Sunday, October 30, 2016

Top O' Scott

Squeezed in one more trek into the backcountry with several hiking mates from my days at Eugene Water & Electric Board. Known far and wide as “The Committee” back in the day, a group of us -- two from Bend and two from Eugene -- met near McKenzie Pass for a hike up Scott Mountain in the Mt. Washington Wilderness Area.

The trail skirts Benson Lake, an indigo lagoon rimmed with cliffs, and Tenas Lakes, a half dozen smaller ponds sprinkled among tall conifers and huckleberry meadows. Winding around Scott Mountain to a summit meadow, the old lookout site features views of numerous Cascade peaks, including North and Middle Sister (above).

The mountain is named for Captain Felix Scott, Jr., who built a trail from Eugene over the Cascades to Eastern Oregon. Nearing the lowest route east across the mountains, Scott’s crew detoured around the jagged lava fields at McKenzie Pass in favor of a notch on the shoulder of North Sister. The route was later abandoned.

On our way down Scout Mountain, we encountered a bonafide wilderness ranger in full U.S. Forest Service regalia. I believed the species to be extinct, so you can imagine my surprise. Now retired from EWEB, we also have retired our previous agnomen of “The Committee.” We are now known officially as “The Geezmos.”

Saturday, October 29, 2016

When The Going Gets Weird, The Weird Turn Pro

In a year that has ratcheted from the banal to the bizarre, with presidential politics plumbing unprecedented depths while sagebrush insurgents walk free after the armed expropriation of a federal facility, it comes to this: the Cleveland Indians versus the Chicago Cubs, both perennial doormats, in the 112th World Series.

That’s right, folks, the year keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser,” as Alice might say in “Adventures In Wonderland.” Cleveland, which hasn’t won a World Series since Mickey Mantle was a teenager (1948), faces the even more woeful Cubbies, which hasn’t won a World Series since “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was a rookie (1908).

It’s tough picking a team to root for in this one. The Indians, the parent club for my beloved Portland Beavers, were a traditionally beleaguered bunch. Spending my summers at Multnomah Stadium, I saw many a great player such as “Sweet” Lou Pinella graduate to the Indians, only to be promptly traded to the Yankees. He wasn’t alone.

My affinity for the Chicago Cubs dates back to Ernie Banks, known as “Mr. Cub,” who wowed the fans at Wrigley Field, and the fact that I had to spend a week on the streets of the North Side of Chicago when our GMC panel truck broke down en route to Detroit on a cross country road trip right after graduating from high school.

Who do I like to win the World Series? I’ll never tell. But I know this: it will be the team that decides to take it up a notch -- to go for that brass ring that has eluded them for so long. It will be the team that won’t have to admit, as Yogi Berra put it so eloquently: “you wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Greek Odyssey

Best time for hiking in the Cascades? Immediately preceding, and just after, the autumnal equinox, when the colors are most vibrant and flying pests have diminished. And so it was, a small cadre from that loosely knit consortium known as the Aldo Leopold Society embarked on a journey into the backcountry.

This odyssey would transport us into the realm of Greek mythology: Lake Minotaur, Labyrinth Mountain and Lake Theseus in the upper reaches of the Little Wenatchee River, a tributary of Lake Wenatchee. Four of our group, all former backcountry rangers, departed from the trailhead for a day of hiking and witty repartee.

A.H. “Hal” Sylvester -- a surveyor and explorer who was the Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor from 1908-1931 -- named this picturesque corner of the wilderness for the puzzling map contours. The hike skirts two exceptional lakes in tarns occupying glacial cirques near the summit of Labyrinth Mountain (above).

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a monster with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. Because of its monstrous form, King Minos of Crete banished the beast to a huge maze known as the Labyrinth. The Minotaur remained in the Labyrinth, receiving annual offerings of Athenian youth to devour in tribute to King Minos.

One such youth, Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, was said to have volunteered for the assignment to slay the Minotaur. Upon reaching Crete, the daughters of King Minos, having fallen in love with Theseus, provided him with the answer to escaping the Labyrinth: a ball of string to retrace his steps once he killed the Minotaur.

Upon entering the Labyrinth, Theseus tied one end of the string to the door and continued into the maze. Finding the Minotaur in the farthest corner of the Labyrinth, he killed the fearsome man-beast with a sword. Finding other Athenians and following the thread back through the maze, Theseus led the group out of the Labyrinth.

Despite the formidable name, you don’t really need a spool of thread to find your way on Labyrinth Mountain, although near the top, several trails meander in various directions but all end up in the same place: the summit. A steep two-mile stretch through tall hemlocks gives way to heather meadows and alpine firs.

The two charming lakes occupying the high glacial cirques next to Labyrinth Mountain -- Lake Minotaur and Lake Theseus -- are particularly ethereal depending on the season and time of day, providing a changing landscape among the wilderness gods in this fairy tale region of the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.

Glacier Peak, the most remote volcano in the entire Cascade Range, dominates the skyline from the summit of Labyrinth Mountain. The 360-degree panorama allows sweeping views as far away as Mt. Rainier, Mt. Stuart, Mt. Daniel, Lake Wenatchee, Sloan Peak, Baring Mountain and the Monte Cristo Range.

After scrambling about on Labyrinth Mountain and a long break at Lake Minotaur, we adjourned to the Headwaters Pub at Lake Wenatchee for some well-earned grub and grog: a Dirty Face pizza and a local IPA brewed in nearby Leavenworth known as Bootjack Ale. Tell you what: nothing tastes better after a full day of hiking.

A couple of weeks later, we were off for yet another sojourn to the Owl Conservatory for some well-earned rest and relaxation, as well as a hike or two. In this case: Lanham Lake near Stevens Pass, and Hidden Lake, a picturesque little pond located beneath Nason Ridge, just above Lake Wenatchee.

Lanham Lake, is a four-mile jaunt through old growth hemlock, devil’s club and huckleberry patches. Once at the lake, we deviated from the trail for a few pictures and, unfortunately, disturbed a yellow jackets nest. Boy, were they cranky; I picked up five stings before we fled down the trail in haste to the car.

Arrived at the trailhead, I felt my face swelling; indeed, I was having an allergic reaction to the stings. We proceeded immediately to the Owl Conservatory for some benadryl, an application of Devil’s Club Soothing Rub from Back Bay Botanicals (good stuff) and a couple of limoncellos. We were back in business.

Hidden Lake, an even shorter hike, is more like a walk through the pines. In fact, it’s so short that I recall packing in coolers, camp chairs and various and sundry other supplies that you might have when you’re car camping. Nonetheless, it’s a delightful stroll and a beautiful spot where you can lay on a rock and bag some rays.