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Winding highway drops down into the valley in Eastern Oregon.

Most of our mini road trips will be day trips. But there is one place we wanted to go that was so far away we had to do an overnighter. We decided to do this one early in the road trip series. So day two we headed east and then dropped south from the Columbia River Gorge to explore the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I found a road I had not traveled before (my rule is to take a different road whenever possible), and as we came through the dry, exposed plains, we noticed over and over the gorgeous views.

The Palisades at the Clarno Unit.

The Palisades are a long string of cliffs along the highway. We hiked along them for awhile, then hiked up to the base.

The landscape in this part of Oregon has it’s own kind of beauty.

The National Monument is in three pieces separated by quite a distance. Our route to our hotel passed one of the areas, called the Clarno Unit. We arrived in the afternoon and had time to park and explore the trails at The Palisades. The Palisades are interesting and beautiful crags that tower above the highway. They were formed 45 million years ago after a volcanic eruption that filled the valley with mudflows called lahars. There were multiple flows filled with rocks, ash, and other debris that settled in layers. Over the millennia, erosion has formed magnificent towers.

The lahars also trapped living things like plants, trees, and animals. It is a treasure trove for fossil hunters. The Clarno Unit is protected as part of the National Monument, so the only time these fossils are disturbed or collected is for scientific study. Near the trail we spotted leaf fossils trapped here from when the environment was wet, lush, and near-tropical.

Fossilized leaves trapped in stone.

Embedded in stone are two petrified logs: one horizontal and one vertical.

An exposed stone that tumbled from the cliffs above shows clearly that the lahars were a mixture of foreign debris. Vlad described it as “concrete, basically.”

The time of day we arrived put most of the cliffs in shadow, but the views were stunning nonetheless.

The first trail we walked had information signs that explained how the landscape changed over time. The second trail took us up the mountain to an arch.

Vlad takes a closer look at the base of The Palisades.

The arch from a distance.

The arch up close.

After the second hike we were hungry and ready to stop traveling. In an hour we reached our hotel in the town of Condon.

I was in this area (and blogged about it) not too long ago when I came over to view the Eclipse in 2017. When I made my way toward the path of totality in August 2017, I passed through the darling little town of Condon, Oregon. I recalled that Condon was the last place I still had cell service before heading farther into the vast emptiness of this part of the state, and for me that is as good a reason as any to choose a home base. Earlier in the week we made reservations at a place called the Hotel Condon that looked interesting online.

It is indeed an interesting place, built in 1920 and restored to a fine state. As one might hope in a place like this, there are rumors of a ghost. I talked with a resident who suspects he has seen evidence of the ghost. The man has stayed here almost 4 months, he said, while doing an electrical project nearby. When the place is mostly empty of guests, he has heard footsteps in the hall and has seen doors opening and closing. Now that is cool.

Hotel Condon (image from http://www.innshopper.com)

The lobby of the Hotel Condon.

Dining Room

Here is the final day I skipped when I had no Internet while traveling in Myanmar. Please click the image to go to the post.

An irresistible smile.

 

Sunrise reflects off the home of the village Chief.

We woke at 6am in the Chief’s home after a good night’s sleep to a lovely dawn sky. As anticipated, it was cold cold cold that morning. After the ice-baths in the cistern the evening before, I assumed the nights must get very cold to keep the water at that temperature despite the consistent hot days.

Outside at the table in front of the house, we sat and mixed up our coffees. In two weeks in the country, I didn’t see brewed coffee offered anywhere in Myanmar. Nestle instant coffee packets were proffered everywhere we went. At the outdoor table in the frosty air were bowls with packets of coffee, packets of instant creamer, and packets of sweetener. *sigh* But it was around 30 degrees and all those packets came with a thermos of hot water, so we considered ourselves fortunate.

By 8am we said goodbye to the family and walked out into the red dirt streets of Ywar Pu. Today we walked 26 km, continuing through the lands of the Dannu people and then into Yaung Yoe country.

A group of young women heading for the fields. The silver cans are their lunchboxes.

A man and his beast.

Terraced rice paddies

We walked through low mountains and valleys. It’s agricultural country, and the activities we witnessed were in support of the economy there. Field stubble was being burned, as well as slash and burn activities to clear more land. It made the skies hazy but we rarely smelled the smoke because we didn’t come close to the active burning. Most of the cattle and oxen were tied to trees singly or in pairs, and were clearly used to pull carts or to plow. Occasionally there were more cattle in a field, so I could see there were at least a few ranches.

Though we had seen it the day before, I am still impressed with the terraced hillsides of rice paddies. We were in-between seasons and did not see any rice still growing. Everything had been harvested, the dirt was dry and hard, and often cattle were out grazing on what was left of the rice plants before it was burned. We also saw chilies and ginger harvested. The chilies would be in great heaps in the shade beneath a house (houses and storage buildings were often two story, with the living quarters above and storage beneath). Ginger was spread out on tarps beside the fields, drying in the sun. Crops are harvested by hand, and though it is late in the season, we saw people all day long in the fields, still bringing in the last of the crops.

Workers harvesting ginger, most likely.

The baby had been sleeping in the shade while its mother worked, but we must have disturbed it. The baby cried and cried until Momma laughed and went to soothe it.

I didn’t see any parents around, just these kids watching us walk by.

A huge, beautiful heap of chilies.

Remember the blisters I developed on my first day in Yangon? No problem! I had protected my feet in every way I could in the few days before this trip, and now on day two of my hike, they still felt fine. I definitely could still feel the blisters, since they were there between my toes (from the flip flops) and on my heels, but in my hiking shoes it was manageable and I didn’t give them a thought. I had, however, begun to sport a sunburn on my face and after the fact remembered to start using the sunscreen I had in my pack. Ha ha. I’ll never ever learn about the sun. I just love heat and sun so much, I can never remember that it’s supposed to be dangerous.

At our morning break we stopped for tea in a big open hut with an older woman on one side weaving cloth. She had a stack of completed scarves and bags beside her. Much of it was garish lime green and orange and cobalt blue, but I found a subtler and tasteful weave of white, black, gold, and purple. The scarf cost me 4000 Kyats – exactly $3. If I had more cash on me I would have paid her more for the lovely scarf woven by hand by a lovely country woman.

This woman weaved stacks of lovely scarves.

She graciously posed for a photo.

Our lunch stop couldn’t have come soon enough. It was hot and there was no getting around it. By noon it was 96 degrees and we were hiking in a lot of direct sunlight. We literally dropped to the floor in the large village home, half of us going prone right away after gulping warm water from our packs. People at the house sold us liter bottles of water all around, and we gulped at those too. Hein came in at one point to check on us, and immediately asked Fumi to change his position. Not knowing the customs, he had accidentally laid down with his feet pointed at the shrine to Buddha – very disrespectful.

Hein allowed us a very long stop. I wondered why we had to get up so blasted early if we had a 2 ½ hour lunch stop. After our brilliant cook prepared another delicious multi-course meal, we were offered the opportunity to go explore the town as we had yesterday. Every one of us stayed put and either rested or fell clean asleep. But I had to trust the Company. A1 Trekking had been around for years and was likely well-beyond a learning curve. The long rest did me so much good.

Our wonderful cook, hard at work in the kitchen.

Two courses from our amazing lunch.

The incorrigible Hein.

A boy in the village where we stopped for lunch.

Cattle pulling carts were a common sight.

Boys rolling tires with sticks.

