BMT Day 27 – 23.9 miles (453.1 total)

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!

mountain goats!

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 second ford was an icy affair

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…)

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BMT Day 26 -17.9 miles (429.2 total)

I positioned my tent so the door faced east, and at 6:15am the sky started to glow on the horizon as the last stars held onto the night above over the Elkhorn Mountains. It was breathtaking.

I had some cell phone reception and was doing some scrolling (and posting) on Instagram this morning. I’ve been following another long-distance hiker (trail name Blackalachian) on Instagram for the past few years, and early this morning he posted a few stories about his dream of climbing Mt Everest. The next few stories however, he came back on camera to share that he had been told by many of his followers that it would be impossible for him to do (too expensive, too far, too strenuous), and he should just forget it. Props to Daniel (real name) for pushing back and voicing that crushing someone’s dreams is not an option. We don’t know what he is capable of, and he not going to let other people set his limits for him. 100% Daniel! If we listened to the people who said it was too far, too hard, too much for us, we’d be home sad and scared of the world. It’s up to us to define our limits, and push them, and make new limits. My current mantra is Live Now (I think it always has been…I’m just verbalizing it now). That’s my hope for all of you too. Live now. Nothing is guaranteed. Live now.

As I watched the sunrise, Cinder Well’s song Our Lady’s started playing. I’ve listen to this song a lot this month, and it absolutely slays me. (It’s a long song…let it play. My favorite part starts at about 2:40 and lasts until the end at 9 minutes.) This was turning out to be quite a start to the day: the sunrise, the music, the feeling that it was all connected, I was connected. Very moving. 

Pack on, I hiked to the summit of Crown Point and paused to take it all in. Wow.

Going up and over was proving to be easier than the one little steep section yesterday, and I was happy with my route choice. The ground was still slick in places with snow, so I held hands with the trees so they could help me control my descent on the frozen patches, and now my hands smell like evergreens….mmmmmmm.

Then I found the trail! And I was expecting a bushwack, but it wasn’t…there were a few trees to navigate around, but the going was good.

I got water at a creek and continued on beautiful wonderful trail for a few more miles. The forest was green, the ground white and yellow from dropped Larch needles, and the sunlight flitered through the trees to dapple the trail and forest (and me) in light. It was incredible. 

I was in the flow. Me and the world…vibeing. 

Towards a road the trail was buried under more trees, and after some rummaging around between a bunch of dead fall I noticed a cut end of a log and yelled out, “trail!” That had been our habit on the PCT in the Sierra Mountains in 2006. So much of our route was covered in snow that when we did find the elusive tread we yelled “trail!” triumphantly in awe that we could stay on track in the white cold that blanketed the land. It was a true test of our map and terrain reading skills, especially in the days before everyone carried a gps. And I was not included in that “our”…the PCT was my first experience with map reading and navigating. I would look over other hiker’s shoulders as they were looking at maps and placing ourselves. Yes, there was a day when I didn’t have the skills.

I had found the trail, then promptly lost it again.

Today I couldn’t get enough of the “cheezy” almonds I was carrying from Gather Nuts. The “cheeze” was nutritional yeast, and my body wanted it. (Reminder…some of my sponsors have given me coupon codes to share with you…all are listed on my gear list page).

I had a break once I got to the road junction. Oh, to linger in the sun. Shoes off, the air warmer than it’s been in weeks. Late October what?!?! 

I took the long-cut in front of me. There was a short-cut road walk through the forest, or a long-cut up to some views and around the forest. Jared said the way up had some lovely views, so I went that way. And up was an understatement. The roads around here are steeper than trail! But at the top of that climb was the skyline of the Elkhorn Crest Trail again…it looked so different. No snow at all anywhere. I was happy I was up there for the brief moment in time when it was all frosty white. I see how lucky that was now.

Lots of roads, but then trail! Beautiful, glorious, cleared trail! I popped out on a road and crossed to the Crane Creek Trailhead which will usher me back into the North Fork John Day Wilderness again. There were orange caution vests about…today was the start of elk rifle season…and I was prepared in my bright red wind jacket and my own day-glow orange vest draped over the back of my pack. There would be no mistaking me for an elk.

The next 4.5 miles were a walk along the quiet creek; meadows lined much of the route until I got to a steep gorge where the water filtered through ice that still edged the rocks. The different states of water created all sorts of sculptures and fascinating features as the water flowed through and over and under.

I popped out on the North Fork of the John Day River and spied a big horse camp. I forded the icy water to the trail on the other side.

