The Dago Diaries

One Italian American's Journey Along America's Great Divide

BMT Day 3, Meeting a Trail Visionary

Start Upper Pine Lake

End Fish Lake Trail Head

Miles hiked 18.42, Elevation Gained 3,346′, Elevation Loss 4,222′

coming down from pine lake pass
The Punisher coming down from Pine Lake on our way to meet Ron at Cornucopia Lodge

We got up before first light and packed up and started down the trail to meet Ron at Cornucopia lodge where he was waiting for us to arrive.  The trails were stunning and right out of the Sierra with granite peaks around, lovely switchbacks.  The temperature was hot and even before the sun was up high in the sky, we were sweating even going downhill.  Eventually, the trail dropped and then took a turn into the forest, ad little ways down that trail and we spotted two hikers climbing towards us.  We stopped and chatted a bit and they said, “are you the 3 hikers trying to do the BMT?”  We told them, Yes’ and they went on to tell us how much they loved Mike and Donna who we would be meeting tonight.

We parted ways with our new friends and kept trucking along, eventually the trail gave way to an old roadbed, and we followed that out along a creek.  We emerged from the trail into a dirt parking re and spotted Ron in his van waiting for us.  He plied us with cold drinks and chips and then we decided to save ourselves some hassle and slack pack the rest of the day. 

An old decrypted bridge
Sure this looks safe? I opted to walk around and through the creek, but i considered risking it for a minute or two

We took off with plans to meet Ron in Halfway that evening, where we would all go to Mike and Donna Higgins’s place for dinner, and a stay-over.  We started by walking some dirt roads, the roads climbed but the grade was not too bad.  We came to a saddle and the entire road was covered in wolf prints in the dirt, so wild, and again we all said how much we hoped to see a wolf on this trip (the blue mountains hold the highest concentration of wolves in Oregon).  We kept up a decent road and that eventually gave way to an old road that was a little rougher. 

Point 6 socks and dirty feet
Airing out my feet during snack time and attending to a few hot spots before we continued on our climb.

We climbed and decided to take a quick break in the shade before pushing on.  We laid there under some trees munching away on dried mangos, jerky, and other snacks, then we strapped on our packs and carried on.  In a few 100 yards our trail disappeared, and we found ourselves having to route find up a steep slope under a hot sun.  the forest turned from trees to a very burned over area form a forest fire.  As we trudged along slowly, we hoped things would improve since we had a 4 pm pickup scheduled at Fish Lake.

The saddle before the bsuhwhack
FeMike and the Punisher atop the saddle surveying what was ahead, surprise it was burnt forest and blowdowns

We ascended the hill and stood atop a saddle looking at the burnt over valley below, luckily there was a cairn and trail so we started down it, yet as we got closer to the bottom the trail disappeared into a mess of blowdowns and burnt trees so we picked our ay trying to locate the trail.  Eventually, we came to the revisor, we were all out of water and thirsty, so we took a. Short water break.

A much needed water stop on a hot day, bonus there were tons of baby frogs there to keep us company

As the water filtered away, we snacked and did the math on how fast we needed to go to make it to Fish lake to meet Mike.  We loaded up the water into our packs, threw them on and started to jam out on a decent trail.  The trail was nice the rest of the way and we were able to make some good time, we finally joined an old dirt road and easily cruised to the parking lot where Mie was waiting for us.

Creek crossing and burned trees near Fish lake
FeMike works his way through the burn on our way to Fish lake

Mike was thrilled to see us, we chatted and introduced ourselves then he asked what we wanted to drink, cold beer or soda.  FeMike and I went for a beer each and The Punisher had a soda.  We munched a bunch of chips and chatted about the hike and the hot weather.  Finally, after a while, we loaded up in Mike’s truck for the hour-long ride to his place.  We bumped along the dirt road and Mike stopped to show us where we would be hiking the next day and a few alternates we may consider.  We finally arrived in the small charming town of Halfway, OR.  We saw Ron and had him follow us to Mike’s house. 

sleepy dog
Finn warmed up enough to feel comfortable napping by me while we poured over maps

Mike and his wife live on a wonderful piece of property with a small orchard and plenty of space.  Their two dog Scout and Finn were very curious about these smelly hikers who had entered their property, but after a few sniffs, we were all friends.  Donna is an amazing cook and we sat down to a homemade Indian style chicken curry with bread, it was delicious.  For dessert, we enjoyed homemade peach cobbler and then we headed up to our private part of the house where we bathed and did laundry before passing out for the night.

BMT Day 2, Will This Climb Ever End?

BMT Day 2, Will This Climb Ever End?

Glacier Peak in the Wallowa Mountains
All smiles now that I’m here in the high country and done climbing

Start Eagle Fork Horse Camp

End Upper Pine Lake

Miles Hiked 19.01 Miles Hiked, Elevation gain 4,347’, Elevation Loss 3,261’

We awoke early, man it felt great to get so much sleep the night before, my body really needed it to recover after yesterday’s butt-kicker.  I walked up above camp to take care of the daily AMBM and low and behold 100’ from where we were camping there was a great big camp spot with lots of flat areas.  Our camp last night was small and a bit sloped tucked up in the bushes, oh well that seems to be how it always goes when you roll into camp at dusk.

I had a quick coffee and packed up as fast I could so we could be on our way.  A few miles down the trail and we came to a junction with Moon Lake trail which was marked in our data book at  19 miles however our GPS showed almost 22 miles hiked since the start, after some discussion we determined that the data we were operating off of might not be accurate, so we would need to keep that in mind going forward.

We descended down through the valley and the large meadows turned to forest eventually, as we dropped into the valley floor we came across Big M Mine, which appears to be somewhat active, why we sell off our public lands for this type of destructive activity will never make sense to me.  We arrived at a USFS parking area for a few trails that started in the area.  We chowed down a second breakfast, cameled up on some water, and filled our water bottles for the upcoming climb which showed 3,100’ over 4.5 miles.  With the weather getting hot we started up our climb at  10:45 am.

Stay off my land, wait isn’t this public land?

The climb was beyond tough, it was sunny and wicked hot without a breath of air to be found.  We trudged along at our own pace each of us lost in our own thoughts as we grinded up the endless switchbacks.  The terrain was steep, rocky and the shade was pretty scarce, as I looked up ahead, I could see FeMike crushing the climb and The Punisher not too far behind him.

All of sudden my gut gave out a gurgle and I all of a sudden had to stop for a pooh. I enjoyed the unexpected break and then set off to finish the climb. Little did I know that I was about to climb and climb and climb on an endless rocky expanse with the sun cooking me from above and from the radiant heat from the rocks below.  Due to some overhanging brush, I snagged my umbrella on a branch and snapped a rib, dang now I had to climb with the sun beating down on me.  The climb never ended.  I looked at the data book when I had started below, it said 4.2 miles, yeah, I must be close…then I turned the corner and saw The Punisher trucking up a rock face a few switchbacks ahead.  Good golly Miss Molly, where the hell is this lake?  Finally, I crossed the pass and walked by a couple of ponds that looked inviting, and then I crossed over a rise and came upon Crater Lake a true-blue gem of a high alpine lake. I dropped my pack and walked down to where FeMike was sunning himself on a rock after a swim.

High Alpine Lake
Glacier Lake a most refreshing swim spot

In an extremely rare moment in life, I stripped off my shirt and shoes and jumped into the ice-cold water, it felt great and refreshing!  We laid around eating lunch and lamenting about the databook mileage being off and how long the climb was.  As we looked at our maps we discovered an alternate we could have taken that would have kept us above 6,000’ of elevation and have avoided the long descent and ascent we had just done, my good friend She-ra was planning to do this route in October so maybe she can try it on her hike. 

high alpine granite peaks
Walking among the granite peaks

We walked along the high country traversing wonderful rocky ridges and taking in the beauty, however, our joy was a bit deflated when we realized what we had to postpone our meeting that evening.  Mike Higgins one of the founders of this trail, had invited us to his house for the night for dinner and a shower, however looking at our maps we realized we could never make it.  We got to Pine Lake pass and got a cell signal, so we called Mike to rescheduled for the next day.  We now had 10 miles to go to the road crossing at Cornucopia Lodge, being 4pm we decided that instead of killing ourselves we would hike the 3.5 miles to Upper Pine Lake and call it early for the day to get some rest and recover from our hot climb earlier in the day.

We found an amazing campsite above the lake with rocks arranged to sit on and cook on, flat spots to set up our tents, and easy access to the water.  We all sat around eating and joking with each other, being such good friends really helps when you have a tough day like this, and laughter truly is the best medicine.  Before dusk turned to dark, we all climbed into our quilts and fell fast asleep, 4:45 am comes early so we knew we needed to rest and recover to take on whatever tomorrow had in store for us. 

The Punisher stoked to be able to sit and enjoy dinner together at such a great site
BMT Day 1, The Journey Begins

BMT Day 1, The Journey Begins

Start Wallowa Lake Trail Head

End Eagle Fork Pack Trail Junction

Miles Hiked 20.17, Elevation gain 5,322′, Elevation Loss 3,392′

Final prep for the start of the blue mountain trail
The final prep of resupply packages at Wallowa lake State Park before the start of the Blue Mountain Trail

The night before we arrived at Wallow Lakes State Park where we met Ron who had been on the road traveling around Montana for the past month.  We caught up on the happenings, started making some plans on when and where to meet us, and enjoyed a lovely dinner before calling it a night.

triple crown stickers
Seeing this combo of stickers can only mean one thing, a fellow long distance hiker is in them woods

After a bit of a slow start in the morning cooking breakfast, sorting last-minute items, and breaking down camp.  I said goodbye to Suzy and Karluk as they headed out for a scenic drive to Boise to visit an old friend of ours.  The three of us loaded up in Ron’s van and headed for the trailhead and the start of our hike.  The weather was a little cloudy and cool, but the forecast said it was about to get hot later that day. We unloaded from the van and put on our packs which we all lamented were too heavy, but that is always the way the first few days out.  We headed to the registration box for our wilderness permits and on the way up the road I spotted a triple crown series of stickers in a red Toyota and I said that to myself, I think that’s Aladdin’s truck he must still be out here hiking the Wallowa’s.

the start of the blue mountain trail Allgood, FeMike and The Punisher
The start of a grand adventure from left to right, Allgood, The Punisher, and FeMike

Ron walked up to the start of the trail with us and took a few photos of the 3 of us and said goodbye as he headed the opposite direction on his day hike.  The trail was really nice, it climbed slowly along the creek and about 4 miles in it started to slowly gain elevation as we followed the creek.  We turned the corner I was happily surprised to see Aladdin hiking towards me with another couple that FeMike & The Punisher had met while hiking the Great Enchantment Trail a few years back and I had met at PCT days when I was manning the booth for ALDHA-West.  The 6 of us stood there on the trail catching up about their hikes and ours and all of us lost in thought in how small of a world that long-distance hiking, here we are on a new route yet we could still run into people that we know.

We continued on our way enjoying the nice trail and chatting as we hiked along finally it was time for a lunch break, we pulled off the trail and ate knowing that the next stretch was a doozy as we had to climb up and over Glacier Pass. As we gained elevation, we crossed over treeline and into the alpine zone.  Before my eyes lay a sight to behold, high alpine lakes and steep rocky granite peaks, I could have easily been in the Sierra or the Wind River Range, instead, I was in my own state.  How it ever took me 20 years to come hike in the Wallowa’s was beyond me. 

The Wallowa Mountains
The Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness are some of the most stunning mountains in all of Oregon

The climb was kicking my butt though, mile after mile of grinding uphill certainly let me know I was not quite in tip-top hiking shape.  COVID hasn’t been the best for my exercise regiment, and after all the issues I had after the ODT in 2018, those 10 months of little activity while I worked to fix my foot cyst was catching up to me now. I cursed myself for not getting after it more during the weeks leading up to our departure date.  I was in the caboose position and as I looked up, I could see FeMike and The Punisher making easy work of the climb up to the pass.

Finally, after what felt like hours the three of us stood atop Glacier Pass and marveled in the beauty that surrounded us in 360-degree panoramic view worthy of any postcard.  The enjoyment and thrill of making our first pass quickly faded as we had to descend into the next drainage before our next climb up to Horton Pass and the side trail to Eagle Cap Mountain.

Alpine lake in the Wallowas
Glacier Lake in the Wallowa Mountains

As we descended, we walked by numerous high alpine lakes and said hello to the hikers camped out along their shores, after a quick water stop to top off our reserves, we started our climb up Horton Pass.  The climb was strenuous, and I had to dig deep within myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, the day had stretched well into the afternoon and I knew I had to keep pushing myself so we could make camp by dark. I made a false summit and was bit deflated mentally but up ahead I could see FeMike getting close to the pass, so I sucked it up and pushed hard.  I finally joined FeMike and The Punisher at the saddle to Eagle Cap, and the three of us had a quick snack and gazed upon the beautiful granite peak that the Eagle Cap Wilderness it is named after.

Eagle cap mountain
Eagle Cap Mountain, and no i didn’t go bag that peak, i was too busy trying to catch my breath.

As I sat there munching away on a bar, I reflected upon the story of the Nez Perce people and how hard they fought to keep the sacred land as part of their territory.  I now understood why Chief Joseph’s people refused to give up their ancestral claim to this land and I could imagine them living happily in a place of such beauty with steep peaks and wonderful meadows that provided them all they needed to live happily for a millennium.  It was a moment that would repeat itself over and over for me on this trip, a mixed bag of being elated to be out here, but knowing full well I walked on upon hallowed ground with an extremely sad history, to say it conflicted me would be putting it lightly.

alpine valley at dusk
FeMike walking in the Eagle Fork Valley as dusk falls upon us

We left the saddle and climbed the last few hundred vertical feet up and over Horton Pass, and began our descent into yet another sea of majestic mountains and granite.  We had to be careful as the terrain was loose and slick, made of fine scree that has the same consistency of walking on ball bearings, with each step sliding as you go along.  Finally, we dropped down into a stunning alpine valley and found a suitable place to camp right as dark fell upon the mountains. We set up shelters and began our camp chores; filtering water for that night and the next day’s needs, we cooked our dinner, wrote down some trail notes, and reviewed our plan for the next day.  FeMike and I share the same mindset of being planners, so having a plan for the next day not only helps us stay on track but also helps to mentally prepare you for what is ahead.

 As the full moon rose, I crawled into my tent and under my quilt, my body was sore but in a good way and laying down felt wonderful. I shut my eyes and drifted off to sleep quickly with happy thoughts racing through my head, I was finally back on the trail, and the excitement of exploration was taking hold inside of me.  The pre-hike jitters had faded away and I felt at home as I lay there in the wilds.

Blue Mountain Trail

Blue Mountain Trail

Map of the Blue Mountain Trail in NE Oregon
The proposed route of the Blue Mountain Trail

In September of 2020, I and 2 friends tackled a new route being developed in Oregon called the Blue Mountain Trail (BMT).  The trail is a 588-mile route that takes a serpentine course through the Blue Mountains of NE Oregon, one of the most rugged mountain ranges in our state.  The Blues as they are called in Oregon, have a long and storied history in our region.  These mountains were the ancestral home to the Nez Perce People, who through a sad history eventually lost this land and were later pursued by the US army in one of the saddest sagas of our countries persecution of native people.  If you want to learn more about this event in time, I highly recommend the book, Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce by Kent Nerburn

 This route is being developed by the Greater Hells Canyon Council, as part of their ongoing work in the region.  Originally thought up by Loren Hughes, Dick Hentze and Mike Higgins; the original idea was a Camino de Santiago type route where people could hike from BNB to BNB with all the luxuries like slack packing and nights spent enjoying warm food, cold beer and a soft bed.  However, after many years it was decided that instead of having people view the Blues from afar, it would be better to let them experience the blues by immersing themselves into the mountain range. 

Jared Kennedy formerly of the Outdoor Project has been working hard to map this route out for GHCC, and through some mutual connections, like Renee Patrick of ONDA, I was put in touch with Jared to help with their ground-truthing efforts on the route.  However, since I love to thru-hike more than day hiking, after some talks with Jared with numerous warnings that he didn’t think it was ready for the thru-hike I said what the hell and decided to go for it anyway.

Knowing that staying safe was paramount for me and others I may encounter I devised a plan to hike as safe as possible during these crazy times.  Wanting to limit my in-town time was paramount and given the remoteness of where I was going would make this easy.  An added benefit to hiking in my home state was a great support network. Friends and family to help me and partners along the way.  My boss Ron “Falling Water” Moak was more than willing to come out for the first 2 weeks to be our mobile bounce box so to speak.  Ron would carry our resupplies for the first two weeks and meet us periodically along the way to resupply us with food, charge our electronics, and make us some awesome meals to fuel us up for our next stretch of trail.  Luckily Ron has a new Dodge Promaster Van that he built out in 2019, this trip was not only a great escape for him but also an opportunity to continue to shake down his rig for his around the world drive when it’s safe to travel internationally again.

Hiking During COVID

Montbell mask to keep me safe while resupplying during COVID
Masked up for a resupply in Sumpter, OR

2020 has been a weird year for sure and even weirder for the long-distance hiking community in the US.  Back when the pandemic started the hiking community started to eat their young and for months anyone still on a trail was referred to as plague rat, and threats and insults were made online with the favorite mantra being, “thanks to your selfishness my grandma is going to die”. Knowing this I myself canceled my own 2020 plans, a thru-hike of the Arizona Trail.  With so much uncertainty this year, and a spike in infectious rates in AZ I knew that going down there was not an option for me for this year, or the type of thru-hike I wanted on the AZT, I knew this was the responsible thing to do.  Then like a light switch come summer the long-distance hiking community switched their opinion on hiking and instead of hordes of hikers on the big three trails AT, PCT, and CDT folks flocked to shorter hikes like the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail, and the Tahoe Rim Trail.  All of a sudden it was Ok and cool to be back on the trail.  Still, I had no desire to be around tons of hikers or people for that matter during these times, so the thought of tackling a trial no one had done become even more alluring.

Dodge promaster served us a mobile bounce box for resupplying and ontrail support
The Mobile Bounce Box

Other plans to stay safe included, mailing ourselves packages later in the trip to save time and limit exposure in towns, carrying and wearing masks when we encountered other people, and making sure we all practiced good hygiene while out on trail.  Lastly staying close to home allowed us to travel in a car to and from the trail with my wife Suzy being the driver, and also having the safety net of being able to be quickly extracted and returned to home if needed.

I know that any hike has its risks especially during a pandemic, but after weighing the risk, formulating a plan to minimize said risk, I figured this was my best option to get this year and satisfy my itchy feet.

Hiking Partners

Hiking partners for the Blue Mountain Trail, along the shore of Timothy Lake on Mt Hood
FeMike and The Punisher at Timothy Lake on a bikepacking trip in July of 2020

Since this hike was going to be full of challenges, any time you are the first to hike anew route these challenges are compounded because of so much unknown, I knew I would rather have some company. Together we would be able to enjoy the suffering together, help each other along the way with route finding, and also spend some quality time as a team working out solutions to problems as they arose.  My two hiking partners for this trip were my close friends Mike “FeMike” Unger and Naomi “The Punisher” Hudetz, are some of the coolest and most accomplished hikers I have the pleasure of knowing.  FeMike and The Punisher have hiking resumes that include 3 triple crowns between the two of them, multiple hikes on the Arizona Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Great Divide Trail, and a slew of other hikes that would take days to list.  Besides being badass hikers the two of them are both super level headed, extremely intelligent, and two people that set the best example of what to strive for in life, a balance of independence from societal norms to pursue what you are truly passionate about, for all of us it’s walking for hours at end in remote places.

Since the pandemic started FeMike and The Punisher are some of the only people I have seen or done activities with this year.  This spring we all decided to jump into the bike world and bought bike packing rigs.  Over the spring and summer, we took some bike packing trips together and chatted about their canceled plans for 2020 and their desire to get out for a hike somehow.  The more we spoke about the BMT the more we knew we needed to go tackle this together.

Knowing that a month of challenging route finding, and hiking can take a toll on the best of friendships, I felt that this was a minimal risk.  I had the pleasure of working with The Punisher for years together on the board of ALDHA-West, in addition, the three of us and some other friends had done a shorter hike a few winters back on the Trans San Diego County Trail, and from that weeklong hike we all knew we would get along fine on the trail.  So, with a plan in place, maps and data books printed, and a desire to get out and explore our state, we departed Portland on September 2nd to Joseph, OR, and the start of the BMT

Day 30, End of the Line

Low clouds on the horizon as the storm passed on

I dedicate the post to Dale Gerber, who I know had been faithfully enjoying these posts and waiting for this final entry on the ODT

At 4:00 in the morning I awoke to the sound of rain pounding down on the thin layer of Dyneema fabric that makes up my shelter.  “Salty it’s raining”, I said.

“I’ll just pack up and we can hike she called back”

“I’d get in with Swept Away It’s only 4am and neither of us are even close to being ready to go” I replied.

With that I herd Salty grab her gear and jump into Swept Away’s tent.  I looked at the radar and it looked like the storm would pass in a little while.  We all dozed off for a while and then woke up, had some coffee and like every day since we started we packed up and started walking into the darkness waiting for the sun to rise and meet us as we made our miles.

Our final ridge line with trees and rocks to break up the scenery

The trail was pretty straight forward in the morning, we walked some OHV tacks and dirt roads and then we headed up what would be our last big climb of the trip.  We walked up the dirt road until it crested a small pass, from there we headed cross-country to a ridge that held some small trees and winding deer paths.  The air was cold but we all had smiles on our faces dreaming of the hike coming to its end and the showers and food we would enjoy this day.

We stopped on the ridge for a snack and rest, it was about 8am and I decided to finally drink the beer that She-da had left us at the water cache the day before.  It was early, but as they say, “you can’t drink all day if you don’t start early.”  Swept Away and I passed the cold beer back and forth savoring it’s hoppy goodness and enjoying that feeling of a slight beer buzz early in the day.

“I like a good beer buzz early in the morning”-Sheryl Crow

We threw on our packs and carried on down a dirt road towards the Badlands.  As we walked Salty and Swept Away asked me, “what’s the last 9 miles of trail like?”  A few years back when Tomato headed out to be one of the first people to hike the ODT I had dropped him off and we had hiked the first 9 miles of his hike with him, that was a few years back and as I reflected on that day I remembered chatting with She-ra and Speedstick more than the trail.  I thought back to that day and how I thought someday I’m hiking this route but first I need to refine my Desert skills and refresh my compass skills too.”sandy, oh and some cool rocks…that’s what I remember,” was all I could reply as I was lost in a memory.

We dropped down to the valley that makes up the Oregon Badlands.  The track was easy mostly following along some dirt roads and then came our last stretch of cross country.  Under the barbed wire we crawled and then a slosh through the sand.  It turned out this was Nature Conservancy land and you could tell how healthy the land was because there were no cows.  The soil was soft and not compacted, the sage and various plants were healthy and there was no cow pies to step in.

The unspoiled land of the Oregon Badlands. Thanks Nature Conservancy for protecting our land

We came to the end of the area and then crossed the highway to the trailhead parking lot.  I joked with the girls that I had now completed the ODT since I already hiked this section and would meet them at the end since I’d just hitch a ride down the road.  They didn’t believe me though, so we took a little break, to freshen up for our last 9 miles.  We knew that Ron, Big John, and Mosey (Swept’s mom) would be waiting for us at the end.  

We sat on rocks, brushed our teeth, enjoyed a snack and greeted the Sunday morning day hikers who were out for a hike looking all clean and shiny like they had stepped out of an REI add.  We wondered what these people must of thought as they passed these three ragged and smelly hikers with million mile stares that all hikers get on a thru-hike when the final miles are closing in.

Tiny making sure our breath is fresh to great our friends at the end of the trail
Nothing but smiles as the final miles present themselves

We set off for the final push the three of us walking in unison down the wide sandy trails.  It was sandy and slow going, each step was an effort and our standard pace was off.  Oh well they’ll have to wait for us was all we could think.  At one point we missed a turn and wound up at a fence line posted no trespassing, damn it!  We decided to have one more snack and plot our course back to the route.   In less than a mile we were back on track and slogging our way through the sand.

We each got lost In our own thoughts as we reflected on the hike, the sites we had seen, the challenges we took in-stride early on, and how much we had bonded and walked together.  I must say personally these two were some of the best hiking partners I have ever had and I would go anywhere with them to hike in the future.  

Still getting along after 750 miles is a rare treat on a hike

Finally we came to a water way, “hey I know this spot this is the irrigation canals that are right where you start.”  We started to get excited and then in a tree we saw a fleece vest hanging on a branch, we walked over to explore and there in the tree were some custom made signs for us congratulating us on the end of our hike.  We were looking around when running towards us was Mosey.

The Lost Children of the ODT are finally found!

We all gave each other a hug, stopped for a few photos and the walked the last 150 yards to our final terminus.  At a non descriptive spot next to an irrigation canal, 20 miles east of Bend lies the end of the ODT, such a fitting spot an indescribable trailhead for an under appreciated trail and region of the US.

Ron greated is with a firm hand shake and slap on the back for a job well done.  Big John was there too, he is pretty much family to me as I first met him 1996 at a hiking gathering and spent 2 summers in college with him as the care taker at the base of operations when I was a ridge runner.  He gave me a giant hug and lifted me off the ground.  It was so awesome to have people waiting at the end of the hike to celebrate the moment with us.

We crawled in Ron’s van, ate a carrot cake and chips and then headed to Bend for beers and food.  We stopped at a brewery and my friends Tree Hugger and Blister Free showed up to visit us.  I hiked on the AT with Blister Free way-back in 1996 so it’s always fun to catch up with him.  We enjoyed some beers, a pile of food and then headed down the road to my friend Christie’s house for much-needed showers, fresh food and a hot tub soak. After checking off all the required items of filthying up  Christie’s lovely shower and hot tub we loaded up into Big John’s Rv and headed back home, like dust devils on the desert we swirled up and away and scattered back to our lives off trail…

Our homage to all those early pioneers who blazed the Oregon Trail and walked the same desolate country as us, but with way heavier gear

Day 29, Almost done

Coffee and breakfast in bed before setting out on the trail

The pine forest we had slept in was so warm when we woke up it was easy to get out of my bag and get going for the day.  I had slept in our prototype tent per Ron’s request and I must say I was very impressed with the amount of space it had how easy it went up last night and down this morning.  I think they will be an easy sell this coming year and I look forward to helping design some additional shelters for 2020.

We walked through pine trees in the dark, it was wonderful and we all quickly heated up and had to shed layers.  As we climbed up to the plateau above us and started walking through Watkins Flat the temp plummeted, Salty and I had to drop our packs to layer back up, Swept Away still was in her long sleeve and pants so she was fine.  As the sun was getting the sky bright enough to see we came to our water cache put out by She-ra.  In a few short minutes, we found the cache the air was still freezing cold so we decided to have a long break and I made some hot water while we snacked and waited for the sun to crest the horizon.

“G*d Damn It Kenny”-Eric Cartman…Salty doing her best South Park impression trying to stay warm

Once we had finally drunk our warm brew, got the blood going back in our hands so they would move, and felt ready to push on we started back on the road.  Now that it was light we were shocked to see so many trucks coming down the back road, one after another truck came passing by us.  Finally, we were about to turn off the main road onto a small side road and we came upon a man unloading from his truck with 3 young boys.  I inquired why all the traffic and was informed it was the opening day of rifle season for mule deer.  Great our last full day on the trail and now we have to worry about not only making miles but also to make sure we are not mistaken for deer while pushing through the brush on a bushwhack.

Some of the flattest ground we had encountered yet

The roads were pretty flat and easy walking, we rolled along through the forest enjoying the warmer air of the day.  We knew we had one big climb today up to the Pine Mountain Observatory where we would get another water cache and if lucky drop off some of the empty bottle we had in the trash.

Swept Away doing her best to remind us it’s about the smiles, not the miles out here

We walked across a flat valley we emerged from the trees and off in the distance we could see pine mountain and way, far away  the Observatory on the summit.  The way up was a long dirt road, we started our climb and each of us fell into our own pace as we steadily climbed up higher and higher towards the summit.  About halfway up I stopped and marveled at the valley and forest below that we had just crossed, after catching my breath I kept pushing on ever higher and higher, the road wrapped around a series of switchbacks and after what seemed like an eternity I finally made to the observatory.  I stopped at the house next to the observatory and dropped my pack, and went around to the back porch to grab our water.  While we filled up our bottles we discovered a trash can and as fast as we could we crunched down our water jugs and threw them into the trash.

After nearly a month and 700+ miles we still get along and even pose for photos together when we can

Once again we headed down the road and onto our final leg of the ODT…the trail soon left the road and took us down a small OHV trail that was one of the steepest grades we had encountered since or early days in the Owyhee Canyon Lands.  We could see the ranches below and each step that jarred our knees brought us closer to the big valley below.  The sky was getting darker and darker with storm clouds, and the wind was picking up.

Storms gave us an amazing sky show to enjoy watching at the end of the day

We finally reached the valley floor, regrouped, dumped sand from our shoes and pressed on into the waning daylight.  The trail followed a series of OHV trails and was crisscrossed with numbers farm roads.  We crossed a paved road and climbed up into some cool hills and sagebrush.  The wind was really kicking up now and off in the distance we saw flashes of lightning and could hear the familiar sound of thunder.  As the night sky began we figured it was time to hunker down for the night.

Salty being without a shelter cowboy camped next to Swept Away and me, we set up our shelters and agreed if the weather turned for the worse Salty could crawl in with one of us to ride out the storm, luckily Swept Away has a two-person tent so there should be plenty of space if needed.  We cooked dinner, and right as we got ready to nod off the sky cleared and we caught one ore view of the Milky Way.  We all drifted off to sleep deep in the reflection of where we had come from and that tomorrow would be our final push to the end and close to another thru-hike exploring this great land of ours at human speed.

Post Script-I awake at 11 pm in terrible pain, each night for the past two weeks the foot pain I have been experiencing has gotten worse each night.  This night though took the prize for the worse yet, the miles across the sand seemed to inflame it worse than before and felt like a large knife was shoved into the side of my foot.  Every other hour I was awake squirming in pain trying not to make any noise and wake up my hiking partners.

Day 28, Today looked easy on paper

“Look a Crack in the Ground”

We woke up in the sage bushes by the road and made coffee and prepared for the days walking.  We all commented on how loud and close the coyotes were last night, then we all commented on how bright the moon was last night, then finally we all admitted we slept like crap last night and we were tired as hell, oh well 34 miles mostly on roads here we come.

We had looked over the maps the day before while sitting in Christmas Valley and the terrain looked flat and easy.  Most of the day would be spent on secondary or primitive roads and we should only have 7 miles of cross country.  We figured with that with what we knew and our early start we could make it 34 miles up the trail to where our water was cached by She-ra last week.

An atypical mule deer antler found laying among the ponderosa pines

We walked in the dark and decided to take the road up to Crack in the Ground picnic area to see the geologic wonder since walking along it in the dark on a cross-country route didn’t seem to be a wise choice.  We walked up the road in the cold air and as the miles dropped off the sky lightened up to reveal an overcast sky.  We arrived at the privy and trailhead for the Crack in the Ground picnic area, we dropped our packs at the info kiosk and as the sun was brightening the sky we walked over to take a look at this crack in the ground.  It was cool to see, a deep figure in the earth which had created a basalt slot canyon.  Swept Away told us that when the pioneers settled here they used to use this geological feature to store their ice through the summer since it was a deep cold area the sun couldn’t reach at the time.

After our geology stop, we loaded back up our packs and set out again on our supposedly easy day of hiking.  The sky which we thought was overeats turned out to be smoke from a forest fire somewhere in California most likely.  The air was heavy and the smoke gave the day an ominous feel as we hiked along.  The miles were passing quickly under our feet until we came to our first cross country section.  The roads needed and we quickly entered a large Ponderosa Pine forest, this was the fabled lost forest of this area, and even though it was overcast any chance to walk through a forest on a desert hike is a welcome change.

Trees on the horizon signaling we have found the fabled lost forest

The cross country hike it looked flat on our maps had another trick up its sleeve to make the going slow, soft sandy soil for miles and with all the trees we found ourselves having to continually check our bearing as we hiked on.  The hike had us going top and down hills through the forest and the soft sand slowed our pace. Eventually, we got careless as we moved along and soon discovered we were misplaced from the route.  We shot a bearing and headed on toward the line on the map and hoped we would get to where we needed to go.  After much time walking through the sand we finally passed a dry cattle tank and came to a faint dirt road that was the official ODT.  We stopped for a late afternoon break and marveled at our lack of progress and noticing the time was getting late conceded that our chances of making our water cache were slim.

These poor little feet have taken a beaten on this hike

We wrapped up our break and took off up the road, as we walked along talking we came to some junctions that were confusing, we thought we had picked the correct one until a mile or so later when we realized we had not.  The sun was getting low and off in the distance we saw a water tower far away.  We dropped our packs and hoped there would be water there for us since our reserves were getting low I grabbed some water vessles and told the team I would walk up the road and see if there was water.  I trudged the 1/2 mile up the road and came upon 2 dry troughs, right as my heart sank, I turned and saw the their trough was full of water.  I filled the bottles, and marveled at our luck.  Then I walked back to meet the team and give them the good news.

We loaded up our new found water, strapped on our packs and started up a road that would connect back the actual route.  We had only gone a mile or so when we came upon a wonderful camp spot among the trees we about 8” of deep soft pine needles.  The sky was nearly dark and since we were all bushed we called it a day and set up camp.  We laid around cooking dinner, telling jokes and talking about the end of the hike.  We had some miles to make up but by stopping a bit early and having trees to block the moonlight we all know we would sleep better and make up our lost time the next day.

Testing out the prototype of the Deschutes DCF tent from Six Moon Designs, not because the weather dictated I needed it, but because I promised the crew at work I would test it out for at least one night.


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