Campervan Trial

Campervan Trial

What to do…
I was looking for some adventuring options – boating, ferry rides, cruising, car camping – and such, when I settled on RV-ing. At least it’s something that can be tried out at relatively low cost and risk. There are several companies that rent RV’s for people that don’t use them full time, like an airbnb. I wasn’t going for some huge land-yacht, just something big enough for one or two people, and agile enough to tackle the camp and logging roads I like to explore.

Fortunately, there is a category of RVs, or camper vans, called “Class B” which falls into these parameters. These are usually high-roofed commercial vans, visualize the typical Amazon or FedEx delivery vehicles, that have been converted into an RV. A common chassis is the Mercedes Sprinter with 4-wheel drive. Dodge, Ford and Nissan make vehicles that are almost indistinguishable from the Sprinter. As far as I can tell the Sprinter is the only 4×4. There are many variations in outfitting and the Revel and Storyteller are widely described and reviewed. Google either of these and you’ll see many videos and blogs describing them. I checked out GoCamp.com and found a Storyteller near me.

The sign-up and reservation process was easy. I signed up for 3 and a half days so I could pick up in the morning and return in the evening. Once I paid, I was put in contact with the owner. My reservation was a few weeks out and I was able to get a preview look at it so I could prepare as much as possible.

On the road…
I picked up the the 2023 Storyteller Mode Classic 4×4 in Wednesday morning (23.01.25), and took it home to load up my gear. There was a bin of clothing, a bin with food, coffee maker, and “stuff”, my “I hope I never have to use this” duffel, a portable toilet (much more about this later), my “office” backpack, my hiking backpack, and some bedding. I ran a few errands with the van and found that gear was sliding around all over the place due to the slick plastic floor and lack of tiedowns. Fortunately, I prepared for this. The reviews told me the Storyteller had L-tracks on the floor and I ordered some clips ahead of time. I attached these, prepped some ropes, and was able to firmly fasten everything. By about 13:00 I was on the road – a bit later than I wanted. Days are still short in January and I wanted to get to Quinalt Lake before dark. I expected the drive to take about 4 hours.

After a stop for coffee in Longview, WA, I got on the highway again and discovered I was in what is apparently a known condition called “limp mode” (Google it), however there were no dashboard warning lights. Aaaarghhh!!! Up to this point, the Sprinter had been behaving like a large, powerful sedan. It accelerated easily onto the highway, kept speed on hills, and, generally, was a joy to drive. I called the owner, who had no resolution but would do some research.

After reviewing the dash pictures I took for the owner, I noticed that there was a yellow engine check light on. Very subtle, when compared to the boldly displayed text message on the screen that told me to add DEF fluid. The check engine light can be caused by many things, all boiling down to “send in for maintenance”, which wasn’t really an option. Owner said I should carry on.

It didn’t disable me but the van now had all the acceleration of a 70’s VW bus loaded with Boy Scouts and their camping gear. Been there, done that! At this rate, I wasn’t going to make it to my preferred first stop on the north shore of Quinalt Lake – I didn’t want to navigate the forest roads and try to find a campsite in the dark. I checked the iOverlander app and found a spot right off the highway just before Quinalt Lake.

I parked on a spot about 100 yards off the highway on NF-2258, or Quinalt Ridge Road. I backed into a spot just as it got completely dark, and settled in for the night. I still had cell service so I was able to call home and do a little (fruitless) research into “limp mode”. During the night I could still hear the highway. The gravel road announced any passing cars, of which there were only a few. The only noteworthy incident was around 5:00 when a car stopped just past my spot on the road. The driver couldn’t avoid seeing my bright white van. He got out, rummaged about in the back of his station wagon and fed his dog. He did have a pretty big flashlight that he didn’t shine directly at me, but it did light up the forest. He also entertained me with some rock music. Eventually he packed up and went on his way toward the highway. Perhaps a “resident” from further up the road, trying to discourage any new neighbors? Back to sleep.

Day 2…
Got up around 7:30, had breakfast, took some pictures, and headed out to Quinalt Lake. Still in “limp mode”. Drove a ways up South Shore Road and then went to North Shore Road. Drove all the way out to North Fork Ranger Station. See pictures. Partly cloudy and some sun all morning, making for some nice pictures. Retraced a lot of where I was in 2020. No time for serious hiking. The fern field was totally brown – sad. You can compare pictures to the ones I took in 2020. I checked out the Quinalt Inn, and the person there said it had been a really hot summer.

