Missing Ramona

We followed the conflicting directions as best we could. In the end, it was simple. Thirteen miles up the road exactly. At mile twelve, we stopped to measure on the map and I stepped out behind the truck to pee. That’s when they noticed me, where I wasn’t expected to be; the mosquitoes. I was quicker than they were and popped back inside just in time.

And so we arrived with the handful of other vehicles. We parked. I froze. I stared. We had been warned, but I didn’t believe it could be this bad. The mosquitoes were thick as fog. They attacked the truck, they attacked the people as they sprayed themselves down. Carter stepped out to see how they’d react to his permethrin-treated clothing. What permethrin? I’m always the first one to put my pack on, to be ready with a bounce and a smile. I didn’t move. I didn’t even take my seat belt off. I’d be eaten alive. I couldn’t imagine returning the next day without a million tiny regrets.

I keep saying I’m going to Soda Peaks Lake. That’s as close as I got. Quickly agreeing on a fall reunion with that trailhead, we wound back down those thirteen miles and beyond to regroup over salads and a big taster tray of beer. No one was more surprised than we were to find ourselves back at Carter’s place for an afternoon movie. But we were still smiling because we still had each other, and a plan for tomorrow.

I borrowed a ball cap and his Daylite pack, and walked on the wide, sunny path toward the Sandy River. Let’s cross here.

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Not everyone takes the dry route.

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It’s a very popular trail, despite the sometimes challenging river crossing, though it was very easy this time. There were many hikers and not a few city slickers, but we expected as much and didn’t mind. To soak up the magic of Ramona Falls, you always have to share.

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We stayed for quite a while, just taking it in. Some people are more respectful of the setting than others, and we tried to keep our blinders on. A couple of fun ladies and their dog were welcomed into our field of vision, however, and we all had a nice chat while the dog played.

Because it was a very warm day, we saved the cooler side of the loop for the way back. I remembered the towering rock wall, but not the lovely surprise it offered across the stream and through the trees.

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My own shower!

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And I took it.

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Feeling refreshed and cool, the trail still had endless charm to offer.

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I told Carter I always feel a little sad when we’re nearing the end of the trail, and so nearing the end of our time together. I wondered when I’d next be back here and realized that, at least, is in my own hands.

~River

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Old Haunt, New Memories

We pulled into the last available parking space late in the morning, Carter’s big tires fitting perfectly into the dips just off the pavement. I changed out of my black leggings and replaced them with shorts. It was going to be a warm one. We walked without our packs to photograph the first waterfall. I’ve been waiting to show him these, knowing how big the payoff would be, a vague memory from twenty years past as my guide. After this exciting start, we returned for our packs and headed up river.

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We didn’t get too far before reaching these unwelcoming signs. Their insistence is comical. We detoured up to another trailhead and decided to bypass this waterfall rather than backtrack down steeply.

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There was quite a traffic jam of teenagers near this cute little gem. Copper Creek Falls would be the perfect little cooling pool on a summer day. We weren’t feeling too crazy and continued on.

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Upper Falls was even better than I expected. I love the giant pool at the bottom and we sat on shore, taking in the scene for up to an hour, watching other hikers, their dog Lilo, a group of bikers with questionable water filtering skills that made me grit my teeth, and a lovely lady having her photo taken in a bikini. I’m so glad we stayed for lunch.

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It was time to hunt for camp. We were running out of trail as this stretch is only a few miles long. We hadn’t seen anywhere private yet, but thought it would be quieter above all the falls, anyway. There was nothing to tempt the masses up here beyond Taitnapum.

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We passed a young lady we’d been leap-frogging all afternoon and she greeted us with a big smile. She was happy to run into us again as she wanted to suggest a great camping spot she’d just spent some quiet time enjoying. We found it around the next bend, a nice big site with a fire pit and rocky beach. You can see the spray from Taitnapum from the lower end of camp. Don’t fall in!

