The RocketDog

The RocketDog

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Winter of My Discontent (Or how I stopped worrying; Granite Lake, Cabinet Mountains July 2013)

     Actually, this isn't even going to be about my winter.  I've thought many times about the blogpost I wanted to write, but nothing moved me enough to write it.  Let's just suffice it to say, sometimes it really is darkest before dawn, but suddenly, the morning is so glorious, all of the anguish of the night vanishes so completely, it's as if it never existed at all.  Spring did this for me, which has passed so quickly that here I sit, on the eve of mid-summer already, with one fabulous backpacking trip under my belt already.

     For the season's break-in, we settled on Granite Lake in my favorite of haunts, the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.  It's a 6.7 mile each-way hike, rated between moderately-strenuous and strenuous.  It has 4 stream crossings, which we figured would further discourage heavy use, especially at the end of June.  We hate hiking on weekends, but the way it worked out, we planned to car camp at the trailhead on Saturday night, hike in on Sunday, coming back out on Tues.  Our 18th wedding anniversary was on Monday, July 1, and we figured this was a perfect way to celebrate.  Anyone who's ever been in a long-term relationship knows that there are always waves, some worse than others.  To be perfectly frank, we'd been weathering some severe ones for a couple years, and funny thing is, it really can be like the weather.  One day, the storm is over and the most beautiful, clear horizon is ahead of you.  It's such a fabulous feeling to be so fantastically, frantically, crazily in love with your significant other suddenly again.  I feel exactly like I did when I first met him; I can't wait to see him, nor he me.  Needless to say, we were quite looking forward to this trip; plus, my work season has peaked, and my brain is ready for the break.  So with a few minor snags, we left late on Saturday night; later than I wanted, but hey--we were on the friggin way FINALLY.

   The road to the trailhead, (on the eastern end of the town of Libby) which we hit about about 10:45pm or so, Montana time, was paved for the first 5 miles.  This did not give me a good feeling, since those trailheads tend to be more popular.   Scott and I have been extremely lucky on our trips, encountering only people either coming out, or coming in as we're coming out.  We've never had to camp with people at the same lake; I desperately hope that, especially on this trip, this holds true.  The last three miles are unpaved, but hardly "bad", especially by Montana standards.  Hell, this was roller-blading material practically.  Imagine my dismay when we pull in and there's 6 vehicles.  SIX EFFING VEHICLES.  I console myself with the fact that tomorrow is Sunday, and those people are going to be coming out.  I hope. 

    After sleeping on the rock-hard floor of the Suburban, we hit the trail at 9am Montana time.  This also was later than I wanted; we had to hike the last half mile in to the TH, as the road has been blocked off for some reason.  We peeked into the trip cards in the box, and count 13 people on the trail.  FML.  Well, nothing I can do and I take solace that they're all registered to come out that day.  We decided on pants and I wore a shirt over my tank, as it was cool and damp, even though the forecast was for 95degrees. I ended up ditching the shirt relatively fast, but was extremely thankful for the pants, as the trail was full of devil's club (stinging nettles) for much of the way, and the flora was thick and wet.  W-E-T.  Our pants were soaked immediately.  About 1.5 miles in, one of the largest Doug Firs in Montana sits alongside the trail.  The diameter is about 5+ feet:

 The trail starts gaining some mild elevation right away, then down just as steeply again to our first crossing:  here was the original crossing, which obviously is not in use anymore, and the replacement log:

Rocket immediately jumps onto the log and starts across, and inadvertently I yell his name out as he's about 3/4's of the way across.  This causes him to stop, look down, and come running back.  He's never crossed a river this way before, and I guess I was just a bit nervous.  Hell, I get nervous with a 40lb pack on myself.  This is where I decide to add a little excitement, angel that I am.  I decide I'm going to go across with Rocket, against Scott's vehement objections.  He is convinced that Rocket is going to turn around again, try to come back, and knock me off.  I pffft him off and we go onward.  Only to have Rocket do exactly as Scott described.  I had a split second to decide, and I turned tail myself and hauled ass, running back across the log, pack swaying side to side.  I jump off to where Scott is standing, where he promptly grabs my chest strap and starts yelling "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING! DON'T YOU EVER FUCKING DO THAT AGAIN. YOU LISTEN TO ME NEXT TIME",  which is totally unlike my husband, telling me how scared he actually was.  I stand sedately, properly chastised, and turn around to find another couple starting across towards us.  Clearly they heard the whole thing, but we just acted like nothing happened and they inform us the next three crossings are soakers and we're going to get soaking wet and well, WE'D BETTER PREPARE BECAUSE WE'RE GOING TO GET SOAKING WET.   Whatevs.  We brought water shoes (well, actually.....)

