Backpacking the West Highland Way, May 2019: Part 3

Day 5

It was cold last night…the wind was quite bitter and even in the car it was cold. But I got what I needed and that was a restful and half-decent night’s sleep despite the mattress in the car being a little too hard. 

The nice thing about staying in the car was that I didn’t have to wake up in the cold (or as cold as a tent) and didn’t have a condendsation-covered tent to pack away. The midges were out in force though. After a quick trip to the bathroom I had to don my headnet as I went through my remaining food and left most of it in the car…it just wasn’t needed. It made my pack pretty light even with two liters of water.

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I was feeling good and strong despite not having eaten anything for breakfast; I still didn’t have much of an appetite. We headed out along the old military road at 8:30am and followed the track out of the trees and across creeks for many miles. We passed numerous waterfalls but I didn’t take pictures of every one…just the prettiest of the ones I saw.

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The hiking was easy as we climbed further into the Scottish highlands, and wide gravel tracks made that possible. We ducked under the railway and the busy A road before climbing a steep hill where Cody got stuck going over a stile…they aren’t easy for dogs, especially those with packs…and there was no way around.

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The old military road hugged the hillside which was peppered with sheep. The dogs behaved themselves and kept to the trail…they were interested of course. We had to contend with a second style but it was managed with a couple of amused on-lookers who were taking a snack break.

Suddenly we were at Creag an Taghein and the turn off to Crianlarich. It was the quickest 6 miles I think I’ve ever done…it went by in a blur. I was feeling pretty good and was sipping water frequently again vs chugging it occasionally like I normally do. I was probably not intaking enough water but it was better to be a little dehydrated that way than to be disgorging it all in excess.

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The sunny weather promised by the weather forecast didn’t materialize but the cloud cover made for a good hiking temperature.

As soon as we turned away from the turn-off to Crianlarich the climbing started and it was fairly consistently up for a mile or so, with a few downs. A slightly-creepy looking hiker was at the top of the first hill and I wondered if he belonged to the tent/camp that gave me the heebie-jeebies on night one.

At the apex of the climb the wind really picked up, but it wasn’t consistent. While it kept the midges away it also meant I couldn’t find the right clothing combination to stay at an appropriate temperature yet again. It seems to be the norm for Scotland.

With many ups and downs (mostly downs now) we finally descended back to the main road. A lone wild-camper was below the trail, and ahead of us we were rewarded with the sight of a very interesting arched stone bridge.

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We had to make a mad dash across the road from the bridge as the road was BUSY! but at least there were warnings to the drivers…which I didn’t trust at all. The trail then curved in a loop through several sheep and highland cattle farms, and where St Fillian’s Priory had once stood as well as an old graveyard.

The ruins of the Augustinian Prior date back to the 13th century and was endowed by Robert the Bruce in 1317. The graveyard itself dates back to the beginnings of the early Celtic church in the 8th century.

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I leashed the dogs through a field with lambs close to the trail but that didn’t last long. Despite how well behaved my dogs are, when we are close to farms I try to respect the farmer’s nerves and leash the dogs even if I don’t deem it necessary. It’s what I would hope others would do. We also got our first views of highland cattle…always cool.

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We headed back towards the road and thankfully didn’t have to cross it again. We passed by the location of the Battle of Dalrigh. This was the location where Robert the Bruce was ambushed by Clan MacDougall in the summer of 1306; caught by surprise the battle was a short, frantic engagement and Robert’s remaining horsemen were killed and several of his key allies were injured. Bruce went into hiding and two years later he went on to defeat the MacDougalls at the Battle of the Pass of Brander.

From the site of the Battle of Dalrigh we passed the Lochan of the Lost Sword where legend has it that Bruce and his army threw their weapons into the small lochan.

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A short meander took us from there through Tyndrum Community Woods and it was here that I started having some serious pain my left foot again.

It was not the same pain I had coming out of Balmaha and loosening my shoe laces didn’t help this time. It was tough to walk on and I hoped it was only temporary and something a night of rest would help. If Gastroenteritis didn’t stop me, a little pain in my foot certainly wouldn’t.

With a little limping we arrived at Tyndrum By The Way…the only overnight cabin stop I had booked and non-tent night I had planned for. So far I has spent more nights not in my tent than in my tent and I was a little disappointed as that had not been my intention for the trip at all.

I picked up my resupply box with shampoo and soap and a razor, and the dogs’ food as well as some extra food for me (which I didn’t really need). A shower and laundry were called for and I got both done quickly (they rent towels which was great, and provide laundry soap in the cost of the washer). It was nice to be clean, with clean clothes.

A walk with the dogs was brief for them to relieve themselves and I headed into Tyndrum to find something palatable to eat. I had barely eaten all day (a Belvita snack and some naan bread) and I ordered a burger. It was a safe choice but I only managed half, and barely touched the sweet potato fries that I had paid extra for. With 96 miles of trail, and 55 hiked so far, I was starting to worry about my calorie needs with lack of food intake over the past three days…I’m already a pretty skinny person.

A warm night was spent reading in my little camping cabin as I checked out the map for the following day. The weather forecast looked decent and I was ready to see the remoteness of Rannoch Moor.

Day 6

Despite having a mattress to sleep on and a warm, dry space to stay at Tyndrum By The Way I only got a half-decent night of sleep and was awake before 7am. Cody hadn’t settled well and his constant movement awoke me several times in the night.

I enjoyed the three diet Pepsi cans I had stashed in my resupply box and took my time packing my gear away. Baggage Freedom had agreed to pick up my box for me again as I wouldn’t need everything in it…I had paid for the full baggage delivery service even though I wasn’t actually using it.

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It was a slow start out of the campground but we were finally hiking around 9am and the weather wasn’t nearly as nice as I had hope it would be. Rain was drizzle (or what I like to call “air rain” and intermittent, and then windy but not really cold, which made it very hard to decide on clothing.

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The trail followed the old military road from Tyndrum to the Bridge of Orchy, crossing under the road and rail line a couple of times. We were basically following the same line as the modern contraptions but over different routes.

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A truck honked as we climbed away from Tyndrum and I waved. I heard him honk again for the two groups of hikers ahead of me. I’m guessing this was a friendly gesture.

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As we climbed and descended, mostly gently, the views gradually expanded. The peaks appeared and reappeared as clouds flowed like water over their lofty heights. Rain came and went but never for long and never in more than drizzling form. And despite the rain and the biting wind it felt like a good day.

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Quickly the miles passed as we walked by black-faced ewes and their lambs and herds of multi-shaded red highland cattle. Slugs were once again in abundance but the only wildlife we really saw or heard were the song birds. The sun might not have been out but the vivid yellow of the gorse flowers almost made it feel like it was.

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We descended into the Bridge of Orchy and stopped for lunch at the bar. Dogs were once again permitted and we hid ourselves in the perfect corner. I had a scrumptious brie and onion panini (could have done with some chicken but still good) that hit the spot and enjoyed a local beer…my first one on the trail since I got sick. It seemed to go down well.

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Another hiker from Germany I had connected with south of Tyndrum joined me and we chatted for a while as we ate. She had been someone I had run into yesterday and she had been struggling mentally with the trail…so I commiserated with her and told her my gruesome tale (before she ate!!!).

An hour of warmth and recuperation made it easier to find the motivation to get moving despite the beer telling us to take a nap. I bid the other hiker farewell and headed out to cover another two miles to the Inveroran Hotel.

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A steep climb was followed by open views at the top. I paused often to capture the moment, both in my memory and in my camera. But now, up high and out of the trees the wind just got worse and I was constantly fighting to stay straight as I walked. I wasn’t feeling hopeful about camping on Rannoch Moor.

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A quick stop at the hotel for an apple juice (my beer-filled gut being restricted by my pack belt was not liking the carbonation of the beer and was protesting) and to fill up with water for camping took us until 3pm. I wanted to do another few miles and my aim was for Ba Bridge.

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The wind was still kicking butt when we left but we were soon a little sheltered by the trees and I removed some clothing layers…I didn’t want to be sweating out there. We were now following one of Talbot’s Roads that led from Inveroran up to Glen Coe.

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I was feeling good, despite the extra weight of water in my pack, and poured out a few tunes as we hiked. We passed the creepy guy again. He turned and looked at us once as we approached then kept his back turned…barely grunted a “hello” when I said hi. Weird. We also passed the noisy group of German’s we had passed earlier in the had who had been playing music on an external speaker…how rude.

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Another mile down the trail and sadly my GE infection apparently wasn’t completely over. I had the sudden urgent need to find a secluded spot and dig a hole. I found a place but it also looked like everyone else had used the whole area as their toilet with no thought of packing out or burying anything. I have sadly seen a LOT of the dreaded charmin blooms on this trail…I think there needs to be a public awareness campaign about TP and burying waste. No one wants to see hundreds of charmin blooms on a wilderness hike.

Back to me. The urge happened several times over the next few hours and I had to deal with it as it happened. I was just hoping I wouldn’t tun out of toilet paper. Finally I remembered to take some Imodium…dumb broad. At least this time I was able to keep it down. (Oh and I did bury everything I used, or produced).

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So despite the intestinal problems I was thoroughly loving gentle walk across Rannoch Moor. The views were stunning and the weather was constantly changing from sun to clouds to rain and back again. I reached Ba Bridge and wasn’t feeling inspired; the wind was still strong and a particularly heavy band of rain came through. It was also still fairly early. I decided to hike on and to aim for Kingshouse. I felt like it was a safer bet than risking the weather.

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Of course with this decision in mind I dumped half of my water so I didn’t have to carry it as it was certainly heavy. And then, a little over half a mile further north I came across the most perfect campsite. It was sheltered, below an old stone bridge, and next to a creek. I climbed down to see if it was sheltered enough and immediately decided to stay.

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You couldn’t beat the views from the campsite…backed by Black Mount and other peaks to the west, and looking out over the moorland and winding waterways to the east…it was perfect. Occasionally the sun would come out for a moment and turn select areas to gold, or highlightied the last remnants of snow in hidden fissures.

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The ground was wet but that was to be expected and I was glad to have a DCF tent floor…anything else would likely have soaked through in time if no ground sheet was used. The creek beside the tent was beautiful and ran through short cleft in the rocks before diving into a deep pool…a place that looked refreshing for a hot day.

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It had still been early when we had arrived…about 5:30pm…so I took a short walk to take some pictures and then read in the tent for a while to stay warm. Finally it got too cold to do even that and we made final preparations for bed in the still-daylight of 9:20pm.

