Friday, March 20, 2015

The Falls of the Willamette..... and Zombies

The Falls of The Willamette

The thing about Zombies...... they can't swim. I mean, it isn't just the motor center coordination thing, though that certainly helps, it is the general lack of fatty tissue and the commonly occurring holes in the gas bearing parts of the torso. Zombies just sink. So if you stay in your kayak in deep or fast moving water, the suckers just can't get to you.

Load up Quietly

My clan went on a scouting and skills practice today up the Willamette River to the section just below the falls of the Willamette in the area that was called Oregon City before the sickness. We came in quietly by car and met at the Clackamette park. We had all brought our emersion gear and our Subarus and our kayaks. Funny, when you are some of the last living humans on the planet you tend to have really nice kayaks. Not sure why we hold to the Subarus. Perhaps it was because of how the all-wheel drive got us over the piles of bodies during the first 2 weeks of the sickness.

Dressed For Zombie Encounter

Can you see them there?

Out in the water we quickly ran into several boats filled with Zombie Fisherman. A strange effect really. These guys were probably infected with the sickness before they went out for the day and the change came over them on the water and so there they stayed. If we paddle close enough to a boat to attract them... close enough that they can sense our brains... then they might jump out of the boat and come after us. Since fisherman seldom follow the safety rules, the creatures probably won't be wearing Personal Flotation Devices and will just sink out of sight. Even if they are in a PFD, they will just float with the current and so bob past us with hands waving slightly in the air and grasping. Can be fun.

Zombie Fishermen. Don't get too close.

Anyway, today we wanted to get quickly up to the falls and do some current work in the main flow and eddies around the abandoned power plant at the old site. It is a strange feeling to paddle through a post apocalyptic site like the falls. I guess this place was strange even before the sickness. Whatever possessed the living people of Portland to take the most scenic and wonderful sight in the local area, and put a dam around it and convert the entire thing into a commercial area? And not clean commercial, no no, the place is a toxic disaster that was once listed on the so called Super Site list. Then it was abandoned factories and ancient generators and useless canal. Now, well, now I guess it is the same.

Post Apocalyptic Oregon

The falls of the Columbia were also submerged and destroyed by a damn project on that great river. But the Bonneville damn failed just a year after the sickness in the big rains we had that winter and the newly surfaced Cielo falls are actually quite beautiful. I wonder how many centuries it will take before the Willamette Falls area is beautiful again? It will have to be something that nature does by itself since I doubt that humans will ever rebound enough to undo our damage.

My Partner makes a fast water crossing, through the ruins.

Our leader made sure that we were far enough away from the boat zombies to give us time to rescue each other should we need to and then he started showing us how to manuever in the turbulent waters that boil beneath the falls. The currents shoot around and boil off bolders and such below causing upwellings and rapidly changing swirls. As the currents shoot past a cliff outcropping, it creates a readily visible eddyline. On the other side of the line, where we sat, the river is realtively calm and innocent. This gives you a chance to ready yourself for the transition that occurs when you push your bow across the line into the swift moving current. A potentially dangerous transition. The water will grab your boat and pull you sideways and then try and roll your kayak by shooting the botom out from under you. The way to prevent this, we learned, was to edge away from the current. This means you want to extend your down stream leg and pull in your upstream leg and tilt your kayak such that your butt is facing the current. You moon the current. This brings the large flat part of the boat out of the water and helps it not catch the stream so much and it puts you leaning out to the side that allows you to counterweight the current's desire to flip your ass over.

Do you see the Kayaks Head? Or did a zombie go over the falls.... again.

Before the sickness I did some practice trying to learn how to ride a breaker in the surf at the ocean in a kayak. For that you learn to moon the beach instead of the wave. What is going on with that? Why would the 2 operations be completely different from each other? I asked our leader. He explained to me that I was confused on the physics of the matter. You are really doing the same thing in both situations, you moon the current. It's just that in the situation of the wave in the ocean, the current is not the wave. The wave pushes you toward the beach, but the ocean itself is not moving, so the apparent current as you slide is coming from the beach. So you always moon the current. It is so much easier for me to understand how to do a thing when I understand the science behind it.

Not sure why I am smiling
Who knows what comes out of that pipe?

