A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about waterfalls

Yodeling Under a Glacier

A Thom Style Adventure...

rain 51 °F

It is raining as I step off the number three bus and onto the side of the Mendenhall Loop Road. It has been raining since I woke up hung over at the Alaskan (a Juneau tradition), and it has been raining all morning. I don’t mind. Rain is a fact of life in Southeast Alaska, and you can’t let it get to you lest it crush your spirit.

The bus pulls away and I am free to choose my own adventure. I have only a rough idea where I am going. I vaguely remember the roads on a Google map I looked at earlier in the morning. I also have a soggy paper map that shows the bus route and a glacier towards the top of the map. This map is not to scale, and I don’t know how far away the glacier is from the road.

I’m aiming for that glacier. If all goes well, the road I’m walking will lead to Mendenhall Lake. If I can find the lake, I can find the glacier. If I can’t find the lake, then I have no idea where I’m going.

I met a guy in Antarctica who put the idea of this adventure in my head. That was back in November. It’s been simmering in my mind since then. I purposely chose to fly out of Juneau so I could make this day happen. As I walk, I try to remember what he said about the trail. “I walked up the trail and there was a sign that said, ‘West Glacier Trail’ with an arrow to the left and another arrow to the right that said, ‘Primitive Trail.’ I went to the right.” Once I find the lake, I have to find the trail.

I feel good. My stride is strong. My pace is quick. It isn’t long before I find the lake - right where I hoped it would be. I pass a small covered shelter near the edge of the lake. Applause erupts from within. I know it isn’t for me, but I pretend it is. “Why, thank you,” I say. “I’m very happy to be here.” Smiling at my own silliness, another bout of applause opens up and my smile grows.

There it is - the west glacier trailhead. I stop briefly to text a few people my exit time. I often travel by myself. If I know I’m heading in the wild or about to do something dangerous, I will text a few buddies who I can count on to send help if I need it. My text said: “Hi. I’m in Juneau and taking a hike on the west glacier trail. I should be out by 9 a.m. tomorrow. I’ll text you by then. If not, wait 3 hours, and then call the cops. Thanks.” Now, I didn’t mention the fact I was going to the glacier. I also didn’t mention that I was looking for ice caves. But, at least it would give them a place to start looking for me. By the way, nobody in their right mind should go looking for ice caves on a glacier by themselves. I am the only exception! Remember that!

Anyhow, I have my safety net in place. I turn off my phone and start up the trail. It’s a great forest trail. Moss covers everything. The forest is green. The path crosses several creeks gushing with clear water. The air is cold, and the rain continues to fall. I’m very tempted to take pictures of the forest scenes, but my camera would be soaked in minutes.

I stop briefly at a viewpoint with a covered roof. There is a family taking a break. They ask me to take a picture of them. I’m happy to do it. In return for my good deed, they tell me how to get to a good ice cave. The information matches what I already know about this enterprise. I thank them and head back onto the trail. My confidence grows.

The trail starts climbing the ridge and it gets steep and rocky in areas. The rocks are wet from the rain, and the tree roots are slick. I slip a couple of times, and I remind myself to take it easy. Getting hurt is not an option.

Finally, I reach the sign I am looking for. The main trail cuts to the left, the primitive trail goes to the right. I step off the easy path onto the rough track. It passes through a thick stand of twisted alder trees. I slip several times on the roots. Picture James Brown in his prime dropping down into the splits. Now picture me doing that on a steep rocky trail. I bet if you compared screams, they would sound oddly similar.

As I walk, I start putting together a songline of my landmarks. If I remember this little song, I will be able to find my way out if I get lost. It’s an idea I’ve taken on from the aboriginal people of Australia and I find it works rather well. The landscape is a song, you just need to remember the lyrics.
DSC_2597.jpg
The trail leads to an open rocky area. I jump across two creeks and follow small rock cairns which now mark the path over the rock. It isn’t long before I’m looking at the massive expanse of the Mendenhall Glacier. It is truly awesome.

I have seen many glaciers in my life, from Alaska to Antarctica. I’ve watched them calve off huge chunks of ice. I‘ve flown over them, and I’ve stared at them from a ship. This marks the first time that I have seen one on foot. I smile. I love it when a plan comes together - especially a half ass plan such as this one.

I pick my way down the side of a rock bluff and skip down a steep talus pile to the very edge of the Mendenhall Glacier. I take a few tentative steps on the ice. I feel tiny. I am treading on just the tip of the toenail of this giant moving ice sheet. I know enough about glacier trekking to know I am not prepared. I’m not wearing crampons. I don’t have an ice axe. I don’t have any line. I don’t have a partner. I am smart enough to know that I have no business walking around on top of the glacier. However, I’m hoping to walk underneath the glacier on solid ground, and that is a different matter.

The trail has ended at the glacier, and I’m left to my own devices. I start walking along side of the ice sheet picking my way along a steep bank of loose talus. The stones are muddy from silt, and I sink up to my ankles in stones. A handful of rocks tumble down the slope with each step. It is not easy to walk here.