Backpacking the West Highland Way, May 2019: Part 1

Day 1

Lots of traffic out of the south-east at rush hour made for a longer-than-anticipated drive to Birmingham where I spent the night in a lovely fellow Adventure Queen’s driveway (you’ll have to Google who the Adventure Queens are) who had offered me a place to park as a stop over on Friday night. However not only did I park for the night but I also enjoyed a couple of hours of great conversation and a glass of wine.

Sleep evaded me most of the night, and what sleep I did get was fitfull and restless. I was up with the birds and heading north a few minutes after 5am. It had rained during the night and rained off and on during the 5 hours drive to Glasgow until finally settling in 30 miles south of the city. I wasn’t feeling good about the impending hike in rain.

I dropped off a resupply box with my return shuttle driver and found a parking space at the train station…the place most recommended by, well, everyone.

With the drizzly rain still lingering I knew I’d have to suck it up so I started getting ready and a little before noon we were standing at the obelisk at the official start of the West Highland Way. It felt a little surreal to be standing there, having seen this icon in so many pictures and videos of people who had done the trail before me….similar to the what I assume it must be like for those at the southern (or northern) monument of the PCT.

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We followed the signs and were quickly away from the town center and walking well-gravelled paths alongside the creek. I had worn my full rain suit but was soon dying of heat despite the coolness of the day and the rain. I switched out to my poncho and was quickly feeling better. 

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The drizzle continued for a couple of hours and obscured the views that should have been stunning. It was hard to look around much when I had my head down most of the time trying to stay dry. The dog’s raincoats were doing their job for the most part but I quickly realized that my measuring had been sub-par and they were too short for their bodies.

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We meandered mostly through farmland and crossed a few roads, finally enjoying some rain-free hiking tine during the afternoon which held until camp.

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The miles flew by under our feet as the trail was mostly a wide travel track with little elevation variation and easy to walk on. Livestock surrounded on either side and despite the lack of views I stopped to appreciate the little things, like the stunning pink flowers alongside the path, or the first views over Loch Lommond framed by shrouded peaks and vivid yellow gorse.

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As we hiked up the road towards we encountered this cool-looking bridge but it was only when I got closer to it and peered intently at the gaping black maw that I saw how cool it actually was.

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I had encountered a few backpackers and a handful of hut-to-hut (or B&B/hotal to hotel) hikers, and many backpackers peeled off at Dryman Camping, a mile or so before the town. But it was way to early to stop…not to mention I find it silly to pay for camping when there’s so much of it available for free in Scotland.

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So on I went. I had intended to blip into Drymen for water but a convenient creek at the turn off saved me the extra mile. It was quite chilly and my hands weren’t happy with dealing with cold water and the breeze. I filtered 3 liters as I knew we’d be dry camping…and dang was my pack suddenly very heavy, which wasn’t helped by having to leash the dogs through a sheep field and then on a short road walk.

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Finally we were in an area where we could camp and I started looking for a good, sheltered spot. The first one was promising but the neighboring tent just looked a little sketchy and didn’t give me positive feelings…it wasn’t a backpacking tent and I didn’t fell comfortable with staying there.

So on I went for another half mile before settling on another sheltered spot in a large stand of pine trees. Two other tents occupied a couple of spots but there was plenty of room. I struggled to get my tent up as it is difficult to figure out the correct orientation for it, especially in a tight spot, but I got it done.

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One of my neighbors came over to chat as I was making dinner and the midges just swarmed us. I doused myself in Smidge (something that was SWORN to work, so I didn’t bring a headnet) but it was useless so I quickly ate, and walked (to keep from being eaten myself) as I chatted and then be both headed for the safety of our tents to get away from the flying evil midges. I was really glad to have brought my Kindle but was kicking myself for not having brought the West Highland Way guidebook.

Day 2

I slept fairly decent last night…once I actually got to sleep. Initially I was lulled into relaxation by the gentle sounds of light rain tapping on the tent. It was quickly followed by the sounds of loud voices, distant fireworks and neighboring campers making constant bird calls (obviously fake). I awoke to the dawn chorus again but covered my head with my coat and fell asleep again until 7am when the light sound rain was enough to break my slumber.

I packed as much away as I could inside the tent before emerging just as the rain was tapering off. The tent was soaked and cold to pack away but the midges were already out so I quickly packed it away without even bothering to dry toweling it off a little. I was missing having even a little breeze to keep the buggers at bay. I didn’t realize how much water was held by the tent until I put it up again…no wonder my pack felt so heavy.

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We followed the forest road north once again and said “good morning” to a few groups of other backpackers. We then had to turn west and take the road alternate as it was still May and Conic Hill was closed to those with dogs through April and May for lambing. And while it was a bit of a wrench not to do the whole route, doing the rest of it with Kye and Cody more than made up for it…not to mention that it was a steep climb and was socked in by clouds so there would have been no good views from the top.

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We took the road walk to Balmaha which thankfully had a sidewalk all the way and wandered into the town a little footsore after pounding tarmac for two miles. I ate a quick snack, said a quick “hello” to other WHW hikers I passed at the cafe and got some water and then we pressed on. We paused at the Tom Weir statue in the park to read about the iconic local hiking legend and mountain man who had been instrumental in protecting some of Scotland’s most scenic areas.

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Blamaha sits on the edge of Loch Lomond at the south end and it felt a little surreal that we would be walking by this body of water for the better part of two days.

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We hit our first moderate climb out of the trail (since we didn’t do Conic Hill) and was surrounded by bluebells…the smell of them was all-encompassing in the much-appreciated sunshine that was now gracing us. At the top of the hill it was finally time to remove my waterproof pants and it was such a relief to be rid of them.

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The scenery didn’t change much and we paused only briefly at Cashel to eat lunch and grab a midge net for my head…I didn’t want to suffer through another night again. I was really glad that most places seem to carry these things, even if they are at slightly inflated prices.

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Trees surrounded us, bluebells carpeted the floor and the lake guided us onwards constantly to our left. It didn’t change much. It was also around this time that I started to get some sharp stabbing pains on the inside of my left foot. I had not stepped badly or anything I could recall but it got worse with each step until it felt like my foot was on fire. I paused and it went away but as soon as I started walking again the cycle of pain started over again.

With a brief thought I questioned my shoes and paused, while fighting off midges, to loosen my left shoe. Neither was over-tight (had numbness issues with that before) but apparently the laces were pressing on something just right to cause pain and as soon as they were looser the pain ceased. Crisis averted. 

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At the top of a steep climb and a hundred or more steps, and as I paused for a bite and a drink of water, another hiker passed us. I hadn’t seen too many hikers up to this point and we chatted for a bit…this was his first long-distance trail and he was struggling a little, but enjoying it anyway.

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We came across some permitted campsites at Sallochy and I had to double check the name of the place we had a permit for. We were way too far south to be stopping already and the map confirmed we still had a couple of miles to go.

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At about 2pm we reached the campsite I had booked for the night. Loch Lomond is one of the few places in Scotland that restricts dispersed camping due to the area’s popularity and a permit is required to camp in one of a handful of locations along the loch . It was very early but it gave me a good chance to get the tent set up and to let it dry out, and just as it was up a very considerate breeze picked up to help.

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With now 6 hours to kill until bed time I put my water bottles in my pack and headed a half mile up the trail to the Rowardennan Hotel. I grabbed a bite to eat and drank a couple of good beers while chatting with some other WHW hikers, including two lovely American women from Arizona (whose names I forgot) and before too long it was 6pm and I headed back to camp to cook dinner and read a book.

Rangers showed up around 7pm to check my permit, and other campers came in about 8 although I was well ensconced in my tent by that time and didn’t even poke my head out until I had to take the dogs out at 9:30pm.

Three Days in the Brecon Beacons, April 2019

Day 1

A 5:45am start was not an ideal time to start a long day but with a 180 mile drive to the start of the trail I didn’t have much of a choice.

I had packed everything the night before, including my food bag which meant I ended up forgetting the cheese I bought for lunches. I only realized this half way to Wales and had to make a slight detour to pick some up or I wouldn’t have had enough food.

After a little bit of driving around the tiny village of Llangynidyr I finally found the parking lot I had been told about and met up with Nigel, one of two people who were joining me on the hike.

Within 20 minutes Rikka arrived off the bus. She wasn’t feeling great after a late night bus ride from London so wasn’t hopeful about the trip.

With bags on our backs we followed the road a short way and finally turned onto a track that led up through farm land towards Tor Y Foel. We made the decision to climb over the peak rather than skirting, a decision I was regretting about half way up.

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The sun was brutally beating down on us and we were all worried about our water supplies. The views from the top made the climb worth it and we took a break for lunch while absorving the wide panorama of peaks and valleys.

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We poured over the map for a while before deciding to do our route backwards. It was a better choice for water and for camping options.

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We descended Tor Y Foel and followed a track around peaks and above the reservoir before turning into a deep notch carved between two points. Sheep surrounded us and wild ponies chomped grass as we passed by, barely casting us a glance, and two lizards seemed to be in a weird battle of teeth.

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At a trail junction we turned right and headed across the wide open moorland where the camping would have been perfect…if there had been water. It was here that Rikka decided that she wanted to do her own thing and she stayed behind as we continhed across the heathland and down into the valley towards the reservoir.

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Nigel and I chatted as we left Rikka alone, a little worried as she didn’t have a map or know the area. She knew the way back though. (She was fine and met up with Nigel for another hike on the Monday I believe).

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As we neared the lake, with the sun sparkling off it like a thousand diamonds, we passed a cafe and stopped for an ice cream and a coffee…one of the joys of hiking in the UK…and we made a rough plan for the rest if the day.

The trail paralleled a narro-guage track used by the Brecon Beacons Railway, a tourist-type steam locomotive that provides scenic tours. They were done for the day but we had heard the whistle earlier as we hiked.

The trail widened to a gravel path and and it was moderately busy, and as I usually do I tried to be polite and step off the trail with the dogs. All went well until the dirt collapsed underneath my foot and I was knee deep in a hole. Graceful it wasn’t. Thankfully it wasn’t muddy or any deeper, no did it tear my pants or get me too dirty…just wounded my pride a little, but at those times you just have to laugh.

A brief stop for a pint in Ponsticil, where I chatted with a couple of other backpackers, killed some time as we waited for the day to wane a little and then we backtracked slightly, climbing high above the manicured fields to find a campsite for the night.

An old, grass-covered quarry that was hidden from sight made a promising camp location and we found nothing more suitable after a quick look around. Pitches were flat but the ground beneath the grass was nothing but rocks which made pitching the tents difficult…tougher for me than for Nigel as his tent was freestanding where as mine needs good stake points to stay up.