Headed to Forks after lunch, started raining and drizzling. Picked up a green salad and a fruit salad at the market, reset power, and fueled up. Still in “limp mode”. Headed to Ho Campground and settled in to overnight there. No cell service but could text home via satellite link.

Day 3…
A beautiful rain forest winter morning! Everything was wet and sparkly, the sky was partly cloudy and the low morning sun was creating some nice effects. There was even a rainbow over the van! I had breakfast, headed to the parking lot and booted up for some hiking. I took the Hall of Mosses trail and the sun shining through the moss-covered leaf-less trees created some awesome and creepy pictures. The mile or so was as much as my hip and knee could take so got back on the road again.

Going south on 101 I stopped at some of the beaches and roadside views. Checked out campgrounds around Quinalt (all closed) and headed for a boondock just north of Neilton on NF-2303. I selected a spot on a power-line access road. This was a bit more open and sky was still only partly cloudy. Maybe see some stars?

Cell service allowed me to call home. I did a little walking about, took pictures, had dinner. I also tried out the Halo shower. Note – turn on the vent. And, when using the vent open one of the windows a little. The van is sealed pretty tight and the vent labored without some inflow. Shower worked OK, the instant heater had a lot of trouble keeping up with the flow. Way better than not having one, though. Some reading and then lights out. Highway was close enough that I could hear trucks. It did cloud over and drizzle, so no stars 🙁

Day 4…
Got up around 6:45, was still dark but I wanted to be ready to go when it was light enough to see. Usual cereal with blueberries and almond milk, and coffee. Cleaned up as much as possible and drove out at 7:45. Headed home. The Sprinter briefly got out of limp mode and then resumed after a stop. Totally weird because there was no indicator, and the vehicle had less than 6000 miles on it.

Got home, unloaded gear, cleaned, rinsed off mud, and returned to owner at ~ 13:00.

I really look forward to doing this again – once the “limp mode” issue is settled. A key advantage of camping close to hiking and scenic sites is being there early. If I was staying at the motel in Forks, as I have in the past, I’d have to get up, check out, and drive to my destination. It’s nice already being there at sunrise 🙂

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. These were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S21 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and may take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.

 
Equipment:

  • 2023 Storyteller Mode Classic 4×4 (2022 Sprinter chassis)
  • Galaxy S21 phone
  • Garmin inReach Explorer+ for satellite texting
  • Thetford Porta Potti 565
  • L-track clips for tie-downs: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08XVYPPVB

Injuries: None. Haven’t been hiking or walking a lot lately so hip and knees easily tired.

Costs: The 3 1/2 day rental was $1057.90. This included 125 miles a day. Additional mileage was $0.40 per mile with tax. The vehicle got 13 miles per gallon, and at about $5.20 per gallon of diesel, that added another $0.40 per mile. Add in the periodic DEF refills and operating cost approaches a dollar per mile, not counting maintenance. Something to bear in mind for longer trips, or purchase considerations. My total driving distance was 642 miles. Would have been more with more daylight and less limping.

Comments, observations…

The Storyteller is a stock item so it makes some compromises. Clearly, if I was building my own I would do it a little differently.

  • A curtain behind the front seats would provide privacy for eating and toilet use while in areas with other people around, without need for installing all the window shields.
  • The second row seat is too wide. I kept bumping into it and it really cramped the cabins space while trying to use the galley.
  • A longer counter would be nice, even if it extended under the bed area. I didn’t use the induction plate, but when I set it out as a trial it used up most of the available space.
  • Even with the beds folded up, I had a hard time visualizing suiting up for snowshoeing or skiing for just one person, much less two. Not sure how I would fix this but needs to be considered for future trips, or a custom design. I saw some custom designs that eliminated the “lounge” area and had a bench seat and table at the back, thereby opening the central area.
  • The indicator LEDs are a nuisance at night. The USB outlet had a bright blue LED that lit up the cabin. A towel over it fixed that. Since I was using the inverter for the electric blanket, the microwave was on and it’s timer light added to the night lights. A piece of cardboard fixed that. Bring black vinyl tape next time.
  • Being able to sit or stand on the roof is fun. Also a great platform for taking pictures.