Kids twirling and giggling and falling down

Off we went again, into the sun, over the hills, past the water buffalo. At our afternoon snack stop we finally came close to one of the fires. I heard a rushing, snapping sound in the distance and asked Hein what it was. He didn’t hear it. We sat down on the grass to rest in the shade of a tree, and everyone’s ears adjusted to the sound of our chosen spot. Chatter died down. And Margaret popped up to her feet! “Hein, what is that sound?” she pressed. He listened and finally heard it, “oh, that’s fire.” Typical, easy-going Hein. Margaret’s ears tuned in while I slowly got used to it and tuned it out. She periodically walked out away from our tree to watch the fire burn.

Margaret was still triggered by recent memories of having to run for her life from wildfire, and I didn’t grudge her a moment of that worry. While house-sitting for a friend in northern California last fall she was awake by coincidence in the night and glanced out a window to see flames on the hills, moving toward the homes! She only had time to grab her keys and her purse and run. From the car she called another friend nearby and woke him up. He did not have a car so she drove through the thickening smoke to pick him up. She called another neighbor who was already awake and told them to call everyone they knew. In an unknown neighborhood, in the smoke, in the middle of the night, chased by fire, she and her friend got away to her house, which for that night was safe. The home she was house-sitting burned to the ground. Whoah. In fact, the whole reason she is on vacation at the moment is because the owners of the ruined home are staying in her home (Margaret rents her house frequently on Air BnB).

Mud steps

Bamboo forest

We walked into a more forested section that provided some shade and saw our first bamboo forests of the trip. Hein took us past a courtyard of extremely derelict pagodas. There was a single shiny gold pagoda among them, but most were ancient and crumbling. I was eager to wander through them, as I am always drawn to the ancient stuff and less excited about the sparkly gold paint. Call it the anthropologist in me. Hein explained that this site was going to be demolished and brand new pagodas built. He said that upset him because people would come and steal the relics. I asked what the relics were, and he said they are often gold and jewels. I asked a few questions but wasn’t exactly clear on the cause and effect of the future crimes. He discussed the pagodas in the moment as though he assumed the relics were inside, but he talked as though the dismantling of them would result in theft. I didn’t understand whether he thought the workers would be the thieves. Hein took me to a particularly decrepit pagoda and showed me the section of bricks that showed where the relic had been placed – I could easily see the area outlined. Have you seen an old brick building where a hole that was previously a window has been subsequently bricked in? It looked like that. Only, this was a hundred years old and falling apart. I could have pulled the bricks out with my fingers. I wondered why the thieves wouldn’t have done their work now, before the workers showed up. But I am sure additional information was lost due to my inability to understand fluent Burmese.

Crumbing pagodas… and one shiny one!

I loved the tree growing from the umbrella on this one.

Up close they are so beautiful. It pains me to think this thing of beauty will be torn down and replaced with a shiny gold one.

We entered the town of Pattu Pauk and came across a monastery. We had passed several monasteries on our trip and I asked Hein if they were abandoned. They never had a soul about. Hein explained that the monks go out into the communities and do good works and collect donations during the day, but sleep there every night. I had overheard him talking the day before with Anna and Lukas about being both Buddhist and Muslim. His father was Muslim, and his mother was Buddhist, and each of the children in the family had chosen which religion they preferred and had the family’s support. Hein said that he had chosen to be Muslim, but had not given up the Buddhist practices taught to him by his mother. So he laughed and said he was both, since he observed both whenever he could. Anyway, Hein expressed his disgust with monks that he called “fake monks.” In explanation, he used percentages, saying that 85% of monks were fake monks and of those left only 5% of those were truly following the religion devoutly. I asked him to explain more. He said that most people joined the monastic life “because it’s easier. You don’t have to work, you don’t have to have a skill. You can do nothing and still have a place to sleep and food to eat.” He said those people did the bare minimum to escape scrutiny, and lived off donations.

Hein brought up the Rohingya. NONE of us tourists were about to be the first one to speak the word. I swear, before this trip, Myanmar was in my BBC podcast Every. Single. Day. For the heinous crimes of genocide – whole villages burned and the Muslim Rohingya people slaughtered by the Christian military – and leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s adamant denial that anything unpleasant is happening in her country. An outsider listening to the news gets the picture real quick that Myanmar’s military is NOT a group you want to interact with. Since we had been here, we had seen nothing but peaceful, happy people and not so much as a glimpse of military personnel. And here is Hein, laughing and saying out loud that he is Muslim! Hein just shrugged and said he didn’t really know what was going on with the oppressed people of Rakine State. It’s never on the news and no one talks about it. He said he had heard much more about it from his tour groups.

Not an abandoned monastery.

Hein talks to Fumi, Lukas, and Anna beside the monastery’s bell.

Pattu Pauk was our destination for the evening, so we only had a few steps to go beyond the monastery to find our home for the night. But before we got there, we got distracted by a group of women sitting together on blankets in the street doing some kind of work. We asked Hein if it would be ok with the women if we got close and watched them, and he said it would be fine. They were so beautiful, and seemed to be having so much fun, we had a hard time leaving them. In fact, the owner of the home we would be sleeping in came trotting down the street, asking Hein where we were going – concerned that his houseful of renters might change plans at the last minute. Hein assured him that we would be coming, but we wanted to watch the sight in the street. They were separating the white fluffy parts of popped corn from the hard shells and seeds. It was wedding preparations, which must have explained the buoyant atmosphere among them. I didn’t ask, but the popcorn could be for throwing at the newlyweds.

Women working with popcorn in the village.

An irresistible smile.

They were so fun to watch, chattering and laughing while they worked.

One woman empties her popcorn into the bag.

Margaret recorded them, then showed them the video.

The owner of the home was happy to have us stay.

Tonight I had had enough of the sun, sweat, and red dirt. The set-up at both our homestays is this: cistern in the back yard full of ice water, empty pan floating in ice water, platform of boards beside cistern. You pull up the curtain, so everything from your shoulders down is covered (ok, I’m just hoping that everything from my shoulders down was hidden from the passersby…), then reach over and fill the pan with water and dump it over yourself, trying to keep your whoops of frozen astonishment to a minimum. Grab a bar of soap, lather up to the best of your ability, then pour several more pans of ice water onto your body to try and wash off the soap. Then if you are me, grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and dump another pan of water onto your head. I did it! I washed my hair. The others cheered and clapped when I arrived at the outdoor table with wet hair. And well they should have.

The sun sets at the end of a long and wonderful day.

24-hour tea shop in Kalaw

The overnight bus from Yangon (craziest bus station ever) was due to arrive in Kalaw at 4:30 am. It was late and arrived at 5:30 am. I was grateful.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly sleeping, but at least it was dark and the intent was to sleep. My seat was in the back of the bus and all the luggage that didn’t fit underneath was jammed behind my seat so I couldn’t recline. And the air conditioning was blasting. I mean, full-on blasting cold air. What the heck? And the little air control thingies over my head were broken, so I was in the wind for about two hours till I found an empty plastic bag and shoved it into the hole. And the road was so rough – the worst in our entire trip. Margaret said she literally caught air on at least one bump. Maybe the worst bus trip of my life.

Despite all that, I actually think I slept a couple of hours. I had thought enough to bring my rabbit-soft wool scarf, and with that, added to the little blanket provided by the bus company, I managed to cover up completely. And we both used earplugs. That way I was a bit shielded from the light and noise and cold.

But at 5:30 we all had to disembark. Margaret had heard from the tour company that there was a 24-hour tea house nearby, and that we should wait there for someone to meet us. It was still dark and cold out, and we had a long wait.

