Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grouse - Huxley Camp - April 2010

I wrote this story last year about an early season camp attended by my kid and myself.  It's a delightful tale and I thought I should include it.  Who says life is linear anyway?

Mud Camp

Oh what a lovely morning to leave the Rose City.  The bus packed and shiny, Eva bright and eager and delighted to have Papa all to herself for a spell.   
"How long do you want to camp this time?" 
she deliberates. 
"1000 days" 
A smooth drive down snaking roads, bright in the new sunstreaked dew.  Smooth asphalt gives way to switchbacks, then potholed recovering hell war zone of former logging camps and drunken fisticuffs.  Yes welcome to Ladee Flat and 4610 (or the Abbot Road west as history calls it), scourge of the Clackamas, gem in hiding until the Cultural Revolution concludes.  If these trees could talk they'd scream. 
Well no matter.  The locomotives and men no longer spit steam and semen, both lie to rot in their respective holes as they await the rapture.   
In the midst of all this mess, a road junction appears.  4611, another dead railroad turned to road in 1930.  In truth, it is a reluctant road, almost eager to regain the rotting boilers and bones.  Dips, dives, and ruts, large alders reclaiming the muddied strip for her own. 

I am in 1st gear for 6 miles.  I am white knuckled but exuberant, as each mile passed in hilarious rollercoaster fashion is a moment closer to ending this mad journey.  Eva is loving every moment of it as delighted chimp chatter and twinkling eyes radiate from the backseat. 
Finally, we arrive. 
The end of the road is not for the timid.  Here on the ridge of the Roaring River, you can still smell the stink of diesel and woodsmoke and steam and sweat, although the boneframes themselves are no longer sufficient to support and frame flesh.  The Earth is still wounded on this circle strip of extraction - "cut it and run!"  But beyond lies wonders little changed in 10,000 years. 
The fog of my memory recovers the image of Grouse-Huxley Camp (yes, the hypen is essential), just past a muddied strip and on to the promised land of ferns and dew and dripping ancient firs.  Yes, just past the mud pit. 
I spend 2 hours draining this former road turned to newt pond, smug at my resourcefulness.   
After repeated measuring, I deem this mud pit sufficiently drained to attempt crossing, although my instinct attempts to dissuade. 

A mighty muddied splash!  And after nearly getting bogged into the pit I am able to barely cross and quickly set up camp, hands shaking.
However.  The water continues to drain, but the mud coagulates and collects.  It is now deeper than before.  I realize that I must cross before I am stuck, miles from nowhere with child in tow.  Huberis drains quicker than Hindenburg gas until the fateful moment when I go flying through the bog with as much hope as can be mustered.  I made it, although just barely.  The engine mounting bar has scraped along the top goo, causing a new union of engine and mud, but luckily no damage is caused.  New knowledge is gained: a mud/water level just below the exhaust pipe is insufficient clearance.

Shaking like a leaf, I stop this craziness and set up camp again, but this time on gravel and surrounded by ugly puddles.  Sometimes you have to retreat and lick your wounds. 
I am able to barely, just barely enjoy the setting sun and down tiny beers to steady my rattled nerves.

The sun falls in a hush and an early bed awaits. 
Deep into the night the rhythmic tinkle of rain caresses the sleeping bus, dully shining amongst the alders and their new leaves.  In the morning, the mud is renewed, anxious to meld and coat everything. 
After a quick breakfast we decide to head down to the Roaring River, as the sun pokes out thru the clouds hesitantly.

A new trailhead T, a soda can in a former life. 

Soon we are once again swallowed by forest primeval.  A trail where the indigenous once tread still winds its way down to a very remote river, still resembling the land before the White Man did his varied deed.

Same place, 2 years previous.  Nice to see how the trail work has survived.

Finally at the bottom, the Roaring River roars and sparkles sweetly in it's bejeweled canyon, an ignored machine of perpetual motion.

Apple of my eye 
But no, this dry peace is not to last.  Just after returning, the skies again open up with a torment of wet, with taunting sunbreaks and hailstorms. 
Our camp becomes a big mud pit.

But any Oakie would feel at home.

But wait!  Now with time to exlore, I search the nearby road branches.  There are 3, one to a trailhead and road-to-ponds, another to nowhere, and the last - to a lovely camp surrounded by luscious forest.  Of course.