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It wasn’t a long hike, but it was a warm and crowded one. We were ready to cool off and relax in peace, even if we do over weight the parachute fabric. But not for long…

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I had to see the end of the trail. We were so close. With a liter of Gatorade and wearing our camp shoes, up we went. It may have been the end of the Lewis River Trail, but it was just the beginning of others. Tempting!

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We tried out Carter’s new pocket rocket stove with great success, and enjoyed a fun little fire after dinner. I had collected wood and gotten it one-match-ready while he was trying out his new fishing pole on the beach. Eventually, every fire must go out and we must go to bed. Side-by-side hammocks are funnier than they are compatible, and the night was so humid that we didn’t sleep well. Sometime in the night, I saw a big owl sitting on a tall dead tree across the river. Sometime later, Carter bailed out and slept on the ground. Then the trees were all mine!

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The light was better to capture these shoreline columbines in the morning. We had a hummingbird who just loved them!

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We found a precious few giant old-growth trees on the way back. So many people have noticed this one, it had its own trail leading up to it.

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Carter was puzzling out where the road to the remains of this old sheep bridge over the river could have been. The bridge has long collapsed, the secret of the sheep with it. A quick bit of research back home told me it was just for driving sheep, not cars. Sheep don’t need roads. Secret exposed.

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Oddly, I only had one flash of memory while viewing Upper Falls from above. This hike felt all new, while the pace and pattern of the trip was comfortably familiar. But this river, every stretch of her feels like home.

~River

Return to Deschutes River: Earth Day

I wake up late and the canyon is lit up like perpetual afternoon. I poke my head out of the tent and watch a group of rafts float down the rapids. Someone sees me and waves. I climb out and sit among the rocks while Carter heats some water and a second group of rafts float by.

I want to find a quick way back to the trail from here, so I pop on my boots and head up hill in my jammies. I snap a few photos of camp below, fail to locate the missing seven mile marker (we never do find it, but see all the others), and smile good morning at an old man passing by.

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Not wanting to miss out on hot coffee, I hurry back down and Carter immediately hands me a Three Peckered Billy Goat. It’s the coffee, and it’s excellent! We have muesli for breakfast because I can’t stomach biscuits and gravy after last night’s rich chocolate cheesecake. Chocolate cocaine, Carter calls it, because it’s impossible to keep the powder from getting all over. It was less birthday cake and more birthday joke, but we’ll take it! I do stomach a second cup of coffee. Mmm.

We remove the lids of our backpacks to carry what we need for the day and don’t hit the trail until ten. My keys, ID, and water filter are the things I don’t need but can’t bear to leave behind. We set out without a goal, no mileage to reach, just a day in the sun on the trail with each other. I left all my goals behind this weekend.

It’s not hot, but starts feeling it. The sun is high, direct, and bright. I drink a lot more water than yesterday and start eyeing the riverbank for shade trees without much luck. We wade through the long grasses towards the water and eventually find a mostly dry spot in a little bit of mostly shade under a bush. We have a small lunch and I make a sandwich with MRE cheese and some random wheat bread snack I found in a cabinet at home. It’s surprisingly sweet and tasty, so I share and we enjoy the watercolor-like hillside view until we feel refreshed enough to face the sun once more.

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We feel good, and Carter wants to keep going. We make it out to the old Harris Ranch at mile eleven, which he knows I am curious to explore. Lucky for me, so is he! We have fun inspecting the buildings and mysterious rusted equipment. We walk through the old garden rows full of blooming lilacs and something that might be honeysuckle. And bees, lots of happy bees.

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I’m out of water, so I’m suddenly very glad I kept my filter with me. We fill up at the first opportunity on our way back, and return to camp unhurriedly, but more than ready to dunk our feet in the cold river by the time we complete our eight mile excursion. The water is freezing and feels amazing, but is too cold to stand in for long, so I wade in and out several times, and filter more water for us both in between.

