Tag Archives: Backpacking

Backpacking in to Elk Meadows – 30-Oct-2020

Standard

Friday and Saturday, 30 & 31-October-2020

It’s been a while since I’ve gone backpacking… it feels like the Fall has flashed by, with the leaves suddenly going from green to bright red and the air becoming cool and crisp out of nowhere.

This year’s been interesting, and I think the constant barrage of calamities, news, and changes has really kept it moving quickly… but at the same time, last year feels like a lifetime ago.

I got away from it all, escaping to the Eastern flank of Mt. Hood.

Last weekend’s hike up to McNeil reminded me just how much I love Autumn and winter hiking… it’s not something I could ever forget, of course, but hiking up and into the frosted forest just brought that love vividly back to mind. Vividly enough that there was no way I was spending another weekend in town.

Friday morning, I didn’t rush. I don’t like rushing in the morning, if I can help it, and since the weather forecast called for rain until the early afternoon… I figured it’d save me some wet gear if I took my time, made a nice breakfast, and then trundled out into the woods after I’d taken my time to wake up.

The plan worked perfectly, and when I parked at the trailhead I was one of only two cars parked there.

The other team, it turns out, was just on the trail as a day hike – I ran into them pretty quickly, interestingly, as they were on their way out… which meant that I was left completely alone on the flanks of the mountain, on a perfectly beautiful late Autumn day.

Not anything I could ever complain about, and not anything that I could have dared hope for.

I headed in, set up camp, made a nice dinner, and rested… It was a beautiful night, exactly my favorite hiking weather. Cold, almost bitingly cold, but still warm enough that I was comfortable in my layers of jackets and gloves.

There was a full moon, which fully illuminated the entire meadow around me… I’ve been making effort to be more present and less distractable, and this was a perfect moment to just… be.

I don’t know how long I stood in the meadow, just watching the moonlight carve its way across the grass toward Mt. Hood. It was lovely, but soon enough I was heading back to the tent, to curl up into the sleeping bag and drift off.

At like 8:30 at night, because it gets dark crazy early now.

Saturday dawned bright, cloudless, and crisp.

Frost was covering the meadow, though there wasn’t any snow to speak of yet, and the temperature had realistically passed “crisp” pretty significantly, diving fully into “cold” as the night had worn on.

Thankfully, I had a nice puffy jacket, and a hot breakfast to cook up to keep me warm – and I even had a bird-friend to hang out with!

I really miss Ollie, on these hikes, but I do appreciate getting to see more wildlife than I really ever did before. I miss the excitement and running energy that she’d bring to the hike, but at the same time the quiet is definitely appreciated, and the calm is a nice change of pace. I’m sure I’ll get used to the difference over time… but for now, it’s something I notice every time I’m out hiking alone.

After eating, I set out for a quick walk… I hadn’t made any real plans for the day, but I figured that I’d circumnavigate the meadow, and see where that brought me.

Where it brought me was the Blue Grass Ridge trail – a spur trail off to the East of the meadows that I’d never been to before. It was a rough trail, pushing through a huge forest of standing dead trees… from a wildfire years back, it seemed like. Those empty trees gave for some amazing views though, and very interesting scrambling, which kept the blood pumping and my mind focused.

It was great, and I enjoyed the challenge of finding paths around and through the fallen trees, trying to scope out the best place to get views of the Northern and Southern volcanoes.

I hadn’t expected any mountain views aside from Hood, so seeing everything from St. Helens to The Sisters was a huge and welcome surprise.

After exploring the ridgeline for a while, I headed back down toward the meadows… it was starting to get toward mid-day, and I was getting a bit restless. I had some extra food, so I theoretically could have stayed an extra night… but I was feeling like getting a move on.

After finishing my circumnavigation of the meadow, I packed up, headed out, and started down the road back toward home… A little happier, a little more tired, and quite a lot energized for the rest of the long weekend.