Camp Better Than Mud Pits

Disgusted, I return to our mud pit and light a fire using all the tricks possible.  It eventually smolders to life just in time for a mighty storm to soak it to it's wooden bones.  I watch helpless as it slowly smokes to death. 
No matter, it is not terribly cold and Eva is still having a laughing great time in spite of it all.  Kids are wonderful, they really are.  So much joy and hope and enthusiasm when others would crumble from discomfort. 
We laugh into the night surrounded by mud and dripping lanterns. 
And then it's time to go home.

I'd return again to Grouse-Huxley, but not alone. 
It is both damaged and pristine, accessible but incredibly remote.  Beautiful and ripped apart.  Strangely I feel complete, as our lives are lived in metaphor.


LaDee Flat (where this story takes place) is widely known as a troubled spot in the district.  With little funding for law enforcement in a vast stretch of mountainous territory, much of it wilderness, the area has seen more than its share of crime and vandalism despite the wilderness quality of a lot of the land.  In fact, many acres were recently added to the newly created Roaring River Wilderness.

Last year after many years of deliberation, the Mount Hood National Forest revised it's rules for vehicles in the forest.  This was a long time coming, and hopefully will put an end to the massive damage we've seen on our beautiful and historic hiking trails and natural areas within the Clackamas River Ranger District.  I'm sure the vast majority of ATV riders are respectful and mature; however it only takes a few "bad apples" to ruin a reputation - and a forest.

Mount Hood National Forest restricts off-road vehicles to four areas

Published: Friday, August 27, 2010, 4:47 PM    By Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian 

The Mount Hood National Forest will severely limit off-road vehicles in the woods under a decision announced this week. Responding to a Forest Service directive to get a handle on the noise, damage and intrusive nature of four-wheel-drive rigs and dirt bikes in the nation's forests, Mount Hood is limiting drivers to four areas. 

The Mount Hood plan prohibits cross-country travel and restricts off-highway vehicles, or OHVs,
 to 146 miles of roads and trails within the sprawling forest, which covers parts of Clackamas, Hood River, Wasco and Multnomah counties, and small portions of Marion and Jefferson counties. Previously, the forest operated on an "open unless posted closed" policy and off-roaders had access to nearly 2,500 miles of roads and trails. 

Conservation groups support the decision. Off-highway vehicle drivers in the Mount Hood National Forest cause environmental damage, noise and other problems far out of proportion to their numbers, said Lori Ann Burd, staff attorney for Bark, a Portland-based group that monitors forest management. Some drivers on motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and four-wheel drive rigs tear through streams and meadows, create illegal trails and endanger hikers, Burd said. 

"It's a use that will always have a high impact," Burd said of off-highway vehicles. 

Burd said OHV drivers account for less than 1 percent of Mount Hood forest visitors, while 53 percent are hikers. Nationally, about 2.5 percent of "recreation visits" to the forests involve OHV use, according to a forest report. 

Eric Fernandez, a wilderness coordinator for the group Oregon Wild, said the Mount Hood National Forest is the first of the state's 12 national forests to finish its OHV plan. Fernandez said the forest staff deserves credit for jumping on the issue. 

"I think on Mount Hood we've been successful in highlighting the problems," he said. "They were looking for solutions, and once they got the national directive, it was right in sync with that." 

Other national forests in Oregon haven't progressed in a way that conservationists favor. 

"On the Siskiyou, 100 miles of the OHV routes are within proposed wilderness areas," Fernandez said. "Mount Hood doesn't have any going into proposed wilderness. 

The Blue Ribbon Coalition, an Idaho group that represents off-road enthusiasts, told the Associated Press it supports the idea of controlling off-roading but is disappointed to see it restricted so much. 

Areas that remain open to OHVs are routes and staging areas known as LaDee Flats, McCubbins Gulch, Mount Defiance and Rock Creek. 

The Mount Hood forest is not considered a major OHV site, but the sport is growing quickly elsewhere in the country, according to Forest Service. Sales of off-road vehicles tripled from 1995 to 2003 nationally. Dealers in Clackamas, Hood River, Multnomah, Washington, Wasco and Clark counties sold 2,999 four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles in 2006, and sold another 2,666 in the first six months of 2007, according to the Forest Service. Sales in subsequent years were not included in the report. 

The OHV limitations come as the Forest Service considers how to maintain logging roads no longer used for timber harvesting traffic. The Mount Hood National Forest has about 3,380 miles of logging roads, built when it produced up to 370 million board feet of timber annually, as it did in 1990. Due primarily to environmental restrictions, timber sales now are about 25 million board feet annually, according to forest report. The Forest Service will decide which roads to maintain, close or decommission.

