Summer 2004 DoubleTrip

Preparing for two distinctly different vacations at once is not a very relaxing thing to do! The summer of 2004 had several events packed closely on the calendar, and our family campout and a backpacking trip were in fact consecutive. While some of the gear for car-camping and backpacking can be duplicated, I found that it was difficult to be sure that both events were properly covered. In fact, one vital part of the hike was not among the gear when I set out in late July.. more on that in part two.

Part One - family campout!
This was a somewhat melancholy year for our big family campout, as several families were unable to make the trip. New jobs, upcoming births, health issues and bad timing all conspired to whittle down the head count as the date approached. Despite this I headed out Thursday morning with high hopes for a fun trip, and arrived at our favorite campground around 1PM. For the first time ever, I had arrived first! I grabbed the group campsite, something we had never done before; I suggested that it was the best place for our traditional taco feed since it had two large tables, and others agreed that made sense. Jessie and Dan arrived about 20 minutes later, so I wasn't alone for long. By evening several more were taking adjacent spots (including our 'usual' sites) and the party was on! Before they arrived I broke precedent again as the first to actually jump in the lake; it was its usual self, warm and cold in different spots and somewhat choppy in the afternoon breeze. Other campsites sprouted campfires that evening so I didn't start one at my place, and we spent the evening sipping drinks, slapping mosquitoes and playing dice games on a somewhat warped picnic table (that's why I lost, I'm sure of it) before turning in well after dark.

Friday was another warm sunny day, and several folks made plans to take a hike. Since I would be doing that big-time in two more days that held little appeal, so instead I accepted an offer from Dan's parents to take their 1-person kayak for a ride on the lake. I don't believe I have ever used a two-bladed paddle before this, so it was a new and awkward experience. I chose to paddle into the wind, so that if exhausted I would only need to drift to return to base. I paddled toward the middle of the lake for better views of the neighborhood, then veered north to explore an island. On the way back I saw a few more small ones as well, and had decently exhausted my upper body by the time I regained the shore. But now it was swim-time again, so soon a crowd of us were on the rocks and in the lake, soaking up the sunshine after emerging refreshed from the randomly chilly water. Toward evening my brother-in-law pulled out his French variation of the bocce-ball game (Petanque?), and a wild game of cross-country ball-tossing ensued well into darkness. The sunset had been glorious, and as I captured it with my camera I knew that a friend from work was having a bad day and could use a copy of this serene scene for better cheer. Those of us not tossing balls in the woods by flashlight returned to the picnic tables for 'live dice' and Yahtzee while sipping our favorite beverages. This time it was at the group site, now with two other campers and firewood for the evening. We toasted those family members who could not make the trip this year and played on. The table was smoother but my luck at dice no better; perhaps I just suck at this?
As I went to bed something popped into my head regarding the hike. I had picked up a new water filter the week before, and it just had to be in my pack somewhere; but thinking back on it, I could not recall it going into any of the places it should have been. Since I had spoken of it before putting myself out of reach of my hiking partners, they might be expecting mine to be sufficient for us all - so I had better be sure it was packed!

Saturday was another pretty day, with a few more clouds but no seriously threatening weather in sight. First off I needed to find that filter, and sure enough it was not anywhere to be found. I grabbed my phone, only to discover that neither of their numbers was in the system. That would trouble me for the rest of this phase of the trip. It was a fun day, but new troubles began early in the afternoon at swim-time. I have occasionally done a double-jump off a particular offshore rock, and this time I looked at it for several minutes first. A poor landing on that sloped, wet rock could be damaging or worse, and I was struck with a foreboding that I couldn't shake. However I finally took the plunge, and sure enough I bruised my heel pretty badly - a bad idea 24 hours before backpacking! After the soak I worked my way into the Petanque game for a while before it came time for the famous taco/burrito feed that marks our Saturday nights on the family campout. The meal was excellent as usual, but as I rose from my seat at the end I was stabbed in the lower back by a mean muscle. This was an even worse omen for a hike now 16 hours away, and I took several ibuprofen while composing my apology speech for a trailhead withdrawl. I spent the evening standing for the most part, while more dice and a wild game of Balderdash went on around me.

