Before Casey and I arrived in Nigeria, we spent a month in Washington visiting his parents, Chuck and Barb. The four of us went backpacking in the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon, and then we went rafting at Hells Canyon on the Snake River. I’m writing about this trip as requested by my dad :) The photos below were taken by yours truly, Casey and me, and also by Chuck! I’ve divided the blog post into sections, so there are four different galleries to match their respective days and activities.
August 4, 2012: Two Pan Trailhead to Mirror Lake
We got up super early and left WA in order to reach the trailhead the same day. The drive was 6-7 hours, not including stops. We ate breakfast in Hood River, OR then lunch in La Grand, OR. During our drive, it occurred to us that we still needed to find a proper toilet to bring on the rafting trip. Some trails/rivers allow you to use the woods, others have outhouses installed, and others require you to bring a toilet or approved bucket and carry out your goods. The Snake River is one of those rivers. So therein commenced our quest to find a toilet! Casey called various sporting/rafting shops on our route, but none carried the item we needed. Chuck wanted to get the bucket, but we couldn’t find that either. We stopped in a few cities and “did it live” in store but, still, we found nothing. Finally, we found a portable toilet AND the twist-top bucket at – you guessed it – Walmart. Casey tested it out in the parking lot, per se.
Feeling a sense of victory, we drove straight to Lostine, OR where we stopped at the Blue Banana for a treat. (They make a great frozen hot chocolate, by the way.) 17 miles south of the coffee shop, we found the trailhead. Casey and I had been packing, and repacking, all week, so we were pretty set to go. After some last minute adjustments, we set off on the Two Pan Trailhead. The beginning of the trail was deeply forested and followed the river fairly closely. After a gradual two mile incline, we reached a set of steep switchbacks up the mountain. I was testing out our new trekking poles and didn’t like them at first. They felt awkward and in the way, but I got better over the next couple days, and they certainly helped on the descent. Once the switchbacks ended, the trail opened up into a wide meadow with Eagle Cap Peak looming in the distance. It was a beautiful sight! Our initial plan was to reach Mirror Lake in one day, but it was just a little too far for our schedule, so we decided to stop and camp in the valley. Since we got a late start, the sun had already fallen behind the mountains at this point, so it was getting dark and chilly. Chuck and Barb hike faster than Casey and me, so they picked a campsite by the time we caught up to them. We hiked about 5 miles total from the trailhead to our first campsite that day.
The evening came on us quickly as we set up our new tent. Casey picked out the Tarptent Double Rainbow for us which uses trekking poles as support. (That’s why I am learning to hike with them.) It’s a nice tent! Very easy to set up, spacious, and only one piece of fabric. You don’t have a separate footprint or rainfly. The only downside is that condensation can be a problem if you’re in a humid location, but it wasn’t too bad. We also had new sleeping bags and sleeping pads from Big Agnes that we adore. Oh, and a new backpack for me! Casey and I match now with our Gossamer Gear ultralight backpacks. And I can’t forget about our amazing Patagonia down jackets! Barb and I each got a new jacket since they were on sale, and we ended up getting matching colors. I also ordered one for my mom, in the same color no doubt, so we’ll be triplets if you see us in a cold climate together.
August 5, 2012: Morning finally arrived with the sun beaming down upon our meadow. We ate, packed up, and took some group photos on a small bridge near our campsite. What a gorgeous day! We had a great view of Eagle Cap with the sun shining on its peak. The wildflowers had just bloomed recently too, so it was really a lovely sight. It made us think of Switzerland…
Chuck and Barb shot off toward Mirror Lake, while Casey and I took our time snapping photos. We only had about three miles to hike today, so that was a nice surprise. After some switchbacks up another ridge, we saw a familiar red shirt hanging on a tree. We had a custom shirt made for Chuck with his nickname on the front and a quote from him on the back. We turned right at the shirt and found our groupies relaxing by a crystal blue lake. Casey was brave enough to take a dip in the icy water! I barely got my feet wet.
Since we arrived so early, the three of them decided to go on a day hike to Glacier Lake. I felt like relaxing, so I stayed at camp, took a nap, and worked on my cross-stitch. I posted the photos of their hike to and from Glacier Lake as well. They said they had a great time! Casey also said the hike was very strenuous, so it was probably for the best that I didn’t go. We ate dinner and enjoyed the multitude of stars above us. The moon was very orange and pretty on the lake. I was surprised at how bright it lit up the night sky.
