Susan, hearing our wolf and adventure stories, decided she had to visit our Best Place, an untouched basin without use trails, ducks, or other sign of human use we visited 2010 . The boys and I felt we had unfinished business, what with losing 2 days to rain last year, so we were game!
We left Saturday afternoon, traveling North thru Portland, then east on I84. The Dollar Lake Fire on Mt Hood was sending up a huge smoke plume. We drive towards, then under the smoke pall, and it wasn’t till we are well East of Mt Hood that we can see anything.
With more people on board, travel breaks came more frequently, but we still make the TH by 2:30 AM, the temp a chilly 41 degrees under blazing stars. It is early Sunday morning of Labor Day Weekend, and the TH parking area is over-flowing with cars, pick-ups, and horse trailers. The first available place to park is a 100 yards away from the TH lot.
Day 1. Trail head to Bear camp, 13 miles.
We changed into trail garb, and were on trail by 3:05 AM, stumbling along by headlamp. Maybe a mile in there is an opening in the forest, and as we crossed it the wolves opened up. They were a long ways off, at the top of the opposing ridge, but they howled like they meant it. Susan was thrilled.
Again, we made good time, and when the sun hit us, we were at the same lunch spot right on the river. Wonderful! We had a great lunch of Thomas Everything Bagels with string cheese, salami, mustard, and mayo, plus a little trail kibble and Crystal Light.
By the time we get moving again, sun felt hot, but the air was still cold. But the temp soared as we continued to Bear Camp, its pile of throwing rocks and sharpened pike pole still at the ready. We threw up our tent, enjoyed a very warm afternoon hanging out in the shade, listening to Susan read from Chris’s kindle, and trying out our luxury item, a 1980’s lawn chair.
Dinner was Vegetable Soup with generous extra vegies, Teriyaki Chicken with extra chicken breast. Susan keeps looking at me with a wry, odd smile. What does she want? “Sorry”, I finally say, “No wine this year. I brought a lawn chair instead." She doesn’t look like she believes me.
The sun leaves us at 6:30, the air chills quickly, and by 8 the mosquitos and light are gone.
Day 2. Bear Camp to our “Best Place” 9/5
The next morning is briskly cold. We are slow getting up, the sun already upon the high ridges. Finally we get it going up to our landmarks, then thru the woods, into the river, up the hill, along the valley to our high camp. As we climb we can see the convection column of a fire to the North.
Afternoon at the camp is pleasant. The additional elevation keeps the intensity out of the afternoon heat. We splash in the lake which, with the warm weather, is teeming with fish prowling for insects. A thunder cell moves by, its down draft causes an erratic, very strong, and gusty wind, that blows Susan’s hat into the lake.
Refreshed, we amble up stream to the larger lake. Susan spots a very large, blue colored trout, cruising the shore. We return for a dinner of Leek Soup and Beef Stroganoff, followed by another reading from the kindle.
That night I sleep poorly, which I blame on caffeinated tea after dinner. The tent is full, so I sleep outside. I watch the stars circle, the moon rise, then set, Jupiter rise to near the zenith, where the brightness of the coming day overwhelms it. While not all our food is in bear canisters, I only hear mice rustle around the cook area once. About the time I can no longer see Jupiter, a peregrine falcon passes directly over our camp, his feathers making a whizzing whirring sound as he power dives by.
Day 3. Excursion to the ridge South of camp. 9/6
We load up our snack and lunch things and move out to the South.
Susan and Joseph
Changing perspective on our camp lake.
Susan tries on a new hat.
How’s this look?
Our camp is so far below
Smoke moves in, shutting down the views, but not the sun’s heat. We poke around a bit on the exposed side of a ridge, but eventually return to camp as we can’t see much, the smoke smells, and the sun is too hot.
After dinner, the air has cleared and Susan and I walk north along granite ramps to where we can look far to the North. She takes my picture with the fire in the back ground.
