Hiking the Rogue River Trail… Part 2: From Horseshoe Bend to the Rogue River Ranch

A view of the Rogue River from our camp on Quail Creek.

 

Today marks the second of my three-part series on hiking down the Rogue River Trail. It’s a beautiful 40-mile hike, best done in the spring or the fall. Peggy and I made a leisurely six-day backpack trip out of it, both to enjoy the beauty and to condition our bodies for our summer of backpacking where I will be hiking 1000 miles from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney. Peggy will be joining me for parts of it plus doing back-up, a true trail angel!

 

Dark skies were suggesting rain when we rolled out of our tent at six. ‘Rolling out’ is a good description. My sore muscles and creaky joints were complaining about our first two days of hiking down the Rogue River Trail. They refused to cheerfully jump up; they threatened to go on strike. I told them to behave or I would double the number of miles they had to travel and cut off their Ibuprofen. They whimpered— but the Ibuprofen got their attention.

I have yet to tell them that they are going on a thousand-mile backpack trip this summer. And I may not, at least until the first 500 miles are over.

Things began to morph. My down pillow of the night before became my down jacket. My Thermarest air mattress changed into a comfy breakfast chair. Fifty years of backpacking have taught me that anything that can serve multiple purposes is a good thing. Routine is also good. I had packed my sleeping bag, clothes and personal items before leaving the tent. Now they were waiting to be packed into my backpack. Right after I put my chair together, I went to gather our food.

It was dutifully waiting in the middle of the ranger-built, electric fence enclosure. No bears had made a feast of it. Either they hadn’t been by to visit or they truly don’t like being zapped. I suspect that a tender nose coming in contact with a live wire is not a pleasant experience. If I were a bear, I’d skedaddle out of there on all fours and look for a ranger to eat.

Breakfast was next; I’m the camp cook. My job description is to boil up two 32 ounce pots of water per day, one for breakfast and one for dinner. Takes about five minutes each. Peggy arrived from doing her chores about the time the pot began to boil. We sifted through our food bags and pulled out instant oatmeal, breakfast bars, Starbuck’s instant coffee, and dried apricots. The latter are to help keep us digging cat holes. “Meow.” Or maybe I should say, “Purr.’” Being regular out on the trail is important.

The literature had promised an outhouse at Horseshoe Bend, but it had been decommissioned, i.e. filled up. The same is happening with the other ‘bathrooms’ that the trail maps promote along the river. Be prepared. Rafters are expected to carry their own port-a-pots. Backpackers are left with digging cat holes. We are used to it. Watch out for the poison oak. (grin)

With breakfast over, we took down the tent and packed up. A few drops of rain encouraged us to put on our rain jackets and pack covers. It promised to be a cool day, which was welcome after the heat of the first two days.

The trail continued its ups and downs, starting with the very steep up we had hiked down the evening before. At times our route dropped almost to the river. The closer we got, the thicker the poison oak and blackberries grew.  Peggy and I stopped and laughed at one point. The blackberries were occupying a third of the trail and the poison oak the other, leaving only a few inches for passage. It was like the plants had an agreement to drive you toward one or the other. We chose the blackberries on the theory that it is much better to suffer a few scratches than be covered in an itchy rash.

We also crossed several recent slide areas where the trail was minimal, about a shoe wide. Careful attention was called for and looking down not recommended. On one slide area, a tree trunk was stretched across the trail, forcing us to balance precariously while climbing over. It was not for the faint-hearted, or for people with a fear of heights.

Beyond that the trail was quite pleasant; passing through woodlands, providing dramatic views of the river, and crossing over brooks and streams on attractive bridges. Once again, cheerful flowers kept us company.

We found that the bridges along the trail were well built and fit in with the environment. This is Meadow Creek Bridge.

Another view of the Meadow Creek bridge.

Peggy on the Kelsey Creek bridge looking down at the water. A rain cover is on her backpack. It never did rain.

Our views of the river ranged from raging rapids…

…to more tranquil scenes.

A number of flowers were found beside the trail, including this wild rose…

This Pretty Face brodiaea…

And a Columbine.

A snack at Ditch Creek provided this view of several small waterfalls tumbling down the hill. Zane Grey’s cabin was a mile or so down the trail.

We missed Zane Grey’s cabin. The trail to it wasn’t marked and we weren’t paying attention to our map. Too bad. I had been an avid fan of his cowboy books during the Western phase of my youth. Such classics as Riders of the Purple Sage had kept me glued to my seat as good triumphed over evil in the Old West of six-gun justice. Grey had used the cabin as a fishing lodge in the 1920s. He even wrote a book about the area, Rogue River Feud.

Our campsite that night on Quail Creek made up for missing the cabin. Located on the edge of the Rogue River, it provided the striking view that is featured in the photo at the beginning of this post. Geese, buzzards, rafters and lizards provided entertainment. The buzzards seemed to be following us. “Maybe they think we are old,” I suggested to Peggy, which elicited a snort. The lizards were just curious, checking out all of our gear and climbing up on convenient rocks to watch us.