Sunday I awoke feeling better than I expected - not great, surely, but not immobilized. Maybe I could hike in six hours after all? I checked for feedback as I packed the car, and nothing stabbed me again - of course, a few more ibuprofen were in my bloodstream, masking any big issues. By 10:30 I was on my way to the trailhead via a store, where three 'i's were sought: more Ibuprofen, Ice for the cooler, and Iodine as a water-purifying backup. I found the first two but not the third, so I was concerned as I headed for our noon rendezvous at the trailhead.

Part Two - Three Sisters Wilderness!
The intent of this trip was to re-introduce someone to backpacking after many years away from the [.. sport? hobby? masochism?] Our original plan was to visit the north-central Washington Cascades, but several wildfires made the same plans. With only about ten days to go, we changed things dramatically, heading instead for the Sisters wilderness of central Oregon. This left me with a 1-hour drive instead of a 9-hour one, so I had absolutely no complaints about the change! Beyond that it was an area I had barely visited, and Wally had a good knowledge of the area - so we switched to a Sunday-midday hike start and planned to exit either late Wednesday or early Thursday. Scott had promised to bring Dave gently back to packing, but Scott reluctantly backed out before the event, leaving just the three of us to play.

I arrived at the parking lot around 12:20, slightly late but ahead of the others, on a hot and partly-cloudy day. The family camp was blessed with great weather, but the nearly week-old forecast had suggested possible thunder by Sunday and Monday so it was not entirely surprising. Dave and Wally appeared soon, and by 1PM we were underway. We headed due north up the South Sister climbers' trail, and emerged at the Moraine Lake trail after a hot hour's work. We passed inspection by the ranger who was near the junction, then continued up a little longer before seeking camp around four o'clock as the clouds lowered and began to rumble. Wally found a good spot but not quite enough for three, so I went a bit lower to find a spot. Our tents were set up with about five minutes to spare before the rains began, so our timing was close but excellent. This was a dry camp, so I put out a few pots to capture any excessive rainfall; we actually got very little, but had a bolt or two flash within a mile of our site. After the storms had passed it was dinnertime, so I cooked up a pot of tortellini and joined the other two at their camp. Skies were pretty clear at sunset, so we stayed up a while and picked off the brighter stars as they appeared before heading off to bed.

Day two would begin with a cross-country trek to the Pacific Crest Trail. We dined, packed and were off almost due west, cutting between South Sister and Rock Mesa. Wally had been this way before, but something about it seemed unfamiliar to him; we all agreed that it must be the Bulge, that recently-discovered deformation in the Earth's crust that may ultimately become West Sister. We worked our way down a narrow crack between formations, through a forest where Wally was separated from Dave and myself for a while, and finally emerged at a pretty creek (Mesa Creek) where Wally was removing his pack. He announced that the PCT was just a hundred yards downstream, and that he needed to wash up. We ate lunch, cleaned up a bit, then hit the real trail and headed north. Skies were beginning to grumble again as we proceeded, but we continued toward our goal of Separation Creek which flows from the gap between Middle and South Sister. We crossed a dry wash and continued on to a small lake.. wait a minute, that wash should have been Separation Creek! A few minutes of searching found us a fine campsite, where we planned to settle in for two nights. Soon we were settled, and soon after the clouds located us. With rumbles turning to roars, we headed for our tents and endured 1 hours of steady rain, occasionally heavy and with hail as well. I figure over a third of an inch hit during that time, and lightning again came within a mile of our camp. At last the storms relented, and we emerged from our nests to inspect the results. Wally's tent was in a puddle, so we channeled some of it away while our dinners cooked. Dave had some small bottles of rum and whiskey along for some reason, and I mixed up a weird drink using Wally's lemonade mix, my kiwi-strawberry and Dave's rum; crude, but effective. Soon we were dining, but not too leisurely as more clouds had discovered our camp and closed in. Another half-hour ensued, and still more at dusk put my rain estimate near 1/2 inch for the day. We were tired of laying around, but as darkness closed in we rolled over and got some sleep.