August 6, 2012: Day three was supposed to be spent hiking to Eagle Cap, and then the next day we were going to hike out, but we had a change of plans. At some point during our trip, I got bit on the arm by something and my arm started swelling up. There were lots of mosquitos around, which bit me all over, but I think something else had to have bitten my arm. Barb wanted to be on the safe side and get me to a doctor today to make sure it wasn’t anything serious. It was disappointing to leave early, and I’m still apologetic to the rest of the group! But I know they don’t have any hard feelings. We had a lovely time while we were there, and the eight mile hike back was quite pleasant. We took a slight shortcut through the valley and were able to avoid some of those switchbacks near the lake. Chuck and Barb were waiting for us when we arrived at the trailhead, so we quickly tidied up, threw our stuff in the car, and drove out towards Lostine.
Upon reaching Lostine, we stopped at the Blue Banana again and asked for the nearest urgent care (and got more treats). We were told to go to the Winding Winds clinic in Enterprise, OR, which wasn’t far at all. Once we got there, I was in and out and at Safeway waiting for my prescription. The doctor felt that the swelling was caused by an allergic reaction, so he prescribed a strong antihistamine.
We didn’t stay long in Enterprise because we had a room reservation in Joseph, OR literally ten minutes away. Barb booked a two-room cottage for us; it was so quaint! We especially enjoyed showering and getting cleaned up after our three-day backpacking trip. I’m a real stickler for hygiene, so I’ve been trying to come up with an easy, lightweight method for staying clean on the trails. Maybe I’ll write about that one day! We had a nice dinner at a local restaurant, and then walked around the very small town. Casey and I took a photo inside a teepee, and he snapped a photo of a very authentic-looking auto-shop called Mike’s Garage. Joseph is also known for its bronze sculptures, so you can see a really cool eagle we found as well.
August 7, 2012: This was our freebie day, since we weren’t supposed to arrive in Joseph until today. We slept in, but still got up early, and went to Wallowa Lake to ride the tram! (Barb was looking forward to this.) It was a good fifteen minutes to get up the mountain, so that was neat. There wasn’t any ventilation in the gondola, so Casey stuck his head out. At the top, there was a restaurant and short hiking trails. We hiked one which looked to the west towards Eagle Cap Peak, where we just were. I took a couple panorama shots to try out our new, point and shoot camera. Then we ate a good lunch at the restaurant before hiking another trail and heading back down the mountain.
The lake was close by, so we stopped to feel the water and play some frisbee. Chuck and Casey went in the cold water too! Those Rose boys are brave. The day was relaxing, and we got back to town early in order to pack for our rafting trip the next day. We also went back to Safeway in Enterprise to go shopping for food. Dinner consisted of some tasty pizza from another local restaurant before we hit the hay for another day!
August 8, 2012: Hells Canyon, Snake River
The groupies go rafting! We got up very early again for the three hour drive to the put in at Hells Canyon Dam. We stopped at Scotty’s, a gas station, to meet with the lady in charge of the car shuttle service. She runs the station too. We made a reservation, but she likes to inspect the cars before she agrees to shuttle them. Boy, she was a pistol! Definitely a power-house in disguise. We had planned on eating breakfast at a café, but there was nothing on the way, so we had coffee, hot chocolate, juice, muffins, and a bagel from Scotty’s.
We drove to the dam and, within an hour, the raft (who we call Big Red, Rosie, or The Beast) was pumped up and ready to go. Casey was kayaking, while the rest of us were in the raft, with Chuck at the oars. Right after we pushed off, a large, yellow and black butterfly flew by us and landed on the raft. It was so pretty that we all stopped to look. Little did we know that he would follow us throughout our three-day journey. Every morning when we took off, he was flying nearby, and every evening at camp, he’d fly by again to check up on us. It was really very sweet. Casey nicknamed him Honest Al. Chuck was quick enough and snapped a picture of him!
The first day had two, decent-sized rapids to watch out for, so Barb and I were eager to spot them. I had the gps in my lifejacket, so I was monitoring our location and pace. We’d stop beforehand and scout them out. The first rapid was near an old cabin, so we stopped and looked inside. I think it was built in 1901 or something, so very old indeed. Luckily, the water level wasn’t that high at the time, so the rapids were not as big as we imagined. If you look online, the most popular pictures of Hells Canyon are when the water level is really high, so that’s what we expected. You have to realize that no one posts calm photos, but we were very relieved that the river was gentle to us. I’m surprised that the river fluctuates so much since it’s fed by the dam, but that’s how it is.