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We rest for a little while and think about whether to stay here tonight. We decide to make one dinner to share, coconut rice and black beans with banana and cilantro, then pack up and hike into the evening, see where we end up. We feel equal parts excited and crazy. Dinner is okay but light on flavor, and sharing one is just right.

Packing goes quickly and I feel a little regret that this won’t be my front porch in the morning. I can’t find my drinking hose clip and tell myself that the other garbage I’ve picked up along the trail makes up for it, including a big sunscreen bottle found here in camp, but I still feel guilty. I laugh when I put my pack on and find the hose clip attached to a harness strap. Nothing left behind, then. Leave no trace.

The sun disappears behind the ridge as we set out at 6:30. Without it heating our skin and the earth, we feel a second wind rise within us and the scents of all the plants come out around us. It’s amazing and energizing and intoxicating. We make good time to the four mile mark and pause to consider whether we should stop for the night. Our feet are starting to get sore, but we are having a great time and want to continue on as it starts to get dark. So we do.

I put on my puffy, but leave it open, and decide against pulling out my headlamp. Perfect. We see our shadows in the moonlight and watch them shift as the trail gradually changes direction. We can barely make out the park boundary sign in the dark. There’s no stopping now. We’re going to finish this hike! With a mile left to go, I’m done and so is my mood. I’m tired, but not grumpy, not yet. We both have a blister, but don’t know it.

At 9:15, we step up to the campground kiosk in complete darkness and near disbelief.  We try to read the reservations list by a weak overhead bulb. A flashlight comes to life behind us and floods the kiosk. We laugh and the spying ranger leads us to one of four open sites. We gladly take the first one and finally dig out our headlamps to set up the tent, happy to be so close to snuggling down. The zipper sticks as we’re closing it up for the night and one of the pulls pops off. I use the other one to close the door the rest of the way and it falls off, too! Well, at least the door is closed one last time? We fall right asleep after our first fifteen mile day. Did we really just do that?

At first light, I gently push the door open to get up for a few minutes and tie Carter’s old Army poncho to the tent poles for privacy. I struggle to get back to sleep, but finally drift off until the voices of fresh hikers arriving wakes me. No hiking for us today. We’re already back.

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~River

Return to Deschutes River: Day 1

I pack without hesitation. Yes to the map, no to the flask. I’ve gotten good at this. I toss out half of my first aid kit and replace it with a roll of Leukotape. Before I start my engine, I run into the house for one last thing and pull my seat pad down from the shelf in the closet. I’m picking up Carter in no time at all, both of us relaxed and smiling. I weigh his pack with my luggage scale and am surprised it’s only ten pounds more than mine, not counting his big camera. Well, we knew we’d never be ultra-lighters, but I think there’s room for improvement.

I order oatmeal and yogurt at breakfast by the Bridge of the Gods and swipe marionberry filling from Carter’s pie to add to my bowl. He’s almost too deep in his biscuits and gravy to notice. Happy Birthday, Carter!

It’s a short hour of freeway to the mouth of the Deschutes, and we pull into a packed state park. There’s still space for us, so I pay our parking fees and we put on sunscreen. It says it’s made for men, and smells like cologne. Lock and load!

We take the middle trail between the water and the road because that’s the one we haven’t walked before. There aren’t as many balsamroot flowers as I’d hoped, but the ones we do see are in full bloom, bright and happy.

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The trail undulates and so do we. A friendly lady hiker with curls and a big smile passes us and I try to figure out the brand of her pack. We hope to talk with her again tonight or tomorrow.

My legs ache, so we stop at a high point overlooking the river, and the wind tries to blow my backpack over. It fails to budge the 33 pounds of gear, food, and water. I stretch before we sit down together. I ache because the wire bottom of my internal pack frame presses against me. I always thought it was my hip belt digging into me, but when I reach back to feel how it moves, the truth is obvious. Back on the trail, we turn toward the road and it’s all gravel from here.

