Saturday, October 29, 2011

McKenzie Pass

Starting in Montana, my friends and I have been much warned about Mckenzie pass. Some would have us think it's a horrific climb that will probably be covered in snow, if not closed outright. In truth, it was a memorably pleasant climb. It was sunny in the morning, and not freezing out. It was the perfect temperature, actually, for climbing. From the town of Sister, until the last leg of the pass itself, I was riding through open, airy pinewoods.

I'm always on some level scouting for a place to camp. Even in the morning. Even when I have a hostel or warmshowers host up ahead. I look for places to camp like I identify roadside flowers, talk to cows, and sing the same line of a song over and over because it's all I can remember. It's a nice habit. Sometimes I see places so perfectly ideal to tuck into, that it's hard to just keep on moving. Idaho had a lot of those - all along the Salmon river, well-worn riverside camps, sandy and sheltered. Yesterday, hours of riding along little hills of sand, rock, juniper and sagebrush. This might be the best of all - a mature, breezy pine forest with a thick layer of soft needles on the ground, fragrant the welcoming. I wanted to stop and explore the narrow trails leading back into the woods. I knew what was coming, though, so I kept going.

I'd already decided that I'd be happy if I could just make it up over the summit. With the glacial slow uphill progress, a good climb takes me all day. Also, the top of Mckenzie pass is a huge, blackened lava flow. Definitely a place worth stopping to absorb. The final stretch of climb was less welcoming. The effects of fire - and probably more frequent rain, pushing over from the wetter west side of the cascades - make the younger trees grow thick. In places it looked like it would be difficult to even walk between them, and the ground was covered with wet logs and debris. At the beginning of the actual pass, truck traffic is denied and the road narrows.

I didn't quite make it to the lava-rock observatory that marks the top of the pass. I might need to climb half a mile or so tomorrow, but that's worth it for a good place to rest tonight. I camped in a basin of pine needles surrounded by black rock, just off view from the road. I didn't really have time to explore much - rain coming, and cold.

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