Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Smith Creek May 2001 - Part 4

Last installment in a four-part series.

Little anonymous stream coming off the mountain. There were several of these gems along the south side of the valley.

Doofus (me!) coming back down the trail — the old logging road.

Another creekside view.

Looking back west toward Ape Canyon. Later in the day — the shadows were beginning to lengthen.

Looking right or north-ish toward Smith Creek. You can see the stained stones, but the water was clean, clear, and good.

Mid-valley with a view toward the south side across the 21-year-old debris from the May 18, 1980 blast.

Racking out the camera's little lens to the max, in the same area.

In the streambed there's always some kind of life.

Given half a chance, it bursts into bloom and hopes fore the best.

And again — it's no fluke. Life advances.

Meanwhile, back on the trail, or the road if you prefer, the alders were busy putting out fresh bright green spring leaves.

All over.

One of my favorite-ever sections of trail. Too bad it didn't go on for more than a half-mile (0.80 km), but it was always a great treat, especially early in the year.

As a reminder of how lush parts of this area were, another creek came off the mountain to greet me.

A last look west up the old road toward the mountain.

And at your feet, if you bother to look, more beauty and hope.

But, taking a peek downstream to the east, you get yet another kind of reminder — this area was handled roughly, and it showed.

Actually, early on during my first few years of scouting the area, it was pretty nice. Everything seemed to be worked out. A whole lot of it was even moss-covered.

As time went by, though, winter storms and floods began to feel their muscle. Then they washed out roads, blasted away highway bridges, scoured streambeds, and the scars spread across the landscape.

Last peek at the top of St Helens from the Smith Creek flats.

Another glance at the place the footbridge once was. Not washed away, but carted upstream by helicopter after winter floods isolated it from the land at each of its ends, leaving it disconnected.

A bit later, back up top, above Smith Creek Valley, above Muddy River and Lava Canyon, at the foot of the lahar on the mountain's east side.

Tufted grass, waiting for summer.

Up here, it was near sunset, with a darkening sky reaching out to cover everything.

And sun dogs to end the day.

All images are from my first digital camera, a 3 mega-pixel Kodak, long obsolete and discarded.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Camping Packing

Stuffing your friends.

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 10: Safety in numbers.

One thing you'll notice if you ever go backpacking is that you are all alone. This is why you should...

  • Never go backpacking, or
  • Don't go alone.

Going backpacking can cause many problems. Among these are the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or other things. This happens because when you are alone there is no one to look out for you and tell you how to do it right, or what dangerous parts to skip. And there is no one to blame if you go ahead and do it anyway.

Besides, being alone all the time is boring, like watching reruns on TV. You should never be alone, even at home watching TV. If you are alone, no one knows what you are getting up to, and it could be something bad.

Better to take a camping pack everywhere you go and keep out of trouble.

A camping pack is a special device for camping and packing, or, sometimes, the other way around. Some normal parts for a camping pack are the pack, and the back, and the other stuff. It is all very simple. First you put things in and then you take them out again, but only while standing still. It requires a special license to do this while moving and may cause accidents, so leave that for the experts. You are only trying to have fun anyway, not be in the news under "Other Incidents".

Now, the next thing you may ask is "How can a camping pack make me be not lonely?" Well, it is very straightforward. There is a military pack called ALICE, and another one called MOLLE, but they are very large and heavy and military-like, so best to try something in a smaller size, like the JANET, or even the KIRSTEN.

They come in nice colors too, but for all-around survival benefits, plus getting your spirits lifted, there is nothing better than the BARBIE pack.

This is true. Barbie the Doll has been around for ages and has all the accessories you could possibly need for wilderness survival, including that famous BARBIE pack of hers. And then the friends. Barbie has lots of friends.

Barbie's best-known friend is Ken (who is really Ken Carson — kind of a little-known secret), but there is also Blaine, an Australian surfer who sort of hung around for a while and who we're not really sure of in the same way we're not too sure about Ken, but this is about Barbie, so get over it.

Barbie is really kind of bitchen when you get to know her. She drives a pink Corvette convertible and can handle a jeep with the best of them. She has a pilot's license and flies commercial airliners while being a flight attendant during some of the quieter moments. Can you do that?

During her life Barbie has had over 40 pets like cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. How about you? Same answer?

And clones. There's Miss Astronaut Barbie, Doctor Barbie, and Nascar Barbie. And friends. She has lots: Hispanic Teresa, Midge, African American Christie, Steven (Christie's boyfriend). And relatives like Barbie's siblings and cousins Skipper, Todd, Stacie, Kelly, Krissy, and Francie.

And best of all, there's room in the BARBIE pack for all of them. How many is that now? Plenty! You'll never have to worry about being unpopular or going suicidal from loneliness when you have your BARBIE pack along, and all your plastic friends, because there's always someone to talk to. Even if you get into an argument with one of them, you still have others handy. And if it gets really bad, just pull somebody's head off until they promise to behave.

But of course, things aren't always easy. Sometimes it has to to beyond conversation and quiet overnight snuggling. Which is when Barbie's physical characteristics come in handy. With a body of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and a head of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Barbie's energy density is right up there.

Same with all her friends and relatives. So when sacrifices are necessary, Barbie burns like that proverbial roman candle. Pile her up with all her friends and relatives and torch the lot if you need a massive signal fire, or combust them one at a time and huddle close for warmth. Either way you'll find that your new friends are there for you when you need them.

