Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Definitions: Breakfast

(1) First meal of the day.

(2) Act of pulling down your shelter and packing things to make a fast getaway.

Sometimes done in the presence of bears, mice or mosquitoes, for instance.

In those cases, it is split into two words, "break fast", for easier carrying.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beached Again

The rest of the trip, with meat.

Not every day is a bad day. A lot of them are pretty good, considering that I'm made of meat and have to put up with all that goes with that.

Amazing, when you think of it, that meat can think at all, let alone have fun. What it thinks about depends on how it's been prepared and who it knows.

So there I was, on the beach, after a night in bed, rolling over and over again, trying to escape the pain of being an old fart but enjoying my little tent-like thing, with the sun just up.

And after a first couple of days of mistiness and breeze, suddenly there was sun everywhere. And a placid sea quietly licking the beach, and occasionally giving it a loving suck.

Eventually I lost the feeling of tentativeness. My apprehension that the weather would close in again faded as the sun rose and breakfast began turning itself in to more meat. Especially since that meat was me, and I had a camera.

This beach was the one I came to in November, 1980, my first real backpacking trip. No one went backpacking in winter, on the ocean, then.

The evening when I got to this place (in 1980), I went out on the beach, where a small stream flowed from the forest into the waves, and filled a water bottle.

There was a sort of edge sticking up out of the sand, a curved thing. Like the lip of a clay pot. So I grabbed it and pulled.

It didn't move. So I dug at it and found that there was more of it below the surface. After more tugging and digging with my hands I saw that it was a bone. Big one. A vertebra, a big one.


Part of a whale kit that had spilled onto the beach. That was the only piece I found though.

I packed the bone out and eventually gave it to a schoolteacher.

No bones this time. A few deer, lots of sun, and gentle waves. I noodled up and down the beach with the camera and enjoyed it all.

One of the deer came quite close, looked me in the eye, and told me where a treasure was buried, but when I went over there it was just a pile of droppings. The story of my life.

In winter this is a great place but it can be uncomfortable.

Usually it's dark, and then there are the storms, and it's always damp, and cool in winter. Mostly I've had good luck with the weather, and lots of solitude, though over the years more and more people have appeared in winter.

Thanksgiving is still a good time. People stay home for that, and if you hike in a few miles, you have a good chance to find some solitude.

Christmas, oddly, is more crowded. Somehow that seems to be a holiday people want to escape, at least those misanthropes who believe that backpacking in winter next to the waves is a thing to do.

The good thing though is that if you do see someone out here in winter, it's going to be someone like you. Assuming you know how to deal with that.

One winter I went out in the rain for a hike up the beach and back, and on the way back to my tent I met a woman, also swaddled in dripping rain-wear, soaked too, going the other way. We each smiled and said hello as we passed and that was about it.

Another time, in August, the only summer time I've spent out there, I passed a young man and his girlfriend. They had climbed all the way to the top of a sea stack, which is crazy stupid but I guess they knew what they were doing. After getting back down with all their body parts still attached they began hiking south, toward the exit, which was still miles from there though.

I was going the other way, back to my camp.

The guy was wearing boots and a backpack at that point. Nothing else.

His girlfriend was a few feet behind him, looking embarrassed and smiling too much.

Obviously one of them was making a statement. But hey. The other was too, kinda.

Hike your own g'damn hike. S'OK by me and all.


Map: ONP-WildernessMap.pdf (1395k) shaded relief

Map: opr00AWS.pdf (1105k)

Previously Beached.

And now, a short visual poem composed entirely of meat.

Pile of rotting blubber.

More pile of rotting blubber.

Even more pile of rotting blubber.

Yet even more pile of rotting blubber.

You may be what you eat.

But greed is not always a good strategy.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Once upon a February.

It's hard to believe that the weather has ever been nice. We've just finished the coldest April in decades and are headed for the coldest, wettest May.

