After the snowpocolypsemageddon cancelled my flight to Boston last week and my winter ski trip to visit my family was cast away like an unwanted snowflake (oh how we long for unwanted snowflakes here in the NW), I decided to salvage what I had of my vacation time and do something adventurous. I did a call-out to my friends to see who might be around with a few extra days on their hand, and low and behold one of my buddies (Mark O) is on sabbatical! Yes Please! We got together to pack up our gear and planned a three day trek through the Eagle Creek wilderness in Oregon.
After some last minute purchases (dehydrated food, snacks, pack cover for the rain and some boots for my friend), we head out to the trail head on Saturday morning. Eagle Creek trailhead is at exit 41 off of highway 84 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. It is a popular day hiking spot because of the amazing amount of waterfalls including two spectacular ones: Punchbowl Falls and Tunnel Falls.
Once we passed Tunnel Falls and the 7.5 mile mark, the rest of the day hikers disappeared and the two of us wandered deeper into the wild. Up we went on a winding trail headed towards Wahtum Lake. There must have been some sort of storm that had recently passed as there was quite a bit of debris on the trail and I spent a lot of time “volunteering”.
One thing I was reminded of is following your gut. There are many ways the Universe tells you to STOP and pay attention. Often times on trail, it is in the form of a water break, tying of a shoe, stretch, clearing a path or taking in a view. Whenever I am at one of these stopping spots, I take a look around. Without a doubt, there is always something there for me to pay attention to, and it usually a trail junction. I can’t tell you how many junctions I would miss on a consistent basis if I were dug into the trail like a tick and ignoring the tell-tale signs from the big U to STOP!
(Mark about to make the hairpin turn – careful!)
As we ascended slowly into Wahtum Lake, we also came into a micro-climate. Everywhere within 100 yards of the lake was engulfed in a frozen fog. I’m not sure if any of you have seen frozen fog, but it’s a frozen mist that blows around like fog. It’s kind of astonishing. The campsites all along the lake were little skating rinks, and the lake was to be unseen due to the fog. We made our way around to the back side of the lake hoping that the higher elevation there would block the wind and would be warmer. This proved to be true, except there weren’t any places to pitch a tent. As we were starting to lose day light, we decided to backtrack to the first camp spot we found.
At this point, the misty frozen fog was turning into a drizzly freezing rain and any attempt we made to get a fire going was thwarted. We decided to eat our dinner and crawl into our sleeping bags. It wasn’t even 7:00 pm yet.
The morning arrived after a tossing and turning night and we climbed out of the frozen rain-fly into a winter wonderland. Everything was frosted. It was so pretty, silent and cold. The fog had disappeared and the precipitation in general was only slightly rainy. The glassy smooth frozen lake was being coated with a fresh bit of water which reflected the frosted evergreen trees that surrounded the lake. Breathtaking indeed.
After a warm breakfast of oatmeal and protein bar, we packed up camp and started climbing out the back side of the lake headed towards Benson Plateau along the PCT. It was a rain day. My 3.5 year old Columbia waterproof rain jacket had a PSI limit which had been reached. My bag pressing into the tops of my shoulders was a gateway for the rain to come in. I put on my emergency poncho ($0.83) and let it do the job of wicking away any of the rain I would soon be encountering.
Look a Fort!
We reached Benson Plateau mid-day and filtered our water for the evening. The camp is in the middle of a plateau that hosts tall trees and plenty of bear grass. We had a warm lunch, walked around some of the other plateau trails, and then a bit more food for an early dinner. After we ate, we decided again to get out of the sopping wet and into dry clothing. My smartwool thermals felt warm and cozy as I got into my waterproof sleeping bag. It was only 5:30, but it was wet and dark outside. We didn’t have any cards to play with so we ended up looking at the map for a bit and I wrote in my journal before closing my eyes.
Wet. By the morning, everything was wet. The tent fly leaked through and the water came through both the footprint and the floor of the tent. We had a small puddle at the foot of the tent by morning. My gloves were soaked, as was my jacket. My boots (Asolo) did wonderfully well however. I managed to keep one pair of socks mostly dry, so those went on triumphantly.
We ate a quick breakfast, had some coffee and began the steep trek down Ruckels Creek Trail towards the Eagle Creek trail-head. We were in the rain for the majority of the first half, then we finally broke underneath the cloud layer. Amazingly, under the cloud layer, there wasn’t any rain, it was warmer and in some spots we even saw the sun. A half-million switchbacks later we got to the road. We passed some Native American Vision Pits along the way that were all mossed over. They were quite pretty.