Trail Angels of the Pacific Coast Trail… I Have My Own

I am ever so lucky to have my wife, Peggy, out on the route supporting me. Most PCT hikers mail their resupply to Post Offices along the way. Peggy will be at trailheads to supply mine plus give me a day’s break from hiking. I suspect that there will be a cold beer in there as well.

 

People who go out of their way to support through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are known as Trail Angels. My barber, Ed McBee, is such a person. He has written a book on vehicle access locations on the PCT in Oregon. But, more to the point, he also goes out on the trail to greet through-hikers and provide them with fresh food and cold beer. One of his favorite locations is on the Oregon-California border. Trekkers who reach there have hiked from the Mexican border and are ready to celebrate! Knowing how much a cold brew is appreciated out on the trail, I contributed to Ed’s beer fund last summer.

Ed is now working on a book about people doing the PCT. “I feed them hot dogs,” Ed told me. “They are much more likely to talk to me.” I’ll bet. There is no telling what somebody who has been hiking 20-30 miles a day while living off of backpacking food will do for a hot dog! Now, make that a beer and a hot dog…!

Backpacking food is adequate for getting down the trail. Just barely. I have never seen a fat through-hiker. The food has to be light and compact to carry on your back. And while you try to find high calorie food, it’s hard to pack much more that 2 to 3,000 calories for each day. Now, consider that you are burning 4-6,000 calories, daily. Hot Dog? Bring it on!

Below is what my food for 90 days looks like. I tried to compromise between things I like and things that might be a little healthy. Those Oreos you see in the back certainly don’t meet the second criteria,  but they are a treat. I’ll be eating two per night, along with my 16 ounce cup of tea. (When I was a poor student at UC Berkeley ever so long ago, lunch was always a cup of coffee, a baloney sandwich and four Oreos.) The #10 can you see in the back is chicken teriyaki. It includes 10 dinner’s worth of food. Instructions are: Add one cup of the freeze-dried dinner to 3/4 cup of boiling-hot water. Cover. Wait 4 minutes. Stir. Cover and wait another 8 minutes. Eat. Life is pretty darn simple out on the trail.

Peggy organized my food for me while I was taking care of other miscellaneous chores and then took this photo. It’s what I will be eating on the trail over the next three months.

Here is the resupply packed in the van. Our sofa/bed comes down and actually covers the food.

Most PCT-ers would kill to have the kind of back-up I will have on my thousand-mile trip. I have my own trail angel, Peggy. Once a week or so, she will meet me where the PCT crosses a road and resupply my food, plus have a cold beer ready (grin). Our plan for most resupplies is to work in a layover day where I can shower, wash clothes, pack in some calories (imagine being able to eat whatever you want to eat), and put up a post or two on my previous week’s experience.

Peggy assumes her ‘where is Curt’ pose. She sees her role as backup (when she isn’t hiking with me) as her own adventure since she will be traveling and camping on her own.

Who knows!? Actually I carry an emergency Spot geo-tracker that I can use in an emergency, if needed, and can keep Peggy and family informed of where I am each night.

Anyway, here I am in black and white, ready to hit the trail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I even developed my own ‘business card’ for the trail. (grin) The photo is taken from our front patio. Next week I will be hiking around the mountains you can see in the distance on my way south!

FRIDAY’S POST: I wrap up my MisAdventure series for the summer. Was I actually able to stay out of jail on my graduation day from high school.

SUNDAY’S POST: I am going to reblog a really nice post from my friend and fellow-blogger out of Sedona, Arizona, JoHanna Massey, that she wrote in support of my journey.

 

Backpacking the Rogue River Trail… Conclusion

Peggy and I weren’t expecting to find beautiful waterfalls along the trail, but there were several. This is Flora Dell Falls. The pool of water really looked inviting. Peggy took off her shoes and soaked her feet.

 

It’s countdown time! My thousand mile backpack trek starts in two weeks. Our guest room is filled with gear. Peggy’s office is buried in food. Maps have taken over the library. Miscellaneous other stuff is found in every other room of our house! I have a to-do list that would send Superman flying off-planet. Theoretically, it is getting shorter. One way or the other, on June 17th, I am out of here…

Needless to say, there isn’t much time for blogging or reading blogs. My apologies. I do want to conclude the Rogue River series and put up one more post in the MisAdventure series. After that, I will try to get up one more post before hitting the trail. Then there will be a break until my first posts from along the route start arriving.

