I knew heading into the Eagle Cap Wilderness from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead that I may not be able to access my desired objectives but the unknown is just as alluring. I got a late start after dropping my wife off at the Fishtrap Writers Conference ending up where the trail to Ice Lake splits from the West Fork Wallowa River Trail.
I bought a new REI lightweight day pack which I have found is a great way to take on those offshoot trails which typically include a lot of vertical. The climb to Ice Lake is a good steady 2500 foot vertical, so kind of nice for Brook and I not to be carrying our backpacks. This hike is primo, hillside meadows, roaring streams, waterfalls and great views. The reward is a majestic lake in a high mountain bowl.
The climb to Ice Lake is packed with photo opportunities, here is a sampling.
Unfortunately about half way up the trail I realized that a blister was birthing on my left heel. No problem, I would stop and put a slab of moleskin on it. Oh crap, I did not transfer my first aid kit to my day pack. This is a moment when a backpacker knows that they have screwed up. I knew that I was gonna pay for my error with a bad exposed blister for the rest of my trip. Oh well, I would be able to deal with it for the rest of the trip thanks to moleskin, but the price would eventually have to be paid.
My campsite at the base of the Ice Lake trail was great, next to a stream with plenty of wood for a fire and nice benches to enjoy it from. Brook enjoyed keeping the chipmunk and squirrel population under control. Four cute fawns ran through the camp not realizing that they probably shouldn’t be doing that. Thankfully, Brook does not feel the need to chase the larger wildlife.
For the second half of the trip was I was hoping to get to the Lakes Basin, camp at Mirror Lake, even though I knew it would be iced over. I would then do another day hike to the many lakes in the area and then come out after 4 nights in the Wallowa’s.
Unfortunately the bridge is gone for the stream crossing at 6 Mile Meadow and the trees jammed together would not allow for Brook to safely cross. I talked with a USFS trail crew who confirmed the risk of that crossing and another that you would have to wade through at waist level. So we opted to head for Frazer Lake even though we knew it was also covered by snow.
The trail was not good. Half of it was really a stream and there were many downed trees to crawl over of under. We got to about a mile from Frazier Lake and decided to abort back to a great stream side camps site at the crossing to the 7 Mile Horse Camp.
This actually turned out to be perfect with another great fire right next to a wider babbling stream. Plus the USFS trail crew followed us and took care of all the downed trees, so our return trip was much easier. The hiking options had run out and my raw bloody heel under the moleskin was motivating me to return to Wallowa Lake a day early. The hike out was uneventful and the a little painful, but I had plenty of rewards especially knowing that access was going to be restricted by the heavy snowpack. Brook and I spent a few days in Joseph and Enterprise with a couple of visits to Terminal Gravity for food and IPAs.
I came across a reference to William O Douglas’s book “Of Men and Mountains” in the “Hi Alpine” blog. The reference related to how William Douglas was at peace on his sick-bed thanks to the memories he had of his extensive exploration of the mountains around his hometown of Yakima, WA. I’m not much of a reader and don’t think I have ever read a book published outside of my lifetime, but this book published in 1950, turned out to be far more relevant to me today than I would have ever imagined.
I thought the book was going to be autobiographical with significant focus on William O Douglas as a Supreme Court Justice, but no, it was really just about his adventures in the wilderness. I immediately found myself fascinated by the challenges of a young man losing his father at an early age growing up in Yakima, WA, in the early 1900’s. I was able to gleam from the few professional references that William Douglas was a true man of integrity and must have been a tremendous Justice, but again the book was about his beloved Pacific Northwest Wilderness.
There were a few references to his wilderness adventures in New England and I loved his recollection of his trip to New York to attend Columbia Law School. He only had a few dollars so he hitched rides on trains across the country. Otherwise his story centered around Yakima in the Cascades and Wallowas. I have backpacked enough in this area to know of his references, but to share in them from a few generations prior was unique. What gear did an early backpacker use: a Nelson, Norwegian or Horseshoe packs. What did they eat: beans, bread, berries and fish. How did they stay dry: sometimes a tent but mostly they relied on the natural coverage of trees or caves. How did they stay warm: many times they didn’t but wool was their main resource. Horses for riding and packing were a part of their experiences. Interactions with Indians, trappers and herders were intriguing. But what I loved most were the recollections of his early backpacking experiences where his youthful enthusian would call into question the wisdom of some of his adventures. I get that, I think back to some of the stupid things I have done in the wilderness and I am thankful to be alive. In fact, I have always shared the kinship of my early adventures with my friend John back in NW Colorado in the 1980’s. We used to joke that we were the last of the true Mountain Men.
Not long after I started reading the book I shared my interest in it with John. I knew he would relate to it as I have, especially the fishing secrets throughout the book. Yes, for us this book is an easy reading escape back to our own wilderness adventures. And when a first edition copy of the book was delivered to my home, it could have only come from my wilderness brother, John. True friendship is as valuable as anything we have and William Douglas shared many of his friendships in this book. I hope you all have friendships built upon wilderness adventures.