I follow the side of the glacier for about a half a mile before I see two waterfalls cascading down the side of the fjord. The two waterfalls meet at the base of the slope to form a larger creek. This creek disappears into the side of the glacier forming a giant ice cave.

“Holy shit,” I whisper. Good words fail me when I confront grandeur.

I slide down ten feet of loose rock to get to the waterfalls. I slowly spin in a circle taking in my surroundings. There are two waterfalls dropping down from the clouded heights of the fjord face. There is the glacier itself - massive and impassive. Finally, there is a jeweled ice cave cut into the ice. I’ve never seen anything like this, that’s for damn sure.
DSC_2613.jpg
The entrance is large perhaps fifteen feet in diameter. On one side, an overhanging arch forms one-half of the ceiling. I’m a little leery about that arch. It doesn’t look very sturdy. The entrance appears more trust worthy on the other side of the creek. It looks more like a cave. There is a narrow gravel bank between the side of the cave and the creek. I pick my way across the waterfall hopping from rock to rock to get on the side I want to enter.

I pause at the entrance. This is scary as hell! The thought of stepping into the cave sends tingles down my entire body. My heart beats loudly in my chest. I start giggling. I love this high. I know I’m going in. I didn’t come all this way to chicken out now. Do you remember the movie, “Field of Dreams?” Do you remember the scene where the writer Terrance Mann was about to step into the rows of corn for the first time - to see what is on the other side? That’s how I feel. Though they are one in the same, I ask for courage from Buddha, The Universe, My ex-girlfriends, Tao, Zeus, Krishna, The Great Spirit, The Glacier, God, The Great Pumpkin - anyone I can think of, and take ten steps inside the cave.
A2047EBC2219AC6817349D06DDE49800.jpg
It’s too much for my senses. The ice walls of the cave amplify the roar of the creek tumbling through the rocks. The sides of the cave are smooth, dimpled and sparkling like facets of a cut jewel. The ice is very clear. I half way expect to see an iceman frozen inside of the ice. Ancient rocks are stuck in the walls. Water drips from the ceiling. The whole cave glows with a dull blue color. I am standing inside of a cold sapphire. It takes a while to get used to this.
A203CE6E2219AC681745E8271717F772.jpgA205EAA62219AC6817FE07178302068D.jpg
My initial high dies away, and I settle down. I walk deep into the cave. The creek tumbles over the bedrock creating a never-ending set of rapids and waterfalls. I can’t see the white glow of the opening of the cave anymore. I wonder if I kept following the creek would it lead me to the face of the glacier. I’m tempted to try, but the bank of the creek has ended. I will need a dry suit to investigate further.
A2053E1C2219AC68178C70FBE48F3501.jpg
I reflect on my situation. I am standing alone underneath a glacier. There isn’t a single person on this planet that knows where I am. “Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown,” I say to myself. It’s an interesting thought.

I start mindlessly humming aloud. It sounds really cool. The acoustics of ice caves are great. Soon, I am chanting “Ohmmmmmmm…” really emphasizing the mmm’s. My voice never sounded so good. I take it up another notch and try out a yodel. Now, yodeling can go one of two ways. It can sound amazing, providing the yodeler can hit the notes clearly or it can sound terrible, like a teenage boy reading aloud in English class. I’ve had it go both ways. I will only yodel under the right conditions. I’ll test my voice first, and if it seems like it will hold, I will let ‘er rip. I don’t know if it was the acoustics of the cave, or just being in that moment, but my voice rang loud and true over the roar of the water.

I’ve never yodeled this good before and I let it flow out of me (I know how ludicrous this sounds to those of you who don‘t know me). My last efforts end in a bout of laughter. I am a happy man.

My time in the glacier is nearing an end. I still have to find my way back to civilization. I knew before I entered the cave that I would have to keep track of time. I stick to my rules and leave the cave. I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I have no regrets. I’m riding an amazing high of discovery and I am tingling with the experience.

I back track down the glacier to the trail. I remember the lyrics to my songline: “Climb the creek to the shallow valley. Follow the cairns past the open rock area. Cross two creeks and follow the little snake through the alder. At the duck tape and orange flagging, veer left back to the bigger snake. Follow the bigger snake back to the lake and you are home free.” When I get back to the trailhead, I text my people. I let them know that I have made it out and all is well.

I am satisfied with my efforts. I am drenched to my skin, cold and hungry, yet I am completely euphoric. It has been a great day.
DSC_2692.jpg
Life Accomplishment No. 37,824: Yodel Under a Glacier. Check!

