Friday, August 31, 2012

Enroute to Redding - August 29,30 & 31, 2012

These are the last days of our trip along the Northwest coast of North America.  We started at our home a few hundred meters from Alaska's Cook Inlet, wended our way through the Inside Passage aboard the MV Columbia, and for the last few days by car along the coast of Washington and Oregon.  Tomorrow we turn our wheels inland to our destination, Redding, California.


On August 29, we took off from Ocean Shores, Washington where we had stayed overnight. Our room overlooked the Pacific Ocean....which during the time we were there lived up to its name. It stayed "pacific" -- peaceful -- under a warm sun with comfortable breezes. I kept thinking about how this coastal country looks when the weather is less....pacific....like in winter when gales sweep off the vast ocean. 

We stopped a second night at Newport, Oregon.  US Route 101 along the coast is beautiful in many places, like the picture at left shows.  It's a bit slow because of the many towns along the road.

Our friend Frank said the towns are 27 miles apart because that's how far it was judged that horses could be pushed in a single day.

We picked up Frank in Bandon, Oregon, about an hour north of his home, where he had dropped off his Cessna 182 for its annual inspection.


Long time friends Frank and Jan have lived in Gold Beach for 12 years.  It's a pleasant community of about 2,000 in the very southwest corner of Oregon.  We stayed up to all hours last night chattering about everything.  We'll stay again tonight.

The climate here is fascinating to me.  It is almost always sunny and pleasantly warm in the summers.  Frank says winters are cool with period rain events.  The area stays cooler than inland Oregon and California because of cool coastal breezes.

NEXT >>

Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26, 27 & 28, 2012

Our Canadian friends Ryan, Sara, Amy and Alyssa met us on Saturday morning in Kamloops.  I've not been to this community before, but it has a pleasant Canadian feel to it.  Kamloops brought back memories of Calgary where I lived with my family 1968-1971.  Ryan says it is growing with older people because of its pleasant climate.

Amy and Alyssa were READY to swim just about anywhere.  We all went to Riverside Park along the Thompson Rivers in the center of Kamloops.  They waded, swam, checked out rocks, had their faces painted, and generally had a great time.  After Mexican food, the girls wanted to swim some more so we came back to the hotel and had more fun in the water. :)

  

Linda and I met Ryan at Bible School in Sweden in 2003, and he has been a great friend ever since.  Sara and the girls are a great delight to us, too.  We're happy to be part of their lives!

We reluctantly parted company on Sunday morning and headed for Seattle where Linda's twin brother Larry lives with his wife Jenny and children Sarah and Emma.  Larry and I became friends early in my college experience at La. Tech as a result of our mutual interest in ham radio.  Then I found out he had a sister!  





From North Seattle we set course for IKEA in Renton.  I wish there was an IKEA in Anchorage!  We discovered IKEA in Uppsala 10 years ago, and were more than delighted to find there were branches in the USA.

Linda's younger brother Warren and his family live also on our route, so we went there for the night.

Enroute to Olympia, WAZE, the iPhone social GPS app showed another facet of its value. Interstate 5 is known for its traffic jams, and on Monday evening, WAZE demonstrated its ability to detect traffic jams and route us around them.  Because WAZE connects our driving experience....and that of many others....back to a central computer, it is able to detect traffic snarls and send that information out in real time to other users.  Here's some more about WAZE.  As you can perhaps tell, I'm a fan. :)





Warren and his family live in a pleasant wooded area near Olympia.  When we arrived, Warren was cooking massive pieces of steak and venison on his BBQ.  Awesome!

We helped them eat that...and some pecan pie.

On the following morning, Warren and I went out to Costco and Cabela's.  First time for me in a Cabela's store.  Note to women reading this:  men don't "shop" in Cabela's.  They drool.

Later in the day, we headed west for Ocean Shores in Gray's Harbor county.  It is just west of Aberdeen on the edge of the continent.  Our room had an ocean view.  Lovely!

NEXT >>


Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012


August 23rd was our last full day on the ferry for this trip.  It is our first time on the ferry through these Canadian waters.  The sea- and waterscapes look a lot like Southeast Alaska...similar vegetation, land formations and rocky beaches.

