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trip report! part six: frozen rivers and thanksgiving stew

December 17, 2009

Woo!  Posting two of these in a row, for once.  It must be obvious that I’m supposed to be doing something else right now.

Part five left us waking up on six inches of frozen soil, eager to get the hell out.  But, we did want to hang around and explore what we thought was quite a nice site, so we decided we’d try to move our camp to the sunny side of the river.  Over there, the soil would be unfrozen, we reckoned.

So, we got layered up in everything warm we had, and started exploring, looking for an easy way across.  On the way to the river, we encountered our first challenge: our water source, a side-creek that was much easier to access from our site, had completely frozen overnight.

Not a happy discovery for any of us.

The ice at least looked pretty cool up close, though.

Well and good, we had to get to the main river anyway, to have any chance of finding sun.  And surely, with its much greater water volume and partial sun exposure, it wouldn’t be frozen all the way across.  Riiiiight.

There goes that theory. At least the ice is thin in the center, where it's waist-deep.

Near the edges, though, the ice is actually solid enough to hold my weight.

So, what to do?  We were dismayed.  We couldn’t stay at our current campsite for much longer, as it was still miserably cold even in the daytime, and we had to cross the river eventually, one way or another, for that’s where our trail went.

I was grumpy enough and in enough of a hurry to get in the sun properly that I was all for just roughly packing our gear up and wading across the damn thing, breaking the ice as we went.  Lucky for everyone, the partner is smarter than me a lot of times, and wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of a dry (or drier) crossing.  We scouted up and downstream for a good ways.  Turns out the water was frozen so solid largely due to beaver dams — they’d almost entirely stopped the flow in places.

Part of the awesomeness of their dams was due to the incredible damming material they had access to. Eric wanted to take a picture of this ponderosa for Nathan; I made him hug it both for scale and so that I could send it to my mother, who is stuck on the idea that we are tree-huggers and dirt-worshippers.

After about an hour of effort, we succeeded in finding a very easy way across, that could be waded with no ill effects or even contact with the water (except on the outside of waterproof boots).  Hooray!  We carted our stuff across and made breakfast in the sun.  The sun!  We thawed nicely.

Happy dog.

After that, it was a lazy day.  Napped in the tent for a bit; laid out miscellaneous wet and frozen things to dry.  In the afternoon, we took a day hike most of the way up to the north rim of the canyon.

The trail up to the north rim was even more brutal than the one we’d rushed down the previous night.  Extremely steep and rocky, it had plenty of switchbacks, but could have benefited from a whole lot more of them.

It was one hell of a trail.

The views, however, were nice, and we stopped for a nice late lunch/snack of hummus and bagels on a particularly pretty outcropping before turning back before dusk.

Our new campsite is on the very edge of that sunny meadow down there. The brutally cold one is somewhere back in the shadow across the river.

Nifty rock formations we could see from our vantage point.

Wandering around, checking out the views.

The mutt is king (queen) of the mountain (canyon).

Some canyon-y action.

We were at the top of that yesterday.

Clearly, we took lots of pictures.  I have just one more, I promise, before we return to our story.

Aww, family photo. Photo credits to the auto-timer and rock tripod.

Anyhow, one of the reasons we wanted to get back to camp before dark was that we had planned to cook our “Thanksgiving” dinner this night (even though it was Tuesday), at the end of a nice lazy day.  We prepared nicely for this event.  Not only had we been lugging around a liter of box-wine (and carefully packing it in the ice on a shady part of the creek all day by this point), but we had a bag of chicken (kind of like the bags of tuna you can get), instant potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and dried cranberries.  A true backcountry feast!

We got to work gradually cooking our fancy meal, and built a big fire while we were at it.  There had been some relatively recent trail maintenance done, so there was an abundance of “fine forest fuels,” as another hiking companion and mountain man extraordinaire would say.  We quickly had a blazing fire going, and dinner well underway.

Ah, fine forest fuels.

The chef at work. I acutually did assist with both the fire and the meal, despite the photographic evidence to the contrary.

Sounds great.  But, because this is our trip, you just know something had to go wrong.

Yeah, so the stuffing “looked dry” (easy to do in the dark when you can’t see it at all), and so we just added some more water to it.  Whoops.  That didn’t help.  Then, the gravy was too thin, so we just threw it in the stuffing.  And then we said what the hell, and just put the chicken and some cranberries in there, too, leaving only the taters as a separate dish.

Mmmm, Thanksgiving stew. Are you hungry yet? Looks like dog vomit, tastes like heaven.

By this point, I was laughing uncontrollably and taking silly pictures, but the partner, who was much more invested in the success of this enterprise than I was, was pretty pissed at me for it.  We sat down by the fire to try to reconcile our differences over a bowl of Thanksgiving stew (*stifles giggle*  *gets glared at*) when…

…we spilled half of it all over the ground.

Hooray!  Because we’re us, and this is backpacking, we actually scooped most of it up and returned it to the bowl.  It only got a little crunchier.  You know that cereal (Kashi, I think?) that advertises “fiber twigs?”  It ain’t got nothin’ on our fiber-twig-laden Thanksgiving stew.  As for the rest of the fallen stew, well, the dog got to join in on some Thanksgiving action herself.

This whole train wreck of a dinner went down a lot better thanks to Bandit Pinot Grigio.  Bandit, I salute you.

Full of wine and fiber-twig stew, we eventually settled into a pleasant evening by the fire, and eventually retired to a much warmer tent than we’d occupied the prior evening.  Happy Thanksgiving to us.

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