Archive for the ‘UNPUBLISHED OUTDOOR WRITING’ Category


March 30, 2019

As soon as I took a step towards the other side of the trail, right behind a crew member starting his chain saw, I knew it was a bad move. Oh well, I jumped quickly to the brush on the other side of the trail just I heard the chain saw roar behind me.  That was stupid, I thought, and I won’t do that again. I was carrying an axe and a hard plastic wedge, and my job was helping the sawyer by being ready to pound the wedge into the top cut to keep it open and keep the saw from binding.  But I should have waited before going to the other side.  

For the second straight week, we were clearing trail out by the Middle Fork Ranger Station near Oakridge.  The Wren Trail was normally a short, easy walk, but scores of large old growth and other trees had been brought down by the winter storm that shut down the county for a week, and the prior week the smaller chain saws used were limited in what could be cleared.

Today, we had cleared a couple of dozen big trees, 2+ feet in diameter, 200+ year-old Western hemlocks with a few Douglas firs and Western red cedars as well.  The trail was open for use again, and we were finishing a spur trail to a nearby road, making several cuts in a downed Douglas fir. It had been a good day, and the eight of us felt good about what we had done.  Nobody got hurt, although one man with whom I was working had a log brush his knee brace.

Before, during, and after. Each area that is cleaned needs to be planned, each log has to have its cut planned, and we need to be better at planning how we will get the logs off the trail. Near Middle Fork Ranger District office, Westfir, Oregon.

Shortly before we drove home, we gathered for a “tailgate session.”  I had been out more than thirty times with this group, and while we did morning tailgate safety sessions, this was the first afternoon one I had encountered. 

One of the two leaders, an experienced man in his 70s, who had spent decades cutting, looked around at all of us.  He looked at me, and then again at others, and I knew what was coming.  He finally looked at me again:

“You,” he said, pointing his finger at me, but not menacingly, “went around the saw as it was being started.  That is the worst possible time to do it.” The sawyer next to him with whom I had been working the whole day nodded agreement.

I don’t know who was looking at me, but I’m sure everyone else was.  I hadn’t been dressed down in public in a long, long time, and it stung.

“As soon as I went, I knew it was wrong,” I stammered.  And I heard again that saws starting up are most unstable.  That I didn’t know.  But I knew I was wrong.

The group discussed a few other things about safety, at least not involving me, but not involving any one individual.  I wasn’t going to say anything more, a decent approach, but I decided I would anyway.

“We need to stop and think before pushing logs off the trail that have just been cut,” I said.  This has been an issue on many of the outings I have been on, and it bothered me.  “I want to help, but if I’m not sure what the plan is, I am not going to hurt myself moving something until I get into position.”

Nobody said much. I’d seen far too many people in the woods push, lift, pull, or otherwise move logs without proper lifting care.  We were all old; sooner or later, bad technique causes problems.  Even good technique can.  I hurt my knee last summer by pushing in a way I thought was appropriate, but with which my knee disagreed.  I said probably the most important thing of all, although I didn’t appreciate it until later, and the others may not have even noticed: “we need to pay as much attention to moving the downed logs as we do to cutting therm.”

The worst thing that happened?  Being called “You.” He didn’t even know my name. I have worked with this man at least a dozen different days in the woods.  I’ve ridden in his vehicle three times 2 hours to a place and 2 hours back.  I talked to him at a benefit for the Crew at a bar because he was standing by himself and I didn’t see anybody else familiar.  OK, some people are bad at names, and I am one, so I wrote my name on the back of my hardhat.  He didn’t take the effort to know whom he was criticizing.

He should have taken me aside right then in the woods and told me why I did what I did was wrong.  That’s how you learn. Then, he could mention it at the tailgate briefing as something he has seen. I would have known it was about me, but I would not have been shamed. Instead, I felt “I’m once again at the bottom of the experience ladder and everybody else knows I’m a screwup and I shouldn’t come out here any more with the group and I just want to go home.”

If nothing else, he could have at least asked my name.

He didn’t.  He dressed me down in public, which my father and the military both taught me you never, ever do.  On board my ship, I heard a lot of yelling behind closed doors, and I saw chastened people afterwards, looking like they had been through a verbal wringer, but they at least had the dignity—yes, the dignity—of knowing that nobody else saw the scene.

Medical training was full of public dressing downs.  Woe to the physician, who, after having been up all or most of the night, didn’t have all the lab tests or a complete differential diagnosis on a patient right at his (usually his) fingertips.  It stings.  It can bring tears.

I saw a public dressing down of one of my classmates at New Mexico State when I was in grad school, and as one not involved in the issue, I felt so uncomfortable that I wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere else—at that time.  It was really ugly, and until this issue in the woods, I had repressed that day some twenty years ago.

When there is a dressing down, here are the reactions:

1. Try to become perfect, even if it is impossible, because perfection avoids mistakes, and mistakes are bad, bad, bad.  Rational? Of course not. But this is not a rational matter; it’s a deeply emotional one.

2.  Defend by attacking.  This same person who didn’t know my name was cutting a log a few weeks ago and not wearing a hard hat.  I deleted the picture I took of him. We don’t want to show that stuff.  We had too many people working in too small of a space today. That was unsafe, and nobody spoke up. We don’t lift properly, as I mentioned earlier. I did at least try to speak up, but it went nowhere. But none of that absolves me from my error, and bringing up examples of other errors is distracting and wrong.

3.  Stick to yourself, stay quiet, stay out of the way.

4.  Hide the error if possible.  A lot of doctors hide errors, because the ultimate dressing down in public—malpractice trial, which I have gone through—is intellectual rape

I’ll still work trails.  I know with whom I will try to work, however, and with whom I will try not to.  I’m a volunteer, after all, and while I’m not experienced at trail work, I’m not a beginner any longer or even a novice.  I go out to be in the woods, try to make current trails accessible again, and do good. I can go alone if I wish.

I’m a natural teacher.  Today, when the young woman at the drug store couldn’t make change properly, and I had to patiently explain the transaction to her two different ways, I did not berate her.  She felt badly enough and apologized for her lack of math.  I told her quietly not to worry about it.  If she’s good, she will worry about it, and she will get better,  but at least it was between me and her.  Nobody else.


January 31, 2015

I was surprised meteorologists apologized for a “blown forecast” for New York City’s snowstorm.  Here was one forecast:

January 25: The New York City area is forecast to see a foot or more of heavy snow. Blizzard conditions are possible.  Parts of eastern and southern New England, including Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine have the potential to see up to 2 feet of snow. Locally more than 2 feet of snow may fall, particularly in eastern Massachusetts. The snow will be accompanied by blizzard or near-blizzard conditions.  Forecast to see a foot or more of heavy snow.  Blizzard conditions are possible.  They did not say “probable”.