Day 4. Exploring the ledges below Camp. 9/7
I sleep better, but still watch the moon, which is waxing and drowning out the fainter stars. As the dawn light strengthens, the Falcon whizzes by. I notice that the true firs around camp are buzzing—they have aphids and hundreds of yellow jackets are after the honey dew. Then squirrels start a racket so I get up and get the water going.
The smoke comes back as we retrace our route in. As the day grows long, the wind shifts and the air clears. We can see the fire putting up a huge convection column capped by a cumulus cloud.
We come back to camp and bathe. After that we get together and have a discussion about food. Well, our snack and lunch food isn’t adequate and we are all hungry and getting hungrier.
So, fishies, your time is up. We haven’t packed fishing tackle, but we have trekking poles, safety pins, and dental floss, and that’s sort of like fishing tackle, right? Joseph ties himself a fly using dental floss and a safety pin. Susan catches a grass hopper. I tie a streamer fly using piping from my fleece and mountain goat wool Susan collected.
The fish love Susan’s grass hopper to death, but since safety pins are barbless, Susan can’t hook a fish. Joseph and I have similar unluck with our flies, so by dinner time its fisher people 0, fishies 3.
I watch the fish. They are following any insect that flies over the water, even dragonflies. I throw in a couple ants which are immediately gobbled. Ack, stupid fish! I go across and above the lake and fill our largest pot with snow so we can have chilled Crystal Light with dinner.
Day 5. Natural High. 9/8
I sleep well, so if the Falcon whizzed by, I missed him. Joseph tried fishing again, and caught an 8-9 incher. We slip the trout into a zip lock and into the snow pot.
Today we’ve decided to explore an area Chris checked out the previous year. It is a bit of a scramble, but he found a route over granite ledges and talus to a high shelf above our camp.
Walking up glacially polished granite.
A little class 3.
From one ledge to another.
Are we there yet?
We’ve climbed as high as we can safely. A number of currant bushes, laden with ripe currants, grow out of crevices in the rock. We strip them clean.
Our view West.
Our destination in two days is the saddle just left of center. Down below, we can see our camp—I can even see my sleeping bag, which I draped over the tent to air. Damn if I can’t spot camp in any of my photos.
Upon returning to camp, we have a very meager lunch of Kavli, peanut butter, and dried apricots, which is actually wonderful, except that there isn’t enough of it.
Joseph goes back to fishing and catches another trout. Chris comes up with a couple cups of currants.
After dinner, Joseph goes fishing again and lands 4. Since Chris won’t eat fish, that gives us two trout each for breakfast. Yeah!!!!
Day 6. Exploring along the creek. 9/9
The day turns out smoky. The falcon whizzes by. I don’t see him, but I hear him and that’s my cue to get up. In addition to our regular breakfast ration, we have the trout, which I clean and Susan steams. The fish are delicious, but that deliciousness comes at the cost of hands, utensils, and pots that smell fishy, plus fish remains that, while disposed of a very long ways from our camp, may still lead unwanted critters to us.
After breakfast we explore along the creek, and don’t find much. The ‘pools’ shown on the map, which were dried up last year, are full thanks to a bigger snow year, but without recent thunderstorms, the vegetation is crackly dry.
We come across an enormous glacial erratic, 50’ x 50’ x 30’ high. It has an overhang on one side the size of a living room you can stand up under. The overhang area looks all beaten down, like mountain goats use it for shelter.
Back at camp for lunch, I pull out a surprise—a 1 lb bag of beef jerky. Yeah!!!!
Afternoon is spent splashing around in the lake.
Day 7. The Lake Over Yonder 9/10
The falcon is a no show, so I do the daily water fetch-and-boil.
Waiting For Coffee.
Today’s plan was to go over the pass to the West to explore a cirque with a small lake. From last year we know the descent is very steep, so we hope to traverse over to another saddle and then descend over easier terrain.