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I balk at the idea of a visit to the outdoor store for help, so Carter mildly suggests trying some extra padding. My eyes light up and go wide because I can try it right now! His seat pad is easier to reach, so I coax it out from under the lid of his pack. I fold it in three and tuck it behind me just right, then rebuckle. It’s an absolute miracle! So simple, so perfect, and it was there the whole time. I start bouncing up the trail with renewed joy, hoping the relief will last. It does. The farther we go, the more I forget. No more aches, no more numbness, no more pressure. I can hike forever?

We pass by an old rail car where two men are exploring inside and one of them bursts into song when I say “Onward!” We don’t stop. I have explored it to satisfaction before. Carter is too tall and his shoulders too wide to fit. I find this very funny.

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We do stop and watch the goats Carter spots up in the rocks. He gets very excited and wants his telephoto lens, but I can’t reach. He doesn’t take his eyes off the wildlife, and I slowly slide the pack from his back. Now I can reach! My pocket-sized camera can’t zoom in as far, but I snap a couple of pictures of my own. We watch as a whole tribe of goats winds its way up and around a ridge, some of them peeking over the edge at us.

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Our feet are tired, so we agree to look for camp and find it around mile 7 at a place named Hot Rocks. It looks wonderful as we approach, but the ground is damp all over. Carter finds the driest spot and I pitch my tent on the grass while he keeps my footprint, an emergency blanket, from blowing away. Because it was so windy here last year, I brought all the stakes this time, and we use them all.

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The wind is calm all night, the night train lights up the canyon end to end, and I watch the glow fade miles away before falling back asleep.

~River

 

 

Snowshoe Wishes

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It simply hadn’t occurred to me that the road wouldn’t be plowed all the way to Merrill Lake. Well, it wasn’t. Carter took one look at that and said no way. If we’d had a couple of the dozen snow machines we’d seen being trucked about, sure. Instead, we got out and looked around. I had to tromp into the snow a little ways, of course. I didn’t want a snow machine, but I’d never wanted snowshoes more than that moment. All these dead ends wouldn’t be. All these inaccessible logging roads wouldn’t be.

DSCF0460 (2)Since we didn’t have any old tennis rackets in the truck dying to be slightly MacGyvered, we turned tail and enjoyed the ride back down. There was a plan B. We weren’t sure what it was, but we would. I squinted at the dotted lines on the atlas and we enjoyed the views.

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We didn’t have a lot of daylight to decide, but we didn’t need it. We found a perfectly legal, side of the forest road parking spot to back into beside the spillway between Yale Lake and Swift Reservoir. It was a heavily used site and full of garbage, a little of which we packed out, but we were sleeping in the truck, anyway.

After staring at the bright moon while standing in the road wearing just my green puffy and trail boots, snow glowing on either side of me, we went to bed. I thought we wouldn’t have any company but the dogs we heard barking in the distance. Sometime late into the night, the sound of an engine woke me, an odd time to be out for a drive on the forest roads in the winter. I woke Carter and we listened to it roll slowly by, turn and wind uphill away from us. He was asleep again in a few minutes, but I stayed awake listening for its return, having body-dumping serial killer thoughts. That’s what I do. The truck wound back down the hill in about ten minutes, enough time to dump a body, but not bury it. Engine steadily grinding, the truck passed us by without stopping and went on its way. Time to go back to sleep.

We didn’t feel like cooking in the morning. We ate a banana, made a new plan for the day that no longer included hiking to Kalama Falls around the west side of Merrill Lake, and went in search of breakfast in the little town of Cougar, which is really just a gas station and a bar. The convenience store was open and advertised breakfast burritos and sandwiches. Carter got the last burrito and the extremely nice and friendly blond lady behind the counter made me a fresh muffin sandwich. We ate at a little window table as the opening tones of Sunday Morning fell from the corner television above us. I refilled my fresh coffee and we hit the road.

We rounded Swift Reservoir, all the while looking for a place to pull off for pictures. There was exactly one chance.

