Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marmots, Desert Parsley and Blisters the Size of Plums!

I had been wanting to hike the Klickitat Rail Trail for some time - I figured yesterday would be a beautiful day for it (sunny and 75 degrees!). I made the nearly 2-hour drive and started off at the Harms Rd. trailhead at 9 am. In preparation for a long day, I brought a gallon of water and lots of food. I also wore my relatively new hiking boots as I had read reports that the gravel can be extremely painful after a couple hours. I had worn these boots on two other long and strenuous hikes - they'd been very comfortable so far! The swale canyon, the portion of the rail trail I completed, is closed from July through September because it is so dry and hot and the risk of wildfires is high (hence the gallon of water).

Harms Rd. trailhead. It was locked on my way back so I had to climb over!
The swale canyon portion of the Klickitat Rail Trail is approximately 13 miles. It starts off in the high prairie - very open. On the drive there, I saw amazing views of Mt. Adams. As I started walking, I heard and saw many meadowlarks. I also heard frogs! I started off ahead of a group of mountain bikers and hikers. The bikers passed me after several miles and I didn't see the other hikers till the end of my hike!

Many parts of the hike were extremely windy - the beginning part, in particular, was so windy that I couldn't wear my hat because it would have blown off. In fact, I had wanted to do this hike earlier in the year but when I arrived, the wind made the 50 degree weather so cold, I quit before even starting. 

As you walk, the high prairie begins to change - you begin to see more rocks and trees. You can't tell from the picture above, but those rocks were swarming with marmots! 

I saw a bald eagle, butterflies, grey squirrels and lizards. I also saw and smelled a ton of desert parsley which was incredibly beautiful and fragrant! The trail includes 8 bridges or trestles. Some of these have been renovated but others haven't. While crossing one of them, I stepped on a rotten log and almost fell! I finally walked far enough that I began to see trees. I was very excited because I thought they might offer some respite from the wind (they didn't). 
The desert parsley is everywhere on this hike. It makes for beautiful scenery. It also gives ticks a more convenient way to find and get on you! I read several reports of hikers finding ticks on them after finishing this hike but I didn't have any problems. I wore long pants, high socks and Velcro around the bottom of my pants to keep anything from getting in.

Parts of the trail were packed dirt but most of it was gravel. By the end of the hike, I was elated when I'd hit a patch of packed down dirt. It felt like a vacation for my feet. 

I was walking pretty quickly for the first half of the hike - probably a little less than 4 miles per hour. However, by about mile ten (a little less than halfway), my feet were really tired and I had developed a couple blisters. I patched these up with moleskin and band aids and continued on. I probably should have turned back at that point but I didn't. Stubborn, as usual, I pressed on thinking it would be silly to hike ALL THAT WAY only to stop before the end. In retrospect, that was a poor life decision.

Before hitting the turn around point, I passed by several abandoned cars, cabins and many pieces of trail artwork. I also saw a lizard!

This car was a little ways off the trail.
Trail art!

By the halfway mark, my feet were aching and I was ready to be done. But, I had to turn around and hike four more hours. The last four hours were brutal. The Achilles tendon on my right leg started aching. I had to limp in order to avoid experiencing unbearable pain. I couldn't tell as I was walking but huge (plum size) blisters were forming on each heel. At one point I felt a stab of pain on my right heel and then felt a rush of warmth as all the fluid leaked out of my blister. To be honest, I don't know if I've had a more miserable four hours of hiking. HOWEVER, I persevered and made it back to my car (limping and almost crying from joy). I was probably walking at a rate of less than 2 miles per hour towards the end. I was also talking to myself - alternately berating myself for being stubborn and encouraging myself to continue onward.

Life Lessons Learned:
  1. I need to pace myself. I think if I hadn't been moving so fast at the beginning, I might have saved my feet, at least a little.
  2. I need to bring extra socks to change into when the ones I'm wearing get sweaty - damp socks cause more friction than dry socks and friction causes blisters (I usually bring socks if I think I'll be crossing streams. I never thought to bring them in the case of my socks getting sweaty). Even if I had had a change of socks, I wouldn't have thought that that would have ameliorated the situation.
  3. I need to know when to throw in the towel. If I had turned back a couple miles earlier, I probably would have saved myself a considerable amount of pain. 
Overall, this was a BEAUTIFUL hike. It was warm and sunny (I'm glad I brought as much water as I did - I drank it all!) and the wildlife was incredible. I didn't really get to enjoy the beauty of the hike for the second half of it but that's ok. I don't think I will be doing this again anytime soon but I'm glad I did it - it was an experience I will never forget and I learned some important lessons.


Miles: 25
Time: 7 hrs, 45 mins (total time including breaks)
Elevation: 900 ft 

Click here to see the rest of my photos!

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