Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mr Doofus Bails A Little

Leaving the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness
The morning after: wet, with good views and few snakes.

Morning three. Mr Doofus awakes and falls out of his backpacking hammock, which is a natural way to test if gravity is on the ball.
Wenaha River valley, damp phase.

Not really. He's not that dumb. He fell over it the next day while trying to get in, but this makes a good lead.
All uphill, guys, with wet feets.

Nevertheless, things were not that pleasant. Gone were the high temperatures of the previous day. Rain fell intermittently all night. Mr Doofus was pleased to have made a huge fly to fit over his hammock. Overall, it measures around 10 by 10 feet (3 m and change), and is cut close enough to a catenary curve that mortals can't tell for sure.
After the first 3600 feet, it gets easier.

And there is no central, overhead seam to seal, or leak. It was hard to make this way, out of three pieces of fabric, but the result is also harder to screw up, and fewer things can to wrong, and two leaking seams, one on the right and one on the left are a huge amount more tolerable than on in the middle, right where it can ruin a good night's sleep. So The Doofster had reason to be pleased.Bear poo.

But life is never that good.
Bear track.

The plan (Douglas Lorain's route) called for an out-and-back day hike up the Wenaha River to peek into the upper canyon, which is reported to be A Fine View. Problem A: The trail, at least around Fairview Bar, where Mr Doofus camped, is brushy. Problem 2: Mr Doofus had A Really Bad Day with ticks on the way in, and didn't want to tempt fate. Problem III: All that rain. Everything was dripping.
The first of the balds.

Mr Doofus didn't see a whole bunch of fun in hiking through wet brush all day just because someone wrote that there was a great view up there somewhere, not when he could get soaked skipping that day trip and get thoroughly and completely soaked hiking straight up out of the valley all day, and beginning the return trip.
Twin Spring.

Sometimes life is not all that happy either, but that's whey we have brains. To deceive ourselves and rationalize with, so Mr Doofus bailed and headed for home.
The dribble tube at Twin Spring.

No, this wasn't a failure, just a minor shortening of the trip. Day three had many fine things to recommend it. Beginning with breakfast under a huge tarp. If you've ever tried to sit in the rain, cook breakfast, eat it, tidy up, get dressed, and pack while sitting under a Hennessy Adventure Racer, you can genuinely appreciate a tarp that is actually large enough to sit under. Practically large enough to raise a family under.
View of the way in. Home o' the tick people.

Mr Doofus had a fine time.
'Nother bear track.

And then, all clean from his bath the night before, and well rested, and fed, and wearing clean and dry clothes, he headed north, and immediately was up to his armpits in wet brush. Let's leave it at that.
Anonymous yellow whodunnit.

The climb out of the Wenaha River valley is 3600 feet (1100 m). That's a bitch. The whole day's ups added together came to 5300 feet (1615 m). There was some down stuff, but that doesn't count for much.
Nice level hiking with frequent meadows.

After a bit of tussling with the brush you break free and hit grassy, rocky slopes. The sky was gray but no rain fell. It was cool. About 500 feet (150 m) up, a rattlesnake felt Mr Doofus clomping along and, being on the left side of the trail, snaked over to the right side and off into the grass. Unfortunately, this one also got away without getting his picture snapped. After that Mr Doofus was too high up for snakiness.
Mossy reminiscence of western Washington.

Following a really steep climb, some forest reappears and the going gets easier again, climbing steadily all day, but feeling almost level. For someone limited to Western Washington for years on end this is a delightful area. The forest is open and grassy, and although there isn't much water, there is some, and it comes at regular intervals. And there was no one around. For a while.
Lunch time. Cafeteria with a view.

Mr Doofus somehow missed Lodgepole Spring, which according to the guidebook is at a particular point, but seems to have gone into hiding. Anyway, there is a huge meadow just past it that goes on for the better part of a mile, and gives a person used to silent mossy dripping enclaves a real thrill. Or maybe it's because Mr Doofus grew up on the mid-continent plains and feels really comfortable being the highest part of the landscape every now and then.
Corn lily.

