I hurried along the rocky trail, trying to beat the sunset and failing. I'm not a big fan of night hiking. Some people love it, but it's kind of scary to do solo. The light from my headlamp revealed a long, flat bench far below. Kirkwood Ranch at last! Safe from mountain lions!
It had been years since I had backpacked on the Snake River National Recreation Trail in Hells Canyon, high time for a return. I had been stalking the weather, waiting for the perfect window, because to get there you must drive high on a winding road that could be treacherous if snowy. Luckily, the perfect time arrived.
It's about a five hour drive from my house to Pittsburg Landing, plenty of time to think about life choices, and when I arrived I knew I would have to beat feet to get there in daylight. The six miles only took two hours to complete, but it was dark, and I set up my tent in an empty campground, accompanied only by a herd of deer. Lights beamed out from the historic ranch house, occupied by caretakers who stay there a month at a time as volunteers. (That would be fun to do.)
|Spring views along the trail|
My next day's destination was to day hike to Pine Bar, a place almost mystical in that it has actual pine trees and a sandy beach by the river. It would be a 16 mile round trip, well within possibility.
The trail meandered upriver, climbing to Suicide Point (which I renamed Life is Good Point) and wandering over wide open fields which were once grazed and irrigated. History is everywhere in the canyon; you can see it in remnants of old plows slumbering in the tall grass and old buildings near the creeks.
|These people were smart. They built their cabin into the side of the hill and used stone. There are still two bedframes inside this cabin.|
"If the day temperature and the night temperature together equal one hundred, the new grass will be growing," Joe had told me. It was, he said, an old rancher's saying. It was just about there, though the canyon hasn't exploded into spring yet. The flowers were just barely starting, and there was frost at Kirkwood each night.
|The loveliness of Pine Bar.|
I sat for a long time at Pine Bar before making the trek back. Some Canadians drifted over to my campsite, moaning about the lack of shade. Just wait another month, Canadians! It'll be much hotter! They and one other backpacking woman were the only people I would see in three days. We sat around and talked about gear. I recognized a kindred soul when one of them started listing off how many tents he had.
|At Life is Good Point|
If you are not pressed for time, the trail is about 30 miles long and ends, mostly, at Granite Creek. It is an out and back unless you plan ahead and have a jet boat drop you off so you can hike back to Pittsburg. Someday, I thought, someday I will do that. Someday I will have unlimited time. But for now I seize the day when I can.