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We both finally got out tents up after I suffered a minor tent stake injury that had blood gushing from a sliced fibger wound. Oops. It is has never taken me so long to get a tent up but this one was also fairly new to me and I’d only put it up a couple of times in the park.

With tents up we got dinner going and I fed the dogs just as a sheep was peering curiously over the edge of the quarry. Several more joined it and just as the sky was getting dark a very vocal ram stood on the edge and yelled at us for 10 minutes…I swear he was rally the troops for a night raid on the camp. None of the sheep looked impressed that we were there. (You can just see one on the cliff edge).

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We chatted for a while but it was getting chilly with the wind, despite our sheltered spot, and with the light leaking from the sky it was time to retire to the cozy confines of our tents to hopefully get some sleep. Planes, sheep and a lone owl seranaded us as we closed our eyes for sleep.

Day 2

I’m not sure I’ve ever slept so badly on the first night of a trip. I rarely sleep well but never badly. I was still up early as hawks screamed overhead disrupting our sleep. I dozed a little longer until the hawks returned and continued their incessant screeching.

We got packed and headed back down the mountain, stopping to get some water downstream from the waste water treatment facility…not the best location in my opinion, but we needed water and there wasn’t much choice other than the creek.

Of course as we climbed away from the valley we came across a free-running small creek. We dumped our water and re-filled even though it was probably completely unnecessary…it was all psycological.

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We followed a gravel track through the pines for a while; dense, moss-shrouded pines that were reminiscent of Mirkwood…full of magic and mystery.

We turned left up a track…the one we thought we were supposed to take but the fence-crossing was terrible and we were soon in some very wet and boggy terrain. Eventually we found the path we should have been on by a bridge…we had just left the road too early and missed a small waterfall at the same time.

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A long gradual climb…and I mean an all day climb…took us towards Corn Du and Pen Y Fan. It was a little used way to get to the top of the highest point in southern Wales but it was definitely more gradual and less populated than the main route.

A quick lunch break in the rapidly-disappearing shade provided us with some sustenance for the climb ahead as we trudged ever-upward in the broiling sun. We were starting to feel like a baked cake in the oven.

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When we finally hit the trig point and the edge of the escarpment we were rewarded with a breeze and stunning views of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. And of course there were now 100s of people.

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The slog continued upwards and we walked slowly, trying to keep ourselves from over-doing it in the heat. Many comments were overheard about the dogs’ packs…all of them positive and most of them amused or impressed.

Nigel took a break for lunch where the trails converged with the main trail up to the peaks from the road below. The hilltops looked like swarming anthills with as many people were around the tops of each apex, and yet more kept coming.

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We had initially planned to camp at the lake below Corn Du and summit the mountains the next day but ut was still early so we braved the crowds and climbed to the top of Pen Y Fan…it felt like Disneyland and there were even lines of people waiting to take their picture at the sign at the top. I didn’t bother…I’d been there and done it and that was all that mattered.

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A steep incline led us down the other side of Pen Y Fan and the trail, despite so-called “improvements” was an absolute nightmare to walk on. As we were no longer camping at the lake we were heading for an empty reservoir area another couple of miles along the trail where we could find water. A few puddles along the path seemed to provide a nursery for hundreds of tadpoles…I’m not sure how long they can survive in puddles like that without rain but there were a few seep-springs that kept the puddles topped up.

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With a few cows barring our path we turned down towards the abandoned reservoir basin and checked out numerous possible campsites before settling on one beside the creek. Kye found a new obsession as we discovered the dozens of frogs in the creek, many of them involved in orgy-balls and other mating rituals…it all looked very bizarre to see large clumps of frogs all entwined.

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We were still early to camp so got set up early (not always ideal in the UK but we took a risk). Our lovely camp area soon became everyone-else’s go to camping location and another four groups set-up in the area although not close to us.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on a crossword, cooking dinner and playing in the creek with the dogs, all below the looming presence of Pen Y Fan and above the medieval-looking dam wall.

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Day 3

I slept much better last night. It was colder but being snuggled down in my 10* quilt I didn’t notice it. What I did notice was the heavy dew/condensation that completely covered the tent, inside and out. Even the inner part of my tent had some condensation…and having a double wall tent makes it that much more difficult to wipe down the inside of the fly.

I was up quickly to find a semi-secluded spot for morning needs and the sun followed me back to camp. It warmed quickly and I was soon out of my fleece base layer. With a quick wipe down the tent dried fairly quickly and we were soon packed up.

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We first had to climb out of the reservoir on a very rough trail that had seen some serious abuse under the feet of cattle. It was rough going and boggy in places, and I was thankful to reach the old roman road that climbed more gently upwards to the point we had left it yesterday.

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Another steep climb took us behind Fan Y Big and back onto the Beacons Way. The views were spectacular behind us and while I kept stopping to give my sore legs a break it was great opportunity to appreciate the beauty we were surrounded by.

People were few and far between now we were away from the main attractions of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. We weren’t on the Beacons Way for long as we followed the edge of the steep cliffs around in a horse-shoe, stopping briefly for a water break.

The trail undulated for a while which made the hiking enjoyable and the views easy to look at and take in while we walked.

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We reach a monument at Waun Rydd that had been cobbled back together in a haphazard way after it had been damaged by weather or vanadalism. It left one wondering why someone bothered if they weren’t going to do it right.

With all the climbing behind us it was now time to brave the steep descent on a horrendous path towards the end of Talybont Reservoir and the dam. After yesterday’s descent from Pen Y Fan my legs were already struggling and I was in misery trying to moderate the speed at which I was hiking down, and the roughness of the washed-out trail didn’t help.

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It was a grueling hour or so that we spent coming off the mountain and I was glad to see the dam and some flat ground. I chugged the rest of my water as I was still dealing with a headache I had from the time I woken up, and with a half hour of walking left it wasn’t doing me any good in my pack.

I was glad to arrive at Nigel’s house where a cold glass of orange juice tasted heavenly and helped to cool my core temperature down a little. The sun had no abated all morning and without clouds or a minimal breeze the hiking had been hard on the system.

Nigel was kind enough to drop me back at my car with the dogs. We said our farewells and I headed home. Thankfully the traffic was good and we were walking in the door by 6pm, just in time to enjoy dinner and a glass of wine before jumping in a much-needed shower.

Moving the Dogs to England

With all my backpacking trips behind me it was time to focus on the last things I needed to get done to make my move to England; this pretty much focused on everything to do with the dogs and the animal entry requirements to the UK. England is one of the strictest countries to move animals to, and rightly so since they are one of the only rabies-free countries in the world.

The official sites are helpful but I found few accounts of personal experiences with moving a dog (or more than one) from the US to the UK…so I thought I’d write out how things worked out for me. Please bear in mind that any information contained herein is only from my personal experience and should not be construed as legal advice or importation recommendations/regulations; refer ONLY to the two websites listed below for exact and current legal requirements.

Gov.uk “Taking Your Pet Abroad”

USDA.gov “Taking Your Pet from US to Another Country”


Rabies Vaccinations

While this is standard in the US there are a few more hoops to jump through when going to the UK: This includes any rabies vaccination prior to being micro-chipped and the vaccination recorded with the microchip number being classed as invalid by the UK. However, getting Cody and Kye micro-chipped and then vaccinated was a standard and painless process and no different from any other vet appointment for their regular vaccinations, albeit a year early. I was able to use my normal vet for this as there are no special USDA requirements for giving the rabies vaccination. You will need to ask for all the extra information regarding the specific rabies vaccine the vet uses as this is required to be included on the health certificate. I had booked this appointment for September 4th so that I had a good buffer for the 21 day minimum wait time before flying to the UK in October.

Health Certificate for the UK/EU

Due to being in a different town for my last month in the US I brought Kye and Cody’s entire vet records with me. Health certificates for international travel can only be issued by a USDA Accredited Veterinarian. Not all vet clinics will have this so you have to call around and ask. I only had to make a couple of phone calls to find a clinic close enough that had an accredited veterinarian on staff. Health certificates have to be issued no more than 10 days prior to arrival in the UK or they will be invalid.

I booked my health certificate appointment well in advance for the sake of caution; I tried to make sure all my T’s were crossed and my I’s were dotted immaculately…I didn’t want a single issue at the other end. When I called and asked the animal hospital said they had issued them before. However, when I got to the clinic no one really knew what they were doing and I was glad I had done my research as no one, including me, was sure which health certificate was needed.

After several phone calls to the USDA APHIS office in Idaho we finally found the right form and got it filled out correctly but the clinic’s computers weren’t behaving. For some reason none of the information would fit in the boxes, including from drop down menus built in to the form on USDA website. With the vet having checked out the dogs she approved them to travel and signed the health certificate. Thankfully the one page she had to endorse was not one of the pages that was having issues. I ended up returning home in order to redo the form which I then printed out at the library.

With the forms now looking better and fully complete I headed for the UPS store to overnight the health certificate and rabies vaccination certificates to Idaho. (Each region or state has a specific APHIS endorsement office so it isn’t Idaho for everyone). A return label is also required to be preppaid and sent with the health certificate and the website specifically states that your address has be both sender and receiver on the return label or it may be rejected. It was received in Idaho on time the following day and was back with me in under 48 hours of the moment I sent it out. I had two copies of the health certificate, just in case one got lost…never can be too careful. I also asked for a copy to be made after the APHIS endorsement. I was carrying a lot of paperwork.

Tapeworm Treatment

For travel to the UK Cody and Kye were required to have treatment for Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm that include praziquantel or an equivalent. This had to be done 5 days or less before ARRIVAL in the UK and must be done by the vet and recorded on the health certificate. The tapeworm treatment is the only part of the UK entry requirements that can be done after the health certificate has been endorsed by APHIS.

I booked the dogs in for the tapeworm treatment on Monday as our flight was scheduled to depart on Wednesday. It was a pretty painless appointment except that the vet wasn’t really sure how to fill out the health certificate properly. We got it done though and I filed away both the health certificate, the rabies vaccination certificates and a copy of the de-wormer packaging that was used; the vet’s writing wasn’t the most legible.

And that was the last of the required legal and medical preparation that was needed to move the dogs to the UK


Beyond the legal stuff that is required to enter the UK there are so many other things to plan for and around.

