Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Definitions: Boulder Hopping

(1) Hiking from rock to rock without touching the ground in between.

Dangerous. Tricky. And small rocks don't count.

They should be too big to step over. Boulders. Got it?

(2) Somewhere in the deepest wilds of ancient, uncharted Scandinavia there was once a large stone. A very large stone.

There are many there still, the stones, and there are stones in other places as well. Stones are common, but this stone was not. This stone was completely different. This stone had a voice.

It used its voice to sing.

It sang not well as the short, evanescent lives of humans tend to judge these things, but you know what they say about talking dogs. Anyway, the stone sang.

People came from every farthest corner of the known world to wonder at this stone, as it sat centered in a small, vigorous stream. A stream that any man could throw his sword over (and some children as well), but yet too fiercely, aggressively vigorous to cross.

So there sat the stone. Solid. Unmoving. Endlessly singing to itself in one warbling roaring bass note.

The "Bullra Sten", the "Noisy Stone" it was named. So it was called. So they called it. And it sat for ages, just there, unmoving, in that one solitary place.

For ages. And ages untold.

And whenever a few gathered and drew near, or even one alone it seems, the stone sang directly to them, or to that one person, in its profound deep voice. It sang of the day and it sang of the night. Of the seasons, and of the snow, and of the rain. Of the light and of the darkness. Of eternity.

The stone sang of loneliness and of lost love and war and of the peace that follows death.

The stone sang to no one, but yet it sang to all — to itself, by itself, and all who came and heard the stone were certain that it sang for them alone, to them only.

And when these people returned to their homes, many returned not always buoyant, not always cheerful, not always smiling, not always feeling awash in sunshine and light, but reassured somehow. Always reassured that no matter their fate, no matter what the stone had told them, still it was ultimately for the best, and that all would be set right during the final tally at life's end.

Tales of the stone, the Bullra Sten, the Boulder Rock, the Singing Earthstone, the Fate-stone, the Divider of life and of death, these tales spread far and wide.

Many wished to visit the great stone but few could manage the difficult journey to such a remote location, or even could manage to learn where it lay. In any case the stone seemed to take notice of none. It did not care who came and who went, many or few, or when. The stone sat, through the ages, and only sang its song.

And then one day, one day seemingly like all the others, the stone was there no more. No one had seen it go. It had not rolled. It certainly had not walked. It was too massively great to have been carried off, and no one would have dared try.

But it was gone, and its voice as well was gone. The stone's massive throbbing voice filled the valley no longer, leaving a great empty void.

The voice of the stone was now silence itself, if there can be a sound emanating from a thing not there, and perhaps there can, for the silence itself became a great looming presence.

But people still came.

People came to the very same spot that they had always come to, and they stood, reverently, and gazed at the place in the stream's bed where the stone had sat. Where it had sat since before the forefathers of their forefathers or the mothers of their greatest great-grandmothers had walked the earth.

The people came, and stood in reverence, and it seems, at whiles, that some, the quietest and most reverent, could still make out the distant echoes of the stone's now silent song. So they honored the stone, even in its absence. They celebrated.

At midsummer, in the farthest reach of the coldest wasteland where once had stood the singing stone, a few gathered and celebrated even in the midst of their sadness for the missing stone.

And on the very peak of the arching forehead of a nearby stone, a stone almost - very nearly - a sibling of the original but yet some distance from the stream, they hung garlands of hops, and bathed that stone with flagons of ale, in worshipful memory of their lost singing stone. This then, this ceremony came to be called Boulder Hopping.

In recent years, boulder hopping has become a major party-time blowout and Trans-Euro televised sporting event.

Hot babes in bikinis, motocross races, championship soccer, and scores of food stands fill the valley for two crazy, fun-filled midsummer weeks every June. Get two of anything on a stick for the price of one, and any tattoo imaginable While-U-Wait. No problemo, come one come all. Bring cash.

Come early, stay late. Day and night, 24 hours without end. All partying all the time.

Toke up on local herbs and chill out in the neon green fiberglass pagoda (fully climate controlled) built exactly on the spot where the original Big Mutha Rock used to sit, and wait for word from the Other Side, thru your own ear buds. (And there's an app for that too. Great!)

Buy your admission by the day or get a two-week Full-On Full-Throat Event Pass and save big. BIG!

You won't live forever so Don't Miss It Again This Year!

Even bigger, even better than ever before!

More babes!

More food on more sticks!

More of everything!

Don't miss the greatest next, greatest ever EuroVent! You Will Not Regret It!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Plying The Tubal

So then, all good things come to an end. Sometimes a bad end. In this case, not. It was mostly down hill from there...

...after a few hundred vertical feet of uphill. That is.