--Eric Mortenson 

Bob's Buck Camp - October 2009

My good friends Neal and Cheryle are fantastic videographers and editors.  A couple years back they attended one of our campouts and created this very cool and professionally done video.  It really captures the spirit of good friends enjoying the last days of autumn in the higher elevations.  Enjoy!

Here's a link to the video:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rho Creek Camp - April 2011

Spring is springing and it's time for another campout.
But what is this?  Snow in the forecast?  Well it's not unheard of in April in the Cascades.  So with some trepidation we leave town under leaden skies, with the promise of snow at our destination - a camp at 3000'.
True to prediction, there is snow on the road, but luckily it starts just at camp's end.  We arrive to heavy flakes that continue into the night, dropping a few inches of wet heavy snow.  Eva is brave but starting to get cold feet in her useless rain boots.  We strengthen her young resolve by adding 5 more pairs of socks to those little feet and all is well.  A fire is near impossible in these conditions, but we soldier on and manage to maintain a meager flame.
Then it's off to bed with the sound of clumps of snow falling off branches and thud-splatting onto the bus roof.

By morning the snow has stopped and temperatures begin their steady climb.

Randy AKA Sluggo, always ready for a camp

Don and Murphy enjoy the sunshine

Stephan AKA Gypsie at the human statue tryouts

Eva the hearty camper

This Forest Service road, although paved, sees little traffic

Hal AKA Tristessa arrives in a balanced clatter

And then it's time to explore.  What good is a camp without activities?  I swear I was a social director in a past life.  History and exploring are always easy to find around the Clackamas.  Rho Creek, a tributary creek, once had a fine Forest Service trail that predated any roads in the area.  The trail, partially logged and abandoned in the 80s was completely overgrown, with the route almost lost climbing up to Rhododendron Ridge.  
After much hard work and determination, the route was located, flagged, brushed out.  Later with burly help from Trailadvocates Don, Donovan, and Eric (, many immense down logs are cut out of the tread.  In a final satisfying moment the trail was once again added to the Forest Service inventory of active trails. 
New sign on an old trail

The trail once continued towards the Clackamas River and crossed, long before the days of roads.  Nowadays, the lower section is still hard to find and locate.  But each year we add parts onto the unknown sections, eventually making it all the way to the river crossing, decades ago.

In search of 1920 in the Clackamas riparian 

Shady characters

Skunk cabbage, lit from within

The strange Seuss life of lichen reproduction

Near trail's end on seldom trodden tread

The next day's adventure is the attempted location of an old secondary trail up nearby Fawn Creek.  The area ridges are steep and forgiving, and nature appears to have taken back her own.  I thrash about in the brush for a long while but find no trace of the elusive past.

Fawn Creek quietly tumbling under deep canopy

Warm sun and old trees on the first glorious day of 2011

Road's end, time to go home

But first a quick stop at Estacada's finest brewpub

But no beer for the little ones

Mouse Camp - April 2011

Although I do enjoy the company of others immensely, I am by nature a solitary cat.  I think that's a big part of the reason I spend so much time in wild places with "50 miles of elbow room".  Funny how solitude can be a companion.

Early April the stress of daily life had taken its toll, and I really needed a couple days with my friend the wind.
Luckily I know just the place.  Formerly known as Clacky Camp, now called Mouse Camp due to, well, mice.  If you've ever had this uninvited camp-guest, then you can understand my disdain.  These little guys like to shred things and leave a trail of tiny poops, not fun.  And true to name, a few of us who have camped here have unwittingly transported these little furry friends from forest to town.
Aside from the mice, it's a gorgeous place to camp.  It's low level rainforest right on the banks of the mighty Clackamas and surrounded by old growth trees and the spooky hoot of night time owls.
Mouse Camp is one of the closest camps to Portland within the Mount Hood National Forest.  While it does retain its spectacular qualities, it has been somewhat abused like most natural areas closest to population centers.  Perhaps you've heard of urban creep - the phenomena when city supplants the rural.  The same thing happens in the woods.  You're likely to encounter trash and some noise in spite of ancient trees.  Truly, the best places to explore are those that are a little harder to get to.  "Keeps the riff-raff out", I mutter to myself.

My bus, a 1969 Westfalia with 15000 miles on a new engine (built by this here narrator) is running quite well, but the generator is failing - brushes down to nubs in just a few thousand miles.  Of course it occupies some of  my thoughts as I try to unwind; true to form it was a pain in the ass to deal with on the return trip, but that's another story.  But to ease any concerns the new generator is performing flawlessly.

