Section 1: Lake Owyhee SP-Rome Station
•Painted Canyon--coolness and stillness of the morning, walking in silence, feeling the sky; pushing down, squeezing out space. Sky-scraped crimson walls jut up, from wide-walked wash to narrow gorge. A thousand eyes trickle tears of desert varnish smearing like eyeliner below pockmarks of rock.
•Juniper Gulch--sunburnt rocks, resembling a scorched wasp nest. Nests spread apart like from a giant world, or, for us, a horror B-movie. Cook me that way: boil my blood, blister my wings. I am hear for the the taking.
•Willow Creek Gulch--chunky, horse paths vs. cow paths, undulating with cognizance---no man is an island. Least resistance of effort, like water that etched and pockmarked this rowdy landscape. Fangs sprung out of ground in sporadic locales like an individual garden of ferocious Venus Flytraps, all beneath giant buttresses of sculpted new-wave hairstyles with a precipitous gelled wave. Mouths open, agape, waiting for prey with alluring beauty; a chuckling pit of teeth. Large fanged mouths, clubby arms and bulging eyes: Where the Wild Things Are.
•Tableland--water haul thwarted by a gentle breeze. Blue sky softly smothering the dry land. A cowboy, Juan E. McKinney or Juaney McKinney, straddles a horse up on the hill, slowly making his way off the top pinch of the mesa, herding cattle for the separation of calves. We talk to each other for 20 minutes. Conclusion: there's enough land for all of us to share. Just that there's some places too crowded with irresponsible users. He told me of an amusing story where a Fish & Game Warden collected beer cans and other garbage in certain camp or hunting spots, then returned the litter to whom it belonged. Tracked them down and dumped it right in their yard. Strangely, he was fired. Abbey reincarnated, I suppose. I fathom the act of dumping paper blossoms on hikers' pillow cases from how the inexperienced and ignorant litter the trail. By smell is one way to track them down, I suppose.
Progression across a barren land. Owyhee glimmers, iron roars in the cliff bands, lava rock with a thick, dry golden plumage of prickly grass remains from frozen flows, into the ashy dusk like a slow burning ember.
Section 2: Rome Station-McDermitt
•Owyhee Rim--stirred my dreary eyes open to the predawn cries of coyotes on inventory, their lamenting wails echoing across the deep canyon, almost wailing playfully. I listened alert with grogginess before I turned over and went back to sleep. The rim screamed with a dull wind, sounding contrary to what was in my mind: a hellish furnace. Instead a dark abyss with a silvery-streamed serpentine tongue emanated the reflective morning light of the sky. Only then did the wind seem to me to come from something inwards from a deeper gullet, a paralyzing endless craw, a yawning serpent.
I stopped short of a coiled rattler torpid in the morning chill. The day begat an eerie quietude. The stillness felt strange, this antagonizing treeless plain. Then, an overland caravan appeared in the distance. They provided me with the 2 extra liters of water I needed to get to Three Forks comfortably. Plus an Olympia beer--'It's the water.' We all relished the chance encounter in a lonesome land. Still the day went quietly. Smoke billowed up from the mountains in the south, so much so, it became hard to discern distances or a landscape until you were right in top of the shape. The smoke confused things, caused a whirling turmoil that distorted the desert traveler's senses. Dullness ensued, not as in boredom rather a careening thud of thought. But a truck drove by and passed along Snickerdoodle cookies. What truly random acts of kindness and good fortune, a pleasant hunger.
•Louse Canyon--jellyfish soaring through a sea of blue sky, paratroopers floating down raiding into a battlefield of a hot canyon, the mighty wind whipped up hundreds of tumbleweeds, the canopies twirling like a top, the stem bobbing like a buoy.
Waning in the night a waxing moon's light soon became smothered by low clouds. A real darkness ensued, then a sporadic rain dappled my tarp. Despite being in the bottom of a deep canyon and having rained, the morning was the warmest I had had yet. But the day didn't warm up any faster. Louse Canyon closed in on me, its basalt towers leaning in over the top of me. Green and orange lichen decorated the steep walls. Sometimes the river wasn't there, other times you ended up fighting thick willows that choked the canyon floor only with the tips of the spears pointed with the rush of the remnant of flowing water---it was like trying to negotiate a moat surrounding a fortress--other times the canyon narrowed in so close that the water had no place else to go but to settle in massive pools with no walking around. Wading and swimming were necessary. I encountered the first wade around 730am; the day got suddenly colder. After slow going and slow-cold-wading, somewhere around 8-10 deep crossings, I skittered up the canyon slopes short of Flag Crossing and bade farewell to the deep innards of Louse Canyon.