I turned a corner and there sat three Coors Light beers in the middle on the trail. I don’t mind if I do! I picked one up, popped it open, and enjoyed the frosty cold beverage as I walked a few more miles till I found a lovely spot for me and my tent. Ok Blue Mountains Trail, this is the second unopened beer you have left for me on the trail. You really are magical. Have you heard the phrase: “The trail provides?” It seems the BMT is taking that to a new level.

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BMT Day 25 – 12.3 miles (411.3 total)

That bed. I slept amazing. Whatever combination of pillows, blankets, and tired contributed to the equation, it was snooz-a-licious.

I heard someone moving around in the other room and emerged to find Jim, and he graciously made me a cup of coffee that I took to my room to sort through my last resupply box. The last one! It was already the end of October and there were four days of hiking left. It didn’t feel like the end of October…the sun forgot what it did with the snow and the single degree temps a few days ago, and t-ed up a week of 50-60 degree temps and blue sky. I’ll happily take it, but did grieve a little for the thirsty ground and the folks still fleeing wildfires in California. We really do need some rain, and a lot of it (but not all at once! Lets pass on post-wildfire flooding please and thank you 🙏).

Once the food was sorted and the gear back in my pack, I went out to enjoy the morning with Jim and Rhonda. I’ve had such interesting conversations on this hike…part of it may be that I have almost no barriers left between me and the world. I’m feeling very raw, and you are gonna get my true self right now…I don’t have much time or patience for dilly dallying around conversations or topics that aren’t authentic, important, and true. I know it’s also because the people I’ve been spending time with out here are of the sort made of integrity, passion, and respect for the planet and each other. It surely has been feeding me in a more significant way than the omelette and chorizo I had for breakfast. But wow, what a great breakfast. 

Rhonda made me a whole loaf of sourdough bread and threw in most of a stick of butter. On top of that was a full ziplock of brownies. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be living my best life on this last stretch.

We headed back to Sumpter where they had picked me up yesterday (masks on!), and I was walking north by noon. Jim and Rhonda, I can’t wait to do it again!

Jim and Rhonda Kennedy

I had a big stretch of gravel road on deck, and I walked past Cracker Creek which had been turned inside out in the search for gold. In fact, that’s what all of this dredging looked like, the guts of the rivers were spilled out in big piles of river rock, all in the search for the bling.

I had a cross country section for the final stretch of the day, but it was one of the more pleasant cross country hikes I’ve had on this trip. The forest canopy was open, and the downed trees I had the step over were mostly shin high or less and there was always a way through. Lovely! At times I found myself on a trail, I hadn’t remembered anyone saying there was a trail back here, but sure enough there were cut ends of logs, and even red blazes painted on a few trees.

Sourdough, oh!

To avoid a mining claim I headed over for a steep climb up to the flanks of Crown Point to find the north slope was still holding onto some icy snow, which made the push a little dicey. Up top I surveyed the path ahead and opted for a different ascent due to more north facing slopes in the mapped route. As I was climbing up the spine of Crown Point, it appeared fairly wide with large shelters of granite boulders. I had to do a bit of scrambling on the boulders, but because it wasn’t exposed, I had fun with it. I decided the best way through was to summit Crown Point and head down the other side to intersect my route again. Up, up, up and away! 

At about 7,800′ I found a sheltered spot to set up camp. It wasn’t even supposed to freeze tonight and I was facing the Elkhorns where I had just been, but all the snow was gone. That was fast!

snow for water again

Dinner was sourdough bread and sharp cheddar cheese. At this rate I won’t be eating any of my resupply, just baked goods. I can dig it.

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BMT Day 24 – 13 miles (399 total)

It was so much warmer during the night, but still below freezing. I made some OvaEasy eggs that Charlie had given me for breakfast; our conversations while hiking together had invariably turned to food, and these dehydrated eggs were one of his go-to on the trail. He had even included some butter and salt and pepper. So thoughtful! And they actually tasted like eggs!

I hiked down out of the mountains and expected the day to get warmer as I dropped, but instead it got colder. When my fingers stopped working I finally put on more layers; I had been willing the air to warm up, and it wasn’t working.

I started passing mining claims. This area was at the heart of the Oregon gold rush, and folks and companies are still digging up the rivers and mountains looking for the stuff. An entire stretch of the Powder River that runs in the valley below the Elkhorns has been dredged and the piles of tailings are visible in the river bank from on high. There is a massive gold dredge in town that is now a historical landmark and state park, but it was closed when I walked through town. No bonus history lesson for me today.

