Sunday 29 August 2010

Awaiting the Cascades

For the last nine days I've wandered through the pleasant though cow-infested and rather waterless Kettle River Range, where there are some good trails and scenic camp sites but also a fair amount of road walking, and then the lower sagebrush dotted Okanagon, where it's hot and dusty. Ahead though lie the North Cascades and the longest stretch of high mountain wilderness on the whole trail. After resupplying here in Oroville, and enjoying some fresh food (and beer!), I'll be heading into the Cascades for 150+ miles.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Through the Selkirk Mountains

Between my resupply points of Bonners Ferry and Northport (where I am staying at the wonderful Matteson's B&B)lie the Selkirk Mountains. These rocky granite hills are rough, dramatic and grand, the wildest and most spectacular landscape since Glacier National Park at the start of the trail. They are little visited - in ten days I saw just two other backpackers and a few day hikers near roadheads - and the trails are rugged, steep and often brushy and hard to follow. In places they fade away altogether and bushwhacking is the only option. Above timberline this is relatively easy, just a question of finding a way across gnarled whitebark pine and juniper dotted granite boulders and scree. Below timberline bushwhacking is just that, a desperate thrash through dense head high tangled undergrowth. Unable to see my feet much of the time I stumbled and tripped over rocks and logs. My trekking poles helped keep me upright, except when they became entangled in branches and bushes. When possible I followed faint animal trails - made by bears or moose or elk - but these never went my direction for long. The day I spent mostly bushwhacking it took me 101/2 hours to progress 10 miles and I made camp exhausted, scratched, bruised and feeling as though the forest had just chewed me up and spat me out. I was thankful that most days were not like that. Afterwards the next standard forest trail seemed like a groomed city park path. I climbed several summits, the highest of which, and the highest of the walk so far, was 7308 foot Abercrombie Mountain. This is a slate and shale mountain on the western edge of the Selkirks with a fine rocky summit and an extensive view of hills and forests fading into the distance in every direction. From this summit I have come down to just 1200 feet and the Columbia River, beyond which lies the gentler Kettle River hills, where I head next.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Through the Purcell Mountains

Between my resupply points of Eureka and Bonners Ferry I crossed the steep, rugged Purcell Mountains and left Montana for Idaho. The Purcells are mostly wooded though there are some open areas with views. Trails are often sketchy and there are few signs so careful navigation is required in the dense forest. My compass has seen much use. Water and camp sites are rare on the steep slopes. I've carried more water than expected and squeezed the tent onto some tiny sites. But that's all part of the adventure.