For the next two hours I peeped through a window into a world of twenty-somethings engaging in devil-may-care life of travel around the world on $5 day. Margaret and I walked up the steps into a small room, floor and walls covered in white and blue linoleum, and lit – painfully – with fluorescent lighting. The room had three sides and the fourth was a half-wall and open air. And it was cold. There were a few low tables and 30 tiny plastic stools and heaped all over the place were young, beautiful travelers and their luggage. A vivacious redhead from Croatia caught our attention with her chatter, next to us two slender Italian women were trying to sleep on the floor (people stepped over them without blinking). There was a New Zealander, a Czech, Frenchmen, all crammed together drinking very bad instant coffee and smoking cigarettes. For a moment I was in Michener’s novel The Drifters, with all its young beautiful people traveling around the world with no specific plan beyond the day’s hopes and dreams. We were all meeting guides for treks, and we compared names of companies and how many days we would be out.

Guide from A1 Trekking carries our luggage from the tea shop to the company’s office in Kalaw.

My seat was facing into the room, and when I got up after a while and went out to pay for our wretched coffees, I was startled to see the pale blue dawn. Soon after, a person met us and led us to A1 Trekking in town, where we checked in and were immediately taken to an Indian restaurant across the street for our first meal with the company.

After breakfast we were told there was still time before departure, and that a market was setting up in the center of town we could explore while we waited. So we explored.

I am grateful that Margaret loves markets as much as I do. Who can resist the colours and textures and smells and sounds?

These fresh veggies trigger an instinct in me to want to buy them all and eat, eat, eat.

This woman twisted leaves into a wand to make carrying the coconuts easier.

Margaret (hands clasped in the chilly morning air) at the market in Kalaw.

Dried fish in heaps.

Pasta, beans, grains, and soup starters.

Bananas and bananas. The market in Kalaw was one of the best we saw during the whole trip. (Trust me I left out a ton of photos.)

We returned to A1 and it was time to go. We met our fellow travelers, Fumi from Japan and Lukas and Anna from Austria. There were just 5 of us, with our guide Hein, who grew up in Kalaw, and the cook. Some of the other companies take 15 people, we spotted one group later that looked like it could have been 18 people. A-1 has a policy of never more than six, to ensure a quality experience for each person. We walked out of town and directly onto a trail.

For the next three days we walked. That day to Hin Kha Gone and Myin Taik villages, through areas with the Paulaung and Dannu people.

Dried up terraces for rice paddies. Hein said they only have one season for rice per year because it gets so dry.

Left to right: Margaret, Anna, Lukas, Hein

While still in the forest we came upon a man herding cattle.

We stopped for a break here at the reservoir.

During our food breaks, Hein handed out a variety of local things for us to try. This fruit was pretty good. I don’t remember what it was called.

The view from our lunch stop.

Unused to walking so much, I was grateful when it was lunch time. We had a cook that traveled along with us, and damned if I can remember his name. But this young man made the most delicious foods and fed us very well, three meals a day, while we were out trekking. While he cooked, we explored the site.

The shop at our lunch stop. What you see here was pretty much the entire stock. Those “water” and “liquor” bottles you see on the left are petrol for sale.

My favourite toilet of the entire trip!! Everyone in the country had outhouses, and this one had an unparalleled view.

We could see a pagoda in the distance.

Hein encouraged us to walk over to the pagoda and monastery during our lunch stop, and down to the village below if we wanted to. And we did.

The village below the pagoda.

Me with some pretty obliging kids.

Off we went and finished up with some serious hiking. At one point we walked along train tracks, which is pretty hard if your natural gait doesn’t match the frequency of the supports beneath the rails. Lukas and I fell back, but it did allow me some shots of the others.

The others gain ground as I struggle with the awkwardness of walking on train tracks.

More lovely rice paddy terraces.

Work truck rumbles along the red dirt road.

Cute little house along the way.

Finally we reached our destination for the night, Ywar Pu village. We were surprised to find out that we were staying in the home of the village chief. The family stayed nearby, but gave up their beds for us that night. Our fabulous cook went to work and we took our chances bathing in the icy cold water of the family’s cistern. Then we walked around the property and the town till it was time to eat. The families contract with the tour companies, and get about $5 per night per person. They also sell water and Myanmar beer and… well… we were hot and tired and beer was just the thing! They probably earn as much selling drinks as they do on rent.

This was not where we stayed, but an example of a typical home in Ywar Pu village.

Our beds. You do not wear your shoes into this room. Each home we visited has a shrine like this.

Our cook in the kitchen, getting the flames hot for our dinner.

Catchment pool to the right, cistern (slightly out of sight behind the fence) to the left.

One of the family’s three pigs poses for my camera.

I had inexplicably slept poorly at the Golden Sunrise Hotel, waking up at 2:30 am and not able to sleep again. The following night I was on a freezing cold bumpy bus ride all night long. Trust me when I say this night in Ywar Pu, under all those blankets, I slept like a rock.

Josh and I stop for a break in the neverending switchbacks at the beginning of the trail.

Slopes dressed up for Autumn.

Switchbacks and foliage.

I used to joke that the only reason I worked was to earn the money and vacation time I needed to get out and hike. I hiked much of the year, with multiple big trips. These days I am grateful to get out once a year. My annual hike is worth celebrating though. What joy to be on a trail again.

The Enchantments Area in northern Washington state is so popular that people can only get hiking permits by lottery. I did not win the lottery this year (again), so I had to purchase outside the peak season, which ends October 15th. The earliest permit available was this past week, October 24th-27th. That’s pretty late. I paid my fee and told myself that if the winter snows had not begun in earnest, I would hike. If they had, I would consider it a donation to Recreation.gov. (That’s a marvelous website, by the way. Please check it out.)

The Snow Lakes trailhead begins just outside of town on Icicle Road heading out of Leavenworth, WA. Hit the link there and just look at a couple of photos to get a sense of the town. It is totally kitschy and totally touristy but oh, so, beautiful that it’s worth every potential drawback. I reserved a room at the Leavenworth Village Inn, where I have stayed before, and was equally pleased. They offer a military discount, which I used. This lovely little Bavarian-styled town is smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So Plan B was that if the trail was snowed out, I would drink some ale. Admit it, you love my Plan B.

Prior to the trip it rained and rained and rained and then! Tuesday morning was spectacular.

Sun lights up a lingering thimbleberry leaf.

Because it was so late in the season, and also because I don’t have my mountain legs anymore (spending most of my life decomposing in front of a computer screen all day long), I invited a friend along. As you may recall, this is not my usual approach as I really do prefer hiking alone. However, I am also smart! And hiking in the mountains potentially in snow, for days on end, alone… Well, let’s just say I was relieved when Josh said, “Sure, I’ll go.” (of course, I am stubborn enough that I would have gone on alone anyway if he was not interested…but that’s a psychology session for another day)

Sunrise hits the peaks over Nada Lake.

The trail begins with a shameful number of brutal switchbacks. Up, up, up. I am a good hiker when it comes to “up.” I complain, but my trusty little legs just keep going. Josh (big tough guy) was feeling strong that morning and teasing that we should do the whole 18-mile loop in a day, then do it again the second day. It was his first backpacking trip ever. So I just smiled and kept plodding along. After 1000 feet or so, he was humbled. I offered to let him go ahead and set the pace. Gasping on breaks he insisted that I had to be in front of him for motivation. “I can’t let you beat me at this!”

Trail descriptions really downplay this part of the trail, recommending to start at the other end because there isn’t much to look at on this side. I beg to differ. It’s truly magnificent, and especially so in October, where yellow trees pour down mountain valleys like molten gold. The air was crisp and hinting at afternoon warmth. The sky blue as only October blue can be.

Morning sun on Nada Lake.