It was nice and warm, so Casey often hopped in the water to cool off. Since he was kayaking, he wore his dry-top to seal the water out if he flipped. The rest of us didn’t wear such warm gear, so he was the hottest. You will see many photos of that man swimming happily in the river. Our first campsite was called Bernard Creek Camp. We fixed a late lunch on shore, and then set up our tent. None of us were too hungry, so we had a late dinner and had to prepare in the dusk. Zip packs were delicious for dinner on our charcoal briquettes! The stars were so abundant and vibrant, and we had a contest of who could spot satellites. (The satellite conversation was also a long one that I’m sure none of us will forget. How many are there? Is that really a satellite in the sky? Etc.) We stayed up super late until about midnight but had a very fun evening watching the sky and shadows of bats. I had the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had in a sleeping bag/tent too. The weather was perfect so I didn’t have to get all the way in the sleeping bag. The ground was even. It was lovely.
August 9, 2012: Breakfast was Mama’s Oats! Traditionally known in Nigeria as Casey’s Oats, we had old-fashioned oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins. The nice part about rafting is that you have the ability to bring WAY TOO MUCH FOOD. It’s a privilege, but we must keep this in mind for next time and try to remember how much four people can realistically eat in three days ;)
I don’t have any photos of the toilet, but it was a treat to have such a nice facility on hand. Believe me. Anyway, we set sail again and had a nice, leisurely stroll down the river. Barb took over steering for a while, and then Casey did. I finally took a dip in the river, and Casey towed me with his kayak. At one point, Barb jumped in the water, then Chuck jumped in the water, so Casey jumped in the water. Who did that leave manning the oars? Yes, me! (It had the classic signs of a setup, but they claimed it wasn’t hehe.) Those oars are heavy, and that raft is heavy, but I managed to steer it towards shore, which just so happened to be our campsite for the night: Dry Gulch Camp.
On the other side of the shore was a grassy landing strip. Casey and I kayaked over there (I sat on top of him) to check it out. It was very dry, very hot, and very unmaintained. It was a grassy landing strip, simple as that. There was another old cabin that we took a look at too. There wasn’t much to see, but it was cool nonetheless. Maybe one day we can land there. Casey towed me back to our camp after we were finished, and we changed and relaxed. Chuck decided to swim over there before dinner to see the landing strip, but the current was quite strong when he tried swimming back to us. Casey threw him the throw rope to tow him in.
Dinner was spaghetti with Paul Newman’s sauce. Finally! Chuck loves this sauce. We all ate too much, they drank wine, and I had sparkling apple cider. It was delicious. We didn’t stay up as long this night, but still long enough to look at the plethora of stars, question the satellites, and wonder about the boiling temperature of water. (Did it increase or decrease at a higher elevation? What about cooking times? These were heated conversations.)
August 10, 2012: Day three. The final day of rafting. Chuck was up early and prepped the cooler to make omelets for breakfast! You crack some eggs in a ziplock bag, add veggies to taste, seal it up, and drop it in boiling water. After about 10-15 minutes, you have a moist omelet! It actually was very tasty. I’m not too fond of eggs for breakfast, especially too early in the morning, but I was impressed.
There weren’t any big rapids to worry about today, so we drifted across the green water and bonded. Casey wanted more action for his kayak, but nothing much happened, so he eventually came to sit in the raft with us. We did make a stop at the Kirkwood Ranch museum though. That was kind of neat to see that people really did live on the river before. What a hard life that must have been. Pretty soon, we were at the take out, and our rafting trip was over. Sigh. It really was a wonderful adventure.
We unloaded, deflated Rosie, packed up the trailer, and headed out of the canyon. We didn’t have any plans or reservations, so we “did it live” and drove to Lewiston, ID. We decided we liked WA better, so we crossed the river and were in Clarkston, WA in five minutes. Motel 6 was the accommodation of choice, so we booked it and showered up! It feels great to shower after you don’t for days, as you can imagine. We went to Rooster’s by the river for dinner. Casey and Barb ordered the wine tour, so they each sampled five different wines. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to some ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Casey was really craving a banana split, so we ordered one with mint chocolate chip, cherry, and Reese’s ice cream instead of the traditional flavors. It was tasty.
August 11, 2012: Time to go home! A whole week flew by so quickly, we were surprised, but we all had a fantastic time. We stopped by Chuck’s work on the way back, which happened to be next to a cornfield, and I got so excited because I’d never been in a cornfield! Everyone was nice enough to let me out of the car so I could run inside. It was thrilling :) And much more claustrophobic than I imagined. Casey agreed that no wonder horror movies always set the enemy in a cornfield. It could be scary! The rows are much closer together than I thought they would be too. I also got to pick some wheat! Another first for me. The little things that make a person so happy…
I hope you enjoyed reading about our vacation! All of us had a really great time. I’m very pleased that we were able to spend so much time with his parents doing some very fun things. We have more backpacking and rafting trips ahead of us, that’s for sure!