Sometime in the night the rain stopped. When the first light opened the day I could see to the cliff sides across the creek; it will be a brilliant day.
I was packed and walking before 8am, excited at what I could already see. Because I took a layover day yesterday, the logistics of some of those loops and lakes were taken off the table, but it is what it is. My back is feeling better, and what I can do is climb up to Horton Pass at 8,500′ and peek over the other side to the lakes basin. I need about 25+ more backpacking trips here to see all that I want to see.
This area has a strong pull on me.
I hike up and up, the trail isn’t messing around and only has a few miles to get me to the shoulder of Eagle Cap Mountain.
Soon I can see the snow zone. About the last mile to the top will be in snow, softened just enough by the sun to make the going easy.
I’m glad I wasn’t up here yesterday.
This is simply astounding.
There are no other tracks, no other signs of humans, I have the world to myself today. Up top I am greeted by ridgelines shrouded in cloud wisps, lakes and snow and trees as far as the eye can see.
After just a few minutes I turn around and gingerly follow my footprints in the snow back down down down to Eagle Creek below.
From here I just need to decide where to camp. I am due to stay with Mike and Donna Higgins in Halfway tomorrow night, but the forecast has me a bit nervous for tomorrow. Rain is coming, snow in the high country. I drove my little Honda Fit out here, and accessing this trailhead alone had me at high elevations on gravel roads. I don’t want to get stuck, so I debate camping close to the car so I can make a mad dash if the rain/snow materializes early.
As it is, I find myself mulling over what ifs and maybes all the time, especially when I’m out by myself. Planning ahead and preparing for the worst is one of the best things you can do out here. If you are prepared for the worst, everything else will be delightful! It’s very much on my mind as I am hosting a conversation this week (October 14 on Zoom – 5pm Pacific time) about safety and risk and being prepared for a backcountry adventure. I’ll be talking with two people who were on different sides of search and rescue efforts: Stacy, who broke her knee while on the Oregon Desert Trail and needed to call for help, and Tomas who found and unconscious man and needed to provide help. Should be a good talk!
So I walk out, slowly, savoring the colors and granite and marble mountains.
I am super close to the car, and can’t find a good spot to camp, so without really thinking about it walk right back to my car. It’s car camping time! I set up diagonally across the back of my Honda fit and manage an ok night of tossing and turning.
This was a short and sweet little hike up into the heights of NE Oregon, and it only leaves me wanting more.
I thought I would give the day a head start and lay low this morning. The rain started as I was finishing my coffee and made the decision for me.
I had 2,500’ish to climb in 3 miles. If this rain is snow up there, it could be a mild snowfall or a blizzard. Both are likely. I’ll check it out later after a morning nap.
While laying about, listening to rain drops splashing off my tent, I put on an On Being podcast episode. The topic was trees with Suzanne Simard. Suzanne did the science that proves all trees are connected, and further posits that humans are a part of that connection.
I’m working on reconnecting presently.
It’s 10:30 am and the rain has only gotten heavier. I asked for a weather report on my InReach to find the forecast is for 100% rain this morning, tapering to 40% this afternoon and 0% over night. Tomorrow, sunny.
Ok, decided. I dug a moat around my tent to guide the puddles of water formed in the compacted earth away from my dry things, and climbed back inside for some hot cider and reading. Thank goodness the fear I carry is boredom because I have a new book, half a Harper’s magazine and hours of podcasts in my pocket. The not walking will probably be good for my back and foot too.
Well, the day happened, and at times the rain stopped and I could spy fresh snow above. Tomorrow will be stunning.
The planter faciatus that I developed on the Blue Mountains Trail continues to plague me. I’ve made attempts (some successful) at solving the piercing pain in the heel of my right foot, but it always comes back.
Oh, and I tweaked my back this summer for the first time. Kirk and I were up at Elk Lake for his birthday, moving paddleboards to the lake, when I twisted while picking one up and my whole lower back twinged and I had very little movement and a lot a pain. I did it again to a lessor degree last weekend when I tried to get out of my tent.
Both are plaguing me on day one of a 4-day solo backpacking trip into the Wallowas. Maybe I can walk it off? Not likely with the heel pain, especially since I walked that one on last fall.
Ok, it is manage it then…but I’ve got to get serious about healing both. I have a 2-month sabbatical at work next year and I’m going hiking!
