Sunday, August 19, 2012

Buckhorn Wilderness Backpacking: Part 2

Part 2
Signage and the Olympic Range from Marmot Pass

Mt Constance in the distance
Shadows over the Olympics
This feeling of bliss consumed me down the path for another few miles. On the hike to the next campsite, I got to look lustfully at the north face of Mt. Constance, the hardest climb in the Olympic Mountain Range. With its craggy peak and nearly vertical climb, I realized my climbing skill is still a few years off until I can tackle this beast. I was consumed the whole hike down to Boulder Shelter with looking for the best route to climb this peak. Our next camp area was in the valley and had numerous campsites and one manmade shelter. 

A hiker relaxing in Boulder Shelter
Boulder Shelter is not much more than a roof, 3 walls, a table and a bench, but after the heat of the day, it was a glorious source of shade in an otherwise shade-less valley. While the shade was good for a few minutes, soon we realized that flies also like the shade. We set up camp back away from the trail, laid out by the tent and again talked about life, relationships, hiking and work. Getting along is important when this far from people, and we were getting along quite well.

Me, relaxing outside Boulder Shelter
                As the day progressed at Boulder Shelter, the other campsites soon filled up with Washington Trails Association workers and small groups of hikers. We ate dinner, chatted with our neighbors and decided to call it an early night so we could wake up around midnight and take a look at the night sky, free from and all light pollution.  This plan seemed perfect, and would have been had we not been woken up by a gentle growling outside the tent at 1030pm.

                I have been camping all over the county and have had all sorts of animals use the path by my tent as a highway or a food stop, so this was somewhat normal for me. However, the guy I was with, a first time backpacker from a large metropolitan area was not used to this. As we lay motionless in the tent, he whispered and asked what I thought it was. Now, there was a good chance it was a black bear, as they are fond of some of the plants we were camping near. However, the last thing you ever want to tell someone who is slightly scared is that there might be a bear just feet away with only nylon between them. I listened for a few seconds and determined that, by sound and weight, it was probably a mountain goat eating some foliage by our tent. I wasn’t sure, but it just didn’t give off the sounds that one would expect from a bear, well, aside from the growling/snorting sounds. I told him I thought it was a goat and that once it left the area, we would make a lot of noise and venture outside. We waited about 20 minutes and were finally back to silence.

Our camp: see what it was eating?
                What greeted us was not only the most beautiful sight I have seen in nature, but also a hilarious shock. First, as we unzipped the tent and talked loudly, we heard a noise in the bushes and glanced over, blinding anything in the area with our headlamps. In the light, I saw 2 eyes gleaming back at me, then, through the brush, I saw the rest of this beast’s body.

As it stepped forward, I couldn’t muffle a laugh from leaving my mouth and soon I was giggling as a doe, as in deer, skipped away into the darkness. I turned off my headlamp, and just out of curiosity, glanced skyward. This is where I was left breathless. In the valley where Boulder shelter is located, you are in a bowl, surrounded by 7,000ft peaks all around. However, to the west, the mountains are far away, leaving what they call in Montana, Big Sky.

What my GoPro saw...not even close to what my eyes saw 
Mountain Goat and Kid
Above us, looking like the best photo shopped picture of all time, lay the Milky Way galaxy. We stood back, astonished by the view and feeling so very insignificant. Up high above us unimaginable worlds might exist and here we were, in this small valley in the corner of NoWheresVille, Olympic Peninsula. I tried to take a picture with my GoPro camera, but the camera I needed was sitting on my bedroom floor. It didn’t matter though, because the view we saw can never be matched with photography. As I put my camera down, knowing that the picture would be pretty useless, we were greeted with the rare sight of the International Space Station coming into our view. Large and reflecting light like no other satellite could, we watched the ISS drift back out of view and leave us to our unspoiled view of the universe. Feeling amazed at the view and silly from being scared by a deer, we retreated back to the tent and fell asleep.

The next morning we got ready for our long day of hiking. Back up the pass, past the lake and down to the Tubal Cain Mine camping area. As we beat the morning sun for most of the ascent, we rounded a corner and nearly ran into a Mountain Goat and her kid. They watched us for a few, probably laughing, as we slid across a snowfield with a thousand foot slope on one side. After crossing safely, we continued our trek with great views of wildflowers above the tree line. Soon, we dropped down into the trees and after a few hours ended up at our final campsite.

B-17 wreckage from 1952
We waited for a church youth group to finish packing their camps, as they occupied all the sites, and soon were left alone in the wilderness once again. As we set up the tent and debated about using the fire pit, another group of hikers soon arrived and we decided to take a day trip to an airplane wreck located in Tull Canyon, just about a mile from Tubal Cain Mine. Hiking without the packs, we made it quickly up the brutal hill and arrived to see the remains of a B-17 Bomber which had crashed in January of 1952. Wheels, wings and other aircraft parts were easily visible, but between the heat and the mosquitos, we decided to return to camp and start some dinner.
Campsite at Tubal Cain Mine

That night, all the campers in the area got together, ate marshmallows, drank white wine and star gazed while talking about life, the universe and everything. Life was good, and this was a perfect way to end a backpacking trip.