Given my time constraints, I am turning today’s post into a photo essay. Enjoy!

 

The Wild Rogue Wilderness started a few miles after we left the Rogue River Ranch featured in my last post. The trail snaked along the edge of the river providing great views. The narrow canyon here provides some exciting rides for rafters! There is even a whirlpool.

This gives you an idea of what the trail looks like. We hit this section in the afternoon and it was hot. The rocky cliffs sucked in the heat and threw it back at us.

We were looking forward to Inspiration Point, and we weren’t disappointed. Stair Creek Falls was just across the river. More inviting pools!

A close up of the falls.

We called it a day at Blossom Bar. (That’s a river bar, not one where you can find a cold beer. Darn! I really could have used one.) We didn’t find any blossoms but Peggy found this pool above the rocks. When I came over, she had waded in with her clothes on and the water was up to her waist. She was taking her soapless bath and washing her clothes at the same time. Of course, I had to join her. The water was icy!

The next day we hiked by the Brushy Bar Forest Service Station that is now run by volunteers in the summer. James and Cammie, a couple out of Southern California, had done a search for opportunities to volunteer on the Forest Service site and found this. (The PCT runs right by their house but it is in the desert section that I won’t be hiking.)

We took advantage of Cammie to have our photo taken! I’d say we were looking quite chipper. My beard caught the sun!

Tate Creek had another spectacular waterfall. We decided to photograph down it since getting to the base involved scrambling though poison oak!

In case you are wondering what poison oak looks like, Peggy is pointing some out. The three leaves are distinctive. As careful as we were, Peggy brought some home. Adding insult to injury, she spread her poison oak from her hands to some bug bites she was scratching.

The flowers along the trail continued to impress us. This is yet another variety of Iris.

And another. This time a Douglas Iris.

And more of another variety.

Another wild, white rose…

And wild lilacs. While they couldn’t match the roses in the heavenly smell category, the had a subtle, pleasant smell.

Finally. these cheerful members of the sunflower family.

Old mining equipment had been left beside the trail in a number of places to remind hikers of the area’s history.

The Flora Dell camp site, located down stream from the Flora Dell falls featured at the beginning of the post, provided us with another attractive river side location.

I really enjoyed the large rocks beside the river.

The next day had some challenges. (Grin) This is always fun with a loaded pack! My knees were having a discussion with me.

I had little difficulty picturing myself out on the deck of this lodge with a good book and a cold brew… but you had to have reservations. Sigh.

There weren’t a lot of big trees along the trail, so I had to take a photo when we found these.

And use Peggy as a model.

She also volunteered for this shot. No, she isn’t practicing her skiing technique. She is showing a switch back trail. The map showed our last few miles running along the river. Instead it headed up the mountain, not once but twice!

Somehow, at the very end, we managed to get off the trail and hike through a cow pasture that included this rather unusual cattle guard. Normally they are flat and don’t squish down as you walk across them!

The end. I hope you enjoyed our backpack trip down the Rogue River. The next adventure: My thousand mile backpack trek down the PCT. I’ll be posting as I go!

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 2nd 500 Miles on My 1,000 Mile Trek… From Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney

Highway 395 is one of America’s most scenic drives. This view looking up at Mt. Whitney (center top) is one of the reasons why. I’ll be ending my thousand mile trek here. From the top I will hike down several thousand steep feet to Whitney Portal. Peggy plans on being with me for this section of the trail. The hills in the foreground are the Alabama Hills, the backdrop for many of Hollywood’s early Westerns.

 

The first 100-mile backpack trek I ever led was from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 1974. Considering I had 60 people age 11-70 with me and that I had minimal backpacking experience, it was an insane adventure. Our last 50 miles had involved hiking in and out of river canyons with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). As steep as the canyons had been, my learning curve was much steeper! I was lucky the participants didn’t kill me. Fortunately, most of them were eager to go again and I went on to lead long distance adventure treks up and down the Sierras and in Alaska for the next 30 years. I limited the participants to a number that was compatible with my sanity and the environment, stayed at higher/cooler elevations, and required that anyone under 16 be accompanied by an adult guardian.