And you can always buy more.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Smith Creek May 2001 - Part 3

Third installment in a short series.

Continuing to move upstream — more of the same.

Dry, crumbly ground, and the remains of the burned and blasted.

Getting near the end of the usable trail.

Remnants of the former logging road peter out about here. No telling what it's like in 2014 — I haven't been there for well over half a decade.

But there are some nice spots along the way. This is the grove that I chose for my group to camp in the following weekend. Shaded, watered, level, and clean. Can't ask for more than that. Oh — private too.

Crappy, severely cropped shot of a vulture or buzzard.

This is about the end of the hikeable trail. After a stream crossing there's a bit more on what amounted to an island, and then the trail returned on the other side of the valley.

Turning around, I got a look back downstream. The notch in the forest in the upper third of the photo, off toward the right side, held a magnificent waterfall. I'm sure it still does, but these days you may not be able to walk over to it due to undergrowth.

Edge of the streambed. Just chock full of colorful stones, endlessly.

Sand and slime.

Colorful, though.

Just two or three years earlier, most of the streams were crystal clear. Then suddenly they filled with algae. Probably the sign of an enriched ecosystem. In other words, a good sign for the area's recovery.

At that time, this was the point to cross Smith Creek and get onto the "island", located between two branches of the creek.

A nice jumble of various kinds of of geology — some fresh and sharp, some water-smoothed, with wildly mixed mineralogies.

This branch of the creek leads up to two canyons on the south side of the valley, both of which I had explored in previous years, while they were still open and not choked by alder groves and shrubbery.

Here the water was faster and still clear.

There must have been an abundance of iron in the water to stain the stones so boldly.

Yours truly. I still have the pants and the shirt, and gained a beard.

From a bit back downstream where the two branches of upper Smith Creek merge into a single thread.

Lupine. Always nice to see.

A few more sprigs of vegetation amid the colorful stones.

South side of the valley. Most of the original trees were knocked over, but a few snags remained, later to be surrounded by a continuous thicket of alder scrub.

And back again to Ape Canyon on the way out. I also explored this several times, and led a group up there the following weekend. Probably completely choked off several years ago, though it used to be pleasantly open, and hopping full of elk.

More to come in a bit — one more post.

All images are from my first digital camera, a 3 mega-pixel Kodak, long obsolete and discarded.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dressing In Clothes

You have choices.

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 9: Listen to your mother.

Say you washed your clothes and hung them up to dry, and then you went to bed? What's the worst thing that could happen? I suppose for most of us that would be hearing a knock on the tent door, and when you get up to answer it, it's a bunch of Girl Scouts selling cookies and there you are with no clothes on. Mandatory five-to-ten, with no chance of parole. Plus you miss out on a lot of hiking.

And if you dodge that bullet, there's always forest fires, but more likely, a bear comes and eats your stuff. Bears are intelligent animals, and like all intelligent animals, a bunch of them are crazy, and they're big enough to rear up and munch your laundry in the dark.

There's really no way to prevent that unless you hire my cousin Clevonne, the bear whisperer, but he doesn't go hiking. It think it's he, but we're not that close, and you can't really be sure from the photos. Anyway, who wants a stranger in their tent all night, whispering?

That leaves only a couple of options.

  • Go naked. (This has well-known problems as noted above, plus skeeters and sunburn.)
  • Never wash. Fairly common when thru-hikers "go native" and just stay out there. (Some nights you can hear them howling in the distance.)
  • Take extra.

Well, we know which two options are popular with ultralighters, but what if you're not in that elite group of dusty stinkers? (Six people worldwide at last count.) That leaves just one way out — spare undos.

Toss an extra shirt and pants in the pack too, a change of socks, and you got it pretty well covered.

For example, you get wet. Maybe it rains, or you fall in the creek again. Got spare clothes? Great. Use those to dry off with. This way you can leave the towel at home, and if you always forget it anyway, well — less thinking needed.

So you get soaked, and you pat yourself dry using those spare clothes, so then you simply get back to walking. Eventually all your clothes will air dry or some kind of mold will get them, and you can't really do anything about that. Better than the alternative from staying wet.

If that happens you get fatigued by producing too much body heat and then you lose brain functionality, which makes you slow in the head, and then you go stand in the rain or fall in the creek again. This is called a viscous circle because each time around you move slower and slower until you turn into a kind of thick-headed frigid cheese or something. Then the bears really close in.

Synthetic clothing is highly advised by all the experts. These are usually the people who eat organic food. See the problem there? Some of them are even vegetarians, so how do you feel about that?

There is nothing wrong with good old cotton. Cotton has got a bad rap lately, but it is all organic and you don't have to pretend to eat it.

Cotton clothing will keep going for a long time, almost forever. Heck, I've still got a shirt I bought 16 years ago, and it wasn't showing much wear until the dog took a shine to it. Something about the color or whatever, I think. Little sucker won't leave the damn thing alone any more, but at least he's off my leg now.

So cotton has its uses. For instance, why do they make towels out of it? Which gets back to our main topic here — you want to remain clean and presentable, which means having enough spare clothes to use as towels, and cotton is unbeatable for that. And take spare underpants too, in case you get hit by a mountain biker and have to go to the hospital.

Don't let your mother down.