Just 3.5 miles from the car, we woke up early the next morning and arrived at the car by 930am. I was home to Olympia by 12:30 in the afternoon, jumped in the shower for the first time in 4 days and started day dreaming about the next time I am lucky enough to lead a tour out in the woods with amazing people to share amazing, life changing views with.

Until next time,
Happy hiking,
The view from the top is always worth it!
Douglas Scott
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Buckhorn Wilderness Backpacking: Part 1

Moon like condition on Buckhorn Pass

 At almost 6500 feet, we were growing weary from being weighed down with 45 pounds of gear and the 90 degree temperatures that was quickly dehydrating us. We were miles from anywhere, deep in the rugged, remote, Olympic Mountain range and were only halfway through our days trek. In long hikes and backpacking tours, there always comes a time when your body and mind start to give you doubts, and for me, the heat was starting to make me question my abilities. The pack, rubbing against my quasi-healed fractured clavicle was aching and all I could think about was how I forgot to pack any mild pain killers. Step after step, we staggered out of the forest switchbacks and ended up on a moon like trail with no real signs of life. We were well above the tree line, but we kept trudging along, silently, trying to reach the pass.
Almost to Buckhorn Pass

The bridge out of the Trailhead
                Actually, let us back up a bit. We started out of the Tubal Cain Mine Trailhead a day earlier in high spirits. It isn’t often that I am hired to guide a backpacking tour, and I was eager to get out into the woods after many months of work in a windowless office.   As always, I overloaded my backpack with food and supplies.  I figured, like many of us, that it is better to be prepared for anything than have nothing if disaster strikes. For a 4 day trip, we had enough packed to last over a week. I figured that since the total number of miles we would hike was under 30 that we would be fine. We met in Port Angeles and proceeded to carpool to the trailhead, which is located nearly 30 miles deep in National Forest Service land.

                The first night we were slated to camp at the pretty, yet small alpine Buckhorn Lake. Only 6.5 miles from the trailhead, this was a great place to rest after our first day hiking. Short hikes on the first day of a backpacking trip are important for many reasons. First, it allows you to get used to the weight of your pack and allow it to settle comfortably on your shoulders. Secondly, it gives you the opportunity to quickly return home if there is an accident or injury because of the unfamiliarity. Finally, if hiking with a stranger, it gives you a chance to get to know each other and to make sure that the trip won’t be filled with awkward pauses or stale conversation.

Flipped image of
Lake Buckhorn
                Arriving at Lake Buckhorn (4300ft) after 3.5 miles of steady incline and 3 miles of switchback climbs, we took our packs off, filtered some water to drink and took the short, yet steep animal trail to access the beautiful lake. If you have ever hiked in the summer, you know that heat causes appendages to swell quite a bit, and a cold lake to dip in does wonders not only to the soul, but for your swollen fingers and toes as well. 

Fog Rolling in on Lake Buckhorn
After a dip, we sat around and chatted about nearly every topic under the sun until we looked down the valley and saw what at first looked like the dust raised from a massive rockslide. Paranoia over a disaster soon left and we were covered in a thick fog, leaving our sunny, reflective lake to look uninviting and cold. We hustled up to the campsite, quickly set up the tent and hunkered down for the night. We sat around and talked while eating dinner, battling mosquitos that were immune to all forms of insect repellent. The highlight of these little buggers came when I sprayed Deet on the back of my hand and watched as 2 mosquitos landed directly where I had sprayed and proceeded to bite me. Apparently, around Lake Buckhorn, the smell of Deet is to mosquitos what lower back tattoos are to frat guys: easy targets.  The fog never cleared, and by 9pm it was dark enough to call it a night and head to bed. Sleeping on the ground in my tent, my muscles ached a bit, but I was starting to finally feel alive again after months of inactivity.

Cold Morning at lake Buckhorn
                The next morning was cold, but nothing too bad. Our camp site had survived the night (no real surprise) and after a great oatmeal breakfast, we packed up and left our lakefront home of the evening. Our next camp was 5 miles away at Boulder Shelter, which was over Buckhorn Pass (6500ft) then to Marmot Pass (6000ft) and ending up down in the valley to the campsites at Boulder Shelter, which is at 4500ft. This isn’t a difficult trek, but with highs in the 90s, we needed to beat the heat of the day.

Buckhorn Pass way in the Distance
                This is where the story started, with us slowly working our way up to the crest of Buckhorn Summit. The sun beating down on us, we were silent as Charlie Chaplin films until I lifted my head and saw, for the first time on this hike, the interior of the Olympic Mountains over the ridge. The feeling of excitement that washed over my body took away all the small aches and pains and my pace sped up to nearly a jog, as I was eager to climb out on a rock and see the view for its entire splendor.