Rafters waved at us from the Rogue as they passed our camp on Quail Creek.

And a pair of Canadian Geese kept their offspring in a careful line.

The morning part of our hike the next day took us in to the Rogue River Ranch, which is a gem. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the ranch was established in the early 1900s by George and Sarah Billings, becoming a lodge for travelers, the post office, and a social center for a small but growing community. In 1927, Billings sold the house to Stanley Anderson, the builder and owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. The Andersons upgraded the property and used it to entertain their friends from Los Angeles and Hollywood up until 1970, when they sold it to the BLM.

An old barn on the Rogue River Ranch. One of the volunteer caretakers, Sally, can be seen raking up grass the old fashioned way. It went with the barn.

A close up of Sally.

Looking toward the river from the ranch.

Sally and Frank, the volunteer caretakers for the ranch, took a break from raking up grass and gave us an overview of its history. Peggy and I then visited the main house that had been turned into a museum. I was amused to find this description of the one room upstairs lodge provided by an early visitor:

When the place was full at night, it was a nightmare. There was almost continuous coughing, snoring, grinding of teeth, urinating in a can or out the window, and other night noises. There always seemed to be someone walking around the room or to the window or stairways, which shook the floor and building. Sound sleep for any length of time was impossible.

Not quite as fancy as the modern lodges that are found along the river today. But then again, three meals and a bed for the night could be had for a dollar, a far cry from the $150 plus per person charged today by the resorts.

A view of the main house at Rogue River Ranch. A single large room upstairs provided lodging for early travelers.

The ‘Tabernacle’ is located behind the house. This building served as a barn for horses and mules on the first floor and a meeting hall, dance floor, and church on the second floor. Today the building houses a number of artifacts.

Such as this old coffin…

A pot bellied stove…

And cooking stoves.

I’ll close today with a view of Mule Creek, which flows beside the Rogue River Ranch. The creek was named after a mule named John who wandered off and became lost. The story has a happy ending. Several years later his owner found him. I assume they lived happily ever after.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: What does a skunk have to do with my first date in high school. The MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: I’ll wrap up my Rogue River series.

Hiking the Rogue River Trail: Part 1… Over the Side I Went!

The Rogue River is noted for both its beauty and its rapids. The Rogue River Trail has been cut into the steep sides of the canyon, providing spectacular views of the river as well as an introduction to the interesting plant and animal life of the region.

 

Peggy and I backpacked down the 40-mile Rogue River Trail last week. It has been on her bucket list ever since she rafted down the Rogue a few years ago. I, too, wanted to explore the area but also needed to do a conditioning trip for my thousand mile backpack trip from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney this summer. My new gear and my 75-year-old body needed to be tested. Both worked, more or less. This is the first of 3-4 posts on the trip.

The Rogue River Trail starts from a large paved parking lot named Grave Creek.  (The daughter of a pioneer was buried nearby in 1846, thus the ‘Grave.’) The site is mainly used as a kick off point for people rafting the river. No surprise. This section of the Rogue is world-famous for its rafting. And the majority of people traveling this way prefer to have a raft carry their food and gear as opposed to carrying it on their back. As my friend Tom Lovering the boatman says, “Why wouldn’t they?”

We arrived at 11:00, an hour later than I had hoped, and the sun was beating down mercilessly. Summer had arrived early, it seemed. The day before had been yet another cool spring day. We had been whining that it was never warming up! Go figure. I could see the trail snaking up the side of the canyon without an iota of shade. Peggy and I futzed around: slathering on sun-block, filling our water bottles, putting on our boots, and taking advantage of the out-house (twice). But inevitably, the time arrived, as it always does; we shouldered our packs and headed up the trail.

The beginning of the Rogue River Trail as seen from the Grave Creek parking lot. Up and in the sun.

Face it, backpacking can resemble work. There’s a part of your mind that lets you know this when you load everything you will need to live in the woods for a week on your back and start hoofing it up a mountain in the hot sun. Mine usually has some unprintable comments for me. If it’s the first trip of the year, if you are out of shape, or if you are over 50, the mind might even say a bit more. Well, Peggy and I were in fairly good shape (score one for us), but it was our first trip of the year, and, at 67 for Peggy and 75 for me, we definitely resembled the over-50 crowd.

There are also rewards, of course, otherwise people wouldn’t go backpacking unless they were forced to— or had masochistic tendencies. “Ah yes, pain, bring it on!” They’d stay home in front of their big screen TVs and veg, or write blogs. While our trail shot up the mountain, it also provided us with great views of the Rogue River. And we soon noted an abundance of wild flowers. The trail even seemed to flatten out a bit and trees provided welcome shade.

Peggy at the beginning of the trail with the Grave Creek Rapids behind her. A few years earlier I had waved good-by to her as the rapids grabbed her boat.

The canyon walls were often covered with flowers, especially if springs provided a bit of moisture.

The yellow flowers above are monkey flowers, one of my favorites, as you’ve probably noted from past posts. A friend once told me you can hear them say “eek,eek, eek” if you listen. I’ve never heard them, but I still listen. (grin)

These colorful stonecrop flowers also decorated the cliff sides. Their succulent leaves provide water for dry times.

