REVOLVING DOOR AT HOME  (September 2016)  

Larch Mountain, Oregon: Doing It Differently   
Lighting the Way
“We’ll start down the North Rim when we need to” was Bill’s confident pronouncement the first minutes into our pre-dawn hike up Larch Mountain with our new headlamps lighting the way. We’d been fretting about the difficulty of hiking down the steep, unfamiliar, N Kaibab trail in the  Grand Canyon at the start of our Rim-2-Rim hike, essentially with flashlights. We’d wondered if we should give-up the early start and wait until daybreak to reduce the risk of stumbling. 

We’d never actually hiked with headlamps and were stunned by the effectiveness the new devices that Bill had selected specifically for the event. With this trial on Larch Mountain, we now knew we could confidently hike with only their light for hours and not sacrifice speed or stability on what would be a very long day.

We’d carried lesser lamps in the bottom of our packs for years as a part of our emergency kit but hadn’t bothered to get them out the few times that they would have been useful. “Too much trouble” or “Don’t want to take the time" were our excuses. We’d recently vowed to dig them out earlier if a problem was brewing but hadn’t needed them so we just didn’t know if they would meet our needs on a rocky descent.

We’d lamented never testing our new, rechargeable, Black Diamond lamps during the recent summer but the days had been too long to happily do an early or late test run on the trails. Once at home in early September however, the days were shorter and we'd moved our wake-up time from 5 am to 4 am during our jet lag recovery. Our mind/bodies were so confused that we figured we could sneak the shift past them and then we’d have a month to normalize to the new routine before our epic hike. We assumed that we’d arise at least by 4 am, if not 3 am, on the big day so why not habituate to the new wake-up time now? 

By getting up at 4 am, we were out the door by 5 am and on the Larch Mountain trail just before 6 am. First light was at 6:15 and sunrise at 6:45, which barely gave us enough minutes to evaluate the headlamps in the dark. But the lights were so good that we instantly knew that we’d manage the descent on the rocky N Kaibab trail with ease. One more unknown about the big event was dispatched.

Wet, cold & no view on a sunny day in the valley, I summited Larch Mtn in my new moc’s.
The Unexpected
The other bonus for the outrageously early start was the welcome coolness on the always sweaty summertime ascent to about 4,200'. Temperatures in the 50’s instead of the usual 70’s was a huge help in feeling at ease on the trail at a snappy pace. Unfortunately, the drizzle, dense fog, and 45 degree temperatures below the Larch Mountain peak at 9 am were bone chilling and we didn’t remove our heavy jackets that were donned for the descent until almost returning to the parking lot at 1:15 pm. All of the folks going uphill in T-shirts surely thought we were nuts but we couldn’t shake the cold while descending.

Bad news for all of you Larch Mountain hikers who picnic at the top like we usually do: the benches are gone. The rangers finished the job the vandals started by removing the remaining bits. Pack in your own folding chairs because we were told very firmly that they will not be replaced.

It was a day of little adventures on Larch: field testing headlamps, speed hiking in cool conditions, missing benches, and moccasins! A friend recommended that I take some thick moose hide moccasins from Centralia Fur & Hide for a spin. That was on a Wednesday afternoon, they were delivered by the regular post on Saturday, and I hiked in them on Sunday—a tempo that matched to our tight schedule. 

I wore my new moc's for about a third of the round trip event on Larch. Too much like barefooting on that painfully rocky basalt lower trail, I was thrilled to wear them as long as I did with no loss of speed on the upper part of the ascent; descending however was another matter. The upper trail was soggy and my feet rapidly chilled as the moccasins quickly became saturated. But I and they survived the first outing and Bill was impressed enough to order his own pair that night—something new for us both to play with this winter in the SW—perhaps with waterproof socks.

We are becoming increasingly successful in keeping our internal and collective chaos levels low but “Other” keeps stomping onto the scene.

