Hiking the Wallowa River Loop Trail, Part 2: Touching the sky among the titans | Explore Yakima

Editor’s note: Explore contributor Gensheng Tian hiked the Wallowa River Loop Trail in August. This is the second of three installments.

Hiking the Wallowa River Loop Trail, Part 1: The majesty of nature and kinship

Day 2: Fraser Lake

I got up earlier than the sun. We would have a long day. It was better to have too much time to reach a destination than too little.

“Good morning, Ying. Did you sleep well?” I ask.

“No, I didn’t sleep at all,” Ying said. “Too much noise and the gusts. But you slept fast. I heard you snore.”

“All the sounds in nature for me are musical. The man-made noises are in the city, not here,” I said. “Did you have a good sleep, Vipin?”

“Not really, but you’re right,” Vipin said.

Both are new to backpacking. It takes time. I learned backpacking from Jeff and Joyce Hagen years ago. They went to my home to check what I brought to make sure everything was correct before we went backpacking.

“Tian, ​​you always test your tent, stove and water filter before you go backpacking,” Jeff said. “Make a list to make sure you have everything you need.”

They coached me on how to set up the tent, hang food on the tree and to place dried food in empty bags and put them 20 feet away from the tent under a big rock to avoid luring bears to camp.

Jeff Hagen is also a legendary figure. He’s a hiker, backpacker, skier and climber. He’s also a distinguished runner. He broke the world 48-hour race record for ages 75-79 in the World Championship 48-Hour Race in New Jersey this year. The record was 161 miles. Jeff ran 167 miles in 48 hours.

On the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, backpackers create their own hiking culture and use slang. Moving fast in the woods at a long distance is called blasting. Jeff’s a real blaster. He’s my mentor and inspires me.

Backpacking is not just hiking into the dense forest. We have to accept what the mountains give us: rain, cold, heat — a variety of conditions. We open our hearts to embrace nature and give our love to her.

After breakfast, I rolled up my tent and put everything into my pack. I checked the campsites. Nothing was left. No trace left at the campsite is a rule for backpackers. We were ready for our second daylong march.

Vipin was first, Ying followed and I was last. The weather was cool with a fresh breeze. Along the trail, there were all kinds of flowers. They danced for us. It was uphill. Vipin was the smart mountain goat. In a second, he was out of my sight.

In two miles, the elevation gained over 1,000 feet. I hiked at a slow pace as I shouldered the heavy pack.

However, my heart guided me uphill. Without heart, we can’t realize our dreams or arrive at our destination. We can’t go far or climb high. Life needs heart.

After an hour we were at Tenderfoot Pass. The monster mountains scraped the sky and the canyon was deep. It was beautiful.

We went down to a meadow. It was flat with colorful flowers. Then we climbed again. The trail had a lot of switchbacks. We were walking in a garden. The colorful flowers took away my exhaustion.

“The smells are like honey, so fresh. Do you smell it?” Ying said.

The trail led us to the summit. The wind gusts were strong. I had to take my hat off. I got up to Polaris Pass. It was our highest point, 8,850 feet. The sky was close to me. The mountains were titans.

We stayed there for a while, but it was cold. The dicey trail, full of debris, was less than a foot wide. I double-checked my poles and walked cautiously. I knew one mistake could cause an injury.

I was in the backcountry, in the middle of nowhere. It was a long way to the trailhead. We hadn’t met any backpackers on the trail that day, which didn’t allow for any mistakes. I took a deep breath and a short rest. I walked patiently through it, step by step.

First and foremost, backpacking has to be safe. Even though it carries inherent risk, knowing my abilities and being aware of my situation puts me in a better position, both in hiking and in life. As “The Art of War” says, “Know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”

I saw two slide marks and learned that Vipin fell twice there. I’m glad he wasn’t hurt.

Going down was easy for my body but hard for my knees. We arrived at a small waterfall and creek. We all washed ourselves to cool down and drank the icy water.

The scenery was stunning. Ying and Vipin were taking snapshots.

“Why don’t you take pictures?” Ying asked.

“It’s too beautiful to take a picture,” I said, “I’ll store them in my memory. When I’m back home, download them into my soul and sit on the patio with a cup of tea and appreciate the beauty slowly.”

“You’re a hiking poet,” Vipin teased.

We kept going and met a forest service lady. Vipin loved to talk with people he met. She explained to us the regulations and rules.

National park law is the best I’ve ever read. It preserves natural and cultural elements of the park. The National Park Service was created in the Organic Act of 1916. The mission was clearly stated: ” … to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means, as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Great laws show us wisdom and vision.

“We treasure every inch of the holy land,” I said.

She was so happy when she heard my words. I could see relief on her face. She loved her job and the land.

We walked in a canyon. The mountains were granite, with several waterfalls from the mountains and some curved stone grooves from erosion on the high mountains. The view was magnificent.

We had to cross a stream, one of the deadliest threats to hikers, climbers and backpackers. Ying and Vipin didn’t have experience crossing streams, so I went first.

The stream was swift and full of rocks. I didn’t feel safe with water shoes, so I decided to cross with my boots.

I unbuckled my backpack, faced upstream, held my poles together firmly in the water. I slowly moved one foot and stepped solidly on the ground under the water before moving my other foot towards the bank.

After safely crossing, I crossed back to help Ying across. She made it safely. I also wanted to help Vipin. “I can do it,” he said.

We climbed again. I was exhausted. It took us over eight hours to hike 12 miles with an elevation gain of 2,500 feet to reach our campsite.

As I was setting up my tent, a swarm of ravenous mosquitoes bit me, even though I had on a long-sleeve shirt and head net. I understood them, though. They didn’t have many opportunities; there aren’t a lot of victims like us there every day.

I tried to swim, but the water was too shallow. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful lake.

As we started to cook, Vipin couldn’t find his stove. Afterwards, Ying’s propane went out. I had a stove and an extra container of propane, so we were fine. Carrying an extra container while backpacking wasn’t light, but it was useful.

Trekking back to see if he left his stove at the waterfall, Vipin was upset he couldn’t find it. “Well, it’s a lesson, you can learn from it. It’s good for you in the future,” I said.

“But it’s expensive,” Ying said.

“It happens,” Vipin said as he shrugged his shoulders. He felt embarrassed and wanted to let it go.

Different philosophies and different attitudes result in opposite conclusions. One thinks it’s just a stove; he’ll get another one. That’s it. It doesn’t bother him. The other thinks he needs to double-check before he leaves in the future.

Learning from mistakes or failures is an important part of life. It requires strength and intelligence. Not everyone has this gift.

• Gensheng Tian submits occasional columns to Explore. He is a card dealer at Legends Casino but his real business is hiking and backpacking. English is Tian’s second language.