It wasn't always this way, though I can barely remember. The snow pack this year peaked on May 1, when normally that happens on April 1. As of March 1, it was about half of normal and now it's double.

Well, it feels like a long time ago now, and I guess it was, when I made my last trip to the Pacific coastal beaches. February 2006. Five years. I thought it was only four, which was bad enough. I used to go every winter.

In fact, this was where I started backpacking, in November 1980. Where I was working then, we had four days over Thanksgiving weekend, perfect for backpacking, except for the fact of it being early winter. The beach solved that. On the beach the temperature hardly ever even gets down to freezing, let alone lower.

The real issues in winter are dark and storms. Dark is actually kind of nice. I've been out to the beach a couple of times in December, which is REALLY dark.

This is a good time to have a roomy tent, no matter how much it weighs. I used to. Lay in a supply of flashlight batteries and bring a good long book. One winter I read Stephen J. Gould on evolution. Another year it was Somerset Maugham. Different books at other times. With a tent big enough for two large people (six pounds/2.5 kg) pitched well, all you have to worry about is tsunamis and hurricanes.

One December I got up around 8 a.m., with first light, finished breakfast around 10, diddled around on the beach, had lunch at 2 p.m., supper around 5, and went back to bed by 7. Then I read until I couldn't stand it any more. I think one night I spent 14 hours in bed because there wasn't really any reason to get up.

But that's a matter of taste, assuming nothing large and ugly is coming your way. The place is full of bears, though I've never seen one. Raccoons are a lot more common. I've seen herds of five or six go by, and listened to them squabble and fight a few feet from my tent. This is spooky, but so far nothing with teeth has been a problem. I've always hung my food and left it in the trees unless it was meal time.

At some locations the critters (specially the coons) are educated. The word is that they can bring down food that is hung normally, and even open a lot of bear canisters. But as I said, I've never had even a hint of a problem. On the one hand, it's an endorsement of my caution, or on the other hand, a critique of the kind of food I eat. Knowing where animals go, what they do, and how they eat, I'm pretty sure my uneventful history is due to my intelligence. Though there's always room to be surprised.

Weather is more a blunt instrument but much larger, and does not yield to yells or thrown stones. The weather has been pretty good over the years. Two trips back, one December, when I was trying out a clear plastic sheet used as a tarp, I had a hailstorm. At night, around 11 p.m. Overall, pretty interesting.

One year though, things were gnarly. I decided to leave early, mostly because I started doing all kinds of things wrong, and the weather looked like it wanted to kill. I didn't want to be handy, and instead decided to become scarce.

There must have been a lot going on at sea, because hiking out, at low tide, I found that the actual low tide was higher than the high tide should have been. And you have to hike (carefully) on the low tide, most places. Normally, once you know where you're going, you can start two hours before low and hike until two hours after it. But you have to make exceptions. Or die.

So overall I've found that winter weather on the beach is interesting, warmer than you'd think, and often drier than parts inland. True. Right on the beach you frequently get only intermittent drizzle while a bit inland, with even a small rise in elevation, the rain is falling like crazy.

But it varies. It can get uglier than I've personally seen, though I've seen the evidence. The evidence is the parking lot at Rialto Beach, half covered to a depth of around 10 feet (3 m) in cobbles. Hundreds of tons of cobbles pushed up over the beach and into the parking lot a good 100 yards (100 m) from the water.

They finally gave up and left half of it permanently buried.

Well, at least February of 2006 was nice. Gray and misty at first, it changed to a couple of sunny days. Totally nice. I was trying out a silnylon tarp and had the pleasure of sitting in it and watching the rain fall like crazy a couple of mornings, but during the days it was nice. Until the last day.

That day was all wind and bluster. Foam and whitecaps. Frigid. The kind of weather that makes you walk on the horizontal, leaned over so far into it that your nose makes a groove in the sand. But then it was the last day. It was just fun. Once at the car I changed into dry clothes and had yet one more long, slow drive home, satisfied once again with the privilege of living here.

