It got frosty on the North Fork of the John Day over night, but it was just a frost, not the deep penetrating cold of a few days ago.
Now I’ve been to the North Fork before, both hiking and packrafting, but never this high up. It’s our tradition to do a river trip over Thanksgiving (turkey, pie and all) and one year we decided to packraft the North Fork. We drove through Dale to the point where we couldn’t drive anymore, then hiked our boats in. We found the water too shallow for any real boating, but it was a fun adventure all the same (you can read about it over on our packrafting blog).
Kirk though has boated this section before in a hardshell kayak. That story…apparently he and his friend Jason were on their way to do some boating in Idaho one summer, and when they were passing through, decided to check out the North Fork. They dropped a bike up top (where I would hike out on the Lake Creek Trail, then drove around to the the NF John Day Campground on highway 52, and kayaked to the confluence of Granite Creek. The hike out took three separate trips for boats and gear…it sounded back breaking.
You have to understand something about Kirk, he is on another level, even from me. For years he was a steep creeker, meaning he would pack his hard-shell kayak up small steep creeks (the more waterfalls the better) to paddle them and then have to find a way out. There are stories of lowering boats with ropes, epic bushwhack climbs out of narrow canyons…these were called Kirk Trips, and his friends usually knew a Kirk trip would be a lot of effort…and sometimes after an arduous hike into a small mountain creek, it wouldn’t even be runnable. He managed the boat shop Bend Whitewater for a decade, and guided rafting trips all over Oregon, like on the Rogue, North Umpqua, and Deschutes. When we met he regaled me with stories of running safety for Kevin Costner’s movie, The Postman. The whitewater segment was filmed above Smith Rock on a Class V section of the Crooked River. Kirk had to raft the stretch over and over as they filmed take after take of Kevin (really a dummy) falling into the river. Kirk would have to then retrieve the fake Kevin. Get him to tell you some stories some time. It was epic. Anyway, in a lot of senses what I do doesn’t hold a candle to what Kirk does, but we are good adventure partners, and I’ve learned to push my skills on water (well, I didn’t have any skills before I met Kirk). Part of my hike along the NF would include scouting the river for boating. I found things like river-wide logs blocking the channel, and huge boulders that would surely mean big rapids…rapids I might want to walk around, so I left waypoints at all these places so we could come back to packraft, and I would know to walk the trail around those sections. Scouting a river before you paddle into the unknown is mandatory, especially on wilderness runs.
This section of the river was really dramatic, with steep rock cliffs towering over the water below. I spied two white dots across the way and realized they were mountain goats!! Wow!
The trail was in decent shape, although it could really use some brushing. In some spots manzanita bushes practically force you off the trail.
My climbing legs clicked into gear today. On the almost 6-mile 2,000′ climb out of the river, I kept a steady 3mph pace. In fact, all day it seemed like I climbed. ALL DAY. When I did the tally from the elevation profiles I had put on each of my maps, I found I had climbed 7,830′ today. Dude.
Any glimpse I got of the area round me today, was forests, vasts forests in every direction. And I would be entering a mountain range I had never even heard of: the Greenhorns. It astounds me how much Oregon has going on. I love it.
I camped on top of the Greenhorns, my elevation is almost 7,600′, but it’s a mild evening, and fairly warm for the end of October.
I pushed hard today to set myself up for a cruising last day into Austin Junction tomorrow. That’s right! My last night on the trail! I’ll complete the entire Blue Mountains Trail tomorrow by connecting my footsteps with the John Day to Austin Junction section I hiked in August. The pain in my right heel tells me it’s time to be done, and the fact that I’m thinking dreamily of curling up on the couch under a blanket and watching a movie tells me it’s almost hibernation time (well, until ski season, and our Thanksgiving raft trip, and…)