Another headline said “NYC bracing for up to 3 feet of snow.”  Later in the story, there was a comment that the amount predicted was more in the 20-30 inch range.  That is a lot less. Most of the city got less than a foot, but NYC received snowfall.  New England received what was predicted.  This is not a blown forecast.  It is taking the upper estimate, overhyping it, then complaining when it isn’t exactly right.  As a physician, the famous 44,000 to 98,000 deaths caused by medical errors every year (very out of date data, now) was rounded to 100,000, and that figure was used almost exclusively.  If one allows 100,000, one must equally allow 44,000.  Neither is good, but the example is important.

I watched The Weather Channel the night of the storm, where one of the weather models predicted that NYC would get 3-5 inches.  While that model was discounted, a model did predict the storm correctly.  

A significant weather event was forecasted and it occurred.  I think the problem is how uncertainty is handled in both the scientific and lay communities.  Uncertainty to a scientist allows for a range of possibilities, since weather cannot be predicted completely accurately, and one of those possibilities affected a lot of people.  Uncertainty to the general public too often means, “They don’t have any idea what they are talking about.”

Worse, the so-called “blown forecast” had comments from those who feel climate is not changing.  After all, the headline postulated, if you can’t predict a snowstorm 2 days in advance, why should we believe you about 100 year forecasts?  More on this later.

Years ago, a leading weatherman on the Tucson news suddenly changed his forecasts from 5 days to 7.  He had used 5 day forecasts, because he felt there was too much uncertainty out 7 days.  I wrote him to ask why he had changed.  He replied that he had been to a conference of TV Weathermen and learned that the general public wanted 7 day forecasts.

So?  Why should we accede to their wishes by giving them a lot of potentially wrong information?

There are many weather models; some are better than others for certain conditions or in certain years.  “The GFS has been trending wetter than reality this year,” is not an uncommon statement.  The other issue is with a weather system, a shift in the track of 50 miles makes a huge difference, as we have learned with hurricanes…..and low pressure systems.  Had Katrina come ashore 50 miles further east, it is likely that the surge of water from Lake Pontchartrain would not have flooded the city.  Had the current low pressure system been 50 miles closer to NYC, nobody would be complaining about the forecast, only the outcome.

There is a big problem in America about understanding probability, and it doesn’t help to have “I’m not a scientist” mentality in Congress and “math is nerdy” mentality in the country.  Weather forecast apps give exact temperature and probability of rain per hour, which to me is ludicrous.  They give exact temperatures for 10 days in the future, which is nonsense.  People believe these forecasts, because the idea of a range of temperatures is foreign to them (“can’t you be exact?”) and the fact that weather models may miss initial conditions that lead to major changes, especially when they are trying to model the ocean.

I have studied weather models 16 days in the future model rainfall in Oregon.  During that time, I have seen waffling of the models, putting high pressure anywhere from the Great Basin to the Eastern Pacific.  The storm expected next weekend, as I write, was on and off the models for several days, before the last 5 days, when it has consistently been present, but the expected severity of rainfall is not consistent.  Still, I see forecast rainfalls to the nearest hundredth of an inch over a wide swath of Oregon and Washington.  This is senseless.  Five days before the forecast discussions, I have been predicting a major weather pattern change for Oregon next weekend.  Only when the models were in agreement about 8 days out, did the local weather discussions start to mention the pattern change as a possibility.  Today, the discussion said the models were in surprising agreement about the rain event, but not exactly where it will be maximal.

Climate is very different, for all the weather changes over decades are smoothed out, and one can become quite confident what the overall picture looks like. It’s like tossing a coin.  You know that 50% of the time it will come up heads, but you could be 50% wrong on the first toss.  Do it 10 times, and the probability of exactly 5 heads actually decreases, but the probability of 4,5,and 6, are about 65%.  Already, the probability is trending towards 50%.  The probability of 0 heads is less than 0.1%.

Indeed, as you increase the number of tosses, the percentages trend closer and closer to 50%,  as to be insignificantly different.  Climate models work this way, too.  No, we can’t predict the number of snowstorms NYC will have in 2100.  We can predict, however, the range of temperature rise on the Earth and the range of rise in the oceans.  We can also predict the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  These ranges have very high confidence, a statistical term meaning the likelihood of an unknown value, such as increase in global temperature in the year 2100, could be in a range of values, none of which is zero or negative, if we are 95% confident.   I have never seen a confidence interval (CI) quoted by someone who denies global warming is occurring.  The IPCC’s confidence has been known for years.  CIs are a scientist’s way of saying, “I might be wrong.”

Next hurricane season, look at the cone of uncertainty for hurricane motion. So many models are used that they are called “spaghetti plots.”  One could go back to the days of prayer and magical thinking, or one could look at the GFS, ECMWF, or NOGAPS, to name three. With a great deal of ease, one can have an idea of what the weather may be like several days in advance.  It’s worth learning about uncertainty; after all, it is the basis of our existence.


Below:  GFS Model showing precipitation (purple), heavier (blue and green) along with the 1000-500 mb thickness (one measurement of high and low pressure).  This is 6 days out, at 12 Z 6 February, or 4 a.m. Friday.  It shows that the Pacific Northwest is going to be wet, and northern California may get a strong shot of rain.  Notice the rain in the southeast and off the east coast.  The GFS has a panel of 10 days, with 1/2 day intervals.  The GFS has been showing this for several days, but the focus of the heavy rain has not been consistent.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.04.52 PM


January 26, 2015

OK, I’ll admit it, I am a little competitive about hiking.  But only a little.  I don’t trail run.  I tried to do a fast trail walk once, and it was a killer.  Like many things I do, I am good but not great.  I don’t do anything really well except maybe work with numbers.  That and a couple of bucks will get me coffee.

When I joined the Obsidian hiking group, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but on the first hike to Rooster Rock, climbing 2300 feet in a few miles, I stayed with the lead group.  When the other group rejoined, we had a 20-30% grade the rest of the way.  One guy led, and I just stayed behind him.  I let him go first, but I talked all the way up.  I sort of did that on purpose.  It was a nice way to say I was not in the “red zone,” that I could talk and hike up a steep hill at the same time.  I did that once on a bike, too, and I had it done a lot to me.  It’s a bit demoralizing to be completely breathless and have a guy or gal come by you talking away as if they were out for a stroll.

Obsidians at Rooster Rock. I am sitting, front row.

Later in the summer, at Black Crater, just east of McKenzie Pass,  one of the guys came up behind me, when I was leading, and I stepped aside, so he could go up.  He has been known to run up the trail, although this one was steep enough that after he opened a 100 meter gap on me, it stayed there.  I was fine with it. I liked my pace, and I enjoyed the hike up.  I really don’t need to lead, but if I am last, I want to be the “sweep,” the guy who takes care of any problems in the rest of the group.

View from atop Black Crater. Smoke from wildfires.

View of Sisters from Black Crater. Smoke from wildfires.

When it comes to my hiking portfolio, however, I wanted last summer to build my Oregon one quickly.  Still, there are trails that have yet to see my feet.  On that Rooster Rock hike, another hiker told me about some loop hike I needed to do in the summer.  He said it was fantastic, but I couldn’t remember the name.

