Sunday, July 29, 2012

30-mile Backpacking Hike!

 What do you get when you combine 8 Young Women ages 14-18...

 ...three ready adults...

 ...and an amazingly beautiful trail?

The first annual Young Women's High Adventure Backpacking Hike, of course!

Last week Mark and I joined up with our comrade Geoff to escort 8 brave girls into the wilderness. We hiked the Eagle Creek trail to Wahtum Lake, and then we returned to the Columbia Gorge via the Herman Creek trail.

 They crossed streams.

 They filtered every drop of their drinking water.

 They hiked over 7 miles a day, every day, for four days.

 They entered an official wilderness area of Oregon.

 They hiked narrow rocky trails.

 And they kept smiling all the way!

 Sometimes the trails were so narrow and the drop-offs so steep that the girls gripped the "iron rod" alongside the trail.

 They cooked food on backpacking stoves in the dirt.

 They learned to hang their food in trees every night (to protect it from the critters...mostly bear would want to come into a camp with that many girls!).

 My handsome hunk, playing "Reveille" on the harmonica. Hmmm...can you guess why the girls nicknamed him "Monica"? Get it? Harmonica.

Every morning the girls took advantage of the Log of Beauty.

 Because even on the trail, you can't have too much beauty!

 Still pumping water...oh, the girls came to appreciate the ease of indoor plumbing back home! After four days of pumping every drop for drinking, cooking, and washing, they gained a great respect for being able to simply turn on a faucet.

 I completely lost count of how many times we applied bandaids, mole skin, and athletic tape to feet. There were 22 feet in the group, and almost every foot had something done to it almost every day.

 I love to have adventures with Mark! This photo was taken on day 2, when we had hiked a total of about 10 miles.

By the way...are you wondering what that huge black thing is on the back of his pack? He was so sweet to the girls. He insisted on packing in a 5-gallon bucket, minus the bottom. It was basically a cylinder. He attached a little toilet seat to the top and set it up as a potty for the girls each night in camp. The girls loved him for it. Along with his nickname "Monica," he was also "Porter" in porta-potty porter. By the end of the hike he said he was a pooped porta-potty porter. He never complained about the awkward bundle on the back of his pack, not once. (By the way, it wasn't smelly or anything. All of the waste was buried back in the hole beneath the bottomless bucket. It wasn't heavy either, just awkward.)
Ah, yes...the porta-potty set up.

 Along the trail to our second campsite, we could see this pointy mountain in the distance. We checked our bearings and confirmed that it was Chinidere Mountain. We had a side trip (sans packs) planned to the top of Chinidere for the hike on day three. When we pointed out the mountain and told the girls they'd be on top of it the next day, they were incredulous. It seemed so far away and so high. But we did it!

This was our second campsite, at Wahtum Lake. By the time we reached this point, we had hiked 15 miles total.
 By now the girls had the hang of preparing foods in ziplock bags and eating directly from the bags. They had learned to save on washing dishes (and pumping more water to wash the dishes) that way! Here they are enjoying a bag of pudding, one spoonful at a time. They passed the pudding bag around the group and never did have to wash out a bowl.

 Campfire at Wahtum Lake.

 Morning view at Wahtum Lake. That's Chinidere Mountain poking up in the center of the photo. We'll be there later today!

 Enjoying the morning view...

 They also liked my trick of eating their morning oatmeal right out of the little paper bag it comes in. You can add water to the bag and stir it up, and that's one more dish you don't have to wash. The backpacking stove & pot are in the foreground.

Before we left Wahtum Lake, I asked each of the girls to pose for a backpacking portrait. Throughout the hike they gave each other trail names, so that's what I'll be using with their photos.

Yes, it's really spelled that way. Because she's a sassy gal.

Because she made sure the pudding bites came out even.

She has her hair braided, so you don't get the full effect here. Believe me, it's an appropriate name.

Because she throws a box of baby wipes like it's dangerous knives. Just like in The Hunger Games.

Not only because of the great clothes...she also had a "tie-dye" colored bruise after falling on the rocks during one of the creek crossings.

Because she wished she had brought her Birkenstocks for camp shoes...

Look out if she's setting up a tent near you! She has a wicked aim with the tent poles.
And the chipmunks ran for their lives when she had a rock in her hand.

Truly a Warrior Princess

 Monica Porter
You already know the story...

 The Old Cow's Tail..."OCT" for short
Yes, it's true...I'm 58 years old, and I was generally the last in line.
Hey, I was just glad to be out there at all!

 Cabbage...or Chewbaca...or The Blister Whisperer
Mark and I called him "our hero"! Geoff was great with the youth, an experienced hiker & backpacker, younger than us, tall, and strong! He tells great stories and corny jokes...always an asset along the trail. Last but not least, he really was good at helping with foot care, too.

 Later that day, at the top of Chinidere Mountain. We had an amazing view. We could see Mount Ranier (near Seattle, WA), Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Jefferson (near Salem, OR). It was a range of over 200 miles. The forests lay like rumpled green carpet beneath our feet, and we could see the creek drainages we had hiked the 2 days before. The girls agreed that our time atop Chinidere Mountain was a highlight of the trip. (That's Wahtum Lake below us in the background on the left.)