Posted by Rhombus 10:03 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls hiking adventure ice alaska glaciers photography icecaves Comments (0)

The Trails of El Chalten and the Road to Calafate

El Chalten, Los Glaciares Nacional Parque in Pictures, Patagonian Road Thoughts, Friends of Calafate

all seasons in one day 63 °F

IMG_4092.jpg
El Chalten was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a small town. I walked everywhere. Everyone walked everywhere. The streets were full of day hikers, trekkers and climbers. There were more hikers in the streets then cars. The buildings were of simple designs- half shanty and half chalet. They were painted bright colors, cozy, but with a ramshackle feel to them. The bistros and café’s were plentiful. They were all plying for the pre/post hike trade. I would attend the latter, exhausted, thirsty and hungry. The hostels poked out of the ground like spring flowers. Some of them are good (Lo De Trivi). Some of them are not so good (Rancho Grande). The grocery had only a few items, but the gents behind the counter were fun.
“Where are you from, man?” He asked.
“The states,” I replied.
“Yeah, which one?” he said.
“Denial.” I said, “It’s near Michigan.”
He laughed, “Yah, I think I’ve been there.”

The dogs roamed through town in packs. These aren’t strays, these are family dogs that run free during the day, and go home at night to sleep it off. They met in open areas, sniffed butts, wrestled, and chased each other around. Dogs love a good social hour.

The hiking was incredible. It’s easy to find the trails of Los Glaciares Nacional Parque from the hostels. Beyond the first ridge, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres dominated the landscape. I spent my days in search of new angles to stare at them for several hours a day.

I offer you the following images as the highlights of my stay in El Chalten.

Chorrillo Del Salto
DSC_5423.jpg
I heard the dull roar of the waterfall through the forest. The spray from the falls floated over the viewing area leaving everything with a sheen of water. I walked further downstream to try and find a unique angle for a photograph. I set my tripod up in the river, and spied this bird scratching through the underbrush. It stayed with me for quite awhile, keeping a four foot distance between us, despite my maneuvers to get a clear shot.
DSC_5412.jpg
After awhile, I climbed up the side of the cliff to get close to the roar of the water. I took a deep breath of the fresh moist air. It tasted wonderful

My First Llama
DSC_5441.jpg
At First I thought this Llama was a stump painted to look like a llama. When it blinked at me, I rejoiced. My first llama!

The Fitz Roy Range
E0B3CCD62219AC6817B0D9357751189E.jpg
When I reached Rio Del Salto I hurried down to the edge of the river. I had found my first photo opportunity. Fitz Roy slipped through the clouds with clear blue skies beyond. The clear river gave me the leading line I wanted, and all I had to do was wait for the sun to break through the clouds behind me to brighten up the green shrubs next to the river.

Lago de los Tres
IMG_4070.jpg
I like the human perspective of distant hikers in front of the massive mountains.
E0E678952219AC6817063084CB6B9EB4.jpgDSC_5512.jpg

Rio de las Vueltas Valley
DSC_5839.jpg
On my way back from Lago de los Tres, I saw this light over the Rio de las Vueltas River Valley.

Locro
IMG_4086.jpg
Locro is a traditional stew consisting of four different meats, white beans and vegetables. I highly recommend it.

Alpine Flowers at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
DSC_5858.jpg
While sitting quietly atop Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, I noticed a small movement on the rocks in front of me. I focused on it, and saw that it was a grasshopper - a mountain grasshopper. I had never seen a grasshopper this high before.

Laguna Torre
DSC_5917.jpgDSC_5966.jpg
At Laguna de Torres, I sat on the shores of the lake and stared at Cerro Torres for three hours until the tip of the spire cleared of clouds for ten seconds. Sometimes, you have to put in the time to make things happen.

Forest Scene
DSC_5903.jpg
I really like this quiet scene. I was walking behind Steph when I stopped to take this photo. She didn't hear me stop, and she went on ahead continuing to talk as if I was still behind her. I laughed.

Horse in the Afternoon
DSC_5993.jpg
This horse wanted its picture taken.

Ben
IMG_4118.jpg
I have had good luck with room mates here in El Chalten. Every day when I returned from a hike, I would cautiously open my dorm room door to see if I had gained another room mate. One afternoon, Ben was there.

Ben is one of the best people I’ve met on the road. He’s genuine, generous, and genial. He has a knack of being able to approach and talk with anybody on the street. I wish I could do this. He’s a philosopher, who appreciates the quiet moments in life. He was the first person to show me the matte ceremony. This world needs more people like Ben.

Slack-lining at Laguna Capri
DSC_6141.jpg
This is the most gorgeous location I’ve ever slack-lined.

Parrots of the Lenga Trees
DSC_6072.jpg
I was hiking up a long hill and I stopped to take a rest. I looked into the trees and saw two parrots foraging among the lenga. I slowly unsheathed my camera and took a lot of photos. After awhile, they flew to a branch close to where I was standing. They “kissed”- they bit each other on the beak. Then simultaneously noticed me. They craned their heads to see if I was trouble. Before I could react, one of them dove low and flew inches above my head. “Whu-Wha-Whuh-Whuh.” I grinned wildly, what a moment!