Day Three began in a near-fog, not from lack of sleep but from abundance of moisture! The trees were coated in silvery dew, visibility was a few hundred feet, and everything we owned was quite wet. After breakfast the sun worked its way through the low clouds, and we set things out to dry as best they could. This was our day to play without heavy packs, but as if on cue my back was becoming cranky again. I had hoped it had played itself out after all the Ibuprofen at Waldo Lake, but once again I was in some pain. I ate and medicated as we meditated our course, finally settling on a short x-c walk to Racetrack Meadow just below us to the NW. Dave and Wally broke out their compasses and plotted us a route, and away we went (just for rigidity's sake I wore my big but nearly-empty pack). It was difficult to see very far in the dense forest (remember, I was used to Sierra Nevada-style x-c, with 30-mile visibility!), but fairly soon we could see a huge opening that had to be our destination. Racetrack is a very large meadow, with the volcanic hulk known as the Husband looming over the far side. We turned right on the trail and wandered past more open country before encountering a couple at the PCT junction. They had endured about four hours of rain the day before, so we had no cause to complain! After a short break we headed south again, traveling through pretty country with a view (at last!) of Middle Sister. Soon we were home again for lunch, after which Dave and Wally relaxed in their tents. I could see enough sunshine to justify a dip in the lake, so I headed that way to beat the heat. A group of twelve Outward Bound hikers had gathered there, but as they prepared to leave I stepped in and swam for a while: very refreshing, and fewer bugs than our camp!
After the soak and a bit of time to air dry, I returned to camp. I spoke with Wally as he sat in his tent, and noticed immediately that well over a dozen mosquitoes were knocking on his screen door. I soon retreated to my refuge, but when I too had a dozen at my door I rebelled, grabbing my camera and heading back into the open. I wandered about in search of wildflowers, and soon found several photo-worthy bouquets along the banks of Separation un-Creek. I then headed north again, back along our return route of the morning hike, and found several other tremendous vantage points for photography. I finally tired and wandered back to camp, tempted to soak again but noting that the clouds were covering my drying-source. So I again locked myself into the tent and read the map, looking up now and then to count the mosquitoes. My new tent has a large screen door, but when I counted to Thirty I began to feel claustrophobic! As early evening came the pests retreated somewhat, so we wandered out to eat dinner and discuss the next day's work. Our exit strategy was to go most of the way out and camp again, but it would be a dry camp. With less than ten miles to the car, it seemed likely that we could get out with little effort given an early start. Dave sounded agreeable to this, and since we were doing this in part to reacquaint him with backpacking we decided to go for it. We synchronized ourselves for an early start and headed back to our tents, fortified with renewed determination and a bit of whiskey in our lemonade mix.

Day Four began early - not unexpected, but often challenging. The skies were clearer, though, and the bugs weren't expecting this maneuver. On the other hand, our rainflies were now wet from the inside, so we would still need to await the sun to dry our our gear somewhat. By 8AM we were off, crossing Separation and Mesa creeks and marveling at how those recent rainstorms had transformed the trail. Many small washouts and gullies now crossed our path, reminders of just how strong some of those downpours had been. As we drew near Rock Mesa from a new angle, the Wickiup Plains were revealed: low hummocks of sparsely-vegetated volcanic soil looked thirst-inducing, but weren't so hot as I had feared. However, those clouds building rapidly around us weren't very inviting either, despite the shade they provided! We strode past LeConte Crater and headed for the car, but Wally was again off his usual route (this time due to a trail closure). We still were making very good time, though, and we began to speculate on what time we would reach the car. No one picked 12:30 when I was listening, but that's when we arrived - greeted by thunder and an increasingly hard rain shower. It felt good after our speedy pace, though, and I reached the car for my celebratory beer to mark the moment. The sun burst out again, but as Wally began to sip the ale a huge crash of thunder broke upon us - that must have been close, but the sunshine hid the bolt from our view. We rolled our way into Bend, had a big lunch, and parted company.

Dave had survived our cross-country travel both with and without pack, and had maintained a good pace on our speedy exit: Wally and I give him excellent ratings and cheerfully send him back to the wilderness for more!