The sun drops early in the evening these days, but we made it to the first lake before it got dark and set up the tent while it was still light. It got really cold, really quick, and soon we escaped into the tent for shelter.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and I was energized as I boiled up water for coffee and made breakfast. It was the debut of my new MSR Whisperlite stove. My old whisperlite had been a solid and reliable companion ever since I bought it in 2000. This last camping trip, when I watched the eclipse, it stopped working. I suspected the lines were clogged. Prior to this trip then, I took my little stove out on the deck and pulled it into all its pieces and began cleaning the fuel line. I went into the house to grab some steel wool for scrubbing the soot, and when I came back out I saw that a gust of wind had come up and the teeniest little stove piece had bounced away, off the deck, and likely through a crack and into the weeds underneath. I hunted on my hands and knees under the deck with the slugs and spiders that day for approximately 4 hours (remember how I said I am stubborn?). And then I went on Amazon and bought a new stove. Whatever I paid for that last one, 17 years is a good run and I did not feel bitter about the purchase of a replacement. The brand new stove worked great (of course I had tested it before we left).

Here I am resting during the hike up from Nada Lake, where we camped the first night. Look at that slope! Wicked steep.

Then we loaded everything up and went uphill again. This was a short hike, only a few miles and 1000 more feet. It wasn’t as pleasant as the first day because we were tired, but also because the clouds rolled in while it was still morning, and a light rain began to fall. It rained all day long, but luckily just a light rain that frizzed my hair but didn’t soak through anything. We found a spot to camp at Upper Snow Lake at about 5400′ elevation. As we were looking for a place to camp, we met two hikers that had just descended from the next lake up. They said to be sure and use our ice cleats and snowshoes because of all the ice and snow on the trail. Well, we didn’t have either. Most of my hike life I’ve been a fair-weather backpacker and only recently learned that camping is fun when it’s cold, too. But I won’t go so far as to invest in snow hiking gear. I’m not crazy.

Enormous granite boulders were strewn about, making us feel small in comparison.

You know I love to eat good food in the mountains!

We spent the remains of the day running around in the forest and climbing on rocks. You can act like you’re 10 years old when you camp in the mountains. In fact, it’s pretty much expected.

It rained harder in the evening, and rained during the night. Thursday, to my delight, it dawned spectacularly clear again. It was the warmest day so far and after the fog burned off, not a cloud to be seen. We were still chilled from the wet night and took a long time to get moving. I was trying to decide whether to do a day hike up to Lake Viviane without snow climbing gear. It must have been noon before we were finally packed up. Didn’t even try to dry the tent out. Everything was just going to have to be wet. I was tired and after a tentative query to Josh, who didn’t really warm up to the idea of a few more thousand feet, I committed to heading back down the mountain.

Morning on the shady side of the lake. Still trying to thaw out so I can pack up my gear.

A mountain called The Temple rises above a little peninsula in Upper Snow Lake.

Sand formations in Upper Snow Lake, which is also a reservoir, as you may have guessed, as part of the water district for the city below.

I was intrigued by the patterns and shadows in the sand.

McClellan Peak commands the view of Upper Snow Lake.

This was the hare’s turn to shine. After the stolid and steadfast tortoise was a clear victor in going uphill, the hare practically caught the trail on fire going back down. We went down all 4000 feet in just a few hours – a record for me. He was very patient at first, because we found a couple of places awash in sunshine and I wanted to do nothing but lounge. I wet and re-braided my ratty hair. I climbed up and down hills and boulders and over logs with my camera. I snacked. I smiled. Josh laid on a rock in the sun and didn’t say a word. But when I finally gave the green light and we hefted our packs and buckled in….whoosh! He was gone.

The rest of the day I barely saw my traveling companion.

Sunshine and blue skies make a paradise at Lower Snow Lake.

And hiking alone is my comfort zone, so it was no big deal. But I did get very tired. And my feet were aching. And then my knees started to hurt, and still I had not caught up. Sometimes he would spot me from hundreds of feet below and holler up, “Everything ok? You taking a nap up there or what?” I would signal a thumbs up and voom, off he’d go again.

At one point as I was about to step over a pile of bark from a tree that had fallen over the trail, I noticed that some of the pieces of bark had been shaped into an arc. Only the curve was sideways, making it look like the letter “C.” And I laughed out loud. Yes, that is something he would do: leave me a message to let me know I was not forgotten. What a sweet gesture. It kept me going for another 15 minutes and then I was just about to despair in pain again, but I came across more bark that was indisputably an “R.” And that time I really laughed! That crazy guy was going to spell my whole name! Sure enough, 20 minutes later I found a “Y.” And it wasn’t until “S” that I finally had the sense to take a photo.

T in red needles was my fave.

Camera hanging around my neck and still I didn’t take a photo until I got to the S.

After T and then A, I spotted him waiting for me at a great place beside Snow Creek where we had stopped to eat something on the way up two days before. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I want my L!” I told him I was in pain and was about to suggest a longer break, but he took off my pack and proceeded to transfer about 15 pounds from my pack to his. Well, he did need a little slowing down, so I let him. I am proud and stubborn, but…

It didn’t slow him down at all. Zoom! Gone again. I found my L. And you would not believe this, but he did my last name too.

Berries hanging over the trail were begging for a photo.

Don’t you just love the fire colours of the season?

The lovely day and the lovely foliage did as much to cheer me as the letters on the trail. I kept plodding along, but tortoises apparently are not made for rapid down hill trekking with no breaks and no meals – just snacks on the go. My feet were killing me and I had to stop a lot to sit down and get the weight off my soles. Josh hit the parking lot, ditched his pack, ran back up the hill to where I was, teased me for napping, then took my pack and went back down again. It was still daylight when I finally hit bottom. Well, you know, “finally” as in finally caught up to Josh. But in terms of backpacking down a mountainside, we really smoked.

I’m glad I took the chance on the late season pass. Everything worked out perfectly. It didn’t snow too much before last week, and the weather was splendid for two of the three days. On the trail is where I find my bliss.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption. Click to get a better image.

At long last the rain dried up and the clouds parted. I woke up feeling great despite having food poisoning the previous afternoon. We were on our way around the south side of Lake Llanquihue by 8:30am. Our first foray off the main road was in search of Vicki’s other farmhouse. She had described the location and thought it might be fun for us to try to find it. Her farmhouse is on the slopes below volcano Calbuco. That one erupted April 22, 2015 and is responsible for all the pumice gravel and sand that we had been seeing in the area. Locals enthusiastically described how the area looked like a moonscape just after the eruption, and are amazed at how green and lush everything is already. We got very close, but the place we finally decided was probably hers, turned out not to be hers in the end. We did see some of the clearest evidence of the recent eruption, with wide swaths covered in volcanic gravel. We also saw fenceposts buried about two feet in the gravel, and we could see where snowplows had plowed the gravel off roads, and today the red and black pumice rock berms remain.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Orsorno from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

Volcano Orsorno and volcano Puntiagudo from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

We drove through Ensenada and closer to volcano Orsorno, which we could finally see in its full glory now that the clouds had cleared. From multiple angles the peak is close to symmetrical, and rises to 8,730 feet. We made our first real stop at the waterfalls called Saltos del Petrohué. These falls are on the very river that we rafted on two days before! So look at the lovely aqua colour and you can imagine what a pleasure it was to have that water smash you in the face. 😉

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me "Are you in Eden?!"

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me “Are you in Eden?!”

In the video, you can see Margaret with her black coat draped over her shoulders, in front of volcano Osorno. Behind the falls is Cerro la Picada. Cerro means “hill,” but in this case it’s a 4100 foot hill.

