Saturday, September 13, 2014

Aurora Borealis sightings in Portland…NOT!

There has been a huge solar storm this week, and the northern lights are supposed to be visible much further south than normal. The Oregonian reported Friday afternoon that there was a good chance they would be visible from locations with a good northern aspect and a dark sky.

Mark and I decided to drive to the Women's Forum State Park in the Columbia River Gorge (near Crown Point) to have a look. Because the moon was nearly full and would interfere with darkness, the best time was supposed to be near midnight. We were pretty tired, so we decided to go a little early to see what we could. We left home about 10:30-ish. That would get us to our site in the Gorge around 11:00 pm. (Pretty late for us old fogies.)

We exited I-84 at the Corbett exit, and within 1/4 mile of starting our way up that windy road to the top of the Gorge, hit a traffic jam. We thought maybe there had been an accident. Nope. Portland had decided to have a star party. Thousands of people had the same idea we had. It was "Keep Portland Weird" in live action.

It took quite a while to get to the top. We parked along the side of the road about 1/2 mile before reaching the state park - saw lots of other cars parked along the road and decided to walk the rest of the way. Took our lives in our hands walking along dark rural road w/ no streetlights + tons of traffic.

It was warm! A brisk warm breeze coming toward us down the Gorge. Lots of people at the park. Probably many more at Larch Mountain and Crown Point.  By the time we finally got there, it was…almost midnight. The moon was very bright and our night vision was not good.

Never did see any northern lights. Saw a gorgeous, huge meteorite and decided that was enough. Enjoyed the beautiful evening, arms around each other, in the company of hundreds of our good Portland neighbors. We lasted about 15 minutes, then made our (dangerous) way back to the car. Loved every minute of it. Drove home, yawning all the way, got into bed about 1:00 am.

Took naps today. Feeling fully recovered, grateful for adventures together, even slightly silly ones.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Backpacking the North Fork of John Day River

We backpacked 40 miles in-and-out on the North Fork of the John Day River in late August 2014. We hiked a total of 60+ miles because we added 3 day hikes from our base camp at the midpoint.

I have written several blog posts about the hike (links below) and this is the summary of the overall trip.

Entry point: Oriental Campground on Road 5506 (off of Road 55 out of Ukiah, OR).
This is at the west end of the Wilderness area around the North Fork of the John Day River.

Day 1: Hiked 3.5 miles east on the unimproved Road 5506 to a meadow campsite next to the river. This campsite was about .5 miles before the Wilderness boundary (bridge across Big Creek). There is a better campsite at Big Creek; had we known about it, we would have hiked a little further to the better site.

Day 2: Hiked 4 miles east to a campsite we named "Huckleberry Springs" for the abundant ripe huckleberries and an old metal cot with springs at the site.
We crossed 3 water crossings after the bridge at Big Creek.
We passed trail junction for Cougar Trail. We rested at a campsite named Basin Camp on our map. There is a foundation of an old building there - probably a mining cabin.

Day 3: Hiked 8 miles east to the confluence of the North Fork and Granite Creek.
There is a good bridge at this point to a large established campsite adjacent to a meadow.
13 water crossings between Huckleberry Springs and the bridge.
Crossed trail junctions to Glade Trail, Paradise Trail, and Silver Butte.
Camp site / good rest stop at about 5 miles - Wind Rock (signed). A small camp site along the trail at about 7 miles.

The hiking included LOTS of underbrush and bush-whacking. Also lots of bear scat - 26 piles of scat in 8 miles. Two or three were very fresh. No bear sightings. Several salmon sightings in deep pools of the river - 50-100 at a time.

We also passed an abandoned cabin about .5 miles before reaching Granite Creek.

Base camp: We made our base camp at Granite Meadow for the next 3 nights.
The campsite includes a primitive outhouse (useable) and a simple table (no benches).

Day 4: Day hike up the Granite Creek Trail. Hiked about 4 miles (one way) to an area with unimproved roads and mine tailings from 1890's gold mining in the area.

Day 5: Day hike up the North Fork of the John Day River. Hiked about 4 miles (one way) to river crossing - no bridge. Abandoned mining cabin on the other side of the river: Tub Spring, 1895.

Day 6: Day hike up the Silver Butte Trail. We hiked about 3 miles (one way). The trail is steep in places, well-maintained.

Day 7 & 8:
Day 7: Hiked 16 miles west back to the campsite at Big Creek.
Day 8: Hiked 4 miles west back to our car parked at Oriental Campground.

Alternate entry points: Hiking guide book suggests access from North Fork John Day Campground on Road 51. It is possible to shuttle vehicles from the Oriental Campground to here via the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway for a one-way hike. The shuttle drive takes about 2 hours.