I had plans at this last resupply stop to rendezvous with Jim and Rhonda Kennedy, Jared’s parents! They had some land nearby and had invited me to stay with them a night, and I happily accepted. I made it to town before our appointed meeting time and went about trying to find lunch. Two of the restaurants were closed, but the cafe in town was open, so I proceeded to order some tacos which I enjoyed on the porch. Then I ordered more. Eight tacos later I was scrolling on my phone when Jim and Rhonda pulled up. 

Who me?

I was whisked away to their piece of heaven overlooking the Middle Fork of the John Day River. I had a fabulous time getting to know them as they plied me with delicacies like crab dip, guacamole, salmon, roasted veggies….I can go on. In a move very unlike me, I ate too much dinner to be able to eat my dessert. I was so ashamed and offered to eat the sweets for breakfast the next morning. 

I am tucked up in a bed so warm and soft they might have to drag me out of here tomorrow. 

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BMT Day 23 – 19.6 miles (386 total)

I went to get water for coffee and found the lake was frozen solid! Oops.

Black Lake, frozen solid

That’s how cold it was last night. I had water in my hydroflask (one of the reasons I’m carrying it is to have unfrozen water in the morning) I could use, but I guess I couldn’t have prevented any other water in my tent from freezing due to the deep penetrating cold. I had stayed warm during the night though….my 5 degree quilt was worth every penny!! (It might have literally been 5 degrees last night). Getting my tent stakes out of the frozen ground proved to be a task. I had to dig and pry, but finally they were all out, although some were a little bent. 

I warmed up quick though as I climbed towards the first pass, marveling at the frozen landscape around me, and trying not to slip on the frozen ice just below the snow. The sun hit and felt rejuvenating. 

I can’t adequately put into words what this 20+ mile crest trail is like. It hangs on the top or near the top of granite peaks. It unveils the world below and I had views over to the Wallowas where I started and the Strawberries where this route ends near John Day. For a while Strawberry Mountain’s 9,000′ peak stood above a layer of clouds and appeared to be floating in the sky. Everything about the day and the hike was almost unbelievable. I will 100% be back here, and couldn’t believe I was hiking in this splendor for the first time.

The cold prevented me from taking long breaks, but it started to ease some by mid day. It was the wind that was the biggest chilling factor, and any time I wanted to pause or stop I had to find a windbreak so I didn’t turn into a She-ra popsicle. Once I exited the North Fork John Day Wilderness the snow started to melt out a little, and I actually found flowing water over the trail to supplement my meager supply.

Shadow selfie

The crest trail kept giving, and didn’t ask for anything in return until the end of the day when my tired leg didn’t quite clear a boulder I was stepping over and I ended up leaving some shin skin as a tribute, the blood running into my sock. A small price to pay for the experience!

As I approached Rock Creek Butte, mountain goats were everywhere! Their thick shaggy coats were brilliant white and were the key to their survival in this steep rocky place. Baby goats ran to catch up with their families and I felt very lucky to share the trail with them.

My destination was Twin Lakes which sat in the shadow of a deep mountain cirque, but when I spied the lakes they looked cold. Real cold. Snow was still on the ground around them, and I doubted the deep pocket they were sitting in had gotten much sun at all during the day. I wanted a warmer night if possible, so I passed them by and went another mile or so until I found a little grotto of trees with just enough space for me and my tent. I was exhausted, but I was happy with my decision as the air felt noticeably warmer. My gauges were off though, because things in the tent started freezing and I still felt warm. Extreme cold puts everything into perspective! 

I had a multiple course dinner…I’d be getting to Sumpter tomorrow, my last resupply stop, and was trying to eat as much of the food I was carrying as I could. I’ve rolled into each resupply stop with some food left, which is not bad. I’m hungry, but not ravenous…the hiker hunger usually kicks in around a month or so on the trail, basically when all of your fat reserves are gone, and I wasn’t quite there yet. It’s dangerous though to enter the holiday season as we are with an insatiable appetite. 

It was another fabulous day on the Blue Mountains Trail!

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BMT Day 22 – 17.5 miles (366.4 total)

When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I saw that the incessant rain was starting to form puddles under part of the tent. Oh the horror! I was thrown back to the worst camping incident of my hiking life when I had been flooded out of my tarp on the Tahoe Rim Trail one September. I was on my way to a week at Patagonia’s tools training conference for environmental activists, and thought I’d squeeze in a quick thru-hike of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail before the conference started. Despite my best efforts everything got wet that night, and when the heavy rain turned to heavy snow that started to collapse the liveable space in my ultralight tarp (pitched with one hiking pole) to a space I could only occupy curled in the fetal position, well, that memory was what drove me to bring a free-standing double-walled tent on this trip. 

