Last week, while I was in the Cascade Mountains,
I drove up onto Bethel Ridge via the Oak Creek canyon road to visit some old friends-a grove of large tamarack trees that I haven’t seen in a few years. I spent the night on the ridge in my comfortable bed in the back of the van waking several times to the crooning of a bull elk bugling a few yards away.
I set my alarm and woke before dawn and stepped out with my wooden courting flute to mimic his call as a challenge to tempt him back up onto the the ridgetop so I could negotiate a photograph. He had wandered down the slope a way during the night and each time I called, he would challenge back. I stopped calling when some hunters in a four-wheel drive pickup happened along and we talked about the bull but I didn’t tell where I had heard him. After spending the day making photographs of tamarack, aspen, vine maple, osier dogwood, grasses, distant ridges, and a rainbow, I continued along the road. Earlier, I had read a notice down in the valley that the roads were in rough shape because last winter was mild and vehicles had accessed the roads when they were unstable and made a mess. National Forest funds for maintenance had been cut and the roads remained in bad shape.
The dirt track wound along the ridgetop through parkland with krumholz and some tall lone individuals three feet in diameter but travel was easy so I continued. It had rained on and off during the day and I didn’t wander far from the van so I could retreat to a dry shelter each time the rainfall increased to wait a break. I eventually set up the tripod between the door and seat so I could sit in the driver’s seat with the camera steady inside the van but at my eye level and was able to make some exposures without getting out into the rain and more importantly keep my camera dry.
I went by some hunters’ elaborate encampments along the way with their large canvas wall tents with portable woodstove pipes pouring out smoke and generators humming and electric lights strung out to light their campsite. There were places with obvious hunters’ leavings-fire rings and makeshift tables with boards and plywood and trash they had brought with them but failed to remove when leaving. These were obviously hunting camps as evidenced by the beam they fasten to the trees to hang their trophy kills. I’ll never understand why they don’t return their sites to a condition that shows they might be someone I’d trust with guns. There will be those who argue that it’s only a few hunters that leave a mess to cause blame to fall on all hunters but from seeing many hunters’ encampments over the years, I have to report that sadly it’s the majority.
The road did show some signs of deterioration but remained easily passible.
When the road entered the forest, it’s surface softened evidently where traffic the end of last winter should have been prevented. I continued, not wanting to get stuck while trying to turn around and thinking the road’s condition would improve.
It was late afternoon and I wanted to get to an overlook before dark and crawl into the back to download my files to my PowerBook and get to sleep early so I could sleep in and still be up before dawn. With each turn the road got muddier and the way narrower-too narrow to turn around without getting stuck… and the rain increased, to stay through the night…
ohhhhhhhh almost stuck… well, sorta stuck-I couldn’t move the van the wheels were slipping, ok, I was stuck… (I didn’t make these ruts-I kept my wheels on the high ground but looking ahead, I’d be mighty stuck if I continued. I climbed out into the rain to reconnoiter the situation and found that if I was able to cross the ruts, I could get onto a makeshift detour that someone had cut through the forest paralleling the now impassible roadway. How to get there?
I had forgotten to bring my folding shovel so had to find a log with a flat end to dig with and had to scavange the surrounding forest for thin logs that I could fill the foot deep ruts to drive on… three and a half hours later and dozens of cycles of climb into the van move ahead a few inches while turning the steering wheel one way first and then climbing out to look and dig some more and then climb back in to back up turning the wheel the other way… the mud was slippery and although I slipped many times, luckily, I never fell… I took my mud soaked gloves off every time before I climbed into the van and put them on each time I climbed in. I cut boughs from trees to put under the wheels for traction and gave praise every time I looked at my wheels inches from slipping into the ruts that would high-center the axles or suspension or differential or oil pan. Turning around after getting onto firm ground was by inches with each backup and forward motion as clearing was only only a couple feet longer than the van with a couple stumps punctuating the space.
This is what I avoided by getting off the road when I did. I can only imagine that the vehicle(s) that were successful in getting through this mudfest had to have extra large wheels and very tall suspension as well as a winch to transit this stretch… not a 2×4 van for sure…
Then, the rain turned to deluge but I was warm and drying in my van headed safely back down to pavement… charmed…
(it wasn’t the worst situation I’ve been in with a van)
I made all of these photographs with my Pentax Optio S40 digital camera at ISO 400 at wide angle held against a tree each time for stability. The focus in the photographs is soft due to the long exposures with the rain providing diffusion… (I added the rain in the last image to make it appear more like it actually was)
now, who’s gonna be a ‘patron’ and get Ed a high clearance four-wheel drive van (with a roof high enough to stand up in? (they do make them)