Piedras Blancas
DSC_6203.jpg
DSC_6241.jpgDSC_6266.jpg
My favorite hike was to the glacial lake at Laguna de Peidra Blancas. The last quarter mile involved scaling across a moraine of massive house sized boulders. I love this kind of exploration.

Rio Blanco
DSC_6274.jpg
I followed Rio Blanco on my way back from the glacier lake at Peidras Blancas. I took this photo just before the clouds covered the sun for the rest of the day.

By night, I ate my fill in town, or made it for myself. I hung out with some of the best people in the world. Paul and Camille (French), Ben (South Korean), Philip (German), Stephanie (United States). We talked about everything. We shared fresh wine, peanuts and stories. We raised our pints to one another in good cheer. It might have been the best days of my life.

If you want my advice, bring your own produce to Chalten. Bring lots of cash, as there is only one cash machine in town. It occasionally runs out of money. Eat at La Senyera. Eat at La Tempura. Stay at Lo de Trivi. Go hiking everyday. Stay for a week.

The Road to Calafate
Philip and I traveled together to El Calafate. We boarded the bus at the small terminal on the outskirts of Chalten. There were only five passengers on the bus. Patagonia stretched before us. We stopped at Rio Leona to take a break. A simple wood chair stood against a wind battered hotel. Fast moving dark gray clouds whistled by above the greenish opaque river. Without a word, we boarded the bus and rolled on.
IMG_4132.jpgIMG_4131.jpg
Patagonia is everything I hoped it would be. I sat listening to the prose of Ram Dass and choice music selections. I stared out at the wind swept landscape while everyone else dozed. I love this kind of travel.

In El Calafate, I thought the selection of produce in the grocery store was amazing. We chose salami, cheese and rolls. We ate them in the plaza with a coke. We wandered through the town. I looked at the flamingos at the public refuge. I didn’t want to pay to enter. I despise having to pay to visit a park.

Two women stopped next to us in their car and tried to explain to us in Spanish that we could not cross the river on this street. We were going the wrong way. When I finally agreed with them, they drove off. I asked Philip, “How do they know where we are going?”

We drank afternoon beers and went shopping for dinner. The store was hectic. It was busy with shoppers gathering the evening supplies. We found our produce quickly, and headed back to the hostel.
IMG_4153.jpg
That evening we prepared penne pasta with sautéed, garlic, onion, tomato, zucchini, and peppers. We topped it with fresh parmesan. It was heavenly. We sipped a Trapiche Merlot, Philip continually filling his tiny cup. We chatted with our housemates. I did the dishes before joining our hostel mates in lounge to talk the night away. We drank all of our beer. It was a great night, perhaps the finest hostel experience one can have.
IMG_4137.jpg
Before he left Chalten, Phillip bought a tiny metal cup. He loves this cup. He spent the entire night in Calafate drinking wine and beer out of it.

The next morning I went shopping in the notoriously expensive shops of Calafate. I needed a pair of trousers. By some piece of random luck, Phillip found me the perfect pair of jeans that cost one-third the amount of every other pair in the store. They fit amazing. I had to laugh. I had to come all the way to Patagonia to find a pair of jeans that fit me. What are the odds?

Philip headed back to Buenos Aires, and I’m heading north to El Bolson tomorrow. The bus will be traveling Argentina’s famed Route 40. Imagine spending 25 hours on a bus rolling across the rising steppe of grassy Patagonia. My friend Camille, who I met in Chalten will join me for the journey.
DSC_5847.jpg
I can’t wait. I wonder what’s out there?

Posted by Rhombus 15:26 Archived in Argentina Tagged waterfalls mountains birds parks hiking trekking towns argentina photography patagonia Comments (0)