So the day ended at Rettkowski Spring and wasn't a bad day except for squishy wet feet. And there were bear tracks.
Lookout at the very tippy-tip-tip of Oregon Butte.

Day four was about the same but sunnier, and ended at Oregon Butte, where there is a now-disused fire lookout at 6387 feet (1950 m). This day: still no backpackers, but eight more horse apes. They seem to carry huge amounts of stuff in big boxes. The first three were agreeable, being met on a flat grassy area where there was lots of room for everyone, but the next two were not so fine.
Convention of holiday apes complete with shiny pavilion.

Mr Doofus had just finished a trailside lunch when he heard some clomping, looked around the rocks and saw two horse apes and two pack horses. He checked his own pack to make sure that it was well off the trail, then peeked back around the rock to find out why the horse apes were stopped.
Looking back south to one of the route's giant balds.

Then the lead one commanded "Move off the low side of the trail and wait."
Stove, pot support, and ground reflector. Wind screen and cooking "pot" at right.

"Kiss my furry lip, dude," Mr Doofus thought.
Cooking with wind screen in place.

Mr Doofus still isn't sure if that particular ape was a Forest Service employee or just liked the sound of giving orders, but they were both gone soon, and the second one said "Thank you," so there are some intelligent apes out there. You know? Live and let live and all? But every now and then a person wishes he had a slingshot or a little pellet gun and a clear shot at the departing horse's bung hole. That would cause some excitement, right smart.
First emergency spring the Doofster has ever seen.

Mr Doofus found the spring at Oregon Butte and had a frigid bath, mooned around the ridgetops for a while, and then went to bed. But earlier, while hanging his hammock discovered how he got his name. This isn't an ad for Hennessy Hammocks, but if you've use one, then no matter how satisfying it is to make your own, you never get over how nice the bottom entry is on the Hennessys. Case in point: While Mr Doofus was stringing his up, he had to test the setup, and also put some weight on it to stretch it and adjust. But getting into a hammock from the side is different. Which is why he missed the hammock and put his behind into empty space on the far side of the hammock.
Bald and proud. Heading east again. Final leg.

The first he knew about this was when his left shoulder hit the ground below, which was a surprise. His feet were in the air, supported by the closed-up hammock, which his hands were tightly gripping, and his top half was on the ground. Luckily, no one will ever hear about this, so he, without much embarrassment, got up and tried again, and on his second try managed to do things right.
Doofster never did find out what "Panjab" was, but it sounds like it hurts.

OK, Day Five.
Glorious, wiggly grassy trail.

Early on Mr Doofus came across two young, furry-legged backpackers squatting on the grass and looking for critters. Seems they had seen a bear and some deer and maybe something else, so, guys, they are out there.
Enough open land to satisfy everyone.

That's about as exciting as it got.
Lookout at Oregon Butte, top right, very far off.

Taking this route in a clockwise direction, you first spend a long time going downhill (where the ticks were). Then you hit the big river valley, and it's pretty flat there. So far, you see a lot of canyons and brush, with intermittent stands of trees. Headed back north again on the western side of the loop route you get (after a huge climb) into more standard forested areas, but with gigantic meadows.

Mr Doofus thinks you might want to call them "balds" rather than meadows. They are not grassy. It's too dry here. There are scrubby tufts of grass and various little plants, flowering early in the year, but lots of bare earth. Balds. Think balds.
Once again and finally, a view to the south, over Tick Land.

Maybe the most interesting part of this second half is the water. Water is scarce, but it is there, and the springs, some of them, have been built up for horses. Which in this case is good. A horse is nothing but a large, long-legged gopher, but their apes love them and wish to provide for them, which makes the water along this route, such as it is, pretty darn good. If it's set up for horses.

Dunlap Spring, for example, isn't. It's regular water running on top of the dirt. Add horses and you get a churned-up mess of mud and shit, very difficult to get into without becoming part of it, even harder to get water from.