At the top a cowboy and his son rode upon me seemingly out of nowhere. They were fetching cattle, in particular the ones headed deep into the canyon. I pinpointed on a map where I saw cattle and had inadvertently shooed them up hill. We spoke of land ethics, a common topic when lonesome strangers encounter each other in the big vistas. Clearly we came from different political views, however, just as with the other cowboy of a couple days prior, we shared a common ground on land ethics. Overuse seemed to be another agreement between each other, as well as under-use and the protecting of those particular lands sanctioned federally. I had been then first overland hiker he had seen in his lifetime out there in the Owyhee Desert. And in earnest I could see how much he cared for the land, how he didn't want the cattle down in the canyon. Again, sharing the land with responsible ethics was overwhelmingly unified rather than a 'kick them out/don't tread on me' attitude. Then, he kept telling me to 'tell my friends' but I could tell he notioned it with a different meaning towards me. I understand we all need places to go, to use, but we need all of each other connected. And a coyote appeared traipsing a short distance away, not leaning one way or the other, simply wandering the land unoccupied, an opportunist trying to seam together rifts while going unnoticed. I'm not sure what 'friends' to tell. I roam as I please. I don't see the land mandated as public or free from a government when philosophically I see the land as free as dictated under the laws of nature. And because of that I treat it with the highest reverence and the people who live within the land.
'They want to make this area a monument,' he said, 'and I ain't seen anyone out here but you.' I totally get it. Some places are over-loved and it sickens me. Some places need protection too. I know for sure that cowboy has been roaming those plains and Louse Canyon for years, knows it better than most. And I wonder how much time protesters spend way out here. Through my experience there's a lot of couch yellers versus the ones truly fighting for a cause. I don't like the cows tearing up the land any more than anybody else does but I can honestly tell you that with proper management their damage to the land ain't that much different than a herd of hikers clomping down through Rae Lakes in the High Sierra on the JMT or SoCal on the PCT. How I am: I try to listen to the three sides of the story before casting any judgment or decision. How I am: not part of any group except the consumer machine just like every damn person in this country, no matter how much I feel I am not part of any group or side. Sometimes we take freedom too far. Sometimes we try to take freedom away from free people. It's difficult for me to understand empathizing with an extremist, but I'm an extremist too. And a lot of what long distance hiking in the U.S. encompasses, in particular throughout the vast West, is utilizing what the inhabitants within a vast landscape have built within the land they use and we both love. Maybe I'm just a proponent of sustainable and responsibly raised and grazed cows. Without them then our water sources are even more scarce, our remote canyons become too inaccessible, etc. Maybe as long distance hikers and adventurers by spreading the love out just a little bit more we can be a catalyst in relationships with land management between the right and the left. Here I go associating myself with a group when all I feel is the ultimate connection with the land.
•The High Plains--that night, after the miles opened up, I couldn't stop walking. The icy night sky glittered with stars and a bright half moon. No artificial light polluted the atmosphere and a deep darkness fell upon the land. I walked awkwardly over clumpy basalt rock, so I simply ambled along slowly. Alone, this moment: Camus's exile, Kerouac's desolation, Hamsun's hunger, and Ruess's desert wilderness, a cowboy's wrinkle...and my no-name. Under the sheltering night, eventually I bedded down on square-caked dirt between clumps of dry grass and small boulders of basalt. Periodically I would stir up to glance up at the sky. Roving shadows of black clouds sealed the sky like patches from the moonlight. I would roll over and listen to my heart beat thinking 'only me and us.' It's all inside of me, everywhere.
Regardless of who's in charge, I try to live my life with a deliberate conscience, treat others with respect and kindness, but the coyote...
Section 3: McDermitt-Fields
•Oregon Cyn., Trout Ck. and Pueblo Mtns.--it's just the lonesomeness of a landscape this vast: the tiny towns, the mountains, the basins, the canyons, the people. All of it, it's just so damn romantic. It all feels like an obsession to me. This isolation and remoteness, barren and in stark contrast to the rest of the world, as if I'm on another planet. Then, the moon rises up quicker than what you think, takes you by surprise, and dwarfs the buttes beneath it. If there's a singular entity in this world that seemingly represents isolation and lonesomeness it is the moon. Rising up over this abstract planet, resplendent with the lingering alpenglow, dominating the entire sky, perforating the night with its glow. Think about it: a giant orb penetrating the darkness of the Earth as if appearing magically, the only entity we know that battles the sun, a pinprick of hope in an infinite and formidable universe.