 

The toilet…
Having access to a toilet, in comfort, is a significant modern convenience. As one ages and the personal plumbing becomes less reliable, this is even more noticeable. In the course of reviewing the Class B RVs in general, and reading reviews of the Storyteller in particular, there was information about the toilet options that are available. Discussions covered built-ins with black water tanks, cassette systems, and totally portable options. The Storyteller comes with a portable. These are essentially two-part systems consisting of a top seat with a reservoir for the flush fluid, and a bottom reservoir that is the holding tank. After reading Joe’s review of the Thetford Porta Potti 565 on https://weretherussos.com/, I decided to get that, since the Storyteller came with a smaller one.

The Thetford 565, as compared to others, is almost normal toilet height, and the seat and opening are almost normal toilet size. Other models are lower and have small openings, which can make wiping and peeing while sitting uncomfortable.

As a test, I used the Thetford exclusively for both #1 and #2 at home for two weeks. One week I tried the vinegar option recommended by Joe, and for one week I tried a chemical option. Vinegar works fine and smells less, so I stayed with that for the trip.

  • Use septic tank friendly toilet paper. Mine was bamboo-based.
  • Guys – sit for #1!
  • In addition to the electric flush, I also used a spray cleaner to rinse the bowl after each use. I would also spray the bowl before a #2 to reduce sticking and streaks. Use the electric flush with each wipe to encourage the TP to fall into the hole.
  • Spray and wipe bowl to be sure it’s clean before closing the seal.

I set the toilet into the shower well on the Storyteller. The extra hoses and cleaners nestled around it to hold it in place. The lid to the well stayed open. (Sorry, no picture – one of many I forgot to take.) It worked well. There was no smell in the sealed van. Everything was closed up most of the time due to the weather. It was nice to have it available during the night and first thing in the morning.

I don’t mind having the spare toilet. It can be handy as a bedside toilet during illness, can be used during emergencies, and, of course, will be used for future camping trips. Even if I decide to go car tent-camping, it might be nice to have.

Happy wandering 🙂

Ho Rain Forest 2020

Ho Rain Forest 2020

Took an overnight trip October 20-21 to Ho Rain Forest. Drove up Tuesday morning and did a little exploring close to the ranger station. Spent the night in Forks Motel and got an early start so I could hike a little way along the Ho River. Drove back in the afternoon and evening. Takes a little over 5 hours each way. A little drizzle every now and then but overall pretty nice weather. Temps in the 40’s and 50’s – good shirtsleeve weather so I can keep dry. Really need to spend 2 nights so I have the full day for enjoying the woods and can get further up the valley. Hip slowed me down some.

Used the Garmin InReach to keep SJ updated via satellite texting.

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. These were taken with a Nikon D5300 and a OnePlus 5 phone. Last picture shows my circular light attachment I use with the phone camera. I also have a bracket that can attach it to the Nikon. The power supply is a standard 5V backup pack I can also use to recharge the phone or GPS.

 
A little video of Mineral Creek Falls about 4 miles in:

Quinalt Lake

Quinalt Lake

After being cooped up for way too long, we, Orion and I, decided to head out. Birthday is coming up on Sunday, but we thought better to go out during the week. We looked at the map and decided that Lake Quinalt, in the southwest corner of Olympic National Park would be a good target.

Headed out on I-5 at 7am until we hit Tumwater. I had intended to turn west earlier but missed some turnoffs. Anyway, west to Aberdeen and then north on US-101 to Quinalt. Took a little over 4 hours. On the way back we took 101 south until we met the Columbia River and then hugged the north shore, back to I-5 at Longview, and then back home. Got back 10:30pm. Love these long summer days! When I left Lake Quinalt I considered going on to Hoh rainforest, only 50 miles away. For another day though. Temps for most of the drive up were in the 60’s and 70’s with some drizzle as I dodged around mountain ranges. Once I got into the valley around the lake temps were in the 80’s and it was pretty dry overall. I want to come back when it’s wetter, and more rain-foresty. At least I have a good idea of what it takes to get here.

Quinalt Lake has some resort cabins and inns, nothing fancy. Spotty cell service. Best bring your own food if you want to eat healthy. The lake is nice, clear, and swimmable. There are South and North Shore Roads along the shore. They meet further up the Quinalt river, which feeds the lake. The north road is less populated and has hiking trails off it. Aside from serendipitous walks along logging trails, lake parks, and forest meadows, I only took one “official” hike. That was to Lake Irely, about 2.2 miles round trip. It’s a bog lake at the upper end of the glacier-carved valley, which has Lake Quinalt at the lower end.

Along the North Shore Road, just before it splits at the bridge to the South Shore Road, there were several fields of huge ferns, out in the open, unshaded by trees. This section was significant enough that the road was paved, instead of gravel.