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I know it looks a little gloomy, but it had already snowed on us once at that point. The rest of the snow throughout the day would be under our tires. Those tires have a nice bite, but we know they’re not snowshoes, and they would be tested a couple of times as we almost but not quite made it to Panther Creek Falls. I’m the reason Carter wants a winch.

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~River

A Quick March To Heaven

It was one of those places I felt the pull to see, to be, to experience. But would the opportunity ever present itself or would I have to decide if I wanted it badly enough to make it happen? Then Carter offered a surprise invitation to join him for a night at a beach resort while he was there on business. Well, that’s exciting! Knowing I’d have free time on my hands while he worked, I immediately pulled up a map. Where can I hike?!

I decided to walk the beach and hike Cascade Head, then have Carter join me for Drift Creek Falls the next day. I wanted to surprise him with that big suspension bridge, but it was not to be. He was too pressed for time. So I scrapped Cascade Head and focused on the falls. That still left me to decide whether or not to go alone on unfamiliar forest roads without a paper map or phone service. It wasn’t that far into the forest. I’d gone with nothing more than a trail description and cryptic directions before.  All I was really worried about was car trouble, being stranded for some reason with no way to tell anyone. And I didn’t like the idea of leaving my luggage in the car, but being a Thursday made that less of a gamble. I decided not to go and felt angry, so I changed my mind. I told Carter “I’m going to be happy if it kills me!”

It was a total overreaction. There was nothing much to worry about except keeping out of the way of the log trucks. I always feel elated and triumphant when I get to a trailhead. This was as simple as following a single forest road all the way through before it would eject me a few minutes from Carter’s doorstep.

I was impatient. I was on a mission. I had things to get out of my system before I’d be able to enjoy my night at the beach. I marched. This was no lazy, stop-and-smell-the-forest kind of hike, easy though the three miler was. It all had to happen on the move. I had to get there now. I told myself I’d slow down and look around on the return, that I’d feel satisfied and relaxed then. That’s not quite how it turned out. I did feel better, but instead of relaxed, I was energized! I was still a speed demon, just a slightly waterfall-drunk speed demon. I needed this.

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I cruised twelve miles down the empty road on a high toward one of the most heavenly baths I’ve ever enjoyed, then an unhurried beach hunt in the morning. Together.

~River

 

The Shadow and the Crow

We make plans together every New Years Day. It’s our own personal holiday. Lucky to get a dry, sunny day, there was no place more satisfying to think of hiking than Hamilton Mountain. It had been too long.

I am taking Carter up in stages. It’s not that difficult a hike, but the timing just hasn’t worked out. We’ve driven by countless times on our way to somewhere else, and I’ve talked it up to him just as many. It’s my favorite solo hike and I couldn’t wait to share it with him.

The first day he set foot on Hamilton, we were not well prepared. Hiking was an add-on that weekend, and if sandals in the ice were what it took, well, sandals still got us to Rodney Falls. Getting back was trickier. Today, we had our hiking boots, wind but not rain, bright sun and just a tiny patch of snow. I didn’t realize it while taking the photo, but I also had Carter’s shadow and a crow.

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We walked on. Up through the switchbacks, the firs and naked vine maples, the rock formations, the big, steep steps. Up until we reached the famous, expansive viewpoint, the naked southern face of the mountain. And it was hazy. Can’t win ’em all.

Then we did something I hadn’t done before. We took the little trail that leads down in front of the rocky face. Poles are no help there. Let ’em dangle and use your hands. It’s narrow and precarious and I’m surprised he wanted to. Neither of us are fans of vertigo-inducing dropoffs. We sat with our backs to the mountain, not looking down, grinning into the sun and wind. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy to have him up there with me and we were having a blast.