The rain had turned to snow during the night, but it was only the faintest dusting. I made some hot tea to sip on during the day and was hiking soon after first light.

Several miles into the day I turned onto a decommissioned road that was to take me along Little Meadow Creek to the East Fork of the Grande Ronde River, then to the main Grande Ronde itself, but the going got so difficult so fast that after about half an hour I crossed the creek and hiked back towards the maintained gravel road I had just left. That was frustrating, but so was a wet riparian area tree obstacle course.

this was once a road..not now.
icy wet bushwhacking

I sat down at the junction and debated what to do. In Jared’s notes he warns of unimproved or missing trail up ahead for almost 7 miles, and that didn’t include the three miles I had just decided not to do. There was another road I could walk around the section I just left that looked long, but the unmaintained trail still loomed…and I could discern no other options to get me out if the going got bad. Ugg. I know there is no right or wrong way path to hike out here; the goal is continuous footsteps across the Blue Mountains, so ultimately I decided this 10-mile section was probably best scouted over a long dry and sunny weekend, not on my attempted thru-hike. So I backtracked.

I had to backtrack 7 miles to get to the dirt Ladd Canyon Road which would deposit me at the doorstep of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area. Ok, decision made, lets do this.

The forecast was for snow most of the day, then single digit temps tonight. Brrr. I decided to camp near the base of the Elkhorn Crest Trail and wait for tomorrow when there were five solid days of sun and temps in the balmy 20 degree range. I wanted to see this magnificent mountain range I would be hiking through!

About halfway down my dirt road I heard a holler and looked up to see Charlie and Suzie walking towards me! Oh joy!!! Charlie brought me a hot mocha and some sweet crepes….the BEST!!!! We walked together for the next few hours, Suzie bounding around in the snow as playful as a puppy, me, grinning ear to ear at the unexpected kindness.

Suzie and crepe

Charlie offered to drive me back to town if I wanted to sit the cold night out in a hotel room, bringing me back in the morning, but I decided I had all the gear to keep me warm, plenty of food, and with the clock on the hike running out, I knew in a week when I was done hiking that I’d be longing for a few cold nights in my tent (I know, most of you are probably thinking that I’m nuts). As it was, the day had already provided so much more than I was expecting. If I had gone ahead with the bushwhack I wouldn’t have run into the dynamic duo. So, as much as I berated myself for turning around and taking the easy way, I knew it was the right move.

Anthony Lakes!

At the yurts on Anthony Lake Charlie decided to take a short hike up to Hoffer Lakes, and offered that I could sit in his warm car and eat lunch while he was gone (COVID has been at the heart of every interaction on this hike, and I appreciated that we were both on the same page about not wanting to expose each other.) Now that I could do! He had more treats in the car and I melted into the heated seats for my break.

I was basically at my destination for the night, and we were parked near some walk-in campsites. After we said our goodbyes (Charlie, I don’t even have words for all you have done for me, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!), I walked past the sites, but kept walking. My legs took me to the start of the trail, and I ended up walking a little further to find the very same camp spot at Black Lake that Kirk and I and our friends Brooke and Adryon had camped at a few years ago. We came up over Labor Day with intentions to backpack along the crest trail, but only a few miles in, some panicked hikers came jogging from the other direction explaining they had just seen a fire start near the trail. Wanting no part of that on a hot dry late summer day, we turned around and camped at Black Lake. Now I was here again, this time in the snow.

I spent the extra daylight hours reading anothher book I had downloaded from the Deschutes library,  Ta-Nehisi Coats’ The Water Dancer.

I bundled up as best I could to keep the cold at bay, and shut my eyes when it got dark. These are longer and longer nights now!

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BMT Day 21 – 17.6 miles (348.9 total)

I was toasty warm all night in my cocoon of down. The world around me through had frozen solid. 

Once it was daylight and the sky had lightening up enough to walk through the forest, I continued on the decommissioned side road up. The general direction for the day was up. The Elkhorns are another high mountain range, with the trail hovering around 8,000′ and the peaks at 9,000′. 

I licked snow off tree branches to supplement my lack of water, then turned the corner to see a full pond of water…about half a mile from where I had camped. Doh!

