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A & A Backpacking


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Umtanum Journal
April 1999

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Day 1 We headed out early, the same group as on our other hikes plus one, Anne's sister Amber. This would be both Amber and Kira's first backpacking trip, which sucks for them. As is usually true for the first trip of the year, we were all out of shape. I had been sick with bronchitis for a couple months, and the others had been busy with work and school. On the way out, we looked up towards Umtanum Ridge, south of Manastash. There was snow on top of the ridge. But the sun was out and we thought "oh well, we'll survive..." And we did survive the snow. In fact, it was more of a blessing than a curse. The car rose up onto the plateau and we turned onto the old Jacob Durr Road. After not too long we could see the entire Stuart Range. A few moments later, Mt. Rainier could be seen on our right. We had to stop after a ways because the road was only open to trucks and 4 X 4's - we were in my Grandma's Buick. This, sadly, wasn't even close to the trailhead. In fact, it was 3-4 miles from it. We got out of the car, strapped our backpacks on, and after a quick prayer we started out. It was about 8:30. The road was easy, heading downhill 95% of the time. Our spirits were high and we sang songs to pass the time. We were descending into Umtanum Canyon and the scenery was beautiful (if you could ignore the empty beer cans and glass scattered along the side of the road). We rounded a bend and heard the sound of water - Umtanum Creek. There was a small shed-like thing on the other side. This we later found out to be a covering for barrels of bird seed. There is no bridge across the creek, so we had to ford it. I went across first. The water was freezing. When I got to the other side, my feet were in pain. I set my 30 lb. pack on the side and looked into the water. There was a branch sticking out and it was fully covered in ice...not cool. Attempting to hide my findings, I headed back over to grab Amber's pack. Once everyone was across, I showed them the ice. We took off our shoes and socks and let our feet warm in the sun. After a snack of granola bars, we continued on, reluctantly, up the opposite side of the canyon. I don't think the new-comers were used to climbing mountains (and neither were we, really) so they were a little worse off than Anne and I. After a while, we stopped for a lunch of Macaroni and Cheese. It was windy, so we used our backpacks as wind breakers. We could see the far-off radio tower, just above the trailhead. Continuing around a corner, someone yelled out "Car!" Amber and I were in the lead and both of us ran into the brush. Amber and I both screamed. It was a truck with some teenage guys. They were looking for a white blazer. When we continued on, Anne suggested counting our steps to keep us going. It helped a lot. Looking down, someone spotted a pond which we quickly named "Triple A, K Lake". We noticed a helicopter going into the canyon and wondered what it was doing there. Anne looked beyond the canyon and to the right and spotted little "ants" which formed the cars on the freeway between Ellensburg and Yakima. At the top of the ridge, we spotted the trailhead...finally. While taking a break, 2 girls drove up in an SUV. They explained that they were going to hike along the ridge and descend into Roza Creek - where we were going. We decided to go the other way, "4 miles" to the Cottonwoods. Just when we thought we were getting close, we saw the burrow pits in the middle of the desert. We were only 1/3 of the way there. Water was running low. We had picked up some snow on the side of the road on top of the ridge, but it went un-used. An AT&T truck passed us on it's way to the tower, not even bothering to wave. Spirits were growing dim as we descended into a dry creek bed and back up again. Finally, we found a valley...with green in it! It was the Cottonwoods at last! Amber had been the first to see it. She turned around and flailed her arms wildly. Below us was an open barn which we decided were the "corrals" on the map. When we read the map later, Anne and I realized that the road from the trailhead was actually 8 miles (NOT 4). And that the "corrals" and "Cottonwoods" were actually a bit further up the road. Once in the valley, we split up to find water. It was Amber and I who found it first and we set up camp near it. Kira was getting cold, so her and Anne wrapped up in a blanket while Amber and I put up the tent. There was garbage everywhere - even a refrigerator - and it was hard to find a good spot. After a dinner of Chili, Anne heated up the water for hot chocolate. But it was too cold for the water to boil. Just as Anne was about to drink hers, 2 40-year-old men drove up and stopped right next to the tent. They hung around too long, uncomfortably long. Anne poked her head out and talked to them. They claimed to be looking for elk. Then they drove up right in front of the tent. I grabbed the knife, ready to run out if need be. Kira was shaking and crying. Amber was doing her best to stay calm. Anne got out to talk to them and told them we were on our way to Roza Creek the next day. Then they left and we weren't going to Roza Creek. Although it was almost dark, we decided that if another car drove by we would pack up and find another spot. Sure enough, one did (a white blazer, note when we talked to the boys in the truck and the helicopter sighting) and we were on our way again. I was getting weak and I felt sick. When we found the road thought to lead to the open barn, Anne took a flashlight and went to make sure we were right. We were and when we found it headed across the cold ground towards our new campsite. Suddenly we saw eyes through the darkness. Anne thought it was a small coyote or something, but we concluded that it was a groundhog-like creature when it popped back into it's hole. I was about to collapse from fatigue, it was 10:30. The moon came up just as we snuggled into bed. In the distance, we could hear coyotes howling. The wind came up a bit and Anne pointed out that while we were moving our stuff, the wind had stopped. Our prayers had worked.