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It wasn’t going to get better than this, not this day. We talked about continuing on. I told him about the ridgeline above us that was scary and beautiful, about the official trail option that goes back into the trees, about the less impressive peak, about the long, lovely saddle beyond, and the gentle, wide walk down the back of the mountain. We’ll save all of that for another day, another season. I want to show him everything, with the wildflowers in bloom!

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I haven’t been hiking since and am feeling the need to get out there. It’s the only thing that can bring me peace right now. I’m feeling the delayed effects of running out of my passionflower supplement when I was laid up with an energy-sucking cold. It’s a great match for my anxiety, but right now I’m all jumbled inside unless immersed in a project or, I know so well, a long walk in the woods.

~River

Little Adventures and a Big, Black Bear

I wasn’t supposed to be there. It had seemed like a brilliant opportunity, a chance to greet my love unexpectedly. But as I stood in the hospital lobby, watching his familiar vehicle like a hawk through the window, facing the shackled prisoner in his wheelchair (just in case), I faltered inside. I was as worried as I was excited. Is this okay? I stood there trying to become more pillar than spring. When the moment came, my smile was real, but I couldn’t connect. My spontaneous mission was successful, so why did I feel like crying?

That was yesterday in Portland. But it’s the other way I want to go, out of the city, and I have. I’ve not been idle. My adventures haven’t fallen away with the leaves. I’ll show you.

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Sunday was my happiest day in recent memory. After a home cooked breakfast, Carter and I didn’t pack much more than a leftover Thanksgiving pie, but he drove us along the old highway in the gorge, partially reopened post-fire, and we began at the end. The end (for now) is Bridal Veil Falls, raging and powerful. We got quite the high! It felt so good to be in our old stomping grounds again. Then, parked across the street from the Latourell Falls trail, we ate the last of the cranberry pie while the windows fogged up. Already wet and without proper rain gear, but not really caring, we stepped back out to visit the less powerful, but often more photogenic waterfall. Heart and soul satisfied.

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We kayaked the Clackamas North Fork Reservoir. He shared his little bottle of whisky with me. Best whisky ever. I can still taste it.

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I went on a solo road trip to meet my newborn niece in Spokane. Couldn’t resist a solo walk while I was there as well.

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My brother rode home with me on a business trip and we stopped at Horsethief Butte to boulder around a bit when I just had to get out of the car.

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But this last part, this is the first thing I did. I got a bear. A big, black Bear of a Labrador from my local shelter. My husband’s husky could really use a friend to help with her energy level, and this big puppy does the trick. There are some major adjustment issues going on at home even a couple of months later. Husky jealousy is no joke. But now I have this doe-eyed love bug who lives to play ball. He makes me happier to come home. (In this photo, his ear fur was still growing back. He’s on a limited ingredient diet while I’m trying to identify his allergy.)

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~River

 

 

 

Gone Waterfalling

No one has ever seen this waterfall before. I discovered it. This is an original photo. Well, one of those is true. It is my photo, but one like hundreds of thousands taken before. This is a waterfall everyone knows. This is South Falls at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. This is where Carter and I started five miles of the Trail of Ten Falls, having hiked the other three miles the year before.

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You may have noticed there isn’t much flow. Did you also notice we had a dry summer and the whole state caught fire? Except maybe this little bowl right here. Not that part. Not yet. The water was low but our spirits weren’t.

When we hiked the North Falls section last year, there was a trail marathon the same day, which was why we kept it short. This time, I checked the park schedule before trying to convince Carter to go finish the loop with me that Saturday instead of cleaning his shop. I told him that sounded like a Sunday job. He only pretended to drag his feet.

It’s a big beautiful park and an easy hike packed with, you guessed it, ten waterfalls. We skipped the side trail to Frenchie, I didn’t like the deck overlooking Drake, and Double was on this particular day pathetically drippy. But let me show you Lower South Falls…

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It kept getting better with every step forward, behind, around…I wonder what it looks like when it’s raging. I’ll have to go see!