Things are often like that in my world. I don't know how yours works, but I get a lot of uphills. Fortunately, I'd rather go uphill. (Insert happy simile here.)

They're called switchbacks because they switch on you and send you back, but on a higher plane, if you're climbing, or lower if you're sinking. And some of them go on a long, long time before they get switchy, so you grunt. I do, anyway. I grunt happily. I am gruntable. Gruntled. A gruntly sort of person.

Anyhow, this is a good place to do it. There aren't many people out here, especially since this area is a bit off any major roads. And then there is all the uphill stuff involved in getting there. And not much to see. Officially. Unless you like mountains and rivers without end, as Gary Snyder put it. Mountains and rivers and sky and dirt and air. And quiet.

But going back north, on the way out, first you see a lot of emptiness after a bit of climbing. I don't know about you, but I like that. Maybe it's having grown up on the plains. On the plains, it's all horizon, and no matter which direction you look in, there it is. You get to like that. That way nothing can sneak up on you. It may still come, and it may still kill you, but since you can see it coming, you have time for another beer first. That's nice too.

So after I got up to the top (with a little grunting to help me get there), I got a good view, and then prepared to hold my grunts and coast down into the Silver Creek Valley. Way down there. Which looked like it would be pleasant enough. It was.

And like that woman who insisted that the world existed on the back of a turtle, and who could no be cornered by being challenged by the question of "OK then, what does the turtle stand on," said that "It's turtles all the way down."

In my case, in this place, it was views all the way down, and I have the pictures to prove it.

I even saw a bear. From way above. As I was scoping out the area for a campsite.

So, there's a small lake (which doesn't show up on the map I've linked to), and a camping area there, and there was a bear too. So I decided maybe I'd stay somewhere else.

But I did see a bunny. And the bunny saw me, but didn't run away right away. "Why?" you may ask. "Because it was a dumb bunny," I'd say. But who can say, really?

I guess I was maybe more excited than the bunny, because my photo is a little blurred. Or maybe it was a magic evil bunny and it cast a little spell on me. Or maybe I'm just a lousy photographer.

"What's more likely," I might ask, if I had time to ask, and time to think about it, but I'm a lazy bastard and so that question may never be answered, or even asked, even though technically I've just asked it. But even so, I refuse to answer it, so there — another mystery for the ages.

Yeah, so even without evil bunnies there was lots to think about, like that woman I saw about the time I sailed over the high point of the trail. You don't see that many solo hikers, and fewer solo women hikers, but there she was.

She probably knows a hundred times what I do, 'cuz I pretty much a doofus anyway, so, being a doofus on top of everything else, I probably can't figure out anything. So I cleverly said "Hi" and she said "Hi" and then I was all alone again, with that bear down there somewhere.

And then there was that guy I also saw. Looked like an older guy. I think he was on a day hike, coming in from the east (Highway 101 side). He looked like he was headed right up to the top of Buckhorn Mountain. That might be fun, though the trail was wicked steep and just kept going up and up.

But that was really about it for excitement. First I left the Constance Pass area, and then climbed up to the Buckhorn Mountain pass, and headed down into the Silver Creek drainage. Pretty standard hiking around, but for some reason it never gets old.

Beyond that, I saw a bunny and a bear, and some old snow melting out. Hey.

And then eventually, after passing the camp site (with a bear in there somewhere), I made it down to the creek, and the site of the Tubal Cain mine. There were a few pieced of metal lying around, which was sort of not-interesting in a sort of uninteresting way, as these old dump grounds usually go.

But it was a killer place to camp. And there was no one there, and no one came in later, or in the middle of the night, or the next morning or anything. And no bear. Not even a bunny. It was really quiet.

Sheltered, flat, full of agreeable trees, with a few bits of old boilers and gears and pulleys and things from the failed Tubal Cain copper non-mine, with a lazy clean flat stream flowing through it. And I loved it.

So I ate, cleaned up, hung my food, and went to bed. What can I say?

Maybe, if I was the sort of person to get excited about flowers, it was a good place for flowers too. Rhododendrons. It's odd.

It's odd to me to see flowers in the forest. Maybe I'm odd. Could be, but somehow I expect flowers to be in flower gardens, in town, but then there are these flowers. Out in the woods. And the flowers out in the woods look just like town flowers.

Sure, it's just me. But again, maybe it's having grown up on the plains, where you see grass. Lots of grass, leading up to the horizon, which is out there, right on the horizon, surrounding you, and no flowers. Flowers are in town, in gardens, but not out there. So I haven't gotten over that either. The flowers.

The flowers are all over. Were all over. This was last year. Maybe it was the weather. Mild, dry winter, dry early spring. Thus flowers? I can't say, but I had to keep stopping to photograph them. Because.