Two Thousand Miles in 22 Days: On The Path Of Sacred Pools

The Road to the Hot Springs, Enjoyment of the Canyon, and The Sacred Pools

semi-overcast 49 °F

On the Path of the Sacred Pools

I awoke at dawn to the smells of cold dew covering the ground of a wet pine forest, and of robins singing their sweet morning songs. I looked out and saw three deer foraging not more than fifty feet away, the pickings were good.
DSC_1978.jpg
After rising, I underwent some of the fundamental routines that all mankind embraces in the morning. I set about to French press some coffee, to accompany my breakfast. I thoughtfully watched the deer munching grass, and noticed the light had intensified the colors of the forest around me. I thought about the hot spring that I was going to visit that morning. I vaguely remembered it from a brief visit two years ago. All I could remember was a pool on the far side of the bluff down near the river. The pool had a hot waterfall that dropped about 25 feet into it. This hot spring has haunted me ever since.
DSC_2007.jpg
I wanted to take a morning soak. I finished my morning chores, and slid into the driver’s seat and headed east along the valley road. My visual senses were keen. I am usually perceptive to interesting light, and I had not driven very far through the valley before I started to recognize the unique qualities of the day. The sun was still low in the sky, occasionally blocked by the valley walls, and sometimes shining down into it. There were many fast moving clouds in the sky that played with the sunlight. At times, they totally blotted out the intense rays, or partially dulled down the light creating fantastic light on the valley below. There were occasional pockets of mists that would rise through up from the river added to the scene. Finally, the rugged river canyon was very interesting. It was a mix of tall mountain meadows, gigantic boulders, steep rocky cliffs, and the surging river running swiftly at the bottom.
DSC_2009.jpgDSC_2023.jpgDSC_2039.jpg
I saw a scene stretch out before me that I had to stop and take in. Luckily, as this was a scenic byway, there was a small pull off on side the road. I stopped parked, hopped out of Marvin and climbed up to the top of a giant boulder for a better vantage point. I looked down at the river and saw the roaring white water of rapids rolling along side the cliffs. High above the river, the road I had been traveling was bathed in light that Ansel Adams would have loved. Hell, any photographer would have loved the crisp intensity and changing dynamics of that morning’s light. I chose sepia for these images because I liked the warmth the brownish hues added, compared to shooting in true black and white.
DSC_2053.jpgDSC_2031.jpgDSC_2028.jpg
I jumped back in my van and started up the road again, only to pull over at the next spot that I could. I began to see a pattern forming, and since I wasn’t in a hurry, I embraced the beautiful morning. I don’t think the Middle Fork of the Payette ever looked better. Surrounded by tall pines and towering rock cliffs the gorgeous light made the river shine.
DSC_2077.jpgDSC_2079.jpg
At one point, I looked up river and saw my destination. The billowing clouds of steam from the hot spring rose up along the canyon wall, and I knew I was not far from soaking in that haunting pool. I drove on to the trailhead, parked, and packed a daypack. The air was cool, somewhere around fifty degrees (F), the trail was worn, covered in a layer of pine needles. It felt good on my feet, and I set off down the path to the sacred pools.
DSC_2103.jpg
I walked along side of the river, and the sights, sounds and smells were that of a robust river in spring. It was a pleasant walk through the pines. I found the spring area as I remembered it. The hot spring seeps from an exposed rock cliff on the side of the canyon. It runs down the rock in a series of small waterfalls, and is collected into pools made by rearranging rocks and damming up the flow.

As I neared the toe of the cliff, I saw another American Dipper sitting on a rock head high rock singing its morning song to me. I think Dippers and I are kindred spirits. We appreciate beautiful rivers, and we spend a lot of time around them. I took this as a good sign that I had chosen my day’s path correctly and began to look for a pool to immerse myself. There were shallow pools at the base of the cliff, but they weren’t what I was looking for. I started climbing the cliff, and found the best route was up the waterfall that ran down the rocks.
IMG_0727.jpgDSC_2093.jpg
About thirty feet up, I found what I was looking for. A beautiful pool of crystal clear water, hot, and wonderful. At this point, I figured that this would be a two soak morning. I would spend quality time in this pool, and then move on to the waterfall pool when I tired of this one. It sounds like a rough morning, I know. I stripped down (a bit), and eased my body into the hot water. It was perfect. The builders of this pool had done well for themselves. It was about 15 inches deep, maybe 12 feet long in an oval. It sat above the river on the cliff by about thirty feet or so. The river rushed along below rounding a small bend and giving me a pleasant white noise to listen to. I shut my eyes and relaxed. This was better than I could have imagined, and I was enjoying this moment to its fullest.

I went in search of the second pool. I had climbed across the top of the bluff where the springs originated and looked down on the far side of the cliff. I could see faint tracks of other hikers that descended a talus slope and I knew that was where I wanted to go. I made my way along the edge of bluff, it was precarious, but I was careful and I made it to the trail with little difficulty. I made my descent, and the waterfall and pool grew larger as I grew closer.

It looked incredible. The water collected in a large pool perhaps 15 feet long and 10 feet wide. It was about 15 inches deep and was fed by an amazing waterfall. It was a hot water waterfall. I felt it and started laughing aloud. I eased my body under the waterfall. The deluge of hot water massaged me. It was the best hot spring experience of my life. It felt incredible. I felt like that Irish Spring dude who took his bath under a cold-water waterfall, except I knew mine was better.
IMG_0745.jpg
The thing about waterfalls is they are very powerful. It’s hard to open your eyes when you are under one, and I kept mine closed. I eventually sat back against the cliff and looked out and the gorgeous river canyon around me. What a moment. Have I told you I am haunted by hot springs? I could not have dreamed a more sublime experience than what I was living.

After awhile, I knew it was time to prove my meddle. I gingerly made my way down the rocks to the river. I found a spot out of the current that I knew I could get in and out of in a hurry. The air temperature was about fifty degrees. The temperature of the water was much colder. This was winter snowmelt rolling by. Without thinking about it, I stepped into the ICY water, waded to a spot I knew I could submerge myself and lowered myself to my knees. My body went into a spasm and I began to try to negotiate with myself, but before I gained any sense, I dunked my body underneath the surface of the river. I came up fast, clutching myself and speaking in some high-pitched language that only dolphins would understand. I remember thinking to myself, “Do it again. Prove it.” So I dunked myself again, and came up croaking, “Proven.” Then I hustled my way out onto the rocks and scampered back up to the waterfall to soak again in hot water. I’m weird like that.