The air was cold, and I stayed in my down jacket and long johns the whole day. That meant breaks were short and miles were quick. Snow still clung to the road in shady patches; it hadn’t snowed last night, but never got warm enough to met it off. 

I could see I wasn’t the only one using the road; animal tracks criss crossed all over the place. I could see rabbit tracks and squirrel tracks…and one very large set of wolf tracks that followed the road for miles. Whoa!

I decided to stay on the route Jared had proposed and drop down to the headwaters of the Grande Ronde River. It could mean a bushwhack (thus a road alternative is available up top), but I wanted to see this river at the start, this river I had crossed last in Troy. Rivers are a big part of my life (thanks Kirk)! And I’ve enjoyed seeing how their characters change over distance and time.

I made camp by some other small ponds. No dry camping for me tonight! The majority of my nights have been spent away from a water source, so having an unending supply nearby is quite the luxury. 

Rain started soon after I put up the tent. Rain! I might have preferred snow…

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BMT Day 20 – 18.7 miles (331.3 total)

Night three in a hotel room… get me to woods stat! I want to go back to the real world. 

I woke early again, and started packing up the yard sale. My gear was in piles all over the room, but purposeful piles I was telling myself. It was amazing it all fit back in my pack, but with five days of food it was all I could do to close the top…I guess I went big on food this week. 😃

I walked over to Charlie’s place and soon Emily had a latte in my hands, and Charlie was bringing out a German apple Dutch baby. Are you kidding! I am thrilled, spoiled, and grateful all at the same time.

We headed out; there were plans to meet Emily this afternoon when she would pick up Charlie from somewhere on our walk. We skirted the edge of the Eastern Oregon University Campus, (I grew up on college campuses, my Dad having worked at them my whole life…I find something nostalgic, exciting, and hopeful about a university campus) and walked to where Kent and Cilla were waiting for us on the road out of town. 

What fun to have company on this road walk. The day buzzed by as we talked about various adventures we had all been on, fun facts about the area, and the most pertinent public land issues in the Blue Mountains. The stories were fueling our uphill trajectory high enough to get us into some snow. The rain the day before in La Grande had been snow up here. Just a dusting remained and glistened in the bright sun. Cold temps prevented the snow from melting however, and most of the way we played layer shuffle. Hat on, hat off, vest on, vest off. 

Cilla and Kent veared off to walk a loop back to town while Charlie and I kept walking south.

My companions for the day

The expanse of forest around us was stunning, and we walked into the cold, not cold, cold winds of the afternoon until Emily found us on a break, eating fruit in the sun. 

We played switch-a-roo and Emily and their beautiful dog Suzie walked with us. Suzie reminded me of Jasper, our friend’s sweet black lab that Kirk and I used to take on adventures. Jasper is an old lady now and can’t quite frolic as she used to, but at 14 Suzie was leaping around in the frosty remnants of the day before. You can never be too old to play in the snow.

We finally said our goodbyes on the side of the road and I continued on. It was such a welcome change from my daily solo treks so have some company. I really do love hiking with people and I really do love spending time in nature alone as well. Today I got to do both!

The Intrepid Three had marked a water source that I would pass just as I wanted to find camp, but the water was gone. Ahhhhhh. I trudged up the hill looking higher and higher in the drainage for any puddles of the precious liquid, but nope, the cold and inch of snow on the ground had done a number on the little creek. 

I set up the tent and started melting snow for my dinner water and coffee provision in the morning. I’d go without a hot breakfast and eat bars as I didn’t want to burn too much fuel. Turning snow into water…at least there was snow!

I’ve been expecting this cold since the beginning, its quite surprising it took until day 20 for me to get to wear all my down layers. Down booties! Huge down mittens! Finally! 

I made dinner wearing my quilt as a cape, a fabulous technique if I do say so myself.

Crunchy mac and cheese? Hungry don’t care.

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BMT Days 18 & 19 – 0 miles (312.6 total)

Day one was for rest and food. I watched cable TV (and was reminded why I don’t have a TV), ate delivery pizza and salad, ate again from Dennys next door. Did laundry, bathed a few times. Was horizontal. 

Day two was for errands. I had a pile of things I didn’t need anymore, and as this was my first opportunity to visit a post office on the trip, I was able to unload a couple pounds of gear from my pack. I had also broken my hiking pole on the last day into La Grande, so wanted to visit the Blue Mountain Outfitters and see about a replacement. Then resupply. I was very excited at the opportunity to buy whatever food I wanted for the next five days. Thus far my resupply had been prepackaged boxes of food I had sent myself before the hike began. In reality what that looked like was the same food almost every day so far…bulk buying made a lot of sense when I was looking to pack food for a month out here, but I could have done a better job of giving myself a little more variety. I was ready to mix it up a bit before picking up my last resupply box in the next town stop of Sumpter. 

