Dispatches
Dispatches Tagline
Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

First Steps in the First Wilderness Part 3: May

Monday, May 6th, 2019: First Steps in the First Wilderness, Trips, Wildfire.

 

Third time a charm? Or perhaps a rude awakening.

With the warm, dry days of May upon us, I was looking for a canyon hike this time. A chance to spend most of the day in the shade of riparian forest alongside a babbling brook. Like the previous hikes into our first wilderness area, this would end in a climb to the crest, but only if I felt like it after walking up the canyon bottom a few miles. And I didn’t expect to feel like it, because the last big hike, a thirteen-miler, had taken a lot out of me. I was beginning to suspect that I’d reached the limit of what my aging body was capable of, so this hike was intended to be more modest.

I was starting late, after 11am, but there was only one vehicle ahead of me at the trailhead, and a half mile up the trail, I ran into its owner, an older woman with a small dog, on her way out already.

What little information was available in advance suggested that at least the lower part of this canyon was somewhat developed, with a cabin and some sort of mine. And the first thing I noticed was the abundance of invasive species, from the countless dandelions that blanketed the trail to the noxious tree-of-heaven sprouting on the banks of the creek. All brought in by the horses and cattle of the pioneers.

But this canyon had a lot more water too – probably four times as much as the previous canyon, rushing down from snowfields on one of the highest peaks in the range.

And wildlife! I found myself wading through clouds of butterflies the whole way. Massive dumps of black bear scat fresh this morning, so I made sure to project plenty of noise to announce my presence.

The terrain a little more rugged, with huge boulders, cliffs, and pinnacles looming everywhere. A mile or so in, I came to the abandoned cabin, and a little later, the mine, and after that it was all wilderness.

The endorphins kicked in and I was feeling good enough to climb out of the canyon to the saddle on the crest, which had been the absolute farthest I’d planned to hike. It was a long, steep, virtually straight slog through mostly burned forest in a side canyon.

About a third of the way up, I suddenly heard barking from higher up the canyon ahead of me. Just three or four sharp barks, lower-pitched – nothing like a hunting hound or a coyote would make.

Normally, you hear a bark, you expect either hikers or hunters, but I knew I was the only human in this whole watershed. There’d been no footprints or hoofprints in the canyon bottom. Could it be wolves? I didn’t really even know whether wolves could bark.

I stood stock still and waited. After a few minutes, another bark, much closer, coming from the slope opposite me, where the view was blocked by trees. And another bark, already farther down the slope. Whatever it was, it was moving fast, covering twenty or thirty yards between barks, over steep, rocky terrain.

I kept waiting, but whatever it was, it was long gone.

A little farther, I came upon the bleached, scattered bones of a cow, strewn along the trail for a few hundred yards.

The view at the top of the saddle was blocked by post-fire saplings. Still feeling good, I continued on up the trail, without a map, not knowing where it went from here, but excited about gaining some more elevation. The end of the next ridge was blocked by a huge rock outcrop, but the trail dipped and went around it, so I kept going, traversing into a new side canyon, hoping to eventually top out on a new crest with a new view.

I came upon a section of trail very popular with elk, littered with piles of scat. But I knew I was pushing my body and would pay for it on the way back, so I finally stopped, in the midst of a stark burn scar with a spectacular view, and had a brief snack before turning back.

This trail didn’t deliver as much elevation gain as the previous wilderness hike, but it sure provided better footing! Despite being “unmaintained,” and blocked by countless deadfalls, the footing was mostly smooth dirt and dry leaves, which made my problem foot very happy.

After the long traverse down the side canyon, I felt relieved to be back in the canyon bottom, figuring a walk-in-the-park back to the trailhead. But this is where my body started giving out.

Hiking down the main canyon seemed to take forever, and I gradually lost most of the strength in my lower body, from hips to ankles, so that in some stretches I was stumbling every third step. I kept thinking “the cabin’s got to be around the next bend, and after that it’s only another mile or so.” But the canyon just kept twisting and turning, between its cliff walls.

I got to a deep swimming hole I’d spotted on the way in, and climbed down to it, thinking an ice-cold plunge might just be the ticket. But the rocks and banks beside the pool were swarming with ants!

Finally I reached the cabin. I was feeling just about dead, but I knew I had a climb ahead of me to get back out of the canyon. The final stretch was just a blur of aches and pains and fatigue, and after that I had about an hour’s drive back to town.