Traveled light on my hikes, even though the car was loaded with gear. A collapsible canoe would have been nice for paddling on the lake. Could have taken the kayak, just don’t like to take long trips with it. And, it covers up the sunroof 🙂 Used the Garmin InReach to keep SJ updated via satellite texting.

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. These were taken with a Nikon D5300 and a OnePlus 5 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in. The HDR on the One Plus works well – it’s crazy how some of my phone pics come out better than the Nikon’s.

Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls

On the first Sunday in March, Orion and I ignored all chores, to-do lists, and all other clamorings for attention, and headed out for a drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Starting at the Stark Street bridge, we headed east through some small towns.

Chanticleer Point was our first stop. This provided a nice view eastward along the Columbia River, with snow-topped mountains in the distance. We also got a view of Vista House, a popular site in the gorge. There was a stiff wind and temperature was right at freezing.

I got out at Vista House to take a few pictures and had to lean into the wind to avoid being toppled. My face become numb quite quickly.

Then on to Latourell Falls. This is a pair of falls, with the lower one visible from the parking area. The upper falls are about a mile in. At this time of year there are lots of icicles around the falls. There was plenty of ice wherever the spray from the falls hit the trail. A trekking pole would have come in handy, but since it was only a short walk, I left them in the car. Crampons would have been better. I’ll be better prepared next time.

I wandered on to Bridal Veil Park which also has some nice views. I didn’t go to the falls, saving that for next time.

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. Most pictures were taken with Nikon D5300 and some with my OnePlus 5 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.

Salmon River Wanderings

Salmon River Wanderings

Sometimes I just wander about without any specific destination. I wanted to explore around the Salmon Butte trailhead and today I did that. I scheduled this outing and it was going to happen, rain or shine. They day turned out to be somewhere in between, somewhat misty, and more water dripping off trees than from the sky. Temperature was in the 40’s, a bit warmer than my previous visit. All the fancy ice crystals were gone. I did bring my new gloves and they kept my hands nice and toasty. I didn’t really need them and wore the glove liners most of the time.

First I headed up the South Fork of the Salmon River, to see how far I could go. Close to the bridge there is a huge boulder that has several large trees growing on it. The path goes through large ferns and moss-covered trees. The path runs out pretty quickly where a cliff face comes all the way to the river.

Next I followed the South Fork downstream to see where it meets the main course. Water temperature is a chilly 42 F. Again, lots of ferns and moss-covered trees. I also found some interesting fungi. I wonder, does the mycelium (root network) of the fungi on the trees go to the ground and interconnect?

After running out of exploring options along the river, I followed the old roadway to where the trail branches off. I detoured onto the trail as far as the two camp sites. The first one had a trail leading away from it. This is also an old road, heavily overgrown, and you can still make out the center ridge. I followed only a little way. I suspect the camp sites were gravel depots. Orion and I have come across other large open spots, with gravel under the moss and grass, along other logging roads.

I continued on the roadway past the trail turnoff. It was filled with saplings. In the spring and summer it will be difficult to go along here because you won’t be able to see where you’re going. A few people have come this way since fall as evidenced by flattened leaves and ferns. The first portion is a thick layer of packed gravel, crossed by streams. After a while the gravel runs out and the road is just a graded way through the forest. Orion and I have passed along similar tracks elsewhere.

I passed two hikers with packs and trekking poles striding along. I also passed two runners puffing up hill at a good pace. Some postings on AllTrails claim to make the round trip to the top in a bit over three hours!

I sometimes just stand, or sit, by the trail, just to be there. In the distance is the tumbling of a large river. Closer by is the burbling of a stream crossing the path. One ear hears the uphill portion as the water comes toward me, and the other ear hears the downhill portion that’s making its way to join the larger roar. Sometimes  a bird will chirp. The wind tickles the tree tops, and tufts of mist roost among the branches. Nice!

I do need to come back with a tripod. Some of these pictures would make nice murals or screen savers. Fortunately the best ones are close to the parking area.

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. Most pictures were taken with Nikon D5300 and some with my OnePlus 5 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.

Salmon Butte Trail

Salmon Butte Trail

Salmon Butte Trail starts where the South Fork of the Salmon River meets the main course of the Salmon River, and is in my main hiking area, the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness portion of Mount Hood Forest. Overall the trail is smooth and rises steadily along its length. The total length is 6.1 miles and climbs 3490 feet. Compare that to Cool Creek which rises 3200 feet in 3.3 miles.