We pass the largest lake on its North side, and climb to the pass via the few existing tree clumps to avoid talus. Exposed to the morning sun, we take our time. Susan doesn’t feel well, so she and Joseph park at the top while Chris and I see if we can find a route to the next saddle. We drop down an obvious ramp only to cliff out. We back track to a ramp going uphill, which skirts a cliff band before delivering us to easy terrain—success!
Glacial Chatter Marks.
We return to the others, and work our way back to camp, this time following a cliff band to take advantage of a narrow strip of grassy scree—enough talus for one day!
Skyline Above Largest Lake.
By the time we reached camp skies were threatening. After our rainy experiences the previous years, I had dreamed of a “light tent” you could stand up in, cook in, and reflective for night time pursuits. Seemed like time to put up the prototype, which used the poles from our old Mondo Condo, sadly RIP, and some space blankets.
Well, the results don’t meet expectations. Since we couldn’t have a fire, I did not install the clear panel on the open side of the shelter—the idea being radiant heat could enter and reflect off the interior to warm you while excluding smoke. A thunderstorm brought strong winds, which showed the concept robust enough for wind, but rain leaked in along the seams. On the positive side it kept the pesky moon away, so I slept better, and I was able to see well enough after dark to read and write by the light of a small led lantern that otherwise would be inadequate for the task.
Day 8. What happened? 9/11
No photos. Susan stayed in camp and read stories on the kindle, while the boys and I poked around South of camp, an area that rain kept us from exploring last year. Smoky and warm again.
Day 9. Moving Out and an Uninvited Dinner Guest. 9/12
We arose early, packed, and got underway.
The plan was to meet up at Bear Camp for snacks, and then stop at our first day’s lunch stop for the night. No problem Bear Camp, but when I arrived at the intended night camp, no one. Trail tracks showed they continued past. I find them a half hour down the trail, and we proceed to a decent place further down, albeit right on the trail.
Well, the sky had been getting increasingly dark, and, looking back the valley was closed off with heavy rain, so we broke out the space blankets and took a siesta. Sure enough the rain reached us after awhile, and we experienced a good hour of moderate precip livened by a few thunderclaps before skies lightened.
We fixed dinner, the soup being particularly fragrant French onion. Up the trail comes a two or three year old bear, nose in the air, sniffing his way to our dinner. We yell and yell until he finally takes the hint and disappears into the brush.
During the main course, we discuss the likelihood of a nocturnal bear visit. We all vote to hike out rather than camp. While nearly dark by the time we get moving, the rising moon is near full and it is easy to see the trail. Every now and again it showers, and the trail side brush keeps us plenty wet and cool.
The trail head is transformed. Where there had been a jumble of rigs parked every which way, now there are a couple neatly parked sedans, plus our vehicle parked inappropriately far away. The camp ground is deserted, the garbage cans confiscated, and the water system is off. It starts to sprinkle, so we vote to drive home rather than pump water and set up camp in the wet dark.
Funny, with all those rigs at the trailhead you would think we would see somebody. Our tally? Two unfriendly women we met on day 1 just before we reached Bear Camp, and three headlamps shone in our direction during our way out.
Our return home is bittersweet. We find the week just past has been the hottest of the summer, which is why it was so much warmer this Sawtooth trip. Unfortunately the heat helped Mt Hood’s Dollar Lake Fire consume several thousand acres, including places we love. But we did lose weight, me as much as I did on the JMT!!
Our Last Best Place was still pristine but Susan wasn’t impressed. “I wouldn’t go back.” she says. OK, it isn’t the Last Best Place, but visiting a place so untouched is rare. I would go back, for this place has the attributes I value.
What do you think?
This was the third of five trips. While a stand-alone, it is a chapter in the larger story of our exploration of the Sawtooths. The previous chapters are:
2009 Trip, Part 1 viewtopic.php?f=8&t=10767
2009 Trip, Part 2 viewtopic.php?f=8&t=10787
2010 Trip viewtopic.php?f=8&t=10978
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