I spent a couple of hours in that spring. I even dunked myself in the river twice more to cool off between hot soaks. I was purified, and I was cleansed. I don’t think I have ever been cleaner in my life. It felt amazing. My body tingled, and felt wonderful for the rest of the day.

“It is said that if you go to a sacred spot, you yourself become sacred." ~Bear Heart

I felt sacred.

Posted by Rhombus 07:54 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls trees rivers canyons photography hotsprings idaho roadtrips Comments (0)

The Wonders of Palouse Falls, Washington

Working the River, The Enjoyment of Revisiting Old Haunts, Palouse Falls Hiking, and Loafing

sunny 70 °F

I’m back in the lower forty-eight once again, working on the boat that sails up and down the Columbia, Willamette, Snake, and Palouse Rivers. It’s a good gig. It is fun to travel a river that requires a lot of nautical skill, vigilance, and know how to navigate it. Our watch officers are busy, and it’s good to see them ply their craft. Baja and Alaska aren’t nearly as navigationally interesting or challenging as our Columbia River trips.

As for me, it’s good work. Each week we travel just under a thousand miles, making our way from Portland, Oregon to Clarkston, Washington, and returning down river to Astoria, Oregon, and finishing the trip in Portland. I know it sounds like a lot of illogical travel, but it is a good route that I will be traveling for the next six weeks.
DSCN5443.jpg
One of the stops we make along the way is on the Palouse River. I’ve written about the Palouse Falls area before, just about a year ago in fact. Palouse Falls is one of my favorite places in Washington State, and I decided to take advantage and hike down to see the expansive canyon and falls once again. I really like revisiting parks and natural places I’ve been to before. It’s kind of like visiting an old friend. I like to see if there are any changes, and find new nooks and crannies or views that I haven’t discovered yet.
DSCN5454.jpg
I caught the zodiac to shore well before the guests disembarked, and had quite a bit of time to compose some images in the strong morning light. Most of the land was tan, faded grass of late summer, but in contrast, there were large bushes of yellow flowers and sunflowers blooming along the hillsides. We anchor near a rock outcrop named by the Palouse Indians of the region as the “Heart of the Beaver.” The rock sits high above the river, and makes for a nice backdrop.
1DSCN5445.jpg

When everyone else arrived on shore, we climbed onto the school bus and made our way to the falls.
8DSCN5462.jpg5DSCN5468.jpg
I knew exactly where I was going, so while everyone else went straight for the tourist view of the falls, I headed left to the trail that would take me down to the lip of the falls. I was surprised by the amount of birds around. There were many songbirds, warblers, sparrows and the like, and they were all eating seeds from the sunflowers.
DSCN5469.jpg
I slid down the gravel talus pile next to the railroad bed. I more or less crouched down on one boot and skiied it, using my hands as balance when I needed it, and I was down in under a minute. Sometimes, you just have to let yourself go.

I walked the familiar trail downstream to the falls. It felt good to be hiking, and I was enjoying the warm sunshine, the sounds of the river, and excited to see what awaited me just around the bend.
DSCN5483.jpg
I brought my camera, of course, but I didn’t have any expectations of taking photos I hadn’t taken here on previous trips. However, when I reached the gaping canyon I found myself working new angles I hadn’t done before, seeing the falls, and surrounding countryside in new ways. I was inspired, and pleasantly surprised, by my excitement. I was once again in my element.
DSCN5490.jpg
I love this place. I can’t wait to come back again in the next few weeks. In a moment of inspiration, I climbed up the thin rock fingers that sit like an audience above the falls. I found some shade, I found a perch, and that was all I needed. I sat on my rock throne, twenty feet higher than the rocky slope that sits atop the sheer cliff of the waterfall wall. Perfect. I looked out at the surrounding canyon, and took in all my senses could offer me.
DSCN5487.jpg
It was a good morning, and I want to spend a couple of days at Palouse Falls, not just a couple of hours. I wearily hiked back to the parking lot, stopping at the upper falls to dunk my head in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and I thought about jumping in. The thought passed, and so did I.
DSCN5510.jpg
Back on top of the bluff, I looked over the canyon and found more gorgeous views. The compositions of the Palouse are quite fetching. I finished off my day by loafing. Loafing is a wonderful pastime. Lin Yutang, writes in “The Importance of Living” that, “The first thought that the jungle beast would have is that man is the only working animal.” And this is true! Too many of us work way too hard, and would be far better off lying flat on a cool picnic table in the shade of a large copse of trees that are filled with the songs of birds. I did this very thing at the park, with my backpack as a pillow, and the warm breeze as my blanket, I fell asleep to the chirping of the birds. As I lay there I had the thought, that I should just stay here, and sleep away the afternoon. This was the good life, and I was enjoying it.

