September 4, 2012

Ignorance in the woods can be very costly

Lake Kiwa, Waldo Lake Wilderness

I think it was back in cub scouts as a wee lad when the "be prepared" mantra was originally drilled into my head. Forgetting toilet paper when preparing for a hike is one thing – not packing the right clothes on a backpack trip, especially in the winter, is another.

It was time for Paranoia and I to get back into the wilderness. Spring was young, yet snow in the higher elevations was melting rapidly. We drove the primitive road from the north section of Waldo Lake in the direction to Taylor Burn Campground. About one mile down the rugged road we encountered a few stubborn snow patches lingering across the road. Before each one I simply pressed on the gas pedal a little more firmly and barreled through the snow patch with little resistance. However, one snow patch proved too formidable. My "little truck that could" tried valiantly, but half way through the deep snow patch she came to a halt. Rocking the pickup in forward and reverse while in four wheel drive didn't work.

English: Waldo Lake in Oregon.
English: Waldo Lake in Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When driving in the mountains, particularly in the spring, snow in the process of melting is the worst snow to travel through. When below freezing, tires will plow through newly fallen snow or ride on top of packed snow. When snow is melting, tires tend to push the heavy snow, which decreases a vehicle's momentum until it eventually can go no further. Spinning tires in an effort to free a rig often results in compacted snow, which acts like ice and makes it that much harder to free a rig.

We were stuck. And as we began to dig ourselves out with our hands and tree branches we found alongside the road we sweated; and as we sweated, two boat paddles shaped like shovels, brought along to propel a small inflatable raft we hoped to catch trout from, laid forgotten in the bed of the pickup. With fingers like ice pops and the pickup's tires still buried, I finally recalled loading the paddles. We pulled them out and within 15 minutes were out of the snowfield.

Not wanting to risk another run at plowing through the patch, we fell back on Plan B, drove back to the boat ramp at North Waldo, shouldered our backpacks and began hiking the Waldo Lake shoreline trail. One of the largest lakes in the state, Waldo Lake is also the second deepest at 420' deep. And like the deepest lake in North America- Crater Lake to the south - its waters are remarkably clear. 

We then took the intersecting trail leading to Rigdon Lakes, passed the pair of blue gems, and set up camp near Lake Kiwa. We immediately laid down our backpacks and headed for a peninsula jutting out into the lake to entice some wily brook trout into biting our hooks. 
Rigdon Lake fishing
On the peninsula, we noticed several small logs, 4 or 5 inches in diameter, lying in a pile. Freshly chopped stumps dotted the area, protruding grotesquely a few feet above the ground. Behind us in the forest we could see an old, large, spongy log recently used to build a fire. Someone had really done a number on this place.

The next day a ranger stopped and talked to us about the destruction we had noticed along the lake. Apparently, the area had been raped and pillaged by a small party the weekend before. Light snows had dusted the area, and according to the ranger, the party wasn't prepared for the cold weather. Not only trying to stay warm, but perhaps alive, the party chopped down several small trees, intending to burn them. Discovering the green trees don't burn, they then retreated into the nearby forest and started a fire beneath the blackened fallen log. Obviously, the punky, spongy old log didn't burn well, either.

A ranger patrolling the area apparently came on the scene and approached one of the men, informing him of a hefty fine he was about to receive for chopping down the trees and making a mess of the shoreline. Apparently, the man became belligerent, ranting and raving about how he had come to these mountains for years and had never heard of such a thing and was only trying to keep his family alive.
Lake Kiwa
I can appreciate someone trying to keep himself and his family alive. You can't fault the man for that. But ignorance and carelessness is no excuse for the abuse this lake shore had received. I would hope that if the man had been entering the Cascades for as long as he professed, he would know better than to enter them in the unpredictable month of May without the proper clothing to keep warm - especially when children were involved.

If I remember correctly, I believe the ranger said the fine was, at the time, $100 per every inch of tree diameter cut down. So a tree with a four inch diameter would equal a fine of $400. And a bunch of trees were laying there that size, equating to several thousand dollars.

Someone might have thought he was keeping his family alive, but it cost him a bundle. So if you're tired of giving the feds more of your money to waste, don't get caught cutting down a tree on National Forest land.  
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