So to the awe: this marble and granite chunk of Mountains in NE Oregon (where I started the Blues Mountains Trail last year) is out of this world. I’m hiking (it really feels like plodding) up Eagle Creek towards Horton Pass. The golds and reds from the October fall days are piercing blocks of color against the green and silver rock of the canyon walls.
A family out horsepacking passes me while I pulled over to eat lunch. They look prepared to set up somewhere for a few days, and when I saw their tracks headed up to Hidden Lake (my intended destination for the night) I found something lower, saving me the 1000′ climb. I’ll take it, for the views at my new camp are already making me forget my worries.
It was a short day, relatively speaking, but I have no agenda, only loose ideas, and there are countless options for trails, and lakes, and passes, and loops, so I’m just going to take it as it comes this time. No imposing my will on the miles, instead, letting the Wallowas (and my body) impose their will on me.
I’ve been working hard over the last seven months to revamp the Oregon Natural Desert Associations Independent Stewards Program and all that hard work is starting to pay off! I just launched a few more projects this week, and we have plenty of opportunities for folks to go adventure and preform some important stewardship or monitoring tasks on their trip.
The Source (a weekly paper in Bend) just published a nice overview of the program.
Go and deepen your connection to Oregon’s high desert and help us with some work while you are out there.
ONDA’s Independent Stewards Program
Volunteer projects designed for individuals or households to safely undertake during the pandemic
BY DAMIAN FAGAN
This past year was a rough one, even for volunteers. Many nonprofit organizations canceled group volunteer projects to minimize exposure during the pandemic.
One local described that experience.
Photo by MARK DARNELL, Monitoring in the Spring Basin Wilderness in Eastern Oregon.
“I tried to volunteer last year, but COVID derailed that,” said Jess Beauchemin, a volunteer with the Oregon Natural Desert Association. This year, she’s signed up to do monitoring of Wilderness Study Areas in the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management.
With risk levels changing, the curtain is partially lifting, and ONDA is ramping up its Independent Stewards program.
“We’ve had an Independent Stewards program since about 2015,” said Renee Patrick, Independent Stewards program coordinator. “But it’s been a very small part of what we offer and wasn’t very well developed with resources to really help people feel comfortable going out by themselves to do stewardship or monitoring work on their own.” With that, ONDA’s Conservation and Campaign staff members began to explore options for utilizing volunteer help with on-the-ground projects, but in a different capacity than the historic group outing. “We went back to the beginning and dreamed big,” added Patrick.
The staff created projects that would be rewarding and engaging to volunteers and could be completed on a flexible schedule. The stewardship team then spent five to six months building out the projects with partnering land management agencies, drawing up maps and collating project information. “We are even doing video tutorials and some of the projects have introductions from our agency staff explaining how the work will impact the on-the-ground aspect to a location or contribute to some greater goal,” added Patrick. The goal was not just to create work projects, but to also relate these projects to the greater context of ONDA’s conservation work and the protection of wild places in the high desert.“To develop a deeper relationship with a place you’ve got to spend some time there.”—Jess Beauchemintweet this
ONDA launched its online volunteer registration form in late February, garnering over 350 interested people. The registration form provides ONDA staff with information about the volunteer’s interests, availability, and even details such as comfort levels with remote camping, backcountry navigation or four-wheel driving—often major aspects of working in hard-to-reach places strewn across the desert. The goal is to match volunteers with the right opportunity.
Available projects revolve mostly around habitat and recreation monitoring, wildlife monitoring and stewardship projects in various locations such as Wilderness Study Areas in the Prineville BLM, Steens Mountain, Fremont National Forest, Alvord Desert and other spots in eastern Oregon.
One such project is the Fremont National Recreation Trail Work/Monitoring project, where volunteers adopt a 1-mile section of the NRT to do some light trail work and to record visitor use with the Recreational Impact Monitoring System app, developed by the Colorado Mountain Club and adapted for ONDA’s work in Oregon. Another trail monitoring and stewardship project will focus on about 40 miles of trail through the Steens Mountain Wilderness.
Photo by JIM DAVIS, Juniper Mountain lek monitoring.
Through ONDA’s partnership with the Burns BLM District, staffers learned of unprecedented use of the Alvord Desert WSA in 2020. BLM staff related that the Alvord Desert was seeing impacts caused by three to four times what normal use was in previous years.
“Stewardship activities on the Alvord Desert will include dispersing fire rings (which are a safety hazard especially to vehicles, airplanes and land sailors), picking up trash, brushing out vehicle trespass incursions (beyond the allowed motorized use area), monitoring for negative wildlife interactions and handing out wag bags with included responsible recreation information,” said Lace Thornberg, ONDA communications manager.