     This is a sore point with me.  We HAD water shoes...nice, light-weight, grippy water shoes.  All of us.  Last year Scott wanted to take them out of the trailer and throw them away.  I say ok to taking them out of the trailer, but I INSIST and am VERY CLEAR that the shoes ARE NOT TO BE THROWN AWAY.  So of course, they are nowhere to be found, convincing me they were in fact THROWN AWAY.  Grrrrr of GRRRRRS.  So I have to make do with this crappy pair of Keen's that has never ever fit me, my heels stick out of the back and my toes won't go to the front, because they are alternately too wide yet too tight if I tighten them enough to hold my feet in.  As you can imagine, I am saintly about this as we approach the next few crossings.   And if you buy that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell ya.

     Granite Falls is about 2 miles in; very very beautiful, and worth the hike in just to see it alone.

     This part of the trail is in an old cedar forest.  It's cool, nice, easy, scenic. 

      The next two stream crossings are not as easy.   They were wider than I really wanted, maybe 40-60 feet, and the water was fast, and deep enough that the dog would have to swim.  He's never swam in water like that, and he had a pack on too.  In retrospect, we should've taken his pack off, but there is a nice handle on the back, so we clipped the long line on him, and Scott and I laboriously changed into our sandals, hung our boots off our packs, I held Rocket by the handle, and the three of us started off, Scott and I holding hands and me holding onto Rocket, with Scott holding the long line.  The water was knee high and swift; Rocket started to drift downstream, but I held on, encouraged him on, with lots of happy "Dude, this is good!  You're fine!  You're awesome!", keeping my voice happy and normal and unconcerned-sounding.  He started whining a bit, but I ignored it and kept up the "Hup Hup" and we got across.  We thought about hiking with our sandals on, but my damn things just wouldn't stay on properly, so we had to change back into boots. As we're leaving,  we see the second couple crossing down on some downed, branchy logs, holding their spaniel.  Oh, to have a dog I could pick up sometimes.

Soon, we come up onto the 3rd crossing, and here we meet 3 young people who are using the log.  7 down!  The log is too branchy again, for Rocket to navigate with his pack on, and since he's a young dog with no experience, we decide against trying to use the log and change again into our sandals.  This crossing, Scott holds Rocket's harness and I follow.  Only up to mid-calf, but still fast and I almost slip.  Whew.  By now it's hot and muggy; the trail is still in the cedar forest, but alternates between old alpine openings with old avalanche chutes.  Here we see an old-growth Western Hemlock and the second biggest Doug Fir in Montana, almost 6 feet across:

    Now the trail is up, up, up.  The Devi's Club is higher than I am in many spots;
it is so humid because of the moisture from Saturday's rain, we are soaking wet.  Our boots, which we've been changing, are still wet, albeit not as wet as if we'd forded with them.  We begin to be concerned about the last stream, which the trail crew director had told Scott via phone the week before would have to be forded.  About mid-thigh, he thought.  I knew this would be sketchy for Rocket; that he would have to swim, but again, he's never swam in water that fast.  We meet a party of 5; a husband, wife, young son (around 7 or 8), her younger sister, and a grandpa.  They advise us to try to carry the dog (um.....) and we visit for a minute.  Props to the kid, although he doesn't look thrilled, he's a trooper for sure.  We meet two more young kids (so someone didn't register) right before the last ford, and the young man takes us to the fording spot, as it's easy to miss (he did!) and shows us where the barely visible trail (which looks like a man-way, really and easy to miss) is across the stream.  It looks benign, but the water was fast, and mid-thigh on me.  Scott went with Rocket, and I followed again.

     SO GLAD TO BE DONE CHANGING SHOES.  We heave sighs of relief and laugh, because that was the easiest one of all to cross, really.  We are immediately rewarded with Heidi-like views of what lies ahead:

         I could seriously live here.  SERIOUSLY.  A little cabin with no one in sight (oh all right, I'd give the kids directions!)

   And one looking backward:

     By now, with all the starts and stops, we're ready to get there and it's hot, humid and smack in the middle of the afternoon.  We know there's only a couple miles to go so we crank it up and soon, we are here:

We go to the furthest campsite (there are three, the first one on the outlet stream) and are elated to find NO MOSQUITOES.  No ticks, either.  We set up camp, have delicious fajitas, and a few swigs of whiskey.  We make a fire and enjoy the alpenglow on the peak.  Blackwell Glacier, the last remaining one in the Cabinets, falls 1500 vertical feet down solid black granite and the roar is humbling.  We sit and imagine what it would be like to fall down it; at least, I do.  I speculate this out loud-- that I imagine you might not die RIGHT away, it might take you a third of the way down to do it, to turn and see Scott staring at me with this look on his face like he might be tempted to bivy high up above me.  Heh.  These things always are on my mind, because Death follows you like a little shadow, always there, but even more present out in the wilderness, where innocent mishaps are one's demise.  I humor him and change the subject, pointing out the gorgeous colors of the sunset.

