Circles in the Blues – 2.5 miles

Here I am with my backpack on again, and another warm and sunny weekend on deck.

This time my circles are more time and place-based. These circles encompass two years and multiple trips.

My first, most obvious loop, is returning to the scene of my Blue Mountains Trail groundtruthing hike. On this day two years ago I was walking above Hells Canyon and the Snake River. Today, I’m hiking along the headwaters of the North Fork John Day River. I drove up to NE Oregon this weekend for the Greater Hells Canyon Council’s yearly gala (if you remember, GHCC created the Blue Mountains Trail). Well, there hasn’t been a yearly gala since COVID happened, so this would be the return to an in-person event. Since I’ve come to call many of the people I met during my inaugural hike of the BMT friends, I jumped at the chance to visit and celebrate with them. AND my other 2020 hiking cohorts, Allgood, Mike, and Naomi will be there too!

The gala isn’t until tomorrow so I had time for a short trip to walk and sleep in these mountains again. I wanted to visit the Vinegar Hill area and walk more of the Princess Trail, which looks to have some stunning ridgewalking, but the area was still closed from a fire this summer. Then I thought of the Peavy Cabin trail, which traces the headwaters of the NF John Day River until it pops up on the Elkhorn Crest and Blue Mountains Trail. Two years ago when I was here, snow blanketed the old burn area and I had just survived my first and only single degree night on the trail.

But that wasn’t the last time I was up here…another circle brings us back to summer 2021. Kirk and I took a month off work to travel the river from the source (where I am nowish, writing this) to the mouth at the Columbia River. “But wait, you didn’t write about that,” you might be thinking. Nope, I decided that I didn’t have to always capture every moment in text, last summer was a different kind of trip anyway. Was the idea to travel the length of one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the west born two years ago on the BMT as I peered down into this drainage from the crest above? It must have been, because I spent the next seven months planning for it, and in early June, Kirk and I started the attempt by walking up this trail towards the highest spring that fed the 300-mile river.

I’ll give you a few highlights…the whole month was full of excitement, card games, random meetings with friends, crazy weather, 120 degree tempatures, and quickly dropping water levels. Oh, then there was the tick in my ear…so far only a few people have heard that tale.

Kirk hiking along the headwaters
Hiking with our packrafts was too heavy.

But back to today and my overlapping footsteps. I wanted to hike in a few miles, sleep with a view, and enjoy the surrounding mountains that have become so important in my life. I cruise up from Bend, bag still partially packed from my trip with Cindy in the Casades last weekend. Driving up the highway from the North Fork John Day Campground, I crossed paths with last year’s Kirk and Renee. Since we had decided on a multi-staged human-powered adventure, (hike, packraft, paddle board, IK, and raft), we had layers of logistics to figure out. BMT friends Jim and Rhonda Kennedy, who live on the Middle Fork John Day River, agreed to help out and shuttled us and some of our gear to the previously mentioned campground where we cached our packrafts. We would walk up to the headwaters, an out and back trip, because the river was too small and choked with wood to paddle.

Today I drove up and parked at the end of the road, some fourish miles from that high spring. There is a trail that climbs to the ridge top and misses the highest spring, but last summer I had guessed that we could just bushwack over to it…or close to it anyway because it was on a steep part of the canyon wall. It being early June, we walked into snow and when the trail started reaching for the crest and away from the river we reevaluated.

Soft snow fields filled in the gaps of pickup stick trees – piles of them in all directions had fallen after a long-ago fire. The going looked to be a long sufferfest of postholing to that high spring, and Kirk and I looked at each other, not really wanting to put forth the effort after all. We had both arrived at this month off tired and burnt out. There had been a lot to do at work to ready for being gone for a month, and endless logistics to figure out for this trip (packing 30 days of food for two people being one detail), and now that we were here, the exhaustion had a chance to settle in.

“Nah,” we said. “Close enough.”

It’s completely hilarious to me that we bailed on the source-to-mouth thing on day one, but it also seemed quite fitting. Kirk doesn’t have the thru-hiker mentality like I do, and besides, he was here to paddle. “Let’s not take ourselves too seriously,” I thought. We were here to have a fun adventure together, and this was just the first day. (As luck, or good decisions, would have it, we missed two other sections of river during that month…our source-to-mouth trip wasn’t to be).

This river keeps her headwaters secretive…for even today as I’m climbing the trail up high and to the crest it looks like an arduous hike to visit that spring, even without the snow. The downed wood makes a gauntlet of the drainage, and I don’t have the effort it takes today either.

I hike in 2.5 miles until I have a view and somewhere flatish to sleep. I wasn’t feeling very mile hungry, and I kept getting stopped by good ideas that I had to write down. I am full of it when I walk…I mean them 😄

Good night, circles of me and memory. Until the next time.

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