On a Monday evening two weeks ago, I put in behind the Park & Rec building to paddle upriver and meet a few friends for some whitewater play in the rapids above Bill Healy Bridge. It was 6:30 p.m., about 90 degrees, and the river was choked with floaters. As I began to paddle, I saw a dark colored shirt floating downstream and heard sirens start to wail. People yelled at me from the footbridge, "Look for someone in the water!"
Seventeen-year-old Aaron Garcia had been trying to swim across the river from Farewell Bend Park across the river with friends when he began to struggle and slipped below the surface.
I paddled around above the footbridge where he was last seen, peering into the water. People were frantically scrambling on the banks and looking too. I told the police about the shirt and paddled downriver after it. I knew only too well how fast a body can move with the current if not snagged. Back in April, Norton, a friend's beloved 17-year-old dog, stumbled into the river above the Galveston Street bridge. We found his body in Mirror Pond minutes later.
As it turns out, Search & Rescue divers finally found Garcia late Tuesday morning on the west bank of the Deschutes above the footbridge. We still don't know how or why the tragedy happened.
On a hot summer day, the Deschutes River is like Mardi Gras on water. In the midst of all the festivities, I think respect for the power of Mother Nature gets forgotten.
WOW, THE WALLOWAS
This time of year, the frenzy of tourists, cars and floaters makes me want to get out of dodge. The Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon are about as far from dodge as you can get, so I headed there for a week of backpacking with a friend and our two dogs. Of all the places we've backpacked, the Wallowas are our favorite, because of the spectacular scenery and lack of crowds.
We drove 6 hours from Bend to the East Eagle Trailhead outside of Baker City. Surprisingly, not far from the trailhead, we passed the site where the 1969 Clint Eastwood movie "Paint Your Wagon" was filmed. I'll have to rent that from Netflix this winter.
We took six days to complete a 43-mile circumnavigation of Eagle Cap. The approach up the East Eagle Creek drainage and over Horton Pass was demanding but we were cheered on by a welcoming committee of fiery red Indian paintbrushes, blue and red penstemon trumpets, joyful purple asters, happy yellow phlox and elegant pearly white everlasting. Just when we were feeling particularly hot and grimy, we happened upon a Sierra Club trailwork camp where they greeted us with cups of cold pink lemonade. That might have been a mirage, but the freshly cleared trails make me think it was real.
Once over Horton Pass, we dropped down into the Lakes Basin at the foot of Eagle Cap and Glacier Peak. We set up camp for two days on the shore of Mirror Lake, one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. At night, we watched the nearly full moon climb the east flank of Eagle Cap. It passed behind the peak, backlighting wispy clouds that transformed Eagle Cap into a glowing, smoking volcano until it rose again on the west side. As if that weren't enough, the magical scene was perfectly reflected on the still water of Mirror Lake.
Wow. The Wallowas are a place where you can leave the mania behind, sit on a rock and ponder life. The immense grandeur of the mountains is contrasted and complemented by the delicate beauty of each little wild flower. I wonder about the significance of insignificant acts. I pick up a stray energy bar wrapper and pack it out. A Sierra Club volunteer whacks down some invasive plants, clearing a few hundred yards of trail. I let my dog hog the Thermarest. Does it really matter? I don't know. We do it anyway.
We climbed out of the Lakes Basin over Glacier Pass and then Hawkins Pass and descended into the Imnaha River Basin as thunderheads gathered behind Cusick Mountain. Our final night, we camped at Crater Lake. The clear deep water with Krag Peak, Red Mountain and Granite Mountain as picturesque backdrops provided the best swimming of the trip. We then followed Cliff Creek and Little Kettle Creek down not-so-fun steep brushy avalanche slopes to return to the trailhead.
Now I'm home, mowing the lawn, paying the bills and reading 126 e-mails. Does it really matter? I don't know. We do it anyway.