The Dago Diaries

One Italian American's Journey Along America's Great Divide
Day 23 Abert Rim, Trees and Trails, Oh My!

Day 23 Abert Rim, Trees and Trails, Oh My!

Sunrise in the hills

The wind blew pretty hard all night, I know because the damn foot pain woke me up a few too many times, as much as I need a good sleep to recover the pain is preventing it.  Each night I wake within a pain like a knife Beijing shoved into the side of my foot, its so bad that Vicodin’s, THC/CDB cookies, Tylenol PM or anything else I am trying is not working to relieve my pain.

We rolled out of camp and along some very nice dirt roads until the sun came and bathed the earth in its light.  The weather really changed with yesterdays front and it feels like fall is here to stay, it was well into the morning before I took off my extra layers of clothing.

We stopped at Colvin Lake to fill up our water, the map showed us going over Albert Rim and a mainly dry day for us.  As we were approaching the water we saw numerous pronghorn in a large herd we stopped and observed them,  like us they too needed that precious water to survive the day.  They moved slowly along the tree line and never saw us as we slowly made our way to the water source they had just left.

Juniper berries, perfect for some bathtub gin

The water source was less than ideal, it was basically an oversized cattle tank with slick and deep mud surrounding it.  The water was a putrid brown and the telltale sign of cows fouling it was all about.  We sat on the shore eating our snacks, drying the previous nights’ condensation from our quilts and reading about Abert Rim.  Swept Away volunteered to take off her shoes and wade into the muck to get water for all of us.  With CNOC bags in hand, she waded in, filling bag after bag with the water.  We all hoped we would find something better to avoid drinking this batch.  With a full load of water and many miles to go to make our goal for the day, we loaded up and headed out.

Aspens and ponderosa pines, a rare treat on this hike

After the water we started walking through some aspens and pine trees it was magical to be in a little bit of woods after so many miles in sagebrush. As we popped out to a clearing we saw there were many miles of cross-country to get us to Abert Rim.  The three of us were not feeling that so we looked at a map saw a road alternate to walk and debated what to do.  I sent Virgo a text to see if he had may insight with no response we went the road option.  About 2 miles down the road we came to a clear and wonderful spring.  We all decided to upgrade our water, so as we sat there filling bottles I heard form Virgo who said, “if it’s clear go see the rim it’s spectacular”…with that we walked the road to a point that got us as close to the rim as possible and then we set off cross country.

Salty making her way cross country on Abert Rim

For the next few miles, we walked across ankle busting lava rocks covered in grass.  The sagebrush came in patches and we pushed through.  As I approached the rim I looked back and the girls were a ways back, I figured I’d wait for them at the overlook I spotted.  As I walked up to the edge my jaw dropped.  As far as I could see to my right a huge expansive rim sat perched over the desert.  Abert Rim is the largest fault escarpments in North America.  Far below I could see ranches and across the expanse the other side of the escarpment. 

Salty soon caught up and a few minutes later Swept Away came and joined us.  Swept Away told me to hold out my hand and in it, she placed an obsidian spear point with the tip broken off.  I sat there staring at the ancient object imaging a young warrior who decided to enjoy the view like we were doing and work on his kit. 

Abert Rim

Abert Rim is the largest fault escarpment in North America

Me along Abert Rim

 

We enjoyed some lunch and a must needed break and decided to keep along the rim.  For the next couple of miles, this cross country kicked our ass.  Why I understand the trail designers wanting us to see the rim, I had to constantly look down to not trip or roll my ankle on the lava rocks we had to maneuver through, so instead of seeing amazing rim views, I saw my feet.  Eventually, the rim started to get too brushy to navigate so we picked a straight line back the road and headed that way…

Back on the road and life was grand, the road was wide and well maintained.  We walked along it through Ponderosa Pine and Aspens Trees, chatting away about life.  As we continued on the landscape just kept getting better and better, nothing but trees, and shade.  We eventually came to the start of the Fremont National Recreation Trail.  This well-maintained trail was a big change from the regularly scheduled hikes along this trail. 

A large ponderosa pine

As we started on the trail we noticed first how well maintained and soft the ground was, it was an actual trail.  After a few minutes, we also noted how well marked the trail was, every 30-50 yards there was a trail marker on a tree indicating we were still on course.  As the miles started to tick off we all got lost in our minds.  The trail took us through the forest and for the first time on this hike we were able to turn our brains off and just walk taking it all in, no need to navigate, no constant checking of a bearing, nothing but trees, and the afternoon light of a forest.  It was like being on a hiking vacation from my hiking vacation.