One week, I did 4 hikes in 5 days, a lot, even by my standards.  I was a bit tired on Monday and Tuesday and took the days off.  I was going to hike Thursday to either Middle Pyramid or Browder Ridge, a couple of good, reasonable tough hikes. The following Sunday, I was going to lead an Obsidian Loop Hike, my first time as a hike leader.  As I was checking on how many had signed up for my hike, I saw the name, and it clicked:  Opie Dilldock, 14 miles, 2800 feet elevation gain, high in the Cascades.  Opie Dilldock is a high pass on the Pacific Crest Trail.

That was the hike I needed to do, except it was on the Monday after my Obsidian Loop Hike, and I was busy.  I can’t hike all the time.

I knew the hike needed a permit, however, so I checked to see if anything was available on the previous Friday or Thursday.  No.  But there were 12 permits available on Wednesday, a lot, considering there are only 30 allotted each day.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.   I could scout the Obsidian Loop Hike I was going to lead and see Collier Cone.  Wow, what a loop.  Wildflowers would be out, and I didn’t know when I would get another chance.

I couldn’t really go on Wednesday.  It was too soon after all my hiking the previous week.  At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 permits were available.  No problem, I thought, let me wait.  At 6:30, three permits were available.  I signed up online.  This is crazy, but a hiking portfolio is a portfolio, and I was going to hear later how great the hike was and wish I had done it.  My wife was out of town, the errands I had to do Wednesday could wait until Thursday, and I was going.

By 9:10 the next morning, I was on the Obsidian Loop Trail, expecting 16 miles, not 14.  I walked steadily and did the 3 mile wooded part to the volcanic region in 50 minutes.  So far, so good.  I found the trail after that, which had been under snow a month prior, and continued uphill to Obsidian Falls, 1700 feet above where I started.  I was about  6 miles in and had plenty of time.  Ten miles to go.

Obsidian Falls

Obsidian Falls

Or so I thought.

The trail dropped about 100 meters, which was a little discouraging, because I knew I would have to climb it and more.  On the other hand, I was seeing alpine lakes that in July were just beginning to thaw.  The place where I climbed in snow was somewhere, but it sure wasn’t on the trail I was on.  I hadn’t seen any of this trail back in early July.

I left the Obsidian Loop portion and headed down more and then upwards, toward Collier Cone.  I was in volcanic area now, soil like rocky ball bearings, slippery, as I started some serious switchbacking up.  It reminded me of the Grand Canyon.  Snow was to my right, and after a long climb, I saw what looked like the top of a ridge. I crested the ridge, and—wowwww— there was Collier Cone, a lake, two glaciers calving ice bergs into it.  I was 10 miles into the hike, had lunch, and figured not only would this hike be more than 14 miles, it would be more than 16.  A lot more.  I still had to get to Four in One Cone, 4 1/2 miles from the road, which led back to the original trailhead.

Collier Cone, 7200 feet (2200 m.). It is 2400 feet above the starting point, and there is a lot of downhill, so the total elevation gain is more than 3000 feet (900 m)

Collier Cone, 7200 feet (2200 m.). It is 2400 feet above the starting point, and there is a lot of downhill, so the total elevation gain is more than 3000 feet (900 m)

Mt. Jefferson

Smoke clearly visible.

Pacific Crest Trail north of Opie Dilldock pass, looking north.

Pacific Crest Trail north of Opie Dilldock pass, looking north.

Time to get moving.  I was soon on the Pacific Crest Trail, a hiker about 1/2 mile behind me and three ahead of me.  I caught up with the latter at the Scott Trail, my route back to the road.  The PCT hikers had “the look”.  It is hard to describe, but it is the stare of somebody who has been on his or her own for a while, seen things the rest of us won’t, has had a rough time out in the wilderness, but wouldn’t have it any other way, and is doing the hike for a reason, usually private.  I know this, because I have section-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I’ve had “the look,” too.  I had seen things others never would, been hot, cold, wet, dry, exhausted, exhilarated, happy to see people, happier to be alone, hurting, not hurting, and caring only for my body and my gear, in that order.

Time to get back to the car.  I walked past Four and One Cone, where I had been 4 days earlier, back on familiar trail, found a shortcut to the car, and finished in under 6 hours.  I didn’t care about my speed.  I saw a lot.  It was a tough hike but a good hike.  I would get some junk food on the drive home.

Opie Dilldock is now part of my portfolio.  Really, really good hike.

All nineteen miles of it.


December 18, 2014

“Well,” the woman commented in an moderately annoyed voice, “that wasn’t much of a lunch.”

We were at the eastern end of the Cummins Creek Wilderness trail, an east-west out and back of about six and a quarter miles.  I led the trip with six others, all of us members of the Obsidians, a local hiking group.  There is a similar group in Salem and one in Portland.  Non-members are welcome; they pay $5; members pay $1.  We carpool; the driver gets 9 cents a mile from each rider.  I like to drive; many don’t and sleep on the way back from the trail.

After three hikes as a non-member, one may become a member.  One of the more active members, seven years my senior, pushed for me to become a leader of a hike. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it, but I did about 35 hikes on my own, learning the country, and led my first one 4 months ago into the Obsidian Loop, a beautiful Cascade hike.

I solo hiked the Cummins Creek Wilderness last June and saw nobody on the 12.5 mile out and back trip.  It climbs 1300 feet net, and another 400 feet of descent during the hike has to be re-climbed, so it ranks as a “moderate” hike by Obsidian standards.

It was the holiday season, so I didn’t expect many to sign up, especially since this was a hike without views of either the mountains or the coast.  Still, there were seven of us who were on the trail by 9:45, on the central Oregon Coast, just below 1000 feet elevation.

The group split up quickly.  There was only one minor trail junction, so I stopped to make sure everybody went the right direction.  I gave people “free rein,” to go at their own pace.  It soon became obvious that we were strung out over about a mile of the trail. I wasn’t too concerned, other than the fact some would wait at the turn around point, and others might have less of a break, since days are short in Oregon in December, and we wanted to drive back while still light.

The weather was cooler than expected, with a brisk east wind.  We all carry day packs with the “10 essentials”.  None of us expect to camp out, but bad things can happen.

I got to the turnaround point just before noon.  I had waited on the way about 10 minutes to see the next person behind me.  I was third to arrive; the other two had been waiting for about 10 minutes.  I knew lunch would be brief for the last pair; since we had to hike back it would be at least 2 hours’ walk.  I told the two there and the next arrival to start eating lunch if they wished.  Ten minutes later, everybody had arrived, and we started eating lunch.


Cummins Creek Wilderness in June 2014

Cummins Creek Wilderness in June 2014


Old forest service road that is being allowed to grow back. Cummins Creek Wilderness; June 2014.


