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Elwood Pass

June 10, 2018

 

I rode Shyla out of Lobo Overlook, picking up the CDT just a short distance away.  We were headed south to Elwood Pass (although ultimately we will be making our way to Hopewell Lake, which is our northernmost point on the trail up to now).  My mother drove Bombshelter and Takoda to Pass Creek Rd., a long dirt road that ultimately goes to Elwood Pass, and she found a place to camp on a ridge not far from where the CDT crosses the road.

I was surprised by the huge number of downfalls along the trail, which is the result of the severe die-off in this part of the forest.  Whole hillsides are covered with dead trees as a result of the bark beetle infestation, and of course in the winter the weight of the snow causes the dead trees to fall.  There were constant obstacles along the way, and Shyla had to do her best at jumping when we couldn’t find a way around them.  I also put my saw to good use, cutting and removing limbs where I could to make it easier to get over or around the downed trees.  It was sad to see so much of the forest in distress like this, and of course it makes the fire danger extreme, with all that dead fuel just waiting for a lightning strike (or a careless camper) to set it aflame.

This turned out to be a much more difficult day than I had anticipated, due to the number of downfalls; in fact, the only stretch of trail similar to this that I ever experienced has been in northern Washington, in the area south of Stehekin. I had the same feeling of dread with the steep terrain and the tangle of trees that I might not manage to somehow get through the next obstacle, which I could see looming ahead even as I tackled the one in front of me.  Each downfall required me to navigate it several times: once as I scout out a path and saw through any branches that I can, a second time to retrieve Shyla, and a third time as I lead her on the chosen path.  Although the altitude was not making me sick, it did sap my energy, and I was often forced to stop to try to catch my breath, and my arms felt weak and jello-like, especially at the end of the day.  And each time a new downfall appeared, I always feared this might be the one I couldn't get past, which would force me to go back and re-navigate all the ones I had already scrambled over!  At one point I was so tired from all the work that when I encountered a tree that was just about at the level of Shyla's back, I was too exhausted to think about sawing through it, even though normally I probably would have chosen to do so; in my current state, however, I figured it would take me almost an hour to do that one log alone.  Instead, I unsaddled Shyla and she managed to squeeze under the tree, and then I had to make multiple trips again to retrieve her saddle and pad and the saddle bags and re-saddle her.  In all, I think I made seven trips under that downed tree before we were on our way again.

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