Monday, May 21, 2007

NATCOA Rally @ Silver Creek Falls (05-18-2007 to 05-20-2007)

Not that long ago, just August of the previous year (2006), was I at Silver Creek Falls with my buddy Pete.

Now, I find myself returning once again to this beautiful park for my first Truck Camper Rally. For some time before, I'd been a member of a Truck Camper Club that goes by the name NATCOA or spelled out, North American Truck Camper Owners Association, quite the mouthful, wouldn't you say?

Once again, even with advanced planning this time, I'm only able to round up one traveling companion, my previous traveler to Silver Creek, Pete.

Unlike my previous adventure up to that lush jade wonderland, where were staying in the very packed main campground, the club had procured one of the large group camp loops up by the North Silver Creek Falls.

The Group Camp loops don't offer hook ups like the main campground or even gravel/paved campsites. It is instead one giant loop of gravel road through a giant open field of green surrounded by thick walls of Douglas Firs.

As usual, I was running late yet again, and we were one of the last to arrive that evening. Since there wasn't any hookups, and I was a tad worried about running my gray water out in my usual fashion amongst the trees, I had crafted a 30 gallon gray tank into the front of my little red chuck wagon trailer.

I had also created a little gray water pump that attached to the garden hose threads on my dump pipe cover so I could pump the gray water from the camper off up into the trailer's tank. It worked rather well, but I later discovered that the tank takes forever to drain because of my attempt to fit a garden hose connection onto the end of the drain pipe, but I didn't find this small flaw out till after I had filled it to the brim during our stay at the park.

We pulled in between INSAYN and Artum Snowbird and unloaded my camper and trailer. I had brought along my bicycle and its trailer, as well as my portable fresh water jugs (Before my days of the 30 gallon auxiliary tank and the front cargo rack) and some of my firewood supply.

I wound up not really needing any of it, as:
A.) it Rained
B.) INSAYN brought crazy good wood and lots of it
C.) It was easier to just drive the empty truck to the water spigot and refill the jugs than it was to bicycle.

I did bring my brand new dining canopy, which wound up staying at camp to keep my outdoor cooking setup clean for my doomed fried chicken (more on that later).

Once we had camp setup, Pete and I migrated over to the group of campers settled around the gigantic fire INSAYN had created, living up to his name.

For some reason, when they built the Group Camps at Silver Creek Falls, they decided to only include one fire ring of moderate size at an odd off center spot towards the back of the loop. We filled it with firewood, plus built it up well on top of the bars that spanned the back half of the pit. That old steel put glowed a bright orange well after the wood had burned down to coals.

There's actually a real term for this kind of fire, its called a White Man Fire, the name given by the American Indians. Its spelled out thus:

When a white man builds a fire, he tends to build a large fire, usually so big that he cannot remain very close to it as it is too hot and much of its heat is wasted. When the Indians build a fire, they build it small enough to stay close to and keep warm, but not so hot as to waste the wood.

We stayed up for a fair amount of time and conversed about a myriad of subjects, ranging from the obligatory chatting about campers, improvements, and projects, then onto more heated topics, like National Healthcare and how things work in Canada.

Once the fire was burned down low enough to have few embers, a slow rain beginning to fall, we decided to call it a night.

Early the next morning, I roused and donned my sweats. The previous evening's sleep was sound and refreshing, however, only for me. Pete's allergies kicked in bad that morning and he was in no mood to go anywhere other than back to bed once breakfast was finished.

Once I wrapped up breakfast, I popped outside to check the weather and find out what the days plans were for the group hike. After a short bit of discussion it was decided that half of the group would hike from camp to the South Falls and half would hike from the South Falls back to camp and that half way we would exchange keys.

Since I was the only person to have removed their camper from their truck, it was decided that we'd go from the South Falls and work our way to the Northern Falls, the same route as Pete and I had traversed only the previous August.

When the time came, what was supposed to be half and half turned out to be 3/4 of the group (roughly 25 odd people) decide to hike from camp and four of us would be coming from the South.

To me, at least, having only the four of us for the hike was a blessing. It gave me far more time to enjoy the waterfalls as we hiked (this time well prepared for said hike), and a clearer field of vision to take my shots.

There is no better time to see Silver Creek and its beautiful falls than late April, early May when the streams are still swollen with Oregon's spring rain and the melt of the mountain snow packs.