The topography is remarkable in many ways, and sometimes quite interesting.  Grenville Channel is nearly 50 nautical miles long; a nearly straight strait.  Most of the passage through Canadian waters is protected from the rollers coming from the open Pacific.  

We transited the few open water passages on a revlatively calm day.  It can get much less comfortable than we found it for the few hours required for passing through them.

I got up early today and washed clothes.  The Columbia has washers and dryers...which were in heavy demand the rest of the day.

We made a point to wake up early on the morning of Friday, August 24th, as the ship would come into Bellingham at 7 AM ship's time (8 AM PDST) and we needed to have all in readiness.

The ferry cleared out quickly.  Even those of us on the upper car deck were moved out rapidly.

It felt strange to be on land again after the slight vibration and motion of the ferry.  We quickly gassed up and shaped a course for Kamloops, BC to meet some friends from Calgary on Saturday.  

NEXT >>


Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012


MV Columbia / AMHS photo
Alaska Marine Highway's M/V Columbia
The ferry trip aboard the MV Columbia from Haines, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington goes remarkably quickly.  Five calendar days are involved, but the trip is really only four nights, three full days and parts of two others.  We boarded on Monday evening and got off early on Friday morning....not bad for 1,800 miles.

While Columbia's 17 knots can't compete with its faster cousins in the fleet (Chenga and Fairweather) with their 32 knot service speeds, it rocks right along through darkness and foul weather.  It goes while we are sleeping.


The ferry is more expensive than travelling by land, especially for people who can travel long, fast and light.  However, it is easier on our backs and we can do other things while travelling.  And the scenery is always pretty and sometimes spectacular.

Our suspicion that we really do use the `Net a great deal was confirmed on the ferry.  Other than 3G cellular data available in Juneau and Ketchikan, there wasn't much Internet available during these days aboard the Columbia.  We turned off our data roaming once we entered Canadian waters.....at almost $16/mb for data, we thought we could live without it for a little while longer.  Barely.

I woke up on August 23 with fog out the port and no forward movement on the ship.  It turned out we were just about to leave Wrangell.  The fog dissipated somewhat as we headed down Clarence Strait towards Ketchikan.


We arrived in Ketchikan at noon.  It is a busy place with jets arriving and departing Gravina Island, across the narrows from the city, ferries shuttling back and forth, fishing boats coming and going and a constant roar of float planes using the narrows as a runway.

We transited the Alaska / Canada border in Dixon Entrance just as the sun was going down in a spectacular fashion over Prince of Wales Island.  

The ferry did make an unscheduled stop at Prince Rupert for a medical evacuation.  Fortunately for the ill individual, it was only a few hours distant, and not far from the normal course.

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Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012

I am writing this as the MV Columbia steams south through Peril Strait toward Sitka.  It is morning and I have just breakfasted in the dining room.  Baranof and its surrounding islands are a particularly lovely part of the Alexander Archipelago, and Peril Strait one of the loveliest and most interesting.

Peril Strait is narrow -- in some places, very narrow.  As I finished my breakfast we were quite close to the rocks.  I could easily have softball pitched to the forested shore.  Low hills and higher peaks marched away from my view into the cloud-shrouded distance.

Around another turn in the narrow passage is a view to the west and the open Pacific.  Fishing boats dot the horizon. This is fishing country and commercial and sport fishermen work hard and play hard in the summer months when the silvery salmon are returning to natal streams.  Here and there, salmon jump completely put of the water. There is a sense of energy and purpose in the air.

We had boarded Columbia the previous afternoon in Haines, and we had started that day in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory.  We had awoken that morning at the Raven Hotel, and the very nice complimentary breakfast added to my already stratospheric estimation of this impressive small hotel.  One does not expect to find places of this calibre along the Alaska Highway. Clean is usually about as good as it gets.