 If a tree falls in the forest and someone IS DOES make a sound! A loud sound!
We witnessed this tree falling, only about 200 feet away from where we were sitting and eating lunch.
To say that we were a little spooked is an understatement. "What if, what if, what if..."

 Another good shot of my honey...and his honey bucket. He really likes to use the hiking staves. He used to have a lot of problems with sore knees, but since he's been strengthening his leg muscles and hiking with the staves, he has very few knee problems on hikes.

 Speaking of fallen trees...we came across a HUGE tree across the path. It was a long way around either end, with lots of prickly bushes. I opted to just remove my pack and crawl beneath.

 See? It's a huge tree, alright. I can see why the trail crews haven't removed it yet.

 Our third camp, at Cedar Swamp campsite on the Herman Creek trail. There were lots of beautiful old-growth cedars, but it wasn't really swampy at all. A nice little stream ran through for easy water access. We were concerned that it would be a mosquito haven, but between the evening breeze, a couple of resident bats, and the lack of stagnant water, we didn't have any problems with bugs. By now we've hiked about 23 miles.

 Heading out on the morning of the 4th day. These girls are footsore, but SO proud of themselves. They  expressed mixed feelings about returning to civilization, and said they definitely want to do this again.

 Another water crossing...

 And finally, the end of the trail! Thirty miles in four days. These are strong and confident girls. They did so well working together as a group along the way. By this time they're all using "adventure sticks" to make the hike more enjoyable. We had such an amazing time together, and I am so grateful that we were able to take this hike with the girls.

Will we do it again? You bet!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Handcart Trek 2012

It's time to be pioneers! Last week Mark and I were part of the support staff for a handcart trek that involved 290 kids from our stake (a collection of 8 Mormon wards, or congregations). 

Hello heat and sagebrush!
At the start of the week - our pioneer clothes are still fresh and clean! We are standing near the handcarts that the kids will be pulling through the dust and sagebrush all week. 

The kids are organized into families with about 20 kids in each, plus a "Ma and Pa" - a married couple that help hold the "family" together. Each family had 4 youth leaders, who did most of the actual leadership work...or at least that's the way it was supposed to work (and usually did).  Each family pushed/pulled 2 handcarts. They had to carry 20 gallons of water and all their tents & sleeping bags. Plus each youth was allowed to bring ONE 5-gallon bucket filled with their clothes & gear for the week. The buckets could also be handily used as chairs throughout the week. This is one family's pile. All of it has to fit on those 2 handcarts.

 Grandson Joshua - now 12! - old enough to go on the handcart trek.

 Handcarts loaded - just about to pull out on their first day of the trek. You can see all the gear loaded and tied down.
 Grandpa Mark and Josh at dinner the first night. Hot dogs! Yum! You may be wondering why there are trucks in this photo. The trucks brought food to the trekkers 5x per day (3 meals + 2 snacks). Kind of like manna from heaven. Mark and I were part of the "teamsters" crew that brought the meals to the kids. More about that in a minute.

 Josh and Grandpa Mark looking like the handsome pioneer men they are.
 Camp the first night. See the misty-looking clouds in the background? Ahem. This is supposed to be a dry and dusty part of southern Washington. (The setting is on a Church-owned farm near Tri-Cities.) That innocent-looking mist soon grew into thunderclouds that gave quite a light-and-sound show AND helped to "settle the dust." In other words, it rained. And it blew. The tents hadn't been staked. Get the picture?

 So the kids learned to stake their tents and they must have slept well, because here they are on the morning of the second day, looking fresh and ready. That's Josh in the center of the photo. He's part of the team pulling on the main handle of the handcart. The 3 kids in the front will pull on an "extension pole" - tied with twine to the actual handcart, to provide more pulling power.

 Another view of the two sets of pulling poles in the front. That's Lindsey in the yellow bonnet - one of the girls in my group at church.

 Oh my - it's the Rope Pull!
See the handcarts waaaaay over there...

...and now see how they've come down the valley and they are waaaay down there...

 ...see the handcart pioneers walking to waaaaay up here...

 ...and here are the pioneers pulling the rope up here at the top...

 to pull the handcart up! Whew!

 It was a steep hill. (You can see rope marks in the dirt in the foreground.)

 Pulling the cart past the anchor post at the top of the hill. (You could use the anchor post to create a pulley - some groups pull up and then have the rope go back down, but it's harder that way.)

 Oh, the thrill of success when the cart reaches the top!

 Mark and me with our good friends Dorothy and Ken. We were all Ma's and Pa's together 4 years ago. This year Dorothy and Ken were a Ma and Pa again, and we were on the support staff. It was always good to check in with them at the meals and hear how things were going with their family.

 Donna, Dorothy, and me. Donna had also been a Ma 4 years ago, and again this year.

 Stick pull! This pioneer game is still quite attractive to our electronic-gadget-enamored youth. And who says it's only the boys who like to prove their strength! Lindsey won this round.