We’d only budgeted 2 weeks at home for our turn-around between spending the summer in the Alps and the winter in the SW but the transition went extremely well. We’d done much of the re-provisioning and planning for the fall the previous spring and trimmed back visiting with friends and receiving bodywork so that we could be complete with what we did do. We surprised ourselves by still having enough time and emotional energy to open up yet more space in our closets and cupboards by being ‘good stewards’ and passing piles of once-precious belongings on to others.

A trophy fungus in Portland’s Forest Park spotted on a day too wet to repeat Larch Mountain.
But, but, then there were those “Others”. To our horror in mid-May, we learned that our lovely new trailer needed to have the slide or pop-out rebuilt and the manufacturer was booked until November. A November appointment for the 2 day job in northern Oregon would have played havoc with our fall plans in the SW.

After much finagling, we were finally routed to Northwood's main, big-job overflow shop, which was also in La Grande. Reluctantly, the owner of the 2-man business agreed to keep our trailer over the summer for an extra storage fee and to complete what was for him a 2-3 week job at his convenience. Predictably, he didn’t start it until 3 weeks before our September departure date. And then of course when I checked in with him a bit latter “Things weren’t going well" and he presumed he’d miss our target date for departing for the Grand Canyon from his shop.

We did our best to carry-on even though my multiple reservations for hotel rooms and campground spaces on both the North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon and our Rim-2-Rim epic hike itself were on the line. Things start shutting down for the winter on the North Rim on October 15 so we didn’t have much wiggle room.

And then “those Republicans" again threatened to shut-down the government at the end of September—our arrival date in the Grand Canyon was booked for October 1. They have an uncanny ability to pick dates that coincide with our long stays at the Park, including last December when we had a coveted 3 night stay reserved at the Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River. 

”Surprise” a very welcome, private-purchase bench at our 10 mile turn around point in Forest Park, Portland.
Fortunately, the fire-breathing dragon of disruptive “Other” partially slunk back into its cave: our trailer would be ready on time—barely.  The silicon sealant I mindlessly rested my hand on transferred like it had been applied moments before we arrived in La Grande. Resolution of the next threat, shut-down of the government, including the national parks, would require another 2 weeks to be known, which would be on our booked check-in date at the Grand Canyon RV park.

Great Basin National Park
Once we knew that our trailer would indeed be ready for us as scheduled, it was time to allow ourselves to get excited about the trip again. We’d budgeted a little extra time to drive to the Grand Canyon, though not enough for serious delays with the trailer repair job, and Bill immediately began planning how to consume the buffer time on the road.

Great Basin NP in Nevada had been on Bill’s “maybe someday” list but given our insistence on spending our summers in Europe and the Park's elevation of about 7000’, getting there in good weather was next to impossible for us. But this trip south looked like the perfect window of opportunity: we were getting an earlier start than usual and we had a few days to spare. Not only would we be exploring another new park, it would give us the rare trails we needed for a big training hike. About midway on our drive to the Grand Canyon, such a demanding work-out would be extremely welcome.

On Our Way
After having loaded our trailer for the fall in late May; dropping it off in La Grande, Oregon for the summer; and then being out of the country for 3 months; we hoped we were getting it right when we loaded our pick-up truck with the rest of our gear in mid-September. Still a bit burdened by jet lag, it was hard to be confident about our decisions. 

Our priorities for a month would be driving and hiking so I organized my clothes in soft tote bags for 'dressing out of the suitcase’ if necessary until our epic hikes were behind us. And indeed, that was what happened. We reorganized items in the trailer that had been shoved to the side for the repair work, stowed some of the bulky new things, and then lived with the disorganization of having some necessities remain in the covered bed of the pick-up for almost a month. Our focus was on maintaining our fitness levels and caring for our bodies during this interval of peak performance; being tidy could wait.

So after 6 months of conditioning and anticipation, we were on our way to making the 2 biggest hikes of our lives, the Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim that for us would be 27 miles with 5,000’ of gain and Palm Spring’s Cactus to Clouds 22 mile hike with over 10,000’ of elevation gain. There were still uncertainties, but it looked like both events would both become realties.