the starvation ridge cut-off, and back to my car at the trail head. From there it was back to Portland with another adventure under my belt.

Taken from just the below the summit during a small break in the clouds.

Fall foliage on the edge of Warren Lake.