 Cowboy at the porta-potties. Often this was the only shade in camp. The group had 8 porta-potties on 2 trailers, which were towed (by a truck) to be available at each of the meal stops and the overnight camps. Porta-pottie parties!

 Meanwhile, back at the base camp kitchen. These heroes prepared food for 300+ people. Every meal. Every day. In an outdoor kitchen with no ovens. Amazing. See the guy loading something into the red cooler? Did you know that coolers can also be heaters? Sometimes we took cold things in the coolers to the kids. Sometimes we took hot pancakes, or sloppy joes, or mashed potatoes...right in the coolers! Amazing. A mess to wash out later, but truly amazing.

 Here's the teamster crew, minus 2 or 3. We referred to ourselves as schleppers and gophers. As in "go-fer" this and "go-fer" that. We hauled food to the kids, carried out trash from the campsites, loaded their gear into trailers at the beginning and end of the week, moved serving tables, hauled the water truck & name it, we were on it. Sounds like a lot of work, but honestly it was easier than being a cook, and waaaay easier than being a Ma & Pa.

 Breakfast cereal...for 300 kids. Just one of the offerings. We pre-poured the cereal to keep the line moving. I think they also got pancakes that morning. And hot chocolate, orange juice, instant oatmeal. We could get everyone fed in a total of about 20 minutes.

 Love this photo of hard-working kids. Which is the point, or at least part of the point. Why go on a trek? Well, for one thing, to have kids Do Hard Things. To stretch themselves. To work together in teams...and not necessarily with their favorite people. Real-life siblings and significant others were placed in different families. In most cases, the kids met each other for the first time on Monday morning before we set out. I heard more than one Youth Leader say at the end of the week, that their first thought on Monday morning was, "Oh no...these kids are all so little!" Made them wonder how their family would manage to pull the handcarts...but they did.

Oh, and did I mention dust? Ugh. In your shoes, your hair, your clothes, your eyes, your teeth. Dust.

 And more dust. Here's a good shot that shows the double handle affair the kids rigged up to provide more pulling power. That's grandson Josh in the center with the big straw hat.

 More stick pulling. I think Savannah (red skirt) won this round, but I can't remember for sure. They were pretty evenly matched.

 A little fiddle music in the evening brightened everyone's spirits.

 More weather patterns. Pretty sunsets. You can barely see the silver line of the Columbia River far in the distance. The orchard in the foreground was right below that night's camp site. The handcart trek was held on a Church-owned farm near Tri-Cities. At 500 square miles, it's the largest irrigated farm in the U.S. The irrigation is done by long arms on pivots, so the crops are all grown in huge circles. In the "corners" between the circles, there is still plenty of un-irrigated sagebrush and dust. Lots of room for a line of 28 handcarts pulled by 290 kids to march their way through the dust and grit.

 Meanwhile, back at the base camp kitchen again, the cooks liked to cool their heels (literally) in a cooler with ice water at the end of the day. They earned it, after cooking all day on a concrete floor in the muggy heat. Good thing the kids didn't know what they were missing out on...

 ...because unlike the kids' camp sites, base camp--lovingly referred to as "Zion"--had a lovely irrigated green lawn and shade trees. The kids will get here eventually. But first they have to spend a little more time in the dust and heat and sagebrush. Because after all, they're playing Pioneers.

 Grandma Kathy checking in with Josh at one of the meals.

 Uh-oh. Mobbers. The cooks and teamsters (guys) transformed themselves with a little black make-up to create a scene of contention. That's Grandpa Mark - second from left. He and the guy on his left were maybe going for a raccoon effect?

 Here come the mobbers. They pulled out the camp leader & "tarred and feathered" him. Real feathers (sacrificed one new pillow). Fake tar made of cornstarch & black tempera paint. Icky.

 But before the leader was taken out, he had issued a mission call to all the men and boys. They had to leave. Marched them all to the top of the hill. Which meant it was time for...

 ..the Women's Pull! Go Dorothy! (In the purple dress on the right.) The girls had to pull their carts without the boys, all the way to the top of a hill. The boys had to watch from the top. They wanted to go help their sisters, but they weren't allowed to. Empowers the girls. Humbles the boys...which is empowering in a different way. How do the girls do it? They pray before they start. They sing hymns as they pull and push. They encourage each other. It's a powerful, emotional experience. The girls are often a little scared. The ones who have been holding back all week finally come into their own--every heart and hand is needed! The girls on the first carts go back and help the ones behind them. The boys are going a little nutso at the top because they still aren't allowed to go down and help, so they also sing hymns at the top to keep encouraging the girls.

Late Thursday afternoon, the carts finally make it to Zion. The kids are so excited to take off their shoes and run barefoot in the grass. There's a huge sprinkler set up with a tarp beneath it, and they get drenched playing slip-and-slide. There are snacks and food, and you can feel everyone give a collective sigh of relief.
 Josh got out his cribbage board and played a game with Grandpa Mark.

 Camp opened like a flower on the lush green lawn.

I don't have photos of two of my favorite things that happened after the company arrived in Zion. And I want to hit the "publish" button now and finish getting ready for church. But I'll write about them soon. I promise.