Is It Spring Or Winter?

That’s right, I’ll be heading back to Graham and Graham West.  I really needed everything to fall into place and with the spring conditions looking more like winter conditions I had a very thin margin for success.  The trip started with a frantic search for stove fuel which lead to adding an additional two hours to my drive down to the peaks.  I’ve never had a issue with buying stove fuel in Pendleton, Oregon, well that is until last weekend.  I now know a store in LaGrande, Oregon that carries stove fuel the only problem was it was an hour east of Pendleton when the peaks I was heading to climb were a couple hours south.

After my little detour for fuel I continued down to the peaks driving through one snow shower after another the entire way.  The Strawberry Mountains were spectacular from the highway as I approached the small town of Prairie City.  Of course the first thing I noticed was the incredible amount of snow on the peaks and I began to wonder if the road would be open up to the trailhead.  I kept looking up at the peaks as I drove south from town looking at the route I had planned and actually I was happy that I was able to drive within a mile of the trailhead before the snow blocked the road.

5:30 pm and I was finally on the trail, or should I say snow!  I had hoped that I would have a couple miles of a snow free trail to make time on, but it wasn’t meant to be and I made the best of it.  I hiked a couple miles Thursday night before I decided to stop and set up a camp for the evening.  I found a fairly level spot between two large Ponderosa Pines and proceeded to set up my new REI Chrysalis one man tent.  There’s not a lot of room in the tent, but I was able to unload everything from my pack and put the empty pack at my feet to keep it out of the snow.  I had a few handfuls of sunflower seeds and mixed up a little gatorade to rehydrate then slid down in the sleeping bag.  I actually tried to use my phone to post a quick blog but I received a “data unavailable’ response from my phone, I’m still planning on trying again on a future trip.  I ended up falling asleep by 8:30 pm and slept fairly well through the cold night.

I woke up around 6 am a little later than I had anticipated, but it didn’t take long to heat up a little water for breakfast and get everything packed up for the hard hike up to where I had hoped to camp on Friday night.  The hike went well for the first couple miles, I continued up the long ridge to the flanks of Slide Mountain.  Once at the flank of Slide Mountain I began the long contouring route around Slide and the route definitely increased in difficulty.  I was wearing snowshoes to deal with the fresh snow and with every step my foot felt as if it was sliding down the hill.  I had to either deal with the sliding with the snowshoes or break trail without the shoes and sink down to almost my knee.  Hours went by and I started feeling uneasy about the situation, I had a few more miles to go to get to where I wanted to place a high camp and at the rate I was going I began to realize I wouldn’t be climbing a peak that day.

I actually love hiking solo, but by doing so adds limitations and mistakes are definitely unacceptable.  Over and over I kept thinking about my timeline, the conditions, and how isolated I was, and if I made a mistake it would be a while before I could get help.  It only took an hour to make the decision and once it was made I felt comfortable with it, I would be going home early.  The hike out went smooth, I snapped a few shots and looked out at the John Day Valley and I kept wondering when spring would arrive.

Graham and Graham West will have to wait till July or August when I can access the high ridge trail from the south.  Maybe someday I’ll return and hike out the Slide Connector Trail, but only after the snow melts!  Still, yes still at 47 peaks and trust me I can’t wait to stand on the summit of my 48th peak.

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