Five minutes later, the person who arrived first announced that he was going to “start back.” This was fine; we are pretty informal, and I am a new leader, leading my fifth hike.  Four others, becoming cold, since the low sun had disappeared into a cloud bank, decided they would start back as well.  It was then I got the comment about the short lunch.  Reluctantly, the commenter got up and began hiking.  I waited, looked around for anything left behind, and started back.  I don’t have to be last on a hike.  If I know a person is experienced, knows the trail, I have no problem leaving them.  On this hike, however, I wanted to be “the sweep,” so if somebody had trouble, I would be available.  My GPS had read 3.2 mph underway on the way out, and I was looking to arrive at the cars about 2:30 or even 3, depending upon the person in front of me, who was disappointed about the lunch time.

Obsidian hiker, Cummins Creek Wilderness, December 2014

Obsidian hiker, Cummins Creek Wilderness, December 2014


Field of Sword Ferns, looking down from the spine of the ridge


View of the Oregon Coast from Cummins Ridge Wilderness, near the transition zone from Sitka Spruce to Douglas Firs.


Quickly, I started closing the gap.  Nearing her, I stopped, took some pictures, since I neither wanted to pass nor hike at her pace.  She disappeared from sight, but I closed the gap again, and did the same.  On a previous hike near this area last week, she had stayed with the group.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I wasn’t going to say anything, either.  Why was she going so slowly?

I remained silent, often sitting for 3 minutes by the clock, allowing her to get further ahead.  As I sat, I discovered that while there were no “views,” I noticed more, a a huge field of sword ferns, Oregon Ash and a few Western Cedars at 2000 foot elevation.   I continued hiking, stopping again, until we got to the half way point back.  As I stopped, I started noticing the subtle change in the forest, as we approached the coast.  There was a remarkably sharp transition zone into water loving, wind tolerant Sitka Spruce and sun loving Douglas Firs. Both were huge, but clearly there were all Sitkas at one end of the trail and all “Dougs” at the other end.  An hour into the return, I looked at my GPS.

She was making 2.9 mph good.  She wasn’t at all slow.  She wasn’t holding anybody up.  The others were walking a lot faster.  I said aloud, “I’m with a bunch of rabbits.”  Indeed, my underway speed was 3.4 mph.  This translated to a 30-plus minute difference in finishing, and the person who left early not only was ahead on that basis, he was walking fast.

I had thought for an hour that the woman was slow.  I was wrong. Facts proved me wrong.  Two miles from the end, I passed her, knowing now it was safe.  Ten minutes later, I encountered others on the hike, reaching the car 2 hours after leaving the east trailhead.  The fastest person was sitting in his vehicle.  By 2:45, we were on the road back to Eugene.  We had a partly sunny day on the coast; in Eugene, the fog never did clear.

I saw a lot more of the forest than I expected to, each time I sat down for a few minutes and let the woman go ahead.  I was alone among the trees and the wind, in one of the special areas in this country—wilderness.  I also learned something:  just because somebody lags behind doesn’t mean they are slow.  The woman had 30 more minutes in the wilderness than the man who walked back fast and sat in the car.  Hopefully, both were happy with the outcome.  Perhaps the man thought the hike was too slow; the woman felt the lunch break was too short.

What I do know is that I showed six others a part of Oregon they hadn’t seen, which I now have seen twice.  How they viewed it was their business.  How I viewed it taught me something about the Cummins Creek Wilderness, speed, and not being too quick to judge somebody who appears to be too slow.  Maybe the others are excessively fast.

It’s all about relativity.  And getting the facts.


December 2, 2014

Sometimes on social media, one writes something and gets slammed.  Last week, I was both slammer and slamme.  When a woman likened the riots in Ferguson as having to do with liberals.  I took offense, replying that as a liberal, I believed in the rule of law.  If one does not like a law, one must work to change it.  I said the freeway near her house was paid by our taxes, a liberal concept that we need government to pay for things too big for individuals to handle themselves.  I suspected I paid more taxes than she.  I threw in my being a veteran as well, since some think that liberals don’t serve in the military.  Dick Cheney didn’t.

I didn’t know all the facts.  Sadly, her husband had been laid off.  While trying to hunt deer for meat, since they needed food, people drove by shooting off guns to scare deer away.  I don’t like hunting, but most hunters are conservationists, and we share a deep love of the land.  Subsistence hunting is different from trophy hunting.  Hunters must buy Duck Stamps, which every environmentalist should, too.  The woman apologized, and I accepted it.  She’s having a rough time, and I hope she gets back on her feet soon.  I did not levy any more cheap shots; I didn’t comment that unemployment insurance was a liberal idea.  I don’t kick people who are down.

This week, I got slammed on My Stealthy Freedom page, for a comment I thought fairly innocuous.  It bummed me out for a couple of days, and I was puzzled by the behavior of the commenter.  I eventually let it go, but I will comment far less; I don’t like being slammed.

I never, however, expected to get slammed by my older brother, who occasionally writes me, usually on my birthday.  But he weighed in the other day, when I posted that it happened to be the 140th anniversary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill, who is my hero.

I know full well that Sir Winston was an imperfect man.  All of us are.  I am imperfect as hell, and frankly, so is my brother.  Sir Winston drank, had a streak of nastiness in him, but was one of the great writers and orators of the 20th century, and an absolute master of the English language.

I begin with my favorite quotation, because it shows both sarcasm and nastiness, two of my major flaws:

“Sir Winston, if you were my husband, I’d give you poison.”

“Lady Astor, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

But let’s get serious:  Churchill was prescient.  He knew war was coming, well before others, and when things went south in a hurry, he came forth with leadership, knowledge, speeches evoking the stunning beauty of the English language, and predicted closely what would happen.  “Wars are not won by evacuations,” called attention to the luck and leadership that kept Dunkirk from becoming a major disaster.  Many of his words, his incredible words, still ring in my head today.  The forward, “Their Finest Hour,” the second of six volumes about the war:  “How the English people held on, alone, until those who had hitherto been half blind, were half ready.”  If there has been a better use of the word “hitherto” in the English language, I have yet to see it.  “So if the British Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say ‘This….was their finest hour.’ “

On the invasion of North Africa:  “This is not the end.  This is not the beginning of the end.  It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  The Italian campaign in 1943:  “The fate of this part of the world is being decided by some things called LSTs.”  I, too, was a Navy man.  Absolutely spot on.  Churchill pushed for invasion of southern Europe, which had it been done, would likely have kept much of Eastern Europe out of the Soviet sphere of influence.  It would have been a different world.

To be fair, I need to quote my brother directly:

Serious? Sure, he was a great leader in WWII, but he needed that war as much as it needed him. One definitely gets the idea that if there had been no war, he would have tried to start one, just so he could earn personal glory. That was basically what happened in Gallipoli in WWI.   My point was that Churchill would have been a historical nobody had he died before he was 65.  He lived past 65, however, when history gave him an opportunity to take the leading role on the world’s stage.