Partial view from Buckhorn Pass
                The view from the pass was invigorating, and exactly why I love the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic Mountain range. This is the place where my soul feels at ease, where all the problems of the world are of no concern, because all that is important is the moment that I am in, the moment where my eyes dart over mountains and valleys and gaze upon waterfalls, rivers and far off peaks that are begging to be climbed. This is the view that I want for eternity, one that while back in the city, I often drift back to and day dream about as a smile crosses my face. 

To be continued....

Friday, August 10, 2012

Broken Camera, Broken Campaign..Healed Soul: A story of Murhut Falls and Politics

A great day hike!

Sometimes, when you aren’t expecting it, an incident on a climb can be insight on future events on your life. The following tale is exactly that. A great idea, derailed by unforeseen reasons that I still can’t comprehend.

A few weeks ago, I took a well-deserved day off from my other job and took a day trip to take some pictures. I only had an afternoon, so I drove along Highway 101 and went to Murhut Falls. Having never been there in the summer, I was eager to finally climb around on the rocks and not have to worry about the ice killing me. I was also eager to get away and be calm, because the job in politics I was working was just about giving my 31 year old body a heart attack.

Behind Murhut Falls
Hopping in my car, loaded up three different cameras, I drove as fast as I could to get to the trail head. I was excited because I had a plan that I had been dreaming about for months. I was going to get footage and pictures of my GoPro waterproof camera going over the waterfall and had just the plan. Using a carabineer, climbing rope and a GoPro Head mount, I was going to set it for time lapse and allow the water to carry it over the edge. To me, this was sound logic, considering these cameras and used on all sorts of crazy, dangerous adventures.

Sex and Meth at the Falls...or so I read
I arrived at the trailhead and pretty much jogged the ¾ of a mile it took to get to the falls. I signed in (and saw some amazing sign-in comments) and worked my way down to the falls. Wearing my minimalist shoes, or toes shoes as I call them, I climbed down to the water and waded in. Months of snow run off had cooled the water, numbing my usually sore ankle. I took some pictures from water level and then started to accomplish my goal. I took pictures behind the falls, under the water looking up at the falls, and even pictures of me, being showered on by the upper falls. It was incredible and I was excited to see the uploaded result. However, I still had a mission to accomplish.

Shattered Case...thanks GoPro
Where the best pictures were coming from
Hooking the head mount to a climbing rope, thanks to a fantastic carabineer, I soon had the ability to have a camera dangling over the lower terrace of the waterfall. With the rocks along the edge of the falls somewhat (read as VERY) slick, I decided to gently toss the camera in the upper area and have it get swept over the edge. The first gentle toss, and I mean gentle in the way that you toss a kitten onto your bed from a few feet away, landed perfectly, getting swept away and over the edge, falling with the water until the rope it was attached to got tight. I pulled in the rope, noted that it had taken 15 pictures and decided to try it again. This time, it went even better and I could see the light on the camera flash as it was in the tumbling falls. Pulling it back up, I figured I would do it one more time and call it a day. I tossed the camera gently, just like the other 2 times, but this time, the corner of the shatterproof, waterproof case the camera was in split open. Watching in horror, the camera went over the edge, matching what might stomach was doing in my body. I pulled the rope back up, expecting a miracle, but soon saw that a $300 camera with some amazing pictures was now at the bottom of a waterfall. I climbed down, hoping maybe it would float up. I saw Nothing, Nada, Zilch. Beyond distraught and nearly crying, I ended up copying a scene from the movie A Christmas Story. Swearing loudly and drawn out, I was crushed.

Me, after seeing my camera go bye bye
Lower Murhut Falls
I ended up taking more pictures with the other 2 cameras I brought and called it a day. Driving home I called GoPro to complain, but since it was no longer under warranty, I would have to buy a new one. I went online, cried to my friends and followers and ended up receiving a donation to cover the cost of a new one. The day that had all the potential in the world, ruined by who knows what, was turning out to be ok. This is how the rest of my life has been.

A great day Campaigning
For the past few months, I have been busy trying to help a man get elected who I feel would be an amazing representative. We slaved away for months, doing things that no other campaign had done and breaking records in contacting individuals at an unprecedented level. We had all the hope in the world for this Tuesday’s primary elections in the state of Washington. We knew we wouldn’t win, but all we needed was second place. We had planned so well, met our goals and now it was up to the people, the voters, to tell us what was going to happen. Just like my shatterproof camera case, my dreams that night were broken. The hope of a better tomorrow faded away, and just like my camera, my stomach again sunk to a new low. The feeling of not reaching a peak, the feeling of shattering my shoulder while walking my dog during a wind storm, the feeling of knowing that no matter what the victory, a victory feels good still evades me. The election and the camera were totally unrelated events, yet, I find similarities in both. Losing the camera made me realize that my supports for this company are amazing and wonderful. Losing the campaign made me realize that I have a new family and that no matter what, I believed. In both events, the picture of everything in my head is much more beautiful than it would have been with my camera or with a win. These events allow me to still say what if, to still imagine, and to still dream and set goals to make them a reality.

Thanks for reading and now, back to the hiking and trail guides.

Douglas Scott
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