More shaded spots provided a variety of brightly colored iris flowers. This is a golden iris. We found several other varieties along the way. You will see more!

Shaded trails like this one provided welcome relief from the more exposed sections of the path.

As did the frequent cool streams along the way. We stopped often to refill our water bottles. (Water along the route needs to be filtered.)

Most of the streams have bridges built over them, which eliminates the issue of fording.  I’ll show several in the next posts. Many were quite attractive.

It was a river trail, however, and that means ups and downs. They come with the territory. I was on a down when the accident happened. The path had dropped to maybe 50 feet above the river and the sheer drop-off cliff had switched to a steep embankment. My left foot, i.e. the foot on the river side, slipped on some loose gravel. No biggie. Years of trail hiking have given me an automatic sense of balance and fancy foot-work to deal with such contingencies. This time, however, I was using walking poles and I set the left one to provide the necessary balance.

The next thing I knew, I was toppling over. Peggy, who was behind me, said it was in slow motion, like I had fainted, or suffered a heart attack, or had a stroke. You can imagine how she felt. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. All I knew was that I suddenly found myself stomach down, head first on a crash course for the river. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes in such circumstances? All that flashed in front of mine was another 40 feet of rocky slope topped off by a cold bath. Not good. I would have loved to have had my pack where I could have used it for a brake. But it was on my back, along for a free ride. Whoopee! Packs are like that. I used my left arm instead, pressing it down. I could feel the rocks ripping off my skin. But it worked. I slid on for a couple of more feet and stopped.

“Are you okay?” Peggy yelled. Apparently, I didn’t answer quickly enough because she threw off her pack and scrambled down. I was busy checking out my arm. It looked a bit like hamburger. To paraphrase an old Tex Ritter cowboy song, there was blood on my pack and blood on the ground, there was blood on my arm and blood all around. But the arm felt fine. At least it wasn’t broken or gushing. Peggy helped me get my pack off and I stood up and carried it back to the trail while she gathered up my walking poles.

We hiked back up to some shade and I took out my water bottle and washed my arm off. Good news. It was mainly a scrape with some 14 small cuts providing the blood. Only one seemed worthy of attention. Another couple came by at that moment. “My husband is a nurse,” the woman announced. He glanced at my arm, pronounced “You aren’t going to bleed to death,” and hurried on. So much for the medical profession, I thought. Peggy smeared on Neosporin and slapped a band-aid on the larger cut. We were good to go.

We hiked down a few feet and I picked up my walking poles. One was considerable shorter than the other. And then it struck me. The left pole had collapsed when I had shoved it into the ground for balance, and I had collapsed with it. There is probably something in bold letters, or at least the fine print that suggests you check them before use. Otherwise, the poles would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. I was relieved to know that the cause of the fall was the poles and not me!

Eventually we reached our first night’s camp, a lovely tree-shaded site below Whiskey Creek. Booze Creek is the next stream down, which may say something about the early gold miners that populated the area. We got out our flask of Irish cream liquor and toasted them— and ourselves, for surviving day one. Chores that evening included setting up camp, a quick, soap-less rinse of our clothes and selves in the icy river, and dinner. At one point, I had the mother of all cramps, as my leg protested against what it was sure was abuse. Were we having fun, or what? It was early to bed. Peggy crawled in at the sign of the first mosquito. I hung out for another hour or so.

Every bird in the world arrived at our camp at 5 a.m. the next morning and immediately burst into song. It was a virtual cacophony of noise as each bird competed with the next over who could trill the loudest and the longest. I rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep.  We crawled out at six and started our second day.

It was a lot like day one except I managed to stay on the trail. The trail continued its ups and downs, climbing down to cross streams and immediately back up afterwards. Once again it was hot. We were treated to great views of the river.

There were many more views of the river on the second day such as this, which featured rapids that the river runners love so much.

At one point, I spotted a snake out of the corner of my eye beside me on the trail. There is something primeval about seeing snakes, especially when they surprise you. Alarms go off deep in your brain while your leg muscles bunch up for a humongous leap. Almost simultaneously, I recognized that this fellow was one of the good guys, a king snake. I thought ‘photo-op.’ It’s difficult to photograph snakes when Peggy is around. She gets nervous. “Don’t get too close, Curt,” she urged. “It might bite you.” Possibly, if I grabbed it by the tail. But king snakes prefer to crush their food, winding around them like a boa constrictor. That’s what they do to rattlesnakes, even rattlesnakes that are bigger than they are. And then they swallow them, whole. I’d like to see that. Apparently, they are impervious to the venom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a snake making its way along the edge of the trail…

Having noticed me, the snake made his way up the cliff, providing ample opportunity for me to take pictures. The closer I got, the more nervous Peggy became. I don’t know what the snake thought.

Later, Peggy noticed a large slug. At first we thought it was a banana slug, given its size. Banana slugs are well known as the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a fact I love. You really have to like a college that selects a slug as its mascot. But our guy/gal lacked the characteristic yellow color. It seemed fat. “Maybe she’s pregnant,” Peggy mused, which led me to wonder how slugs mated. “Slowly,” Peggy suggested.