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I already owned a medium (400 series) Grreat Choice dog crate from Petsmart; it was what I bought Cody to use as a kennel in Arizona so both Kye and Cody were used to having free access to it, and I knew Cody liked having the hidey space. However, with there being specific travel requirements for dog crates in regards to size I made the decision to size up for Cody. There was a possibility that the medium-size would have been fine but I wasn’t willing to take a risk on it not being appropriate. In Bend I bought a large crate (500 series) that actually seemed too big for him. Once I was back in Washington I made sure that both dogs got used to sleeping in their crates; Cody took to his immediately (no surprise there) but Kye took a couple of days to be comfortable in using that as her bed consistently.

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Taking time to let dogs get used to their travel crates is imperative. International travel is stressful enough on both you and your critters, and them knowing and feeling that their crate is their safe space goes a long way in reducing an animal’s stress level.

I bought beds specific to the crate size, added the non-slip memory foam bath mats they had used in the RV and added an extra blanket. They slept every night in the crates any time we were in a residential setting where I could set them up; no matter where we were they knew them as home and always went in and settled down. This was a good routine to get into, and the last month of our time in the US they were used exclusively as we no longer traveled.

Despite my own self-reassurance I kept questioning whether Kye’s crate was going to be classed as too small when I arrived at the cargo depot. It would have been a disaster to have them deny to ship her because of a crate that was deemed too small. She was at the maximum measurements for a crate of that size but could stand, sit and lay down naturally (ie not forced to curl up) which is what the specifications required…but I was still concerned. I measured and re-measured and emailed and sent pictures to as many people as I could at both ends of the shipping line…I got mixed responses but nothing concrete about whether it was suitable.

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With a quote for only $200 more for two crates of the size Cody was using I decided to just do it…the worry wasn’t worth the stress and a slightly larger crate would likely make Kye’s travel more comfortable. So out I went again to buy a new crate for Kye and ended up donating the smaller crate to the local border collie rescue group.

Travel requirements also specify that bowls for food and water must be provided and attached in such a way that they can be reached from the outside of the crate. Most pet stores and Walmart sell suitable bowls that can be clamped to the wire door. This was when I was glad to have bought the larger crate for Cody as the bowls cannot take up much floor space so that a dog may lie down, stretched out (if they choose).

While the dogs were both micro-chipped and would be traveling in secure crates I like to doubly-cover my bases and bought a couple of key tags. On them I wrote their names and my mom’s UK cell number and added them to their collars alongside the tags that already had my US phone number on them. You can never be too careful when it comes to your pets.

Food was another issue I was facing; there are few dog food companies that sell their food in both the US and UK. Sure, IAMS and Science Diet are both available but I refuse to feed that junk to my dogs. The only brand of suitable quality I could find available in both countries was Taste of the Wild…my normal brand wasn’t available in the UK…but my mom couldn’t easily get a hold of it. I did some research and talked to some friends and family in the UK who owned pets and got their recommendations. This is where it is helpful to have my mom helping me out as I could have her look for what I needed and pick up what was necessary.

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Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 1

Our first up-close views of the peaks we would be hiking through, and the too-friendly local wildlife:

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Day 1

We started pretty slow this morning as we all stayed up too late and enjoyed a few beers but we did manage to make it out of Elk Hart Park by 9:30.

From left to right: Jerry, me, Colby and Dave

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For 3 miles the trail wound down through the pines with some great views to the north. I lead for a while as we climbed down into the valley. In planning this route I knew we had a decent climb ahead but apparently I had missed the steep descent beforehand and by the time we reached the lake and then the creek after a few miles my legs were like jelly and were visibly shaking with the exertion. On the way down we passed a couple from Rochester NY coming up which was crazy as Jerry lives about hour from there.

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We grabbed a bite to eat Upper Long Lake and took some pictures before crossing a nice bridge over Pine Creek. The sign mentioned the trail was technically abandoned, was not suitable for pack stock and was not maintained. A lot of blow down trees confirmed this.

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The initial climb wasn’t too bad but once over a low saddle it got super steep and made for some tough going. However in the steepest section the trail was generally clear and easy find. It was here that Dave started feeling the affects of the altitude and of not having hiked as much as the rest of us. We paused to wait for him to catch up several times but it was obvious he wasn’t enjoying himself at all. Words of encouragement were spoken as we stared out at the views from the Crows Nest.

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From the Crows Nest onwards the trail leveled out considerably and we were all appreciative of the mostly-level trail for a while. We stopped to get water at a lake below the trail and then it started to rain. It wasn’t serious rain and just a summer shower that last for half an hour but it was enough for us to don rain gear for a while.

And then we ran into a big old moose with wonky antlers that trotted across the trail. He stared at us, we watched him and I was glad Jerry had finally seen one in the Winds. Our last trip here and proven to be utterly wildlife-less with the exception of a deer and a couple of marmots.

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We moved on and had another short climb up and over a saddle. Thankfully this one was nowhere near as steep as the torture we had endured earlier when I had been wondering who the asshole was who’d mapped this route…yup, me.

From the top of the saddle the trees opened up into grassy rock-strewn meadows with yet more stunning views of northern peaks. The trail remained on a moderate decline but was, in most places, level and we finally reached Trapper Lake sooner than I had anticipated we would. This wasn’t a bad thing at all. We took another break and Dave was holding up well…he was definitely hurting though.

From Trapper Lake we had a little over a mile to our intended campsite for the night at Section Corner Lake, a short climb followed by a rocky descent dropped us out on the edge of the lake and we started scouting for a campsite. The first we came across was nice but wouldn’t see the sun early but the other place that looked decent was very rocky and would have been hard on the tents.

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We got camp up quickly although Dave struggled to find two good trees for his hammock. And when you’ve had a tough day the last thing you want to deal with is struggling to set up camp and deal with more frustration. We all ate dinner and hung or tied our food bags away from camp as dusk settled in. We then talked for a while, Jerry, Colby and I trying to be encouraging to Dave to focus away from the pain and be positive about the trail for the next couple of days.

With darkness all around us and the clock saying 9pm we all headed for our respective tents for what hinted at being a cold night.

Day 2

I slept like a rock and I couldn’t believe I didn’t wake up until 7:45am. I never sleep that late when I’m backpacking, and especially not on the first night. I hollered at Jerry who sounded like he was just waking up.

Dave dropped off my bear bag and said he was heading out shortly so he could get a head start and not slow us down. We showed him where the trail was across the creek and he headed out.

We took our time packing up camp to give Dave a decent head start and left camp at 10am…the latest I have ever gotten out of camp. We backtracked to the lake slightly and followed the trail around the water’s edge before turning north again up the valley.

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With only a granola bar in my belly I struggled with the uphills more than I had the day before and was soon left behind…something I found myself agreeing with Dave about was that it was kinda demoralizing to be at the back and not with the group. I could certainly understand why yesterday was so hard for him on that level.

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I caught up to Colby and Jerry at Round Lake and grabbed a snack before we headed down. We were keeping our eye out for Dave ahead of us but didn’t figure we would catch him quite that quickly as he had an hour or more on us.

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With a few calories in the system we circumnavigated Round Lake and met up with the connection of the original trail we were supposed to take. The sign was on the ground and the only obvious trail was the one we would have come down. We checked the GPS and got on the right trail for 1/2 a mile before making a brief error and having to back track slightly. It was also the time we were beginning to wonder where Dave was and worry was starting to niggle at us, but he still had a decent head start and my pace certainly isn’t speedy.

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The climb from Round Lake was brief before the trail plateaued and then peered down at Palmer Lake. At the far end we could see two guys and one was wearing similar clothes to Dave. Sadly the person turned out to be a young man fishing with his friend, and not Dave. We were now getting more worried as the guys hadn’t seen a solo guy backpacking by himself on the trail.

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We made slow progress to the top of the hill and then enjoyed they awe-inspiring views of Palmer Creek Canyon.

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We descended amid stunning wildflowers along a steep and rocky pass to a low, rock-bound creek that showed obvious signs of being a raging torrent at other times of the year. It was this creek we followed for a while until losing the trail in the marshy areas where there were few signs and only hoof prints to go by.

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With the aid of the GPS again we managed to keep on track until we found the trail again (after a ridiculously steep climb up a tall embankment) and continued our way down the valley with magnificent walls of towering granite that made us feel extremely insignificant ahead of and beside us. It was also through here that we came across our second and third moose of the trip as we disturbed a momma moose and her calf. She eyed us with uncertainty while the calf did what his instinct told him to do and ran (or trotted) away up the hill.

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We passed a couple of guys camping prior to the trail intersection and stopped to ask if they had seen Dave, and gave them his description. They hadn’t seen him and some serious concern was starting to set in. With no way to know where he was; if he was on a different trail, if he was backtracking, or even if he was truly lost we were starting to question if and when we would need to hit the SOS buttons on our GPS units.

We tried not to think about it too much as we crossed another creek and started our climb towards Porcupine Pass, which, while moderately steep wasn’t too bad. Two miles below the summit of the pass we crossed another creek and eventually, after much hmming and hawing, we decided to make camp there and blitz the pass in the morning.

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With tents set-up and dinner cooking our thoughts were very much on Dave and what had happened to him. Colby and I both theorized that he had taken a wrong turn at the badly-marked trail junction north of Round Lake and had followed the trail back around to Trapper Lake as the rest of the trails had been obvious and well-marked…and that was the place we could easily have made an error without a good map.

We continued talking as the sun sank behind the mountains and finally, just as Colby was about to turn his InReach off we got a message from someone at The Great Outdoor shop to say that Dave was fine and would be hiking back out the same way we had hiked in, and going back to Elk Hart Park. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and knew we would all sleep better for knowing that. We felt bad but there was little we could have done at the time.

With dark clouds drawing in and a few raindrops starting to hit us we all withdrew to our tents for the night and listened to the thunder grumble away to the south.

Backpacking a Bighorn Lake Loop: Lily Lake, Lake Solitude and Misty Moon Lake, August 2018

Day 1

After a night camped at 9500ft in my truck I awoke to a very chilly morning and waited for the sun to peek over the peaks before I stirred from beneath my comforter and blankets. I turned the dogs loose and then we headed for the trail head at West Tensleep Lake.

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I filled out the wilderness permit and shoved it in the box and made use of the bathrooms before heading back to my truck to get a little more organized. I didn’t start the day well as I set my pack down on my big toe…this might not sound bad but my pack has an aluminum frame with a rounded corner…and that is what I set down on my toe. It was that nauseating kind of pain and I cussed up a storm…thankfully no one but my dogs could hear me.

With everything loaded we headed up the trail towards Helen Lake. For the first couple of miles the trail was fairly level and mostly dirt pack and we made good time. We had left the trailhead at 9am and the sun was already getting warm. Since we were not in any rush we paused often to eat a snack, get some water or take a picture…or five.