A viridian collage awaits the eyes along each mile of the trail as diamond dew drops weep down from boughs on high to catch the nape of your neck.

Cascades of sapphire roar from the high perched mouths of green, bathing everything in a blanket of sparking mist.

And the trails have gone from being a creature of dust and rock to a quagmire of mud and old brown leaves left behind by falls winds.

Whilst its treasures for the senses are great indeed, do not come under the pretense that your feet will return as clean as they left your home.

When I traveled to Silver Creek last, I spoke of the condition of the trails and how they had to be rebuilt nearly every year in some way or fashion. This held true for my return visit, as I had suspected as much and wonderfully so, had provided us with a few miles of fresh gravel to hike upon instead of the more common muck and mud.

As it turned out, the trail system had only recently been finished in its repairs and had reopened just a few weeks shy of our return visit.

Since Silver Creek is no longer that new and virgin subject of great camping exploit, I shall likely speak in detail less than before about each of the falls, but will make up for it in anecdotes about my hiking with seasoned pros and slowing them up constantly and revisting some of the more humorous locations of my last visit.

Sadly, I cannot remember the name of those braves souls that hiked that trail of falls with me and can only pray that they refresh my memory in the comment box at the bottom of this entry.

My previous adventure on this trail was a tale of poor planning, and good luck and felt like it was from the pages of Patrick McManus' A Fine and Pleasant Misery, though the humorous narrative and personal jokes didn't come in till many years later.

Instead, I came prepared with my trusty backpack, not much better foot wear, and two experienced hikers who were well at home hiking mile upon mile on distant trails and found the entire Silver Creek Falls trail to be a cake walk.

Needless to say, I was more of a boat anchor than much else in terms of our pace through the trail. I would wager that they could probably have done the whole water fall system in two hours flat if they hadn't been held back on many occasions by me play tourist and my generally 1-2mph amble that makes up my locomotion.

My other traveling companion had come all the way from either Montana or Idaho, I can no longer remember for certain. He was the unlucky amongst us that day and was plagued with a dead battery on his 35 mm camera and was unable to photograph much of the journey.

His luck turned around the next day when they did the drawing for prizes and he won the set of Torklift fastguns that were up for grabs, so I guess one could say there was tit for tat.

Here we are again, at the Lower South Falls on Silver Creek's south fork. Even in that August heat, these falls were fairly wide and cooling. They were a downright soggy refrigerator this time around!

As I mentioned before, my hiking companions are true hikers, unlike us weekend warriors who put on a brave front and stomp around the woods here and there when it pleases us. It took very little time to reach that memorable "half-way" point that Pete and I had crossed once before.

Yes, even in August, that water was that green and I am very thankful for that fact. Its the only thing that saved my dignity when the ghost hikers had appeared on the trail and I had scooted forward (to the left in the picture) as much as possible to keep from embarrassing said hikers!

Given the rainy and cold conditions of this visit, there was no way my hind end was going to be repeating any similar escapades on this visit.

The power of snow melt was almost a tangible weight as we walked along side the swollen creeks, the roar of the water over the rocks and the thunder of the falls on this visit compared to last was like the soft thrumming of a shower head to a water sluice cannon.

When Pete and I had come last year, we had run short on time to visit all the falls, in addition to that because of our late summer visit time, most of the smaller falls had run dry. Double Falls, Winter Falls are two that I know we missed on the last visit.

Double Falls in particular is a tricky one to visit. It's on a side trail that goes off and away from the main Canyon Trail and you have to back track from it to return to your main hike. Its also one of the few falls that is actually not fed by Silver Creek, but instead is fed by Hullt Creek and drains into Silver.

We dallied here for a while, mostly for me, remember, two professional hikers, one guy whose personal nickname was "Billy Goat", guess who was the slow poke! I spent, oh, probably a good 15-20 minutes sitting on a log on the edge of the fall's impact pool munching on a granola bar trying to cool off through my sweats shy of stripping.

The others gradually made their way back up the trail to the top where they waited as patiently as they could for me to bring up the rear. I sounded like a steam locomotive puffing hard at the top of a grade when I finally caught up with them. Old adage still applies, it always easier getting there than it is getting back.

From there we moved on to Drake Falls up stream from Double and Lower North. As it had been the last time through here, the trail was on a steady upgrade climb.