This large slug checked out Peggy while I took its photo. The walking pole is Peggy’s. Mine stayed affixed to the back of my pack after the accident for the whole trip.

Our greatest excitement of the day was getting from the trail down to our campsite at Horseshoe Bend. It was a long way down, and apparently, the Bureau of Land Management adheres to the philosophy that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Anything resembling a switchback was totally coincidental. The trail was so steep in places that we had to side step. We eventually arrived in one piece and discovered a new way of protecting our food from bears. It was shocking. BLM had created a small enclosure with an electric fence. I sat up that evening hoping to see a bear try to break in. No such luck.

Peggy provides her commentary on the trail down to Horseshoe Bend.

The electrified enclosure built to keep hungry bears away from rafters’ and backpackers’ food.

Do you think bears can read?

Our new, ultralight Big Agnes tent overlooking the Rogue River at Horseshoe Bend. We love the tent! It is big enough for the two of us (we like each other), and light enough that i can carry it to use as a solo tent.

The view from our campsite…

And finally, for those of you who were concerned about Bone being left behind this summer, here he is, happily ensconced in one of my belt pouches, peering out like a baby kangaroo.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: Smelly chemicals and long dead frogs discourage me from pursuing a career in science in the MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

The First 500 Miles on My Thousand Mile Backpack Trek: Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe

I should see the striking Mt. Shasta several times as I make my way through the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps— and quite likely after I cross Interstate 5.  Mt. Shasta is part of the volcanic Cascade Range that stretches up to Canada.

 

It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty planning of my thousand mile trek from Mt. Ashland in Southern Oregon to Mt. Whitney in California. I’ve been poring over maps, thinking about distances and planning out resupply points. I love maps, so this is a fun activity for me. I think I am being realistic, but you never know. Most through hikers (as people who hike the whole PCT are called) can average around 20-25 miles per day. Maybe even more. That’s a marathon per day! But the 75-year-olds out there are few and far between. I am planning on 12-13. If I can do more, great.

Today, I am going to share the first half of my route, approximately 500 miles, beginning at Mt. Ashland and ending north of Lake Tahoe. While I have backpacked in the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Lassen National Park, it is the area I am least familiar with. Once you hit Interstate 80 southward to Mt. Whitney, the second half of my journey, you are in my ‘old stomping grounds,’ so to speak. I’ve hiked through this country many times over the years. Below is a map of the first half of the trail.

This map of the PCT traces my route from Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe. While not as clear as I would like, it provides a good overview. Peggy and I live just north of the trail where it snakes its way along the California/Oregon border. Our property backs up to national forest land.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide some of the most beautiful hiking in the world. They are John Muir’s Range of Light. The northern part of my journey lacks the drama of the Sierra’s, but there is still considerable beauty in the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps. Once I cross Interstate 5, I have Burney Falls and Lassen National Park to look forward to. Here are a few photos I have taken over the years to whet your appetite for what is coming.

Another view of Mt. Shasta.

The PCT works around the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness where Peggy and I have been backpacking the last few years. This small lake is in the wilderness.

As are a number of giant trees such as this sugar pine Peggy is standing next to.

And this large red cedar.

Last year Peggy and I followed what is known as the Cook and Green Trail up to the PCT. We camped under this canopy of trees.

We found three through hikers on the pass. They were quite excited to be nearing the Oregon Border after their long sojourn from the Mexican Border. Most through hikers travel south to north.

We also found a PCT trail marker. They will serve as my guide on the trek.

The trail is well-marked for the most part. Where it isn’t, I’ll be using other guides, like maps and tree blazes.

The Marble’s and the Trinity Alps have numerous pristine lakes such as this.

And mountains. These are part of the Trinity Alps.

There are cascading waterfalls…

And large and small streams to cross— always a challenge for backpackers…

There are lovely flowers to admire, such as this Tiger Lily.

And possibly bears. This tree has been well-marked by bear claws! Peggy and I were in the Marble Mountains a few years back celebrating her birthday with a small cake I had brought along when a bear decided to drop in. Peggy told it in no uncertain terms that it was not invited to the party! Rather than face such a formidable opponent, it remembered some ants it wanted to eat.

Ponderosa Pine tree and Burney Falls in Northern California.

Once across I-5 , I will travel 83 miles to reach Burney Falls. In this photo, a lone Ponderosa Pine grows between the two channels.

Water comes out from layers of rocks as well as over the top at Burney Falls.

The water shooting out from the rocks provides an almost etherial quality to the falls. Peggy will meet me at the falls with resupply. Basically, she will be catching up with me once a week and I will have a layover day to feast, shower, and hopefully put up a post on my previous 6-8 days.

Burney Falls in Northern California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final view of the falls.

Another week down the trail should bring me to Lassen National Park, one of two parks I will be hiking through. The other is Yosemite. Mt. Lassen looms above the meadow. I’ve climbed to the top of both Lassen and Shasta.