On the short walking trail we found a tiny lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch. There were trout in the lake, which connects to the river. I took tons of what should have been great photos, but… more camera problems. Everything from the moment when we entered the park – and for the rest of the day – is dreadfully overexposed. I must have accidentally changed the settings to make all the photos totally washed out to almost uselessness. The photos I have posted are a result of drastic photo editing. I just don’t know what happened and I’m really disappointed, because it was so great to have a sunny day again and all the photo advantages that come of that. Drat.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohue

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohué

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch.

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch. On the ridge are Coihue trees, the most common found in Chile.

Our destination was Lagos Todos los Santos, which the previous day I had read on two different websites is purported to be the most lovely lake in all of Chile. I thought it had to be at least pretty nice, considering all the lakes in the running. We had not witnessed an unlovely Chilean lake yet.

One arrives at the town of Petrohué on the lake in something of a madhouse, with tour busses clogging up every artery and troops of tour employees standing in lanes and parking areas, directing every single vehicle where to park without taking the time to figure out what your intentions are. An attendant waved us to a spot, and as we were about to pull in, another attendant frantically waved us to his area, so we continued on, shrugging apology to the first guy. It didn’t dawn on us till later that the attendants belong to competing tour companies, and want us to park close to their company so they can have the first crack at selling us a ticket to a boat tour. Margaret and I were as yet oblivious, however, and happily continued along the sandy lane, focused first on avoiding the gigantic double-decker tour busses, and second on finding a place to park now that we had left the attendants in our rear view mirror. First other vehicles followed us, then we followed them, all in search of elusive parking, but the trick was to go all the way to beach for copious free parking (estacionamiento gratis). We hailed a bus attendant and asked where “trekking” was (Strangely, this is the word the park officials have been using, so I did too.  Possibly another German holdover, since I am pretty sure trekking is not a Spanish word), and were pointed to the trailhead we sought.

At the trailhead we saw that Desolación Trail (named desolation for the effects left in the wake of volcanic eruptions in the past, so it was particularly apt after 2015) had two routes at the beginning: one along the lakeshore, and one that was inland. The two routes meet up at a single trail partway up the mountain. We liked the idea of the no-elevation-gain beach route, and struck out that way.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Volcano Puntiagudo

Volcano Puntiagudo

We went along the west shore until we could see that soon we would have to turn along the north shore, and with the map in our mind’s eye, we knew that would not connect us to the trail. We had not seen the trail since we hit the beach, but we had seen enough of the beach. We turned around and decided to go back to town and hire a kayak. In town, the only place that rented kayaks was down to one, and said if we came back in two hours he would have another one for us. In that tiny town there really was nothing else to do but go back to the trail and take the inland route.

It was a tough slog because the trail was entirely deep, soft, sand. Every step was work. But Margaret and I are determined women and we kept a good pace and trudged a couple of miles. Trudge, trudge, trudge and had gained about 20 feet in elevation after two hours. We were in the midst of a conversation about whether to keep going when we ran into some other Americans sitting in the shade of a tree having the same discussion. After we talked to them we went ahead on the trail for another half an hour and then gave up. The trail is 11.5 kilometers and we were hoping to get some elevation and get a view, at the very least, but it was not happening any time soon. After all that hiking, I took a final panoramic shot that is at the top of this post. We gave up and went back to Petrohué. By this time I was fully sunburnt, and our hamstrings and quadriceps were hollering complaints about the sandy trail. We did not go back to the kayak place, but headed back to Puerto Varas.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

This time it was Margaret’s turn to relax. I still had energy (possibly due to sleeping an extra three hours the day before), and took off to explore the town for the first time while M stayed at the hostel and rested. I was in search of something woven from alpaca or llama, but it was late in the day and I had a hard time finding anything open. I decided instead to just explore the town, and struck out for the top of a hill across from our hostel. On the way up, a happy stray dog bounded my way and took up my pace, right at my heels. I walked and walked, and the dog stayed with me. As I climbed the hill, I realized that I could not get down to the lakefront again because there was a cliff between it and me, and no egress. I would have to go back the way I came, or go forward far enough for the ground to slope back toward the shore again. Forward it was, and with my trusting companion, I hoofed it through Puerto Varas. I must have walked three miles, and at a really quick pace because I was trying to get back to my room eventually. The dog finally ditched me in a park once I made it downtown again, and I climbed a long long set of stairs up a pedestrian path back to the Galpon Aire Puro, and bed.

On the way to the park. Chile is a stunningly beautiful country.

On the way to the park. Chile is a stunningly beautiful country.

Margaret and I took advantage of our buffet breakfast (included with the room) to collect enough extra goodies for a picnic lunch. The breakfast was awesome, I might add. One table held sliced meats, smoked salmon, and cheeses; the next table was heaped with fresh pineapple, oranges, pears, etc. There was muesli and a whole table filled with different kinds of breads. There were preserves and juices (juice choices were: pineapple, apple cream, and raspberry…uh, ok), coffee and teas. Eggs cooked to order and toasted croissants with ham and cheese. There was another table filled with desserts. FYI, raspberry juice is delicious.

We have been calling the common Chilean bread “hockey pucks” because they are of an equal size and density. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration. I will say I’m not a fan of Chilean bread. I wasn’t a fan of Japanese bread either. Maybe I’m just picky about my bread. Anyway, we each nabbed a hockey puck, sliced and spread it with butter and cream cheese, and layered ham, turkey and cheese, then tucked our little sandwiches away into M’s purse, along with a collection of cookies. Viola! Lunch.

Driving to Pucón this morning was easy-peasy since we did it yesterday and knew the way. The tourist office man had said to follow the signs to Caburgua, and we did. We missed our turn, and ended up at Lago Caburgua. This area was windy and had kicked up a dust storm as the wind raged across the beaches. I did manage to snap a shot in between dust clouds.

Lago Caburgua, in between dust clouds. It's a tiny, nondescript town, and this beautifully built lakeshore was unexpected.

Lago Caburgua, in between dust clouds. Caburgua is a tiny, nondescript town, and this beautifully built lakeshore wall and walking path was unexpected.

Neither of us has working cell phone service in this country, until we get to WiFi, which – blessedly! – has been daily. Ahh, modern life. My phone for some crazy reason, keeps connecting to some kind of service called “moviestar” and I get that when I’m in a city. When moviestar is engaged, I get GPS, but out in the country I have diddly squat. Since I have no idea why I’m getting limited service in Chile, I’m worried that I’m paying for it. Margaret and I both turn our phones to airplane mode as soon as we leave the WiFi areas.

Thus we relied entirely on the tourist map we received, and eventually found our way onto a gravel road. Margaret drove us up, up, up into the mountains, dodging potholes and other motorists. There is much wood used in construction here. In so many places, a common construction material is concrete blocks: cheap and quick. Here in Chile, south of Santiago, wealth is displayed in wood. Gorgeous wooden homes and businesses are everywhere, with generous wood decks and wooden arches over driveways and wood carvings and wooden accents.

We spotted this great horse, patiently waiting for its master.

We spotted this great horse, patiently waiting for its master.

These birds filled the fields, using those awesome beaks to dig for some kind of yumminess in the grass. They have a very loud call that sounds like ducks.

These birds filled the fields, using those awesome beaks to dig for some kind of yumminess in the grass. They have a very loud call that sounds like ducks.

This darling little boy was hopeful that we would drop some cookie crumbs.

This darling little boy was hopeful that we would drop some cookie crumbs.