However, unlike last time, during some other groups climb, unrelated to the NATCOA group, it was claimed that someone had a seizure or a heart attack, I can't remember which for certain anymore. That member of the group had been left behind as the rest of the group had hiked on back to camp to alert a Ranger.

The Rangers then dispatched several of their crew to search the trails for the person who was having the health problems coming from either end of the trail.

The group from the south, set out on foot, however, the Ranger from the North end, tried to ride a quad down the unstable dirt trail. During the decent near Drake Falls, the shoulder had given way and the quad tried to roll down hill! The driver got off in time, but the quad slung part way down the hill and caught on a couple of trees.

When we went past, the quad had been secured to a couple trees with cargo straps, and was waiting on another Ranger to arrive with some come-a-longs and a winch. Sadly, I wasn't allowed to take pictures of their monumental screw up, which would have made for interesting reading long after the event had happened.

Oh, and the Seizure/heart attack fella? He had long since hiked himself back to camp.

Our ascent carried us to Middle North Falls, which despite the heavier flow, was not in its full curtain form.

Middle North Falls is another of the many curtain waterfalls on the trail, behind which the trail carries you, offering up a spectacular views of the impact pool and the reaches of the canyon.

One advantage of these behind the falls hikes is that the mist from their constant tumbling grows a carpet of green all along the sheer rock walls, and you are awarded with an enormous variety of plant life.

Hanging carpets of ferns cascade over and together one another, stitched together by a vine know as Youth-on-Age whose new growth grows forth from the center of the previous adult leaf and goes on and on in this daisy chain of new birth and maturity.

The Big difference with Middle North Falls, is that while its a walk behind trail, its actually not on the main Canyon Trail, but a short spur that looks like a trail that was meant to go off to somewhere else, but the project was abandoned and never finished. In most cases there's a rope gate just before the under falls portion of the trail due to its deteriorating condition. Its not hard to move the gate and go past, but you do so at your own risk and I would recommend avoiding this unless your a member of the "Hold my Beer and watch this!" crowd that some of us Rednecks belong.

Winter Falls is another of the falls that are off the beaten path, so to say. Shortly after you pass under Middle North Falls, you come upon a fork in the road and another bridge across Silver Creek.

However, unlike the spur trail leading under Middle North Falls, this trail actually leads somewhere. In this case, it leads to a convenient parking lot not far from the falls for those that would rather drive and see the key falls rather than hike the ten-miles of dirt and gravel to see them all.

Being that we weren't too far from the end of our journey, we didn't dawdle long before we back-tracked to the main trail and continued our ascent towards North Falls and Upper North Falls and finally back to camp.

Along the way, more signs of the damage done by last winters storms were present around us. Giant trees that had fallen from the wind, erosion from the creeks over flowing their banks were a stiff reminder of the power of nature in this area, but at least the ball-of-instant-bee-death was no longer present along the trail this time.

As you moved forward, your eyes would always tend to gravitate towards the damage done to the landscape by the storms and wonder if anything you're seeing today will be there when you get to see it again in the future.

But, when you turned around, the majesty and eternal feeling of the place washes those thoughts away in a tide and you feel comforted in that it will always be there.

At last, long long last, the trail finally brought us to the pinnacle of the Silver Creek's north fork, North Falls. When it's low on water this water fall quietly commands respect, in the winter it demands it.

With a lions roar, this fall crashes 136 feet to its impact pool below, a jagged ledge of rock forming one of natures amphitheaters whose main event never ends, booming the roar deep into the woods around it.

The trail carried us up and around Roaring Lion, but its blasts of mist still carried up with us and dampened us in its own light rain.

By now, we'd reached the point at which Pete and I had called it quits and had sung our way into the hearts of two nice ladies who drove us back to camp. Ahead laid one more waterfall that we had turned away from seeing.

Today, that would be different.

Rather than take the stairs up to the parking lot, we continued on under the Highway 214 bridge that crosses Silver Creek and continued north weaving through trees and massive boulders left behind amongst the rubble from centuries of water erosion.

A few short minutes of travel carried us at last to the end of our journey, Upper North Falls. Beyond this point there was no further trail that we could traverse and the tenth water fall had been achieved.