I’d worn long pants this time, to avoid the rash and sunburn I’d gotten when hiking in shorts. But when I rolled up my pant legs, back at the vehicle, to loosen my tight boots, I discovered my lower legs were again covered with an angry rash. What I’d thought was sunburn or an allergy was actually the infamous “hiker’s rash” or exercise-induced vasculitis, a poorly-known condition in which the circulatory function of your lower legs fails and your blood vessels become engorged and inflamed. Apparently it’s incurable – you just have to deal with it for the rest of your life.

So a rude awakening! After six months of striving for longer and longer hikes, it now seems I may be permanently limited to medium-distance treks. And that with a lightweight pack – who knows how much more restricted I’d be for backpacking? And my lower legs are just going to catch fire whenever I go out – no getting around that. All flesh is grass!

No Comments

Spring Trip 2019

Monday, May 27th, 2019: Mojave Desert, Trips.

A Test

During the past five years, my body seemed to be failing and accumulating injuries and disabilities. I could’ve easily assumed this was irreversible – the new normal.

But I was lucky in that I’d stopped pursuing a career and had few responsibilities except to myself. I had as much time as I needed. I kept experimenting and working harder and harder to stay in shape. I’d spent the past six months in training, working on my strength and flexibility to get around the rotator cuff tears in both shoulders, very gradually increasing my hiking distance and elevation until I even passed the point I was at when things started falling apart. The only question was, could I hike off-trail in the desert mountains I loved, with all the steep slopes of loose rock? I’d already learned that loose rock was the ultimate challenge for my chronically injured foot.

So in addition to the meeting, this trip was a test for my body. And ironically, after more than 15 years, I’d finally acquired a 4wd vehicle, and this would be the first test of that, too.

The first thing I discovered was that I had to re-learn hiking out there. Since my foot injury, I’d lost my confidence and had to regain it, going slower and more deliberately, more mindfully, especially downhill. But I did OK, doing rugged hikes easily and even some construction work that required moves I couldn’t have done a few months ago.

And so did my vehicle. I ended up on old abandoned mine roads, where the Sidekick kept crawling through deep sandy washes, rocking back and forth 60+ degrees between deep ruts on its truck frame, and climbing straight up loose shaley slopes, to many places my 2wd, low-clearance truck would never have reached. The Sidekick never had a problem, nor did my body. We both passed the test.

Hitting the Road

Arrival

The main reason for this trip was a long-planned meeting between those who love our mountains. But the hot days of summer were coming, and since there’s no natural shade at our campsite, I’d designed a shade canopy that I hauled out, in pieces, on top of my new vehicle to assemble onsite.

Second Day

Meeting Day

After the many months and numerous communications required to plan and schedule our meeting, it ended up being pushed back to a date that was closer to the heat of summer than some of us were comfortable with. But as the date approached, the forecast was for a cooling trend, and in the event, temperatures were mild for the entire week I camped in the desert. In fact, I was too cold the first night sleeping out, and had to progressively swath myself in all the layers I’d brought, because my warm-season sleeping bag wasn’t enough.

Wind out there can be fierce, but the day of the meeting was calm. And the day after, we even got rained on briefly, which is a very rare treat. We were so blessed by the weather, the rocks, the plants, the animals, and the people!

The Day After

After most of the others left, a remaining friend and I hiked over to explore a corner of the mountains I’d never seen. We were amazed at the vitality of both flora and fauna after a wet winter. More jackrabbits, cottontails, birds and reptiles than we’d encountered in a long time. And around camp, with the blooming desert willows, there was a constant swarm of hummingbirds.

We could see a storm moving over from the west, and as we crested a ridge, rain began to fall lightly, and strong gusts of wind threatened to blow us down.

On the Road Again

Different Desert

In search of prehistoric rock writings I hadn’t seen before, I headed to a different part of the desert, a part I’d only visited briefly before and wanted to explore thoroughly in future trips.

Climbing

After rain drove me out of my solo campsite after dark, it soon stopped, encouraging me to wait it out. It ended up raining four separate times in six hours, but only for 10-20 minutes at a time. The last time it rained, I simply wrapped my sleeping bag in my plastic tarp. After the rain stopped, I slept well for the rest of the night, and in the morning, started hiking up the mountain behind camp.

No Comments

Protected: Old Woman Mountains Conservation Meeting

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019: Uncategorized.

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Enter your password to view comments.