Not so for Twin Springs, the spring at Oregon Butte, and Clover Spring. These are a joy. Each features a huge log with a trough cut into its top side, with a plastic hose feeding in clear, clean water. No horse snot, let alone cow snot, or any visible snot at all. The hose feeds the trough, and water dribbles out the far end, leaving a clean supply. Bonus: You can collect water right from the hose and avoid even thinking about horse snot. More trails should have these. Without the horses, if possible.
Bob's Knob, a hitherto unmapped, unnoticed, unnamed feature of Diamond Peak.

OK. Trip over. Mr Doofus sleeps in his car the final night and A Good Thing Too, because it was wildly windy the final night. Then there was that long, 400 mile (644 km) trip back home, through Pomeroy, Dayton, Pasco, Yakima, Packwood, Randle, Morton, Chehalis, and Centralia. First a cool, slightly breezy morning, then warmth, then screaming heat, then insane heat, then hellish heat, then the Cascade Crest, then western Washington and its marine climate.

Home. Safe. To bed. Done.

Now it's your turn.


Mr Doofus Gets Ticked

Mr Doofus Takes His Ticking And Goes On Hicking

Pig-Monkey's story

Wenaha–Tucannon Wilderness

Umatilla National Forest

Blue Mountains (Oregon)

Tucannon River


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mr Doofus Takes His Ticking And Goes On Hicking

Now for the wiggly things.
Morning two, temps rising, along Crooked Creek.

Much pleased at having survived severe sucking while tromping roughly 10 miles (16 km) downhill through frequent brushy patches (like being buffed by dry, wiry, whirring, rotary brushes at a faulty car wash), Mr Doofus went to bed after removing as many of the brainless nippy critters as he could find.
Hey, there is a sign at the Oregon border, nailed to a tree.

That night he expected to feel the feeling of little tickly feet creeping around under his clothing, or to reach up under his fuzzy sleeping cap to scratch and have his hand come back with two or three hard-shelled flailing nippers stuck under as many fingernails, but instead he slept and had three interesting dreams, none about bugs, and only one about working in a cubicle.

The most fun part was that, being a dream, it was hyper-real, the way really-real never is. You know. Reality, as it's done in the real world is never that good. It's too real. Something always gets screwed up. Half of everything ends up wrong in the worst possible, most surreal way.
River-bottom grass.

But dreams. There you have something. Perfection in a hyper-real way, all squeaky-clean and shiny, and smelling new. And most important, believable in a way that life isn't.
Flower growing out of trailside cliff.

So, in this dream world the office drones were all buffed and polished and smiling and enthusiastic and showed very many teeth at Mr Doofus, but in a happy way, and were more terrifying than ever.

But skipping the details we move back to hiking. Because Mr Doofus woke up.

It was 4:30 a.m. and he had an extreme urge to water the flowers.
Temperature still rising, but no more ticks!

Not only that, but he discovered there was something else that needed tending to, which is about the time he remembered that he had hung his bag of little white squares of (being discreet here) "utility paper" up in a tree with his food, and the whole of it was bound up in a complicated array of lines and ad hoc knots involving two separate trees, neither one of which had been very happy about the whole arrangement, and now he needed to act efficiently and decisively and (most important in this particular situation) quickly, to get that bag down in time, to be followed only milliseconds later by his pants or a Very Unfortunate Incident Would Ensue.
Bridge over Crooked Creek at confluence with Wenaha River.

Jumping right to the conclusion of this story, everything fell out felicitous, as though this was the best of all possible worlds.

After a further two more (blissfully dreamless) hours in his hammock, Mr Doofus arose again, ready for Day 2, though not for more ticks.
Flats along Wenaha River, headed west, looking southeas.

Let us reduce the possibility of harmful stress right now by saying that there were no more ticks on this trip, which is even spookier somehow. They showed up in (OK, "relatively") huge numbers on the first day, in the middle altitudes of Melton Creek canyon. And that was it. There must have been a one-day convention, after which they all went home again.
I don't know either, but it looks good.

