Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Phantom Glaciers, Senior Climbers, Sawtooths, & Illegal Immigrants

Since my last entry I've visited Glacier National Park in western Montana and the Sawtooth Range in southern Idaho.

After successfully avoiding jail time in two countries I arrived at the eastern entrance of Glacier. There I learned that the road which cuts through Glacier was closed for maintenance. I had hoped to cross Glacier through this road. I quickly decided, mostly due to the immediately bad weather (see previous blog entry, Canadian police encounter section) to drive around the south end of the park and enter on the west side. While having breakfast in a small town on my route I learned that the wind storm had reached speeds of over 50 MPH overnight. The record wind speed for the area was around 110 MPH. Yikes! I thought only hurricanes and tornadoes reached such speeds in places other than high mountains.

Soon enough, I reached the west end of Glacier. My first stop after a night's sleep was the backcountry permit office. After describing my intended route, which involved backpacking to the continental divide, the ranger refused to give me a permit. He said there was too much snow on my route and that it would very likely snow more while I was out. It was overcast and raining at the time, snowing higher up, and the forecast called for more of this. Nonetheless, I was pretty upset at his response. I may never have the chance to visit this place again, I could always turn around if conditions warranted, and, after all, I had the most to lose from the venture. I took him up on his suggestion to check out conditions for myself (I think maybe he considered it a test) by doing a day hike to higher elevations. I picked out Mt. Brown, an 8500 ft peak with almost a mile of elevation gain. I got to within a few hundred feet of the top before turning around due to waist deep snow. Not for the first time I wished I had thrown my snowshoes in the van before leaving Corvallis. In any case, the divide was at a lower elevation, so I figured I could still get to it.

The next morning I showed up at the permit office, prepared with redundant arrays of arguments for why I should be granted a permit. My preparations proved to be unnecessary since there was a different ranger at the office. This time I made no mention of the continental divide and was granted a permit.

I did make the continental divide, although the snow was almost as deep as Mt. Brown. It was overcast and snowing or raining for most of my outing, so I didn't get to see much. My best day weather-wise was the day I hiked up Mt. Brown. On this outing I had decided to try my luck at fishing and trapping. Why buy food and haul it in on your back when there's food all around you? I didn't have a fishing pole with me so I made one. For trapping I made a snare out of dental floss, webbing, and some sticks whittled with a knife. A sapling served as the spring. I used peanut butter for bait. I set it up three times. Each time the peanut butter was eventually gone but the snare hadn't tripped. I'll need to make the trap more sensitive if I hope to catch anything. I think the problem was with how I had whittled the sticks and maybe also the angle of the pull from the sapling. I had similar luck with fishing, but I think the problem there was with the lure.

I have to say that Glacier was somewhat disappointing. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe it was the fact that I had just visited the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies peaks seemed similar to Glacier's. Despite the name I didn't see any glaciers. I have heard that Glacier's glaciers have retreated substantially. After picking up the van's newly minted duplicate title in Kalispell I headed for the Sawtooths. Glacier photos are here.

The weather looked much more promising as I headed for Stanley, Idaho. The skies were blue and the climate became dryer, reminiscent of central Oregon. I passed through the towns of Victor, Elmo, and Corvallis, all in Montana. Soon enough I reached Stanley. Stanley is a tiny town (the city limits sign claimed a population of 100) located just northeast of the Sawtooth range at the north end of a broad valley. Surprisingly it had a public library, and even more surprisingly it had free wireless internet service.

It was while I was at the library looking for a Sawtooths guidebook that I met Bob Dargatz. Bob is a retired structural engineer, lifelong climber, and all around athlete who lives just outside of Stanley. At the age of 82 he still makes multi-day backpacking trips (often as a guide) into the Sawtooths and climbs 10,000+ ft peaks. He invited me over to his place to pick up a guidebook and map of the area. The Sawtooths were literally in his back yard. He said he typically left from his house when traveling into the Sawtooths.

Bob had a wealth of information on the Sawtooths. He gave me his guidebook, saying he'd just ordered the second edition, and his well worn USGS topo map of the north end of the range. The map was especially valuable, since Bob had marked climbing routes, alpine trails, good camping spots, and a secret hot spring on it. None of this information was in the guidebook or in the available maps. Judging by the fact that some of the routes on Bob's map were not mentioned in the guidebook I think he had put up some new routes. After sharing photos of our forays into the peaks Bob went on to tell various stories from his life. We spent the afternoon and evening together, forgetting to eat. I especially enjoyed hearing Bob's stories about World War II. He had served in the army, first in the Philippenes and then as part of the occupation force after Japan surrendered. For someone of my age, WWII can often seem like the distant past. Hearing vivid accounts directly from someone who had lived it made the war seem much more real. It turns out that Bob has ties to Corvallis. Prior to shipping out to the Pacific he had spent time in Camp Adair, just north of Corvallis. After the war he returned to attend Oregon State. While attending OSU he met and married a local woman. He has a brother in law in Philomath, just outside of Corvallis. Bob invited me to spend the night. Not having slept in a real bed since leaving Corvallis, I readily accepted. The hot shower was nice too. After breakfast the next day we parted ways, having exchanged contact information.

