When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I saw that the incessant rain was starting to form puddles under part of the tent. Oh the horror! I was thrown back to the worst camping incident of my hiking life when I had been flooded out of my tarp on the Tahoe Rim Trail one September. I was on my way to a week at Patagonia’s tools training conference for environmental activists, and thought I’d squeeze in a quick thru-hike of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail before the conference started. Despite my best efforts everything got wet that night, and when the heavy rain turned to heavy snow that started to collapse the liveable space in my ultralight tarp (pitched with one hiking pole) to a space I could only occupy curled in the fetal position, well, that memory was what drove me to bring a free-standing double-walled tent on this trip.
The rain had turned to snow during the night, but it was only the faintest dusting. I made some hot tea to sip on during the day and was hiking soon after first light.
Several miles into the day I turned onto a decommissioned road that was to take me along Little Meadow Creek to the East Fork of the Grande Ronde River, then to the main Grande Ronde itself, but the going got so difficult so fast that after about half an hour I crossed the creek and hiked back towards the maintained gravel road I had just left. That was frustrating, but so was a wet riparian area tree obstacle course.
I sat down at the junction and debated what to do. In Jared’s notes he warns of unimproved or missing trail up ahead for almost 7 miles, and that didn’t include the three miles I had just decided not to do. There was another road I could walk around the section I just left that looked long, but the unmaintained trail still loomed…and I could discern no other options to get me out if the going got bad. Ugg. I know there is no right or wrong way path to hike out here; the goal is continuous footsteps across the Blue Mountains, so ultimately I decided this 10-mile section was probably best scouted over a long dry and sunny weekend, not on my attempted thru-hike. So I backtracked.
I had to backtrack 7 miles to get to the dirt Ladd Canyon Road which would deposit me at the doorstep of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area. Ok, decison made, lets do this.
The forecast was for snow most of the day, then single digit temps tonight. Brrr. I decided to camp near the base of the Elkhorn Crest Trail and wait for tomorrow when there were five solid days of sun and temps in the balmy 20 degree range. I wanted to see this magnificent mountain range I would be hiking through!
About halfway down my dirt road I heard a holler and looked up to see Charlie and Suzie walking towards me! Oh joy!!! Charlie brought me a hot mocha and some sweet crepes….the BEST!!!! We walked together for the next few hours, Suzie bounding around in the snow as playful as a puppy, me, grinning ear to ear at the unexpected kindness.
Charlie offered to drive me back to town if I wanted to sit the cold night out in a hotel room, bringing me back in the morning, but I decided I had all the gear to keep me warm, plenty of food, and with the clock on the hike running out, I knew in a week when I was done hiking that I’d be longing for a few cold nights in my tent (I know, most of you are probably thinking that I’m nuts). As it was, the day had already provided so much more than I was expecting. If I had gone ahead with the bushwack I wouldn’t have run into the dynamic duo. So, as much as I berated myself for turning around and taking the easy way, I knew it was the right move.
At the yurts on Anthony Lake Charlie decided to take a short hike up to Hoffer Lakes, and offered that I could sit in his warm car and eat lunch while he was gone (COVID has been at the heart of every interaction on this hike, and I appreciated that we were both on the same page about not wanting to expose each other.) Now that I could do! He had more treats in the car and I melted into the heated seats for my break.
I was basically at my destination for the night, and we were parked near some walk-in campsites. After we said our goodbyes (Charlie, I don’t even have words for all you have done for me, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!), I walked past the sites, but kept walking. My legs took me to the start of the trail, and I ended up walking a little further to find the very same campspot at Black Lake that Kirk and I and our friends Brooke and Adryon had camped at a few years ago. We came up over Labor Day with intentions to backpack along the crest trail, but only a few miles in, some panicked hikers came jogging from the other direction, explaining they had just seen a fire start near the trail. Wanting no part of that on a hot dry late summer day, we turned around and camped at Black Lake. Now I was here again, this time in the snow.
I spent the extra daylight hours reading another book I had downloaded from the Deschutes library, Ta-Nehisi Coats’ The Water Dancer.
I bundled up as best I could to keep the cold at bay, and shut my eyes when it got dark. These are longer and longer nights now!