Take killing zombies, for instance. Why is it so important to destroy their brains? What could possibly be animating the corpses that the brain synapses and connections from the brain to muscle remains operative? It just doesn't make sense to me. I mean, take those zombie fishermen. They have been sitting in those boats for almost 3 years. The clothes are falling off their bodies, hell, their bodies are starting to fall off their bodies, but the dead horrors still manage to site their upright in their boats. Through wind and rain and sun. They sit there and turn their heads ever so slowly and scan for something to attack. Some of them still hold their fishing poles, perhaps there is a long dead zombie salmon swimming down at the other end. But how do they stay moving? What is their energy source? Why don't they freeze in the winter? If I only knew the answer to these things perhaps I could figure out a way to fight them more efficiently.

Our leader encouraged us to work our way closer and closer to the falls as we felt comfortable. I didn't feel comfortable much beyond the first little set of currents and eddys but others in the group paddled on up until it looked to me like they were lost in the mist and cataracts of the base of the falls. Our leader had insisted that we all wear helmets and emersion gear. Easy to understand why. If one of us flipped over in that more shallow water it would be very easy to bang your head on a rock. And if you hit your head hard while upside down, you would end up a very strange looking upside down zombie floating down the Willamette to the Columbia, forever locked in your inverted kayak.

After a while we headed back down the river. On the east side we passed the place where the sea lions would pull out of the river onto some old but still floating dock. Some of the old huge bulls still have the branding numbers that were burned into them by scientists that marked them to track them and decided whether they were eating too much salmon to be allowed to live. The joke was on them, as all of the scientists and fishermen are long dead and the sea lions now get all of the salmon. The giants eye us warrily and give us some barking, but they seem to be able to sense that our time of domination has passed and we are not of the living dead and can thus be safely ignored. At least until the local grocery stores are out of canned goods and we have to wander up here with our rifles in search of easy food. I am not looking forward to that day.

Stern Wheeler. But a fake one. There are 2 on the river that I know of. WTF?

We coast back down the river. We take the little side current that leads us around Goat Island. The island is not a completely safe from zombies haven since it is accessible, even now, across water that can be waded. In the high summer, it is really a peninsula. So we won't go ashore. Before the sickness I had come this way and counted 14 Great Blue Herons in nests in the local trees. Now the rookery has grown to more than 100. I guess not everything in nature is upset about the current change in human affairs.

In my previous life, my partner would have suggested that we pause at the end of our paddle to walk up the Clackamas River and search for agates on the rather substantial gravel bar just past the old 99E bridge. We pulled a lot of fist sized agates from there, back in the day. Today, however, I can see 3 zombies, in fishing waders, shuffling around the little island. Maybe we will go clear it off one day.

So instead, we just form up. We need to clear out the 10 or so monsters that had stumbled in from the highway, like so many homeless with their hands out asking for donnations of human flesh. We do this quickly, and then help each other load our boats up on our Subarus and off we go.

OK. Enough Zombies.
I wanted to give you a few real details about the trip.
The mouth of the Clackamas really is a good spot to launch kayaks and hunt for agates (don't tell my partner I told you). I think it used to be a much more busy spot but (in addition to the occasional zombie) it is currently not suitable for small boat launching because of some unsettling of the gravel under the ramp plates has made the boat ramp itself unstable for large trucks and such. Because of this, there is a LOT of unused and free “trailer only” parking that is avaiable for anyone who can hand carry their vessel to the water.

I got the entire “idea” for the zombie apolypse from the very real wreckage and abandoned machinery that sits right at the base of the falls. These are remnants of a paper pulp mill and a still partially operating electric power plant. There are very real but non-operational locks that lead to above the falls. At one time, the water rushing down the drop of the falls supplied a signicant portion of the electricity that powered Portland. Not only the lights, but a lot of electric trains and trolleys that operated in the area. In fact (and this I learned while reading up on Waldo Lake) the company that owned the generators also owned the water rights for the Willamette to such a degree that farmers could not take water out of the river for irrigation because that would impact the available water at the falls (presumably this was mainly a problem in the summer). The availability of the electricity allowed for the Eastside Railway to be the first interurban railroad in the country to be powered by water generated electricity. Well, the first one that was painted red and powered by electricity.

The “leadership” and suberb safety and training for this event were provided by OOPS. A spectacular club and very dedicated to training, safety, and fun (and almost totally devoid of Zombies).

