Rattlesnake Trail — Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2016
Ah, the wild and lonely Wenaha Tucannon wilderness. Scenic? Check. Lonely? Oh yeah. Untrammeled? Yes, and then some. This is gonna be a long one, because it had all the elements of adventure and I want to capture it for posterity. The lowdown, for those who don’t want the exciting tale that goes with it: o Lots of small to medium (>10in. diameter) trees down between mile 0.5 and 1 mile. o More (larger) trees downs and trail almost entirely obscured in saddle between high point and second meadow o Snow on trail at Rattlesnake/Panjab intersection, no trail sign o Snow obscures Panjab Trail from intersection to at least a quarter mile down trail. o Rattlesnake Trail overall navigable to intersection, if you know how to route-find and read a map. o Poor signage (read: no signage) For the rest of you, here we go… I hope that someday I can look back on this hike and think, ‘Boy that was some good Type 2 fun.’ However, with at least one rogue tick loose in my car, a broken gaiter, and two extra miles under my belt (13 mile day hike, anyone?) I think right now I’ll just say the Wenaha wound up being more of an adventure than I expected. After 20 minutes of brushbashing to a) figure out where I was supposed to be fording the river and b) find a tree to cross on, I started up the trail. The forecast was for clouds, and it was lightly drizzling, which was actually nice, since the trail is so steep. I saw some recent WTA work (good job, guys!), but because I understood that that crew had worked primarily on the Panjab trail, I wasn’t surprised when after the first mile our signature saw cuts were nowhere to be found. Luckily, in the first mile, the trail was pretty obvious, where there weren’t blowdowns to navigate. Past that though, I learned what untrammeled wilderness really means. The trail looks like it hasn’t seen saw or grubhoe in years, truly untouched by people. In some places, I had a hard time finding it. This was partially due to snow; there are still several patches in the second and third miles. One is particularly inconvenient because to avoid it you have to walk downhill of it on slippery willow; it’s a long tumble if you fall. Once I broke out into the first meadow, the trail was was pretty straightforward, if rather faint. I made good time through here, then lost it all down in the saddle, where trees lay like matchsticks someone had dropped. Brush whipped me in the face as I navigated around and over blowdowns, but my main concern was keeping track of the trail, and that I was making good time. I’d hoped to reach the trail intersection at noon or noon thirty, expecting it would take another four hours to get down the Panjab trail and back to my car via the road. The two mile meadow walk from the high point was pretty, though the clouds kept me from seeing quite as far as I would have liked. Up here, most of the trail went through meadow interspersed with patches of snow, but as the trail turned south, the area ahead turned into a field of snow interspersed with patches of meadow. Bummer, but I thought, ‘Hey, if we just had a BCRT here, surely I’ll be able to see some remnants of the crew having been here last week.’ As I got closer, I kept thinking I could see the trail sign for the intersection, but every time, it turned out to be a tree. My watch beeped noon just as I was closing in on what I was sure was the intersection. But still, no sign. I consulted my map, and thought I’d walk a little farther on and make sure I hadn’t undershot it. Still no sign, and I was going downhill. I rechecked my map and figured I’d passed the intersection and was heading down Cold Springs Trail. So I headed back up to where I estimated the intersection was and moved closer to the treeline, the better to see telltale tracks or even a trail leading into the trees. I knew the Panjab trail traversed diagonally away below the Rattlesnake trail for a bit. I figured if I started making my way downslope, I would hit it eventually. I did. At this point it was a quarter to one, and I wanted to get off snow onto consistently visible trail before doing lunch. Unfortunately, after much hiking, map consulting and backtracking, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. There was too much snow for me to be 100% certain I was on the right trail, and the trail was supposed to descend steeply into a drainage. If I went down the wrong one, I would have an even longer hike back to my car once I hit the road. My watch had beeped one -- it was an hour after I was supposed to have had lunch. At this point, I decided it would be easier and safer to backtrack to my car, because I was alone, and no one was expecting to hear from me until at least afternoon the next day. At best, getting lost out there would have meant an extra long road walk back to my car. At worst, I would have had a hard time summoning help. So I made my way grumpily (just because it was a safe decision doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed) to a bare patch in a meadow and ate my lunch before heading back. This was where the fun started. A mile into my return hike, I rolled my ankle. Nothing serious, just another annoyance to add to wet feet and failing to find the trail down. Then I lost the trail where it reentered the brushy saddle and spent some quality time getting whipped in the face by brush as I made my way towards where I knew the trail would come out. When I finally recovered it, it was only a few minutes of walking before a bush ripped the elastic out of my left gaiter. After that, it was another round of wet feet, thanks to the newly melted snow in the meadow area. On the last downhill pitch it was finally getting sunny, so I stopped to apply more sunscreen, and found my first tick. Ick. He was toddling along between my outer shirt and my underlayer, and I flicked him off, but his presence immediately made me suspicious, so I did an impromptu full-body tick check (the best thing about hiking out here is the solitude allows for that kind of thing). I didn’t find anymore, so I headed off and tried to avoid brushing against too many bushes. Still, another one wound up on my pants. For once, I was happy they were a light color. Flick! Off he went. Down at the creek, I thought I’d ford the river to get back to my car. Given my recent buddies, I didn’t want to do another brushbash so close to the end. As I prepped to cross, I checked my gaiters, shoes, pant cuffs and socks for riders. None there, but in the meantime, one climbed onto my pack and another up my sock to my ankle. He tried to bite almost immediately, but I managed to get him before he got in. I finally crossed the river slowly and carefully, since it is pretty deep here, moving quickly, and the bottom is slippery. Then I conducted a thorough tick inspection on everything I had had hiked in (down to between Band-Aids in my first aid kit), and after 35 minutes decided everything was tick-free and it was time to go. I put my backpack in a garbage bag and my shoes were drying on the front seat floor in their own garbage bag. That’s when tick number 5 struck. As I was driving, I realized I hadn’t thoroughly checked my hair, just my hairline. I'd been wearing a hat most of the day, so I was doing a cursory comb-through and felt something like a light tangle. About five minutes later I felt something at the base of my hairline... I pulled my hand away and there was a big tick on my finger. I was so surprised and grossed out, I reflexively flicked my hand and of course he went flying somewhere in the car. Of course. I pulled over to look for him and saw yet another one creeping along by the drivers’ seat. I snagged it and let it outside, and then ran around to recheck my shoes, and sure enough there was another one creeping along the upper. Eight ticks at this point. I flicked it off as well, and bagged up my shoes. So much for drying them out. I camped for the night at Lewis and Clark State Park. It was a nice quiet spot, where I undertook another full body and equipment tick check, and there were none to be found. I made it through the night and most of Thursday without finding any. I thought I’d successfully quarantined them, but I found another in the car on the way to Yakima this afternoon, so I’m not convinced I isolated them completely. Which, to me, is terrifying. My friend in Yakima who is much more familiar with hiking in tick country didn’t seem worried or grossed out by my story (in fact, she thought my thorough tick checking was sort of funny), but she thinks I may have stepped in a nest, which would account for the large number of them. She agreed that that many is a little unusual. The big rogue still has not surfaced. My shoes spent Thursday night outside drying out in the Yakima wind, and hopefully all residual ticks blow away directly into the mouths of their predators. So Wenaha 6 (snow, ticks, blowdowns, water on trail, rolled ankle, broken gaiter), Anna 1 – No Morton’s neuroma flareup, despite the many miles hiked. I was a bit stiff the next morning. Chalk it up to tick tension.