A big backpacking trip – Ice Lake and The Matterhorn, in the Eagle Cap wilderness!

Standard

Tuesday through Friday, 25 to 28-Aug-2020

 

I took some vacation earlier this year, but it wasn’t quite as relaxing or refreshing as I’d hoped that it would be.  On top of that, I can’t carry my vacation time over into next year… and it’s already August.

So I took some time mid-week to go backpacking.

To escape from town, to get away from everything, and to focus on in getting my head back into a positive place.  It’s important to escape every once in a while, to simply be, somewhere without interruptions or distractions.  I’m reminded of a popular quote that, as is common with quotes, isn’t quite portrayed completely…

“The mountains are calling & I must go & I will work on while I can, studying incessantly”.

– John Muir

Normally, the quote is shortened to just “The mountains are calling and I must go” – which definitely gets most of the idea, but I do enjoy the little extra regarding working and studying… I took this change to be by myself, surrounded by soaring peaks, to reflect, study, and do a little work on myself.  Maybe not as impressive as John Muir preserving Yosemite, but hey.  We all do what we can, right?

Ohh, as an interesting side note?  I think this is the highest peak I’ve ever summitted!  Yay me!

 

Here’s the vital statistics:

Hike to Ice Lake:

Somewhere between 7 and 9 miles, each way (every guidebook differs a bit), roughly 17 miles round trip

3,350ft elevation gain

High Point 7,900ft

Ice Lake to Matterhorn Summit:

3.6 miles round trip

1,980ft elevation gain

High Point 9,826ft

 

Here’s the itinerary, and actual milage / elevation gain (per my fitbit):

  • Tuesday – Rest, go slow, and arrive at the trailhead around 5:00pm.  Hike in a mile or three and camp off trail.
    3.2 miles, 650 ft gain
  • Wednesday – Hike in the rest of the way to Ice Lake, rest.
    10.81 miles, 2600 ft gain
  • Thursday – Summit The Matterhorn, rest
    8.55 miles, 2140 ft gain
  • Friday – Hike out, drive home.
    10.73 miles, 250 ft gain

 

So… how was the trip, you may ask?

It was excellent.

Perfect.

Ideal.

I don’t have strong enough words to describe how much I enjoyed this trip.

 

The trail to Ice Lake was beautiful – exceptionally well graded, to the point that I didn’t really notice the elevation gain at all.  The trail to the Matterhorn was steep and hellish… but well marked, and still quite pleasant with views the whole way up.  The lake itself was pristine, and had barely any other people there – which was amazing, since everyone warned me that it’d be slammed, even during the week.  But nope – I don’t think I was forced to speak to anyone once while camping.  On the trails, maybe… but nothing lasting more than 30s.  Nice and peaceful, and it gave me a solid amount of time to just relax, and be alone with my own thoughts.

It’s been so long since I’ve been able to truly let my mind wander, you know?  Long drives work pretty well, but there’s still the destination that I’m always thinking about with some portion of my attention.  On a solo backpacking trip, though?  I don’t really think much about the destination, because it’s usually so far away… and I don’t really have to plan for anything.

Backpacking’s amazing like that – I’ve gotten good enough at the logistics of setting up camp, etc… that I don’t really have to think about it much.  It’s sort of like rock climbing, in that I can pretty easily get into a glorious zen-state of clear-headedness.  I love it.  Walking, letting my brain go wherever it happens to go at the time, without having to worry about what I’ll be doing next.

I know what I’m doing next – it’s walking.  One foot in front of the other, repeatedly, until I get to a spot that I want to stop.

So I walked, and thought, and walked some more.

I stopped to rest when I was tired, and had snacks when I was hungry.  Took a sip from my camelback when I was thirsty, and took pictures when something caught my eye.

 

Before I knew it, I was at Ice Lake.

Now, I say that I enjoyed the solitude, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t interact with people.  As I passed folks coming out, I exchanged a sentence or two with them, getting little bits of info about the next stages of my adventure.