The second half of my thousand mile backpack trip this summer starts at Donner Summit on old Highway 40, some 12 miles away from Squaw Valley. I once had access to a winter cabin in the area and it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or more feet of snow on the ground. The cabin was warm and cozy. The Donner Party of 1847 wasn’t nearly as fortunate. Caught by bad weather, they were forced to camp out for the winter at Donner Lake, seven miles down the road from the summit. By the time they were rescued, half of the group had perished and the remainder had been forced to turn to cannibalism to survive. I’ll make sure that there is plenty of food in my pack.

My journey from here on will all be in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will pass through a number of wilderness areas plus Yosemite National Park. My last 180 miles will be spent in what is known as the High Sierra, following the John Muir Trail. Here are some ‘eye candy’ photos to introduce you to the beauty of the route.

This photo is from the Granite Chief Wilderness. Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is on the other side of the mountain. The field of yellow flowers is mule ears.

Looking south from Granite Chief, the mountains in the distance are part of Desolation Wilderness, that runs along the west side of Lake Tahoe.

The area is filled with flowers. These are monkey flowers.

And this is a Washington Lily.

Another view of the Desolation Wilderness.

Those who follow my post know I have a weakness for reflection shots. I took this ‘face’ at 4 Q Lakes in the Desolation Wilderness. It’s off the PCT but I may go there for old times’ sake.

I also took this old tree blaze in Desolation Wilderness.

Moving south of Carson Pass, where Kit Carson once ate his dog and his horse, this is part of the Mokelumne Wilderness. The small mountain is known as the Nipple.

One of my favorite hikes on the PCT is between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. This is Nancy Pape who may join me for a portion of this year’s journey. As I recall, 1977 was the first year that Nancy trekked with me.

This is a view of Tuolumne River Falls in Yosemite National Park just before Tuolumne Meadows and the beginning of the John Muir Trail.

Some of you have asked if 4.9 ounce Bone will be going on the trek. He was squawking loudly about the possibility of being left behind. I finally conceded, but I told him that it would be a bare-bone journey.

John Muir called the Sierras that he loved to wander through ‘the Range of Light.’

I thought I would add a black and white photo to provide a different perspective on the mountains I will be hiking through. During heavy snow years, which this one isn’t, the passes can be covered with snow and the stream filled with fast flowing water, adding another element of danger to the trip.

This is a view of some of my trekkers making their way over a snow filled pass, carefully. Slipping could have led to a fall of several hundred feet.

In this photo, Peggy makes her way across a fast flowing stream. Water is powerful. It is easy to be swept off your feet. Two through-hikers drowned last year in the southern Sierras.

The incredible beauty of the High Sierra makes the journey worthwhile, however. Always.

Alpenglow lights up a peak.

The view coming down from the John Muir Pass and hiking into Le Conte Canyon. I sprained my ankle once following Peggy as she ‘ran’ down the mountain and ended up hiking 80 miles on it.

Eventually my journey this summer will come to an end as I reach Mt. Whitney. Peggy is pointing out where it is.

This is my 16-year-old nephew Jay Dallen on top of Mt. Whitney. Jay joined me for the last portion of a hike I did from Lake Tahoe to Whitney to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2003. Jay is hoping to join me again this year.

I’ll conclude my preview with this photo looking down from Mt. Whitney.

Peggy and I are out this week backpacking the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. It is both an opportunity to check out our gear and continue our conditioning program. It is also a test to see what kind of sense of humor my 75-year-old body has. Wish me luck! (grin) I’ll respond to comments and check in on your blogs when we return.

FRIDAY’S POST: What factors in your youth led you to choose the path you have chosen to follow in your adult life? I explore some of mine as part of my MisAdventure series.

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

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Kodiak Island… Where the Bears Grow BIG… Alaska

A Kodiak bear was on hand to greet us when our float plane landed on Frazier Lake in the remote backcountry of Kodiak Island. Our guide suggested that we stay on the plane. It was a strong suggestion.