The Clackamas is virtually littered with history as well.  Those that came before us left not only their legacies, often forgotten, but they left an indelible mark on the land.  In many places various eras come to life, be it a Native American stripped cedar tree or the ruins of a last-century log cabin.  Armed with a map and compass, a drop of common sense, and active curiosity one can discover all sorts of traces of the past.

Fish Creek Mountain, still covered in deep snow.  Once the site of a USFS fire lookout tower.

I spend the weekend hiking, exploring, resting, reading; earning a much needed rest and reconnection with source.  

The night before leaving town, I had a dream about a large black bear climbing over a dirt ridge, studying me, then sauntering off.  It was a powerful dream and stuck with me.  What did it symbolize?  Communion?  Dominance?  Fear?  Or just the scrambled eggs of a human mind trying to sort out a life of experience?  Of course it is impossible to say.  I was however quite surprised to see the same ridge as my dream, guarding the banks of the Clackamas and forming a high perch.  Didn't see any bears though.
The Clackamas River, draining a nearly infinite bathtub and fat with spring snowmelt

As the sun sets over another adventure, with my systems once again regulated by the setting sun, I am sad to leave.  I can only thank God that I have the ability to have these adventures, breathing fresh air and mingling with the infinite, if only for a spell.  Each creature has it's day in the sun, vital and free.
Swami Shantarupanda once remarked, "darkness defines the flame".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Badger Creek Camp - March 2011

Badger Creek Wilderness is located on the eastern flanks of Mt. Hood, ending just before the sagebrush desert begins.  The area is unique due to this strange mingling of zones, part desert, part fir and pine forest.  The result is an odd hybrid, containing a mix of both, as well as strange stunted scrub oak forests, miniature trees small even at maturity.  Sometimes even the sagebrush creeps in, nestled under the pines.

Since 2006 I have guided a dedicated group of Volkswagen Bus owners (and lovers of the outdoors) to various special places around Northwest Oregon, usually in or abutting a wilderness area.  
These camps have been attended by a loose group of friends who just happen to own VW buses and are crazy enough to take them almost anywhere, year round.  What could be better than a little adventure in the great outdoors, exploring forgotten history, or maybe just some peace and quiet?

For the most part, our trips are planned on our community Volkswagen forum,  We meet up at a predetermined date and place deep in the woods, a unique situation in today's wired world.  These camps have been my inspiration to start Green Cascadia.

The timing of our backcountry camps has to coincide with the seasons.  The higher elevation places simply aren't accessible without snowshoes or dog teams for a lot of the year, so I have learned to locate a place for all seasons.  Somehow, we manage to find a different Badger Creek camp each year, each with it's own unique opportunities for getting to know the land.

My good friend Mark, owner of the Oasis Resort in Maupin (and mighty fine fly fishing guide) usually hosts our Badger Creek campouts.  In fact, every Father's Day Weekend, Mark hosts the legendary Deschutes River RendezVW, dedicated to VW bus owners and their families.   Look no further for memorable guided fishing trips on the famous Deschutes River!

As spring slowly creeps across the Cascades, the March Badger Creek camps are usually the first time after a long winter to get out into the backcountry and stretch your legs.  It's always a relief to know that summer won't be far away.

John enjoying 12 seconds of sunshine, deep in contemplation, wondering about "that big ball in the sky"


Jasan under tall ponderosa pines

Badger Creek, close to the confluence with Little Badger.  It's very remote down in that canyon bottom and sure to be full of trout.

Oaks and firs thick with lichens, Christmas Tree understudy

Rain, inevitable even on the "dry side" of Mt. Hood

Washing in in waves
Rising from canyon bottoms

Music has always been a big part of ourtcampouts.  There is just something about that acoustic sound resonating deep within a forest that can't be compared.  We often play long into the night, weather and sobriety permitting.    
John shows off his fancy new bass

Mark can't help but do the "Happy Badger Jig"

Food has also been a featured item during our camps.  With a bunch of talented cooks, there's always a treat waiting.  You never know what to expect!  I have learned a lot of secrets from these wizened backcountry chefs.

New dutch oven getting seasoned over the fire

Its first stew in the works

A delicious Hobo Steamer (meat and/or veggies, seasoned and wrapped in foil, then cooked over coals)

Then it's time for more exploring.

Tetley the "Wonder Tomato" dog

It is always great to spend time under the stars (or clouds as is often the case!) with friends, old and new, creating special moments that will never be forgotten.  Lucky me, I get to see these big lugs every couple of months, as they humor me with my endless babble.