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The first couple of miles were a mixture of open meadows, creeks and pine groves. Soon the granite peaks began to grow around us and the trail, while still moderate, got a little rockier and a little steeper…but with the climb came the views. I stopped and talked with a couple from Illinois for a few minutes before heading on up the trail. We chatted about my experiences the Wind River Range from last year as they were heading there at the end of the week and I would be heading there in 10 days.

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By the time we got to Helen Lake we were ready for a nap and lunch. I was experimenting with some lunch choices and although I rarely carry canned food I had decided to try out Bumble Bee’s Chicken and Cracker snack box…it was actually not bad. I ended up with too much chipotle chicken and not enough crackers and ended up putting the chicken on my cheese too.

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The views from the south end of the lake were stunning and the breeze kept the flies and mosquitoes away (I had not brought any bug spray) and we spent 45 minutes in the sun napping and eating before finally making a move to cover the next 2.2 miles to the familiar-to-us Misty Moon Lake.

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The trail continued to climb and although it was now a little rockier it was never to the point of roughness like it was on the Uinta Highline Trail. First we passed Marion Lake and took in the views of Cloud Peak beyond before finally climbing up the saddle to look down at Misty Moon Lake.

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Misty Moon Lake (and the Fortress Lakes above it) are one of my favorite parts of the Bighorn Mountains and we took another break as I filled up with water so I could take in the majesty of the place. I was glad I would be coming back through on my way out. I let the dogs play in the lake while a very angry Marmot squeaked very noisily at us for half an hour.

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It was soon 2pm and we had a shortish climb ahead before finally going down again. The pass had no name but climbed up from Misty Moon Lake into the Middle Paint Rock Creek drainage. We could see for miles. It was now getting pretty hot beneath the glare of the sun and we took a couple of breaks on the way down when we could find the shade of a tree. Plenty of creeks, both seasonal and year-round, crossed our path and the dogs were able to cool off and drink without plundering my supply of filtered water.

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About half way down the valley I started to notice tire tracks. I thought I was seeing things but sure enough I saw more and then two parallel lines of flattened grass. I was PISSED. I was still in the wilderness where any kind of wheeled or motorized equipment is prohibited. This wasn’t just a non-motorized trail (although even the part of trail 120 outside of the wilderness was a non-motorized trail) this is a foot and stock trail only…and the more I saw the tracks the more mad I got…and they hadn’t even tried to stay on the dirt trail, they were all over the grass.

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I bypassed another hiker going up, just outside of the wilderness who had also noticed the tracks and then we moved on.  He had mentioned Lily Lake, my goal for the day, was only about another mile…and flat terrain for the most part. I saw some really destructive tracks just below the ATV trail where an ATV had torn through a delicate marsh area. People  make me so mad sometimes. Ugh

There were several groups camped next to Lily Lake, which could also be accessed by an ATV trail, and I stopped to talk to a family group of backpackers who had also seen the ATV tracks in the wilderness. Sadly they didn’t know who it was. They wanted to say hi to the dogs who obviously didn’t object and then we moved on. We passed another camping group just before the turn-off whose tires looked an awful lot like the ones I had seen in the wilderness. (I shall be reporting it to the authorities even if they can’t do anything about it).

I had decided to hike a little further so as to make tomorrow a more appropriate day and climbed up and away from the lake for a half hour. I started hearing voices and then the bellowing of cattle so I hoped the park I was hoping to camp in wasn’t full of cows.

After crossing first one creek then another I managed to get myself into a marshy spot and got my feet wet and a little muddy. There were no cattle but it was obvious that there had been a herd there recently and I was guessing that they had just been gathered and were in the process of being moved to a different pasture area.

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It took me a while to find a flat dry spot where the sun would also catch me early…helps to get up when it’s warmer…that also didn’t have a ton of cow pies. We eventually found a spot near the trees and I got my tent set up as the dogs ate and played.

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I had to walk a short way to get water but thankfully I didn’t have to go all the way back to the first creek although I did find a drier passage.

My campsite was now in shade so I grabbed the dogs’ bed (my sit pad) and went to cook and eat dinner in the sun where we tried to chill out for a while and enjoy the warmth. Unfortunately the biting flies were too much of a problem and we soon retired to the tent to hideout.

As I was in the middle of writing the coyotes started howling…one a little too close for comfort and made me jump. I yelled at it to move on and I heard no more. Coyotes don’t generally worry me but they have been known to attack dogs on occasion…they prefer to avoid people though, especially in the back country.

With dusk falling it was time to go to bed and enjoy the most recent and hopefully the last quilt replacement.

Day 2

I was expecting the sun to rise earlier than it did, and apparently I misjudged the direction I was facing so didn’t quite get the first rays of the early morning like I wanted. It soon rose above the tree tops though and I let the dogs out. It is always reassuring to hear the rough-housing and playing in the early morning as it tells me they are feeling good.

I slowly peeled myself out of my wonderful new sleeping quilt…I was toasty and warm all night and it was FINALLY a bag/quilt that fit me and was comfortable. With the sun now hitting the tent it began to warm up quickly and soon it was almost too hot as I packed things away slowly. I was in no hurry as this trip wasn’t supposed to be about miles.

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I finally crawled out of the tent and a flicker of movement caught my eye. Just down the valley was a herd of cow elk with their calves, many of who were frolicking and playing…it was very cute to watch. I heard one chirp to its mother before galloping off towards her. Slowly they moved up the valley as I watched and ate breakfast. The rustle of my tent and food bag alerted them to my presence but they didn’t seem too concerned as they climbed up the valley and disappeared into the trees and up the trail I had come down the day before.

With the elk now gone I finished packing up as the day got warmer…I was already in a t-shirt and it was before 8am. We hit the trail by 8:30am and immediately had a hard time finding the trail markers although that didn’t last long as we climbed a treed hump and entered Long Park. We traversed the grassy meadow that was now turning brown with August’s heat and the lack of rain and turned north on the next trail we met.

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The flies which had left us alone during the cooler early hours now started to harass once again and they steadily got worse and worse as the next few miles passed. They were swarming Kye and Cody who had dozens of flies covering their hind ends, and more haranguing their heads. It was worse when we stopped so the only breaks we took were short and not particularly restful.

We were due to meet with the Solitude Loop Trail which I had done two years ago. I would take it for a short way west before heading to Upper and Lower Paint Rock Lakes. However with the dogs looking miserable and being tortured so completely (they bothered me, and bit me, but no where near as much as the dogs) I made the decision to cut the hike a little short and instead of turning west at the trail junction I turned east towards Lake Solitude.

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After a quick break to stuff some candy in my mouth and a short steep climb above the creek the flies seemed to lessen slightly, especially when I killed at least a dozen of them buried into Cody’s fur. I had made the right decision. We covered the mile to the lake quickly and then followed the second mile around the lake to our campsite.

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While I could have rested for a while and potentially made the next 2.3 miles up to Misty Moon Lake to camp, where there had been no flies the day before, the sun was feeling pretty brutal and I knew the climb was pretty open and steep. I was also aware that the Misty Moon Lake area also has a wag-bag requirement and I have no desire to be packing out the poop.

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So even though it was barely noon I set up camp and had lunch. The flies were still irritating but just about tolerable…until they bit you. The dogs, still, had it worse.

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With lunch done we went to filter water and play in the lake. The dogs cooled off a little before we found some shade and spent most of the rest of the afternoon napping or taking pictures. The friendly neighborhood pikas were very accommodating in having their pictures taken although I’m not sure if it’s just because this one was young and curious.

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I ate a small dinner of instant mashed potatoes and melted cheese, which was quite good although way too much for me to eat and I sat deliberating my cold-meal options for the upcoming trip in the Wind River Range…I get a little tired of cooking and I’m rarely hungry enough to eat much.

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I had though about fishing once it cooled down but the wind just didn’t cooperate and was just a little too much from the wrong direction for my little 4-wt fly rod on a large lake. The fishing had looked amazing and the water was clear, cool and very deep. When the wind had finally settled it just felt too late to pull out my rod so I just sat and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains and threw a stick for the dogs for a while.

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With the sun gone it cooled down fast and we retreated to the tent with squirrels yelling at us from the nearby pine trees.

Day 3

I slept pretty good and my quilt was definitely a little too warm for the overnight temperatures. I waited until the sun was touching the lake before I let the dogs out and crawled out of my sleeping bag. It certainly wasn’t cold and I took my time packing up. No one in any of the other camps was stirring and I was on the trail before I saw anyone else get out of their tents…I have never been able to sleep like that on the trail.

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Just as I remembered the climb was a steep one up to the waterfall and then beyond. Most of the trail was was actually in shade except for a half mile stretch that followed a cliff towards the head of the valley where it crossed the creek. We took a quick break but the flies that had been absent for the first hour were now haunting us again. I am glad we didn’t push to get to Misty Moon Lake the day before as the flies were still bad up high.

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The views once you reach treeline on this section of trail are truly breathtaking and over all of it loomed the Bighorn’s highest peak, Cloud Peak at 13,171ft. There were many tents at the base of the Middle Rock Creek Falls which is where most people camp who want to make summit attempt.

With the flies being a constant nuisance we pushed on and finally crested the divide between the Middle Rock Creek drainage and the West Tensleep drainage, and arrived back to where we had been not two days before. The views continued to amaze me even though I had only just been there.

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Once we dropped down below Misty Moon Lake the flies seemed to virtually disappear. I am not sure on the reasoning why there would be such a difference in such a short distance. I was thankful they were gone and not bugging the dogs as it was hot and we needed to take a break so we chilled in the shade of a large pine tree for 20 minutes before moving on.

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It was 11am and it was already hot at 11,000ft so I could only imagine what it was like back in town. We took our time hiking back and stopped often for water. It is times like that I don’t envy the dogs’ mostly-black coats but I always make sure they don’t overheat or overdo it. Plenty of creeks crossed our path so the dogs got plenty of cold water to drink and I only had to filter and refill at Lake Helen.

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At the head of Lake Helen, barely a mile below Misty Moon Lake, a decent-sized bull moose wandered out of the trees 100 yards below us. He stared at us for a moment before wandering off into the trees…in the direction of the trail. That was not good; if there’s one animal other than a grizzly bear I don’t want to tangle with it’s a moose. Cautiously I continued along the trail making lots of noise and called out to the moose. I didn’t want to spook him and I kept my eyes peeled.