History of Oregon City

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Todd Lake Loop Snow Shoe

The newly risen sun is shining bright and strong rising over the valley of the Deschutes river. The sky is bright blue with nary a cloud. The air outside is brisk, perhaps the temperature dropped below freezing last night. My partner and I are in Bend for a long weekend get away. It is the end of February and we are planning on a show shoe outing a little later on. We are going to drive up to Mount Bachelor and then brave the back woods on a little jaunt to Todd Lake.

We have been up here in the summer before. (In fact, we got married up here last June) We have mainly paddled on the Cascade Lakes. This will be our first adventure when the snow is still deep. Well, I say the snow is deep but this has been a very warm and strange winter. There was no snow to be seen on the ground, for instance, when we passed through Government Camp on Friday. I guess the tops of the mountains must have some snow but there is nothing down here in Bend. In Boston and the Northeast they have like 80 inches of snow..... in the Cities. We don't have that on our ski mountains. Bend had to drastically change their “winter carnival” because there just wasn't any snow to be had for the usual exhibitions. One person we talked to said that all of the snow parks on the way up the mountain are closed (well, they may be open, but there isn't any snow, and what is the point in that). Still Mount Bachelor is reporting 40 some inches on the Common Core trail to Todd Lake and we are going to go up to the Nordic center and check it out.

Sung to the tune of “let it snow”:

The weather outside is sunny
And the hills look kind of funny
What is brown should be white you know
There's no snow, there's no snow, there's no snow.

There are little snow parks lining the main road all of the way up to Mt. Bachelor. They were all closed. The mountain itself was white, but all around, at least on this side, was brown and green. The road was closed at the usual place right at the turn off for the Alpine ski center. There were some snow mobile guys making noise. We followed the road up to the center. The parking lot up there was also completely bare. But there was snow over by the Nordic Lodge so we bundled up for our trip. The wind was really whipping in that parking lot. Cold and Cold coming across from the mountain. Had to chase after a hat or two. We put on all of our layers and I think were even thinking about just calling it a day cause it was SO COLD. But the sun was shiny and maybe we would be OK once we got down into the tree line.

Common Corridor

Yield to Racers

To get to the Todd Lake trail we needed to get back out to the main road. To do that, we had to cross over some lands which I guess belong to Mt Bachelor. We would do this by hiking through the groomed cross country ski area on a path called the Common Corridor. You need a pass (like a lift ticket) to hike on the trail, but they give them out for free in the Nordic ski center. Not sure why you have to have one. They said that it was so the ski patrol doesn't give me grief, but if they are free and all.....

There were quite a few cross country ski types out on the slopes. From the lodge a trail the size of a 2 lane road goes down a bit of a hill and then breaks off into trails going every which way. We were told to stay to the side and stay off the groomed ski tracks. I sort of got the feeling that cross country skiers don't much like sharing the trail with us plodding snow show types. Had one guy sort of come up trying to get around me while ski patrol was checking my pass and when I went to move out of his way I stepped on his ski. He wasn't happy. Of course, skiing is so fraking hard to do that it would probably make just about anybody grouchy until they had some mastery of it. Saw quite a few parents trudging up the hill carrying their children's gear with said child trailing behind and grousing.

Anyway. Just a 10 minute walk and we were out of that territory and across the road into the barren wastes. Be careful here not to get run over by the snow mobiles. I take it that you can rent some log cabins a few miles down the (closed) road during the winter and you get there either by snow mobile or snow cat. That could be fun some day.

Today we are following the snow trail to Todd Lake. There are a lot of trails out there. They are marked with little metal flashes that have symbols of walkers or skiers. The trails (for skiers and snow shoes) crisscross back and forth across each other through the trees. I take it that usually the signs are right at eye level, but that is when there is 10 more feet of snow up there. Today you have to look way up in the trees and they are sometimes easy to miss. The snow is pretty well tromped down though, so we didn't think we were in too much danger of actually losing the trail.

See how they can raise the info board as the snow gets deeper?

Very lovely out there walking in the snow. And quiet once we got away from the road a bit. We had one nice place where we hiked off trail a bit to a open spot for a lovely view of Mt. Bachelor. The trees were doing a great job of keeping the wind off of us and the sun was almost warm. We were walking well and we took off a layer. I am a big believer in heat management when you are hiking in the cold. A human body generates a lot of heat when slugging through snow, especially up hill. If you let yourself get warm, you will sweat. If you sweat you will get wet and then if you stop you will get cold much too quickly and may not be able to get dry and warm again. So keep track and just start shedding layers before you get warm. I guess that means that I advocate to hike a little cold. If you are hiking up a steep hill you may find that no matter what you wear, you sweat. I have been out in the snow climbing a long steep hill in just a T-shirt and had sweat dripping down off my body. So I also like to carry a change of shirt and take off the wet thing at the top. (a plastic bag is nice too, so you don't get your other gear wet when you stow the wet shirt).


