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In early July Catlin Gabel's new Head of School, Tim Bazemore, accompanied a group of Catlin students on a climb of the Middle Sister. Tim's son also joined the group of three Catlin students. The Middle Sister is Oregon's fifth highest peak at 10,038'.
Our trip began on a sunny Wednesday morning from the school parking lot where the crew of six loaded into a rental S.U.V. for the three hour drive to the Pole Creek trailhead south of Sisters, Oregon. We were surprised and disappointed to find that a fire last summer had completely burned the pine forest around the trailhead, and also most of the way up to basecamp. The lack of shade made for a hot hike into our camp at 6800 feet east of the Hayden Glacier. After setting up a camp -made easier by our choice to leave most of the tents behind given the great weather forecast - we headed over to a steep snowy knoll where we went over basic snow and ice skills. Luca and Finn instructed the group on self arrrest techniques, how to use an ice axe, and how to ascend and descend steep snow. We all enjoyed a dinner of lasagne and chicken soup once we returned back to our pleasant camping spot.
Climb day dawned clear with a promise of being a hot one. We set off up the hill after a breakfast of hot cocoa, oatmeal and canned pork product. The snow was in surprsingly firm condition and we put on our crampons just half an hour into the climb. The route we took - up the south lobe of the Hayden Glacier - was somewhat convoluted and steep in places. Crevasses were skirted without incident. The part settled into a good rhythm as we travelled up the steepening slope. Views to the east allowed Tim to get a bird's eye view of the vast extent of eastern Oregon and all the adventures that await his family here. Below the pass - where the peak connects to the North Sister - we took a long rest and prepared for the greatest challenge of the climb. After considerable preparation and consternation, but no hesitation, Finn led the party up a 55 degree headwall using pickets for protection that provided direct access to the summit ridge, and avoided the tedious and longer scree slopes sometimes taken from the pass itself. Above this pitch we crossed scree and more snow, with Luca kicking steps up toward the true summit, which we reached at about noon. The day was perfect, with only a gentle breeze to cool us off a bit as we ate ham and cheese bagels without the cheese.
We chose an alternate descent route which allowed us to avoid the glacier altogether and just walk down endless snowfields. The students practiced their glissading techniques and engaged in games of chance involving skills with their ice-axes.
That evening we lounged around camp, exchanging stories and playing cards. Almost everyne enjoyed a dinner of macaroni and cheese. The stars were bright until the moon rose, but by then everyone was asleep, tired from the day's challenges.
What a grand adventure! Eight intrepid students and two leaders finished a spectacular and challenging backpack through the North Cascades in early July.
Last summer, as our backpack trip around Glacier Peak was coming to a close, one of the students came up with the idea of doing a ‘through hike’ between the I-90 corridor and the US-2 corridor, essentially from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass along the Cascade crest. After some research in the spring we were able to find a route that looked feasible, taking us from near Cle Elum through the high mountains to Stevens Pass. What made the trip challenging -- and special -- was that the Catlin students were the first ones this year to navigate their way through heavy snow, avalanche debris and bushwhacking and emerge successful on the other side.
The road north from Cle Elum was not nearly as bad as some of the internet postings had indicated- just long, and a bit potholed in places. Once we reached the trailhead it took us about an hour to eat lunch and get packed up. We set off north on the trail at a brisk clip, probably 3 miles per hour, and soon found ourselves hiking along the eastern shore of beautiful Hyas Lake. At the far end of this lake is another smaller lake. Originally we had planned to camp there, but we arrived so quickly that we agreed we should head up the steep hill east of us to beautiful Tuck Lakes. Unfortunately we quickly lost the trail in the snow and started a steep bushwack up the hillside which took almost three hours in itself, even though we covered maybe 2 miles. The kids ended up enjoying the adventure of the bushwhack, I kept waiting for one of them to suggest we just try to find the trail—something we could have done by moving south on the hillside. There was no snow at all on the whole west facing forested slope. After maybe 90 minutes we heard some yelling below from the others in our party who reported that one of our number had become sick and needed help carrying his stuff up the hill. We split up most of his gear and after maybe another hour we arrived at the lake. Tuck Lake is indeed beautiful, sitting in a rocky basin with a cute little island in the center. The surrounding area, though, was almost completely covered in snow so it was hard to find a good place to set up camp. Our kitchen ended up being on some rocks on the west bank and we made a good dinner and went to bed after ten. Three of the students and one of the adults slept out, eschewing their tents, as became the pattern for the rest of the trip. There were essentially no bugs that night or on any night the rest of the week.