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The bane of the trail at this point was the dense pine brush that kept visibility to a minimum to either side and suddenly, to my left, behind a tree and not 20ft from the trail the moose spooked. Initially I didn’t know which way he was going and I was definitely jumpy that he’d come at me. Thankfully he headed into the trees, but still in the direction I was going. I continued on slowly, still making noise and still unsure where the moose had gone. I finally reached the end of the pine grove and saw the bull just off the trail, a little further than before and at a slightly safer distance from me.

My legs were shaking and my adrenaline was definitely pumping so as soon as I was a far enough from the trees I sat down for a few minutes to still my jelly legs. The dogs, who had been very interested in the moose, behaved impeccably during the entire ordeal.

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With my legs feeling more steady underneath me we continued on. I warned the next couple of backpacking or hiking groups I encountered about the moose and its proximity to the trail so they could be prepared and aware and no one would get hurt.

We passed multiple groups hiking up the trail including a couple on horses with a pack horse, and two gentlemen leading pack horses in a separate group. A few loose dogs were frustrating as always when not kept under control but none were aggressive and the most friendly of which Cody just wanted to hump.

Finally, at 2:30pm we got back to the trailhead and was surprised but pleased to see that a national forest ranger was sitting in the parking lot. I had hoped there might be one around but didn’t really expect it. I reported the ATV tracks in the wilderness and which party camped at Lilly Lake I suspected it had been due to the matching tire tread. The ranger appreciated the report and mentioned they had another ranger in that area whom she radioed to call in the report. All in all the timing worked out well.


While I was a little bummed to cut the trip short and missed out on some things I wouldn’t have had the moose experience if I hadn’t, nor would I likely have been in a place to report the illegal wilderness ATV use in such a timely manner and place. Sometimes things happen for a reason and the trip, while plagued by, well, a plague of flies, was still a good trip. Sadly it will also be my last backpacking trip in the Bighorn Mountains and that makes it a little bittersweet.

Three Days on the PCT, June 2018

Day 1 Cascade Locks to CG2032 Road Campsite

I believe today was some new version of hiking torture. In order to do a loop that incorporated the PCT I had to make some sacrifices and spend at least half my time hiking gravel roads and ATV trails…all of which I had to do today and half of tomorrow.

I left my truck at the home of a trail angel who had offered a safe place to park it and who then dropped me off at the junction of Ash Lake and Blue Lake Road. I had camped at the top of Blue Lake Road the night before so I already knew how steep the first climb was.

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Within a mile I had already taken a wrong turn as there were no signs for any roads. I pulled out my trusty DeLorme InReach and relocated myself before backtracking a 1/4 mile. The gravel road quickly became an ATV two track which at least felt somewhat like a trail. There was little to see but green trees, green bushes and green grass and it soon began to look very unused and I was hoping it wouldn’t peter out altogether.

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Another unmarked junction at the top of a climb had me pulling out my GPS again, despite my maps. I was on the right trail and it soon looked well-used again. Views over the Columbia River Gorge were few and far between.

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A brief stint on a well-maintained gravel road, used extensively by logging trucks, took us to another turn off that led us below the powerlines…and then the road ended. It looked like there had been a landslide of some kind so we picked our way carefully over the torn-up road, and then the path REALLY ended. I could see where we needed to be…1000ft straight down, though some very ugly brush, branches and countless trip hazards. One misstep here and you wouldn’t stop until the bottom…unless you got impaled on something.

Exhaustion quickly set in with the steep descent and constantly risk of falling but we eventually made it to the bottom. I was once again reminded of how much goat DNA my dogs must have in them! My legs felt like jelly and I’m sure the dogs’ did too…they were definitely panting hard. We finished the last of the water, took a short break and then headed up and then down the road to Rock Creek.

After crossing the bridge and climbing down another short steep slope I ditched my pack and pulled the dogs out of theirs before continuing to the creek. There were swing ropes hung from the bridge over a deep turquoise pool that looked incredibly inviting. The creek itself was gorgeous, cold and refreshing and we took a 1/2 hour break while I filtered water.

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Soon we had to continue up the gravel road (such uninspiring hiking) but after the treacherous down-hill climb my legs just didn’t have any more energy and it took us an hour to go a mile with all the stopping. My map showed a permanent creek and I was hoping it WAS a permanent creek as one I had crossed earlier in the day was dry…and that doesn’t inspire confidence in the rest of the so-called permanent creeks (as opposed to seasonal creeks).

Thankfully the stream had good flow and we bypassed it in the search of a campsite. I didn’t need water but I knew I would for the morning. My first campsite of the year certainly left a lot to be desired as it was just off the side of the gravel road and the ground was impossible to get tent stakes into…I ended up having to hunt down and make use of rocks and trees, and I was glad the wind wasn’t too crazy as I doubted some of the smaller rocks would hold.

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Dinner was a homemade freeze-dried meal concoction made with ramen and the remaining freeze-dried food stash from my camper (that which I hadn’t sold). While it was still warm I refilled all my water containers…it was looking like the next day would be a long dry stretch, especially if not all creeks were running.

Twenty minutes after I finished writing today’s entry there was a lot of snapping of twigs and other noise through the trees and behind my tent. Not knowing what it was, although the dogs were definitely interested, I made a fair amount of noise and calling out to let whatever it know that there were humans around. I grabbed my camera thinking it would just be a noisy dear but as I watched a large black bear emerged from where I had been refilling water less than 30 minutes before, and only 100 yards from camp. Thankfully he turned away from us and ambled up the road. I was definitely a little spooked and nervous and hurried to hang my food (which I actually hadn’t planned on hanging) all while continuing to make a lot of human noise.

Finally enough time passed that I felt more relaxed and didn’t feel worried that the bear would return to bother us. I actually slept fairly well. I generally don’t worry about bears…unless they are close to camp with food around or spooking them on the trail. Bison, from my perspective, have always been the one animal I have been most wary of.

Day 2 – CG2032 Campsite to Rock Creek

The dawn chorus woke me at 4:30am…and there was no way I was getting up THAT early. I pulled my hat over my eyes and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The sleeping bag that had been way to warm at the beginning of the night wasn’t too bad by 3am (still a little warm, but not unbearable).

The day promised to start well despite the 3 liter water carry as we walked up on a doe and two very new fawns. Sadly mom took off into the brush and one fawn ran for a while before also turning off the road. The second fawn, however, took off down the road. I waited so that I didn’t spook it further if it came back, and come back it did…straight towards me. It stopped and the dogs and I watched her. She moved towards me again and stopped within about 15ft of us. She had a nasty shoulder gash but it didn’t seem to hinder her. Mom jumped onto the road and apparently spooked her again as she went around us, standing in the middle of the road. Cody unfortunately chose that moment to give into his instincts to chase. He didn’t go after her but it required a lot of yelling his name on my part…something I’ve never had to do and he was definitely disciplined quickly.

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We continued up the road now the fawn was behind us and I hope the mom and baby were reunited.

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That incident was the only decent thing about the day. We hiked up more depressing gravel roads, incessantly up and up and up, 2500ft up to be exact and it was miserable; my legs were feeling pretty burned-out from yesterday’s steep descent and the going was slow but we kept plodding along. With only two more miles expected to finally connect with the PCT the road ended…abruptly. No warning, nothing. There was no more road. I checked with the GPS…I was in the right place and even THAT showed a road. It wasn’t even as though it looked like there HAD been a road there at some time. I was pissed. I have always been the kind of person to double check Google’s directions and maps, and hiking trails elsewhere and everything told me there was supposed to be a road there. I had just climbed and would have to descend 2500ft and cover 10 miles extra miles all because of a stupid glitch.

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I dumped some of the water I was carrying as I knew we’d be crossing Rock Creek again, and could fill up there, and so we made our way back down the mountain.

After 6 hours of hiking with nothing accomplished we arrived back at the pretty creek with the rope swing under the bridge. We  took an hour long break to allow the dogs to sleep and get some rest…I definitely envied them. I soaked my feet in the water and filtered a couple of liters. The one benefit to having to come back was that I could get a photo…a benefit I could really have done without.

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Our only option now, other than calling for a ride and quitting, was to hike another 5 miles up yet another gravel road to where the PCT intersects with Rock Creek. It was a long, hot walk but at least the road remained fairly flat and we made it in 2 1/2 hours with many stops for water.

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I located a very pretty campsite next to the creek, just off the gravel road and a short way before the PCT. The tent was quickly up so it could dry then I cooked dinner, fed the dogs, hung the food bag and went to bed. We were all sore and limpy and should never have had to hike so much. I am looking forward to finally being able to set foot on the PCT tomorrow despite knowing it should have been 18 hours prior.

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Day 3 – Rock Creek Camp to Cascade Locks

Today started off so promising. I had slept well and woke up at the late hour of 7:30am. It looked to be a warm and beautiful day. I packed camp as quickly as I could but still wasn’t on the move until 9am…I’m still not sure what takes so much time.

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And finally I set foot on the PCT, and got off the gravel roads and on to single track. It was perfect. It was green, level and the footbed was perfect. My legs were still suffering from the steep downhill descent and the extra miles but I felt pretty good even loaded down with 4 liters of water.

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The climb started moderately and I knew we had to climb about 2000 ft over 5 miles…not too bad…but I swear that climb went on forever and it felt a lot more than 2000ft. Massive slugs covered the trail and that was about all the wildlife I saw.

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And while very not LNT this cute little gnome scene in a rotting tree stump gave me a smile and perked me up a little. I shouldn’t condone it but I enjoyed the surprise and imagination that went along with it.

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And just when I thought there was no more uphill…there was another 400ft to go up, again and again and again. By the top I swear we were just a few more steps to heaven. Thankfully most of the morning we were hiking in the shade of massive pine trees but of course this meant few views and it was just one long uphill, green tunnel. Eventually we were rewarded with some impressive views of Mt Adams and Mt St Helens as well as the valley below.

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Finally when I swore I couldn’t go another step upwards and was begging the trail to go down, it did. And that was almost worse. I moved slower but took a lot less breaks and my legs were screaming. I was miserable and could barely appreciate the views of Mt Hood that rose before me…but it was pretty spectacular, especially when thinking of it Middle Earth terms (it looks JUST like the Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit). At least there were views but that also meant we were in the sun a lot more and the dogs were getting hot. It didn’t help that the trail went from good dirt to rocks and talus.

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It was about the 15 mile mark I decided I was done. Cody was sore, I was in agony and there were no campsites to be found. I just wasn’t enjoying it…and I don’t hike to torture myself, I do it because I enjoy it. I called the lady who had dropped me at the Blue Lake turn off (where I started hiking) and after a lot of back and forth I finally got a ride back to my truck, although with the amount of walking I had to do to meet her, and the time it took her to find me (even with provided GPS co-ordinates), I should have just finished the hike despite the pain and exhaustion.