On December 22, 2018, I headed out to give it a try. I got a late start and arrived at the trail head at 12:30. Sunset is at 4:30 this time of year, and in the mountains it would get dark even sooner. I didn’t have much time.

The trail starts out by crossing an old concrete bridge and follows what appears to be an old logging road. The roadway is covered with only light growth, probably owing to a thick and well-packed layer of gravel. It would be hard to drive now, however, due to the number of stream-worn little canyons crossing it. After 1.5 miles, the trail goes off on its own, while the old road continues off in another direction. Up to this point you can hear the South Fork in the distance.

Once I turned off the road into the trees, it was less windy and felt warmer. The path is soft and smooth. About 2 miles in there was a light dusting of snow in the clearings, and at about 3 miles there was a little bit of snow under the trees. I was passed by a young man in shorts with a dog. At 3.5 miles I was still in good shape but knew that there was not enough time to get to the top. I did not want to be stuck hiking in the forest after dark. I turned around and had a late lunch when I reached the campsite. I reached the car at 4:00 and the sun was far behind the mountains.

On New Years Day of 2019 I headed out at sunrise to try again. The sky was clear and I had the whole day to try this. I arrived at the trail head at 8:40 and started. The old road follows the river for a while and there is a strong, cold breeze blowing along it. I was glad to get to the trail and out of the wind. There wasn’t any snow on the road portion but once I headed into the trees and got a little more altitude, there was snow. After about 3 miles there was several inches on the path and that made hiking a bit more strenuous. I also had trouble keeping my hands and fingers warm. Gloves that are fine in town are not warm enough up here. I made it a little more than 4 miles and had to turn around. I just couldn’t keep my hands warm enough, and I was getting pooped out. Perhaps not getting much sleep the night before had something to do with that. Hiking in even a few inches of snow is also hard work, a little bit like walking uphill in sand.

Oh well, it will be here in the Spring.

I started back and made lunch at a convenient spot along the trail. The Indian Vegetable Korma is very good but takes half an hour to soften all the vegetables. I had to set the fuel canister on a glove. If they get too cold the fuel doesn’t expand properly. Ideally I would have a small piece of foam padding to set it on. (That is why I practice cooking on these hikes. I have to remember or relearn all the tricks I’ve forgotten.)

I found some small animal tracks. These looked like cat tracks, more like a house cat than a cougar(!) and are probably raccoon tracks.

I explored some strange ice crystals in the moss along the trail, and explored what at first looked like strange clumps of snow on some dead sticks. Looking closely at them I found ice crystals growing under the bark of some dead branches. These crystals literally peeled the bark off the branches. The ice crystals were very fine, like cotton candy, and melted at the merest breath.

I got back to the car about 3pm.

Clothes: Duluth light thermal underwear, top & bottom. REI pants and Duluth poly longsleeve shirt. Brimmed wool hat with integral earmuffs. Duluth socks.
On the first hike I wore a heavy windbreaker. Second hike was colder and I used my Duluth hoodie. Hoodie and hat were sweat soaked from the inside and always hard to put back on after resting. Only had work gloves. Need to get ski gloves. I have a small spur on the outside of left foot which has been rubbing the boot on the last few hikes. Finally thought to put a bunion ring on it and that helps a lot.

No injuries, not even to pride.

There are some other exploring options: 1) Follow along the South Fork upstream from the bridge. It looks like a trail starts here, it would be nice to see how far it goes. 2) Follow the road instead of going onto the trail at the 1.5 mile point.

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. Most pictures were taken with Nikon D5300 and some with my OnePlus 5 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.

 

Cool Creek Trail to Devil’s Peak

Cool Creek Trail to Devil’s Peak

According to the locals, we were having some unusually nice weather for October. I grabbed one of the nice days to see if I could make it up to Devil’s Peak Lookout again, up Cool Creek Trail this time: over 3000 feet up in just 3.5 miles. The hike map is shown below.

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. Most pictures were taken with Nikon D5300 and some with my OnePlus 5 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.

As usual, I drove out US Highway 26 toward Mt Hood, starting at 8am. About 9 I arrived at Still Creek Road (also National Forest Development Rd 2612). This turned almost immediately into a single lane road, with only a few places where vehicles could pass. It is a very pretty drive and I would have been at trail head in a few minutes except for the line crew which blocked the road while it repaired a downed power line.

I took the opportunity to explore a foot bridge I passed. After I returned from that the way was clear and I arrived at the trail at 10:10 and started up.