“I spend a lot of time hiking in the desert, and I’ve gained a great appreciation of the high desert in the last five years that I’ve lived in Bend,” said volunteer Beauchemin. “This project gives me an opportunity to give back to the organizations that protect the lands that I like to recreate on, and I get to fulfill a deeper relationship with a place that I haven’t spent a lot of time in.”
Beauchemin has committed to visiting sites, twice per year, over the next three years, to provide some continuity even post-pandemic. “To develop a deeper relationship with a place you’ve got to spend some time there,” added Beauchemin.
I was thrilled to be asked to give the keynote speech at the May 8 fundraiser for the Greater Hells Canyon Council. The evening was a smashing success, and raised many thousands of dollars to support their work to connect, protect, and restore the wild lands, waters, native species and habitats of the Greater Hells Canyon Region in north eastern Oregon (and establish the Blue Mountains Trail!)
The speech was recorded ahead of time and you can now watch from the comfort of your couch, lawn chair, or tent (if you are so lucky.)
Gear review website Treeline Review (and small business owned by two incredible women, friends, and thru-hiking powerhouses: Liz “Snorkle” Thomas, and Naomi “The Punisher” Hudetz) asked me to interview Luc on Tuesday, May 5 to discuss how to get started packrafting.
BTW, don’t forget the Greater Hells Canyon Council May 8 Hellraiser is coming up in a few weeks, and there tons of awesome stuff going on with the event, but what can be better than helping to support and fund the newest long-distance trail around? Not much IMO 🙂
Back in 2018 I sat down with Emory from the By Land Podcast to talk about the Oregon Desert Trail. Our conversation ranged far beyond the route, and I really enjoyed the conversation, and think you will (did?) too.
Today he published the latest conversation we had about the Blue Mountains Trail, and again, the talk is far-ranging.
When my partner Kirk and I started packrafting almost 10 years ago, we soon learned one of the biggest challenges in the sport was not the rafting part, although I was on a steep learning curve to becoming a white-water paddler, but actually packing the boat.
The big appeal in packrafting was our new-found ability to walk into more remote rivers and creeks, then launch our boats in places that are inaccessible to vehicles (FYI – Kirk is to rivers as I am to trails, so packrafting combined our most favorite things). Your typical whitewater kayak weighs 45 pounds, and even an inflatable kayak weighs about 35 pounds. Our packrafts weigh closer to 8 pounds (winning!), but when you carry a boat into the backcountry there are other items needed to make your trip safe and successful. Those extra items can be a challenge to pack in a typical backpacking-style pack. On a packrafting trip we usually have: a PFD (life vest), a helmet, throw bag, dry suit, warm layers, paddle, river shoes, dry bags, pin kit (rescue gear), and then all the camping gear: first aid kit, food, water filter, tent, etc. Even when carrying an ultralight backpacking set up for camp, the boats and extra gear combine to make a LOAD, a heavy and cumbersome load.
When Six Moon Designs came out with their Flex pack in 2015 we were stoked to have a better way to carry our gear, and have since then put on the miles. We’ve done several week-long river trips and plenty of weekend hike in/boat out adventures. Over that time we’ve tallied up a list of modifications that would make the Flex pack even more of a power-house. Last year we had a chance to sit down with Whitney at Six Moons to discuss updates to the next generation of portage packs, and we are thrilled with the results.
The Original Flex vs. Flex PR
At first glance, the Flex PR pack looks very similar to the original, minus the fun new color choices (I went red, Kirk chose green), but when we look closer, the features have been modified in ways that provide much more versatility and flexibility. What does that mean for you? More options for fit and comfort.
The complete redesign of the exterior panel of the Flex PR has loads of improvements:
1. Width of the panel: The front panel is roughly 3 ½” wider, which translates into better load stabilization, which in turn allowed the front mesh pocket to be bigger, but more about that in the next paragraph. The wider exterior panel means the straps that go across the top to clip to the back panel are also wider. Imagine carrying a bear canister into a remote wilderness river in Montana, the wider those top straps are apart, the better that canister stays securely strapped down. We found it fits a boating helmet better too. Finally, the bottom portion of the bag (which holds all of your gear in place) is also wider – again, providing more surface area to contain the various items you may be carrying.