I have little doubt he would have dropped the bomb had he been in Truman’s shoes.   I never knew that my brother felt that way about the Bomb (My sarcasm comes forth here; it is “Bomb,” not “bomb.”).  I would have dropped the Bomb, too.  I’ve seen Pearl Harbor, the tunnels at Corregidor, Bataan, Kwajalein, Kagoshima, where the attack on Pearl Harbor was planned, the Memorial Cemetery at Manila, the jail there where American prisoners drowned at hide tide, the guns facing the wrong way in Singapore, and Eniwetok.  The fire bombing of Tokyo in May, 1944, killed far more people than Hiroshima, horribly so, through burning.   Estimates of casualties on the American side, had we invaded the Japanese Home Islands, would have been a million.  I respect those who disagree with me.  But my shoes have walked upon hallowed ground abroad.

He just happened to be in the right place at the right time, when his belligerent nature could be put to good use.  Exactly, dear brother.  He was in the right place at the right time; he knew what to do and how to do it.  Some of us in our lives may be fortunate enough to inhabit those two dimensions simultaneously, but we don’t achieve greatness.  Churchill was absolutely the right man for the job.   It wasn’t happenstance that he said, “We are waiting for the invasion.  So are the fishes.” That is one of the few perfect uses of the -es plural for “fish” outside of the Bible.

Churchill remains my hero, because he led through words, spoken and written, as well as deeds.  His ability to perfectly command the English language makes me proud to be part of the English speaking peoples (his wrote another four volume set, “The History of the English Speaking Peoples”).  He became great when he was older than 65.  He was imperfect and nasty, but made correct predictions far ahead of his time.  Those last three traits are part of my personality.  I am imperfect, often nasty, but have been far ahead of my time in medicine.  I am no Churchill; I can neither write nor speak English as well:  “If Hitler invaded hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”

Churchill made exact predictions after the war, too. His final volume, “Triumph and Tragedy” had its forward: “How the great Democracies triumphed, and in doing so were able to resume the practices that so nearly cost them their existence.”

I may have been slightly inaccurate in my quotations, for I deliberately chose not to look them up.  They are burned into my mind.


September 20, 2014

Maxwell Butte is a 5 mile hike into the Jefferson Wilderness, climbing 2500 vertical feet to the top, just over 6200 feet.  From the Butte, one can see the high Cascades from Mt. Hood to Broken Top.  On a clear day, one might see Diamond Peak, too.  It is a steady climb, and good trail work by the Obsidian Hiking Club, of which I am a member, has made the big gouge in much of the trail a resting place for downed trees, in an effort to stem erosion.

The best part of the hike came when I least expected it.  That usually happens.  It did not come when I reached the top, nor did it come when I had a great view of Three-fingered Jack right in front of me.  It wasn’t the fact that I was alone, but that was getting close.  It had been windy all the way up, but as I came down, the wind subsided.  Completely.



Outside the wilderness, in deep forest, Douglas firs dominant, with a few Silver Firs,  I was still alone.  But, I now, I appreciated something that I had not yet experienced on this hike.



There wasn’t any wind, no sound from a bird, a squirrel, a car, another person, or a plane overhead.  There was NO SOUND.  My ears rang, it was so quiet.

I know my hearing is gradually worsening.  But the silence was not due to my hearing problems.  There was no sound, and in America today, that is a rarity.  True, one can be in a sound-proofed room or wear sound canceling headphones, but silence in the wilderness is special, for there usually is some noise in the woods.  I’ve experienced total silence in the Grand Canyon, the Boundary Waters, and the Brooks Range.  Usually, the lack of sound has come at night, but on the Maxwell Butte trail, it was in daylight.

I sat there and listened….TO NOTHING…and thought, because without sound one starts to think…..about the Silver Fir near me, the name of which I learned only the prior week on Lowder Mountain.  I thought about the soil beneath me, the beauty of the trees, hundreds of years old, the fact that I was here, had trod these woods, and nobody was near me.  I reveled in my good fortune: SILENCE, NO NOISE.

I didn’t think of the dropped cup in the coffee shop earlier that week, where the acoustics made the noise hurt.  Or how somebody moved a cart by me as if they wanted to make as much noise as possible, as often seems the case today.

I enjoy music, but there are times I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t want to hear ANYTHING, not a beep with more information that often clutters my life.  To be outdoors in silence, away from people, is special beyond words. I believe, albeit without proof, that people need this sort of silence, yet we have countered with a barrage of sound, believing constant information is what everybody needs.  It isn’t. Multi-tasking is overload.  Many of our schedules are overloaded.  I believe there is harm from the constant beeping of messages, many unimportant, programmed voices in a car, sports announcers that feel they have to keep talking, or 24 hour a day television, where “dead air” is something to  be avoided and filled with comments, whether valuable or garbage.  Why can’t we shut up for a few minutes?

A man was once separated from a tour  group in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.  He was found 36 hours later, alive and relieved.  In the cave, there is not one lumen of light.  If the cave is dry, there is no noise at all.  The man said what bothered him the most was the silence.  He cracked rocks together to make noise.  Darkness was a problem, but silence was difficult.   I don’t know if I would feel the same way, but I do label wilderness, total silence, and totally dark skies the “outdoor triad.”  We live less fulfilling lives, I believe, because many people never experience one of these three, let alone all of them together.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Light pollution has been a problem for years, affecting nature and man in nature, too.  We have lost our night sky heritage; the National Parks are trying to deal with light pollution.  Sound pollution is more insidious.  Europe doesn’t have places like the Olympic Peninsula, where the One Square Inch Project is occurring.  Excessive sound damages our hearing.  This is a fact.  It hurts other animals.  That is a fact, too.  It isn’t good for us, and the damage it does to our thinking, the believed necessity to process more information, which I don’t think healthy, is poorly recognized and the consequences not completely understood.

Eventually, a high flying jet broke the spell that I was in.  Jet engines at any altitude can be heard on the ground.

I will eventually live in a silent world, should I remove the hearing aids I will some day need to wear.  What I want now is to periodically spend time in places where there is silence, where no sound is transmitted to my cochleae.

I don’t know why at that particular moment I decided to sit on the log.  Perhaps silence ironically called me.


View from the log.  SILENT

View from the log. SILENT


September 8, 2014

The Wulik Peaks area of Alaska is separate and west from the Brooks Range  and lower, not rising much above 3600 feet (1100 meters), compared to twice that in the central Brooks and nearly thrice at the highest peak.  I hadn’t even heard of the Wuliks before this year, but when one Alaska trip to the Refuge (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) didn’t pan out, I discovered this trip, a part of the Brooks I had never seen, and one that immediately intrigued me.   Wilderness I haven’t seen intrigues me.

The advantage of living in Oregon meant that I could get there in a day, arriving in the evening, and leave on the trip the following morning, which I hadn’t been able to do on my five previous trips to the Brooks.  I did so, met the 5 other people who would be along, representing England, Germany, and the states of New Jersey and Alaska, as well as mine.  Our guide was finishing a trip in the Wuliks, and we would fly in to meet him the next day.

I had dinner with the Englishman that night, and the next morning, we all flew into the Wuliks in two planes.  It was a smooth trip, over the Noatak Delta, inland, and landing on a slight uphill rocky strip.  The planes left, and it was quiet.  There are not a lot of birds in the Brooks, especially in mid-August, and it is a very quiet place.