The moon is shining differently. Fall is settling in. The sun, as an eye of light, is squinting, or illuminating a tiresome droop, for it's been burning hard all summer; the wildlife are responding to the change of the season and acting differently, the snakes are gone, the jackrabbit pelt looks thicker and darker, the deer are hidden better, unseen; the scattered fragments of bone seem fragile and brittle, the coyote howl is tapering off as if exiting a stage as they walk off, the shrubbery is dry and crackly, the sagebrush looks grey and old, the buckbrush is turning a copper-red and the aspen a faded yellow-green; the air is brisk and icily cold, even the evenings are as cold as the mornings, the ubiquitous dust is still present but the plumes are thicker and slow-settling; the hillsides are abound with hunters, searching, crawling, up in their stands, doing whatever it takes to find their meat. Each hunter says the same. 'The cold has settled early this year.' Rosy cheeks, wind-chafed and cold-chapped, they are of the land.
All this: The Ballad of a Cold Desert in Fall.
Section 4: Fields-Frenchglen
•Alvord Desert--dusty, dry lake bed and caked dirt and soil, a reflective surface that only my shadow can penetrate; devils haystacks around the salt brush, salt tiles and crystals, finding an arrowhead of obsidian perfectly in tact, all the while trekking towards and under the dusty purple glow of the Steens. Magnificent. I set up camp at the sagebrush-lined shores of the Alvord Desert with the empty desert wind whipping up a stolid silence, as the Harvest Moon rose an indelible dominance that I still felt in the morning.
•Steens Mtns.--begrudgingly maneuvering up Wildhorse Creek drainage, excruciatingly slow-going following scant game trails that zigzagged in every direction. Up above the serrated crest of the southern ridge line dominated the skyline, pockets of drizzled snow dappled recesses in the escarpment like a sprinkled coating of powdered sugar on a sweet cake. Wildhorse Lake, I took refuge behind a large boulder and had lunch. I watched the invisible wind become visible on the surface of the water. Suddenly I had become a visitor in an alpine environment. To the south, down the deep, massive vee of the drainage I could see the Pueblo Valley down below. On the Steens crest small snowdrifts piled up in hunkered rock coves, as I hiked easily along the popular driven road. Views of the deep Big Indian Creek gorge were plentiful, filled my eyes up impressively. Then, an extremely deep plunge down said gorge, shoe-skiing at times. In the bottom, willows and cottonwoods shimmied in the wind with their fading color of leaves. Up above in the interstitial space, smoke filled the gorge. Then, fighter jets zoomed through the gorge and careened twirling straight up and over the Steens' crest.
Section 5: Frenchglen-Plush
•Outback--the wind sounds different when it hits nothing, only ripping through open shallow canyons that causes a low hum, sometimes a whistle. Easy walking that day in an enormously empty place. I hiked into the sunset and the temperature dropped rapidly. That night the moon rose late, so the Milky Way was incredibly thick with stars, a black sea above me with a phosphorescence of a brilliant diamonds, only millions of them. In the morning, my tarp frosted over and I could see each individual flake caked onto my tarp. I shook it loose in the frigid morning air, shivering and unemotionally waiting for the sun to peer over the eastern horizon. I couldn't afford to feel the cold; I had to get moving. Then, little songbirds aroused after a stifling brittle cold, cavorting in and around the sagebrush, darting through stringy strips of branches and sprigs of sage, flirting with each other, fluttering over the frosty, tiny meadow spots, picking over the ice crystals from blades of grass and slaking their thirst for the day.
•Hart Mtn. Refuge--this is all a matter of simplicity. Well, that and romanticism and a nomadic wandering. And the intense lonesomeness. The massive sky, the whirring wind, the empty landscape and open range, slowly revolving under a glowing orb. All of it, I just feel like a speck. And I'm just walking. Moving with the world. Sometimes I don't even realize I have moved some distance. I come to, like an awakening, and feel like I've been transported to another place that I saw from another place prior in the distance. In a flash I recall minute details and footprints established, however, it's not a knowledge that I have gained rather an intense understanding. I feel...animal, elevated. Regardless, I'm not confused by the moment. Everything feels lucid while at the same time I feel airy and ethereal. Like I've just floated along paths, drifting on the infinite high plains, all at once. Although the destination is a blur because time is obsolete, time does not matter to me, I simply know I just journeyed.