Tuesday morning we slept in a bit and then hiked over to Tuck’s Pot- a small lake southwest of the main lake. It was even more beautiful than our home lake. We then packed up and began a challenging hike toward Marmot Lake. The way took us up to Deception Pass, where we had lunch and then westward on a mostly snow-covered trail over Blue Ridge and to the headwaters of Blue Ridge Creek. We entered a spectacular basin where 13 waterfalls fell from the surrounding cliffs to form the creek. Here we were fortunate to locate the trail and followed it downstream for maybe a mile until we came across the first of many avalanche debris zones where the trail was completely covered in fallen timber and piles of old snow. Tediously we made our way over, under and through the mess before successfully locating the trail on the western slopes as it began its ascent toward Marmot Lake. After a few more avalanche swaths were crossed we came across a steep gully filled with snow, maybe 30 meters across with a bad runout. Michael carefully kicked some steps across and we all made it -- holding our breaths. A few of the students were uncomfortable. Maybe 200 yards later we came across another, similar, snowfield. This one was steeper and with some big holes in the middle where a sliding student might disappear. After about half an hour of investigation and discussion we decided to abort our quest for Marmot Lake and turned back. Several student reported that this ‘turn around’ was the low point of the day for them. We made our way back across the first snow slope, with care, through the avalanche debris to the forest floor near Blue Ridge Creek. George somehow was able to locate a nice campsite in the old growth forest that actually had an old fire ring from previous visitors – even though it was across the river from the trail. We built a nice fire and had a good dinner, deep in the woods.
Our hike the next day was long but not as challenging. We returned up the creek to the waterfall basin and then over gentle Blue Ridge Pass to Deception Pass where we had a snack. From here we followed the PCT north- almost all snow covered, past several junctions, over some dramatic and beautiful streams to Deception Lakes. On this day we arrived early enough to enjoy exploring the area. After a dinner of Cheesy Enchilada we played a game of Salad Bowl- which the kids loved. Most everyone except the two girls and Mitch slept out under the brilliant stars that night. The beauty of the spot was almost overwhelming and the students wandered among the meadows and flowers near the lake fully disconnected from their urban lives back home.
Thursday was a tough day. We started the hike out from the lake on the PCT and reveled in the spectacular view as we ascended the west facing slopes toward Pieter Pass. Wildflowers were everywhere and it was such a pleasure to be free from the snow. Just before the crest of the ridge we came across some steep snow which we were able to avoid by scooting straight up to the ridge above. The scene on the east side of the divide- down which we must travel to continue on our way to Stevens Pass - was disconcerting. The way was 100 percent snow covered and quite steep and long- the lake was maybe 800-1000 vertical feet below us. Its ice covered status was alarming in itself- sort of a cold and forbidding objective. Michael set off on the trail, which we could barely discern through the deep snow. We rounded one switchback and then quickly lost the trail in the mostly open snow field. After some thought we all dropped into a climbing position and began to kick steps down the steep slope, facing into the slope, one at a time. From this point we negotiated our way among clumps of trees before coming across a long (over 1000 linear feet) snow filled gully that led all the way to the lake. At the top it was quite steep, maybe 40 degrees, and the snow was a bit firm. Over the next hour everyone made it down the long slope in their own style and we all breathed a sigh of relief as we kicked steps along the lakeshore. The adventure wasn’t over though as it was necessary to ascend a steep wooded and wet slope out of the lake basin to locate the PCT on its western flank. This we finally did and found a place for lunch at about 230 pm. From here it was just a snow walk along Glacier Lake and down to Surprise Lake. We found a wonderful campsite at the far, northerly, end of the Lake and the students hung out in the warm sun. It was a wonderful and celebratory way to end a tough day of challenging trail breaking. That night we had a nice sharing time next to the lake before heading to bed about 10pm.
Friday’s hike was nothing but pleasant as we descended the trail 6 miles down Surprise Creek to the trailhead arriving at 10:15. Leroy pulled the bus in at 10:32. Our ride home was fun enough, we stopped at the Denny’s in Federal Way for a high calorie meal before heading home.
For a week of fun this past June, 23 students and 8 advisors made the drive east to City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho. Each day the team divided into four smaller groups and spent the day climbing on the beautiful granite that makes "the City" a world class climbing destination. Students who had completed the appropriate training were allowed to lead and put up climbs. Everyone participated in the meal preparation, cleanup and a wonderful talent show at the end of the magical week.
A classic Oregon adventure-- biking the old roads of the Willamette Valley, crossing covered bridges, and having fun on a warm and sunny afternoon.
The adventure began Friday night with a showing of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent classic “The General.” A small group of trip students and parents enjoyed the film greatly and looked forward to sighting familiar settings during our trip. We departed Saturday at 8:20, the expeditionary force consisting of 6 students and 2 leaders. We pulled into Baker Bay Campground, in a Lane County Park, right on the lakeshore. We arrived 3 hours after leaving Catlin. Despite the governor’s drought declaration for Lane County, the reservoir was completely full. We ate our lunches around a huge table in the midst of a fairy-tale ring of our camping tents that had sprung up, thanks to our busy group, all around the periphery of the site. After lunch we secured the campsite against roving animals and the (highly remote) possibility of rain, and climbed on to the bikes to set off on our explorations. We started with a fun 2 mile descent, past the earthen dam, through open fields filled with yellow and white daisies, and by the Army Corps of Engineers campground at Schwarz Park below the dam. We crossed the outlet stream well below the spillway, and cycled west to where the Row River Trail crossed the road.
The Row River Trail is a former logging railroad that has been converted to a trail. The entire 15.6 mile length from Cottage Grove to Culp Creek is paved and wonderfully smooth for biking on. At Harms Park we looked high and low (even taking a detour up a hilly side road) to look for a trestle used in “The General.” We didn’t see anything remotely like what we’d seen in the film. Disappointed and let down by the guide book, we stopped for a rest in the park. After our break we headed eastward again along the lake. The trail emerged more into the open as we got to the marshy upper end of the reservoir. Our route continued on past the town of Dorena, and climbed ever so gently up the inlet river. After milepost 13.5 the trail became wilder. None of the bridges we saw on this trip are usable by cars anymore, but we were able to bike and walk on all of them. We headed back on Shoreview Drive to the campsite. It was about 5:00 when we returned to camp, and there were still many hours of daylight left. After settling chore duties for the rest of the trip, an expedition to the lake shore was mounted. Near the floating barrier protecting the mooring area there was a clear path into the lake. The floating barrier consisted of long sections of corrugated plastic pipe linked end to end like a long lake-snake. The pipes were a meter in diameter, and closed at the ends so they would float. They looked highly roll-y, but the students were able to get up on them and sit or stand on them.
We returned to the campsite to change and prepare dinner. The meal was burritos with all the fixin’s, followed by triple chocolate brownies. Nobody went hungry, and despite many dirty dishes, a very efficient clean-up crew dealt with them quickly.
We walked down to the lake shore to admire the sunset over the water and the trees across the bay. A game of Presidents was quickly organized. The rules were explained to the neophytes, and all 8 of us played. When it finally became too dark to see the cards, we started a fire in the fire ring in the midst of the tents. Once sufficient coals had developed, s’mores were toasted, constructed, and consumed. This was a first introduction to these traditional camp treats for several members of the party. All agreed that they were deliciously tasty.
As the night was so fine, several of the students decided to sleep out on a tarp, rather than in tents. They were still cocooned in their sleeping bags when the wake-up call sounded at 7:30, and the traditional Frying of the Spam commenced at 8:00 to begin the day properly. Lunches were made and stashed for eating later in the day. We washed up, packed away the kitchen gear, struck the tents, and loaded the bikes in the trailer. By 9:15 there was no sign we’d ever been in the campsite, and we drove away to Cottage Grove.
In Cottage Grove we cast about to find the city end of the Row River Trail. After searching for parking, we unloaded the bikes, stashed the gear from the trailer in the bus, and set off to follow the bike trail eastwards. There was a huge organized bike ride going on for the weekend which had all the downtown section of Main Street closed off to car traffic. There were ride volunteers at many of the street crossings, which eased our ride to the city outskirts. We came to the day’s first covered bridge at Mosby Creek. We crossed the river on a steel railroad bridge a few yards away. The next covered bridge we saw across a field, with no direct access. We had to cycle beyond it then back on Row River Road to see Currin Bridge. When we continued on, such was the enthusiasm of the group that all members charged gung-ho on up the trail beyond the road crossing before the last in line realized that that crossing had been the intended turn around point; it was where we had first gotten on the trail the day before. We ended up doing the climb to the dam again. After a full afternoon of biking a wide variety of roads, including some particularly steep sections which required a few riders to walk their mounts up the inclines, we rode to a nearby Dairy Queen (scouted when we first entered Cottage Grove the day before) for a well-earned treat. Then it was time to return to the bus to load up the bikes for the drive back to Portland. On the 2.5-hour drive north the gray skies cleared, leaving smudgy clouds like pencil-erased holes in the blue sky. We arrived at Catlin on schedule at 5:00 pm.
This was a marvelous trip. The weather was fine, the spring greenery and flowers very scenic. The biking was easy and low key, the on-trail parts particularly beautiful and soothing. The covered bridges were plentiful and varied. The crew was wonderful: friendly, inclusive, enthusiastic, helpful, adept at keeping themselves amused, and despite the wide range of biking, camping, and outdoor program experience, they stuck together and enjoyed themselves and the group.
Climbing Mt. Hood (Oregon’s tallest peak) is not always blue skies and sunshine.
- To learn to work together as a group
- To face challenges and difficulties and successfully overcome them
- To learn mountaineering skills
- To have fun!
The summit-bound group broke into nicer weather above and made its way to the top, arriving at 11:50 a.m. The summit was devoid of other climbers, but also of any view whatsoever.
A large and enthusiastic group of 22 Catlin students made the journey to southern Oregon on a late April weekend. Leaving the campus after classes on a warm Thursday afternoon the big yellow school trundled its way down to Indian Mary campground along the Rogue River where the kids set up tents to protect them during a showery night. Friday morning the group was up by 6:15 a.m. and made the short drive to the put-in where Graves Creek meets the Rogue River. The first day was "splashy" with lots of students taking the dive into the chilly waters. By mid afternoon all six boats were tied up at the Rogue River Ranch. On Saturday morning the group quickly entered Mule Creek Canyon, with its beautiful canyon walls and numerous waterfalls. Shortly thereafter all the boats pulled over for a detailed scout of Blossom Bar, the big and sometimes frightening challenge on the wild Rogue. This year it turned out that the river levels were high enough to allow a passge down the right side of the river over some drops and rapids, avoiding the Picket Fence altogether. The rest of the day was spent in conversation and playing games on the individual boats. After landing the boats and derigging them, the team boarded the bus and headed north to Humbug State Park. It was a rainy night but everyone stayed dry and made an early exit to begin the long drive back to Portland.
A group of 30 students and leaders spent a wonderful sunny weekend at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon, developing their rock climbing skills. On the first day the group split into fiove smaller bands and set up operations at various spots aroiund the park. That evening everyone travelled to Redmond for a fine meal of burgers and pizza before pitching their tents at Skull Hollow Campground in the grasslands. On Easter Sunday we made an early start and were able to have our pick of the great climbs all day.
Eighteen bold students set sale from Anacortes, Washington as part of their Winterim adventure. Over the five days the group sailed to Matia, Sucia, Jones, Orcas and Lopez islands. The group even managed to sail up into the Canadian Gulf islands for an afternoon, and also saw some porpoises. There were lots of man overboard drills, cards played and hiking adventures on land.
A group of twelve Catlin Gabel students and leaders spent a week exploring the red rock canyons of southern Utah over spring break this year. The group flew to Las Vegas and exited the place as fast as possible for the glorious wilderness not far from America's most unnatural city. At the end of the five hour journey they found a pristine paradise of canyons, rocks, Indian dwellings and hidden rivers. The first half of the trip was spent in Coyoto Gulch in the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. Four days of hiking along the gorgeous stream in its deep canyon home created lasting memories for the young crew. The last three days were spent exploring slot canyons, some of them requiring technical climbing gear. Each night the group camped out under the brilliant stars, made brighter by the moonless night.
Our interpid group of 12 students and two leaders boarded the eastbound Amtrak on Wednesday afternoon, minutes after taking their last final exam. Although the train ran a little behind its posted schedule that was more than made up for by the amazingly kind and attentive service provided by the staff at the stations and especially on board the train. The respect with which the students were treated was something they will remember for many years. We travelled through the darkness for 14 hours or more before detraining onto a lovely siding in the windswept and snowbound reaches of the Flathead River bordering Glacier National Park. We made the 100 yard walk to our hotel: the Izaak Walton Inn where we deposited our bags into our own separate house apart from the main lodge. We spent that first afternoon skiing the many miles of groomed trails in the nearby hills. For about half of he students this was their first experience using Nordic skis, but everyone took to it like a Powells employee to a tattoo parlor. The snow was excellent- a foot of fresh powder had fallen the day before, and the temperatures were cold. It dropped to 0 degrees on our last day. The students learned the value of chemical hand warmers. That evening the group played some intense group games that separated the clever from the thoughtful.
On Friday we made the drive down to McDonald Lake in Glacier Park- one the great features of this spectacular park. We skied down some roads and then managed to ski up the foot trail to Johns Lake. We also made an excursion across McDonald Creek and to the head of the lake.
Our last day was Saturday and we were greeted by sunshine though with even colder temperatures. This day was devoted to challenging adventures, which included lots of off-trail skiing through the woods, crossing creeks, falling down, climbing trees, capture the flag and glorious skiing in the sunshine. That evening we boarded the train at the lovely siding once again and made the long trip back to Portland.
Last weekend Creative Writing teacher Ginia King and Outdoor Program teacher Renee Jenkinson teamed up and took a group of Upper School Students on a creative writing retreat on the Oregon Coast. It was one of those magical 65 degree and sunny winter beach weekends. We spent time doing writing exercises, hiking, exploring, cooking great food, and sharing. In it's second year, the creative writing trip continues to grow as a creative, relaxing, beautiful co curricular adventure!
Christmas Lake, Alkalai Flats, Crack in the Ground, Shiprock, Green Mountain and South Ice Cave were some of the features that Catlin students backpacked to over the extended break for conferences this year.
The group drove from Portland to the hamlet of Christmas Valley on Saturday and set off on foot northbound across the salt flats, which are the remnants of an ancient lake. Some of the students found arrowheads(!) as we made our way to a remote camping spot, far from any habitation. The moon was as bright as a reading light, and the stars shone more brightly than any the students had ever seen. The next morning, after a dinner of oatmeal, fresh fruit, and Spam, we all set off on a very challenging twelve mile hike across the salt flats and into the higher sage country. We spent a few hours at Crack in the Ground exploring its hidden recesses before climbing higher and higher into the juniper and then pine forest to a camp atop Green Mountain. The panorama from our campsite allowed us to see over 1000 square miles of the state. Dinner consisted of Philadelphia cheese steak sandwiches. Our third day was spent exploring South Ice Cave and trying to force new passages among the rocks. For most of the kids this was the most challenging outdoor experience of their lives. Strong bonds were forged among the thirteen students, who represented all four classes of the school.
Rock climbing in the desert sun is a perfect antidote for the autmun rains in Portland. As is so often the case, the dramatic television news forecasts for approaching weather turned out to be, well, wrong, and the students on the trip were treated to unbridled sunshine all day Saturday, a clear (and cold) night, and unalloyed sunshine all day on Sunday.
Once the group finished climbing on Saturday, we all boarded the bus and drove into Redmond and enjoyed an authentic Mexican meal at Mazatlan Resturant. That evening we set up camp in the Skull Hollow Campground, which was practically empty, and built a large bonfire which served as a forum for outdoor-related and moose jokes late into the evening.
The sun rose on our little campsite about 8am and we set about making our individual breakfasts. The balance of the day was occupied with climbing the warm rocks along the Crooked River.
After a relaxing no school Friday, students met up at 2:00 for a 2:30pm sharp departure East to Goldendale WA. On the bus we sang, got acquainted, and chatted and arrived at Ekone Ranch in the beautiful slanted evening light. The bus filled with smiles as the bus wove down the driveway into the valley filled with horses, little smoking chimneys, pigs, goats, and golden leaves.
Shonie met us and we got the lay of the land before moving into the longhouse where we set ourselves up in bunks and lofts. We stretched our legs on a walk around the ranch and some pig feeding before heading over to the kitchen where we were greeted by a warm stove and delicious dinner. Students all gathered around a table chatting, eating, and enjoying the company. Just as we were finishing, Nance and Ailie arrived and joined the group! After dinner we helped clean up, bundled up, and headed over to the lodge where we lit a fire beneath the watch of Monarch the buffalo head. Half the group had planned activities for the evening and we played “hot seat,” a question game where the bonding was sweet and the group got a lot closer. Just after 10 we headed back to the longhouse where we stoked the wood stove and settled into the chilly evening under the full moon.
7:30 came early with the calling of wild turkeys through the morning mist and the breakfast crew bundled up and headed down to the kitchen to help get breakfast ready. Everyone joined them at 8 and we enjoyed a delicious warm breakfast before cleaning up, getting ready for the day and meeting up for some stretching and plan making. 1/3 of the group went riding while the other 2/3s did encaustic wax painting, photography, and horse charcoal drawings with Nance. The riders returned from their riding lesson and glorious autumn loop along the canyon rim in time for lunch and we all ate in the sunshine under the fall leaves. After lunch we moved wood in the forest and had some quiet solo time where students napped, read, and enjoyed the peace of the valley. In the afternoon the groups rotated. Art was made, horses were ridden, and adventure was had!
The evening found us gathered together enjoying a delicious dinner before another evening of games around the fire.
Our final morning was spent with the remainder of students riding while the rest of us hiked to the bottom of the canyon to a beautiful oasis! After lunch the bus arrived. We had a talent show on the bus ride back which included yodeling and songs! We got back to Catlin at 4pm dusty, relaxed, and happy.
This fall we had so many students sign up for the annual fall rafting trip that we created two trips as a way to assure everyone a quality experience.
The first and second groups were both guided by the able oarsmen of All-Star Rafting, from Maupin. Bob Sauer was the Admiral of the first team and Paul Monheimer was the Admiral of the second group. We were favored by great weather all weekend, and the students had the funnest time. The first day was spent navigating fairly straightforward rapids from the put in at Warm Springs to a camp near Whiskey Dick. Most of the time was occupied getting to know each other. learning various paddling techniques and getting to know our guides. Dinner that night was prepared by the students under the watchful and hungry eyes of the guides and school faculty. The students and leaders slept out under the stars or in tents.
Day two included the challenge of White Horse Rapids, a class III-IV rapid that is long and somewhat complex. Everyone made it through unscathed and on they travelled after a brief stop for some swimming and jumping into the river. That night was spent near the old townsite of Dant.
On the third and final day the group faced up to the challenge of the toughest rapids on the lower river. These rapids include Boxcar, Wapinitia and Oak Springs. We stopped to scout some of these and used the expertise of the guides on others. Everyone got wet- and those who were not wet were invited into he river on the sunny day. The trip ended about noon on Sunday and the bus was filled with smiling and happy faces on the return trip to Portland.
Bicycling along paved mountain roads, surrounded by the colors of the fall, seventeen Catlin Gabel students and four leaders made a 60 mile tour of the high Cascades of Oregon during a flawless October weekend.
The trip began on a Friday morning at a snow park about six miles south of Government Camp just past Clear Lake. The group unloaded its belogings from the bus and strapped some of them on to their trusty two-wheelers while putting the rest in a friendly van that would help transport the gear from one forest campsite to the next. The trip was planned so as to be entirely on paved roads through the Mt. Hood National Forest and Willamette National Forest.
The first day featured some ups and some downs as far as elevation gain went. We had a nice lunch near Little Crater Lake, a little visited gem of this great state, and made a visit to the nearby Pacific Crest Trail. From here we biked back up to Forest Service Road 42, our main artery of travel and proceeded to Timothy Lake. A few students roused the courage to wade in its chilly waters. That evening we camped at Summit Lake and feasted on a lengthy spaghetti dinner.
Day two provided glorious downhill biking along narrow and winding forest roads, all the way down to the Clackamas River. We ate our lunch right beside the river while some hearty souls tested the icy waters. From here we biked south along FS 46 to an obscure campsite along Sisi Creek. The students spent the afternoon playing capture the flag and a memorable game of Ultimate Frisbee on the narrow and nearly deserted forest road.
Our final day started with a challenging climb up to the pass that seperates the Clackamas River drainage from that of the Santiam River. Once on top, and with little or no warning, we embarked on an unending downhill ride of 14 miles that took us right into the town of Detroit. The smiles wouldn't stop. Most fun ever.
The wild weekend weather forecast and perniciously persistent illness conspired to whittle away at the participant list over the course of the week leading up to our departure on this adventure. From what had originally been a nearly full activity-bus-load of 11 students and 2 leaders, timidity and sickness diminished our number to a mere 4 students and 2 leaders standing in the parking lot by the bus on Saturday morning at departure time. The gray skies and forbidding forecast notwithstanding, there was great enthusiasm and energy throughout this small but intrepid group as we loaded the bus and left Catlin on time.
On the two hour drive to the mountain the skies grew darker and the rain showers more frequent. The multi setting speed control on the windshield wipers had to be adjusted to ever faster rates the closer we got to our destination. At the turnoff to Ape Cave, we paused to discuss our options. A brief, transitory lessening of the deluge deluded us into carrying on to the Lava Canyon Trailhead, following the planned itinerary. We were the only vehicle in the parking lot. After suiting up in our rain gear, we set off down the paved trail to the canyon floor as the rain intensity picked up again. The impervious pavement provided a wide channel for the water to flow down, switchback after switchback. Artistically placed logs that made distinct natural borders for the path in fine weather now were dams keeping the water on the path and creating deep pools that spanned the pavement forcing us to teeter along the logs in a futile effort to keep our feet dry. The creek at the bottom of the canyon, impressive at any time as it winds its way over old lava flows and cascades over their edges, was even more spectacular now, swollen with rainwater, opaquely brown with silt, and raging through its whirlpools and over its waterfalls. We passed safely over it on a high steel bridge, and then back on an even higher, satisfyingly swaying suspension bridge. In the river below the next rampaging waterfall we could hear large boulders shifting in the current, moved along by the unusually high volume of water.
We left the paved portion of the trail and followed the narrow and steep path cut into the precipitous cliffs along the dramatic canyon uncovered by the lahar flow from the 1980 eruption and made more striking by the years of erosion by the creek in just such weather as this. Even the trail was being reworked by the rainfall, as runoff made its way down the steep incline of the narrow path, carrying small loose pebbles along with it before finally cascading over the cliffside to join the brown torrent below. Side creeks that normally would be an easy crossing required careful footwork and adroit jumping to cross their full-spate cascades splashing over the trail. We paused to admire the distinct contacts between different lava flows, and to notice the unusual cooling in one flow that resulted in laminar cracks rather than the more common columns. We were finally turned back by a creek too wide to jump and with no convenient logs to serve as bridges or stepping stones.
We climbed aboard the bus, and some made the first of many changes of clothing in a futile effort to keep dry-clad – an effort that soon exhausted the dry clothes supply. The interior of the bus was quickly festooned with dripping clothing. In betweenst the drips we ate our lunches – not dry, but at least out of the rain.
On the drive back towards Ape Cave, the streams running off the upper lahar and across low places in the road were noticeably deeper than they had been on the way out. The water reached up at least to the hubcaps of the bus as we dipped through en route to higher (but not much drier) ground. Despite the by now continuous heavy rainfall, the large parking lot at Ape Cave was ¾ full of vehicles. Many people seemed to be seeking a drier outing underground on this soggy day. This turned out to be a vain hope. While there’s often a bit of dripping from the roof overhead at the entrance to the cave, the great volume of rain from this storm meant that the permeable basalt flow above dripped through the entire length of the tube. There was a stream of water running along the floor of the lava tube from entrance to end, a distance of ¾ mile. In the narrower and steeper sections the sound of the rushing water echoed off the damp stone walls and made the unusual underground stream sound even larger. The drips underground were larger and heavier than the raindrops above, so there was no doffing of raincoats or ponchos as we had hoped to be able to do. At the bottom end of the tube, a lake had formed on the sand floor that now blocks the lower exit to the tube. Presumably the water will slowly seep through the sand and return the cave to its more usual damp but waterless state once this storm has abated. We took advantage of a lull between other visitors to turn off all our lights to appreciate just how dark the inside of a cave is. (It’s REALLY dark.) The experience was novel this time, though, due to the extra noises. Usually it’s very quiet during this experiment, only the shuffling of our own group disturbing the silence. This time we heard the distant noises of other groups farther up the tube and the continual rush of the running water flowing down to meet us at the lake.
We drove down the road to the Trail of Two Forests parking lot. The lot was almost completely filled with sheriff’s vehicles, so we had to park our bus and trailer in the turnout outside. (The trailer had been arranged back when the trip roster was much larger. It now contained only the drinking water containers and fuel canisters. With the smaller group size that we now actually had, all gear fit inside the bus, out of the rain, although not necessarily dry.) Talking to two of the strapping, large men in the lot, we found that they were part of a search and rescue operation looking for a lost mushroom picker in the wet woods. We were on a quest to find Lake Cave, another lava tube, unmarked, that I had learned of the existence of only the day before from Peter. The friendly searchers in the lot confirmed that the entrance was hard to find. One of them only was only able to find it with the aid of his GPS unit and by knowing its exact coordinates. The searcher-in-chief at the parking lot was not thrilled at our plan of heading off into the woods to find a location that we didn’t know. We promised not to go far, and to not become another search project for him. In the event, we found the entrance to the cave easily and quite quickly. Peter’s scant, but accurate, directions enabled us to walk almost directly to it. This cave we had to ourselves. There was a metal ladder to descend into the main part of the lava tube, and then a lot of scrambling over large rock falls to proceed to the lower sections. Although some of the party was able to descend a short but steep wall into a large, open chamber, others of us were not, so the entire group turned around at this point, satisfied at having found and explored the cave exclusively, but a little disappointed at not having encountered its eponymous lake. We returned safely and entirely to the parking lot, where we checked back in with the search director. Then, as long as we were there, we took the Trail of Two Forests loop hike. It’s all paved and boardwalked, so there’s little chance of getting lost. The volcanic features on display here were new to many of the group. Several also did The Crawl, wriggling through two tree casts in the lava flow that now make a rough, hard, narrow tunnel that was today rather damp. Just as we loaded the bus, one of the searchers came over to tell us the rescue effort had just made voice contact with the missing mushroom hunter.
We headed east on FR 90 towards our campground. The weather continued extremely wet. Even though it was only mid-afternoon, the skies were so thickly beclouded that it seemed more like evening. The winding road was littered with leaves and branches. Although the conditions were now windless, so that the rain came straight down, it must have been very windy earlier. The obstacles meant extreme attention was needed for driving safely. We reached the campground about 4:30. There were three other hardy parties, with well-established camp setups amidst the general sogginess. We found a site with sufficient open, puddle-free ground for our tents and a table with trees around for the tying up of a sheltering tarp. In the continuous rainfall, the tents were quickly erected, and with three long lengths of rope, the tarp was carefully hung, centered over the table. It proved to have an unexpected, but very convenient feature – it was self-bailing. As the rain water collected into an ever deeper pool on the top, causing the whole affair to sag closer to the table, the center of mass shifted, and the pool moved towards the edge of the tarp. At a critical time, the whole pool poured itself over the edge, and the lightened tarp rose above our heads. Then the whole process started over again. Once we’d gotten over our amazement and astonishment at this phenomenon, we turned it even further to our advantage and started catching the water dumps in our dishpans to use as dishwashing water. As the water pump was quite a distance from our campsite, this was a much more convenient way to obtain the wash water.
By staying under the continually falling and rising tarp, we were able to stay fairly dry (and in close conversation) while dinner was prepared: Caesar salads, French bread, and tortellini in cream sauce with peas. This was sandwiched in between (even though it was much more than sandwiches!) endless rounds of hot drinks, the consumption of all of which did much to buoy our dampened spirits. As darkness fell, however, the rainfall increased rather than tapering off. The puddles between the tents continued to grow and started to encroach on the tents themselves. The time between auto-dumps on the tarp (Vince was timing them) shortened from nearly 6 minutes to 3 minutes and then to 2 minutes. A walk to the outhouse, away from the shelter of the tarp, resulted in saturation of bits of clothing that to this point in the day had remained dry, despite the continuous deluge. Part of the wetness was brought on by a detour to see the lower falls of the Lewis River, which were just beyond the outhouse. The falls were a spectacular sight – a luminous curtain of white in the deep gloom of the drenched evening, rushing loudly over a wide swath of rock. The overabundance of the recent additions to the water supply undoubtedly added to the magnificence, and promoted lingering to appreciate the spectacle, while contributing to the sogginess of the trip personnel.