Having had our fill of the water falls, we made short work of our return to camp using the shoulder of the highway to hike up to camp and relax from our travels.

By this time, the other group had long since returned from the hike, having only done 2/3s the journey we had undertaken, and my truck was neatly parked back at camp. In addition, several additional campers had arrived by this point, including Matthew_B and kids.

An extension cord already extended from the back of his camper hooked to his crock pot, which was stewing away at his contribution for the evening's pot luck dinner.

A majority of the group had already gathered back at the collection of canopy's in the center to enjoy a delightful seminar on how to cook using dutch ovens and charcoal to prepare various dishes, including a peach cobbler.

During which time, INSAYN's son had found himself a sharpened stick and was wandering around showing his Mortal Kombat skills off to all those who would watch.

Sadly, I wasn't able to attend the seminar as I had to scurry back to the camper and start prepping to make deep fried chicken. This, wound up being a poor choice of dishes to make for a camp potluck when you're trying to cook it using a small stove top deep fryer and a camp stove.

What made it worse was Pete really didn't have a good idea of what "Doing the Dishes" meant.... Between needing to rewash the dishes and the slowness of trying to use that small fryer, my chicken didn't make it up to the table till about the time that everyone was already full.

I decided that if I was ever going to deep fry chicken for a rally again, that I'd be bringing one of those giant turkey deep fryers....

After all was said and done that evening with dinner, I broke out the liquor cabinet and became the evening bar to make up for the late entry of my food for the potluck. Members Bubba and a few others made heavy use of the Crown Royale, and I relaxed with another cigar amongst the throngs of fellow campers.

Our libations lasted late into the evening, with people gradually peeling off from either exhaustion or the periodic rain, till only Craig, Myself, and Matthew and his Wife remained. We spent a couple hours telling tales of mishaps at our jobs, and trying not to fall out of my chair when Matthew told his tale of repelling people from a bathroom at work and Craig's tale of the disappearing co-worker of which the only things they could find were bits of a Bunny Suit (The clean room suits worn by workers in Intel's Chip foundries) and later a suspicious brown drip trail.

Eventually, it became Craig and myself chatting about Intel, the massive fire having burned down to a foot of coals. Before calling it a night, we buried a little plastic baggy of dog products deep in the coals, which burned quick and quietly to ash and left nothing behind.

The next morning came slow and groggily, as I roused from my bed and donned my overalls and a warm jacket to join the others around the morning fire. Several had already packed up and left for home, but a good number of us were still there, Matthew and his family amongst them, having only been there since the night before.

It took a fair while before my head cleared enough to function, at which time I made breakfast. The daunting task of cleaning up the deep fryer mess of the night before still awaited me, but I put it off for the time being, not relishing the messy under taking.

Once I had gathered my energy again, I set out with Matthew, one of his daughters, and his little son Daniel. This time, we hiked down from camp using the access trail (which ironically was directly behind my camper), to revisit Twin Falls, North Falls, and Upper North Falls.

Paul Beddows decided to tag along as well, having not see any of the northern falls in yesterday's split hike.

The trail from camp is a steep switch back made of loose dirt and low hanging tree limbs. If one's ankles and knees aren't up to the heavy strain, or are sore from having just hiked ten miles the previous day, this rapid trip down into the valley below can be a study in extreme pain.

As it was, I nearly ran down the trail, my legs not having the strength to hold me back on the steep decent. I was strongly reminded that if I ever decided to do this again, a pair of used ski poles was definitely on my shopping list.

Eventually, the trail leveled off and the screaming pain in my knees subsided and I waited patiently for the others to catch up to my runaway-train dash to the bottom. I'm fairly certain my knees creaked the remainder of the short hike to the Upper North Falls, but I can't remember for certain.

The rain had returned again on our hike to the falls, and it didn't take long for anyone not wearing a long, heavy rubber rain coat to turn into a human sponge.

David didn't care, he thought it everything was great!

The remainder of the day was consumed with the clean-up and packing up of camp. Craig (INSAYN) distributed his remaining firewood amongst those that wanted it, (I loaded as much as I could get my hands on into my trailer) and departed.

Sometime, later in the evening, say around 8-9pm, the camper was finally loaded up and I started back. A number of the NATCOA members were staying the extra night before heading home, but because if a promise I made to get Pete back in time so he could make monday classes, I had to head back.

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