I thought this reflection shot of the mountain was fun.

And this one.

I’ll close today with this view of a stream winding its way through a park meadow.

Next Tuesday, I will take you through the second half of my journey from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney. Peggy and I will be doing our 40 mile conditioning trip down the Rogue River Trail. I should say conditioning plus trial. I’ll be carefully monitoring how my body responds to being back out on the trail with a loaded pack!

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures. It is really hard to be a sports hero when you are as blind as a bat! Especially when it comes to playing hard ball… “Where’d that ball go?” Bonk!

Out and About on Kodiak Island… The Last of the Alaska Series

Tony and Cammie took us out fishing on streams like this. The fishing was fun, but it was the beauty of the country that caught me. The family had been camping on this stream.

 

We had gone to Kodiak to visit our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and our three grandsons: Connor, Chris and Cooper. Tony was flying helicopters on rescue missions for the Coast Guard, often in stormy weather over dangerous seas.  Cammie, in addition to overseeing our rambunctious grandsons, had started a jewelry business using sea glass that she collected off of the beaches. Some of the glass was particularly colorful, having ended up in the ocean as a result of a popular bar being destroyed by the 1964 Tsunami.

Cammie and Tony.

The boys and I check out a tide pool. I am pretty sure that’s what grandfathers are supposed to do with their grandkids!

The kids took us around the Island, at least the part that was easily accessible by road. We played tourist, went fishing for salmon, helped Cammie gather sea glass, and ventured out into the bay on a halibut fishing expedition. I’ve already posted on our bear watching trip and a series of closeups. Today’s photos reflect our outings with the kids and bring to an end our visit to Kodiak Island and the Alaska series.

We did a fair amount of salmon fishing. Here’s Peggy working a stream.

Our catch… Of course Peggy caught more than I did. That’s par for the course. Sigh.

She also caught this halibut! Few fish taste as good. The kids have a halibut chowder recipe to die for.

When Tony went to Alaska, he didn’t fish, nor did he have any desire to. But he fell in love with fishing. Salmon and halibut were often on the menu.

Cammie took to salmon fishing as well. Here she receives a high-five for catching one. She’d even grab her pole and head out when Tony was on assignment. Remember, this is Kodiak bear country…

We fished this stream. A Kodiak bear was fishing the same stream a couple of hundred yards away! I found him when I was out wandering around, without my camera, unfortunately.

This attractive cliff was just up from where we were fishing.

Looking out toward the bay.

Another example.

The whole family went searching for sea glass. It’s like going on a treasure hunt!

Cammie turns the sea glass into beautiful jewelry. If you would like to see more of her work, her Facebook site is Coastal Road Designs.

A final photo of the beautiful Kodiak Island.

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I Am Going on a Thousand Mile Hike… At 75

View of Mt. Whitney from the west including Curtis Mekemson.

I’ll be completing my thousand mile journey by climbing Mt. Whitney, the curved mountain in the background and the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. I’ve climbed it many times. Here I was wrapping up a 360 mile backpack trip to celebrate my 60th birthday. Will I be looking as spunky after a thousand miles at 75?

Expect some changes in my blog. I am gearing up for a thousand-mile backpack trip this summer starting on June 17, 58 days from now. I’ll be travelling from Mt. Ashland, a few miles from our home and following the Pacific Crest Trail south to Mt. Whitney through the Siskiyou, Marble, Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains. With mountains to climb, rivers to cross, wild animals to confront, swarming insects to avoid, and bad weather to face— not to mention the challenge of backpacking 1,000 miles— there will be plenty of adventures along the way. And there will be lots of photographs. Much of the country I will be backpacking through is drop-dead gorgeous.

My journey will take me through a variety of terrains, including Yosemite National Park.

I estimate the total trip will take about three months, including breaks. It’s my intention to blog about the journey along the way. Peggy will be backpacking part of the trip with me, but mainly she will be doing back-up, meeting me at places where the trail crosses the road. When we have cell phone service, I’ll have Internet. I am excited about sharing the journey with you. Once the adventure gets underway, I’d appreciate your sharing a post or a link with your followers. I figure the more people hiking along with me, the merrier! I’d like a few thousand beside me when I encounter my first bear!

Black bear with cave in Alaska

Yosemite is black bear country. I once woke up with one standing on top of me. At 75, I might have a heart attack! 🙂

Not many people go out for a thousand-mile backpacking trip. And the number of 75-year-olds who do it are far fewer, maybe a handful. But I am no stranger to long distance adventures and this year marks my 50th year of backpacking. I think of the journey as a celebration of doing what I love to do, and a statement that age isn’t necessarily a detriment to having grand adventures.

Having said that, I realize I am 75 (grin). I’ll be seeing my doctor before I go. And Peggy and I are doing a 40-mile conditioning backpack trip along the Rogue River in four weeks. That, along with the first 60-mile section of the trail, will give me a hundred miles. The way I think is that if I can do a hundred miles, I can do a thousand! If not… well there are always other adventures.