Noatak Delta in the morning.

Noatak Delta in the morning.


Landing spot.

Landing spot.

The guide gave us instructions on bear spray and dealing with bears, and we hiked as a group.  We covered about 5 miles the first day, typical for Alaska, camping where two creeks joined.  We would stay there two nights, doing a day hike the next day.  Hiking up here was much easier than I had been used to: we were often on caribou trails, and while caribou go places I don’t want to tread, their trails are a very useful highway.  The grass was low, dry, and the creeks and streams, all having a good amount of flowing water, were not difficult to ford.  I stayed dry, and I would have dry feet the whole time we were out there, which I never would have expected in the Brooks; it had never happened in the 50+ days I had hiked in five different parts.

The second day, we climbed in fog to the top of a mountain nearby, gaining about 1100 feet (340 meters) and having lunch in the shelter of a rocky area.  We returned to camp and then crossed the river and climbed up into another area, not as high, but with a view back to the north.  The nights were cool but not cold; heavy cloud cover limited radiational cooling, but the high humidity plus any wind made one cold.

Bear, from 800 meters. He was the only one we would see.

Bear, from 800 meters. He was the only one we would see.

People reaching summit of unnamed mountain.

People reaching summit of unnamed mountain.



The third day was the only day we saw sun, as we headed up to a divide between two streams, climbing about 700 feet (210 meters) and descending almost as much.  We set up camp on a bluff a little above a stream and then day hiked into the mountains, doing a loop that at one point reached a narrow edge with a scree slope with large rocks at a 45 degree angle.  I did not want to go on, but I allowed myself to be talked into it, crossing without incident.  That was my only regret on the trip: we had “group think,” and had I turned around, somebody would have gone with me.  The fact I could negotiate the area without incident did not make it safe, something I refer to as “Challenger thinking,”  after the 1986 disaster, which had plenty of prior warnings, but since nothing bad had happened, the warnings were not heeded.



Author on a plateau at 1800 feet (550 m)

Author on a plateau at 1800 feet (550 m)

The vastness of the Alaska mountains above the Arctic Circle

The vastness of the Alaska mountains above the Arctic Circle


We then hiked downstream to where the West Fork of the Wulik River widened and camped, climbing another 1000 foot peak nearby, without the issues of the prior day.  The fifth day, we went up another stream, through the fog, across many side channels, where there was a steep drop on uneven ground to the stream bed, followed by an equally steep climb out.  After crossing a divide between two watersheds, we camped in what was later called “rain camp,” for the moisture appeared to funnel through the mountains and turn into rain here, but not in adjacent valleys.  Indeed, as I would later learn, there was moisture funneling into the Wuliks, but the surrounding area outside the mountains was relatively dry.

West fork of Wulik River.

West fork of Wulik River.


View from unnamed mountain.

View from unnamed mountain.

Water slowly moving down a stream bed.

Water slowly moving down a stream bed.

It was a short walk from rain camp to where we were to be picked up.  We could see the stream beds, previously dry, start to flow, the water moving downstream about 1 meter a minute, slowly, but steadily.  Whether the water, and the few fish present, would reach the main river, was not clear.  With more rain, the water would make it, and the fish survive; if not, they would die.

We camped our final night in a foggy valley, where we could clearly see the moisture funneling into the area from which we had come.  We were mostly dry.  I had hoped that on the flight back, we would fly over the coast and see the musk ox, that were clearly there.  That didn’t happen, but when we landed, I spoke to the pilot, who agreed to take me and one of the people on the trip out off Cape Kreusenstern where we could see them.

And so a high point of the trip came, not in the mountains, but at sea level.  I asked for what I really wanted, and the answer was yes.


Flying over a herd of musk ox.

Flying over a herd of musk ox.

Pair of musk oxen

Pair of musk oxen


Head on from 400 meters.

Head on from 400 meters.


Much larger than I had anticipated.

Much larger than I had anticipated.


August 8, 2014

My wife thought I shouldn’t drive her to the airport; she would take the 5:30 a.m.shuttle instead.  I offered, because she could sleep longer and then sleep in the car.  She countered that she could sleep in the shuttle.  I took her anyway.

I was just rationalizing my desire to climb Mt. Henline in the Opal Creek Wilderness.

Coming back from the airport, I would go through Salem and detour to the southeast, eventually reaching the trailhead.  I had this trip planned as soon as I knew she was flying out of Portland.  I would enter the Opal Creek Wilderness, about 32 square miles, one of the nearly 700 wilderness areas that comprise about 5% of the US.  Call me selfish, but this was a place I wanted to hike, and coming back from Portland made it easier.

Only six states have no wilderness.  I’ve been in the largest, the Noatak-Gates of the Arctic contiguous wilderness, about 10,000 square miles, a tad smaller than Massachusetts. Imagine, Massachusetts with no cities, no roads, and no people, except for transient visitors.

Opal Creek is sacred ground.  The largest uncut forest in Oregon is here.  It was saved from the chain saws and the lumber mills, and it has only three trailheads from the road.  I took the one up the mountain, now my fourth of the 49 wilderness areas in Oregon I’ve visited in my four months here:  Cummins Creek, Three Sisters, and Mt. Jefferson are the others.  I have a lot of places to see.

Wilderness is not off limits to people, but mechanized travel and chain saws are not allowed.  I spent a summer volunteering in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and every bit of sawing we did was with a two man.  If the national parks are the crown jewels of the nation, which I think they are, the wilderness areas are kept in a safety deposit box.  If one is lucky, a key is made available for one to enter these areas.  Such areas may be busy, as is the Boundary Waters in August.

Henline, however, had nobody.  I was alone.

I started up the trail in a true natural forest, quickly becoming wet from sweat and fog, from the prior two days’ rain.  I climbed 850 feet per mile for the first two miles.  Fortunately, the trail was good, except for some rock slides I crossed.  I could hear rocks fall occasionally, witness to the nature’s constant change, slow but continuous.  At the top of the main climb was where an old lookout once stood.  Through breaks in the fog, I could see forest:  uncut forest, forest the way it once was, and still ought to be in many places.  Yes, logging creates jobs, but now one person can do the work that many others used to have to do.  Trees create paper, which we waste on things like false financial statements that almost brought down the world.


Rockpile in fog

Rockpile in fog

But I wasn’t having those thoughts.  I was thinking how alone I was.  No, today I would not have a view of the Cascades.  I didn’t need one.  In fog, I felt part of the place, part of the forest, part of the world I inhabited for the day only. I felt like I belonged.  I heard no cars, saw nobody, and imagined what it must have been like for the pioneers trying to get through this forest, in valleys where rivers ran unchecked, from the Cascades to the tidewater flats at the ocean, rivers called Santiam, Alsea, Siuslaw, Umpqua, and Rogue.