   Unbelievably (to my in-denial-mind), I stand up to see an older couple with a dog at the adjacent campsite (by adjacent I mean not super close, but visible UGH).  I lament, to which Scott reminds me we've been lucky.   I don't know about him, but my version of lucky includes two people only.  We hit the sack early.  Now, my dog is my pride and joy.  He's still young, still working on it, but has shown very, very mature behavior, good judgement, and isn't  barky or a nervebag.  However....he IS a guardian breed.  AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DEER MUST BE GUARDED AGAINST.  Due to the warm night, we of course, hadn't put the fly on the tent.  I awaken a few hours in to my GSD charging the inquisitive (and CLOSE) deer.  The unconcerned deer makes no move to leave, causing yet another charge by the determined German Shepherd.  This goes on for the remainder of the night, leaving a rip in the tent (caused by a snag of his nail) and a hole in my Thermarest (another wayward nail placement, when he decides BOTH sides of the tent need protecting).  Thanks to a patch kit, I am soon lying on my heavenly pad again, but hardly sleeping.  I watch my GSD scanning tirelessly the entire area around us for ROGUE DEER.  Tirelessly for HIM.  Notsomuch for me.  In the morning, both of us haggard and tired, we decide we're putting the fly on no matter the weather!

     The next morning, we see neither hide nor hair of the older couple, and conclude they've moved off, and we decide to try to hike around to the falls if we can.  We pack a bit of lunch and start off, but we don't get far.  The brush is too thick, with steep unseens and the dog even stops; we investigate, but it's basically cliff-like with tall alder and devil's club hiding the drops.  We decide to stop and eat, check out whether we want to try and climb Vimy Ridge to see the lakes below, but decide, hey.  It's our anniversary.  Maybe a little woodland recreation and a nap are good substitutes.  Coughcough.  Judge if you want, but it sure is a helluva way to spend an afternoon.  On the way back to camp I snap my two best friends:

     Upon *ahem* re-entering the world around us, we realize during the "nap", two young people have taken up camp in the adjacent campsite. Jeebus.  Well, it's their own fault for interrupting my anniversary.  I did mention it on the card we left at the trailhead.  Notmyfault.  Someone needs to show the teens how it's done, right?  On a serious note though, it's like a goddamned highway around here.  Sigh.  Well, we make a decadent dinner and enjoy some Woodford Reserve out of my insulated (and still cool) bottle.

  Someone was tuckered out after all the hiking too:

     The next day, after a nice, uneventful sleep (thankyousomuchRainFly!!), we waste precious morning time trying to cook some dehydrated gross, disgusting egg/bean/salsa thing that looks like vomit and takes 45 minutes to approach "done".  It is so bad I give up and eat a peanut butter bar.  On a side note, this trip was entirely gluten-free, and almost grain-free.  I did eat some GF bread, and two corn tortillas with the fajjitas, but other than that, no grains.  Proof that backpacking can be done without tons of grainy carbs.  We go down to say goodbye to the lake, still marveling in the lack of bugs, and Scott captures some great pictures with my iPhone (second side note:  all pictures in this report were taken with my 4s).

  The trail home:  (and how can you resist this?  SERIOUSLY)

     Because of the time wasted changing shoes, I didn't take as many pictures of the wildflowers as I wanted to.  I did manage to capture a few, though:

     The stream was definitely a bit higher on the way out, due to two more days at 95+ degrees.  The first ford was almost hip level on the crossing coming out.  Down in the cedars, we met a party of 4 on horseback, with a pack mule in tow.  Again, never did I imagine what a highway this would be.  Of course, 4th of July probably played a bit part in it, even though we weren't there technically on the holiday.

     We made the car in less than 4 hours, even with boot changes, the dog handled the crossings like an old pro this time.  While this was one of the shorter hikes we did, it certainly isn't what I would call "easy", although either deciding to hike with wet boots or hiking the whole way in sandals (sketchy for me given some of the terrain) would certainly save one time.  Once down,  we stopped in Libby for a burger.  My dearest husband has even gone gluten free with me, and ate his burger with no bun, outside on the patio (since the dog wasn't allowed inside) with 99 degrees registering and the air-conditioning inside beckoning.  Scott isn't a "doggie" person, and the fact that he allows me such free-reign with the dog, weathers my attachment at the hip to the dog, and genuinely shows affection for MY dog is not lost on me.  And it's one of the reasons why such a dismal winter bequeathed such a glorious spring.



  1. Holy cow, the quality of your phone's camera is incredible.

    1. The iPhone 5 is supposed to be even better, too! When are you visiting to come hike? ;)

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