We also did not expect the highway from Haines Junction to Haines to be so smooth.  Our first trip over is this road had been 40 years earlier, and it was gravel and dirt at that time, with some asphalt on the American side.  This time, we traveled  on a broad, smoothly-paved highway that left more time for sightseeing as so little effort was needed for pothole avoidance.  Kluane National and Tatshenshini Provincial parks are immediately west of the road, and their mountains are stunning.  Only an under-construction stretch of gravel near the middle of the trip slowed us down.

The treeless high country near the Haines Road summit was our first look into such country as newly minted married folk.  I recalled to Linda the small lake where we had stopped to allow me to identify a bird -- a Barrows goldeneye -- a life bird for me back then. We talked about the excitement in our hearts of those days.  It only takes passing through this beautiful country to fan it into flame once again!

We did listen to a sermon as we drove along.  The tall mountains, late summer snowfields and wild creeks seemed to punctuate the preacher's words as he spoke about hearing the voice of God.  When we strain to hear Him, the preacher said, we are using logic and usually fail to hear.   It is often when we are about other "non-religious activity" that His voice comes.

I have always liked the downhill trip from the Haines Road summit.  It feels like a quick slice of the north, from the high mountain tundra through the coastal forest to tidewater.

Haines was more difficult for us than in the past, but people were very willing to help.  We stopped at the local IGA grocery, and a friendly checker brought out a ramp for us to get over the high step into the building.  Sidewalk curbs and construction made it feel a bit forbidding.

That Alaska friendliness extended to the ferry.  When I asked at the terminal about parking close to the onboard elevator, we wound up on the upper car deck with our car's trunk next to the door into pursers office area!

UPPER car deck???  Yep.  First time ever for us riding a car elevator.  They had two such elevators.  There was room up there for about 25 vehicles.   It was tight, but an easy trip for our gear out of the car up one flight of stairs or elevator trip to the stateroom.

And when we got to the purser's desk, the purser asked if we would prefer a handicap-accessible cabin.  Wow!  Thanks, Lord!   It had not been available when I booked many weeks earlier.   It is perfect for us.

We stopped in Sitka for several hours.  Because the ferry most easily navigates Sergius Narrows near high or low slack tide, it stays longer at this port than most others.  The crew used the time for fire and lifesaving drills.

If you miss the tight passageway into Sitka, you can see it again on the way out, as it is the only protected waterway in and out of Sitka.  Linda and I sat in the observation lounge and watched the verdant shores glide by.

Later, we ate dinner in the restaurant as the Columbia steamed south in Chatham Strait.  We could easily see the ABC islands - Admiralty to the east, Baranof to the west, and dimly to the north, Chichagof.  Interestingly, we had cell phone coverage - probably from the community of Angoon - for a couple of hours. As we turned the corner into Frederick Sound, we had coverage from Kake.  Those who installed the cell phone systems in these communities....did they know their work would allow travelers along the inside Passage to keep in touch with friends and family?

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Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012

Linda and I ready to head down the road to Redding.  (Picture by Katie Breci)

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Linda and I are going on a sabbatical of nine months.  We are going to be students at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, CA.  Our plan is to return in May or June of 2013.

Doing car-time with my girl is a good thing.  There's not much to do in the car except drive, sleep or talk.  And in the two days on the road so far, we've done a lot of driving and talking.

I actually look forward to car-time with Linda.  We talk a LOT during the course of ordinary days, but there's something about the proximity and the pleasure of driving together that brings out a lot of good conversation.  One of the things that our first day's trip did for us was process more completely issues we have touched on in recent weeks but not thoroughly discussed.

My original plan was to spend our time listening to sermons.  I like to listen to sermons.  Really.  I especially like to listen to sermons that open up new vistas in faith or sermons that fill in cracks in my being-like-Jesus. I have a lot of those, but they are getting filled in.

Fortunately, I told a friend who is a few years ahead of us what I planned to do.  She said, "NO!!!!!  Relax.  Spend time together.   Look at the scenery.  Talk."  Good advice.  :)  Now, we probably will listen to a few sermons along the way, but I'm glad I haven't tried to listen our way through the miles and kilometers.

Meeting a new friend was another outcome of just relaxing as we drove along.  I brought along a small amateur radio transceiver and connected it to a magnetic mount antenna on the roof.  As we drove through the hinterlands east of Tok, I heard another ham announce his presence.  We talked several times for the next few hours.  Sometimes he was ahead, sometimes, we were.  Finally, he saw us at a pullout Yukon and we had an "eyeball", as it is called in ham radio circles.  It just means we talked in person rather than by radio.  I hope we'll have a chance to look him up when we return to Alaska.  He lives on the Kenai and was driving to the west coast for his 50th high school reunion.

We learned a good lesson early on in the drive.  The lesson is this: fast food is better in memory than actual experience.  We have stopped for many years at "The Freeze" in Glennallen.  We used to stop there many years ago when it was a Tastee Freeze, and many root beer floats were ingested.  By the time we got there last night, it was suppertime and we had worked ourselves up to a light drool.

The service was pleasant, the food was not bad....but it just wasn't the same somehow. And it was expensive.  After eating, there were sure enough calories in the system, but....umm.....not all calories are equal....either in the eating or in the digesting.   We decided to buy and eat our own food wherever we could thereafter.

Speaking of our own food, we bought a 16 quart 12V Coleman cooler to carry refrigerated food with us.  The cooler fits on the floor behind the front passenger seat and plugs into one of the Camry's 12v outlets.  The fan makes a bit of noise, but it is really not annoying.  We also bought a 110v - 12v converter to allow use in hotel rooms and on the ferry.  Our food has stayed well chilled.  We really like it....and no ice!  It does produce condensation inside in damp climate situations, but it needs only be wiped out occasionally.

We stopped our first night at the Westmark in Tok.  It was clean and comfortable, but looking a bit frayed.  Our second night we stayed at the Raven Hotel in Haines Junction.  Wow!  What a great small inn it is!  The rooms were immaculate with up-to-date furnishings....and there was even WiFi and a simple, pleasant complimentary breakfast.  Two thumbs up for the Raven.  If we come this way again, this is where I will want to stay.

NEXT >>

Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 4 - Elk Lake

I'd like to report that each morning I bounced out of the sleeping bag ready to take several side trips and run, not walk, to the north trail head.  But by Day 4, my dogs were barking.  It feels as if I'm in pretty good shape for a 62 year old, but there was no getting around the stiffness and the sore feet.  The good news is after walking for awhile, it was not so noticeable.

Interestingly, we ate relatively little in comparison to our caloric output on this trip.  I have not felt particularly hungry, and I knew I was losing what turned out to be about 5 lb. (2.3 kg)  What is it, then, this need to eat that I feel when I am at home burning many fewer calories?

We took off early in order to be at Elk Lake in time for our planned rendezvous with Matt.  It was warmer this morning -- 50F (10C) at 7 AM.

Just south of the Rimrock Lake camp, we crossed to the other side of East Rosebud Creek on a actual bridge.  There's a LOT of water going under that bridge (barely visible in the lower right corner of the photo at right).  Without the bridge, this north end of the trail would fall into disuse.

Heading south from the bridge, the trail continues to drop rapidly in elevation.  Parts of it hang on steep rock faces, but nothing felt particularly scary.....although it was clear that falling would ruin your day.

As we were threading our way along the cliff trail, two runners burst into view.  Maybe Larry and I should have just run the trail.

The hike to Elk Lake took several hours.  Part of the trail near the lake works its way through a burn, and there were many berry-bearing shrubs coming in after the fire.  I have never eaten thimbleberries.  They were ripe and good.

Elk Lake had elk tracks.  And deer tracks.  And a beach with sand and grass.  It was perfect for a quick (very quick) swim in the sunshine.  Larry told the family when we got home that he saw a great white walrus in the lake.  I didn't see it.

The lake had many visitors.  The lake is close enough to the trail head that more groups arrived from the north end after we for the scenery or fishing.  No one else seemed to be swimming, however.

Matt showed up right at noon....with this great looking Dagwood Bumstead sandwich.  I was impressed -- no summer sausage and cheese for this guy!  He also offered to carry Larry's pack, and later, about half way to the finish line, Larry offered to carry mine.  I put up a brief fight.

The Beaten Path is a remote place.  It is remote enough that we had to drive about a half hour to get any cell phone reception whatever, and that, of course, is the true measure of remoteness in the early 21st century.

It was also remote enough to be good for the soul.  The solitude was refreshing.  Larry and I talked when we wanted to, but also respected each other's need for quiet.

I know why Jesus left the crowds to pray.  When Linda and I visited Israel in 2004, I rose early in the Judean wilderness before the sun even lit the mountains east of the Jordan.  I walked out of the camp and talked with the Lord as the sky began to lighten.  It was the same here in the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness.  Somehow, away from the works of man, it is easier to connect with God.

I am grateful that such places as this exist.  They are a window into our past.  This land is little changed from the days when it knew only the feet of the Crow Indians.

One never knows when will be the last time for something.  The season for climbing through the mountains is winding down for Larry and I, and I'm happy that we have the health to enjoy it still.  It will be a good memory for us both.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album


Monday, August 06, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 3 - Lakes and Falls

I carry a thermometer in my pack so I can either brag or complain, depending on how far temperatures range from comfortable.  On the morning of day three the thermometer registered a cool 41F (5C).  That's almost a brag, but the temperature really should have fallen below freezing to get any significant bragging traction.

After our a wet evening the night before, clear skies before dawn looked pretty inviting.  The large rocks near our campsite were already dry because of their slow release of heat from days of hot sunshine, so we laid out everything wet.  When the sun came over the ridge a little after six , drying moved faster.  We hung around the Twin Outlets Lake campsite until almost ten to dry out and rest.

Not long after mounting up the for the third day we saw one of the most beautiful vistas of the trip.  Larry stands on the lakeshore sans pack in the picture of this vista at right.

It turned out to be the beginning of a series of stunning lakes and falls.  Not far from the outlet of this lake, the water of the creek squeezes through a channel one could almost jump.  It shoots out at high pressure on its way to more rapids and falls.

I remember thinking as we padded along that you can't see scenery like this from a highway.  There are some marvelous sights along the North American road system, but because of how trails work, the walker is right up close to the scenery....and not whizzing by at 60 mph (97 kph).  The scenery on this trip is unparalleled with any Rocky Mountain scenery I have seen over the years.

Impass Falls was one of those unparalleled sights.  After shooting through rock flumes and racing through rock-choked channels, East Rosebud Creeks falls down a steep bank for perhaps 200 feet.  The trail passes not far from the falls.

I thought this must be Lake At Falls, an intriguingly named body of water....but it's Duggan Lake.  Lake At Falls is another waterfall fed lake.  Its most visible waterfall comes from much higher Martin Lake, but with less water than Impass.


Trail on cliffs could have been the name for this section of the Beaten Path.  The trail almost looks hewn into the rock or blown out of it, but I think for the most part, it follows a natural ledge.  In many places, the trail is shored up by some careful rock placement that builds up the path.  In one notable place, aging iron bolts, bars, and wooden cribbing hold the trail from careening down the mountain.

The trail was mostly pretty wide along these places, but narrow in a few.  These places didn't seem particularly dangerous, but it was a little unnerving to see rock on one side and at least 100 feet (30 m) of very thin air on the other.

After passing Lake at Falls we stopped for lunch.  I have a love-hate relationship with summer sausage.  The only time I ever eat it is while camping.  It is calorie dense, and lasts a long time in moderate temperatures. I should probably stop writing about this now.

My Swedish heritage dictates eating a certain amount of rye crisp bread, so I brought some of that along, partly because it, too, lasts a long time, but mainly because I like it, and I'm not saying that because of some buried cultural imperative.  I have tried many kinds of rye crisp, and this is the first time I have managed to buy one that actually tastes like cardboard.  It's probably fine with butter and jam, and it did have a lot of fiber.  You may be wondering at this point how I know what cardboard tastes like.

While we were eating the summer sausage, cheese and cardboard, a USFS trail maintenance worker walked up.  She carried a very efficient looking saw-on-a-pole and a shovel in the back pack.  We chatted a while about the trail and its history.  She said it had been in place since the 1930's when the CCC put a LOT of time into it.  That explained the amazing amount of rock work on the trail.

It also made me think about what might happen to the trail if a time comes when the USFS is no longer fiscally able to take care of it.  Avalanches, high water, and just freeze-thaw cycles can really change things in a short time.  There are a few places that could easily become impassable, and that would be the end of through traffic.

This afternoon at 1:30 my thermometer read 76F (24C).  That seems pretty warm to an Alaska boy like me, but it beat the 90F+ (32C) temperatures in Bozeman.  On day one, I wore shorts, but did fine with my long pants the other days.

We kept going because we wanted to make it a fairly easy fourth day to the rendezvous we planned with Larry's son at Elk Lake.  We did stop for a while near Rainbow Lake to chat with a Montana FW&P game warden.  He had hiked in the eight miles (12.8 km) to check compliance with the fishing regulations.  There are fish in many of these lakes.

Rimrock Lake was our last campsite.  I think it was the most attractive.  It was nice and open, and dry.  It was easy to take a splash in the lake and clean up.  We finished our chores and crawled into our sleeping bags.

I had fallen asleep when I felt Larry's elbow hitting me.  "Did you hear that?" he said.  I hadn't, but if Larry, who isn't easily alarmed was sitting up, I was going to listen carefully.  I sat up.  The rustling around outside our tent came soon again.  This was no junco thrashing around for bugs in the leaves.

Grizzly bears are not uncommon in the Montana mountains, and while we hadn't seen any sign of them, we had pulled our food up into a tree each night out of long habit.  The USFS has wisely required bear proof containers or bear proof storage for travelers in this area.  This requirement is not only good for individual campers, it's good for bears.  Fed bears usually become dead bears, I have learned over the years.  Once a bear gets the idea that humans have food, it becomes either a serious annoyance or a danger....and it winds up hurting a person, is killed, or both.

We each carried a can of "bear repellent" for the entire trip.  I love that name: it conjures up images of bears buzzing around, but confused about landing because of the smell.  And if it is a repellent, why don't we spray it on our own skin?  Could we get a combination insect and bear repellent?

We also carried a pistol as a last resort.  I don't want to shoot a bear....the bear is just being a bear, we share the same backyard, and killing a threatened species in defense of life means explaining oneself to officialdom. And then there is the specter of wounding a bear.....

We peered a little apprehensively out under the tent fly and saw.....deer prancing in the dim light.  Four of them.  Mostly they were just looking around our camp site, but there was also some prancing going on.  There was a buck in the group.  Were they showing off for each other?  Were they having fun?  I am intrigued by animal play behavior, but I would have also been happier to observe their antics at a more reasonable hour.

It rained twice today.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 2 - On to the High Country


On our second day of the Beaten Path, we left early and continue climbing toward the high country.  Some trail sections tilted down but most were up, up, up.  

Larry wanted to start at the southern end because there is less climbing involved.  The south trailhead is around 8,000 feet (2438 m), the trail summit just under 10,000 (3048 m), and the north trailhead around 6,500 (1981 m).  South to north involves less climbing, although one hiker we met at Elk Lake said it was easier on the knees to go the other direction.  She also carried a sunflower umbrella, and walked faster than we did.  You have to respect an older person who has done the trail both directions, walks fast, and has the chutzpah to deploy a sunflower umbrella on a sunny day.  She also pointed out that it was a matter of tradition to patronize the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe on our way home.  I thought wistfully of the highly recommended hamburger as we whizzed by the bar.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

One of our early stops on this second day was in a beautiful meadow through which a small clear creek flowed.  We hadn't been resting long there before a black dog bounded up the trail toward us.  Wow, you're a long way from home, Bowser.  But pretty soon a pack train of horses led by some pretty non-dude-looking types showed up and it was clear who Bowser was with.  The pack train turned off the trail and headed up the hill to a nearby lake.  