 

We drove up the Alaska Highway for a reason: to visit out son Tony, his wife Cammie and their three sons, Connor, Chris and Cooper on Kodiak Island. Kodiak lies off of the Southwest Coast of Alaska and is the second largest island in the US. Only the island of Hawaii is larger. Our son, Tony, was flying helicopters on rescue missions for Coast Guard at the time. We left our van with friends in Anchorage and flew over to the island. The kids had a number of fun things lined out for us to do.

Google map showing the location of Kodiak Island.

One happened to be a float plane trip across the island to watch the large Kodiak bears living around the remote Frazier Lake. We were excited about the trip. Kodiak bears come close to matching Polar bears in size and the big males can weigh up to 1500 pounds. Watching them fish for salmon would be a treat. The flight over and back would also provide us with an opportunity to see the island. I am going to feature the trip over and back in today’s post— and add in our first encounter with a Kodiak bear. It decided to show up before we got off the plane! Next Monday, I’ll focus in on the bears. The following Monday I’ll throw in a little salmon and halibut fishing. Welcome to Kodiak Island, as beautiful as it is remote.

Float planes are the major way to get into remote locations in Alaska. I had flown on them several times when I lived in the state.

One of the advantages of flying bush planes is how close they fly to the ground. We actually used them for planning out some of the treks I led in Alaska.

Our pilot flew us over the lower elevations on our way to Frazier Lake. There was snow, of course, but mainly the land was an Ireland green.

This peak hanging out above the green hills caught my attention.

Flying over a braided river that is so typical of Alaska.

More rocky terrain. It looks like granite to me. Mountains loom in the distance.

Our first view of Frazier Lake. We would land on the lower end and hike up the river to see the bears. The site was just above the zig-zag in the river.

Flying into the lake.

Our float plane after it landed.

Another view.

Getting off the plane was another issue. This fellow was fishing next to where we landed.

It walked over to our plane and checked out the tether line.

Eventually, it climbed into the water and swam away. Note to ourselves: Don’t try to get away from bear by swimming.

We watched as it climbed out on the opposite shore as we prepared to hike up the river to the main bear watching area. I’ll feature a lot more bears next Monday, lots of them including some really cute cubs, but for today I want to show the more mountainous part of Kodiak that we saw on our return trip to the float plane base.

Our flight back to the float plane base took us across Kodiak’s more mountainous terrain. Glaciers are working their way down the mountains.

There is a lot of Kodiak that I would enjoy backpacking through, but I’ll leave this to the mountain climbers.

I’ll conclude today with this view of the mountains framed by the snow and a glacier.

FRIDAY’S POST: The Mekemson kids are up to more mischief.

MONDAY’S POST: We continue our journey rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Bears and more bears on Kodiak Island.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

From the Canadian Border to Anchorage… Alaska Highways

Matanuska Glacier is one of the sights along the road from the Canadian/Alaskan Border to Anchorage.

I lived in Alaska for three years between 1983-86. While the organization I was executive director of was in Anchorage, I wandered over much of the state, backpacking in numerous areas including Gates Of the Arctic National Park, kayaking in places like Prince William Sound and cross-country skiing, which included a trek into Denali National Park where we camped out in 30 (34 C) degrees below zero weather. You go to bed with your shoes and a hot water bottle! The beauty and wildness of the state is legendary. Yes, there are insects galore, big bears with sharp teeth, moose, and wolves. But they come with the territory.

Our drive from the Canadian Border to Anchorage was much tamer, but the beauty was there, as you can see from the following photos.

Speaking of wildlife, we spotted this beauty at the King Mountain Lodge. Can wildlife get much wilder?

Bright fields of fireweed contrasted with the darkness of black spruce along the road.

The road continued to wind among almost mystical mountains.

This mountain is part of Wrangle St. Elias National Park, one of the most remote and untamed national parks in the world.

This cache is a bit on the fancy side, more for tourists than keeping out the bears that want to raid your food supplies. But you get the idea.

More mountains…

Glacial rivers are gray from the rock ground off of mountains.

Another view of Matanuska Glacier.

I really liked this view of mountains along the highway.

More mountains. These with a different look.

An appropriately painted house along the route.

The bar at King Mountain Lodge. Road houses were once common along the highway, and necessary to accommodate travelers who couldn’t travel long distances over the rough highways on a given day. Most were quite colorful, and often filled by interesting characters. King Mountain continues to provide an interesting place to stop.