By the time I got to Ice Lake, I knew that I should take the left fork to find the best campsites, and that I’d follow the right fork the next day to summit the Matterhorn.  I had a map saved to my phone, so I would have been able to find these out on my own anyways… but why not get first-hand recon information, if people are willing to share?  Right?

(Ed Note: To wax poetic for a moment, asking questions is important.  Ben tries to get direct info from people as often as possible, instead of just looking it up online.  While it might not be the quickest option, it does usually give more interesting data, along with unexpected extras that wouldn’t come from a focused google search)

I turned left, and pretty quickly found an ideal campsite – fairly secluded from anyone else, right on the shore of the lake, good views…  Yeah.  I’m glad that the folks beforehand gave me the tip to go left.

 

Once camp was set up… I hadn’t really expected to make the lake so early in the day, honestly.  Like I mentioned, the trail was gloriously steady, and I had made really good time… which meant that I had a few hours to kill before sunset or dinner.  So I kept the theme of the day, and walked around a bit more – around the lake, up to the Matterhorn trail, and just let my feet wander as much as my mind was wandering.

Dinner was lovely, as lovely as mountain-house can be, the stars and lake were gorgeous, and I slept like a log.

 

Thursday was my summit day, but that didn’t mean I got going early.  The Matterhorn trail isn’t particularly long, but it is intense… so I wanted to be fully rested and energetic before I attempted anything.  Which is my reason for just laying in my sleeping bag, reading, and randomly making happy stretching noises.

I mean, I still was mobile by 9:30 I think, so… not that lazy of a morning all things considered.  But still, it’s a vacation and I made sure to treat it as such.

The hike up to the summit was beautiful, but definitely a lot steeper than the trail the day before.  A lot less obvious as well… I didn’t ever really lose the trail, but there were a fair number of times that I had to stop and assess the terrain for a little while, to figure out exactly where I wanted to go next.  Again, not bad… but also not boringly obvious.

I saw evidence of mountain goats a few times (wool, poop, tracks), and a team coming down asked me if I’d seen any coming up.  I hadn’t, but it was definitely a nice change of pace from the normal hikes I’ve been on – getting deeper into nature definitely means getting closer to animals, which is always a fun aspect to backpacking.  Especially here – The Eagle Cap Wilderness is home to lots of critters, from squirrels to bears, so I’d been acutely aware of how I was storing food the entire time.

The summit itself was gloriously empty – I was the only one there, and I took the chance to really enjoy it by setting up a nice sunshade, and reading a few chapters in the book I’d brought along.  I even flew a kite!

Really, there’s not much to say here.  I enjoyed the quiet, the wind, and the views.  The solitude was excellent, and the sense of accomplishment was appreciated.  It’s hiking, and it’s great.

 

On the way down, I finally saw those mountain goats that people had been mentioning – a “herd” of five or six goats, with a few kids in the mix.  They were super cute, but stayed pretty well away from me, and from any of the major cliff faces that I was walking beside.  It was lunch time for them, I guess, since they were hanging out pretty exclusively around the flowers and fresh growth lower down on the trail.

The rest of the day was relaxed – I was definitely starting to feel the miles, and had absolutely started feeling the elevation while I was relaxing on the peak – 9,826ft is pretty high up there, and while wearing a mask has definitely helped me acclimatize, it can only go so far.  So instead of hiking too much more, I just rested.  I read, had two dinners (I’d packed an extra for this exact reason) and enjoyed the sunset.

 

Friday dawned a bit earlier than Thursday, since I had far more miles to cover – roughly 362miles, between the hike out and the drive home.

I’d been debating staying an extra evening somewhere nearby, and had the supplies to do so stashed away in the trunk of the car… but I didn’t quite feel the energy for it.  I felt good – I’d accomplished what I wanted, and didn’t really feel the need to continue the solitude and self-reflection.  I needed to jump back into the world for a bit, and let my thoughts come back to the insanity of the day-to-day.