The trail is relentless! There are very few gentle slopes, much less level portions. The views are fantastic. I allowed 3 hours and it took four, with many stops and much huffing and puffing. I did make it to the top and climbed into the lookout. It was already occupied by a nursing student who’d made it up earlier in the day. She was settled in, planning on spending the night, so she made it up with a full pack. I only carried my usual 25# adventure pack. We chatted a little while I made my lunch and rested. About 3 I headed back down. I would have explored a little bit, and rested longer, but I was already 2 hours later arriving than planned. Because of the steepness of the trail, getting down would not be much faster than going up. And it was getting dark soon. I made it down in about 2 hours and it was getting pretty dusky at the bottom of the valley where I was parked.

My new boots worked well. They’re a bit clunky and stumbled over things a bit – I’ll just have to get used to them. The main thing is that there was no damage to my toes after that steep downhill hike.

No injuries. The trekking poles helped some. They are good for resting while standing. They do get tangled in vegetation because they’re so light. I’m not sure they are better than my heavy walking stick.

Note: read the instructions on the freeze-dried food packages. They are not all the same. I was pretty tired and mentally fogged when I got to the top and made my lunch on automatic. The Turkey Casserole dinner (see picture) takes less water and a shorter steep time than the others I’ve had. It was still good and I ate both servings without any trouble.

Temperature was in the 40’s. I wore light hiking pants and long-sleeve hiking shirt. I started out with a jacket but warmed up quickly. At the top I put the jacket back on.

I took 2 liters in my hydration pack and 750ml in a bottle. I used every drop. I only took 1 Pemmican bar, ate that along the way and was starving when I got to the top.

For next time: Take more snacks and water. Start earlier.

Will I do this again? Absolutely! I want to spend a night up there and see the stars.

 

Footprints

Footprints

 

This post is about a bike ride I made in August 2015! It has been been in draft mode and by now I have forgotten most of the trip, but I still want to show the best part: the dinosaur tracks! Click on the pictures to see them full size.

These tracks were made in mud 110 million years ago. The mud dried, got covered by some other dirt, and then hardened for a few million years. Really cool! The dinosaur tracks are about 2 miles in.

I’ve been back to this spot several times and it has been covered with leaves or water, so these are the best pictures I have. Here is the beginning of the original post:

In the summer of 2015 I got even more serious about biking and discovered that my civilized Townie was exactly that – civilized. It was almost exactly a year old and I traded it in for a Giant mountain bike with 29″ tires. What a difference! SJ swears it has pixie dust because it rides by itself. After riding it around the greenbelt for a while I thought I’d take it somewhere totally uncivilized, a local natural area called Government Canyon State Natural Area.

As I pull into the parking area, I see a lot of cars with bike racks, so clearly this is a popular biking area. I look at the map and head out Joe Johnson road. Some parts of the road are nice and smooth, shaded by some large trees. Other sections would be a challenge for large 4×4’s.

And that’s as far as I got with the post…

Devil’s Peak Lookout

Devil’s Peak Lookout

On Thursday, August 23, 2018 I went exploring to see how close I could drive to Kinzel Lake. Looking at the map, the forest roads should get me very close. Also, after reviewing the maps and trails around my last hike along the Salmon River, I discovered a lookout tower on Devil’s Peak, just above Kinzel Lake. While I did not expect to actually make it to the lookout, my plan was to see how far I could get.

The trip map is shown below. As usual, I drove out US Highway 26 toward Mt Hood. Just beyond Government Camp is a turnoff to Still Creek Campground, which I had explored in May. The orange line follows the road I took from the highway, through the campground to Forest Road 2613. This starts out as a rough gravel road and gets progressively worse. It is passable, slowly and carefully, all the way to the end where the Hunchback Trail starts. My hikes are along the green and blue lines. The purple line heading north-west is the Cool Creek Trail #794. It’s another way to get to the lookout. (Click on the map to enlarge it)

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. Most pictures were taken with Nikon D5300 and some with my OnePlus 5 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.


I arrived at Still Creek Campground at 10:17. Driving through the campground I realized this would be a nice place to practice some overnights and try out different tent setups. The sites are a bit more spread out than the ones at Oxbow.

There are some roads that lead out from the south end of the campground and eventually I arrived at the beginning of Forest Road 2613. The road is rough with huge potholes, ridges, and random rocks. I didn’t scrape bottom once, “Yeah Orion.” 8.9 miles and one and one-half hour later I arrived at the end. I had not expected to be able to get all the way to the end of the road, but now that I was here I had to climb up to the lookout tower! It should be less than 2 miles and just 500 or 600 feet up. I shrugged into my pack, tightened my shoelaces, locked the car, and headed out.