I have more pictures for later some time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pasayten 2010, Part 3

Rising into the sun.

My original urine-eating deer buddy as it stalked me.

Devils Park is a great place to camp. There isn't any water there, but you can carry it in from McMillan Park, if the mosquitoes will let you get at it, and there is a spring on the west end of Devils Park, but I don't know how it is after mid-July. Water is probably there all summer if you know how to dig it out.

Morning of day three. Sunny up on Jack Mountain.

Anyway, this time, the evening before was clear, cool, and breezy. Overnight the temperature dropped, and the morning was chilly enough to make a person's hands ache, even with gloves on. For a while. Luckily or unluckily, the climb out of Devils Park is long and steep, so a body chugging uphill warms quickly.

One nice thing about this is that you get great views back to the south, but it's hard to figure out just where you camped. Devils Park is one long meadow divided by trees. Groves of trees, lines of trees, clumps of trees. Up close it's a maze. Seen from above it seems more open, but also seems to go on forever. If I ever get a chance, I'm going to walk over to the south side and see if there's a view down into the valley of Canyon Creek.

One of the few clouds around that morning.

Jack Mountain is this huge rocky thing with two peaks. Back away from view on its northwest side is a huge glacier, Nohokomeen. On a clear day you can look south, into the southern unit of North Cascades National Park. State highway 20 skirts this and runs right through Rainy Pass, which lies astride the Pacific Crest Trail. I've never walked it, but I've driven it a few times, and it always stuns me with its jagged mass.

One ground-hugging squeaker, also up early.

One thing I particularly remember, from an earlier trip, farther north than I got on this trip, was tooling along the trail, oggling the sky and the peaks, with a grassy slope to my right, a drop of about two feet to the trail, and more short grass descending on my left.

I saw a movement, stopped, and watched as either a huge ground squirrel or a small marmot came shooting down the slope, sailed over the trail, hit the lower slope, rolled a few times, and then continued running until it disappeared into a line of shrubbery.

Walking alone you see things like that. The critters are used to people, but not to silent people, and unless you go along having a screaming argument with yourself, the wildlife simply doesn't hear you coming, and then has to act without thinking.

Luckily for me, I'm pretty scary to look at. The largest bear I've ever seen was in this area (for years I thought I'd seen a grizzly), and it turned and ran straight up the mountain until in seconds it became a small dot that blended with the brush.

Devils Park, where I spent the night, from above.

Climbing away from Devils Park you get significantly higher. On this day I had a good look to the west. Ross Lake must have been completely smothered in fog, because the valleys were full of it.

Rainy Pass in back, Devils Park, Jack Mountain.

First you ascend from highway level up to McMillan Park. From there you climb to Devils Park. Above that is Jackita Ridge, and then there are some severe ups and downs that take miles to cover. Farther north the trail levels out somewhat, and shares the route with the Pacific Crest Trail, though the landscape doesn't ever get boring, even for a second.

Closer view south into North Cascades National Park.

Ross Lake itself is amazing. I haven't seen much of it, but have twice walked the southern half of the trail along the eastern shore. It used to be a deep valley. The Skagit River flowed there. Now it's a deep, still, clear, inscrutable presence. There seems to be a lot of horse traffic along it. Maybe not great for hiking.

One day as I was hiking out I stopped at a campground. There were canoeists there, setting up. Well, maybe not too bad. I looked for a spot with some privacy. They I saw two or three crackers on the ground, and a half-eaten apple.


I slithered off, around a bend in the lake at least half a mile (2 km) away, and camped where no one ever went. They are extremely rare but there are grizzlies up there, and mice are bad enough.

West, toward Ross Lake, the wet tried to hang on.

Generally though, there is plenty of open space, and you can have your own personal stream and not only be out of sight of, but out of earshot of anyone else.

And may even be the only person in your particular drainage. But not near the lake.

Looking north, up to the south end of Jackita Ridge.