After a mile or so of pleasant hiking we came to an open area. In the summer this is a wetlands sort of zone with winding creek running through it that is the drainage for Todd lake. In the winter is is a big expanse of snow with a half frozen winding creek running through it. We followed the creek up to the Todd Lake road and thence to the lake.


Todd Lake
The lake was frozen over, of course. There were a few ski tracks going across the middle but most people were staying to the sides of the lake and not trusting this crazy warm weather we have been having. The picnic tables and such that were around were too covered with snow to use, so my partner found a nice shelter spot under some pines and we took off our snow shoes and sat down for our lunch.

We quickly had us some visitors. A little flock of Gray Jays quickly formed and would swoop down on any little tidbits we threw out for them. They would sit in the tree over our heads and must be going after the pretzel pieces before they even hit the snow. Swoosh, grab, Swoosh back to the tree.

Doesn't this look like something terrible happened here?

We had maybe 10 other snow walkers and sliders come by while were eating. Not a solitary hike is Todd Lake.

At this point we could have continued around the lake or taken some other trails but we were not on a major kill ourselves adventure. Using snow shoes uses different muscles than hiking or walking and we already knew that we were going to be sore in the morning. So we continued on the Todd Lake loop. Now, I am not sure exactly where we went wrong. I thought we were following all of the signs. But we did get off of the trail and ended up hiking back on the main alpine ski slope. My best guess is that we went awry at this one creek crossing.

We had a few creek crossings. I mean, we are in a mountainous area and there is a lot of melting water and such and so there are little creeks in the bottom of every little gully. Most places there would be a sort of snow bridge. I think a snow bridge is where someplace beneath the snow there is a actual wooden bridge that is piled 4 foot high with snow. But from the top it just looks like crossing a snow bridge with water running under it. Lots of people had crossed over before us, but the weather is getting warmer and there is less bridge and more creek every minute. We met some people coming the other way, they told us that the hardest part was right in front of us and they recommended taking off our snow shoes and climbing down into the creek bed to ford the ditch. We managed to cross with our snow shoes on and going very slowly, but it was a tricky thing.

When we started on the hike, we saw a little paper sign that said that the river crossing in one place was unsafe and that we should use the alpine ski bridge that was in that area and then cut back to the normal trail. The sign went on to say that the detour was marked with pink ribbons. We came out of the trees and there was a large meadow, and right there were the pink ribbons. How nice. They lead right up to this long snow covered bridge across a creek that looked a lot like my death. The wooden bridge, down there across the creek, was a good six feet wide and made of log slats. But there was 5 feet of snow on top of it and the width of the snow on the top was about 1 foot. A 1 foot wide snow bridge 5 feet in the air over a freezing creek. I could see how you might be able to slide across it on skis, but there was no way you could just walk across on snow shoes. Perhaps if you turned sideways you could scootch across. I came up to the thing once and realized I could was going to trip myself. I tried the sideways way. You know how when you get a little scared of heights that it freezes you and makes sure that you are going to fall? I could tell that that was what was going to happen to me. No way. I backed off and told my partner that I couldn't do it. I had to figure out something else. She thought she could do it. Perhaps she thought that if she showed me how that I would be able to do it. She ended up proving to me that I couldn't do it. She turned sideways and scootched across. About halfway the wind suddenly came up and whipped down the creek. My partner was telling me how she was doing. I was busy taking off my snow shoes and trying desperately not to communicate my trepidation for her to her.

It looks a lot further down from where she is, trust me
Better do some packing

I think I will just keep packing for a while longer

She made it across. She suggested I try something else. I climbed down the side to the exposed log bridge, walked across, and climbed back up. Easy Peasy. Just had to spend the time taking my gear off and tying it to my pack.

Back on the trail we immediately made a wrong turn and ended up going down a steep hill and meeting back up with the ski trail (as I had previously mentioned). The day stayed nice and we warmed ourselves as we climbed back up the hill to the road and the common corridor.


That is the Nordic Center, up on the right

All in all, this is a wonderful little hike. But the trails just go every which way, so it is important to have a map (and probably a compass). I can't wait to go back and try it one year when they have snow.....