The trail is Hunchback Trail and follows the ridge, all the way to the Zig Zag ranger station 10 miles away. Much of the way the ground falls away to both sides and you get nice views in both directions. Unfortunately there is still a lot of smoke in the air from forest fires in California and eastern Oregon, which interferes with the view. After 1 mile there is the junction with Cool Creek Trail which goes down to Still Creek Road 3.5 miles away, all downhill. Another half mile along and I’m at the lookout! See the pictures!

The lookout tower is not very high off the ground, but does give a good view of the surroundings. There are heavy shutters all around that protect the plexiglass windows. There are assorted boards available to prop up the shutters. Watch out for protruding nails! The interior is quite spacious with tables, chairs, cots and a cast iron stove. There are plenty of tools and some supplies, including several canisters of isobutane fuel. A file case contains log books full of visitor comments and stories. Some entries limit themselves to name and date while others include some excellent drawings. The current notebook was full and the latest entries were made on the back of a map page. Someone had already been there earlier in the day. I signed in as well.

While I was there three other hikers and a dog showed up, all (except for the dog) apparently older than I. They had come up the Cool Creek Trail, a bit over 3 miles one-way, 3000 feet up! The rating is “Most Difficult.” I was chatting with one of the hikers and he said he was celebrating his 70th birthday that day. None of them looked particularly exhausted. It looks like a lot more practice on Gresham Butte with a full pack is in order.

I prepared lunch from a double serving of Good-To-Go Thai Curry. It says to let it steep 20 minutes but 30 minutes or even longer is better. It is really good and has lots of veggies. No pieces of TVP (textured vegetable protein). This was too much to eat, I could only eat 2/3 of it. A single serve packet with some extras would be better, but they cost more per serving – the double serving costs $12 and the single serving packet costs $10. I do love the packaging – just pour hot water into the pouches, let them sit and then eat from the pouch. Zip the empty pouch and pack it out. No pot or dishes to clean. All I need is a pot for boiling water for the meal and drink. While I waited for lunch to rehydrate I took some more pictures and tossed out some trail mix to a chipmunk that showed up. It was quite happy to join me for lunch.

The adventure was taking longer than I expected and it was time to go. I closed the shutters, made a note of supplies I should bring next time (a weather-proof journal, toilet paper) and headed back. The return to the car was pretty quick since it was mostly downhill.

Once I got back to the car, I decided to check out Kinzel Lake. According to the map it should be just a short distance away. I walked down the trail looking for the lake or a turn-off to it. After a while I checked my GPS and discovered I had gone past the lake. The map showed a trail to the lake campground but I couldn’t find it. Too tired to explore further, I returned to the car to start the drive home. I’ll find it another time. Maybe the staff at the ranger station has some information for finding it.

In summary…
No injuries – I only hiked 4 miles.
Yellow jackets were out. There were several about while I was eating. I had to be careful they didn’t crawl through gaps in my clothing and get trapped. Sometimes I had to blow them off my spoon to avoid eating one.
I had cell reception all along the trail, probably because it was on a ridge. Good, because I could easily keep SJ up to date on my status. Bad, because it doesn’t count as being in the wilderness if I have bars on the phone.

I definitely have to come back to the lookout. Am I ready to tackle Cool Creek Trail?

Salmon River: Take 1

Salmon River: Take 1

On Thursday, August 2, 2018 I hiked along the Salmon River.

This is further preparation for an overnight hike to Lake Kinzel. This picture shows the route I took. On the far right you can see a blue dot. That is Lake Kinzel, 1700 feet above my turn-around point. From there a trail parallells the Salmon River trail along a ridge and then ends a little northwest of the starting point. Next time… (Click on the map to enlarge it)


Total Distance: 13.1 miles (21km)
Total climb: 3699 feet (1128m)
Total time on the trail: 8.5 hours

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. Most pictures were taken with OnePlus 5 phone. Some with a Canon G10.


The Salmon River trailhead is about an hour from the house. It is located in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness which has some large areas of old-growth forest. Considering how rugged and steep some of the canyons are, it is no wonder that loggers would look for easier pickings.

The weather forecast was for cool, cloudy, and possibly some rain, which suited me just fine. I’m usually soaked anyway so a little rain would help me keep cool.

