Escape From Valhalla

This is what the skies looked like in the morning. Not a wisp of smoke. The fire from the night before must have died down overnight, and the cool morning air allowed the smoke to settle to the ground.

Don’t worry. The wildfire did not cross the ridge in Valhalla Provincial Park. Better yet, there was no battle between gods and monsters during Ragnarök. There were apparently wild animals afoot, but without any drama we simply followed the trail back out.

The sky was blue and reassuring the next morning. We had a couple cups of coffee on a rock beside the lake, with breakfast. Then we set off at a leisurely pace for the next lake, leaving all our heavy gear behind. Our plan was to make an easy day hike to Cahill Lake, go all the way to Beatrice Lake if we felt like it, and return to our camp for a late lunch and a relaxing evening.

I love finding tracks in the mud. We spotted these during breakfast.
Looking back at our camp as we left it. The official camp spots are tucked away in the trees, so you can’t see anything from here.
Pedro stands at the trail, looking toward Evans Creek as we continued to follow it up into the mountains of Valhalla Provincial Park.
This bridge looks a little sketchy, but it’s like a highway compared to the rotting log 10 feet downstream that had been used as a bridge before this one. We were glad to use the brand new bridge.
Cahill Lake was very pretty, and we got a good up-close look at the mountain we could see from Emerald Lake.
The peaks across the lake looked enticing. This wilderness contains the same kind of combination of granite outcroppings, forests, creeks and many little lakes that draws me to the Enchantments Wilderness area in Washington.

We stopped for snacks and tested out the status of our joints after a night of sleeping in a tent on dirt (we are no longer as young as we once were). Pedro had a new idea. He had been thinking about how we had to step over all those boulders beside Slocan Lake. It had been hard enough in the morning when we were fresh and eager to hike. It would be more challenging at the end of the day, after pounding down the trail for hours first – downhill is the hardest part for hikers with knee issues. If we camped at Emerald Lake a second night, then on the third day we would have to come down out of the mountains and THEN cross all the boulder slides. Instead, he suggested we skip Beatrice Lake, and instead go back down to the beach at the mouth of Evans Creek, and camp there. That way, we would only have the last four (awful) miles for the final day. I liked the idea.

Though steep, the trail is so smooth up there.
There were reliable crossings over all the creeks and also through multiple marshy areas. I was impressed with the condition of the trail.
The far end of Emerald Lake. This lake looks like a reservoir, though it is not. Possibly the barren rocky shore shows that there has been unseasonably low rain and snow this year.
Pretty day
Pedro checks the beach for things left behind, and instead finds tracks from our neighbors.

In no time, we had arrived back at our camp. We packed up and then scoured the entire area for anything we may have left. We had not seen a soul for 24 hours at that point, and had confidently left our stuff scattered everywhere. My little whisperlite stove was at the cast iron cooking platform next to the bear box. Our food bag (and all our trash) was inside the bear box. Various items were hanging over branches to dry. Solar phone charger was on a boulder in the sun.

Anyway…that is how it came to our attention that we had been sharing the site only recently with a wild cat. Though I respect them, bears do not worry me. Or wolves, or moose, and I have had multiple close exposures to all of those. Other than humans, the only mammals that actually scare me are cats.

Definitely fresh cat tracks.
Based on the size and shape, Pedro and I believe these are cougar tracks.

That was not all. I don’t know how we had missed it up till then, but for whatever reason I took a close look for the first time at the damage on the outhouse we had been using. This was not ten minutes after Pedro discovered the cat tracks.

Serious destruction of the outhouse by a bear. There are no marks on the door. But as you can see, large chunks of lumber are torn off the back corners.
Look at the power behind those claws! It ripped a 2×4.

By the time we discovered the signs from apex predators, we were packed up and ready to hit the trail. I was relieved at that timing.

Look at that sky!! What wildfires?

We had a fun hike down, into the groove of things by now, the weight of our big packs feeling familiar. We arrived at the beach camp at Slocan Lake with lots of sunshine left, even though we had started the day going the other direction. We found an awesome platform to put our tent on, and claimed it by placing our packs on it. But first of all we wanted to go down to the water and put our feet in.

The mouth of Evans Creek opens into a wide delta with lots of small streams creating lots of rocky islands.
We took off our hot boots and socks and put our feet into the icy water. It was shockingly cold, but just the perfect thing to soothe our tootsies.
Our closest beach neighbors stayed the night right here in front of our tent platform.