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I parked for the night not far from where I had camped before the hike and cleaned up with copious amounts of baby wipes (so easy and love them) and crawled into bed. I was ready for my bed but the night was rough and restless and sleep did not come very well partially, I think, due to being somewhat dehydrated. I left the organizing and unpacking for the morning.

I was extremely glad I had been picked up as the following day I could barely move for hurting, but I hobbled around and got packed up to hit the road and head for Canby, Oregon for the renaissance faire. After looking at the weather and the three days of predicted heavy non-stop rain, especially on Saturday, I sadly made the decision to fore-go the faire (the only one I could have made this year) because despite the fact that I won’t melt…my leather gear doesn’t particularly like water. So I headed out and started my drive to Idaho

Exploring Oregon – Part 2

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

We departed Bend on a Sunday after four amazing days exploring the town and its brew pubs/ breweries. One place of note that is very close to Bend but that we had avoided during our stay since I wanted to devote a day to it on the way out was Newberry National Volcanic Monument. This was one I’d never heard of but since it was so close and the map promised some interesting possibilities I wanted to make a day of it.

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I was up earlier than necessary, as always, and was on the road way to early. We stopped for some groceries at Walmart and then got fuel before heading south.

Our first stop, Lava River Cave, didn’t open until 10am and we were an hour early. I backtracked to the visitor center which was on limited hours since it was still the shoulder season (late April). I took a short hike up the on-site lava cone and followed the paved path through the lava fields. The great thing about these short walks are the many signs that explain everything you are seeing. I got great views of Mt Bachelor and the Three Sisters, and I stood in a lava valley where lava had once flowed through. It was pretty intense and very impressive to see that plants and animals can still make their homes in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.

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10am was fast approaching and I headed to the gate of the Lava River Cave. I arrived a few minutes before it opened. I tried to park in the shade as much as possible for the dogs, but as long as I pointed the nose of the truck into the sun’s direction they would always have shade under the tool box. I grabbed two flashlights and a warm jacket and headed to the orientation point.

The rangers emphasize the importance of not wearing any clothes into the cave that have been worn in any other cave system. The reason for this is the dreaded white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is wiping out bat populations across the US.

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After the orientation I confirmed that I had a pass and then rented a lantern (definitely recommended) before heading down into the cave. I was the second person in and I’m glad I was. I hiked alone, with only a high-intensity flashlight to help me see. As soon as I was in the lava tube the temperature dropped immediately and ice could be seen below the metal cat walk where daylight was still visible.

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The Lava River Cave is a lava tube, and in some places a double lava tube, that runs for more than a mile (although only a mile is accessible) more than 50ft below the surface. It has a constant temperature of about 42* and my hands were definitely feeling it after a while (I would certainly recommend gloves as well as a warm coat).

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About 10 minutes into the hike I turned off my light. I don’t think I have ever experienced such encompassing darkness. I was glad to have the light I rented ($5 at the entry kiosk) especially when I tried out my own flashlights…I would have missed a lot if I had relied on them alone…they just weren’t bright enough.

The cave was impressive and I constantly stopped to look around. Being one of the first into the tube I pretty much had the place to myself on the way in and I loved that…it was definitely worth being early for. The way out felt shorter and I ran into many groups coming down which definitely impinged on the feeling of the cave a lot.

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Climbing out of the cave I walked into the heat of the day and found an immediate need to remove many layers. I let the dogs out for a few minutes before heading out.

Our next stop was the Lava Cast Forest. What was supposedly a short drive on a gravel road ended up being a smoke-filled journey on one of the worst washboard roads I have ever had the misfortune of being on. There was a prescribed burn happening at the lower end of the road which wasn’t much of a problem and actually kind of interesting…the problem was the cheese-grater washboard road…absolutely miserable. However we did eventually reach the top in one piece…my chair sleeve was in tatters, however, since Cody hates roads like that and took it out on the sleeve. At least it wasn’t the chair!

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I left the dogs in the truck and did the mile-ish long walk through the lava field. I was expecting tall lava casts in tree shapes…what I saw was still interesting but not expected. Lava casts are where the lava enveloped and encased trees. As the trees decayed and rotted under the lava they left holes, casts of their trunks in the lava. Some casts were upright and looked like large pole holes and others were horizontal from trees that had already fallen before the lava covered them. It was worth the drive, despite the rough road.

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With the lava forest and cave done I was hoping to drive up to Newberry Crater, Oregon’s largest volcano but the road was closed for the winter. I made do with a quick stop at the South Ice Cave about 30 miles east of La Pine. I had seen other ice caves before and didn’t find this one any different, but worth a stop if you haven’t seen any others.

It was time to find a place to stop for the night and I located a decent spot on BLM land with good cell service.

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Driving south the next day I drove by Fort Rock, an old lava cone that used to be surrounded by an ancient lake. It is an Oregon State Park and looks like the fortress of something out of Morder; it looks slightly out of place in the rest of the flat landscape. I paused to take a couple of pictures but didn’t take the trail into the caldera where one side had been eroded away.

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The road continued south and I stopped to check if the road I wanted to take was open. Two state road construction employees confirmed that it was but warned that it wasn’t the smoothest road to take to get to Klamath Falls. I wasn’t in a hurry and wanted to take the scenic route. The map had the road shown as paved, and apparently this is what is classed as a paved road:

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A quick shower in Klamath Falls and we were off to find another campsite before heading to Ashland. Freecampsites.net had one listed along the lake nearby and we went to check it out but the mosquitoes were horrendous and it didn’t take me more than three minutes to decide it wasn’t for us…not to mention how busy the location was. We did find a gorgeous campsite in the pine trees not far up the road that had zero mosquitoes and much better cell service.

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The next day was a quick stop in Ashland, where I had planned to spend a couple of days but didn’t, and was followed by a pause in Medford to buy two new tires for the rear of my truck as they were almost bald and probably no longer legal. That put a hurt on the wallet! The rest of the day was a scenic drive, and a very long and frustrating one, to a gorgeous creekside campsite where someone had left some cut wood and plenty of fire-starter…so I had a really nice campfire, drank some beer and played in the creek with the dogs. No cell service but it was such a pretty place I found plenty to keep us occupied.

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I made a brief stop in Crater Lake National Park to see how it looked in early May compared to the last time I had visited it in mid July…definitely a different place with snow at the Rim Lodge still 10+ft high in places. It was cool to see but I didn’t stick around long and headed out. Before heading north again to look for a campsite we stopped at the Rogue River Gorge, a short but slightly-scary canyon where the Rogue River careens through a narrow cut in the rock. It was gorgeous but as always the overlooks made me slightly nervous when looking down into the cauldrons of boiling water beneath me.

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There were few options for campsites with cell service in the area and we ended up at one of the worst and least impressive sites I’ve ever had the misfortune of camping in. Of course in taking the dogs for a walk up the road I found a pretty nice large campsite in some trees but I was already set up and didn’t want to move…it was really only a place to sleep. We left early.

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Our last Oregon stop was at White River Falls State Park, a small recreation area with some interesting history in regards to harnessing hydro-electric power and some pretty waterfalls. It wasn’t a large place but it was a nice place to take a break before heading to a county fairground campground for $10 a night and taking a shower.

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The last couple of days were spent driving back through Washington as I returned to my friends’ place near Olympia to house-sit for two weeks while they were on vacation.

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Exploring Oregon – Bend

The first time I came “through” Bend was in 2015 after my friend’s wedding in Washington. I stopped at Walmart (obviously), didn’t see much beyond your standard large American town and kept driving towards Madras. Apparently this was a mistake…but a mistake made up for by giving me the chance to spend a few days in the town.

I follow a handful of vloggers on YouTube, and one of them “Keep Your Daydream” (well worth watching their videos, they are a lot of fun) raved about Bend when they visited last year. Apparently I had completely missed something on my last trip through.

So, with their love of the town and their raves reviews in my head I had decided to give Bend a few days all to itself on this trip. And I’m glad I did.

I arrived in Bend Wednesday morning after getting a shower in Redmond and immediately followed the signs to the downtown area. I was amazed that I had missed such an amazing place last time, even though I could not then have given it the time it deserved.

My first stop (a must) was to the visitor center where I was given pamphlets for all the off-leash locations around town for dogs, sheets for several recommended hikes and the Bend Ale Trail guide. So much to do, so little time.

Bend, Oregon is famous for its prevalence of great craft breweries and as such the tourism board has put together the Bend Ale Trail that highlights 16 of the microbreweries in the area. The aim is to visit each one and get them to stamp your Ale Trail guide in order to receive a prize at the end. You don’t have to drink at each one, but what is the point of doing an ale trail if you don’t sample the wares?

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I wandered downtown briefly with an armful of papers, sheets and pamphlets but not everything was open and I headed back to the truck. With my stomach grumbling and an hour left on my free 2-hour parking I decided I would pause for an early lunch at McMenamins Old St Francis School Restaurant and Brew Pub. A decent plate of ravioli and a really good red ale is what got me started on the Bend Ale Trail with my first stamp.

With my belly full I went to check out the Old Mill District which is now a large outdoor shopping mall along the Deschutes River. It still retains much of its character and reminded me more of English downtown shopping areas than a US mall. Of course, being me, I had to check out REI…always a bad move if you have a credit card…and I walked out with two dog bowls and some extra tent stakes. (I realized I had bought the same dog bowls already and returned them later). From there we headed to one of the recommended dog parks which was unfortunately closed…we still went in anyway so the dogs could relieve themselves.

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The day I arrived was also the first day of the summer’s Farmer’s Market and I wandered for a bit. It wasn’t large although I suspect it gets bigger as the summer goes on. I did find some raw frozen marrow bones for the dogs which were inexpensive and I got them one each.

By that time it was pretty warm and I did a little research online to find out which of the brew pubs on the ale trail had dog-friendly patios or gardens. So with a couple in mind, and bearing in mind where our chosen campsite for the night would be we checked out Crux Fermentation Project followed by 10 Barrel Brewing. Both beers were good but not as good as the red from the Old St Francis School.

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Bend’s city limits reach almost to the edge of the national forest so it isn’t much of a drive to find a decent camping location. I took a chance on the first right turn I came to and found a decent, albeit slightly busy parking spot that I would use for the rest of my time in Bend. It had limited cell service but with as busy as I had been on my first day in the city I knew it wouldn’t be an issue.