Finally we arrived at the park entrance. Fees were posted outside, and since I had my purse handy, I went inside and Margaret found a place to park the car. I studied Spanish for two semesters at Brandeis, and then immediately forgot everything. So…while I have had a bit of an introduction to the language, it’s most accurate to say I am not at all fluent in Espanol. But after a few days, I’m beginning to get the gist of things. So, I was proud of myself to complete the transaction solo. The Park official asked if we were hiking, and when I agreed, he explained that it’s moderately difficult and it’s 7 kilometers. He explained how much elevation gain and that it typically took 3.5 hours to reach the three lakes. He kept checking in with me “Do you understand? Is that good?” I think he was just making sure we knew what we were getting into. I understood him (entiendo) and asked about the fee, explained that there were two adults, and paid in exact change. He wished us a good hike, gave us a receipt, and we were good to go. The entire conversation was in Spanish.

Off we went, and I admit I was giddy with happiness. On vacation in another country AND hiking AND good company. Margaret and I seem to never run out of things to talk about, and we’re both so open to taking on whatever adventure presents itself. So we hit the trail at about 10:30 am at about 2300 feet in elevation. We walked along the shores of Tinquilco Lake and I could never quite get a decent shot because we were in the trees. Both of us remarked on how we did not anticipate seeing so much bamboo. We loved the huge fuchsias growing wild and taller than we are. We liked a tree that had needles like a Yew, and bark that peeled off in puzzle piece shapes. The sun continued to shine and light up the lake (I could see it through the trees), and I crossed my fingers that there would still be sun when we finally broke out of the trees.

Interestingly, the trail took us back to a gravel road after a half mile walk, and we were soon strolling past grazing sheep and cute little homes and fenced fields. Scotch broom is in bloom, wild roses, pussywillow, purple and yellow lupine, and foxglove. It’s late spring in Chile and it’s just wonderful. So imagine the most idyllic pastoral scenes: clipped grass slopes with sheep or cattle, eucalyptus trees fluttering in the breeze, little wooden cabins with lovingly attended landscaping. We crossed a creek on a wooden bridge, and finally struck out on the trail in earnest.

This is typical of the scenes we saw while walking along the gravel road part of the trail.

This is typical of the scenes we saw while walking along the gravel road part of the trail.

A river near Lago Tinquilco

A river near Lago Tinquilco

The sheep had recently been shorn and I could see the marks from the clippers in their wool.

The sheep had recently been shorn and I could see the marks from the clippers in their wool.

Bamboo was one of the primary trees in the forest, to our surprise.

Bamboo was one of the primary trees in the forest, to our surprise.

Baby bamboo sprout. Isn't it remarkable?

Baby bamboo sprout. Isn’t it remarkable?

The climb was rather steep, and our breath was coming faster early in the hike. We made several switchbacks and were treated to multiple views of Lago Tinquilco as we climbed. Then, it began to rain. Lightly at first, and gradually, as the day progressed, it got colder and the rain became more insistent. We added all our layers of clothing and continued to climb.

A trail to the side was marked, and we decided to head over to see the first Cascada (waterfall). It was an impressive waterfall, and this is coming from a woman who lives in the Columbia River Gorge.

The trail included many little wooden structures to help us out, like bridges and ramps.

The trail included many little wooden structures to help us out, like bridges and ramps.

A bridge over a river early along the trail.

A bridge over a river early along the trail.

I took a photo of the map at the beginning of the trail, to help us navigate once we got up there.

I took a photo of the map at the beginning of the trail, to help us navigate once we got up there.

Cascada Eyrie, about 1/3 of the way to the three lakes.

Cascada Eyrie, about 1/3 of the way to the three lakes.

Just before the first lake we saw, the trail crested at about 4000 feet. At Lago Chico we bumped into other tourists. These were from New Zealand. Soon after, we were passed by people speaking French, and later in the day, by a couple of guys speaking in a European language we couldn’t identify. At the waterfall earlier, we had too much fun jumping around the logs and taking photos of each other with a Chilean couple: none of us understanding a word that each other spoke, but still communicating just fine. Yesterday at the volcano we were taking photos with Japanese people who had also rented a car. Margaret said how much it felt like we were doing what traveling people do: since so many nations collided with our trip. We had obviously made the same choice that many others make, and it’s kind of fun to discover that doing the Three Lakes Hike out of Pucón is a thing people do.

As we spoke to the Kiwis, the wind started to pick up and the rain really began coming down. We were all getting pretty wet, and broke off talking in order to get along the trail. We ducked our heads against the worst blasts and made our way through the forest past Lago Chico. And we toughed it out as the rain lashed and the wind kicked up whitecaps on the lake. We arrived at Laguna Del Toro and wiped the water out of our eyes to see the cliffs across the lake, and saw that it was beautiful, and then we ducked our heads again, and hitched the sopping wet backpack a little higher.

Lago Chico was very beautiful, and the weather almost added to the beauty of the view.

Lago Chico was very beautiful, and the weather almost added to the beauty of the view.

The bridge between Lago Chico and Laguna El Toro.

The bridge between Lago Chico and Laguna El Toro.

Forest on the way to Laguna Del Toro. These are Monkey Tail (Araucaria) trees growing wild!

Forest on the way to Laguna Del Toro. These are Monkey Tail (Araucaria) trees growing wild!

Laguna Del Toro in the pouring rain.

Laguna Del Toro in the pouring rain.

At the junction for the third lake, we took 10 steps and then decided to bag it. I mean, really, what’s one more grey lake in the fog at this point? So we turned around and began slipping and sliding our way down the steep steep trail back to the car. Ok, yes, fine I’ll admit it, I did slip and fall and got red clay mud all over one sleeve of my jacket.

Passing Lago Chico once more, watching the wind whip up little waves on the surface.

Passing Lago Chico once more, watching the wind whip up little waves on the surface.

I love that aqua green/blue colour of the water.

I love that aqua green/blue colour of the water.

“Oh! Oh my gosh!” Yelped Margaret. “Look at that, look!” But I was behind her and couldn’t see what she was pointing at, on the trail. I peeped around her and saw the biggest, hairiest spider I have ever seen in the wild.

I'd say this spider is sufficiently large. I wasn't quiiittte brave enough to put my hand on the ground right next to it, so it's slightly bigger than what it appears.

I’d say this spider is sufficiently large. I wasn’t quiiittte brave enough to put my hand on the ground right next to it, so it’s slightly bigger than what it appears.

On our way back we took another side trail to Cascada Trufulco. You may be able to tell from the photo that I'm soaked to the core. If you can't tell, just take my word for it.

On our way back we took another side trail to Cascada Trufulco. You may be able to tell from the photo that I’m soaked to the core. If you can’t tell, just take my word for it.

We were cold and hungry and tired. Our morning’s plan had been to make our hike last till suppertime, and to stop in Pucon that evening for dinner at a restaurant. We had a new plan: run in to the supermarcado at the edge of town, grab a bottle of wine, some water crackers and brie, and head for the hotel swimming pool. And that is exactly what we did.

The heated pool was even more of a delight when afternoon rain turned into evening thunderstorms, and crackled and boomed while we swam and then ate cheese and crackers and enjoyed our wine.

The heated pool was even more of a delight when afternoon rain turned into evening thunderstorms, and crackled and boomed while we swam and then ate cheese and crackers and enjoyed our wine.

{P.S. Count them: five lakes in one day. Villarrica, Caburgua, Tinquilco, Chico, Del Toro.}

I am standing on top of Clifty Mountain in north Idaho on a lovely Labor Day.

I am standing on top of Clifty Mountain in north Idaho on a lovely Labor Day.