Alas, I didn’t make good on my pleasant thought (yet). Like the good american I am, I went back to work to live to toil another day.
DSCN5476.jpg
However, this little nap I had in the park has planted a seed of a plan in my mind. It won’t be long before it bears fruit, and this vagabond will be free once again.

Posted by Rhombus 18:14 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes waterfalls birds photography wildflowers Comments (0)

From Alaska to West Virginia: 5100 miles in 8 days

Decompressing, Santa Cruz, Nightmare Flights, West Virginia Weekend, New River Gorge Rendevous

sunny 65 °F

How does a sailor decompress after seven months aboard a ship? It’s a fair question. After all, it’s what I’ve known for a long time. I’ve been tied to the clock, to duty and workmates. I believe I’ve found a good solution to this problem, and it involves the following: Plan and execute a righteous first week filled with a two day decompression in California, and a solid weekend of rock climbing in West Virginia. I traveled over five thousand miles in eight days. This is how I relaxed, and unwound after seven months at sea.

First, find a stalwart friend of the highest order. Visit them.
DSCN2352.jpg
Spend the first day in the kitchen of a cool and comfortable quiet house, making cinnamon rolls, “fauxcassia bread”, and an award winning chicken dinner. During the downtimes, exchange music, and stare out at the green hills reminiscent of Ireland.

Go to sleep. Sleep deeply and peacefully, making sure to set no alarm.
DSCN2339.jpg
The next day, start it out right with a great cup of coffee, and the last of the cinnamon rolls. Drive west out of the grape vine covered hills, to the coast. Find a good downtown area, in my case Santa Cruz. Eat some slices of pizza from your favorite pizza place (Pizza my Heart). Go buy some new shoes. The shoes make the man, after all. Stop by the hip ice cream shop and get some smooth chocolate and coffee ice cream cones.

Buy some bottles for later and go chill out at a comfortable house awaiting more friends to arrive.

After a quiet afternoon listening to the rain tap on the roof, walk to a recommended burger joint and bring home dinner. Hang out and talk long into the night, go to sleep.
This was my decompression stage, and it was so very good for my body, and spirit. After decompression, it’s time to pick up the pace a little bit, by a little frenzied air travel.

I sprinted across the country by plane, pain, and automobile to get to West Virginia for three days of rock climbing at the New River Gorge Rendezvous. The sprint was entertaining to say the least. I flew into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at 11 pm, my bags didn’t. The airlines lost them along the way, including the one which had all of my adventure clothing and toiletries. I drove to my storage shed and spent an hour hunting through my boxes of stuff looking for my camping gear by the light of a dying flashlight. I finally slept for three hours, before waking up at five to fly out at 6 am. I flew to Chicago, then to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee I found out I missed my plane due to poor planning (I didn’t leave enough time to go in and out of security) (don‘t ask me why I had to exit security). All told, I spent about an hour in Milwaukee, enough time to admire their “recombobulation area.” Then I flew back to Chicago, then on to Pittsburgh, where I learned they lost my other bag along the way. Ha! All of this on three hours of sleep mind you. I kept half expecting to see “Del Griffith” show up along side of me. So, I spend two hours trying to find the second bag that the airlines lost in 24 hours. This one had all of my adventure gear in it. I met up with Luke, my climbing buddy, and we drove back to his dad’s house in a small, sleepy town in eastern Ohio to wait for my bag to arrive. I finally could relax, and I enjoyed the company of new friends, and the beautiful early summer evening of middle America. It was tranquil sitting outside in the evening sun, throwing a tennis ball to Jake, the golden retriever.

In the night, my bag arrived. Ahead of us lay a four hour drive through the rain to southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge. We had planned this trip a couple of months ahead of time, and we were both very excited to be on our way. Luke and I had never been to the gorge before, or to a rock climbing camp, and we were curious to see what we would find.

New River Gorge Rendezvous 2011
DSCN2354.jpg
We found the campground right across the road from the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arch bridge in the world. The bridge stands 876 feet above the water, and is 3030 feet long. That height could hold five Statue of Liberties standing on one another. Once a year, on bridge day (October 15, 2011) they close down the bridge, and allow base jumpers and bungee jumpers to test their nerve by hopping off the side of this impressive span.
2DSCN2359.jpg
DSCN2406.jpg
The campground was a large grassy opening, and a large tent city had already taken root in the middle of it. I was happy to join the city, and set up my one-man expedition tent in the shade of a large tree. We started by getting oriented, and went off in search of some rock to climb. I was antsy to get on the rock, to burn out some bottled up energy I had stored after my long trip.