Peggy found this motorcycle inside. The owner, seeing her interest, took her out for a spin.

A photo of Libby Riddles was on the wall. Libby was the first woman to win the Iditarod, the world-famous sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. And she did it while I was in Anchorage. I called her and asked if she would be spokesperson for my organization. She agreed. I picked her up at the airport where she had just returned from a photo-shoot with Vogue Magazine and we spent a couple of days together as we ran around to all of the local media.

A shot of Libby and me sharing a laugh in the mid-80s.

I found this lovely pond on the edge of the highway.

These are the mountains that backed up to my home in Anchorage. I could be up in them in 30 minutes and would often go on hikes after work. One of my trips was a 25-mile day hike where I came out in this canyon. It included crossing a fairly substantial glacial river where I had to save my hiking companion from being swept away.

I’ll conclude with this sunset. In next Monday’s post I will take you off to the island of Kodiak for  a visit with brown bears!

FRIDAY’S POST: The Mekemson kids are at it again and a railroad detective shows up at out house to accuse my brother of dark deeds, which fortunately, he didn’t do.

MONDAY’S POST: We continue our 18 day trip by raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

A Strange Cave Creature… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 10

Peggy Mekemson at Deer Creek Falls in Grand Canyon

Peggy standing next to Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon.

 

“It is especially cold in the rain tonight. The little canvas we have is rotten and useless; the rubber ponchos have all been lost; we have not a blanket apiece. We build a fire; but the rain, coming down in torrents, extinguishes it, and we sit up all night on the rocks, shivering…” From the diary of the one-armed John Wesley Powell on the night of August 17, 1869 during his epic exploration of the Grand Canyon.

 

Well, there are ADVENTURES and there are adventures. Today I will focus on our 8th, 9th and 10th days on the Colorado River. There are rapids, but nothing to write home about. In camp, the fabled heat of the Grand Canyon makes an appearance, so we put up a sun shelter and snooze. It’s a bit of a climb up to Christmas Tree Cave, maybe 10 minutes. We do, however find a very strange creature there, something that might give you nightmares. We stop to admire Deer Creek Falls and then climb up the Deer Creek Canyon, which is much more of a climb than it was to the cave, but a natural Jacuzzi greets us at the top. The water is cold. Things are tough, right? As I said, there are ADVENTURES and then there are adventures. (Grin.) I let photos tell today’s story.

We do run into rapids every few miles, but mainly the water is calm and beautiful. (Photo by Don Green.)

Rowing is a given, lots of it, but unless we are rowing against the wind or maneuvering through rapids, the river does much of the work.

Don caught this interesting face along the way. (Photo by Don Green.)

Take a cold beer or two, add in a warm sun, comfy chairs, and shade, it’s time for a snooze.

With the trip half over, it’s time to check in on how we are faring. This is me…

And this is Peggy. I can only wonder how she does it.

Our camp that evening…

And in the early morning light.

Looking up at the entrance to Christmas Tree cave. The name derives from a crystalline structure that looks something like a Christmas tree.

Okay, imagine you are alone and making your way through a large, semi-dark cave when you suddenly come face to face with this cave troll. The Christmas Tree, BTW, is to the right of Tom.

I really like the perspective on the size of the cave in this photo that Peggy took.

Deer Creek Falls was a treat. Hiking up the Deer Creek trail provided more delights.

Like the natural Jacuzzi.

It was a tad cold.

Bone was probably the least bothered by the cold of any of us. Maybe it was his warm vest. Tom and Don make a hand off. Bone wanted to leap off on his own but we were afraid that the creek might carry him away!

Deer Creek had cut its way into the soft sandstone, creating a min-Grand Canyon of its own.

Which led Peggy and me to take numerous photos.

Waterfalls along Deer Creek.

And another opportunity to rest. Check out the shade on the left.

Our final photo of the day. Looking down on the Colorado River from the Deer Creek trail.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We arrive in Alaska on the Alaska Highway. Now we will be making our way from the Canadian Border to Anchorage. Be prepared for glaciers!

FRIDAY’S POST: The MisAdventure series. The railroad detective comes to visit. Were the Mekemson kids guilty of tearing apart a railroad trestle? Tune in on Friday.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave