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Caving in SW Washington

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Exploring the caves of SW Washington

A group of nineteen Middle School students and leaders set off from Catlin Gabel School on October 20 to explore the lava tubes near Trout Lake, Washington. We drove the two hours in a fine yellow bus before stopping at Cheese Cave. The students explored this complex lava tube both north and south from the entrance. The cave had been used to store cheese in past years. From here the group spent the rest of the day looking for the elusive "Jug Cave".

A group of nineteen Middle School students and leaders set off from Catlin Gabel School on October 20 to explore the lava tubes near Trout Lake, Washington. We drove the two hours in a fine yellow bus before stopping at Cheese Cave. The students explored this complex lava tube both north and south from the entrance. The cave had been used to store cheese in past years. From here the group spent the rest of the day looking for the elusive "Jug Cave". Although we never found our quarry, we did come across some lava bridges and a long cave that took us deep into the woods. That night was spent in the Klickitat County Park in Trout Lake where we feasted on burritoes.

The next day we made a leisurely break from camp and went off to explore New Cave. Although we found the cave easily, we were surprised and pleased to discover some unexpected caves and sinks to the west. One of these was half a mile long and took us through some unexpected challenges. It was mid afternoon when we again saw daylight. After a lunch that included orange cupcakes we set off for home.

Biking the Deschutes Canyon: October, 2007

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On a beautiful fall day 10 Catlin Gabel students and three leaders made a 27 mile loop around the farmlands of north - central Oregon and up the canyon of the Deschutes River.

The group left school at 7:45 on Saturday the 6th and drove for several hours to the river community of Maupin. We unloaded the bikes and gear and after the requisite pre-trip photo began the tough pump up the hill to the high ground above the breaks of the Deschutes River. Once at the top we could see that good weather was coming, though it was still mostly cloudy. we headed north for a quick visit to the rural community that is Tygh Valley. Not seeing much to keep us there we turned east and followed rolling hills to a rendezvous with the dramatic White River Falls. We lounged in the sun on the grass provided by the Oregon State Department of Parks and Recreation. Below the picnic site we found an abandoned power generating station and did some exploration there.

From the park we travelled down a spectacular canyon that dumped us right out at Sherars Bridge. There were Indian fishing platforms clinging to the shear rock walls, and lots of non-Indian fishermen. And to our great surprise and delight we saw the yellow ball (!) that we had lost off the raft just two weeks earlier. It was stuck in an endless back eddy right next to the falls. What a fate for the ball who had been so loyal to us. The stduents immediately began thinking of ways to rescue the ball.

From here we biked nine miles into a stiff headwind back to the pleasant twon of Maupin. we stopped a few times to check out the rapids and to rest. Bob let us stay down by the river to recuperate while he rode up the long hill to retrieve the bus.

That night we had a huge and enjoyable dinner at Calamity Janes restaurant in Sandy. We arrived back at school fat and happy.

The Descent of Elkhorn Creek, October 2007

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Elkhorn Creek - a beautiful stream with hundreds of obstacles to overcome


Complete immersion into a wholly untramelled and untravelled wilderness. The Elkhorn Creek watershed has no roads, no trails and has never been logged. It is one of the wildest, maybe the wildest, low elevation forest in Oregon. Very few people have ever traversed the length of the Creek.

Looking down the Canyon of Elkhorn Creek

The Descent of Elkhorn Creek


Elkhorn Creek is one of the most pristine and undisturbed natural ecosystems in the state. Adjacent to Opal Creek, the Elkhorn Creek valley has never been logged, no roads have ever been built and no trails created. The area is only accessible by foot, and involves full-on bushwacking for its entire length..

Our group left Portland Friday afternoon, stopping at the Swiss Miss restaurant for burgers and shakes. After leaving our second car near our exit point, a small bridge over the creek servicing some private logging grounds, we drove up and along a steep ridge, cliffs rising into the darkness to our right and dropping away steeply to our left. A small gravel cul-de-sac served as the end of the road, here we pitched camp and fell asleep under as many stars that can be seen anywhere in the state. We woke up early the next morning, broke camp and prepared ourselves for the day ahead. We set off down the mountainside around 7:30 in the morning, slowly making our way down the steep slope towards the valley floor. We soon reached the creek 2000 feet below our camp. At first, surrounded by the serene beauty of the forest, we hopped from rock to rock trying to keep our boots dry. This soon became foolish and we waded right in the creek. We made our way along the riverbed, sometimes scrambling over logjams, other navigating rocky chutes. At times we ventured into the forest on either side of the creek to avoid a few rather difficult spots. At one point we had to climb high above the river, which plunged into a narrow gorge, filled with deep rapids. We traversed a steep slope, holding on to sword ferns and small trees, looking down the sheer incline towards the river far below. Later we encountered one of our leaders, who when trying to pick his way through the gorge had fallen into the creek and had to swim through the remainder of the rapids – wearing a back pack. Every hour or two we stopped and emptied our boots of water and squeezed the water from our socks. Though we could not have been more fortunate with the weather, (there wasn’t a cloud in the sky from the point we arrived at camp to the time left the valley) we saw very little of the sun itself, the massive hill and the looming trees cast a near perpetual shadow.

One thing you would not imagine in such a vast forest is that other than the sound of rushing water, there is almost no visible animal life. I saw only a couple birds, but never saw any sign of life other than ourselves. Soon the sky began to adopt a deeper shade of blue, and dusk began to approach. We very much wanted to make it out before dark, as temperatures began to drop and we were becoming very tired. Gradually we began to don our headlamps, ever more carefully climbing over rocks and placing our feet when crossing the stream. Not long after it became fully dark, we reached a point were we could not continue along the river. Our headlamps couldn’t tell us how deep a pool of water was and it was too risky to just make the jump. We chose to follow an overland route, climbing above the river, and then traversing the steep hillside above in the darkness. We stumbled through the woods, singing and picturing a warm vehicle. I personally thought of having waffles the next morning. Neither of the GPSs worked in the shadow of the forest, but we could estimate or position referring to topographic features and the map. Around 8:30, we stopped a final time, having reached the border of the protected forest (this was made visible by the gross inequality in the size of the trees). Tired and cold, some of us were troubled by the fact that we did not have a specific idea of our location; little did we know the road was less than 50 ft away. Once (with great rejoicing) we reached the bridge, we sent two of our number to retrieve our larger car. The remaining party set off for the main road, walking along a dark road lined with the ghostly shapes of birches. Soon a thick fog fell, but we came to the main road after an hour of wlaking in the ethereal darkness. After 14 hours of hiking, climbing and exploration we were reunited with our two vehicles. Around midnight we finally reached Catlin.

Knee deep in the creek for many hours


A true old growth forest

An early breakfast before the hike

Trout Lake Caves, Oct. 2007

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The Lava Tubes of Trout Lake, Washington


October 2007

Caving Trip Summary

By Hannah

We met in the gravel parking lot at Catlin at 8 am. After loading the bus with all our gear and claiming our seats, we set off for two days of caving in the Mount Adams area in southern Washington. Six seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, two freshmen, four adult guides, and one adorable first grader had plenty of room to stretch out on the large yellow school bus. Talking, laughing, sleeping, snacking, listening to music, and taking pictures kept us occupied on the three-hour drive to our destination.

Len, our bus driver, let us out at our first caving spot; Cheese Cave, named for the dairy product that used to be made and kept cool in the natural underground refrigerator. At the entrance, our trip leader, Jeff, gave us some pointers on caving etiquette. Number one: stay together. Number two: repeat number one. This was a high-ceilinged cave, only requiring some navigation of the steep slope at the entrance and some stepping around boulders and the remains of wooden shelves. At the end of the cave, a metal staircase led up to the basement of a Forest Service cabin. We left the cave and walked back towards the bus, where the aboveground part of the cabin stood. We ate lunch around the cabin, and then boarded the bus to our next cave site.

New Cave was narrower and shorter in some parts, requiring more ducking and navigation of sharp lava rock. Then we geared up for our next challenge; Ice Cave. Back in the day, Ice Cave provided ice to the surrounding pioneer communities. We were looking forward to seeing some interesting ice formations, so we bundled up and strapped on our kneepads and helmets. Two of the adults, Len and Jessica, disliking the idea of small cramped spaces, stayed behind. In places, ice lined the cave wall and floor. This cave was considerably more technical, because not only were there sharp lava rocks, low ceilings, and narrower, twisting passageways, but the ice underfoot added the extra hazard of slippage. Soon, the lava tube became much smaller, and we began crawling on our hands and knees or bear walking. Sam led us around pillars, over boulders, and under low ceilings. At one point, we were flattened to our bellies as we negotiated a particularly low spot. Quinn, Kathy’s 6-year-old son, scampered in between the sharp rocks like a monkey in a tree. “Come on, you guys are slow,” he told us. Well, Quinn certainly had the advantage of small size; he is about half the height of Trevor and Eric, the tallest guys on our trip. We all managed to squeeze through the tight spot, and soon the cave opened up so we could at least walk bent over. Once we reached the end, some of the group had a short rave party with the strobe light setting on a headlamp and some techno music from a cell phone. Then we got back down to business; crawling, crouching, stooping, and walking back to the cave entrance. We trekked on a roundabout way through the woods, eventually finding the bus and driving off to our campsite.

At the large group site, everyone pitched in to set up their sleeping areas and to get a nice fire going. As darkness fell, so did the temperature, and a hot meal was warmly welcomed. We sat around the fire playing Taboo. Jeremy was able to make us guess the mystery word with ease, while Chris kept using the taboo words to describe the mystery word. Skyler eventually helped him out. Soon, people began drifting away from the fire to the tents; Mary and Linnea to theirs; Torin, Nathan, and the rest of the boys to Jessica’s five-person tent; and the seniors to their cluster of tents. We stayed up talking, playing cards, telling stories, gossiping, and laughing. But eventually it was time for some well-deserved rest. Sometime in the night, seemingly every coyote in the surrounding area began howling, waking up some of the group while the rest slept through it all.

Rafting the Deschutes River: September 2007

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Deschutes Rafting Trip September 2007

A box of Fuzzy kittens

By Zanny

All rudely awakened before some believed to be humanly possible, our group consisting of three freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors, and three seniors all met around our bus and packed up our gear. The bus headed east and before we knew it we were at our put-in place along the Deschutes River.

We learned some very critical things including: how to effectively pack a dry-bag, swimming position, and potential signals to sea-fated crew members. The river was calm the first day; leaving ample opportunities to consume energy drinks and converse with unfamiliar boat members. Ornithology and geology sprung to life as we drifted down the river sighting herons and columnar basalt.

That night, just before sunset, we all took a hike up to “white cliff” where we enjoyed spectacular views and also preformed some tests on the true durability of Nalgene bottles. After a delicious dinner of spaghetti, the group engaged in a spectacular new game. Involving a circle of flashing flashlights and someone spinning around in the middle, this game provided several hours of true fun while the person in the middle stumbled around or made other ridiculous movements.

The next morning all of the “Spam virgins” were welcomed into the glorious world contained in the cube-shaped can with a peel back lid. Sizzling in the hot frying pan, the delectable scent of spam wafted teasingly through the brisk morning air. Several of the group members’ lives were greatly influenced by their initiation into the “spam fam”, and I think we would all agree it was for the better.

The next two days were filled with big waves, rushing rapids, and extreme splashing, not one of them failed to thrill us. We crossed rapids such as “Whitehorse”, “Buckskin Mary”, “Oak Springs”, and “Elevator Shaft”. One raft even had the feat of naming their very own rapid, by the deceiving name of, “Box of Fuzzy Kittens”.

The final thrilling moment in the trip occurred at the intersection of the Deschutes River and a smaller river, the White river. About a quarter of a mile walk up the White River, natural water slides can be seen. Three of us rode down them. Beyond the shocking frigidness of the water, the water slides were some of the coolest things I’ve done. The final drop at the end was literally breathtaking, and we were left very satisfied.

Finally, at the take-out, we all stripped ourselves of our wet clothes, and loaded up the bus. As we trundled back to Portland, all warm and content, fond memories filled our minds of a weekend well spent.

Trip report coming soon

North Umpqua Rafting: July 26-28, 2007

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Each morning dawned clear and bright, each day was filled with the clear green water and intense rocky rapids of the North Umpqua River. Twelve students banded together to make their way down the river, camping under a lush evergreen forest alongside the rushing water.

A student shall tell the tale.

packing up, heading home
until next time...

Climb of the Middle Sister, July 2007

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Swimming after the climb

Students from Catlin Gabel made a successful ascent of the Middle Sister, a 10,060 foot peak in the Oregon Csacades. The team hiked in from the Pole Creek trailhead and set up base camp at 6700 feet. The climb itself was made up the Hayden Glacier, with students doing much of the leading.

A detailed trip report is below- please have a read!

Middle Sister Trip Report

Love Comes From Below

We met at 7:00 am in the gravel parking lot, a motley crew of three adults, one sophomore, two juniors and two seniors. We loaded our things on to bus number 9 and departed from Portland, heading south through Salem, to Sisters, Oregon. We drove a little ways out of sisters on a bumpy gravel road to the “Pole Creek” trailhead near the three sisters. At the trailhead we parked the bus and unloaded backpacks and food, cooking and climbing supplies. We divided up the group gear, lathered up with sunscreen, got our packs on and started the hike in. The hike was mild at first slight - ups and downs, not strenuous. We hiked for about an hour and reached a stream. How pleasant… I thought at first as I slapped a mosquito on my leg, but then I slapped another, and another. I crossed the stream quickly, threw down my pack and dug through it for the bug repellent my mother had so kindly got for me for the trip. I covered myself with it and was left alone for quite a while. From the stream the trail became steeper. We told stories to keep ourselves entertained as we trudged along in the warm early afternoon. Eventually we hit another stream, at which we decided to begin heading uphill. We missed a somewhat clearly marked path, so we traveled cross-country, occasionally encountering a patch of snow or a clearing with a beautiful view of the three sisters. After what seemed like more time than I was expecting, we reached what would be our base camp.

That evening we relaxed, and had a very nice dinner of salad and sausage macaroni. Mosquitoes ate us alive as we played cards, set up our tents and divided up gear for the climb the following day. However, the mosquitoes were only a mild nuisance at this point as our bites hadn’t really started itching yet. The next morning we awoke at about 5:30. A quick breakfast of oatmeal was consumed, and we began climbing. We stuck to snow as much as we could, since it felt better than rock. After climbing for a while we stopped on a steep slope to hold snow-school. We practiced self-arresting in case of a fall and learned how best to walk in the snow. From there we got harnesses on and divided into two rope teams of four and continued up. We saw crevasses to our left and right, but nothing too close. We continued up the mountain breaking occasionally for water and pictures. Eventually we began to draw near the saddle, which we would climb to the center of and then head up the ridge to the summit. “Greg,” Peter called to our fearless leader, “Head up by that slope on the left instead of up the saddle.” We stayed left and instead of ascending the gentle slope to the ridge we climbed a steep snow face, moving slowly along as Greg kicked in steps. We reached the top of the snow only to find a small rock hill. Greg started up it, dislodging rocks in the process, that had we not been careful, could have sent us home early. The rest of the group gathered at the end of the snow and then one by one climbed the gravelly, dusty slope. We stopped and rested a while, snacking on power bars, energy gel and trail mix. We had a rocky hike ahead of us. The sun shone as we started trudging up the loose rocks in our heavy boots. We still had the rope on, but carried it in coils so as not to get it dirty. We reached another snowfield, which we crossed horizontally, and then on to some more rocks. We left our ropes and began hiking up the rocks that were turning into more and more secure boulders. Finally we reached the summit. Strangely enough it was covered in butterflies. We ate Poptarts and lunch and talked about skin cancer and rested. We were not eager to return to the mosquito-ridden camp. The view from the summit was amazing. We could see all over Oregon, Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood, even as far as Mt Adams in Washington. Eventually we packed up our things and headed down. This time we descended all the way to the saddle instead of going back down the steep snowy slope. At the saddle we put on gaiters and started down, to the north of where we came up, along a cliff that became a ridge. From where we were walking we could see our trail on the way up and all the crevasses from where we were walking. The idea was proposed that instead of returning to the campsite, we head to a lake of collected glacial runoff. The group was split, so we flipped an ice axe and decided to head to the lake. At the lake we washed our feet in the freezing water, swam, and ate, enjoying the sunshine and the serenity of the spot. We named the lake “Little Heaven” on the GPS. We stayed at the sun-soaked, mosquito-less lake for three hours before reluctantly returning to camp and not before I had skipped a rock about fifteen times, throwing it behind me and backwards. At camp there were far fewer mosquitoes than in the morning. Cheesy enchiladas were cooked, and spilled, and cooked some more, but came out alright. That night we celebrated the 4th with a fire, sharing stories of past adventures. Some slept like rocks that night while little circles of fire covering our bodies kept others awake. The next morning we woke up at about 6:30, packed up our camp and had hit the trail by 7:30. The hike out took us about 2 hours less than coming in. On the way back to Portland we stopped for a couple hours at the beautiful home of Peter’s friend, Stan Biles, on the McKenzie River. There we skipped rocks, watched rafts tumble through the rapids and ate a delicious lunch. Another three hours on the road and we were home. Here we saw what we had only felt on the summit: Love comes from below.

City of Rocks: July 10-16, 2007

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Catlin Gabel students traveled east to the high desert of southern Idaho for a week in the wonderland of the City of Rocks. There they spent sunny days climbing the glorious granite slabs and cracks of Elephant Rock, the Breadloaves and Castle Rock. Star-studded nights brought cooler temperatures, fantastical culinary creations, and a talent show to rule them all.

The trip report below was written by one of the students on the adventure.

City of Rocks Excursion

“It’s 6 AM Tuesday morning,” a cheap sounding radio DJ chirped onto my radio-alarm. I rose somewhat automatically considering the 5 hours of sleep I scrapped together the night before. By 6:30 Im out the door, and driving towards Catlin Gabel, on route for sunny, Northern Idaho. Or so I thought.

I arrive at 7:00 AM on the button, and converse with fellow students as pre-trip kinks are worked out by the Peter, Aiyana, and Chris "C-Potts" Potts, such as the fact that neither of our rental vans are waiting for us as promised. When they arrive eventually theres a Mexican hat dance around our faithful, and a little too small vehicles, as we load them up.

By the end of one day of driving, I learned several things: First of all, that there is a Sunday crossword puzzle. Second of all, that the puzzle is harder still than Saturday, which I had previously categorized in my mind as, "reserved for bigger men," and named a, "mind-hurt." I also learned how much can be pulled out of the supple brains of teenage youths, for by the end of the day, wed conquered Sunday.

Upon looking at the Idaho-Montana map during my short-lived stint as navigator, I learned the final lesson for Tuesday: The City of Rocks is isnt in northern Idaho. In fact its quite the opposite, kissing the Utah border. Touché, geography.

We B-lined it to Boise, Burley, and finally through the lovable Almo, turning right part way through town towards the City of Rocks.

Luckily for me, I can see perfectly well. We drove down a gravel, dusty road transitioning from cow fields to hills blanketed with sage brush, cheat-grass, and juniper- not to mention the enormous loaves of granite peppering the hillsides, and valley. As we pressed on, we saw more and more rock, in complex configurations - such that I remember thinking, "theres no way anyone climb everything here." And I was right. Though we climbed from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM or later each day, we climbed only at only 5 crags - Elephant Rock, The Bread Loaves, Bath Rock, Castle Rock, and The King and Throne - the rock within touching distance of our campsite.

The next four days were filled with laughter, exploration, memories, friendship, and blistering, sweltering, unending heat. We climbed thought provoking 5.10s and 5.11s. We spent hours on delightful multi-pitch climbs, clipping bolts on beautiful clean granite. One day we decided to cut climbing short and went in to town to spend the afternoon and evening at “Ranchfest”, a local annual celebration. We played horseshoes, listened to country music, ate home cooked food, and won several raffle drawings. It was fun and relaxing.

Even though we spent the great majority of our time climbing, the trip ended up not being about climbing so much. We returned from the trip slightly different people. Climbing brought new experiences, honed old skills, and instilled new trust. Each night, as temperatures cooled, and the brilliant stars lit up the dark sky, wed have some sort of structured conversation as a group. Our talks ranged from sharing our favorite and least favorite aspects of the day, to an open forum discussion about rural communities, to a talent show finale on Sunday night whose winner received a weeks supply of pop tarts.

Our final conversation occurred after the talent show on Sunday night. Peter asked us, "What memory of the City of Rocks will stay with you for your whole life?"

Each of us retold a story, and explained its significance. The conversation rang true for me at the time, as I know how memories run together as time goes on. But while reflecting on the trip, I realized the lessons learned from experience cant fade. And by the time our memories of the trip are gone, they will have worn away the banks of our minds, leaving in their place knowledge, reverence, and most of all personality.

Bike Trip to Eastern Oregon, June 2007

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Amid perfect weather and empty roads, fourteen students explored the Ochoco Mountains of Central Oregon on bicycles this June. A full trip report will be posted in the coming days.

Mount Hood Climb: May 6-7, 2007

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Nearing the summit of Mt. Hood
At the Triangle Moraine, 10,000 feet

When the alarm clock rang it was the second time that day I had been awakened so rudely. The first was about fifteen hours earlier after a late night at the prom. I looked around to see other students getting their packs ready and so I ate some of my doughnut and drank some juice. I stuffed all my climbing gear into my pack and joined the rest of the group as we stumbled into the darkness outside the Huckleberry Inn about 12:20 am to board the bus. We crossed paths with a few local citizens trying to squeeze something more out of the last bit of Sunday, while we were hoping to make our Monday a permanent lifetime memory.

We drove the bus, which started without problems, up the winding road to Timberline Lodge. Traffic was light. Once at the Lodge we dumped everything onto the pavement in the darkness and each person grabbed an appropriate amount of group gear to carry up the hill. We had three radios, a GPS, half a dozen cell phones, two mountain locator units, two tarps, a sleeping bag, a full-length foam pad, a first aid kit, a satellite phone, and also some gear used in climbing. The weather was spectacular, if a little windy. The stars shone brightly and we could see the glow of eastern Oregon towns in the distance. The time was 1:39 am when we made our first steps out of the parking lot and onto the endless snow that would take us to the summit.

The first part of the climb is pretty annoying, a long snow slog up gentle slopes. The wind picked up, but we kept a fast pace, stopping only twice for some brief clothing adjustments. Mostly we were each in our own world- illuminated by a cricle of bluish light cast by our headlamps. The required conditioning hikes paid off, and we got to the top of the Palmer snowfield at 8600 feet in about two hours. Peter told us this was a good pace. We stayed there for a bit too long, as everyone got cold in the wind. Crampons were put on boots and food was eaten. Above here the route steepens and becomes a lot more interesting. Students took turns kicking steps in the new snow from the past week as we made our way past the Triangle Moraine at 10,000 feet. Eventually, after some steep and tiring slopes we found ourselves at the base of the legendary Hogsback, a narrow ridge that points at the summit of the state’s highest peak. Here is where we split into two rope teams. We put on our harnesses and helmets and began the more technical ascent of the peak. No one had summited in maybe a week, so we ended up plowing our own way through the snow and into the standard chute that is known as the Barking Poodle, because its kind of scary, but not really. There are actually two cutes, and we took the left one, the right one looking too steep and difficult. Ian led the narrow and steep bit and placed a number of pickets to protect the rope in case of fall. There were no falls.

Above the chute is a broad gentle slope that leads to the summit. This is the slope known as the curse of the parental lecture, as it seems never ending. At this point we were climbing at over 11,000 feet, and each step was a struggle, both for altitude gained and for oxygen. But there it was- the summit! And the sun shone brightly up there, the sun we had not seen all day on the shady side of the mountain. We embraced all around and ate pop tarts. There was no one else on top, we gazed awestruck at the entire state as it was laid out before us.

The sun shone, it was 8:10 in the mroning, and there was no wind. We could have stayed for hours, but the approach of other parties alerted us to the need to be moving down before the snow got too soft. We made the descent past some friendly climbers, and past some rude ones who were so eager to summit they wouldnt let us pass. Adults, what can you do with em?

Once below Crater Rock we glissaded most of the way down. Glissading is just a fancy word for sliding on your bum instead of walking. It was noon when we got back to the parking lot and there was Len waiting for us with a dozen doughnuts, fresh doughnuts. What a guy.

We sorted out wet gear in the warm sun of the parking lot, filled with happiness and fine memories of a great day.

The summit team
Ascending the Barking Poodle
Rounding Crater Rock and heading for the Hogsback

Deschutes River Rafting: April 28-30, 2007

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Comforting Promises:

Deschutes River Rafting Trip Report

by Zanny, Grade 9

The rafting trip was an exciting journey filled with memorable moments. After an antsy bus ride, the twelve of us were finally ready to be suited up, booties and all. We learned the basic commands of the raft- all forward, all back, left back, right back, and even “high side” if the raft is at risk of flipping.

The first and second day of the trip we were all catching on, and becoming oriented with the river. We made a lot of snack breaks and had plenty of time when we were not paddling to just soak in the beauty around us- the red-winged black birds and column basalt. The raft group I was a part of definitely bonded, although not all of us were friends at the beginning of the trip. We played games on the raft, and told group stories, switching off every word. All of us even got a chance to guide the raft ourselves, shouting commands (in a friendly way of course!) to the crew based on the current and bends of the river. It was quite an experience to be such a leading figure and to be depended on to use your sense of judgment of how to maneuver the raft.

On the third day, we all walked with small strides apprehensively towards the scouting point for the infamous rapid, “Oak Springs”. The guides explained to us, pointing to the different sections of the river, all the possible ways of going down the rapid. First, on the left, there were a few very big waves to go over then a small slide. On the right side the raft would just go straight down a huge water slide into a hole, which to most of us, looked like a great place to potentially flip over. To make matters worse, rocks encompassed both sides, right and left. These rocks were not pleasantly smooth river rocks, but rather rocks that common rafters called “cheese graters”. The two raft groups then split up to discuss which route they wanted to guide their raft down.

The group I was a part of unanimously agreed on which side was the most intense- the right side. Whether or not we actually wanted to go down the right side was another story. While a couple of people were intent upon having an epic run at the right and risky side, others were a bit more reluctant. Exclamations along the lines of, “I want to live to see my wedding day!” were being made followed by comforting promises like “I promise that if we flip I will at least try to swim after you”.

Finally, we came to a consensus: we would go down the right side. ALL BACK. We shakily pulled out of the viewing point, one crew member decided to tie a loose shirt around his head, making him look even more intense. ALL FORWARD. Our crew, shouting sharply at each other to paddle well in order to assure everyone a safe ride, also let out some loving remarks to one another like “no matter what happens, you’ve been a great friend.” RIGHT BACK. After a short little dip and bump and a minor spray of water, we had conquered our enemy: Oak Springs. That rapid may have battled our mental limits, but we won the war, and it was a fun ride down too!

Evenings were filled with good times; night hikes along railroad tracks, bocce ball, improv stir-fry, president (card game), and campfires (without the fire due to fire laws). All and all, rafting was challenging, tiring, and a lot of us were exposed to new things, but there were also countless good times. One thing is for sure; we could all agree that the Deschutes rafting was a wonderful trip!

Smith Rock Climbing Adventure, April 2007

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Students from Catlin Gabel School made the journey across the mountains to the fairer weather of Central Oregon over the weekend of April 21-22. It took about three hours to get there in the cozy yellow bus we call "Melinda". Once there, we divided into a couple of groups: those going to beginning rock school, and those with climbing experience. The rock school students went to North Point and learned how to belay, move on fixed lines, rappel and climb. The weather was nice, though there were occassional sprinkles - just enough to send other parties home and allow the Catlin Gabel group to assume complete control of Smith Rock State Park. The climbing group didvided into some smaller parties, with some travelling to the west side, some to the dihedrals and some to red wall. Students who are certified as leaders put up routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.10a. That evening after a spirited debate we drove into Redmond for a Mexican style fiesta at a local restaurante.

Then the fun began as the group held a dance in conjunction with another youth climbing group (The Explorer Post) just outside Redmond. The melodic notes of Sir Mix A. Lot (not his given name) and others serenaded the sagebrush of Central Oregon as 35 dance starved students laid their inhibitions aside and expressed themselves in complete honesty. That night we slept the sleep of the pardoned lamb in the Grasslands east of Smith.

On Sunday the group split into five parties. Once again the Park was ours as an early morning shower discouraged lesser climbers. Our groups scurried throughout the rock faces, completing climbs they had only dreamed of. By the end of the day a whole generation of new rock climbers had been created. We trooped up the hill to reboard the yellow rocket and make the journey back to the sedate lives that awaited us in Portland.

John Day River Raft Trip: April 2007

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The after school Outdoor Leadership and Adventure Program offers a rafting trip each term, and this year we went down the 70 mile wilderness stretch of the John Day River. There were nine students and four leaders in three rafts for the big adventure.

On the first day we drove in the bus which we affectionately call "Betty" to the put-in near Clarno. The rafts were waiting for us, and we loaded them and shoved off for the three day adventure. Within an hour we faced the first big challenge: Clarno rapids, a class three challenge that extends over half a mile of river. As a group we scouted the problem for over an hour. One by one our rafts went through gthe foaming whitewater, with each emerging unscathed on the downstream end. From here we continued on our northerly route eventually stopping at a wonderful camping spot after 20 miles of travel. That night we played cards only briefly before going to sleep under the stars.

The weather dawned clear the next morning and we were on the river by 7:45 am. We floated past unique geologic features and watched eagles and osprey fish for their own breakfast. About noon we pulled the rafts over at the apex of Horsethief Bend and made the hike up to the saddle where we could see river wind its way both north and south. The paddling that afterboon was more challenging as we moved against the wind for most of the time. Just around the bend from Owl Rock we pulled the rafts over and settled in at a fine campsite. Some of the students took a hike up to Owl Rock while dinner was being prepared. Again most everyonme slept out under the stars.

On the third day of the trip, Monday, we paddled to Ferry Canyon and pulled the rafts into the marshy area where the stream meets the John Day River. The group took a long and somewhat challenging hike onto the hills above the John Day and overlooking an abandoned ranch. Once back to the rafts we floated north through some mild rapids. The weather stayed perfect and we met the bus at 2:30pm. The drive back was fairly quick, and we laughed and talked over the trip through history we had all just experienced.

Sailing in the San Juan Islands

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Andrew guides the boat through the San Juan islands of Washington
Trimming the sails

Sailing in the San Juans

By Stephanie

We arrived at Catlin Gabel about six in the morning; to go to the San Juans for the experience of a lifetime. With sleep in our eyes, seven other students, the two adults and myself loaded the bus with the clothing and food that we would use to survive at sea. There were plenty of fruits and vegetables to fight off the scurvy. As we strapped ourselves in I had no idea how much fun was headed my way. Five short hours had passed and we pulled into the yacht charters. After a short orientation, we boarded the Double Eagle, our home for the next five days. We began to settle in, picking our beds, storing our food in cabinets and learning the ins and outs of the boat. That same day we got an alert that there were gale warnings, meaning the wind was too dangerous to sail in. The disappointment of not being able to sail soon ended when we began to play nautically themed games and started to get to know one another. Still docked, we left the boat for some pizza and dessert. After we got back on the boat we sat down for a movie before bed. We watched “Master and Commander”, which improved our knowledge of life at sea. About ten-thirty we laid down to rest for the next day.

That next morning I woke to the smell of spam and French toast. Never having spam before and hearing unpromising things, I was a little nervous about eating it. When it touched my lips, I knew I would be waking up each morning hoping for a few good pieces of spam. As the clock struck twelve (eight bells) he wind dropped and we were ready to sail. We put on our gear and climbed to the top level of the boat. We motored out of the dock and were finally at sea. Our hearts began to race as the skipper called out commands, “tighten the jib.” and “prepare to tack.” Not knowing what any of these things meant we followed the directions and eventually learned what we needed to know to sail a boat. We pulled into our next destination, anchored in the water and jumped into the dingy to explore the island. On land we climbed in caves and explored the beach. We lost light quickly and headed back to the boat. We prepared for dinner and played our favorite card game around the table. Hungry from a full day of sailing we scarfed down a plate of lasagna and watched a movie about sailing. As thoughts of sailing raced through our heads we climbed into bed for another good night’s sleep. Waking at seven the next I was ready to sail. We got off to an earlier start and raised the anchor around nine in the morning. That day was packed with excitement as we sailed through a pod of harbor porpoises. There were 80 to 100 of them. They jumped out of the water and swam around our boat. While sailing we saw two bald eagles together – just like our boat’s name - and many other birds. When we came to the next island we lowered the anchor and hopped in the dingy to go play ultimate Frisbee on the beach. When we got tired and cold we returned to the ship and played a relaxing game of cards. After we had warmed up and finished dinner, we went back to the island for a bonfire. As a group we shared the highs and low of our trip and spent time with each other around the fire. Growing tired we put out the fire and headed to our ship for bed. That next day we rose to watch the sunrise out over the water. We arrived at the island around one pm and gathered our gear for rock climbing. As we reached the island we hopped out of the dingy and began to hike a steep rocky trail to the rock face we would be climbing. As I climbed into my harness and put on my helmet I began to feel nervous. I approached the rocks and they felt cold on my palms. I began to climb. Knowing that I was so far from the ground my heart raced as I neared the top. When I was coming down the thrill of climbing was overwhelming and I was so happy that I overcame my nerves and climbed. We hiked back down the hill and went back to the boat for another game of cards. Knowing it was our last night we made the most of it by playing all of our favorite games and enjoying the company of everyone. Late that night we went to bed. As the boat rocked us to sleep we recalled all of our adventures on the trip. The rain fell hard that night, leaving us a wet boat to sail back to the yacht charters where our journey had started. We cleaned the ship and packed all of our belongings. We pulled into the dock and carried our bags and what was left of the food to the bus. Saying our last goodbye to the Double Eagle we got on the bus and pulled out of the parking lot. The bus ride back was full of laughter and remembering the events that took place when sailing through the San Juan’s.

Looking back on this trip, I realize that opportunities like this don’t always come and I was really lucky to have gone sailing. I learned all about sailing; the terms and how to operate a sail boat. I made friends with people who I would have never thought of talking to. The most important thing I learned on this trip was to take risks and try things that make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. You will probably find that you love doing them, as I did with rock climbing and eating spam! Overall this trip was amazing and if chances like this come again I won’t hesitate to take them.

"This is different than school"
Off of Orcas Island
80 Harbor Porpoises!!
Ten knots in heavy winds
At anchor in Watmough Bight
Frisbee at Spencers Spit State Park
Its good to be out here
Sunset from Sucia Island
Sailing is a good thing
Sucia Island
On Chadwick Hill

Hey, somebody help him!

Cross Country Skiing to Peterson Prairie: January 21-22, 2007

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Cross Country Skiing to Peterson Prairie: January 21-22, 2007

Mt. Adams Cross Country ski trip

By Alix Junior

We departed from Catlin early on Sunday and drove to Peterson Prairie, at the base of Mt. Adams in southern Washington. From the parking lot at the beginning of the trail we skied more or less two miles to the cabin, everything—clothing, sleeping bags, other accoutrements—in our backpacks. Stew graciously hauled the sled loaded with food. The road to the cabin was scenic, slightly uphill, and quiet, interrupted only by the snowmobiles that whirred past us.

The combination of remaining upright and moving forward at the same time proved more difficult than expected. Well, difficult for some of us— those who had skied before, as well as novices who had an innate knack for, it moved with enviable efficiency and grace. Carrying a pack both increased the risk of falling over and made standing up again after the fall near impossible. After the inevitable fall, sitting in the snow with my skis askew, I felt like a turtle weighted down by its shell and unable to turn itself right side up.

At lunchtime we convened at the cabin, our tiny, yellow, three-room home away from home. Afterwards, we skied to and across three or four natural bridges that spanned a gully. Several people climbed into the aforementioned gully, sans skis, and a raucous snowball fight erupted. In an adjacent gully, others built jumps of various sizes. If memory serves correctly, Michal, Rocky, and Conrad managed to ski the jumps and land on their feet at least once. These amazing feats of cross-country downhill ski jumping and perfect landing, however, were not repeated despite our efforts.

Everyone returned to the cabin at sundown to cook dinner, lounge around, melt snow for water, and change into dry clothing. We shared our thoughts on the trip so far, as well as beautiful nature-related moments. We played cards and drank hot chocolate, tea, and coffee (made possible by a coffee filter and sieve contraption to filter out the pine needles and bits of moss) until bedtime.

The second day, we deviated from the main trail and chose instead to ski through untracked snow on our way back to the natural bridges and nearby gully. We brought the sled, and spent the morning skiing and sledding down steep ravines (mostly successful) and off of cornices (decidedly less successful). Somewhat shockingly, no major injuries were sustained. On the trip back to the parking lot we stopped at the Ice Cave, where we made a descent down snow-covered stairs into the chilly cavern. The ice stalactites and stalagmites were eerie but beautiful.

The bus ride home was quintessential: the sun was setting, and we were sleepy and content. That sentiment suits the trip quite well, as the experience left us exhausted and sore, but it was nonetheless rewarding.

Natural Arch Bridge!

Ochoco Mtns. Backcountry Ski Trip

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Ochoco Mtns Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Trip

Winterim 2006: Ten students and faculty travelled to the Ochoco Mountains of Oregon and skied through untracked powder in cold conditions.

Winterim 2006: Ten students and faculty travelled to the Ochoco Mountains of Oregon and skied through untracked powder in cold conditions. The group stayed at a warm Forest Service cabin.

Ochoco Mountains ski and snowshoe adventure

Our backcountry skiing winterim began way too early on the morning of February 15th 2006. We loaded the bus, cracked out the Oreos and began our long drive to Prineville Oregon. Ana slept as we ascended Mt. Hood and woke only when we stopped in Welches to rent our skis and snowshoes. The excitement level jumped as we traveled further; the air became nippy and the snow deeper. When we arrived, Ana jumped out of the bus yelling incoherently, as we followed we noticed she was pointing at a cat in this tree. The cat began climbing backwards down the tree and jumped into her arms. We unpacked and got out our skis thinking we could just ski on the road for awhile, we were wrong. As soon as we got to the road we realized that it had just been plowed and we would ruin our skis if we continued, so Greg jumped over the pile of snow on the side of the road and we all followed him because he was the titular head and was supposed to know what he was doing. But he didn’t and we split up because it was a very steep hill and some of us couldn’t get up the hill. Greg and Peter ended up going and getting the bus and we drove up where the snow plow had stopped and got out and started skiing. We stopped at this big hill and a bunch of us climbed up the hill and jumped/rolled down. Then we continued on a bit and drove back to the cabin. We had a fiesta dinner. The next day we went to a snow park and our goal was to ski to some crazy meadow that Peter found on the map. “oh come on guys, its only a couple miles away” but no. We skied for 5 hours and never even made it to the meadow. We went down some really steep hills in the beginning and Peter S., Mandy and Cristin decided to go another way. I cannot tell you what they did, but we continued down the hills into this valley. One of the most memorable moments was when we had come to a log in the path; Ana and Peter decided to just go over but we would have had to wait forever so I started up the hill with Ian, Greg, William and Jack. We made it over the place with the log and Ian went down. I followed him but crashed right into a tree well and was stuck. Jack had made it down by then too and he unhooked his skis and came over to help me out. But William had decided that he was going to come down right where I did too, and he crashed in to the tree and me. Greg then, despite the warnings of Peter and Ana came down too, saying “oh no, I won’t hit them” but he did. So now me, Jack, William and Greg, were smashed up into this tree. It took a while to get unstuck but we continued and crossed a very little frozen creek, and up to a road. We followed the road for what seemed like hours and finally we saw all of the meadow that we would ever see. About ½ a foot by 1 foot through some trees, but none of us I think felt any disappointment because we had come so far. The trek back was pretty hard for me at least, but we kept talking and that talking took my mind off of the physical pain in my legs and well I guess if I could have felt my fingers it would have taken my mind off of that too. We were taking a water/Gatorade break and for some reason talking about Günter (pronounced goon-thur), some weird rock climber I think, when apparently I said “he is so hot” but I swear that I didn’t! Then we continued on the road; Peter got out his GPS and informed us that we could continue 2.5 miles down the road or go up this steep hill right to the bus. Everyone ran up the hill and packed our stuff onto the bus and left to go pick up Mandy, Peter and Cristin. On the way down, Ian got on the radio and yelled “The goose cannot land, the goose cannot land!” but we stopped and picked up our remaining team-members and traveled home. We had soup dinner with grilled cheese sandwiches. The next day we decided to do some snowshoeing because it was our last day to do any snow activities; we went out to some lake and snow-shoed around it but it was so cold and windy that we decided that we needed to do something else and had a snowshoeing Olympics. William amazed everyone by beating Ian and Greg in the front-ways running but he still refuses to do track. Then we went to the cabin and left Mandy, Cristin, and Ana there (because they wanted too) and went out skiing or snowshoeing again. We went up this path and then up off the trail to this really steep hill, which we climbed up and then found this really cool bowl which we (being Ian, Peter, Peter and me, cause we were the only ones with skis) skied down and in. It was really hard both hard to ski down and hard to fall on; but it was probably one of the most fun times I had on the trip. We then continued because Greg was getting a little antsy and was going on without us and went further up the road to this big hill which went down to a little mine we found out later. The only building we could see from the road had was covered with a thick layer of snow and surrounded all the way to the eves with snow. We would have liked to continue on into the woods and ski some more but the sun was beginning to set and so we skied up the hill again and began our decent. Going down that hill was also a lot of fun but that day was the coldest of them all, and my gloves were freezing even with my hands in them. Peter then stopped really suddenly and told Ian to fall over, and so he did and Ian threw himself into the pile of snow on the side of the trail. The snowshoers (I don’t think that is a word) were coming down the trail and Peter yelled to them that Ian had fallen and broken his leg and I started fake crying and we all decided that our best course of action was to build a fire. (If you haven’t gotten it yet, this was all just to see if we could build a fire in the snow) So we gathered things that we thought we would need, including little twigs, dry if possible, and needles, and moss. Jack got out his water-poof matches and after one feeble attempt we got a nice fire going and it was actually quite warm. Then we stood around and talked until the sun was very close to being gone and we skied down the rest of the hill, got on the bus and went home. Then for the final night, we had lasagna of which William had the most. The next day we packed, cleaned and loaded for about 2 hours and drove home. OOH! I forgot to mention that every morning the bus wouldn’t start and so we would have to call Catlin and ask them how to start it. They said that we had to find some cord and plug on the front of the bus and plug it in every night because it was the starter that was just too cold for it to start the bus. So William and I went out after dinner the second night and we (meaning him) stuck his hand in the front of the bus and wiggled it around until we found the plug. Then the bus worked. But on the ride home we played this game that Cristin started where you go around and say animals that start with a certain letter until someone can’t think of one and then we go to the next letter. Jack was probably the most memorable because we would be on ‘p’ or something and he would whisper to Ian, his team member something and Ian would make a funny face and say, “Jack! No wrong letter.” I also forgot to mention our card games every night because those were also a huge part of the trip because we really got to find out about each other. We mostly played caca however hearts became a favorite among many of us and I just have to say that I shot the moon. Then there was a spoons competition, which I won. This trip was a lot of fun, it was my first outdoor trip at Catlin and I don’t think that it could have been any better. The skiing was fun even though I was very sore for the rest of the weekend.

Cross Country Skiing: December 16-17, 2006

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Clumsy Gracefulness

by Julia, Grade 10

At 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, fifteen pairs of sleepy eyes boarded a small yellow bus, each eagerly anticipating a weekend of skiing and bonding. We talked and listened to cheesy road trip music as our surroundings changed from grey puddles to piles of gleaming white snow. Stopping in Sandy for ski gear, many of the members started to awaken, restoring the deep-seated enthusiasm they had when signing up for the trip. My excitement grew steadily during the car ride, and reached a high point when renting the ski gear. I doled out chocolate to those who hadn’t quite realized what was going on yet.

We drove up the mountain until finally we reached our destination. After checking and rechecking for all the necessary (but surprisingly unnecessary) warm layers, we commenced our journey into the wonderful world of cross-country skiing. Ironically, the course we took started with a steep downhill, and as a result of our ignorant confidence many of us had a rocky start. After that, we embarked on a series of gentle rolling hills, and they became quite enjoyable after we mastered the art of standing upright. Each one of us had our own original way of avoiding direct contact with the snow, and many proved faulty. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the beautiful and serene setting with each wobbly glide. After a quick and cold stop for lunch, some of us ventured a bit further while the rest started back to the bus.

After about 5 hours of skiing, the whole group ended up at the bus, tired but satisfied. We looked forward to the warm and luxurious cabin awaiting us. When we arrived, a beautiful cabin welcomed us with open arms, though the power had stopped working. Despite this minor setback, we made the best of it by spending the night enjoying each other’s company, lighting Hanukkah candles (courtesy of Rob Kaye), eating dinner, and playing cards.

We awoke to power once again, and got ready for another day on the mountain. This time, we split our group in two, a beginning group and an intermediate one. Although both groups were to go about the same distance, the intermediate faced steeper and more frequent hills. I decided to go with the intermediate group, which started with a hike up a downhill ski slope. After that, we had another long ski uphill. After defying gravity for what seemed like ages, we finally reached a gratifying downhill slope. I enjoyed the downhill, but looking back I also appreciated the uphill because of the time we had to spend with nature. While trudging up Mount Hood, we were able to gaze at the serenity of the snow and the abundance of trees, a rare occurrence in everyday school life.

After another 5 hours of skiing that day, many of us felt ready to head back down, and after a stop at Joe’s doughnuts, we arrived back at Catlin. The brevity of the trip was nice because it offered only a taste of cross-country skiing, and left me wanting to return to the mountain. I’m sure all of us made great memories on this trip, and all that I learned about cross country skiing and the other people accompanying me will not soon be forgotten.

Canyoneering in SE Utah's Robbers Roost: November 16-22, 2006

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to Salt Lake City, drive south, over mountains, past canyons, pause to play frisbee in a sleepy town punctuated by the lights of gas stations: Hanksville, Utah. Last outpost of civilization.

Drive dirt roads, dodging kamikaze jack rabbits, park at trailhead. We have arrived.

Wake to brilliant sunrise, mountains, canyons surround. Load all belongings in backpack, repack, repack once more. Tie boots, check map, set off.

Mesa recedes, slickrock appears. Descend step by careful step with the world spread out before you. Eat, rest, cross river, hike on. Our camp is our home.

Explore archways and quicksand. Feast on pasta, made more delicious by hard work. Move to a new camp, wading through the river over again and again. Cold clear nights freeze our boots and reveal stars upon stars.

Rise early, hike, climb, hurry to reach our goal. A darker canyon, narrow and twisting, opens to us. Enter, wiggle, slide, rappel, use caution, exclaim.

This place is ours, we belong to it.

Utah, According to Sam (senior)

After a long day of travel, I quickly fell asleep, and remember mostly a sense of slowly leaving behind all of civilization as we drove further and further into the desert. Long after the sun had set, we stopped to play a night game of Frisbee, eerily illuminated by the harsh lights of a gas station. Finally, after having gingerly guided the vans over miles of dirt road, we found ourselves at the trailhead.

In the morning I had to massage the tip of my nose for five minutes before it felt warm again. For the first time, we could see the desert surrounding us. An enormous mountain range shot up out of the tableland, while in front of us were the canyons. After dividing up the group equipment among the packs, we set off downhill. As we descended down slickrock formations as round and smooth as gigantic popcorn kernels, I noticed that the canyons were a fascinating study in color combinations-- the cliffs rearing above us ranged from rusty to crayon-pink to a glassy black that looked like scorchmarks from a rocket.

The most surreal moment for me came as we turned a corner and found ourselves facing a ridiculously tall, sheer cliff the color of pepto-bismol. Branching off from the main canyon, we hiked a little ways up the side canyon where we planned to set up base camp, and laid our tents and tarps down under the spindly branches of an old tree. The canyon walls leaned in towards us, creating an odd, stadium-like effect.

Since we were hiking up a creekbed, we experienced the entire spectrum- mud that your foot immediately sunk into like iron weights in water, mud that was mostly slippery clay, mud that looked like solid rock but had the consistency of thick chocolate frosting, and this really bizarre mud with a thin pudding-like membrane which slowly stretched under your weight and then broke like a punctured waterbed (we later found out that this was quicksand).

Angel’s Arch was a large circular hole that pierced right through a thin peninsula of canyon wall jutting out like the front of a ship into the canyon. We clambered up through the hole and around what would be the bow of the ship to the top of the rock wall. From here, we could access a strange, globular landscape of tremendous slickrock half-globes.

Once dark had set in we sat down to fix dinner- quesadillas made with three different kinds of cheese. It struck me that almost anything tastes better when you’re cold and hungry. After extensive debate about the days ahead, we decided unanimously to pack up and travel to a new campsite further down the canyon, and then go rappeling from the mesa the next day. I harbored some anxiety about the rappeling-I pictured leaping off some sheer precipice of ungodly height, tethered by a wire-thin cord to a small shrub. But I agreed with the decision, albeit hesitantly.

In the morning we packed up the campsite and headed up the river. We had to cross the Dirty Devil river again, and then immediately cut back across. We continued to switch back and forth like that for a good few hours, at one point hugging a cliff wall to inch along a narrow rock shelf. After a nasty tangle with some quicksand, we ate lunch on a sunny sand bank and made sandwiches.

(more below)

(continued from above)

In a search for a drinking water source, Aiyana and I ventured up a ravine made up of pink so dark it was almost magenta. The rock swirled into itself so fluidly it looked more like liquid than stone. The ravine was punctuated by deep holes big enough to fall into, which collapsed down into blackness like whirlpools. We found only a tiny pool of stagnant water and mud, and returned to the group with the bad news.

We set up tarps and sleeping pads as the sun began to disappear behind the mesa. We began to realize at this point that we had brought a slightly excessive amount of food. I got very excited about the prospects of an elaborate spaghetti dinner, and coerced several others into frying, mixing, and otherwise preparing the dinner.

Our plan for the next day was to trek up to the top of the mesa and then rappel down a narrow side canyon. Upon awaking, we found that our boots had frozen overnight and were impossible to get on. We wrestled with them until everyone had some kind of footwear on. One by one we tied in and scrambled up a steep slope of slickrock, until we had all assembled just below the mesatop. Finally, we reached the flatlands. It was the first time since waking up at the cars that we had been this high. The sun was suddenly unavoidable and unbearable, and we began to shed. We saw for the first time in days evidence of civilization- tire tracks and beer cans. We stopped at the top of the cliff we planned to descend, and it was somewhat difficult to eat lunch with such a clear view of the impending danger.

We tied the rope to what Chris assured me was a secure anchor (it looked more like a pile of boulder loosely stacked on a slope). Then we all walked up to the cliff, roped in, and rappelled. I had been apprehensive, but the actual descent was quite manageable and even fun- there’s a certain James Bond-like quality to it.

The canyon had become very narrow and twisty, and for the next few minutes we noticed a significant drop in temperature as we made our way down the passage. The clay-colored cliff walls bent and curled like smoke, blocking out the sky and enveloping us in their grasp. I’m not sure if the sinister atmosphere I’m describing was something that I noticed at the time, or what I imagined retroactively, in light of the events that took place afterwards.

We had decided to climb down a short cliff while roped in, with Chris and Aiyana acting as our anchors by bracing themselves against the cliff walls while we climbed down. Michael went first, and then Max, both without incident. The rest of us waited in a loose line, chatting and kicking rocks. Suddenly, everyone around me became very silent. I turned to see what they were looking at. A tiny rattlesnake, as big around as my thumb, was curled up a few feet from Chris. Aiyana whispered to us that we should all calmly and quietly climb down as unobtrusively as possible. Any sudden noises or movements might have endangered Chris.

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(continued from above)

After ten minutes of very quiet rock-climbing, we had all gotten down to the bottom, and we could discuss the event in incredulous tones. Chris’s statement on the event was, in my mind, the most descriptive: “I respected the snake. There was respect, but– also– there was fear of the snake. And the fear was that the snake was going to bite me.”

We hadn’t gone too much further before we hit another obstacle- an impossibly narrow, steep passage of canyon that we would have to slide down feet first if we wanted to get through. Again we waited in line to rope up and make the descent. This time I actually found myself a bit frightened by the experience—the sensation was fairly claustrophobic. I did eventually hit the ground, and then we actually emerged from the narrow canyon! Wonder of wonders! We could see the sunset, as well as actual vegetation and wildlife. It was a beautiful sight.

As we followed the canyon bottom back to camp, we kept encountering gigantic, foul-smelling cow droppings, and it wasn’t long before we encountered their source. A herd of cows was ambling nonchalantly down the trail, and quickly spooked at our approach. After this long day, I was feeling a little under the weather, and was inexplicitly missing my headlamp. As night fell, I resembled a zombie- staggering forward uncertainly with my arms outstretched (to ward off branches) and moaning groggily. When we got to camp, I tore off my boots and immediately fell into bed and went to sleep.

After an intensely pancake-oriented breakfast, we crossed the river one last time and took off up a hill, until we finally reached a dirt road on top of the mesa. We arrived at the cars with hours of daylight left, and enjoyed our first free time in days. Dinner that night was quesadillas and whatever we could dredge up out of our packs. We fell asleep next to the vans secure in the knowledge that the next day would require next to no physical exertion.

Click on the pictures below for a larger version.

Caving November 2006

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Caving Adventure in the Washington Cascades

Seven students from Middle School and thirteen Upper Schoolers travelled to the remote forests near Trout Lake, Washington to explore lava tubes over the weekend of November 4th and 5th.