Today was a beautiful one, book-ended by a golden dawn over the Umatilla Valley and a sunset which made the Columbia into a ribbon of beaten bronze.
If you have been following my posts over the last week, you are probably asking, “Hey, shouldn’t you be backpacking to an alpine lake in the John Day wilderness today?”
And the answer to that question is yes. Yes I should be.
Children, let me tell you a story of high adventure… Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryus, there was an age undreamed-of. And unto this came Conan, destined to bear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a ….
Oops, sorry that’s the opening to “Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
So, ahem… let’s try that again. We (Dog and I) left at about 5:30am and drove for about 6 hours to reach our destination, the “Baldy Creek” trail-head in the Wallowa Mountains. We rucked up at about noon and headed up trail first crossing the north fork of the John Day River via a wooden footbridge. We went about a mile and a half before coming to the crossing for Baldy Creek. It is at this point that things got exciting!
The bridge was not there. No problem, Baldy creek is wide but not very deep (6”) at the ford we found. I unbuckle my pack and loosen the straps before heading across and Dog followed me like he always does when we cross rivers. He hates water (really hates it!) so he always follows right on my heals. About half way across, I realize that I don’t hear him behind me. I am thinking, “He can’t have gotten swept away, the river is only six inches deep.”
I quickly spot him about ten yards downstream. He has decided he does not like the cold water and has decided to try and cross on a series of boulders that sort of span the river. While I am standing in the middle of the river hollering for him to ‘get his mutton-head back here’ He almost makes it to the top of the first rock but at the last moment slips. Now dogs are not monkeys (in case you had not noticed…) and they do not climb well, especially over slick mossy boulders.
Dog goes ass-over-teakettle into a pool that must be six feet deep and he disappears from view under the water. (Did I also mention that he doesn’t swim well? Well, he doesn’t) I had shed my ruck right into the creek and have taken about two steps his way when he bobs to the surface with eyes as big as saucers and sputtering like a drowning seal. He starts to float down river and is grabbing for more boulders without any success. His back brain must have summoned his wolf ancestors because he begins paddling like a champ back across the river and scrambles up to the bank from where we started. He is standing there shaking like a leaf with those big saucer eyes staring right at me like “What the hell was that????” The whole thing must have taken less than 30 seconds.
Seeing he is safe I manage to snag my soaked ruck out of the stream and drag it to the far bank figuring that I can just drop it there and go get Dog. I start to ford the river back calling to him and telling him to stay and he’s a good dog etc. Them saucer eyes are not getting any smaller though…
I am headed his way when suddenly he realizes what I am going to try to do. He is having none of that (No way I am getting back in that water house-ape!) and heads back over the bank and down the trail that leads back to the truck. I am trying to coax him back every way I know how but he is GONE.
So, I stagger back to the far bank and secure my ruck and cross the river again. (What does that make, like sixteen crossings now?) I head back toward the car and about a quarter mile down the trail there he is soaking wet and waiting for me. By now his eye-apertures have returned to a normal dog-size and he just looks miserable, mad, embarrassed and thoroughly done with this trip.
I know there is just no way I am getting over the creek and another five miles to our campsite. The backpacking wander is definitely over. So, him limping and looking very dejected we head back to the car.
That is until we reach the John Day river crossing; the one I told you about with the bridge. Dog usually crosses first and he did that again this time as well though I can tell he is already getting stiff. He gets about 5 feet onto the bridge and suddenly realizes it’s GOING OVER THE WATER. At which point, he leaps off the bridge dropping about five feet into a big stand of brush on our bank.
He looks up at me on the bridge and says “Nope, sorry house-ape. We will just have to live the rest of our lives here between these two rivers of death.”
The John Day is deeper than Baldy Creek (Hence the bridge…) but there is no way I am going to be able to wrestle him across said bridge without both of us going into the drink.
Luckily there is a horse ford cut into the bank. I manage to lure him over to that spot and snag his collar. I head into the river, which is a good two feet deep here (Evidently there are no short horses allowed) Dog by the collar in one hand, and trekking pole in the other. He seems to have remembered his wolf swimming lesson because he is dog-paddling like crazy as I drag him across.
We manage to ford the river without drowning and make it back to the truck completely exhausted and soaking wet. We load the gear back up and he collapses in the back seat on his blanket sleeping all the way to La Grande where we stop at a DQ and get ice-cream. We must have been quite a site sitting on the curb by the car in the DQ parking lot eating ice-cream and dripping all over the pavement.
The next five hours are pretty uneventful. He sleeps mostly and I drive West. (He has not been allowed to drive since, what we like to call, “The Incident”)
So, after ten hours of driving and 90 minutes of hiking, my weekend long adventure comes to a close back here safe at home with pizza and a cold beer. (Beer for me, water for Dog and maybe some pizza.)
And, I am sure the wet-dog smell will eventually fade from my truck…