Despite their infrequency, the trips Tara and I always enjoy are the periodic visits to see my stepfather Jim at his remarkable mountaintop cabin.

Tara has known that mountain all their life, and confessed to spiritually “needing” to be there sometimes, to go for a walk alone, and to reconnect to childhood and peace and the memory of Gramy, my mother, who died in 2011. Tara and Jim have a special relationship, since he has known my kid since birth, sending love and birthday cards in just the right kind of Grandpa way. Tara has loved him back and counted on him in their life.

We traveled there over the long Labor Day weekend, and caught some perfect late season weather. He lives outside of Moyie Springs, Idaho, and closer to British Columbia than any town in the U.S. that you’ve heard of. Our first ritual is to walk around the property, and usually we end up at ‘the pit,’ which is the family name for Jim’s quarry on the side of his mountain. I am always surprized at how pretty it is at the rock pit, and how the big equipment seems to suit the landscape, even adding charm rather than detracting from it.

Autumn colours brighten the forest.

Autumn colours decorate the forest.

Tara leads the way to the pit.

Tara leads the way to the pit.

A view of the breathtaking Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, stretching down into Montana.

A view of the breathtaking Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, stretching down into Montana.

Beasts at rest in the evening. What a child's playground, eh? (Perhaps even children in their 40s and 60s)

Beasts at rest in the evening. What a child’s playground, eh? (Perhaps even children in their 40s and 60s) That is Clifty Mountain in the background.

This image really appeals to me. The three of us standing in the setting sun, gazing across the rock face of the quarry.

This image really appeals to me. The three of us standing in the setting sun, gazing across the rock face of the quarry.

We unpacked the Jeep and settled in for a couple of cozy nights in the most cabin-y cabin I have ever seen. Chalk it up to Mom’s design sense; this place is beautifully done. We stayed in the master bedroom, still filled with things that are unquestionably Mom: the tiny trading post, the pine cones, the canned goods that she cannned and no one had the heart to consume, lest they disappear. It’s not as heartbreaking anymore, and maybe after 5 years, I’m able to start thinking about her again without falling apart.

Many things are Mom's but the map on the wall is Jim's!

Many things are Mom’s but the map on the wall is Jim’s!

Isn't this room marvelous?

Isn’t this room marvelous?

Jim usually plans an outing for us when we come, and this time he suggested a hike to Clifty Mountain, the peak we could see directly across the valley from our perch above the pit.

The next morning we went to pick up Jim’s friend J, and the four of us headed up the hill in his pickup. The trailhead for Clifty is near a lookout, so we went there first. The lookout is not in use officially, and can apparently be rented by campers. Now wouldn’t that be a fun night? Tara and I eagerly climbed the stairs in the wind, only to be stopped halfway up by six missing steps that had been pulled out of their slots to keep prying eyes and fingers out of there.

The views are outstanding whether one climbs the stairs or not. And to Tara’s astonishment, the lookout is a PokeStop! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about….It’s a Pokemon Go thing. Pokemon Go is sort of a big deal these days. Maybe it would be best to look it up.) We stayed there for some time, lazily wandering from one side to the other, gazing at the 360-degree views. South to Lake Pend Orielle and Sandpoint, west to the Selkirk Mountains, north to the Canada border, east to Montana.

A view of the lookout from the road to reach it. The towers are communications relays.

A view of the lookout from the road to reach it. The towers are communications relays.

J at the base of the lookout. Tara and I climbed two flights and stopped when the steps did.

J at the base of the lookout. Tara and I climbed two flights and stopped when the steps did. If you look carefully, you can see where they are removed from the third flight.

View from the base of the lookout, looking north.

View from the base of the lookout, looking north.

Quaint little Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I lived there as a toddler, and one of my brothers was born there.

Quaint little Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I lived there as a toddler, and one of my brothers was born there.

We finally hit the trail and began the climb. The weather was perfect – a little cool at first, and then a smidge too warm as we heated from our climb. The peak is at 6,705 feet, so we were also getting a bit winded. I think of this part of Idaho as remote – and come on, it is – so I was not expecting the many hikers that joined us. Ok, “many” is relative, but there were plenty of people to chat with along the way. We were the only vehicle at the trailhead when we started, and when we left, there were 6 other vehicles parked.

At the top, we sat gratefully on rocks that Mother Earth had scattered liberally for us, all placed with the best views. We picked out landmarks, like the impressive Moyie River Canyon Bridge, 424 feet above the water. Jim helped us spot the pit! Then it was time to make our way back down the hill and visit Bonners Ferry’s Kootenai River Brewery for a burger and a pint of Huckleberry Wheat.

Almost to the top!

Almost to the top!

Jim and J coming up behind us.

Jim and J coming up behind us.

What do you do on top of a mountain? Take a selfie, of course!

What do you do on top of a mountain? Take a selfie, of course!

...and then sit down and soak it all up.

…and then sit down and soak it all up.

Tara is still sporting the Cruella de Vil hair, and a lovely smile.

Tara is still sporting the Cruella de Vil hair, and a lovely smile.

A rather battered geodetic survey marker. Now that would be a fun game to play on your phone: find geodetic survey markers!

A rather battered geodetic survey marker TO0917. Now that would be a fun game to play on your phone: find geodetic survey markers!

Tara took this shot. Wow! I love it.

Tara took this shot. Wow! I love it.

J got a good shot of me too. Maybe happy people just look good, in general. ;-)

J got a good shot of me too. Maybe happy people just look good, in general. 😉

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City's Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City’s Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Confession: I live about 40 minutes’ drive from the Pacific Ocean and I hardly ever go there! That’s a crime, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is.

In 2016 I’ve been to the beach two times. I went to Astoria for my birthday in January, and later in the Spring, I went out with a group of friends. All the photos have been sitting here on my computer, patiently waiting to be posted, and now it’s time. This was a weekend in early May.

D is a serious cyclist and most of his friends are cyclists and their idea of fun is to rides their bikes a thousand miles to the beach and then party. Luckily, I was assigned car support duty. It’s a good thing because I have personally been upon a bicycle twice in the past twenty years.

Someone had rented a couple of houses across the street from each other in a cute beach community filled with houses that appear to only exist for that purpose. They were decorated as though a family lived there, with bathrooms stocked and children’s photos on the walls, and kitchen utensils available. But it was not quite lived in, and I guessed the places had been “staged” to feel like a family home. I find it interesting how I reacted to that idea, in this time of Air BnB popularity. While many people obviously love the idea of staying in someone’s home while they’re out, it’s actually an uncomfortable idea for me, and I feel the need not to touch anything, or disturb anything in their absence. I feel as though the owners have done a huge favor by letting me stay there (payment notwithstanding), and I can only repay them by not using any bathroom products and as few towels as possible. I remain uncomfortable the whole time. Whereas in a hotel! It’s purely built for transients. No one claims ownership. Every single thing in the room is MINE as long as I’m there, and I feel complete luxury. I use way too many towels, and all the shampoo, and I rearrange the furniture, click the remote control, fill up the closets and drawers with my clothes, and collect all the brochures and placards and pile them in a drawer somewhere to get them out of my way. If there’s a kitchen, I use anything I want and leave dirty dishes in the sink. Luxury.

Everyone chose a room in one of the houses and we dumped our gear and then went to play on the beach. Pacific City, Oregon is west and a little south of Portland, so still at the northern part of the state. It’s a small community that appears to survive on tourism, since that was the theme of nearly all the shops. I’m a fan of that sometimes, because it provides classy dinner options and great coffeehouses in rural communities that could never provide that without out-of-town tourists. In particular, this beach town hosts Pelican Bay Brewery, and a comfortable and friendly brew pub with burgers and fries and great craft beers on tap.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

 

The weather was cool and and wet most of the time, but the second day the skies cleared up and we all decided to hike to a lookout point on Cape Kiwanda. The hike is literally straight up the side of a huge sand dune, so that was a bit tricky. But the views at the top were worth the long steep slog, and shoes filled with sand.