Back on the trail again we came to a not-bridged creek. This was not good news to guys who had started to build up a fantasy about dry creek crossings on this trip.  After a pretty dangerous looking attempt to get across on some slippery logs just above an impressive set of rapids -- actually, it really more of a low waterfall -- the accumulation of 120+ years of staying-alive wisdom kicked in and we walked upstream to more level spot.

Now, note, ford does not necessarily mean getting across with dry feet.  If you are aboard a steed, yes, that might be so, but the only steeds in sight went the other direction an hour ago.  

Off came the socks.  Boots back on, we plunged in.  It was neither especially deep nor horribly swift, but there was plenty of liquefied snow to fill calf-high boots had we been wearing them.  We linked arms, doubled trekking poles in the out arms and made it to the other side without drowning even once.  I would have gladly carried some little lightweight fording shoes to avoid many hours of wetfoot.

Speaking of trekking poles, I have learned to appreciate them, and this trip underscored that.  One of many ways to get hurt on this trip is to stumble on a rock and do a face plant (or a rib or knee plant) on another rock.  But beyond the advantages of sticks to ward off klutz moments, they help with balance, take load off the knees, and allow us to put our arms into the walking/packing motion.  You guys in your 30's with your pristine knees don't know what I'm talking about.  You will.  When 60 years old you are, hike so well you will not -- at least not without sticks.  My spiffy little sticks are adjustable (longer for downhill, shorter for up) and have carbide tips that really dig into rocks.

On up we climbed.  None of it was arduous, but for a guy (me) who lives within sound of the sea (Cook Inlet) 9,000'+ (2743 m) of additional elevation was.....umm.....good aerobic excise.  My brother, on the other hand, acted like he wasn't even tired.  He walks slowly and steadily uphill, but on the level, it's hard to keep up with him.  Good thing I spent many hours on the treadmill, stair climber, elliptical and fixed bicycle this past spring.  It's hard on older brothers to be walked into the ground by younger.  I stayed up with him, mostly.

Some hikers we met coming out of the high country reported a lively flock of mosquitoes up on top.  They showed us their headnets and reported that the little suckers made life less pleasant in the Fossil Lake vicinity.  I asked how many mosquitoes got sucked in just in normal breathing, eating and talking because that is the true measure of mosquito badness. I also asked them if they were fishing them out of their food or if there were so many they just ate them anyway.  That's a good auxiliary indicator.  When they replied less than one per hour, and mainly fishing them out, we knew their numbers weren't epic.  But that didn't make us anxious to spend a lot of time in their company allowing them to probe our defenses.

So we walked straight on through from the trail summit just west of Fossil Lake until we got to tree line down valley to the north.  Between the mosquitoes, an electrical storm and accompanying rain and hail, the trees seemed like a good idea.  It was impressive how fast the storm came and went.  From a cloudless west, clouds began scudding in on the wind and getting stuck over the high country.  Within a couple of hours, lightning flashed, and thunder started crashing from far and near, and rain began to fall.  Pea-sized hail began, driven by the storm wind that followed.  A lot of hail.  

Although we were walking right along, the high country was beautiful, even if there was scarcely enough oxygen to support life.  Fossil Lake cried out for a raft from which to explore and fish the large lake.  Fish disturbed the lake surface as we walked by.  

We continued on downhill until we arrived at Twin Outlets Lake where we stopped for the evening.  The sky had cleared, but then clouded up and rained hail again.  We logged quite a bit of tent time that evening, but the skies did clear.  Mosquitoes were few.

I made a mistake that evening.  One of the great features of synthetic insulation sleeping bags is that they can dry out the washing, or at least small loads, anyway.  My mistake was wearing my wet socks in the sleeping bag overnight.  I should have just put them on my chest....anywhere that would have allowed my feet to dry out.  My feet paid for that error as the trip went on.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 1 - Russell Lake

When my brother turned 60, he asked if I would join him on a summer hike in the Montana mountains in lieu of celebrating with him in Bozeman in mid-January.  We had been hiking together since Boy Scout days in the early 1960's....almost 50 years of backpacking.  It wasn't a hard question to answer.