After we had rested a while, and chatted with several of the other campers at the location, we went to set up the tent. This beach was as popular as it had been the day before when we came through on our way up. Everyone else there arrived in a canoe or kayak, and no one was hiking. They could not believe we had hiked in from Slocan, asking, why didn’t we just come by kayak, which was much more pleasurable. So funny. I wonder if everyone here just has kayaks, like they have umbrellas or frisbees. There was a dog that made rounds through every single campsite, and the beach, visiting. He wanted a hello, a pat on the head, and then he moved to the next group. He came to visit us at least six times that evening.

This is a photo from the next morning, but I place it here to show what our platform looked like.
Another from the next morning, to show what it looked like set up. Morning coffee operations are going on there on the right, with my stove surrounded in a tin wind barrier, and the red strainer dripping coffee into the blue cup behind it. You can also see the solar-powered phone charger in the doorway.

Camp set up, we grabbed warmer shirts and headed back down to the water. We had found a favourite island and memorized the path across stones and along a fallen log to get there while remaining somewhat dry.

The wildfire smoke became evident in crepuscular rays as the sun set.

The shape of the beach, with all its little rocky islands surrounded by water made us feel safe starting another fire. Someone else had built a beautiful temporary fire pit by digging a hole in the sand and lining it with stones. Pedro left the island to gather fuel while I made dinner. By the time the food was ready, we had a cute little fire on the beach and we enjoyed our meal there in the warm night with the sound of the crashing creek all around giving us privacy from others on the beach. We could not hear the other campers that way, and after the sun went down, we could not see each other either.

Fire in the hole {photo by Pedro}

The next morning, we felt refreshed. It is easier to sleep on a level wooden platform than on slanted, rocky soil with the occasional root jutting up.

My view first thing in the morning.
This lake is popular for kayakers.
We were blessed once more with beautiful skies.

Off we went! First order of business was a bath. We recalled the lake felt warm the day before, but right at Evans Creek it was very cold because of the icy stream. We walked about 1/2 mile down the trail till we found a nice clean granite shore, and stripped down and got in. After not too long, our bodies adjusted to the cold and we swam around sloshing as much dust and sweat off as we could. We did not use soap, but the fresh water was enough. We both went underwater and scrubbed scalps too. It felt great! Baths are luxurious when camping. The sun was baking the wide, flat rocks and we laid there to dry, then put on clean, sweet-smelling clothes. Ahh.

This butterfly had been attracted to the salt on my camera shoulder strap while we swam. {photo by Pedro}
Looking back the way we had come.
Pedro all clean and packed up after swimming, looking toward Slocan, which is clearly beneath a blanket of wildfire smoke.
Birds charmed us.
A pileated woodpecker searches for treats.
Arrgh, the blasted granite boulders again. {photo by Pedro}
It’s a sign that our brilliant blue skies were about to come to an end.
Walking toward wildfire smoke over Slocan.
Helpful notch. {photo by Pedro}
Finally! There it was. A few more steps, we crossed a bridge and dropped gratefully into padded seats of the waiting Jeep.

No longer interested in the scenic route, we skipped the ferry option this time and took a different route south, stopping for a fabulous lunch in the city of Castelgar, BC. As we drove, the skies grew smokier. We arrived at the Porthill border crossing with light still in the sky, which was great.

Except. There was a gate across the road that said the border was closed. Crossing not allowed. WHAT?! I never heard of the border closing on a random Friday evening. Not except for COVID anyway. We sat in stunned silence for a second. We backtracked to the Canada border post, hoping for someone to ask questions of, but no one was there. The security camera flashed at us and took a shot though. I looked it up online and found that the Porthill crossing closes each evening at 5:00 pm. It was 5:25.

The Idaho panhandle is less than 50 miles across, but I knew there was another border crossing, so I pulled it up on GPS and found that it was 45 minutes away, which was tolerable, as long as that one was open. It’s in the Canadian town of Kingsgate, which we both thought was quite an appropriate name for a Commonwealth Country border crossing.

This much bigger facility was open. We tried Pedro’s idea, which was to hand over our Global Entry cards along with our passports. I would not have thought of it, but he just got his card a few weeks earlier, and it was fresh on his mind. This crossing was a distinctly different experience, perhaps because of the cards. After about three questions “Where were you? Why were you there? For how long?” Our stuff was handed back and we were sent on our way. The easiest border crossing into the US in years.