There is a ton of preparation that needs to be done in getting ready for the trek, in addition to conditioning. I’ve started by putting my gear together. I’ll be traveling ultra-light, using the modern terminology. Peggy turns white and checks the budget each time I head out to REI. My new tent, backpack, sleeping bag, and mattress weigh seven pounds, which is what my old backpack alone weighed. I am hoping to keep all of my gear to under 15. With food for a week, this should keep my total weight to 30 pounds max.

The route, food considerations, resupply points and permits all need to be planned out and reviewed. There will be less time for my blog over the next couple of months. I will be limited in the number of posts I can put up and the number of posts I can read. My apologies in advance. But I will do what I can! And I will put up a few posts on my preparation efforts, including the backpacking trip along the Rogue River.

The beginning of my journey will take me around the edge of the Red Butte Wilderness, which includes the Red Butte Mountains seen here from our deck. Thunderstorms are often a challenge when hiking through the various mountain ranges of California in the summer.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: I wrap up the Alaska Adventure with more photos from Kodiak.

FRIDAY’S POST: It’s ground zero in MisAdventures with Freshmen PE Dance Class!

MONDAY’S POST: A look at today’s ultralight backpacking equipment.

The Raft Trip Through the Grand Canyon… Conclusion, and Happy Earth Day

We were nearing the end of our 18-day journey down the Colorado River and had left the Grand Canyon behind. There were still spectacular views, however.

The river was slowing down, backing up as it approached Lake Mead. The rapids were behind us. We formed a flotilla and leisurely made our way toward take-out. We were ending our 18-day raft trip that had taken us through the Grand Canyon. Today’s photo essay reflects our final three days.

It is Earth Day tomorrow, and few things remind us better than the Grand Canyon that there are beautiful, wild places on earth that deserve our love and protection. I bumped up my normal Monday post to Saturday in honor of those who have fought so hard to save the Grand Canyon— and the earth. Enjoy.

The flotilla of rafts only required gentle corrections. Jame demonstrates just how gentle those corrections were…

And then lines up with several of our women rafters for a photo op.

Our adventures weren’t completely over. A sandbar that had been dry the night before provided an interesting challenge in the morning, as it had the night before for those who had chosen to sleep on the sand bar. (I’d picked a site above the river for Peggy and me. Grin.)

Our journey had been about several things, but certainly the people were central to the experience.

We had a whole cast of characters, including Yours Truly, looking like I had just spent 18-days on the river.

Peggy balances on the end of a raft and assumes a Titanic pose, which is something she likes to do. I have another photo of her like this poised above the piranha infested waters of the Amazon River.

Susan shows off by hoisting a five gallon propane canister! Strong woman, eh. 🙂

And Bone, of course, who found a prickly seat for this photo.

More than anything else, our trip was about rafting through the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of Hance Rapids from the rim after the trip. Each set of rapids was unique, and some were massive. Boatmen live for the challenges these rapids provide and our boatmen proved to be experts at negotiating them.

For me, the journey was more about the incredible beauty and natural history of the Canyon.

The beauty continued even as we approached Lake Mead and our take-out.

The Canyon walls were particularly beautiful in early morning and evening light.

But there was beauty any time of the day, and along every mile we traveled.

The Hualapai Indians provide a different perspective from their Skywalk, which is perched 4000 feet above the river.

And our eyes were always searching for wildlife along the river, such as these Big Horn Sheep.

A final reminder of the beauty along the way…

Eventually all great adventures come to an end. Here we are deflating the rafts that it seemed like we had filled ever-so-long before, literally lying down on the job!

A special thank you to Tom Lovering for organizing and leading our adventure. As you may very well imagine, a great deal of effort and expertise goes into planning a trip like ours. BTW, this may be the only time you ever see Tom with a halo.

And a special thanks to Don Green who so generously allowed me to use some of his excellent photos from along the way.

Bone, whose vest has now been signed by all of the rafters, looks down on Tanner Rapids, which we had made our way through a couple of weeks earlier. In addition to rafting through this section of the river I’ve backpacked into it twice and Peggy has backpacked into it once.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon along with Peggy, me and our friends. Thanks for joining us! The Canyon is a very special place. And it is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Happy Earth Day!

Curt and Peggy

Up Close and Personal… Patterns of Nature on Kodiak Island

It would have been easy to miss this spruce cone hiding out among the branches. Having spotted it, I was intrigued by the contrasting colors.

 

I spend a fair amount of time looking around when I hike. Sometimes, I even drop to my knees to check out something that has caught my attention. It might be a leaf, a flower, a bug, or any number of other things. There is a lot of beauty in small things, if we only stop to look. As I was reviewing the photos that Peggy and I took on Kodiak Island for today’s post, I noted several pictures that fit into this category. So my final post on Kodiak, turned into two. Today’s is up close and personal… Enjoy.

Shelf fungus are interesting from both their bottom and top sides…

Looking down on the shelf fungus.

I am always on the lookout for flowers. This cutie is known as a monkey flower.

And here we have a blooming cow-parsnip.