You get up along the west side of Jackita Ridge and you feel like you've finally made progress and are ready to cruise, and then you come to this edge, and the whole world drops away.

The place looks smaller on the map than in person, but in person it is a big hole in the side of the world.

Which had a fuzzy hillside.

You descend only around 300 feet (100 m) but it seems much farther. Maybe because it's all loose soil and gravel. Nothing grows on it.

"Slow" is the watchword. Hike out, turn, hike back and down a few feet, turn again, and keep switching back and forth until you are low enough to hit the tree line again.

The map shows a stream but it has no name, and I can't remember one. No matter. You forget it soon.

On a clear day you can stop and admire the view to the west, into the drainage of Devils Creek, which is worth a lot.

Blue grouse. They like trails a lot.

So after losing all your altitude in descending you begin to climb again, and end that climb by inching up to a knife-like outlier of Jackita Ridge.

Then with a few more steps you tip over it and begin a severe drop with the north fork of Devils Creek at its bottom.

One of my favorite downhills. Would be less fun in snow.

I'll get to that next time.

Jack Mountain left, valley of Devils Creek ahead.


Jack Mt & Nohokomeen Glacier by John Scurlock

Jack Mt's Nohokomeen Glacier

Portland State UniversityNohokomeen Glacier

Previously: Pasayten 2010, Part 1

Start of a short trip.

Last summer I was finally going to do a really long trip in Washington state's northernmost wild area.
Typical forest south of Highway 20 along Panther Creek.

I had to diddle with my plans several times because over the last few years a lot of the trails have been abandoned. They've become overgrown, eroded, wild, and are beginning to disappear back into the landscape.

And then there was snow.
Stone. Granite, mebbe.

Even though I started in mid-August, there was still snow in some of the higher locations. And those places were also on the crucial now-unmaintained east-west connecting routes that I needed to make a long trip.
Waterfall in a cleared area. Lots of brush generally though.

So ultimately I decided I had a route, but then the weather quickly turned bad, and I drastically shortened it all.
Kinky bridge going halfway across Granite Creek.

Still, I got a few pictures along the way.

This is the first bunch.

Previously: Pasayten 2010, Part 2

Day two: the wet, the bugs, the pee.
Trail going north above Panther Creek.

There is a campground between Ross Dam and Diablo dam, technically in the Ross Lake National Recreational Area, but run by North Cascades National Park. That's where I left my car.

I did this once before, and it's a good idea and a bad idea.

Not a great looking start for the day.

The good part is that it's nice. Paved. Lots of coming and going. Picnickers. Campers. Day hikers. Families noodling around. Most people are OK, especially those surrounded by children. Children scare off bad guys, so leaving a car there is pretty safe, compared to a parking lot along the highway, or even a camp site 20 miles in.

It is also the start of a trail which runs east along Thunder Creek, and then turns north along Panther Creek, and takes a person to Highway 20, across which is the real place to start. This entry trail is really pretty nice. Few people use it.

But it was good shrubbery weather.

The bad part is that it adds about a day to both the beginning and the end of a backpacking trip, and there are two significant climbs (and descents) along the way.

Since I'm not that bright, and did this once before, and wasted a bunch of time, I thought I'd do it again.

By late afternoon of the first day the sky was getting dark, with rain clouds, and they let loose with a fine drizzle around supper time, so that's when I quit hiking. Luckily I'd come across a forested but undergrowth-clear bulge in the side of the mountain by then, and there was a stream just around the corner, so I went up about 100 feet (30 m) and put up the hammock, then ate and came down for a sponge bath in the rain, during which I got wet.

There is decent trail above the brush.

Sometimes life works out that way.

This short trail is not used much, and gets heavily overgrown with brush between cleanings, and even though it is only around seven miles long (11 km) the two ups and downs combined with the brush slow a person down. I started about 10 a.m., which wasn't bad, considering the long drive to get there, but only made it about two thirds of the way through before stopping.