And then it poured. Even though we had brought our rain jackets, we were wearing jeans and got soaked. We didn’t regret it a bit and I was grinning as it came down on us, really enjoying my first Oregon rainfall of the season. Soon it was wet on the inside of my sorry excuse for a rain jacket as well. I’ll take care of that by and by.

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After a half hour of the determinedly steady shower, it let up and we found a merely damp spot under a tree to devour our lunch of naan bread wrapped around various delicious dips and pastes from our wonderful dinner out the night before. I made puzzled faces at the caramelized onions, but I didn’t quite object and they slithered down. The walnut paste was worth it. I hate onions.

Middle North Falls was at the far end of our loop and the last new-to-us waterfall we’d see that day, but it was being upstaged by a tree, a chained tree, a dead chained tree. I stopped, I gawked, and another hiker standing there was wondering the same thing. What did this tree ever do to be sentenced to eternity chained?

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There are no dogs allowed on the Canyon Trail. When it was one little dog, I didn’t really notice. When it became several large dogs, I had to speak up. I didn’t feel good about it and the group of young hikers ignored me. It’s rare for those encounters to go well. That experience stayed with me for a while and I considered how to improve the odds, but they still aren’t great.

Back at the lodge, not really wanting to leave after waiting so long to come back, we indulged in a drink. I had cider and he cocoa. For me, sitting there together after hours of golden leaves, heavy drops, many steps, and light falls, it was the best part.

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~River

 

 

 

Meeting Mount Adams: Day 5

So I have this cartographer, Carter, if you will. Though he does offer to carry my pack from time to time (not gonna happen), this incarnation of carter expands my horizons and marches me all over our northwest map, perhaps someday beyond. My world is bigger now. That was never more clear and solid and present as when we woke up that last day ready to face anything. We came, we hiked, we experienced, and now we were both ready to come down peacefully.

I didn’t hike all the miles I came to hike, but I challenged myself, pushed my limits, and learned from it. I’ll be a better backpacker for it, starting with the luggage scale I picked up back home.

But we weren’t finished yet. We raced the rain clouds to pack up, a fun but ultimately unnecessary game, and crossed our moody little creek toward the PCT. Southbound, which at this point on the trail jogged westward to the junction that would let us drop down the side of mountain, our backs to the disappearing peak, down Stagman Ridge with its crying trees, back to the truck.

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This section was new to us. We had taken a shortcut over to Lookingglass Lake on the way up, remember? My interest was piqued, my step fresh, and my eyes clear and calm. It was dusty, ashy. There were roots and I tripped. There were little burnt trees with their tops curved over the trail, arches I rarely had to duck and Carter often had to go around.

When we reached the junction with the Graveyard Camp trail, we finally closed our loop and lingered at the creek one last time. Oddly, I wanted to leave it less than the meadow. Its water had just tumbled down from there, after all. It was the last tangible connection with the heaven above us. But we weren’t really going home yet. It wasn’t really over. And we continued our dusty way through the morning sun, across hundreds of tree shadows, and through a charming fireweed understory.

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We were fresh on our feet all the way down, unhurried. We were content to plod along, look around, listen to the birds and notice all the flowers going to seed. Our last surprise was that the thimbleberry bushes we’d failed to notice at the outset were perfectly ripe, a very sweet end to the last stretch of sunny trail before reentering the shadows of live firs just uphill of the trailhead.

In Hood River, Carter finally got that beer he’d been craving and I got that goat cheese pizza he’d promised, though we weren’t feeling depleted enough to enjoy it to the fullest after resting the day before. Then we did something new we’d both been looking forward to. Instead of going our separate ways, we made our way to our favorite hotel to recover together. Not a lot of recovery was required, but the shower, the real bed, and the (Day 6!) morning after a trip were things we’d always had after saying goodbye. We could reflect on it together while he sipped from the fishermen’s fly mug this time, and it was special. It will make a great addition to the tail end of our longer adventures.  It made going home easier, if surreal.

Here at the end of September, I’m asking myself now what?

~River