Saturday morning, I installed a fresh tire on the front of the bike, a match to the new knobby I put on the rear last weekend, complete with ice screws. Now that I was ready for Winter, the temperatures had risen above freezing.
Walter and I arrived at Andy’s around half past noon, to find him waiting and ready for an excursion into the mountains. We wanted to scout out new campsites and see where the snow level was.
The roads were wet, but it wasn’t really raining. We found traces of snow alongside the road just above Willard, around sixteen hundred feet. A little higher, there were patches of snow on the pavement and covering the dirt side-roads. It probably had fallen the night before, or possibly that morning.
It had warmed to just above freezing and there was water on the pavement a half of mile from where we were, but Cabbage Creek had a covering of about three inches of untracked snow. We followed it for a mile or so and checked out a couple of dead ends, but nothing looked very good for camping, so we turned around. As we were heading back to the main road Andy pointed out the tracks of a very large animal, going right up the center of the road. He thought they were mountain lion, I thought they might be bear. When I showed the photos to people who might know, they agreed the tracks were too indistinct to be certain and were evenly divided between big cat or black bear. Whatever it was, it was big. Walter was oblivious. Andy decided to carry his machete while we wandered around in the woods- just in case.
We poked around various side roads looking for the outlet of a stream we had found last summer, but it must disappear under the broken boulders of the Big Lava Bed, for we never found any surface water. As we gained elevation it got colder and there was more snow. Hoping to find better conditions a little lower we retraced our route for a couple of miles, then headed east on a spur road we hadn’t explored before. It wound up a ridge, seeming to go for miles, becoming more overgrown as we went. Eventually there were enough fallen trees to make going on look like it might be work. The ground here was steep and uninviting. Again, we turned around.
On our way back down, Andy bounced off a log and into the brush. Fortunately, he didn’t go far. There was a pretty steep drop just in front of his rig, but small tree snagged his sidecar, preventing him from plunging down the embankment. He didn’t seem to be hurt; the bike was undamaged and we were able to haul it back onto the road. No harm, no foul.
We continued following overgrown paths off the main road, but none of them showed much promise until we happened upon one that angled west into a particularly dense stand of trees. This track did not look much traveled. Andy had to drag a fallen tree out of the way before we could continue. Some of the trees alongside the road had large rectangular scars where the bark had been stripped off. Local tribal members still harvest cedar bark for making baskets and other items in the traditional manner. The tree survives; you can find cedars with scars ranging from fresh to ancient, scattered throughout the forest.
It was almost dusk, and we were in a temperate rain forest – mossy, green and dripping wet. When the road ended, we parked and climbed off the bikes. Finally, we had found someplace worth coming back to for a camp out. It was flat and the under-story was fairly open, with the occasional vine maple sprouting in fantastic, moss covered tangles.
Andy and I split up and began exploring. We hoped to find some late chanterelles or hedgehogs but were disappointed. Mostly we found small leathery mushrooms growing on rotting wood. And conks. And the ubiquitous witches butter. Walter ranged through the woods between us.
We scrounged enough wood for a small fire, cutting branches from fallen logs, digging through the undersides of rotted trees, trying to find fuel that wasn’t too damp to burn. I peeled some slabs of bark from a stump. Anticipating everything would be wet, I brought steel wool, birch bark, and a candle for tinder. I was able to ignite a fire with my ferro rod. How I avoided setting my hat brim on fire with the candle, I do not know.