I found another cow parsnip that hadn’t bloomed and got down on my back so I could shoot it looking up toward the sky.

I came on a lovely pond that was growing pond lilies and was able to catch a reflection shot, but I also noted a few yellow blooms…

And found one willing to have its photo taken.

Not surprising, Kodiak has its share of fireweed.

And a wild rose by any other name, is still a rose.

Driftwood is always fair game when it comes to searching for patterns in nature.

Swirls within swirls.

Wandering around and looking down, I spotted this. Ah, a fresh bear track, I noted to myself. I found him just over the hill, maybe a hundred yards away from where we were fishing.

Fresh seaweed brought in by high tide.

And more, looking almost alien.

I wandered around at low tide (I always wander around at low tide) and found these barnacles.

And mussels, that might make a dandy treat for someone.

Rocks lining the shore were worth a closer look…

I am pretty sure you will all recognize this. It’s a thing-a-ma-bob that was once attached to a doohickey. This beach had once been a dump before the big tsunami of 1964 hit. The ocean has now transformed junk into objects like this.

Out fishing, we caught this halibut with its interesting  patterns and eyes that have migrated.

And finally, speaking of patterns, what photographer can resist wakes caused by boats?

I liked it so much, I took another photo. That’s it for today. Next Wednesday, I’ll wrap up Kodiak.

FRIDAY’S POST: Remember the days when they taught us to hide under our desks and cover our eyes when the atom bomb was dropped?

MONDAY’S POST: It’s time to wrap up our 18 day raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

A Waterfall Made of Rock! …Rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

As Diamond Peak came into view, I realized that our trip was nearing its end.

I had thought that things couldn’t get much stranger in the world of travertine rock formations as we left Pumpkin Springs behind, but the Colorado River had a few surprises left for us as we neared the end of our 18 day journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

First up was a delightful side canyon we climbed up where we bathed— and showered, in the refreshing water of Travertine Canyon. This was a part of the Hualapai Tribe reservation and the Native Americans had built a convenient rope ladder for access.

A view of the ladder we would be expected to climb. But first we had to rope up to get down to the ladder!

Peggy makes her way up the ladder!

The journey had its rewards!

And everyone took advantage of the shower….

By day 17, we could all use one. (grin)

There were also some interesting rock formations in the cavern.

This close up suggests a throat and tonsils. (Photo by Don Green.)

Not much farther down the river we came on an even stranger travertine formation, a waterfall made of rock!

This 100 foot plus rock waterfall was created by water from a mineral laden spring.

A view or Travertine Falls looking up.

And another. I found the jumble of colors and rock types quite interesting.

Small nooks and crannies also held treasures, such as these ferns. (Photo by Don Green.)

I’ll finish today’s post with a few more photos taken as we rafted down the river.

A mesquite tree.

This rock formation shows the impact of erosion.

A Great Blue Heron that caught Don’s attention. (Photo by Don Green.)

A final view of the river for today. Next Monday, we will wrap up our journey down the Colorado.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Patterns in nature. A close up look at Kodiak Island.

FRIDAY’S POST: Is it possible to find true love when watching an instruction film on what to do when the atom bomb drops on your school.

Baby Bears and More… Kodiak Island, Alaska

These cubs were delightful little fellows, but photographing them called for a telephoto lens. I didn’t want to irritate their several hundred pound mom. Sow bears are very protective of their kids. One of the rules I always emphasize when hiking people through bear country is never get between a mama bear and her babies.

I visited Kodiak a couple of times when I lived in Alaska. Both times I was on my way to Katmai National Park to go backpacking. So, I missed seeing the Kodiak bears. It wasn’t a problem. The National Park has its own  population of large brown bears. When the floatplane landed at Katmai, a ranger was there to greet us. The area is a renowned fishing area for both people and bears. Fishermen come from all over the world to try their luck.”If you catch a fish and a brown bear comes along, cut your line. Don’t try to land the fish,” he instructed. It seemed like good advice. He went on to say, “If you meet a brown bear when you are out hiking, talk to the bear and slowly back away.” I wasn’t fishing so I wouldn’t need the first bit of advice, but possibly the second suggestion would come in handy.

The opportunity arrived that very evening. I had gone out for a stroll following a trail down to the beach when a thousand pounds of big claws and sharp teeth came strolling along in the opposite direction. Just what the heck was I supposed to say? I improvised. “Uh, Mr. Bear,” I started out tentatively, “You don’t want to eat me. I am an Alaskan just like you.” He stared at me with his small beady eyes and coughed. I wasn’t sure whether the cough meant I was full of BS or that I should go on. I assumed the latter. “There’s some great German food and Japanese food in camp,” I added as I slowly backed away.  It wasn’t that I actually wanted the bear to eat any German or Japanese fisherman. But, as I noted, I was improvising. He growled and left the trail. Maybe he was heading off to sample some ethnic dishes. I let out a huge sigh of relief and continued down to the beach.