Day 2 I woke up once to let Sheba out. It was dark and I put my head back in my sleeping bag. When I took it out again, I was nearly blinded. The sun had come up and it was 6:30. I quickly started breakfast. Anne got up and went to the creek for water. Breakfast was oatmeal and rice. At 10:30, we were off. Our muscles were stiff and sore, but even so, the trip seemed a lot shorter. At the burrows, we finished off the chips in our pack. Even though I was still hungry, we continued on. Every time we stopped, our feet would only hurt worse when we started again. I slowed down, but not just because of my feet. I have low blood sugar and have to have more than rice and chips to keep me going. Amber was walking next to me and I told her what to do if I collapsed*. There was some chocolate in my stuff sack which was easy to get to through my side zipper. After a few more minutes, my knees were starting to give way. Kira was next to me and she called up to Anne and Amber to stop. We caught up, slowly, and stopped for a rest. After letting my knees give way, then getting some chocolate in me, it was only a few minutes before I was ready to go on. Anne took some of the weight from me and we continued. Towards the top of the ridge, we stopped and looked back at where we'd been. The road twisted and wound through the valley. There was a line where a pipeline had been put in that just happened to go straight towards the cottonwoods, without that extra mileage. Ugh. A Cellular 1 truck drove up and he waved! He even stopped to talk to us! He said that he had met up with the SUV girls who were about 3 miles behind us. We thanked him and we continued up. (No, Cellular 1 is not paying for this ad.) At the trailhead, we cooked lunch. It was windy and cold and looked like rain. Cup-O-Soup (our favorite!) was our lunch, but by the time we finished it, it was cold. As we continued back down into Umtanum Canyon, our feet hurt with every step. We didn't stop all that often though, because when we did, it would just hurt more when we started again. I got behind again and it became harder to catch up. Anne had sores on her shoulders from where the skin had rubbed off. The water at Umtanum Creek was warmer this time and everyone carried their own packs across. The cool water felt sooo good. I went back to fill our water bottles and just let my feet soak. Anne joined me, but Kira and Amber just looked at us like we were crazy. When we went back to have a snack, the SUV girls met up with us. They asked us how our trip went and if we needed anything. "Yeah, how 'bout a ride to our car!" I thought. Anne told them our trip was "great" and that we "didn't need anything". Oh well, it wasn't too much farther. It started to sprinkle and we put on our ponchos. By the time the road flattened out, the wind had picked up and it was raining hard. Kira and Amber went up front and Anne and I stayed behind to talk. When they saw the car, they hollered and waved. That got us hurrying and we crammed into the car. It was over! It was finished! We were finally heading for McDonald's (a post-trail tradition)! We were darn sore! And we looked like the deer poop I had taken a picture of earlier! But it was all good. At McDonald's, I hopped out to use a real toilet and was met by a few stares. I came back to the car as they were heading through the drive thru and we ate up. At Grandma's house, we took turns taking baths and showers. Every time we stood up, we could only hobble like old ladies. I think Grandma got a big kick out of it. We looked through guidebooks for a while, then went to bed, thus ending this very interesting and very painful backpacking trip. *Ok, I'm not just a wimp, really!!! Low blood sugar, low blood pressure, and still getting over a few months of bronchitis (mixed with a little dehydration?) is not a good combination. In fact, I probably shouldn't have been out there for another few weeks - until I had a chance to do some getting-in-shape.
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