The summit was about another mile from the lookout, and Sullivan’s book mentioned it had no views.  Well, no views, no matter.  I was going anyway.  The trail went up and down, and some of the areas along a knife-like ridge were a little hairy.  Fall here, and nobody is going to find you for a while.  I’ve thought of that a lot at Cummins Creek.  Go into the middle of that place, and you are going to be where nobody has been in a long, long time.  Everybody would do well to have that experience from time to time.  It changes one’s perspective.

Trail in fog.

Trail in fog.

The summit was where the trail stopped.  I walked around it a little while and then returned to the former lookout, where I had lunch.  I just sat there, thinking.  I didn’t think about much, just fiddled around and did the things one does in the wilderness.  Finally, I decided it was time to leave, so I went down the trail, carefully negotiating the rock slides, to the car.  Leaving no litter and no trace was turning the key back in to Mother Nature, so the safety deposit box was locked.  There would be other visitors tomorrow or the next day, for sure; the trail had been well used.  Go into places like Cummins Creek, however, and one finds places where the trail is not very evident.  That’s good. I’d like to camp there some time.  It’d be quiet.

I eventually drove back out to the freeway and home.  I felt a little special.  Nobody on the road likely had any idea what I had done today.  I had gone into a wilderness area.  Other than a few footprints, nobody knew I was there.

This doesn’t happen every day.  Shame it doesn’t.


View from ridge

View from ridge

One of many rockfalls

One of many rockfalls

Simple sign for a special place

Simple sign for a special place


August 3, 2014

“Hardesty Hardcore,” intrigued me: an annual loop race through 3 trails in the Cascade foothills, open to anybody, with a 4 hour time cut off.  The route is 14 miles and begins with a 3000 foot climb in the first 4.5 miles.  I had hiked it once in the opposite direction, without hurrying,  in 5 hours, with a lunch stop. I thought I could do it in four, so I went out to try.  I am in good hiking shape, having hiked nearly 40 times in Oregon the past 4 months and frequently climbing well over a thousand feet, occasionally over two thousand.

I started by walking fast—too fast— becoming slightly short of breath and uncomfortable.  I slowed, and finished the initial climb in 1 hour 36 minutes.  That is pretty good for a guy my age, but at that pace I wasn’t going to finish in 4 hours, either.

I came down Eula Ridge, much steeper, so I had to watch my foot placement.  I finished that stretch two 2 hours and 45 minutes in, averaging 3.1 miles per hour, well below 3.5 mph I needed to average to make the cutoff.  The last 5.5 miles was on a trail between the two, but not at all flat; it climbed another 1000 feet, difficult on a humid day, when I had finished my water and food.  I got in just under 4 1/2 hours.

With cooler weather, an earlier start, a lighter pack, and running shoes for the last part, I might be able to make the cut.  But I don’t want to race.  I’m not sure I want to subject myself again to that stress, despite being in excellent hiking shape.  I am good but not great.  The fact that I can walk uphill on a 30% grade at 2.5 mph is nice, but I need to average 4 mph for this race, and I am not likely to do it:  I’m too old, but more importantly, it doesn’t matter.

When I was in my 30s, I got in a canoe, bound for lakes and portages I had never seen.  I camped in some of the most beautiful country imaginable, woke early, paddled hard the whole day, camped late.  I could carry pack and canoe together, and I never got sore.  Seeing the country mattered.

In my 40s, I did the same, the only difference being that I took anti-inflammatories before and after each day’s paddle.   For the first time, however, I had a neck problem, a pinched nerve, but that subsided, and I was able to continue.

In my 50s, I stopped carrying a canoe and a pack simultaneously.  I had nothing to prove and a lot I could hurt.  I started base camping, which I liked, but I still enjoyed seeing new territory.  I didn’t go as far as formerly, but I enjoyed practically every mile.


Agnes Lake, on my last trip into Kawnipi Lake, Quetico Provincial Park, 2005, age 56.

Agnes Lake, on my last trip into Kawnipi Lake, Quetico Provincial Park, 2005, age 56.  I have not been back.  I do not expect to see Kawnipi again.  It mattered that I saw it that year.  Agnes?  Seeing this picture makes me wonder….


Kawnipi Lake, 2005.  The most beautiful lake in the Quetico to many people. I have been there six times.  That matters.

Kawnipi Lake, 2005. The most beautiful lake in the Quetico to many people. I have been there six times. That matters.



Lake Insula sunset.  Having spent more than 30 nights on this beautiful lake matters.

Lake Insula sunset. Having spent more than 30 nights on this beautiful lake matters.

In my 60s, things have changed.  Many tell me that age is a number.  Those people who do are always younger than I, where one believes that the world will continue unchanged.  I still can solo trip, but I do it and base camp.

Sunset on my bay campsite, September 2013, solo.  Age 64.

Sunset on my bay campsite, September 2013, solo. Age 64.


I can make the miles if I have to, but I don’t feel the pressure to do so, either.  It doesn’t matter.  The year I turned 60, my wife and I aborted the first day’s paddle into Lake Insula, one we could normally do in 7 hours, where 40 year-olds we had spoken to said they needed three days.  We aborted the paddle in because of heavy rain.  We stopped, pitched the tent and stayed comfortable. Making Insula that day in 7 hours didn’t matter.  We made it easily the next day.  It was a great trip.

Twenty years earlier, I would have bulled on through.  Indeed, over our 25th wedding anniversary, we paddled 110 miles in 11 days with a day of rest.  One day, I portaged a canoe 15 times, a record for me.  Those trips mattered.

What will happen the next decade, if I make it that far?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the distance may stay the same, if my arms and legs are still working well, but I suspect it will decrease, and it won’t matter.  I still hope to be in the woods, away from people, enjoying the quiet, the Pileated Woodpecker’s crossing the lake by the campsite, loons, sunrise, sunset, and full Moon.

What about backpacking?  There, the clock ticks louder.  As I write this, I will soon leave for my sixth multi-day trip to the Brooks Range.  On my fifth, I carried 75 pounds with difficulty, but I did it.  I wasn’t sure I would do a sixth.  But then you see there was this trip offered to the Wulik Mountains in the far west Brooks, country I hadn’t seen, wonderful, wild country, and maybe I had one more trip in me after all.  Or two more, since I want to see ANWR’s Sheenjek’s River drainage.  Each year, backpacking requires more training.  Six weeks prior, I start carrying 25 pounds around the neighborhood, then 35, the 50, and finally 60.  This year, after hiking a lot more in spring, I started at 50 pounds, and I’ve carried that weight the past month.  I can comfortably walk 3 miles with it, essential if I want to complete the trip and enjoy it.  Ten years ago, I didn’t need to train.  Now I do.

Arrigetch Peaks on my way out of the area, August 2007, age 58

Arrigetch Peaks on my way out of the area, August 2007, age 58.  It mattered that I see these peaks, which had fascinated me for decades.

Dall Sheep, Aichilik River, ANWR, June, 2009.  Age 60. This afternoon mattered.

Dall Sheep, Aichilik River, ANWR, June, 2009. Age 60. This afternoon mattered.

