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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2010/08/27
by John Zinkand

The Great Outdoors in the Great Northwest

Many bands choose to circumvent the Pacific Northwest in the summertime so they can hit the festival circuit or the more populated east coast. And who can blame them? The shows there have better attendance, make more money, and are closer together. This makes touring the east and not spending time and money to play a few lower attendance shows in the Northwest a no brainer. We still get some of the bigger shows and have a few choice festivals like the NW String Summit and the String Cheese deal over at Bob Horning’s Hideout, but all in all, the summer is surprisingly slow for live music here. However, as I’ve written about almost every year, there is always the alternative outlet of the pristine and scenic outdoors. The mountains are majestic, the gorges are steep and winding, the alpine lakes are clear and cold, the coast is rugged and beautiful, and huge fir trees abound just about everywhere.

And even when you have an outdoor excursion planned out perfectly, you have to be ready to change plans and improvise at a moment’s notice. For example, I’ve had plans to go backpacking this weekend all summer long. I have Monday and Tuesday off and planned to backpack from Saturday to Monday. My girlfriend and I secured the days off, scouted out a place to go, prepared lists of things we need to buy and bring, and are psyched to hit the mountains. Then I checked the weather forecast.

As I type this, it’s about 90 degrees and sunny…the perfect backpacking weather!! The problem is, this is the Pacific Northwest and the weather can (and often does) change quickly and dramatically. By tomorrow, the forecast is for the temperatures to drop about 30 degrees and the skies to cloud up considerably. There is also a chance of showers and rain over the weekend. Damn! And when you consider we would be up in the mountains, the temperatures would be even lower and the chance of rain even higher. But I live in the Pacific Northwest, right? What’s a little rain? Well, it makes a huge difference.

The plan was to drive to a northern loop hike of the Mt St Helens Wilderness near Vanson Peak and Deadmans Lake. The first day was to be a tough slog of 10.5 miles through old growth forest, past dazzling waterfalls and pristine lakes, making a creek crossing or two, until finally reaching our destination for the night, Deadmans Lake. The second day was to be a ridgeline day hike with incredible views of the Cascade Peaks and a close up view of Mt St Helens, including the sharp devastation line where the downed trees end abruptly and the old growth forest begins. Then the final day would be packing it up and finishing the 8.5 mile loop trail back to the car. If it’s raining it will be very cold at the 4000 ft. level where we planned to camp. Also, part of what makes the extreme effort of walking over 10 miles while gaining approximately 3000 ft in elevation worth the pain and suffering are the beautiful views. But if it’s gray and socked in, there are no views to see and the effort put in to getting there seem futile.

Luckily, Oregon is a big state with lots of micro-climates and I’ve lived here long enough to know it’s good to change plans if needed. We could stubbornly go on as planned hoping the weather Gods might smile upon us, but chances are slim. And sitting shivering in a tent all day because there are no views to see would be very harsh. So I think we’ll change it up and head south the Crater Lake. This high mountain lake is what’s left of an ancient volcanic caldera and is now the deepest freshwater lake in the U.S. Of course, it’s a huge tourist attraction, too. But if we go down there on Sunday (we have Monday and Tuesday off), we should be able to find some car camping at nearby camp sites. Then we will just day hike. There are multiple hikes around the rim of this incredibly beautiful and blue lake. Not to mention the fact that we can take a boat to the little island located in the very middle of the lake (Wizard Island), then hike to the top of it. While this will not be the rugged backpacking experience we had planned on, it will still be an incredible time surrounded by the awesome spectacle of nature in the Northwest.

And I’ve got one more Friday off in September which can be made into the St Helens Loop three day weekend backpacking trip. Of course, this weekend was the perfect time to go on that trip as having Monday and Tuesday off would make it so Tuesday could be a recovery day. If we go backpacking in September, we’d have to go back to work the very next day after returning. Being a zombie at work for a day would be worth it, I think. And that’s the way it is in the outdoors here. Plans have to change sometimes. You could be driving to a hike you found in your hiking book, only to find the road you need to drive on to get there has been closed due to massive mudslides. Or you might have planned to hike to an incredible viewpoint, but then the low clouds move in which take away the views and instead you decide to hike to some impressive waterfalls. As with music, its best to keep your mind open to any possibility and be able to go with the flow. So when there are fewer tunes to be enjoyed during the summer months here, there’s always a soul-soothing trek to be had in the great outdoors.

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