Section 6: Plush-Paisley
•Aberts Rim--might nothing be finer than the smell of a mahogany grove. The sweet tenderness of truly dense wood, hypnotizing, intoxicating, the large stands of mahogany put me in a walking trance. I zoned out. Then, hit a ponderosa pine forest, a newer type ecozone after miles upon miles of open desert, across the Oregon Outback. Through the forest and groves I ambled up a rocky and grassy plain. I neared the edge: Aberts Rim. And I exclaimed, 'Holy Shit!' The sheer vastness of the valley below, the sheer steepness of the basalt capped cliff, the sheer enormity of the sky, and the sheer expanse of Lake Abert, just...simply had me astonished and amazed. No cliche or joking here. Straight up.
•The Fremont--in the night, a low hum drew me to open my eyes. I peeked under my tarp as the hum grew louder into a metal and industry type clutter. The bright lights turned on as I rubbed my eyes. For a moment I thought I was reliving the Dream of the Machines that Reese dreamt of in The Terminator. Although the metal clutter wasn't just a loud garbage truck, a timberjack harvester actually, the scene sure did seem strange and eerie as the timber crew got to work at midnight. In the morning I felt warmer than I thought, but I knew that was because I camped under a tall canopy that sheltered me from the icy wind. As I climbed Crook Mountain fog barreled over the crest cascading into open air in different streams. Frost laced the sagebrush giving the hillside a coating of white rime that glistened in the sporadic glow of the morning sun. And when the wind picked up the ice crystals drove in at an angle reminiscent of sleet hailing sideways at a winter's football game at Lambeau Field. The ice crystals dappled my face stinging my cheeks as I stammered on practically at a trot following bear prints which left a deep impression on the trail, the paw pleats speckled with new frost looked like mini mountain ridges. I thought of an ant-sized alpinist. So, I pushed on.
I ended up in the small town of Lakeview to let the storm pass and to rest up a bit. Luck had it that I got to hang out with Virgo, another thru-hiker going in the same direction as myself, and whose footprints I've been tracking since the beginning.
More trail, beautifully groomed. The mountain range isn't that tall but with the basins being as low as the are the views from the divide didn't disappoint. Aberts Rim was to the east, an immense flatness that looked severely geometric, like a cloth cut from a tailor, a brick cleaved from a mason. The sunset dazzled of the hazy ridges, hues of purples and oranges lit up the heavens. The best thing was that warm air settled on the high meadows, ponderosa forests and mahogany groves. That night and morning was the warmest I had had in about two weeks.
Section 7: Paisley-Bend
•Diablo Rim--naked in an exposed land, a shoreline, a tip of land, that plunged deep into a sagebrush sea. Wild horses grazed to the more gradual western slopes, picking their way through short brush. From the top of Diablo Peak, the Three Sisters Peaks loomed in the distance. I was getting close to the end. On the rim proper, a string of horse trails led the way making travel more efficient. I enjoyed this.
Headlights at night symbolize a human presence, like we are not alone in this world, as alien as they may seem. In the pitch black of night, lights appear far, far away. Too far to discern in a lonely heart. All noise is muffled save for the wind. But the vision of light splintering the darkness compels a curiosity, like wondering where an airplane is flying to, who is on board, as a jet soars across the sky. Humans may not howl like coyotes, but we have different ways to inventory our lonesomeness, different ways to validate our existence within a moving world.
•Badlands--crossing the last major road, the last wavelength connecting sand and ancient lava beds. Cloudy and tumultuous skies above a constant presence, in particular after a frigid night of wind, cold, and snow. This area didn't feel badlandish, rather less abominable than the remoteness of the eastern Oregon Desert. Civilization is near; the desert traveler is about to quench a thirst.
I've loved reading about your trips but man, these last couple were amazing! Such an inspiration in images and words. Please keep writing. Hoping one of these days I'll get up to getting more off the beaten path (done AT and PCT but still am used to the luxury of clearly marked trails)ReplyDelete
Hey thanks! Getting off the beaten path is a great way to have utterly new experiences. I think it's worth a try!Delete
Do you have any suggestions on a fairly safe progression from trails to routes? I live in a major city when not hiking and there isn't so much a place I can test out wandering 'round here. Maybe the GET? (~10% XC?)Delete
My goal is to section hike your vagabond loop. AZT in April :)
The GET is a great place to start. I also think of Death Valley, even the Sierra High Route during favorable weather. Another option is the high country of CO, like the San Juans. Really any place you can have good visual on the land in regards to landmarks. Once you can be sufficiently good at that, then the bushwhacking part becomes a bit more tolerable...well, a little bit. (;Delete
Let me know if I can be of any help with the Vagabond Loop planning!
Great photos, great prose to go with them. It was a pleasure to meet both you and Virgo in Lakeview!ReplyDelete
Thanks Thom! Great meeting you too. Good luck out there in Lakeview. You got a good idea out there. Next time I pass thru I’ll pay a visit!ReplyDelete