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I took the dogs for a long walk down to the creek where we ran into a few cyclists (Bend is very popular with mountain and road cyclists alike) and then headed back to the truck as dusk started to settle in.

My aim the following morning had been to hike Tumalo Falls, one of the recommended hikes I had been given, but I wasn’t loving the cold and most of the trails were closed to dogs…and the upper falls viewing platform was also closed due to a maintenance issue. So I enjoyed the view of the waterfall from the parking lot and then we headed back into town

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We headed for Walmart to get some groceries, killed more time at one of the dog parks until it reached a decent hour to check out any one of the numerous brew pubs I still had to check out.

I started at Sunriver Brewing Co with a red ale that was one of their award winners…and it was pretty damn good. There was enough shade for the dogs, and the wait staff provided water for the dogs. Sitting in the shade was slightly chilly with the breeze…but better to tolerate that than to overheat, or worse yet drink hot beer.

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From Sunriver I had no particular plan in mind but we paused at the river to let Kye and Cody have a little wander off-leash. Sadly it was pretty busy and I had to keep them close and under tight supervision. We didn’t stay long.

I had seen a used outdoor gear store earlier in the day and wanted to check it out. I pulled into the parking lot and inadvertently pulled into the same parking lot as another pub on the list, Immersion Brewing. It also had a patio and filled bowls of cold water for the dogs. I briefly checked out the outdoor gear store which didn’t have anything I needed, or wanted, and then grabbed the dogs to go have a beer. I loved that so many of these brew pubs were dog friendly.

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By this time it had been a tough decision about which beer to order since I was only trying one per brewery and I had started to ask about the award winners at each place…can’t go wrong if you order the beer that has won awards. At Immersion I ordered their Little Fawn and it was definitely the best tasting beer I had had in a LOOONG time. It truly was amazing. I chatted with an older guy who also had his dog with him and who recommended which places he liked and which places to steer clear from.

From Immersion I headed to Good Life Brewing Company. It had a beer garden very reminiscent of English pub gardens but I had to go inside, without the dogs, to order a beer. A very kind older gentleman offered to hold them for me while I went an got a brew. As always they got lots of compliments when I got back.

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I sat at one of the picnic tables while the dogs dozed and watched a game of cornhole being played by some middle-aged men. By this time a young kid had wandered over, with the normal inquisitiveness of a 2 year old, to pet the dogs. I nodded my consent to the worried parents and told them both Kye and Cody loved kids. It was a great evening spent chatting with the couple and watching the boy feed Kye and Cody with very bland Cheerio-wannabes (I asked the dad to check the ingredients for the dogs’ sake). It was a much needed social evening in the otherwise lonely life I lead on the road.

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Farewells were made, the last few sips of warm beer were downed and I headed back to camp.

The next couple of days were spent doing much the same thing. On Friday I started at Monkless Brewing, a brew pub that specializes in Belgian-style ales only, and enjoyed the company of a very cute 10 week old puppy by the name of Meg. The beer was decent but not as good as I had tried at Sunriver and Immersion. We went to the dog park again (it was open this time) and wandered the massive 14 acres which was huge for a dog park.

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A trip to Boneyard Beer was next although they only have a tasting room and serve only 4oz tasters. The first is free and they are a $ each after the first, or you can try all nine for $8. I tried four for $3. They were good but so far not the best, despite everyone telling me how good they were…maybe I just chose the wrong beer.

Boneyard was followed by Silver Moon Brewing who sadly had a cooling-system malfunction and the only beer available was one of two they had canned. The beer was good and the conversation with the very cute bartender was enjoyable, but sadly not my favorite place.

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I paused in at Deschutes Brewing to get a stamp but did not stop for a beer as I was already familiar with their offering. I had already picked up their mixed 12-pack in stores when I was looking for beer to take to camp (and good beer tastes better warm than other cheap beer). The last stop of the day was Bend Brewing Company where another beer garden played host to myself, the dogs…and their apparent appeal…and I spent the evening talking with four lovely ladies from San Francisco who had come up for the weekend. At this point I was feeling the slight effects from the beer and took a short walk before driving back to camp.

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The last day in Bend was spent buying a couple of pairs of new backpacking trail runners and returning the pair I had bought from REI. I like bright colors on my shoes and the REI pair just weren’t cutting it…too bland. I also checked out Dillon Falls, a rapids-like section of the Deshcutes River off the Cacades Lakes National Scenic Byway.

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I had finished the Bend Ale Trail the day before and headed to the visitor center to claim my prize; a silicone beer mug and Bend Ale Trail window sticker (now in my windshield).

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With not needing to fill the trail guide any more (I wouldn’t make the 16 for the “extra” prize) I decided to return to Immersion Brewing for another Little Fawn. Again it did not disappoint and I still think that it is one of my favorite beers of all time. I could have bought a case of the stuff. Another stop at another dog park and then onward to check out a couple of the breweries on the ale trail I hadn’t tried. I started at Worthy Brewing but wasn’t impressed; the beer was cold but nothing to rave about and the atmosphere just didn’t feel right for a craft brewery. The food looked decent though and they did permit dogs on the patio, and there were certainly a lot of them.

The last place I stopped was at the place that the guy with the dog at Immersion Brewing had said was “shit”. Well I’m glad I didn’t listen as the beer at Cacades Lakes Brewing Company was really good and I caved on my healthy-eating road-trip diet and ordered a fabulous cheeseburger. I also ordered a 6-pack of beer to go which sadly wasn’t as good as the beer I had ordered that was on tap.

And that, in all its alcoholic glory, is Bend. Beautiful scenery, wonderful and friendly people, great trails and outdoors possibilities, and most importantly SO MUCH GOOD BEER.

While the Bend Ale Trail was fun to follow there are many more craft brew pubs and micro breweries in Bend that I didn’t get the chance to check out, but several of the locals certainly recommended others in town that were better than those on the list. For atmosphere and beer gardens I loved Bend Brewing Company and Good Life Brewing the most. As far as beer went my preferences were for Immersion’s “Little Fawn”, Sunriver’s Award-Winning Red and Cascade Lakes IPA (of which I can’t remember the name).

There is so much more to Bend than beer of course but with only so much time and money to spare I made certain decisions about my priorities. I loved Bend and the people and it felt like a small town vs a large-ish city (90,000) since I focused on the downtown and Old Mill districts.

 

Exploring Oregon – Part 1

Compared to my last month-long trip into Canada and Washington and struggling to find things to fill my time I figured 18 days in Oregon would be easy to fill…and the first 10 days were.

I headed over the mountain on Highway 12, and south of Mt Rainier…the few clear views I had of the volcano were certainly impressive. The day had weather predictions of 60* and rain but once I got over the pass and onto the west side of the Cascades things quickly warmed up.

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We stopped for lunch and a walk, and in the warm sun it smelled like summer. What does summer smell like to you? To me it smells of two things, depending on where I am, but summer predominantly smells of sun-warmed pine trees…there is nothing like that smell to let you know that winter is done and that there are adventures ahead.

We stopped for gas and beer in Yakima before heading east to one of favorite campsites (cell service and solitude) near Vernita Bridge and The Hanford Reach, on the Columbia River. I started in the location I had camped twice before but the rapidly rising water (a millimeter a minute) forced me to move my truck twice before I felt comfortable. A millimeter a minute on a river the size of the Columbia is A LOT of water.

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I was in a hurry as I was trying to reach Walla Walla for a meet-and-great with Steven Amell (of The Green Arrow fame) but when I arrived at the location I discovered it was a VIP event and ticket-holders only…and very expensive tickets they were too. I was disappointed that while Steven Amell had mentioned the event on his personal FB page he had failed to mention it was a ticketed event.

With a failed celebrity encounter behind me I headed out of Walla Walla in search of a campsite. Sadly, while it was good National Forest land, most of the back roads were covered in snow and the air temperature was not conducive to wanting to camp (or at least be outside the truck, and there was no cell service). I eventually found a gorgeous campsite alongside a creek that made for a pleasant evening despite being damp.

La Grande was the next town along the road and finally being in Oregon (no sales tax) I got a much-needed oil change. I am very thorough with my vehicle and after reading some reviews on the place I double checked my oil level…two quarts high. I took my truck back and had them drain some of the excess oil until the level was reading correct. The guys were accommodating and courteous and made things right but an over-fill of two quarts can ruin an engine (as evidenced by a previous Google reviewer).

La Grande was a neat little town and I spent a few hours exploring the downtown area, including a pretty decent outdoor store, Blue Mountain Outfitters. With a six pack of good beer in the cooler I headed up to the free campsite above town and on a lake where I found a lovely gravel camping location along the lake shore. While pretty and free, the place is very popular and busy…and probably more so in the summer.

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I put La Grande in my rear view mirror and headed south and west once more, not quite sure where I would stop for the night. The road I followed, was absolutely stunning as we followed it through the Umatilla National Forest and past the Bridge Creek Wildlife Area. I didn’t see many signs for hiking trails but it would have been a great area for day hikes or even an overnight or two.

The views never disappointed as we turned south at Ukiah and then west again at Long Creek towards Kimberly, Service Creek and then on towards Mitchell. There were definitely some great camping spots alongside the river but unfortunately all of them were BLM pay-to-stay sites and I had run out of cold hard cash. I finally located a beautiful campsite at the mouth of the Black Canyon, just north of Mitchell, after guessing which road it was on from a very pixelated Google map (no service). And while the site had no service the view was stunning and we were surrounded by amazing red cliffs and canyons.

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A gorgeous night was followed by a chilly morning and all thoughts of hiking the canyon disappeared from my mind as we bundled up and hit the road early, heading west again towards Prineville. The views continued to be stunning and we stopped for lunch at Smith Rock.

Again the lack of cash was catching up with me as Smith Rock (well worth a visit, and about 45 minutes NE of Bend) required a $5 day use contribution. Still, I enjoyed lunch and took a few pictures while walking the dogs before we headed out to look for an early campsite.

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Freecampsites.net once again listed a great location just west of Terrabone with some fantastic views of the Three Sisters and Mt Bachelor, as well as the Deschutes River canyon. There were dozens of campsites to choose from, some with better views or better cell service than others…and all were sandy.

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We picked a remote site with decent cell service but no view since we arrived early in the day, and then went for a long walk around the access roads in the area. I dropped a Google pin that pinpointed the truck and set out…this turned out to be a great decision as it would have been very easy to get lost and disoriented with all the winding roads, and we almost did.

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The following day a quick, chilly but very cheap shower was found at the Cascade Swim Center before we headed south into Bend, Oregon…but Bend deserves its own dedicated post.