The second day was dark and gray but didn't rain until I got to the highway, and even then wasn't bad, but enough to make me feel skittish, even though it let up soon. I'm always brave while planning trips but once in the rain it all seems suddenly miserable and pointless, one reason I eventually cut the trip short, by about a week, another dumb decision, since ultimately the weather turned perfect.

The first luncheon guest. Pee for one, please.


This area has four "jurisdictions", if you can call them that. The plain old National Forest, the Pasayten Wilderness, Ross Lake National Recreational Area, and North Cascades National Park. Ross Lake is a long, skinny thing with its southern half inside the U.S. and the rest in Canada. Guessing by the map, it must average about a half mile (0.8 km) wide. It looks so deep that you get scared thinking about it.

Mmmmm. Salty dirt.

Overnight stays in areas administered by the national park require dealing with them. Otherwise you can simply fill out a form at a trail registry post when you hit the National Forest. The Wilderness is also part of the National Forest. Practically speaking, you may or may not see signs showing you where any of the boundaries are, or anyone in a uniform.

Once north of Highway 20 the trail crosses Ruby Creek, goes east along it, and then climbs for what seems like a year. It's only 700 or 800 feet (245 m) but with a full load of food at the beginning of a trip it can make you stinky real fast.

Trudge. Trudge.

Good to the last gritty bit.

Past the halfway mark you hit water, and then see more water twice, higher up.

By the time things level out you are near a delightful place called McMillan Park. This is where I planned on camping in 2004, until I actually got there.

The ugly guy, a deer, and a stove.

It is beautiful. No doubt about that. Full of bogs and little ponds, and so many mosquitoes priming to attack that it sounds like a Nascar pre-race warm-up. They know when you are coming.

They weren't as bad this time as before, mostly because I was ready. Wear your rain gear, or a full-coverage wind suit, with bug net and gloves, keep your ankles covered, and your chances of survival increase.

Even so, pile rocks on your pack so they don't make off with it.

Crater Mountain, slightly above mosquito level.

The first time here I had to run-walk all the way through McMillan Park or face certain death by sucking beaks. I finally cleared the flats, leaving less than a third of my blood behind, and found an open, breezy spot a mile or so north, set up camp and made supper (wearing all the clothing just mentioned). Then while sitting and eating super my ankles went nuts. They were covered with mosquitoes biting me through two pair of socks.

Another, with poky bits. But no pee for thee, deer.

So be warned.

The other problem is deer.

They want your pee.

The non-bug moving part of McMillan Park.

This trip, I stopped for lunch, watered the flowers, set up my stove, and almost before I could count to one, there was a deer circling me. I acted harmless and it eventually came up to within about 10 feet (3 m) and ate all the dirt that I had wetted before it wandered off again.

Looks like another kind of pea.

Back to 2004. After fighting mosquitoes for hours, finally getting safely inside my hammock, and gratefully falling asleep for a while, I had to get up and do the flower-watering thing. But didn't go out far enough. The deer showed up right after I got back to bed and wouldn't go away. He (probably a he) circled me for an hour or more, stomping, snorting, thrashing around in the brush, doing all kinds of goofy things while the mosquitoes kept bouncing off the bottom of the hammock where they could feel my body heat. Fun night.

Back south, Rainy Pass way.

This time at least I handled it better (my fourth try). I bathed in the pleasantly freezing wind a good 100 yards out from camp, and picked a spot about half that distance out to use as my flower garden. Which was gratifying because though the deer came when I used it they didn't feel that they had to come over and bark in my face.

And it is spooky how fast they show up. Literally within five minutes, in some of these places, if that.

Even some of the plants bite.

Anyhow, I got past the mosquitoes, the sky cleared a lot, I got a good camp site, and had the deer figured out. Following my bath and a half hour or so of uncontrollable shivering I got to bed and dreamed of grizzly bears.

So I stopped for water, and then...

The place is called Devil's Park. Pretty nice though.