2. Front pocket improvements:The new double pocket is a game changer! I previously struggled to find a secure place to store my four-piece whitewater paddle, but the pleated pocket behind the existing mesh zipper pocket has changed all that. Place for paddle, check! And because the pocket is now pleated, the front mesh pocket can be used even when the other pocket is maxed out. On a recent trip I had both pockets full, and was able to easily get in and out of the zipper portion. The front pocket is 3” taller, and features the same bungee cord configuration as on the original Flex, a bungie that helps you attach even more odds and ends (did we mention packrafting isn’t exactly ultralight?) as desired.
3. Daisy chains:We love daisy chains! The addition of webbing along the entire exterior panel on either side of the front pockets, tacked every 2”, creates 9 loops on either side, and a bottom ice axe or trekking pole loop on each side. This improvement enables countless options for straps to help you further compress the pack contents, or attachment points for carabiner opportunities; boaters usually have an endless supply of carabiners to clip things to themselves and boat while on the river. I use these daisy chain loops to clip my throw-bag, helmet, and water bottle. Kirk pointed out these daisy chains can also be used to attach skis to the back of the pack, or even a gun scabbard if using it for hunting. Like we said, the options are endless.
4. Bottom stabilizer straps:The addition of a detachable “z-strap” configuration on either side of the bottom panel goes a long way towards keeping the body of the pack in place. Secure pack load = a happier packrafter. Because the straps are adjustable, they can accommodate different sizes of dry bags to expand or contract as needed.
Side Stabilizer Straps
The new side straps bring even more versatility to the pack:
Buckle/strap configuration: The Flex PR’s usefulness goes through the roof with the improved buckle and strap configuration. Previously the buckle was sewn to the exterior panel, the strap to the back, but now both exterior and back panels have webbing sewn to the pack, so the buckles can be moved (or easily replaced should a buckle break) and reconfigured between different straps on the pack. Because the double ladder-lock buckle is now in the middle, the pack can be stabilized from either the front or the back. All of the buckles are the same, which makes it easier to mix and match straps from different places on the pack, and the strap placement now matches the sewn-in loops on the 50 liter dry bag that is available as an accessory. With a dry bag securely attached the the pack, the whole system operates more like a typical backpack
Removable water bottle pockets: These new features are great. The Flex PR comes with a water bottle pocket for both sides of the pack, and because these external pockets also have full-lenth daisy chains on the back in addition to buckles on the side, they can be moved and attached to many other places on the pack. Buckle them into the side straps if you have a large load, or move them somewhere else on your pack, even using a carabiner to clip it on…it’s totally up to you.
Shoulder Yokes and Hip Belts
We know one size doesn’t fit all, so Six Moon Designs’ interchangeable shoulder yokes and hip belts all contribute to a better pack for all:
Shoulder yoke:Kirk and I are both using Six Moon Designs’ new S-Curve shoulder yoke. The longer sternum strap slider is easy to use; simply move the strap attachment to find the right placement. And, the longer slider creates the opportunity to have a bigger and taller shoulder pocket. We also realized the new sternum strap whistle is removable. Pop it off and put it in your pocket if you go for a stroll, you’ll still have an emergency whistle should trouble arise (the new whistle sounds more ear-piercing to me…which is a good thing if you need it!).
Versatile hip belts: The hip belts come in four sizes, and the zipper pockets on each side are plenty large enough to fit lots of snacks. The articulated buckles on the front help to cup your hip bones, which in turn helps to securely and comfortably transfer some of the load weight off your shoulders.
In conclusion, the biggest improvements in the Flex PR pack all add up to endless trip possibilities. Kirk and I are looking forward to all the different gear/pack/trip scenarios we can come up with when using the redesigned pack. We are starting to experiment in the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) world, so we already know we want to use the Flex PR to haul our inflatable boards up stream for some river SUPing. A multi-sport adventure is much more likely now that we can easily strap our skis onto a fully loaded packraft and Flex pack. I could go on, but I think you catch our drift. Thanks for the collab Six Moon Designs!
The Greater Hells Canyon Region is a critical wildlife connectivity corridor and refugia for climate change. Join me and the Greater Hells Canyon Council on Saturday, May 8, for Hellraiser, a virtual fundraiser to protect, connect, and restore this vital region.
As the first solo thru-hiker of the new Blue Mountains Trail, I will be giving the keynote speech…tune in for inspiration, education, and a wicked silent auction (including a hike with me!).
The event happens virtually at 6pm PT on Saturday, May 8; the silent auction starts on May 1. Learn more about the event and get your tickets today at the link below.