Now, about the Sawtooths. Sawtooths is a good name for the range. They're quite jagged looking, reminiscent of the North Cascades, but even more jagged. The range is contained entirely within the Sawtooths Wilderness Area. The wilderness designation means that the Tooths are well preserved. By law, no man made structures (other than trails and trail signs) are allowed in the area. There are no prepared campsites, you just camp wherever looks like a good spot. The only way in is by foot or by stock (horse, mule, donkey). The marked trails are well maintained. The area runs 32 miles north to south and 20 miles east to west. It has 33 peaks which are over 10,000 ft in height. Unlike the North Cascades the Sawtooths don't appear to have any glaciers of significant size, no doubt a result of the drier climate. Although it's studded with alpine lakes and rivers the valleys in the Sawtooths aren't as gouged out and fjord-like as in the North Cascades. This makes access and movement within the area easier, at least relatively speaking. The rock is pink and gray granite. The summit routes span the range of difficulty, from walk-ups to aid climbs. Judging by the guidebook, some of the peaks have only been climbed using aid techniques. Many of the peaks certainly look quite formidable. Warbonnet Peak, which seemed to be one of the most difficult peaks in the area, is an overhanging blade of rock shaped like a shark fin. The guide book says that you can drop a rock from it's summit and not hear it hit anything for nine seconds.

I spent six days in the wilderness. My arrival late in the season meant that there was snow covering many of the peaks, but it wasn't as deep as in Glacier or the Canadian Rockies. It snowed a couple of the days I was out but the last two days I enjoyed completely clear weather. I attempted two peaks, reached the summit of one, and visited some of Bob's unmarked trails.

The climb up the peak which I didn't summit (Mt. Regan) reminded me of Oregon's Three Finger Jack or Mt. Washington. Most of it was a scramble up a ridge, with the most difficult part saved for the last few hundred feet on the summit block. After arriving at the base of the summit block I went up what I later realized was the wrong route. I kept going up until I got to the point where I didn't think I could make further moves up, much less downclimb. Probably I went further than I should have. The proximity of the summit had suckered me in. Downclimbing what I'd gone up proved to be rather nerve racking. The fight was on in my mind. Panic was a beast making lunges at it's prey, while calm was the sword which beat back the beast's thrusts. Mostly calm won out, but the beast had it's moments.

Upon reaching safer ground I pulled out the guide book and realized that I had misunderstood the route description. The described route continued around the east side of the summit block, traversing along an exposed ledge on the northeast face. The traverse was filled with snow and I had left my ice axe and crampons in the van. It was clear from the description that the route is normally exposed rock. I gingerly made my way along the traverse, not entirely sure of what was supporting me. At the end of the traverse it looked like the route went up into a shallow diagonal couloir, which was also filled with snow. After contemplating the matter for a good while I decided to abandon the attempt. The second peak was a walk in the park by comparison. The route was obvious and the most difficult section had no snow or ice on it. The photo at the top of this entry is Mt. Regan reflected in Sawtooth Lake on one of the sunny mornings. More Sawtooth photos are here.

The Sawtooths was another place I would have liked to stay at longer, but my food ran out and besides, I had to get to an Oregon DMV before my trip permit expired. I hope to return some day to visit Bob and the Sawtooths again.

Speaking of the van, I picked up permanent Oregon plates in Ontario, Oregon, just across the border from Idaho. They're mounted now. It's nice to have the DMV odyssey over with. The only outstanding item with respect to the van is the permanent Oregon title. Ann should be getting it in the mail within 30 days. I'll probably just have her carry it with her when we she flies down to visit in early December.

Ontario was an interesting place. To say the least, I'm sure its far from the top of anyone's list of "must see" destinations. Its main claim to fame would probably be it's plethora of agricultural processing factories. There were many Hispanics there. I almost felt like I was somewhere in Mexico. While at an auto parts store I met a Guatemalan fellow. He worked in an onion processing factory for $8.65 an hour. He said it would take three months of work in Guatemala to make what he makes in a day working in the US. He asked me where I lived and what my job was like. He thought that he had a pretty good job but I think he wanted to see if things were better where I was. I told him that I lived on the other side of the state, in Corvallis. He said that he stays away from that part of the state (referring, I think, to the Willamette Valley) because its less friendly to undocumented workers and he's afraid of being deported. His family is still in Guatemala and they are dependent on the money he sends home. He was looking forward to returning to Guatemala soon and seeing his family, apparently for the first time in two years. On his next trip to the US he plans to bring his son (who just turned 18) with him so he can work here as well. After I told him where I lived he no longer seemed interested in what my job was like. He probably wouldn't have believed what I would have said anyway. He thanked me for translating between him and and the store's clerk, shook my hand, then took off in a van (which was of a later model year than mine), saying that he needed to get back to work. The tacos I had for lunch were the best I'd had in a long time.

A 100x pay differential seems like a huge incentive to come to the US, despite the risks and hardships it entails. If I believed that I could make 100x my pay in Canada I wouldn't have to think too long about heading up there. Instead of working for 12 years to be able to afford a leave of absence it would only take six weeks.

I'm in Boise, Idaho right now. I need to pick up a few supplies, make some gear repairs, and do a little research. My next destination will likely be City of Rocks, a rock climbing area just north of the Utah border in Idaho. After that I'm not too certain of my path. I'll probably head to somewhere in Utah, but it depends on if and when Jeff will be coming to Moab in southeastern Utah.


Colby said...

Vic - great post. I especially liked your story about Bob and your impressions of the Sawtooths. It's been a long time since I've been there and your meeting with Bob is an great example of what's special about your trip. Keep writing and stay safe.

NinaS said...

Hey Vic, it's your sis. Glad to hear your explorations are going well. Please call when you can, as mom is starting to worry about you...409-789-8179 Love ya and be careful out there.

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