We wound into the mountains through some really spectacular Idaho mountain country. This part of North America is simply outstanding. Construction slowed us down a bit. By the time we were approaching the Kootenai River Valley, it was pitch black and we could see – uncomfortably close – the fire of the Kootenai River Complex burning. Huge pillars of red and orange flames leapt up across the mountainsides. I wanted so much to stare in awe, but I was driving a narrow, winding, unfamiliar, mountain road in the dark. Have you ever been close enough to see the flames of a wildfire? It’s a crazy adrenalin surge. The feeling that comes over me is supercharged emotions of fear and attraction and awe. I wonder if this is what people throughout history who have had a close relationship with their god feel like. Through my peripheral vision, I could see 80-foot pine trees engulfed in flames that soared to 140 feet. There was both dread and excitement. I was pulled like a moth. Good thing I was forced to focus on the highway most of the time. I hope Pedro got a good look.

We finally rolled in to Jim’s house in Moyie Springs, Idaho. He had just returned from the birthday party of a granddaughter. We were all tired. We chatted for just a little while and everyone hit the sack. The next day we drove through thick smoke the entire 10 hours to get home. Everywhere was buried in smoke: Spokane, Kennewick, Portland. Wildfires have become a way of life for Pacific Northwest summers. It is a sad thing. It made us oh, so grateful for the three-days respite while we explored the mountains.

We stopped to explore Coer d’Alene, Idaho, famous as a stunningly beautiful mountain resort town. Not so much in the smoke.
I snapped this photo of sun through smoke while waiting at my hometown’s ONE traffic light. After dropping Pedro at his house and kissing him goodbye, I left immediately for my own home to check on my babies. Racecar and the Hussies were doing just fine. 🙂

11 thoughts on “Escape From Valhalla

  1. Oh my goodness, Crystal!…you have me feeling like I was trekking along beside you!! You are fabulous!!! Please keep sharing!

    1. Thanks for the appreciation, Jan. I’m glad it felt like you could come along with me. I worried that this one was too long, but I wanted to get it all done. I’ll do more posts, don’t worry. ha ha! 🙂

  2. Amazing! All of it. The cats scare me the most too. Mostly because they are stalkers and you’re unlikely to get much warning they’re around. I’m going to guess godwit and American dipper on the birds. Looks like a fabulous trip! Thanks!

      1. I love those dippers!
        I saw some photos of a godwit in flight which led me to speculate, but yes, so hard to tell. You take such great trips!

  3. Your description of fire is on target. As USFS firefighters in the early 80s, we could not WAIT to get called out. The excitement and adrenalin were palpable. And then the work began … and now, of course, fire means so much destruction, whereas before it might have been part of nature’s plan for regrowth. I love that you all get out there and push yourselves on the trail. While I know you have enjoyed doing this solo, I’m sure it’s great to have such a great partner.

    1. I’m glad to have your personal description of what it’s like, Laurie. Of course you have been closer than most and I am still grateful for your work back then. When I’ve been at fire camps, I could feel the adrenalin even there, when people were resting and eating, and in meetings. Out on the fire line it must be so intense. Yes, you are right about enjoying hikes with a good partner. I still do really love hiking and camping alone. But I also love sharing these things with Pedro, who enjoys it so much, and is as eager to explore off the trail and goof around as much as I do. He’s ready to jump in the lake or change the itinerary mid-hike. This is all good stuff. he did not complain about the freeze-dried food at all, except to say that he didn’t like it. Ha ha! It makes me so happy that you stopped by to say Hi on these hiking posts. You and Kelly still show up here and there, and it’s reassuring to me to see my old friends. 🙂

  4. Cougars, fires and Pedro… What a combination. Grin. Cougars and fires are less scary when faced with a friend. I wonder if the damage on the outhouse was done by a bear. You can add another large animal to your adventure. 🙂 As for fire, I’ve certainly seen my share these last few years. Far too much. Fun post, Crystal, you weave a good tale. –Curt

    1. I thank you for the compliment that I weave a good tale. You and I are storytellers, and it feels good to be appreciated. Yes, we both thought that a bear had tried to tear its way into the outhouse. I’m glad it did not think to go to the other side of the building and try the door, which was much thinner wood and would have been easier to tear.

      1. Laughing, you might be frozen up for days, Crystal, if you were sitting on the throne and a bear came calling. 🙂 Like me the time the bear stood on me.

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