Cubs, Noatak River campsite, August 2010, age 61. This day mattered

Cubs, Noatak River campsite, August 2010, age 61. This day mattered


Fording the Noatak, August 8, 2010. Age 61.  My guide said that day, "I hope I can do this when I am 61."  He was 51.

Fording the Noatak, August 8, 2010. Age 61. My guide said that day, “I hope I can do this when I am 61.” He was 51.

Gates of the Arctic, 2012, carrying 75 pounds.  This trip mattered. Age 63

Gates of the Arctic, 2012, carrying 75 pounds. This trip mattered. Age 63

My body isn’t betraying me, but changing, and my brain with its desires is fortunately changing, too.  I rely more upon experience than brute strength.  I read the weather well, pack dry in a pouring rain without leaving the tent, then striking the tent and quickly finish, putting the pack cover on a dry pack.  Alaska just is, with a lot of rain, mosquitoes and tussocks.  Fortunately, I know how to hike there.  That itself is probably worth 25 years of age.

My guess is that I will slow down in the next decade but will still enjoy what I do.  I look back fondly on the times when I was really good, especially the difficult trips, for that is what one remembers.  Age does matter.  I am grateful for what I can do, hope I will like it just as much during the coming changes, as I add more to my wonderful wilderness portfolio.

You see, I feel blessed.  Not a lot of guys my age can hike the Hardesty Loop.  I did it for time.  That’s pretty cool.  The fact I tried did matter.

It only hurt a little that night.


July 8, 2014

I’m now out alone in a huge expanse of snow, cliffs to my south and east, South Sister towering 1500 meters, about a mile, above me, and only my tracks behind me to tell where I had been.  I had turned around about 50 yards ahead, stood there, wondering.  “Do I go back?  Or do I go on, and see what happens.”

“Obsidian Trail Loop, July 4” was posted on the Obsidians Web Site.  That was what I had been looking for, but there was a waiting list, since I was the 16th to sign up, and only 12 could go.  Since the hike was scheduled for the fourth, I figured I could go the third.  A club member was going with me, but when she called the Ranger’s Office, were told there was “serious snow” 3 miles in and there were so many mosquitoes, they would chase a person back to the car.  I was on my own, updates were 1-2 weeks old, which in the high country, are ancient history.  Snow accumulates and disappears quickly at 6000 feet in the Cascades.

I decided to do the hike, realizing that if I couldn’t do the 4 mile loop (with an additional 4 miles in and out) gaining 1800 feet, there were other places I could go to hike.  As I left Eugene, bound for the high country, a dark wall of clouds and fog were ahead of me, about where I would be.  This did not bode well.  I kept going, turned on Highway 242, soon was past 2000 feet.  There was fog above me, and I figured by 3000 feet I would be in it.

Fog below in the McKenzie Valley.

Fog below in the McKenzie Valley.


The road narrowed and climbed, and suddenly I was in sunlight.  So much for the fog, which now lay below me in the valley.  I got to the road in to the trailhead, which two weeks earlier had a 3 foot high snowdrift blocking it.  The snow was not only gone but the road dry.  I parked the car, shouldered my pack, and turned on my GPS.

I am new to GPS.  I have had one 20 years for marking points, but I never used one with a trail marker before, and I had loaded mine with high definition topographical maps of Oregon and Washington.  Those came on a mini-SD disk, a few mm on a side.  I can’t believe how much memory we can put on small objects.

I had on gaiters to keep water and snow out of my boots, so long as I was in fewer than 18 inches.  I had a light shirt on, because I was climbing and knew I was going to be warm.  I had my day pack on with my nine essentials, a whistle still missing, and a few other things added.  On a warm day, most people don’t think a jacket is needed; should one get lost and have to spend a night out, having an extra waterproof layer is essential.  That has never happened to me, but it can.  It is insurance, and the premium is carrying it with me.  The first 2 miles were a gentle climb on a dry trail.  The third mile had a large series of snowdrifts, upon which I was able to walk on top.  No problem, and I reached the lava flow area.


Life grows in some of the most inhospitable places.

Life grows in some of the most inhospitable places.



First view of South Sister from lava field.

First view of South Sister from lava field.


After I got the above view, serious snow was on the trail, and I realized there was no more trail for me to see.  The Forest Service had placed orange ribbons on the trees, so from one tree, it was possible to see the next.  And this navigation got me uphill to about 6200 feet, 600 feet below where I would top out.


Orange ribbons to navigate by.

Orange ribbons to navigate by.



Open snow field

Open snow field


One man had come down the trail recently, and I followed his prints back up a steep hill,  switchbacking in snow, so that I could work less hard. This was not going to be easy.  It already hadn’t been, and if my Achilles Tendon still bothered me, I would have stopped.  But I felt fine.  I crossed a ridge and saw a gorgeous blue lake that was starting to melt.

Lake beginning to appear.

Lake beginning to appear.

I bypassed the lake and realized that my sense of direction was different from the GPS.  I was supposed to be on the “open” Pacific Crest Trail, but what looked like a trail was a creek with a lot of snow on it.  I started navigating on GPS, because now there were no footprints to follow, except those I had made leading back.  I was in a beautiful blinding white bowl of snow, somewhere in the middle of the Obsidian Loop.  I stopped by a tree which had no snow under it, heard a waterfall, and looked down at obsidian at my feet, beautiful black volcanic rock, that touched no water as it ascended to the Earth’s surface.  I picked up a piece and then dropped it,   leaving it where I found it, which is required in the wilderness.  The Trail here has a permit system, because there is so much use.  If each person takes one stone, in a few years, there will be fewer left.  Below me was Obsidian Falls, and I then realized my sense of direction had me on the wrong side.

Obsidian Falls

Obsidian Falls




Obsidian, lava that reaches the surface without touching water.

For the remainder of the loop, I seldom saw a trail, but the route tracker had me going by the trail, or at least near it.  Occasionally, I went into the woods, but the direction arrow had me clearly going the wrong way, and I had at one point to climb a rocky area to get back near the trail.  When I got near the end of the loop,I saw the trail about 50 feet below me, so I could slide down the now softer snow to reach it.  I knew from the stored track that I was close to where I had started the loop, and if necessary, I could walk over to my track.  But I continued, reaching the trail junction, not quite where the GPS said it would be, but close enough.  GPS accuracy is somewhere between 4 and 10 meters, depending upon satellite reception.  I then retraced my now familiar route back to the car.

Back in the lava field.

Back in the lava field.


A Sister.

A Sister.

I had wanted to see the loop, but I saw it without the summer wildflowers.  On the other hand, I saw the loop in a way few do—in snow, alone, and having to work much harder than expected.  I also learned how to trust my GPS, and I learned again other ways to navigate, should they be available.  What was perhaps the most important thing I learned was again not to “trust” my sense of direction.  It isn’t bad, but it can be very flawed, be it on the Appalachian Trail, the Canoe Country, or in the Oregon Cascades.  Using the Sun, when available, is helpful.  A compass is better.  A map is even better.  Knowing when to quit is important, and periodically asking oneself:  “Do I know exactly where I am?”  is essential.