Poetic, right?  That’s what happens when you’re alone too long, kids.  Be careful.  You might catch the philosophy.

I had a quick cold breakfast, tried Sardines for the first time, packed up camp and said goodbye to my little tent site.  I hefted my pack, took a few final pictures and started onto the long trail back to the car.

Quick note – Sardines are really salty.  At least the kind I tried.  Too salty to really taste anything.

The hike back, as most hikes back are, was quick and pleasant.  Downhill is always faster and easier, and a lighter pack is always appreciated.  What I did notice was the sheer number of people heading into the wilderness – While I had only seen a few other people at Ice Lake, I saw a solid 25+ people heading in as I was heading out.  It definitely make me thankful for my ability to take time off from work, and for the privilege of taking a mid-week backpacking trip.  It would have been a hugely different experience had I gone on the weekend, I’m sure.

I walked, I thought, I admired the views from a different angle, and I enjoyed the last few hours in the wilderness.  It was excellent.

 

The drive home was pretty simple, if quite long.

I had a nice plate of nachos in Joseph (the town closest to the trailhead) before the drive, and picked up a coffee on the way.  I’d changed clothes as well – so I was comfortable, and didn’t have anything to distract me from the cruising ride back into Wilsonville.  It was lovely and quiet, a good chance to listen to music, and appreciate the dust-infused sunset over the gorge.

Backpacking out to Big Blue Lake with Mike

Standard

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  10, 11 & 12-July-2020

 

My Birthday weekend!

 

Friday

I… in all transparency, kind of forgot that fact right until the last minute. It’s a bit weird, since this is the first year that’s really happened as far as I can remember. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? COVID, life changes, moving to a new town, a new apartment? The world is spinning, especially quickly this year. What’s one more birthday in light of that?

Well, it’s my birthday, for one. And thankfully, I have excellent friends and family who didn’t let me forget it, even if I almost did myself 🙂

Mike and I met up in Yreka again, this time going a bit further inland than we’d gone last time. I’d hiked this trail before, but it was back in… ohh, 2015, I think? It was a long time ago, and I’d wanted to re-try the loop again.

So we met up, got some food, and drove in to the trailhead – a surprisingly long ride versus what I remembered, but the Mustang is a glorious champion, undaunted by the roughest roads or dustiest trails. Up we ground, throwing billowing clouds of dust behind us from the high California dirt.

It was beautiful. Seriously beautiful. Easily worth the drive.

We got to the trailhead later than we’d planned, but thankfully we weren’t particularly surprised or concerned – we had a fair number of possible plans in our head, and so we set up camp in the daylight, and got the chance to rest and relax by Taylor Lake – chatting and enjoying our dinner of Subway sandwiches. Maybe not the most standard backpacking meal, but you know what? There’s not much that beats a double sub – 6” meatball, 6” steak and cheese, with hot peppers across the board. After that, I was ready for the hike the next day.

Ohh! I saw a mushroom car on the drive down! It was cool. Check out the pictures.

 

Saturday

Saturday dawned beautifully. I seriously spent way too long taking pictures of the flowers by our tents, with the sun rising above them… I’m tempted to post every single picture, since they all came out so gloriously well.

It was a good morning.

We ate some breakfast, had some coffee, packed up our gear and headed out. No rush, no stress, but also no lazyness and a lot of positive energy. It was a good start to the day, and we were really good about keeping that energy going as we kept hiking along the ridgeline. We cruised onward really well, making our way to Hogan Lake a bit earlier than we’d expected.

After looking at the approach to Big Blue, we made the executive decision. Even though we’d made really good time, the approach was pretty clearly a heck of an ascent. We weren’t quite feeling up for carrying the full packs up that talus field, so we dropped our actual camping gear, cinched down the packs, and headed upward.