Whales are a big tourist draw, particularly during the height of migration season in December and January. In late May there were stragglers making their way from Mexico to Alaska for the warm weather. It didn’t take long before we began spotting their spouts just offshore. Gray Whales make this trip in about 3 weeks. The photos I took don’t do it justice, but it really is fun to stand on shore and see sea creatures as large as a bus exhaling a blast of water into the sky as they surface for air.

When we returned, we ate tons of food and played games together at the big family table and told stories. When the weekend was over nearly everyone rode home in a car, but one crazy person rode their bike back to the city again. That’s close to 100 miles each way. 200 miles in a weekend. Now there’s a person who is in good physical condition.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

There's another one!

There’s another one!

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Lovely Oregon coast

Lovely Oregon coast

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Second big hike in a row with no mountain goat sightings. Do you think it’s me?

I hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness for three days and two nights with my boyfriend. Our timing was uncanny, and we were up there during the only three rainy days in between sunny weeks either side. Though I went up into the mountains seeking profound vistas, thankfully I was able to see the beauty in front of me when the vistas were obscured by fog.

We began at the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and hiked to a bypass trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the trailhead it was pleasantly warm (in the 60s) and there was a beam or two of sunshine. I photographed a lake and crammed my mouth full of ripe huckleberries that loaded the bushes on both sides of the trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.

Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.

Candy!

Candy!

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

The trail climbed about 2000 feet to the place we chose for our campsite. The rain set in as soon as we unloaded our gear, and it gradually picked up as the night went on. Since everything was wet, we were comfortable starting a fire. We hovered over the warmth that night and during the next couple days. Temperatures cooled to near 32 at night (0 Celcius) and warmed to the middle 40s during the day.

As is my tradition, I brought the fixins for delicious meals and was so delighted to have a climbing partner to share the weight. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes! It was so light, my pack barely caught my attention. The first night we had Salmon Curry Couscous, a new meal I tried out that turned out great and was a snap to put together. We set down our dishes and within minutes a mouse arrived to investigate. The mouse left right away: not a fan of curry, I suppose.

For breakfast we had hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies. Another meal was Bacon Carbonara (with angel hair so it cooks quickly), we had Margaret’s famous baked brie in brown sugar and red wine with dried apricots, and on the final day we had burritos that I had designed as a cold meal to eat on the way out, but since we were so cold I cooked the refried beans and D toasted the tortillas. Tortillas are packed flat against the back of the pack to keep them in one piece on the trail. We enjoyed fresh avocado of course! The trick to bringing produce is to bring it unripened. The firmness protects the fruit and after a couple days it’s ready to eat!

Preparing the pasta

Preparing the pasta

Mouse finds the entrance

Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night

Campsite the first night

Bear grass was everywhere!

Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

The second day we climbed north on the PCT toward Old Snowy Mountain, which I climbed a few years ago. However, the rain and cold slowed us down and there were no views to be had. I couldn’t even tell which direction to look for Old Snowy; it was likely right above us. I was discouraged. The last time I was on this trail, the weather was much more cooperative, and no matter where I hiked or which direction I faced, the views of mountains blew me away. It was the most impressive thing about being here. So on my return trip, I sort of had it locked into my brain that unless I saw a view, I was not really at Goat Rocks. Often our visibility ranged from 20 to 100 feet, and I remained disappointed until the splendid and rare scenes in front of my face got through and slapped me around a little bit: LOOK! Look at this!

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

We wandered through meadows and found scene after scene of astonishingly beautiful wildflowers in full view despite the fog. We discovered a huge spring where water literally bubbled up like a fountain, and in other places poured out of cracks in the earth. At the trail there was no creek, but twenty feet down the hill was a creek bigger than the one on my property. That’s how much water burst from the lush green hillside.

It was fun to talk to the through hikers. Those are the ones who stay on the PCT for months, doing sections and sometimes the entire length of it. We met several of them, as August is a good time of year to travel through this section: recently cleared of snow. You could spot the through hikers because they were dirty and seemed weary. Or, maybe, not as thrilled with the wildflowers as I was, having probably seen them for a month already. They were consistently humble, the ones I met, downplaying their feat of endurance, insisting that they had “only” been on the trail six weeks, or that they were “only” hiking the Oregon and Washington sections.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

In enjoyed this phenomena very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

In enjoyed this phenomenon very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.

Here, spring water simply gushes from the hill. Fog lends an otherworldly quality to the horizon scene.

We didn’t stay out long, and were tempted to go back to camp where we could have a fire and get warm again. Upon our return, we found that other campers had vacated a great spot on the edge of a cliff. If we were there, even if the clouds only lifted for 2 minutes, I would get a little bit of a view. Hee hee. We moved our camp and had a new fire roaring in no time. Typically I try to avoid fires in the mountains in August. As you all know, wildfires are nothing to mess around with and I never want to tempt fate. But on this occasion, everything was soaked and I was supremely confident that the forest would not burn due to a flying ember.

That evening a troop of Boy Scouts came in and were considering a camp site right next to ours. We promptly and “helpfully” directed them to the campsite we had vacated the night before, which is up the hill and completely out of sight from where we were. “And it has a stream!” added my boyfriend, trying to sell it while he had the chance. They took the bait and moved on. The Scouts brought a mule named Sadie, and we spent a lot of time talking with Sadie and her elderly master, Bob, who had been hiking this mountain for 30 or 40 years. It was interesting to hear him talk about changes that had occurred. He referred to the trails by their old names, and I had to mentally scramble to keep up with which trails he was talking about.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Bob took Sadie out to the meadow next to us to let her graze, and right then the sun came out. Such a lovely gift for the evening. (Isn’t it a sign, when I can clearly remember each time the sun came out?) We went out to pat the mule and let the old man talk. He was a heck of a talker. In among the words though, he mentioned a nearby waterfall that sounded impressive. We got directions (south on the PCT, instead of north, as we had traveled that day) and decided to hike there in the morning.

The theory was (well, at least this is the Pollyanna spin I was giving myself) that a waterfall is going to be entertaining in the fog. Sparkling, loud, exciting, wet, interesting…waterfalls are always a win. So in the light morning rain we packed our day hike gear again and traveled and chatted and made our way through the fog. My boyfriend is almost obsessed with Trump news, and we enjoy sharing our theories on what in the world is going on here in the states. How does Trump come up with the crazy stuff he says? How can so many Republicans say “Yes, his comments are often out of line and intolerable, but I’m going to vote for him anyway.” D can’t stand Hillary, like much of the country, and I harbor bitter thoughts that America is misogynistic as hell, and suspect that as racist as some of us can be, even a black man is a better choice than a woman. But I don’t say that out loud.

And before we know it, there’s the waterfall! And it was just what I had hoped for: large, loud, exiting, beautiful.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

We climbed around on the rocks and talked to through hikers for a half an hour or so, and suddenly the skies opened up. I gasped out loud “Oh!” And we spent another hour there, watching the clouds lift up and sink down, revealing a different piece of paradise each time. I found myself thinking of the story of Heidi, who goes to live with her grandpa in the mountains. This was a final and perfect gift from the Wilderness, before it was time to hike back down the hill.

The headwaters of the Cispis River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

The headwaters of the Cispus River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

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