Yeah La Grande!

Back to the hotel to chill a bit before dinner. The folks at the Greater Hells Canyon Council have really gone out of their way to support and fete me on this hike, and tonight board member Charlie Jones had invited me over for a backyard dinner, complete with a cozy fire and hot toddys. Charlie and his wife Emily were fabulous hosts, and I also got to meet their good friends Cilla and Kent who had been Peace Corps volunteers in Africa too, and were very avid backpackers. I was so lucky to have all that local trail knowledge, and we discussed what I had hiked so far, and what I will hike. These people don’t get any better! 

Charlie brought out a mouth watering dinner of chicken/leek/mushroom/spinach crepes with Béchamel sauce and gruyere (OMG!). Cilla had made a salad 100% out of her garden (fresh food!). I was spoiled.

We made plans for the morning; both Charlie and Kent were interested in walking with me for a bit as I headed out of La Grande and towards my next mountain range: the Elkhorns. I can’t wait for the Elkhorns. There is a 20-mile crest trail through this craggy granite mountain range, I would be back up at elevations around 8,000 feet…and with some snow on the way it was sure to be an eventful week of walking.

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BMT Day 17 – 26.8 miles (312.6 total)

The antidote to great effort is great rest. The need for a great rest was becoming more and more apparent as my energy levels and motivation waivered. 

The route today was to follow a trail in the Bear Creek drainage for over five miles, then pop up at the Summit Guard Station and then drop steeply into the Five Points drainage on a trail that probably wasn’t there. That sounded like a whole heck of a lot of effort, and as I was reviewing the map and terrain last night saw there was another trail that climbed up out of Bear Creek after maybe a mile, and then I could connect back up to the route near the top of Mt Emily just north of La Grande. I decided that I’d let the Bear Creek trail make my decision for me. If the trail was in good shape, I’d take the trail. If not, I’d consider the hike out.

And the Bear Creek trail was the trail that time forgot. I found the tread, but there were trees growing over the trail….thats how long it has been let go, maybe 10 years? It was slow going. It was hard walking.

this is trail, or was trail

I decided to choose the river gauntlet as opposed to the trail gauntlet. The river had been scoured clean like many of the others in the area, but this smaller creek also contained a lot of log jams, so I had to carefully climb up and over them. Packrafting has given me a lot of great experience with climbing over log jams…and it is easier to do without a boat…but it was still not easy. 

This bushwhack stood between me and the way out. The only thing to do was put my head down and hope I didn’t get poked in the eye. Literally. 

By the time I got to the first side trail I had gone a mile and a half in an hour and a half. By this rate I’d get to La Grande in another week. No good. I saw a way out and I took it. Into the unknown again. 

free of the bushwhacking!

I climbed steeply up the trail that went up the spine of another ridge. Once I reached the two-track road on top, my efforts of hiking the first three miles of the day had taken three hours. So tired. I’m tired. And the road was not flat.

hard but stunning

I put on some David Bowie and powered up. My reserves were low and sputtering on empty. That road was a cruel joke. That road took what little effort I had left and ground it under its steep rocky boot. The only thing moving my legs at this point was the magnetic pull of La Grande. The Big. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I put on the Beastie Boys, and substituted “Brooklyn” for “La Grande”. No sleep till La Grande!!

So that was when the thought entered my head that I would just keep moving, whatever the speed and just get where I get (maybe town?) I didn’t look at the mileage between me and La Grande, I knew it was a lot. 

So I walked and walked. I transcended the effort and distracted myself with podcasts…and fortunately Mount Emily was a beautiful amazing distraction. The views up top were INCREDIBLE. No words to do it justice.

On the south side of the mountain I entered MERA, a system of trails for hikers, bikers, horses, and ATVs. What an awesome recreation infrastructure so close town! I was already getting a serious crush on La Grande.

And wow, what an entrance! Damn La Grande! I like! It was one of the most scenic and beautiful entrances to a town I’ve seen. I walked down out of the mountains near dusk with pinks and purples streaking the sky. 

I walked right to the first hotel I could find that had laundry available (very important) and checked in for three nights. The time for great rest had now begun.

View all photos here