The second day began with a crossing of First Creek, which was only a few steps beyond Mr Doofus's camp site. Once at the creek, he found that he'd lost the barely useful but superlight camp shoes he'd made out of insoles and shock cord. Not sure if he'd stuffed these into his pack or left them at the campsite, Mr Doofus decided to trudge back, down the 45 degree slope to his campsite, over to the bath spot where he'd scraped off the last of his ticks, and found the shoes on the ground where he'd thoughtfully left them for himself. Then it was back up the slope for the second time that morning, across First Creek, and on down Crooked Creek.
Wenaha River, looking west.

"The Wenaha–Tucannon Wilderness is home to a variety of wildlife, including Rocky Mountain elk, bighorn sheep, whitetail and mule deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, snowshoe hare, rattlesnake, and pine marten," according to Wikipedia. Mr Doofus saw none of this except for one lizard, two rattlesnakes and 13 apes on horseback.

A rattlesnake came first.

Once at the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Wenaha River, Mr Doofus hung a right and tromped over the delightfully solid bridge there. By this time the day was hot. Eventually the temperature hit 80 F (27 C), but a little before that finally happened, Mr Doofus was clumping along a trail bordered on both sides by forest, and fringed with a little brush. In mid-stride, with his left foot raised and swinging forward, he decided to stop moving and see what was making that intense rustling sound on the trail right exactly below him.
Ditto about being plant-ignorant. It's my specialty.

Anyone reading along doesn't need to be very bright to be way ahead by now. No, not even that far. Back up just a tad. The sound was a "rustling", not a "buzzing", but it was still a rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes seem to have a problem. It must be a snake thing. If you come on a snake, and it's on your left, then for some reason it absolutely has to zoom across the trail right in front of you so it can be on your right. And if it's on the right, it goes the other way.
Two strong ducks swimming upstream to avoid the Doofus.

Well, this was a rattlesnake, and it started on the left, and so had to head for the right side of the trail, and there was Mr Doofus in mid-stride and all, looking down at this sound that was like the driest of dry leaves rustling together intimately, a sound so clean and sharp that it could have made his ears bleed, if he still had all his hearing, though as it was it was enough to get him perky and paying attention in a right smart way.
Wenaha River, looking west.

Which is where we get to the disappointing part, because rattlesnakes are reasonably intelligent and fast, not to mention efficient, and Mr Doofus isn't. He had a camera, a fine, new camera, zipped up in its cute little pouch, and all he could do was stand there with one foot in the air, looking down at this dandy lovely snake, watching it well, watching it snake across the trail, the muscular loops of its body coming again and again within a half inch (13 mm, plus or minus a kiss of death) of his right shoe, until all of the snake had efficiently slithered into the brush on the right side of the trail and gone invisible and silent again.

So there's no photo.

Not long after, the first two horse-apes came along. This is being too harsh on them, but hey. They were a man and his wife, each astride a horse. The lead horse stopped and got twitchy, and the man said he and his wife had seen two rattlesnakes, and the lead horse thought Mr Doofus as another snake, an observation that led Mr Doofus to raise his opinion of equine intelligence a notch and a half. Most people aren't that perceptive, even if they try.
Ponderosa pine.

But after a short conversation the horse decided that it would rather go on and find more real snakes than stand there and hear Mr Doofus talk, so it moved on, and soon the whole party was gone.
Camp. Nice to have a big tarp, but it's not so good in wind.

That night's camp was at Fairview Bar, a place listed in the guidebook but possibly nowhere else. Warm, flowing water, a couple of decent hammocking trees, and short grass made it a good camp.

Then rain fell all night.

Previously: Mr Doofus Gets Ticked

Pig-Monkey's story

Wenaha–Tucannon Wilderness

Umatilla National Forest

Blue Mountains (Oregon)

Tucannon River