The next day I watched an even larger bear fishing in a deep hole along the river. It was obviously a prime location. The bear wasn’t fishing the way you see them in the documentaries where the bears hang out at waterfalls with their mouths open. He was playing submarine where he would disappear under the  water until he caught a fish and then stand up on his hind legs while he consumed it. It was like he was eating corn on the cob except he was consuming the cob as well. I could here him crunching away. Twenty inches of trout disappeared in a couple of minutes. As I watched, a smaller grizzly sized bear came along to share in the catch. Bad decision. The large bear let out a roar and charged while the little guy leapt out of the hole and hightailed it though camp with the big guy hot on his tail. And, I can assure you, every thing they say about the speed of bears is absolutely true. I was ever so glad that I wasn’t on the trail.

The action on Kodiak wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was equally interesting as the following photos will show.

Mama suggests to a large male that he go elsewhere. He did. You don’t mess with the mama!

Crisis solved, Mom leads her kids in the opposite direction along the fish pass,

And decides to go fishing.

Where she demonstrated her technique. (The salmon got away.)

“Come on in,” she urged the kids. “The waters fine.” But the cubs passed on the opportunity.

So she rejoined them— and provided a tongue bath.

Meanwhile, other bears were fishing the broader Dog Salmon River beneath the weir.

Including another mom with an older cub. The cub watched as mom searched for salmon under the water.

Successfully.

“Come on Mom, share!” the cub urged.

A seagull hovered above the cub, hoping for some table crumbs.

A bit later, a pair Kodiak bears had a standoff in the middle of the river! It seemed they were trying very hard to ignore each other.

Until the bear on the right decided to suggest that the other bear go elsewhere!

Which it did…

Junior stood up so he can see the action…

While Mom took a front row seat…

And then stood up to salute the victor. “I pledge allegiance…”

With the salmon caught and cubs fed, it was time to take a break.

The cool water provided an escape from the bugs…

While the fish pass provided  some warm sun for an afternoon nap. Anyone one up for telling the bear that it isn’t supposed to be on the fish pass? (grin) Next Wednesday I’ll take you along on trips to catch salmon, troll for halibut, and search for sea glass.

FRIDAY’S POST: A wrap up on the Mekemson Kids Did It.

MONDAY’S POST: The next to the last post on the 18-day journey down the Colorado River.

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The Great Pumpkin and Rabbit Ears Made of Romaine… Rafting the Grand Canyon: Part 11

As we passed outside of the Grand Canyon National Park boundary, the Canyon lost some of its grandeur, but just barely.

I wasn’t too surprised when Susan Gishi sported Romaine Lettuce as rabbit ears. In fact, wandering around with my camera, I may have encouraged her. Nor was I surprised when she wielded the cutting knife threateningly. Or when the kitchen crew started head loading the salad containers (not too successfully). Tom ran a tight ship in the kitchen and his mutinous crew responded with humor. After 15 days on the river, his efforts at organization were somewhat analogous to herding cats, or maybe kangaroos. It tended to make him grumpy.

Susan demonstrates how to wear Romaine Lettuce, and the proper way to cut it.

This is the rowdy kitchen crew, Susan, Peggy and Eggin.

Susan demonstrating how to head load.

A convenient ledge provided first row seats to watch the crews shenanigans.

Later, Teresa decided to become a stalker.

While Don Assumed the pose of the thinker. Hopefully, the rope stayed in place.

His shirt makes a ghost appearance.

As we passed outside of the National Park boundary on our trip down the Colorado, the Canyon lost some of its grandeur. But there was still plenty to see. Pumpkin Springs was a good example. It looked like a huge pumpkin. Beth, whose nickname is Pumpkin, was glad to climb up on top of the springs for perspective. The gourd-like structure is another example of a travertine formation created by the lime pumped out by the hot springs. An interesting note is that the spring also has a high concentration of arsenic. Health standards are set at 50 milligrams per liter. The level at Pumpkin Springs has been measured at over 1000! Don’t drink the water! Bone, of course, had to take a sip, but doing anything  he does usually has an inherent risk. I once watched him dive into a pitcher of margaritas at Senior Frogs in Mazatland, Mexico and refuse to come out until a señorita gave him a kiss.

Rock formations continued to entertain us.

Volcanic rocks begin making an appearance, including this large chunk of basalt…

Obsidian…

And columns of basalt. They reflect the way basalt may crack when it cools slowly. The Devil’s Postpile along the John Muir Trail is one of the best examples of this phenomena.

A view of Pumpkin Springs.

Beth provides perspective on the size of the springs.

While Bone gets up close and personal.

Peggy and I both took turns at the oars. Peggy’s was mainly a photo-op but I rowed for a longer period, giving Dave a break. He even encouraged me to try my luck at death-defying rapids (more like a 1 on a scale of 10.) “Point toward the V made by the water and stay in the center,” Dave had advised before going back to sleep.

Peggy takes her turn at rowing…

As do I…

Dave taking a snooze while I row.

This is an example of the small rapids I rowed through.

A final view of the Canyon for today.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Up close and personal with the big brown bears of Kodiak Island.

FRIDAY’S POST: Living on Graveyard Alley— or not. It’s a wrap on the Mekemson Kids Did It.

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