(Ed Note: “Talus” is a term for large rocks. Not quite boulders, but not gravel either. “Scree” is similar to the gravel used on roads, whereas “Talus” is more like 2′ diameter rocks… give or take)

It was not easy going.

At all.

We’d made good time earlier – averaging maybe 2mph. Not speedy, by any means, but for two guys just getting back into backpacking? Pretty good, thank you.

On the talus? We made maybe 0.5mph. Remember too – this is not a marked trail. After Hogan Lake, we were on our own. There were a few Cairns, yes, but they were far between, and often not quite where one would expect to find them.

It seriously took us nearly two hours to get up to Big Blue. And let me tell you, we were not energetic when we made that summit. We were pretty toasted – but thankfully we had a glorious Alpine Lake to greet us – cold water, open areas, a nice breeze… it was exactly what we needed.

We dropped packs, relaxed, and even made a quick lunch for ourselves. We didn’t rush, and just simply rested and enjoyed the views.

After a rousing rock-skipping challenge, we put on our brave faces and headed back down. Again, not super quick going… but we did make slightly better time than we did on the way up. Turns out – gravity does help.

We were debating heading all the way back to Taylor, but as we got closer to Hogan Lake, and it came time to bushwack the last quarter mile, that plan went by the wayside. That quarter mile was not quick, and finding the unmarked trail was harder than we’d expected. By the time we were back at our gear, we were ready for dinner and sleeping bags.

One quick fun story – we couldn’t actually find the trail back, and ended up having to slog through a pretty rough marsh to get to what we could see as the trail. After wishy-washing a while though, we finally had a revelation! We didn’t have to slog through the marsh. We’re humans. We have tools!

There was, fortuitously, a fallen tree right near where we were. Not too big, but just the right side to make an impromptu bridge. So we hefted the log, maneuvered it, and hucked it into the marsh where it was needed. Great success!

But okay, back at camp. It was good. We ate dinner, had gatorade, and… immediately hid in our tents because the mosquitoes were infinite, bloodthirsty, and cared not for the bug spray defense we attempted. We slept early, and slept well.

Another quick fun story!

Mike thought he saw something outside the tent, at one point, and asked me to come with him to brush his teeth. No shame at all – in the woods, taking extra risks to be brave isn’t smart. So I got up and joined him…

And saw something outside his tent.

I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t mention anything at first. Once I saw the eyes clearly burning in the treeline though, I called Mike over and pointed him in the right direction.

We froze for a bit, waiting for the eyes to move. They were clearly eyes, about two feet from the ground. Far enough away that we didn’t know if they were a cougar, a bear, or sometime as boring as a cow. We kept the headlamps aimed, Mike grabbed his bear spray, and I hefted my camping knife. It felt smaller than I remembered the knife feeling.

Then, the eyes moved. With a second set near them.

It was a herd of deer! Coming through the clearing we’d set camp in! We didn’t see a whole lot of them, maybe 6 or so, but once they got close enough we could clearly see them, and clearly see that they weren’t actually monsters coming to eat our intestines.

A big relief, that last bit.

Sunday

Sunday was a quick day, but absolutely no less amazing than Saturday had been.

We got up, made coffee and breakfast, and got what water we needed from the stream. Thankfully the mosquitoes didn’t come out this morning, or had gotten their fill of the deer the night before, and we weren’t bothered too badly as we packed up and hefted our bags onto our backs.

We made pretty good time on the way out – nothing much interesting to report from that section, aside from the usual glorious views. We chatted and enjoyed, taking breaks as we felt fit. We just kept to the theme – no hassle, no stress, just roll with the flow and keep the best pace that we could.

We took a break at Taylor to cool our feet, but before we knew it the trail had dropped us back at the parking lot, where our intrepid steeds awaited us. We packed up, rested a moment, and then headed into town to find ourselves the most interesting looking restaurant we could find.