A forested canyon along the Fremont Trail

We came to a small stream in the woods about an hour before sunset, we all took the time to fill our bottles for the evening and as we started to walk away, the cold air quickly overtook the three of us.  We continued walking and hit a dirt road.  As the trail was leaving the road I took a look at the map, we were on a flat bench of terrain but the map showed we had to start climbing for a long way.  The sun was well below the horizon and it would be completely dark in few minutes so we decided to make camp.

Trail markers made for some very relaxed hiking

We walked off the road and into the woods, there was a giant pile of cut trees in the area we were camping in.  The forest here like so many in the western US are being infested with bark bottle which kills off young trees.  The Fremont National Forest is clearly getting ahead of this by cutting out sick trees and piling them up to be burned in the winter once the snow arrives. 

The fall colors are just stunning along this hike

We tucked ourselves under some trees for the night, each of us picking a few we thought would help keep the moon from shining in our faces and waking us during the night.  Our 23rd night in a row of cowboy camping under the stars!   We sat around doing the evening routine of washing and eating, it was downright cold though so I took few minutes to heat up water for Salty and me to each wash with, Swept Away did the same with her stove.

As we were getting ready to turn in for the night we talked about our game plan for Lakeview the next day…we had to go about 19 miles to the road to town, being tight on time we discussed how quickly we should try to get in and out of town for our resupply.  Swept Away was lobbying for a shower, our last one being nearly 2 weeks and over 300 miles ago, and we decided if there was a shower option we would take it, as long as it it didn’t cost us precious time.  So with dreams of town food, showers, and a resupply we all faded off to sleep.

Day 22 “Plush ain’t got shit”

A rare cloudy day in the ODT

I woke pretty groggy from the lack of sleep the night before from all the foot pain.  I decided to leave the KT tape off as my foot felt better without it and that is how I walked out of camp.  The road we had finally found last night was still pretty overgrown, in about half a mile there was a metal gate across the road so we climbed over it and then found ourselves ankle deep in a spring of sulfur smelling mud that seeped into our shoes and through our socks and between our toes.

Sunrise at Hart Lake

About an hour from camp as the sky was starting to change color we saw Ron’s van parked overlooking the lake.  We woke him up and chatted for a few minutes and arranged for him to pick us up where the trail turns away from town so we could a save ourselves 2 miles and 40 minutes of walking on the pavement while still keeping our continuous footpath.

As we walked along the trail we came across a series of boulders with petroglyphs.  It was awesome how many of them were all over the place.  We took some photos, speculated at what some of the drawings were and each interpreted our own meaning from the ancient messages.  The next leg of our hike took us around the lakeshore on a paved road.  Where the road meets the trail there were two privies so we pulled over for a break.  While sitting there eating a snack we met some folks from the BLM who were out spreading gravel on a nature path as part of the events for national public lands day.  We chatted for a bit about our hike, then knocked out the last 3 miles in no time, making 15 miles by 10:30am.

Petroglyphs

What do these say to you? Messages from the ancients gave us much to contemplate

Now before arriving in a Plush, we had been told by two of our friends that “Plush ain’t got shit”. So as we pulled up in front of the small store that comprises of the town of Plush we had low expectations.  We were also told the burgers were incredible, so I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger basket and a large coke and set about organizing my box.  After a few minutes, I did a little shopping for a few items I needed, chips, cookies, and a fresh Avacado.  I was shocked at how well stocked the store actually was.  Then my burger arrived, damn it was awesome a big old double patty grilled to perfection.  Since we have arrived in most of the trail towns after everything is closed and leave well before anything is open, this meal was a real treat for me.

After lunch, we were outside packing up when my good friend Renee “She-Ra” Patrick who is the trail coordinator for the ODT pulled up.  She had been out for a hike herself and was planning to meet up with us.  We hung out for an hour, enjoyed a beer and picked her brain on the upcoming terrain.  Then she and Ron dropped us back off at the trailhead and we were on our way.

She-ra who not only manages the ODT is also one of the most bad ass people I have the pleasure to call a friend

The trail was a series of dirt roads, all of them were in good shape.  We rolled along making good time.  Eventually, as we made our way up the draw we saw Ron stopped at the bottom of the next hill.  He was contemplating if he should give it a try so he could camp with us one more night.  He went for it and a mile up the road. at the top of the hill, he sat there and informed us the roads were too steep to risk it in his van.  We parted ways and agreed that he would grab us on the highway in a couple of days to get us into Lakeview so we could save time and avoid having to waste time hitchhiking in and out the town.

Thankfully I had enough water to avoid drinking this foul muck

Ron doing what he does, taking his van to new heights

We walked the hills in the soft light of sunset and as we turned a corner we saw an old dry pond bed full of short dry grass and decided to camp there for the night.  It was a little windy but we each snuggled down in our Katabatic quilts and got lost

Salty sung in her Katabatic Flex 15, even the praying mantis agrees that katabatic quilts are the warmest

Day 21 Autumnal Equinox

Hart mountain refuge with aspens aglow in fall colors

Waking in a warm building was such a treat and having a flush toilet to use instead of digging a hole was just pure luxury this morning.  We all packed up pretty quick it’s much easier to get going when the temp isn’t at freezing.

We hit the road and headed for the hot springs just as the sky lightened to day we arrived to a wonderful sight.  A natural hot spring with some stone walls around it to block the wind.  In we all went for a much needed bath, and for the next 30-40 minutes we soaked in the warm water until we were all pruned up and needed to move on.  The worst part was having to get out into the cold morning air all wet, but we all quickly threw on many layers could to trap the warmth from the soak and then set off hiking while snacking on our breakfast.

Hart Mountain Hot Spring

The morning was very pleasant we walked on nice dirt roads through the Hart Mountain refuge and saw tons of mule deer and prong horns.  As the we climbed deeper into the refuge we were treated to aspen groves in fall colors and some old homesteads along the way.  The weather stayed cool and we had a gentle breeze at our backs, an ideal fall day, the kind of weather that makes you want to pull on a hooded sweatshirt and head to a keg party with a bonfire on a Friday night.

Getting the water for the rest of the way to Plush

As lunch approached we reached an old homestead and like the previous owners we sat in the shade of the trees and enjoyed lunch and a much-needed rest.  The grass out in the horizon was like a scene from the song America the Beautiful and a more ideal spot of frontier life could not be imagined.  After lunch we set off again, however, the road had ended and for 3 miles we bushwhacked through tall grass sometimes well over my head.  It was a fun and new experience of cross-country terrain and we took it in stride.  We had to find our way up and over a large butte with steep rocky cliffs, but with some scouting, we found places to climb up the wall and then climbed down on the backside.

The old homestead a perfect lunch spot

We rejoined a road and that carried us up and over Fisher Canyon.  As we turned to descend down the canyon we saw in front of us a huge lake right here in the desert.  Hart Lake is a massive lake and as we arrived at it we soon found another bushwhack was in our future.  This one, however, was evil and required walking through numerous poky plants and scratchy bushes taller than the 3 of us.  As the sun was setting we stepped into a large grove of cottonwood trees and it felt creepy.  It reminded me of the Blair Witch Project, so we pushed through until we finally found the next primitive road that will take us to the town of Plush.

All smiles as we push through the tall grass

Salty picking her way down the rocky slopes of the butte

A poop with a view

We walked a few 100 yards and since it was dark we decided it was time to make camp and get ready to play the hiking game again in the morning.  My foot is killing me these days way more than the past week, in fact, it has woken me up the past few nights.  Just 10 more days is all I keep telling myself, gut it out pain is only temporary.

Sunset before the bushwhacking

Postscript, at 11:30 pm last night after two Tylenol pm and magnesium I still awoke in withering pain because of my foot.  I had to wrap it, then unwrap it, massage it, take a painkiller and then wait for it to kick in.

Day 19, Let The Endurance Games Begin

The Mesa

We sat down yesterday in Frenchglen and did some math, the kind of math that as a kid I hated, word problems …”How many days to get to the end and not run out of time?” 350 miles roughly left, 12 days to hike means we have to hike 30 miles a day each day to finish.  No problem right?

We all talked it over and agreed to give it our all to achieve this goal and finish together.  Salty and I are pretty much hell-bent on finishing even if it means long days of hiking in the dark for hours each morning and evening.  Swept Away seems slightly reluctant to have to suffer like that, but she knew what she was in for from the start so, like the stoic young woman she is, she gave us the head nod and said: “game on.”

I kind of felt like President Snow at the start of the Hunger Games, announcing the start of what is sure to be one of the hardest 12-day stretches of hiking any of us have ever experienced.  Instead of entering a gauntlet and grabbing a weapon of our choice to try to kill each other until we are the last person standing, we have rallied as a team to hold each other up to see our goal completed.  Instead of fighting over food, I am sure we will continue to share snacks and first aid items as we each take care to make sure the others are able to continue on.

We woke at 4:30 and did the morning routine at 5:15 we were off by headlamp.  The first few miles were pretty easy as we walked up the side of a paved highway for a few miles, then we turned off onto a dirt road.  We had worked up a good lather of sweat since we all started in all of our layers and quickly were stripping down.  However, as the sun came up the wind did too and my soaking wet shirt chilled me to the core.  I stoped and put my puffy on and we carried on, it would be hours before I was able to remove that layer.

Sunrise on the desert

We came to the first water source, marked as a reliable spring, only it was not so reliable and was dry…. we looked and had 18 more miles to the next reliable water, and I only had 1 1/2 liters.  We hoped for cool temps to get by with such a little amount of water and carried on down the trail.  In a mile we came to a cow tank with some gross cow pooh water, I needed water badly so I grabbed a liter and hoped I wouldn’t need it, spoiler alert I did and it was pretty earthy/pooh tasting even after filtering.

The day was then spent mostly walking on dirt roads and a few short cross country sections along the High Mesa.  It was probably the easiest walking we have had so far on this trip.  As we approached mid-day we finally reached the next water source a corral and windmill right out of a western movie with bulls, wild horses and cows.  We drank long and deep from the piped spring water, then realized this was our only water for 40 miles…..

The best windmill ever and the coolest water one could ask for

With heavy packs, we trudged down the road and found a place for lunch so the cows could enjoy the water without us disturbing them.  We had a full yard sale of gear to dry off the previous nights’ condensation and as I do, I drifted off for a nap.  I awoke to Salty reading me my horoscope and it was perfect.  It said Gemini you are a patron saint and should consider which of many specials you can perform to focus on, my specialty is helping people “find an epiphany while hiking in nature”.

Allgood the patron saint

With that, we hiked on and in 8 miles we had wrapped up 31 miles and who should meet us in this remote Mesa in the middle of nowhere, but of course Ron and his van.  He fed us cole slaw, potato salad, and ribs he had gotten in Burns…we enjoyed the warmth inside the van for a bit and chatted before retiring for the night. 

Tomorrow we are shooting for 31 miles to the Hart Mountain HQ from there we want to push a 35+day so we can get into Plush and out of Plush on Saturday and still make a 30….it’s gonna be a long 12 days but rewarding as hell!

Stop the sage brush!

Day 18 Frenchglen, Halfway There

Our “road” for the day…

Before first light we woke from our slumbers cold and stiff from the previous days slog into the night.  The air was crisp and felt like fall, with all of our clothes on we walk out of the campground and then headedcross-countryy to find the “road” we were supposed to travel on.  We quickly realized that the road had been lost to nature so we made our way cross country up and down some gently terrain.  We came to a small stream and since it was so cold we scouted for a way to cross without getting our feet wet, I was close to achieving this and then a small rock slipped and in my foot went into the icy water, dang another day of walking with a cold wet foot.

We eventually found the road, and old two track that was more like a lost road for wagons than one suitable for even a jeep.  We picked our way over the lava rocks covered with grass and even though we could navigate OK the going was slow.  We entered into an area where the road split and headed on what seemed to be the correct path, a bit a mile later we realized we were in a n old dry stream bed not a road.  With a quick look at the map, we realized we needed to cross the hill between us and the road we needed o once again we pushed our way cross country to be found once again on our maps.

The first glimpse of Blitzen Canyon

As we walked along in the morning sun we enjoyed the scenery of rolling hills and ponderosa pine trees.  We eventually came up on the rim of Blitzen Canyon, a deep canyon that held trees and a cold clear running river.  We descend the steep slopes and then followed the river downstream to our crossing point.  We stepped into the cold water and its cooling embrace made my foot sing in joy as it relived some of the pain form the past few days.  When we reached the far bank we dropped our packs and decided to take a break. 

We filtered water, drank tea and snacks on a variety of food.  Each of us were lost inner own thoughts as we sat by river enjoying the canyon.  Once we had our fill we loaded our packs onto our backs and started the climb out of the canyon to the other side.  We popped up on a dirt road and started following it towards Frenchglen, we could see the paved road off in the distance and each of us dreaded having to walk the final miles of the day on pavement.  A quick look at our maps showed an old dirt road alternate that would take us by a warm spring, so in true fashion we opted for this route.

Blitzen Canyon

The Road quickly needed though and we found ourselves in large flat field of high grass, we took off cross country towards the warm springs.  The grasses were waist high and golden, we pushed our way through the grass and at the far end of the field we hit an old road.  As we walked along the road we looked for the warm spring, we came across an old corral and dirt abode brick shelter but no springs, as we were getting ready to leave Swept Away saw the spring.  Never being one to avoid a soak she quickly eased her way into the warm water for a quick bath before we hit town.

We made short work of the dirt road and at the and we came to the historic Frenchglen Hotel, an  old White building with a rich history and famous for its family style meals. We entered the hotel around 2pm and we inquired if they had any cancelations so we could get a room, we were told no, but we were welcome to camp in their grass.  We bought a few sodas and cookies they had on the counter, grabbed our boxes and went to the yard to sort our resupply.

The historic Frenchglen Hotel

Ron was there in the van, we told him they had room for 3 for dinner and we had signed up, that put him the odd man out, he was bummed but understood.  We charged our phones and other electronics while we sorted our boxes and enjoyed our only rest day to speak of. We had already done over 18 miles for the day and decided to use the remainder of the day to rest, get Salty’s new phone working, catch up with hime and plan the remainder of our trip.

New shoes thanks to my great sponsors Astral

As dinner time approached the grills decided to save the $25 each for dinner and just eat some of the excess food from their mail drops.  Ron jumped at the chance to enjoy a meal a the hotel with me, so shortly before dinner, I went to the spigot with my trusty sponge and bag to clean up.  I washed as a best I could so as to no smell too bad at dinner.  I put on my wind shirt to lock in the stank and then Ron and I entered the hotel and tragically sat me in the corner by the kitchen with him next to me. 

The other guest rolled in they were all on a trip with the Nature Conservancy studying the desert. They weren’t too keen to speak the weird guy at the end of the table who smelled and was eating like a ravenous lion on the plains, but eventually, my smile and charm warmed them up.  I shared my tales of the ODT, where I had been the things I had seen and the wildlife we had experienced.  By the end of the meal I had won them over and as dessert was served one lady said she was full and gave me hers, double dessert is hard to beat.  With a full belly, I retired to the grass and my bed for the night.  I played my head down looked at some stars and quickly drifted off to sleep.

Day 17 Steens Mountain

Day 17 Steens Mountain

Another wonderful sunrise

I woke up earlier than usual around 4:15 and decided since I was up and no one else was to go get in one more soak in the hot springs before we had to start our day.  I walked down the path in the dark, slipped off my clothes and got in the same pool we had been in the day before, Buch to my dismay though it had cooled off a lot from the previous day, so I jumped out into the cold air and got in the pool next to it which was hotter.  I soaked until about 4:45 and then quickly got out and dressed in the frigid morning air.  I walked back into camp and Swept Away was awake and decided to go for a quick soak herself before we left.  I fired up the stove and made coffee and oatmeal to start the day.

Salty awoke and we shared our morning coffee and packed up once Swept Away got back.  By the time we were ready to hit the trail the sun was already creeping up, it was later than I had wanted to start, but sometime when hiking with others you can’t always have your way when I comes to start times, so I sucked it up and we headed up the trail. 

The mountain calls us to its’ mighty heights

The first few miles were up a pretty steep road, even though it was cold the climb had us all sweating quickly and pulling off layers.  We knew the day would spent climbing as Steens Mountain is over 9,000’ in elevation and our club was over 5,000’. The road ended as we got higher and then the real fun began today.  The trail goes cross country, we had a note on my map where my good friend Dirt Monger had told me, “Wild Horse Canyon is a Bitch, and try to stay high”. Soon enough I would know what he meant.  The map said, “this next area has crumbly rock let us know if you find a good way across”…..OK?

We picked our way up above the crumbly rock but soon we were bushwhacking through some gnarly brush, that sat above a very steep drop off.  We pushed our way through the brush around the exposed crumbly rick area and soon saw our challenge, a brush choked canyon that seemed to go on forever. The girls were leading the way wearing their tall gaiters, if you remember I gave mine to Salty earlier in theatric because she was getting hives from the sun and the brush combination.  They were able to plow through, but ever step I took my shins got smacked, scratched and cut until I was bleeding and falling further and further behind. 

Pictures do no justice how tough this was

The brush was one thing, but the climb itself was no walk in the park either with a steady gain up, up, up….I finally caught the girls as they were waiting for me, Swept Away had some running compression leggings and after seeing my legs and knowing how much pain I was in she told me to put them on, which I did and man that changed the game big time.  With the legging on I felt invincible, I was able to push through the sage with no problem, willows, and other pokey grasses were no match for me anymore.  As we approached the Willow and Aspen groves I pushed through with all my force. 

There is no way I can truly capture how hard this bushwhack was, we had to navigate steep terrain with brush up to our armpits or above our heads.  We knew we had to climb to Wild Horse Lake, and as lunch time approached we saw a dry water fall and a bench ahead.  We all pushed hard because we figured, let’s eat at the lake.  I was ahead of Slaty and Swept Away as we scrambled up the steep rocks to the bench, I crested the ridge only to find it was a false summit of sorts and instead of a lie as big dry flat area filled with brown grass.  I said a few cowboy words that would have made a whole on 82nd street blush, Salty came up behind me and said a few words herself.  Swept was last and even though she rarely ever cusses she too let few a few phrases any sailor would be proud of.  With our Steens Mountain beat down, we decided the best thing to do was eat, so we sat down and had lunch.

An amazing mountain for sure

After lunch we continued on the bushwhack, each mile was hard earned and we could see the bench ahead.  After a couple more hours I crested the final bench and came upon the most beautiful  tarn tucked up in a cirque on Steens Mountain and for the first time of the trip saw other hikers…the girls caught up and the three of us marveled at the wonderful tarn, and were shocked to see people.  As we began our final climb to the top, we started having numerous day hikers come down towards us.  They all looked at us a little sideways, wondering where we had come form.  We stopped and talked to a few and one group of older men told us they had gone down Wild Horse Canyon, but couldn’t imagine going up it.

The trail up was nice it even had switchbacks, but seeing other hikers was strange.  It was as if our own private hiking trail had been invaded by outsiders, our bubble of solitude shattered if even for a few brief encounters.  Finally we reached the top and the parking lot, waiting there with a smile on his face was Ron, he had been waiting for hours and was Hppy to see we made it there in one piece.

The tarn was lovely, and as you can tell we are all smiles

We chatted with Ron on our options, each of us was shot on bushwhacking as we had just had our asses handed to us by mother nature.  We weighed our options it was 4pm and we needed to go 12 miles to reach our camp for the night to line up Frenchglen for a nero day.  We looked at the map and ran some mileage on a road option, we decided to take the loop road which looked to be 10 miles.

We threw some excess gear in the van, but kept our clothes, water and safety gearing case anything popped up.  We started down the road, the three of us walking together and chatting, plotting out the remainder of our trip.  As the miles clicked off so did our day light, and after hours of going as fast as we could we quickly realized our 10 mile road option ws more like 12-13miles….As the sun set we put on our headlamps and played a game, who could go the longest without using theirs.  We were doing well until we got down to the campground, there we flicked them on to find the spigot and find Ron.

All smiles as we finally crossed the highest point of the ODT, as they say, “it’s all down hill from here”

As we were filling up our bottles at the pump house getting enough water for the evening and next days 19 mille push to Frenchglen, we say headlights….ROn Pulled up and said, “I was just heading out to find you 3, as it’s 8:15pm, dark and I have your sleeping bags”. We followed him to the camp spot where he had all of our sleeping gear laid out for us to crash quickly.  He fed us his left over Pad Thai while we cooked and he said we had grit and determination to be pushing as hard as we had.

With full bellies of warm food, yes all of us had a hot meal because we heated up extra water for Salty, we all turned in for the night.  With utter exhaustion we each quickly fell asleep.

PS-Later after talking with many other ODT Hikers we all agree that this was the hardest bushwhack of them all and a few of the strongest hikers I know even admitted to me that they cried in Wild Horse canyon because it was just that hard, and frustrating.  As I reflect back on the trip though it was also one of my favorite day sin hindsight and a great sense of accomplishment.

Day 16 The Playa

Human art in the desert

We woke up a little late this morning after yesterdays long day I think we all needed a little extra sack time to recover from the back to back 30 mile days. It was Sunday morning and that could only mean on thing, Sunday Funday!!! We each packed up and decided that since Ron was meeting us that night and it was a good 27 miles to the Alford Hot Spring resort for the evenings camp, with no shade, we would slack pack the 27 miles for the day.

Slackpacking the art of carrying a day hike load while on a long distance trail is a true treat in my opinion. Some hikers frown upon it and say it’s cheating, but screw that you are still hiking, the only cheating I view in a long distance trail is riding in a car and skipping miles, I myself prefer to go home, look at a map and know that I had continuous footsteps from start to finish.

We walked the road out of Filed Station, another trail stop where we arrived after they closed and left before they opened…Oh well at some point in my life I will try one of their world famous milkshakes. The trail followed pavement some and then turned down a dirt road. A few miles later and we came to a sign warning us of the Borax Lake and Hot Springs, with the ground that could collapse and Arsenic Levels 25 times the recommended safe limits, guess we won’t try drinking that.

Danger in the desert

The trail traveled around the Borax Lake on a road before sending us cross-country through some wired stuff….First, we had to cross the Borax Salt Flats, a long expanse of ridges and uneven ground printing each of us from ever placing a flat step. Then we came to an outlet stream and marsh, how the hell there could be a math in the middle of the desert living off Arsenic/Borax water I all never know, but there it was…For a good mile or two, we waded through the marsh, with each step a cloud of stinky muck seeped into our shoes and socks. As the marsh needed we saw the next area to cross the sand dunes.

The Sand dunes were incredible, for miles we walked through the sage bush that was chest high or head high and we weave our way around them and the dunes themselves. This area also had various flakes of obsidian that had been worked by humans making spear and arrow points, along with some crystals and other cool rocks. The sun was pretty hot so we all deployed our umbrellas and relished our own shade.

Boforax salt flats, just one the Buffett of surfaces we encountered

As we sat eating lunch I looked over my maps and saw a note that I had written when doing my planning with Virgo it read, “at this specific waypoint, leave the official route and go cross country along the Playa until you reach the resort”…so after we loaded up on snacks and water the three of us picked a bearing and headed cross country. Eventually, this led us to a dirt/sand road that we walked until we reached the playa.

The Playa is really a large dry lake bed out in the Alvord Desert, I had been here one time with Suzy two years ago when we took a long road trip in our van when I returned home after hiking the CDT. It was one of those times in a marriage when you each have to decide where the other stands and if you are both still in it for the long haul. Luckily for us those 10 days and thousands of miles exploring eastern OR, Nevada and California saved our marriage…but I digress as usual.

La Playa…

The lake bed is flat and as hard as cement, a truly cool place that reminded me of Tatooine in Star Wars. As the three of us cruised along the Playa at a faster pace than usual, a side by side ATV came racing towards us, it pulled up and the two guys introduced themselves and said, your buddy in his Van is up on that hill looking for you. We told then we went off route to save a climb and they agreed to drive back up and let him know. Before they could get there though we saw Ron in his van bombing down the road to drive out on the playa and meet us.

We stopped and chatted for a few, I rammed a beer, Ron shot some video of us with his drone and we trudged on towards the hot springs. The three of us haven’t showered since McDermitt and with our all of our sore feet and muscles, the hot springs siren song was calling us.

We arrived at the Hot Springs Resort, which is really a campground with a few mobile mash units you can rent as a cabin, an office with a heated bathroom and two big hot spring pools to soak in. I ran in the office to pay for our site and immediately drank two root beers, 3 hot pockets and microwave burrito. The food was so hot and I was so hungry that I quickly burned the roof of my mouth on the hot cheese and sauce, but it was so worth it. With a full belly, I headed to the hot springs for a soak.

The flattest stretch of hiking I have ever experienced

The Girls and Ron soon followed my lead to the springs and we all enjoyed the hot water. The caretaker had told me there was a bucket there to use to wash our hair if we wanted. After we found it, emptied out the beer cans and rinse it we each took turns showing each other. Salty had me scrub my head and then dumped water on it to rinse. I had Slaty and Swept Away line up side by side and each washed their hair and I dumped 5 gallons of water over each other heads. It wasn’t a true shower but it sure felt good to get the grit out of our hair for a little while.

With clean hear, pruned skin form a long soak and the darkness enveloping us we headed to our site for some dinner. We all assumed our positions, Swept in the chair, Salty and I on the tarp and as the stars came out we each drifted off to our own land of dreams, for tomorrow is our biggest climb of the trip up the Steens Mountain.

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