After talking with some climbers who gave us vague directions, we went in search of the Hawk’s Nest Boulders located somewhere near a dam north of the campground. Driving through the steep mountain roads of the Appalachian mountains was beautiful. There were lush green forests, with impressive rivers coursing through them. There were ample waterfalls, along the way, the air was full of butterflies and birds, and it was an ideal place to explore. I didn’t know West Virginia was so gorgeous, and I was impressed by its natural beauty. For many years, its unofficial slogan was “Almost Heaven.” After this past weekend, I’m starting to believe it.
DSCN2366.jpg
In the small town of Alstead, we couldn’t find the park. We were driving around looking for non-existent signs. Luke is good about asking locals for directions and we pulled up to an older gentleman who was happily sitting in a rocker on his porch. Luke yelled out, “Excuse me sir, can you tell us how to get to Hawk’s Nest State Park?” The first thing the guy did was spit a massive amount of chewing tobacco spew onto the ground, and then drawled out, “Well Hellllll son! Y’all er goin’ the wrong way! There ain’t nothin' up there but a dayd end! Yew gotta turn round and head back to the highway and make a right!”
We thanked him, and laughed all the way back to the highway. The people of West Virginia are good folks, and everyone we asked for directions helped us along our way.
DSCN2378.jpgDSCN2381.jpgDSCN2380.jpgDSCN2390.jpg9DSCN2395.jpg
We found some rock, but not the boulders we were looking for. We climbed to get the juice flowing, and then went in search of the boulders again. We could see them, but the dam, the lake, a railroad, and a small fenced off power plant separated us from our quarry. We gave up, and enjoyed the hike, finding a swan that was evidently looking for some action, puffing itself up in full display of horniness. We found yet more waterfalls, and decided to go for a chilling swim in a rain-swollen stream before returning to the campground for the evening.

While we were away, they had set up a slack line. I hadn’t slack lined since last October, so I was excited to get back into it. Some very talented slackers took to the line. It was fun to watch and even better to try my balance once again.

That night, we made some friends with our neighbors, and I found out a local brewery was serving free craft beer. I filled up my Nalgene bottle and went and told Luke about it, who looked at me in disbelief. There’s nowhere else in the country that will they offer this kind of hospitality, and the climbers of West Virginia take care of their own.

For thirty dollars per person, we were given: a place to camp, a free breakfast (oatmeal, muesli, eggs, crepes, muffins, bagels, pancakes, fresh fruit and coffee, a burrito dinner, free drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, free gear demos from affiliated sponsors, free tee shirts, two concerts, gear, climbing competitions and clinics. I couldn’t believe it. What a great deal.
DSCN2418.jpg
The next two days we focused on climbing. Neither of us had much gear. I only had rock shoes, and Luke had a bit more with a harness and chalk bag. So we went bouldering. Bouldering is a style of climbing where you basically climb routes very low to the ground. This allows you to try harder moves without the fear of falling a long distance. It’s been one of my major pastimes for the last 8 years. By the end of the weekend, my muscles were strained and my fingers cut up and scraped.
DSCN2442.jpgDSCN2434.jpg
I found inspiration in the dyno comp (etition). To dyno is to find a hold and launch yourself off the rock and catch another hold higher up the rock. At the competition, there were guys who could fly. Points are awarded for the height of the grab. “Socks” Johnson was there, the national champion, and he won the competition by catching the highest grabs the most consistently.
DSCN2428.jpgDSCN2425.jpg
On Sunday, we stopped off for one last climbing session at the Hawks Nest Boulders. We finally were given good directions, and we wanted to find them after missing them on Friday. We burned out the last of our strength here, and doggedly made our way back to the car. My hands were so fatigued; I couldn’t even open a candy bar wrapper. I improvised and ripped it opened it with my teeth. You just can’t keep me away from my chocolate.
DSCN2454.jpg
It was a great weekend. We had spent three days hiking around the woods of West Virginia, taking in its entire scenic splendor, and there is plenty to see. It was like summer camp for us “fringe” folks who enjoy spending time outside. Everyone who was at the camp were of a good disposition. The camp was filled with climbers, and everyone was healthy, and strong. Everyone behaved, despite an unlimited amount of beer. We were here to climb, not to party, and everyone helped one another out. It was a great place to spend a weekend exploring, climbing, and chilling out with good people, my kind of people.
DSCN2444.jpg
On our way back north to Ohio, we stopped and asked for directions again, this time to a local swimming spot. We swam, and it felt good to immerse our tired bodies in cold water. I reflected on how nice the weekend was, and how good it is to be healthy, young and strong and in my element. I turned thirty a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say, life is great! Long live summer and West Virginia!

We stopped for pizza and subs in Washington, Pennsylvania. Luke told me there are a lot of Polacks and Italians in the area, so I ordered a hot sausage sub, and damn if it wasn’t one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It was a great way to finish a fantastic weekend. If you ever find yourself in Washington, head on over to Osso’s for some great food.
DSCN2471.jpg

Posted by Rhombus 19:01 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls hiking travel rocks friends oceans camping tents climbing forests bouldering westvirginia Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 » Next