Here is how it went:
07:20 Left house. Some drizzle and hilltops wreathed in clouds.
08:00 Turned off highway onto Salmon River Road (at the Subway)
08:25 Arrived at the parking area by the bridge beyond Green Canyon Campground. Only two other cars here. Start hiking.
09:19 About 2 miles in, at sign-in station. Moving along easily and in no rush so I can check out some of the campsites and some side trails. Trail starts heading up-hill and away from the river at this point. Weather started to clear up. None of the hoped-for rain arrived.
13:00 At Kinzel Lake Trail beginning. According Runkeeper I’ve come 6.78 miles. The map says it’s 6 miles so my side explorations have added a bit to that. Walked a little way up the trail. It looks pretty and the map says it is only 2.2 miles to the lake, however it climbs another 1700 feet! That would take a few more hours and there’d be no time or energy to return. Definitely an overnight trip. Woohoo!
Settled down for lunch. There was a campsite a little ways back, but no view. I just stayed here, spread a ground sheet on a level area and heated some soup. I could have eaten the soup cold, out of the box, but having it hot is much more pleasant, and refreshing. Had a pack of Belvita crackers to go with it.
13:45 Prepared to head back. Oops!!! Very stiff getting up, sat too long in one position and right hip didn’t want to work. Finally got loosened up and headed back.
14:20 Stopped at a stream to soak feet. I had some very sore toes and discovered three bruised toenails. Arrgh! I trimmed them all back last night, hoping to avoid this. I need to get new boots! Water was cold! Could only keep feet in a few seconds at a time, but it felt really good.
Further on I started to get tired and knees were getting sore, so I was taking frequent breaks. No more detours or sightseeing. Skies got pretty clear and I was on the hillside facing the sun so it got pretty warm. Probably just in the 70’s but still…
17:00 Back at the car. Changed shirt, put on sandals and waded in the water. The river is a bit warmer than stream I put my feet into. It felt good on feet and knees.

Equipment…
Bear pack with 3L Bladder (holding 2.5L) and the usual stuff, some just for weight. Total: 25lbs (11kg)
Usual clothes & wooden staff

Food…
Had banana and müsli for breakfast before I left
Luna protein bar about 10:00
Soup box and crackers for lunch
Latte and Tomato/Mozzarella sandwich on way home
Took 2.5L water in bladder. 0.5L remained when I got home

Traffic…
It was a weekday so I hoped for light traffic. There were day-campers in the camp sites. Only met one group of hikers past the 2-mile sign-in station. Met a lone hiker at about 4 miles in. Chatted briefly and agreed that hiking alone in the wilderness is our “church”, and we do it in spite of our families’ bewilderment. She was accompanied by a miniature Italian greyhound (Frankie).
More traffic on the way back, again inside the 2-mile mark. Several groups. About 8 cars in the lot.

Technology…
I used the Garmin inReach Explorer+ extensively. I’ve used it in the past for tracking and navigation but haven’t had much luck using the messaging function. This time I tested extensively before the trip and reread the instructions.
I did the self test in the parking lot and it took a few minutes to complete. I sent messages to SJ along the way, usually whenever I had an open space beside the river or on an outcropping. I also stayed still while I waited for the message to get through. It worked pretty well and took about 10 to 20 minutes for a message to go out. Replies would come in while I was hiking again. I kept the unit on top of the pack and used a phone app to send and receive messages via BT connection. The Garmin has a 3 to 4 day battery life but the phone was at 30% when I got back to the car. I will need a backup battery or charging system for longer hikes.

Injuries…
Bruised toenails. Looks like at least three will be coming out, maybe a fourth.
Knees started to get painful after about 10 miles. Needed to take frequent breaks after that.

For next time…
The water bladder works great while hiking but is not so good when I stop and take the pack off. Need some water in a bottle for sipping while resting, cooking and washing. Forgot cup.
Bring a few paper towels to wipe out the pot in case I’m not near water.
Left thermometer behind, again! Want to record air and water temps.
Bring more headbands and bandanas.
Need a piece of stiff foam 12″ x 12″ (expanded PVC?) as a stove base for uneven ground.
Schedule more rests, even if not tired.

Other notes…
Mosquitoes: Wasn’t bothered by them while hiking but I did notice a few gathering while I stopped for lunch. So, while I didn’t need any repellent on the hike, they might be a problem when I camp, especially if I stop by a lake.

I like the wooden staff better than a trekking pole

I’m writing this an the Saturday after and have only slight soreness left, Yeah!

And great fun was had by all!