The area appears to also be accessible from the unimproved roads leading to the Granite Creek Trail and the Lake Creek Trail (near Road 10 and Desolation Butte). I do not know if the roads are drivable; I only have the topographical map for information.

Information: North Fork John Day Ranger District (541) 427-3231

Monday, September 1, 2014

North Fork of John Day River: Days 7 and 8 - Hiking Out

Day 7 - Monday, August 18
Monday morning we rise early and load our packs with mixed feelings.

We are tired (especially Dorothy - sleeping on the ground is always a challenge) and it will be good to be home and in our own beds.
And yet…sigh…it means we are leaving this beautiful place.

But before we head out, it's time for backpacking portraits in the meadow!

We know what to expect for much of our Day 7 hike (Monday). We've been over this trail before.
Once again we see Lydia's cabin, the magnificent salmon, beautiful scenery, waaaay too much underbrush.


This time I count the bear scat: 26 piles in 8 miles. And a few of them are fresh. VERY fresh.

Even though the rangers had assured us a week ago that this area has never had a bear-human encounter where the humans were injured, still, with all that underbrush…  Well, we are sure to sing and talk to the bears every time we hike around a corner or into a brushy spot so we won't surprise a furry fellow.
I know the trail is in here somewhere…

By 1:00 we arrive at Huckleberry Springs. I vote to stay for the night and finish the last 8 miles in the morning. And yet, something seems to nudge all of us toward continuing our hike.

Ugh. I have two -- maybe three -- solid blisters by this time.

I'm not willing to discuss more hiking until I've had a good long rest. Maybe in an hour.

Rest time at Huckleberry Springs! It is so amazing. While we are playing in the water, we discover about 20 huge salmon right there in our swimming hole!! Who needs to swim with the dolphins? We are actually swimming…well wading…with the salmon. Kind of. We get within 15 feet of them before they flick their huge tails and muscle on up the river. "Stupid humans," we can almost hear them muttering through their gills.

 Blister care


After a good rest, play time in the water, dry clothes and dry socks, we heave our packs back on and begin hiking again.

I don't want to be the whiner so I don't say much about my feet, my blisters, my aching legs. At this point it is a matter of will, of the mind commanding the feet, the legs. We stop every hour for a brief rest. I add moleskin to the blisters. We remind each other to drink water, to stay hydrated.

Dorothy says she's sure the campsite is not too far ahead. I want to believe her but I don't want to be disappointed. What options are there? We've hiked this trail before. We know there aren't any camp sites after Huckleberry Springs until we come to Big Creek; we know we have committed ourselves to hike 16 miles from the camp site we left at Granite Meadow.

And then, almost suddenly, we come to familiar landmarks. The Big Creek trail junction. The bridge leading into the Wilderness boundary. The side road that leads to Big Creek camp site!!!

It is an epic day for the four of us 60-year-olds. My pedometer has logged 34,267 steps in one day.
16 miles
Our pack weights range from 35-50 pounds

And even though we are exhausted, even though we should be too tired to do anything when we drop our packs, we get busy -- set up the tents, pump fresh water through the filters, cook our suppers.


We are 60 years old, and we can backpack for 60 miles.

We spend the night next to a sweet little creek (Big Creek).

Day 8: Tuesday, August 19

The next morning, stiff and sore, we inhale a little "vitamin I" (ibuprofen), and head out for the last 4 miles of our adventure.

We are back to hiking on the unimproved road. Easy terrain, plenty of room to stroll next to a companion.

So fun! We see a few more salmon. Were they there on Day 1? Are we better at seeing them now, or are there more salmon in the river, heading upstream to their spawning beds?
Someone mentions that the river definitely seems tamer now. The landscape feels less remote.

And then…right about HERE, we finally see A BEAR!!!

He is across the river from us, and he knows we are here. He turns and heads up the river bank before any of us can grab a camera.

He is so beautiful, so black, with movement so smooth and so obviously belonging to the wilderness.

Every single one of us sees him. He is wonderful, and he is gone.

And then we hike around a corner and see the car in the distance. And some trucks.

After 8 days of solitude, we are surrounded by Forest Service guys, here to work on a project, to put a gate across the road we couldn't have driven anyway.

Post Script:
After about 30 minutes in the car, we are back into cell range. My phone rings. My daughter, Maleena, says my mom is ill and on her way to the hospital.

Now we know why we all felt the urgency to hike 16 miles yesterday. Time to come back to our real-world lives.

Two weeks later, Mom is out of the hospital and better than ever.
Two weeks later, I, too, am better than ever.

One last post…coming summarize our route for future hikers.