The hike that Larry -- an experienced Montana hiker and climber -- selected was one that he had been thinking about for years.  The hike starts (or ends) near the NE entry of Yellowstone National Park and ends 26 trail miles (42 km) northeast of there at East Rosebud Lake, west of Red Lodge.  The trail is often referred to as "the Beaten Path".  The path is pretty well beaten, but it really ought to be called something else.  It has to be one of the most scenic mountain trails in the country.

We took four days to make the trip.  Some take longer to really look over the country.  It is at least 26 miles of up and down trekking over fairly rough country. Even with a fairly tame name, the trail is not for the faint-of-heart or unprepared.  There are many opportunities for serious injury or death along the trail....and rescue could be many hours away.  Even in mid-summer, the warm sun can turn to freezing rain and hail in an astonishingly short time.  The creeks are all very cold and some quite dangerous in places.  Some sections of trail are perched along cliffs high above lakes.That said, the Beaten Path winds through a never-ending procession of multi-colored flowers along watercourses and blue mountain ponds and lakes.  All of the scenery is beautiful and some of it is drop-dead gorgeous.  It's an unforgettable trip!

Our parents have loved the mountains since they first made their acquaintance more than a half century ago, so they were happy to drive us from their home in Bozeman through Yellowstone Park to the trailhead just outside the park's northeast entrance on the east side of Cooke City.  There were a number of trails taking off so once we got going, there was some comfort in my Accuterra / NeoTreks GPS iPhone app when it showed us on the right trail after all.  (Screen shot at right does not show a position indication)  Backtracking is not fun at the best of times, and especially so when packing heavy.

Forest fires are a fact of life wherever there are forests.  It turns out that fires actually play an important role in forest health and productivity, but there is some sadness in what was and what cannot be again for many years.  The Yellowstone Fire of 1988 torched some of this country, too, and the tall skeletons of lodge pole pine reminded us of its long reach as we passed though.

Horses are another fact of life in these mountains and we saw several mounted groups going our way and others coming back from excursions higher up the trails.  Having used horses in the past, I was a little wistful for the creak of leather and the smell and companionship of horses.....not to mention the lighter load on my back.

We lunched in a small copse of unburned trees above Kersey Lake.  The late July sun was hot, but the air under the trees pleasant.  Before hauling out the fixings, I touched off the second "OK" transmission on our SPOT messenger (photo at right). The first was at the trailhead. The SPOT is a small GPS receiver and satellite band transmitter.  The device finds itself using GPS, and then transmits the OK signal with the device coordinates.  That OK signal and map location is emailed and/or texted to a customizable list of friends and family.  In the event of a problem, one can transmit a "need help" signal, or a "911" in the event of a life-threatening emergency.  We found on our return that SPOT worked almost every time.  Those times that  our OK signal was not received was probably due to the steep sides of some of the canyons from which we transmitted, or my not leaving it sending for the recommended 20 minutes.   Our family reported that it was great knowing we were okay, and that we were progressing. I activated the SPOT every time we took off our packs.

We made it as far as Russell Lake the first night, and as at other evening stops, found good camping sites awaiting us.  No one else was in this or any of the other sites we stopped for the night.  I touched off the SPOT again to let the home team know our whereabouts.

I also peeled down and walked into the cold lake and splashed water all over my sweaty smelly self.  My other set of clothes felt awesome after that.  There were some buzzing blood seekers about, but scarcely enough to warrant repellent application.  Bug dope is an ally, but not much of a friend.  I'd rather swat than daub unless the little suckers are really nasty.

As we were finishing our dinner, we noticed a mule deer doe walking right through the woods toward us.  She seemed almost tame, but finally decided at about 20 feet (6.1 meters) that we might have been a little more frightening than she at first believed.  She never did run, but just ambled off in another direction.

The sun retired a little before 8 pm, and so did we.  When we both got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason, we found a million stars and galaxies wheeling silently overhead in the clear sky.  Larry pointed out that in addition to the incredible sky, it was at least a small mercy that the mosquitoes trying so hard earlier in the evening had also gone to bed.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album