Throughout the adventure to this point the attitude and enthusiasm of the intrepid few who were partaking in the expedition had been exemplary. There was continuous conversation keeping things lively and interesting, and consistent excitement about the excessively wet but still enthralling escapades that kept bobbing up before us. As the rainfall rate seemed set to keep increasing, the tents (along with just about everything else we had) were saturated and sodden, and the prospect was now to head to a wet bed at 7 pm, for a long and soggy night, with the forecast for tomorrow’s weather no better, it seemed best to end the trip at this point, with spirits and enthusiasm still high. So, by general agreement, we packed up the soggy tents and dishes and stuffed everything in the bus. Despite the darkness and the drenching downpour, we had everything packed and tucked in the bus within half an hour, helped along by dessert brownies.
The adventure was not yet over, however. The deserted roads were still littered with leaves, branches, and occasionally rocks that had to be avoided. We proceeded slowly and cautiously along the interminable windings of the shortcut down to Carson and the straighter, more main roads along the Columbia that we hoped would speed our return to Portland. It was a good thing that the proceeding was cautious, as rounding one sharp turn on the descent to the Wind River Valley, the high-beam headlights revealed, through the curtain of falling rain, an entire tree fallen across the road, blocking it completely. Further (wet) investigation up close showed that the tree, while certainly too substantial to be simply heaved aside, was small enough to be susceptible to sawing. Fortunately we HAD a saw, brought in the expectation that we might find firewood to supplement the supply we had brought for a fire for our smores. The sodden nature of the firepit and all local potential firewood meant that the saw hadn’t been brought out until now. It proved up to the task, with enough effort from many of the party, of clearing half of the roadway. Comparisons were made by those who had been on the Elana Gold Project this past June to the trail clearing efforts we (successful and more drily) made then using the same saw. We threw the cut and broken tree pieces over the embankment, reboarded the bus, and continued on our wet way. 10 miles farther on, red and blue flashing lights erupted behind the bus, so we pulled over at the first turnout, and they pulled in behind us. What Now? It was another sheriff, looking for a search and rescue training (not the actual rescue that we had seen, we soon established,) that no one had thought to tell him the location of. Seeing our bus, he thought we might be transporting searchers-in-training. We had to inform him otherwise, and he set off on his continuing search effort, while we resumed our continuously eventful progress towards Portland. The roads were now more main and frequented and less nature-littered, although not any less wet. We passed through Carson, and headed west on Washington 14. We crossed the river at Bridge of the Gods, thinking that a quick hour’s drive on I-84 would return us to Catlin. Ha! The toll taker on the Oregon side, hearing that we were heading west, told us that I-84 was closed, due to an accident, and he couldn’t say when it might open again. He allowed us to make U turn and return to the Washington side of the river toll-free. We continued west on WA 14. As we approached Vancouver, the rainfall slackened enough that I could finally turn the windshield wipers off completely for the last half hour. It was the first time they’d been off for more than two minutes at a stretch all day. We arrived back at Catlin about 10:30, just as the Homecoming Dance was winding up, and where parents soon retrieved their soggy, but contented offspring, who now had so many tales to relate.
The adventure was not yet ended, however, as after cleaning and securing our steady, reliable bus, I drove home, over leaf and tree-bit strewn roads (it must have been very stormy in Portland, too,) to find my street even darker than usual in stormy weather. When the garage door failed to open despite repeated pressings of the opener, I realized that the power must be out. Not only was my house dark (which I had expected) but all the neighbors’ were too. So I ended up going to bed by flashlight after all. At least the bed was totally dry. And by the time I got up the next morning (not very early) the power had been restored. (It has been raining almost all day today – conducive to the writing up of our adventure and confirming the wisdom of having called an ending to the trip at a highpoint last night. Chilly, wet hiking in saturated woods today, with no views of the volcanic crater would have been quite poor ending after all of yesterday’s exciting events.)
Although the account of these exploits may seem incredible, they are all true. (And they all happened in a single day.) What is even more amazing, and for which I am exceedingly grateful, is that the natural winnowing process described the opening paragraph of this account yielded a superb expeditionary force, whose enthusiasm and spirits remained high throughout, who were excited about ALL the activities we did, the challenges we faced and overcame, and changes we had to implement. Despite the excessive moisture component (far exceeding even rafting trips) we were subjected to, the attitudes, positive participation, continued cheerfulness, and appreciation of the adventure of every single member of the expedition made a very successful and exciting excursion out of what very easily could have been a soggy mess. I would eagerly lead another (ideally drier) adventure anywhere with this exemplary team.