Because you don't see big flowers on bushes where I come from, so when you do, you have to stop and photograph them because maybe, just maybe, you're the first person to ever see anything like this. Not, I know, but I can't get over it, and the bear wasn't around to liven things up so I had to do the best I could with what I had.

So where were we? Day three I guess. I got up, scratched a lot, mooned around, found my food hanging in a tree, had breakfast and so on, and continued hiking lazily downslope.

And I saw what? Forest, flowers, sunlight. Can't complain. It was fun if you like that sort of thing.

Almost forgot — I had more excitement. Two bicyclists. Headed downhill.

OK, maybe not too exciting to high-powered thousand-mile hikers but for me? Hey. A Pretty Big Deal. Kinda. Nice people anyway. Intelligently going downhill. Maybe it was a trend last year.

And eventually I crossed that spur of road and hit a disconnected bridge, and then it was back upstream a while and I found my car right where it should have been, and all that was fine and good.

And after that I drove home and had some beer and wondered what to do next.

And now a year later I finally decided to look at my photos, and did that, and then wrote this stuff up and have been thinking of going out backpacking again, somewhere, when I have equipment again, and am someplace where I can go backpacking. So simple. It seems. I'll have to try that.

Part 1.

Part 2.

As always, Effort or Eff it. No sniveling then, eh?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kissing Constance

Right. So where were we? I'm not sure that I remember, but since this isn't another mindless recitation of 'I went here and then I went there and I ate this and stuff, y'know?' I guess it doesn't matter — I'll just try to pick it up in the middle.

Anyhow, I can't show pictures of the good stuff. I always forget about my camera once I set up camp. I keep thinking about photos of my hammock or tent or whatever after I've left the area. Long after.

And I had a pretty neat setup for my hammock. Not earth-shakingly unique, but, you know? Hey. It was nice enough, but that wasn't all. I had a visitor.

To be clear, this visitor was not a guest. Not invited. Not especially welcome. It was a goat. And I didn't get even a single photo of it. Somehow.

Mountain goats are not native to the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, and they also are not rare. They are not safe to be around either. About five years back a man was killed by one. Poked in the leg. Got an artery punctured. Bled to death. On a fairly busy trail.

So, after I got settled in, ate, was ready to go poking around in the evening, then I saw my goat. It didn't get close to me, relatively speaking. But actually it did get too close, about 50 feet (about 15 m), which is way too close. And this wasn't some goat up on a rocky ledge. It was in the woods with me. It was casually, nonchalantly walking around, completely unconcerned.

The good part of my encounter that evening was that the goat didn't seem to be the least bit interested in me, but to be safe, I picked a spot about 200 feet (60 m) away, and urinated only in that one spot. The goat didn't seem overly impressed by that either. I guess it wasn't after salt. But if it was, it was welcome to it, and couldn't use salt lust as an excuse to come over and get belligerent with me. And also I chucked a rock or two in its general direction as it passed by my camp. Just to clearly establish what our relationship was going to be like. So far so good. The goat trotted off into the woods.

Home Lake from Constance Pass.

Around dusk I went out to the adjoining meadow and sat on a rock. Yep. The goat came back. I chucked more rocks. It seemed puzzled, but steered an arcing course around me, keeping large boulders between itself and me. Then it appeared over on my right, clomping its way up the back side of another boulder and peering at me. Chuck. Chuck. I gave it two more rocks, and that was about the end of it.

No, I wasn't trying to hit it or to hurt it, only to make a noise. The goat could see me throw, and could hear the rock hit 10 or 15 feet in front of it, and it knew what the sound of rocks was. Maybe it had had a few rock bonks on its noggin. I expect that most mountain goats experience that, naturally, so when it saw me unspring myself and then heard the clatter of my stone, I'm pretty sure that it knew that I wasn't in the mood for company, and likely wasn't a fun person to be around. At all.

So that was about that. Not much of a story to relate, but I'm desperately trying to fill in for not having any photos. Is it working yet? I'll probably never know.

Looking south from Constance Pass.

But that was only the first evening. The next day I had something real to do. I needed to make a pass at Constance. Constance the pass. And I did.

I'd seen the pass in 2003 and had not been back since. Previously I mentioned my long loop hike that took me up the Dosewallips River, over to the Elwha River, up to Hurricane Ridge, across to Deer Park, down to Slab Camp, down the Gray Wolf River, out of Olympic National Park and into the Olympic National Forest, then south along the Dungeness River, over the top of Constance Pass, and back to the Dosewallips River. Well, I did that, but hadn't been back since.

Creepy old guy who arrived at the pass when I did. And who eerily vanished from the pass at the exact moment I left it.

Things had changed a bit in 12 years.

View back north down the Dungeness valley.

The washed-out trail along the Gray Wolf was one thing. It's probably still possible to make the Park-to-Forest connection, but it would be dangerous. In 2003 I had to cross a sketchy log bridge. It was one of those ginormous logs you see in western Washington, about five feet (1.5 m) thick. Pretty easy to walk along. Even had a railing. But the north end, the far end, had been knocked off its footing by a flood. That end was also pointing a little downstream, and the whole log, railing and all, was partly rolled over toward its upstream side. A bit spooky.

Spooky because the water there flowed between two rock walls, and was deep. Not a place to try wading when there is no bridge at all. Downstream was chocked with fallen trees — sweepers — trees whose branches cover the stream, waiting for a fallen, splashing, struggling hiker to come along, so they could catch him, push him under, hold him, and drown him. But not me. I'm not going there.

As it was, in 2003, with a log to cautiously creep over, well — that was spooky enough with deep water foaming just under my crawling self, and not sure if the log, big as it was, heavy as it was, might roll over and take me down. Though if I could pass through there again, I would.

A short way on from there the trail ends at a Forest Service road, and then it's a couple of miles of road walking but that is not bad. Once past that it's a nice stroll up the Dungeness River, which is about what ground I covered on this trip.

In 2003 I passed the sort of "camping" area at the upper end of the trail and continued halfway to Constance Pass. Up there I found a tall snag whose base was stuck between two boulders and was able to use it to hang my food. Choice, especially so because there was no other place to put my food. And because of what happened that night, I'm glad that I wasn't sleeping with my food.

There was no place to put my hammock either, but I got clever. About a half-mile (4/5 km) shy of Home Lake, beside and a bit below the trail, there was a giant boulder. At each end of it grew a tree. The two trees were small but stout — just exactly barely stout enough to support my hammock, so I slept there. My hammock was parallel to the valley wall, so night wind would be deflected by the hammock's fly, and the hammock was roughly 30 feet (10 m) off trail, downwind.

Good. As long as my support ropes held, but I'd only crash a couple of feet onto the boulder's flat top. So I set up camp on the rock. All was well and good and fine until after dark.

Until sometime after dark. I awoke in the dark. Fine. I do that. You do that. Everyone does that. The night was calm and silent. Perfect, so I snuggled in a bit and prepared to fall asleep again in due time, bit I didn't. Right away. And then I heard something coming my way.

In the dark, inside a sleeping bag, inside a hammock, behind a rain fly you don't see much. You don't see anything. But you can still hear. I heard something. Coming down the trail. Something with hooves. The sound is distinctive. The little bell-like tinkle turning stones. The gentle clatter as one and another of them is kicked. The crunch-crunch. Delicate sounds. It was a hoofed animal walking down from the pass, from the direction of the pass, in the dark. Delightful, really. What a treat. At first.

Because that wasn't all. That animal — deer or elk or goat — well, it passed by. And I prepared to get sleepy and resume my rest, but then, a few minutes later, I heard the other sound — another animal — a different one. One with soft feet. Also passing by my camp, past supine, bundled, helpless me. An animal with soft feet, but not a perfectly poised animal because it too disturbed some of the trail's loose stone. Not with small kicks and hard crunches but with faint, very faint rearrangements of stones, here and there, under its soft foot-soles. And this scared the snot right clean out of me. I held my breath I didn't breathe I only listened and did not move at all and waited for what would happen next.

What happened next was that the animal — skunk or raccoon or coyote or lynx or bobcat or cougar or bear — kept walking. It came near and passed by and its sounds faded and were gone. I, lying off-trail, downslope and downwind, remained unnoticed. This was clear. Neither animal detected me. I know what happens when elk unexpectedly walk into my scent at night — they go nuts. They bark and stamp and stumble and stampede. I don't know what bears do, or cougars and I don't want to, but both animals passed by within feet of me and neither gave any hint that they knew I was there, and I am really truly glad for that. Startling elk is one thing and startling carnivores has to be something else. So I had an experience, one whose recollection is still razor sharp and crystal clear 13 years later. That's what Constance Pass means to me.

Meadow hut at my first night's camp.

So after I got up last year, I packed, and humped up the last mile or two of trail and went and looked across the top of Constance Pass, barely kissing it, after leaving my pack at little Home Lake, and after that I backtracked, passed back past my campsite, and headed for Buckhorn Mountain, for the Tubal Cain mine site, and for the trail head. Which is where we'll go next time.

Here's the general area. SE of Port Angeles, south of Sequim.

And here is my route — not long. Just right.

Part 1, Dungenessity.

Part 3, Plying The Tubal.

As always, Effort or Eff it. No sniveling then, eh?