Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Smoke smoke everywhere!

I returned yesterday from a little over a week spent in the mountains. Actually it was the smoke from the many lightning caused fires that finally drove me out.

We had been having 100F+ degree temperatures here at home, so I left for higher country on a Monday hoping it would be at least a little cooler at higher elevations. I have no idea how hot it was in camp, but the thermometer on my front porch registered a high of 105F degrees while I was away. After setting up a good camp, Monday and Tuesday were good for nothing but laying around in the shade trying to keep cool. Tuesday evening the thunder storm rolled in.

As a rule thunder storms begin to lose their punch in the evening as the temperature drops, but this time the main event came after dark. Not only noisy, but one heck of a light show! I later learned, via the portable radio that I had with me, that somewhere between 30 and 40 fires had been started in the Klamath National Forest. Most serious were the ones burning near the small mountain towns of Happy Camp and Oak Knoll where some homes were evacuated, but there were many smaller hot spots burning throughout the forest.

The temperature being cooler after the storm, I saddled Sis and took a ride on the various trails about every other day. One morning smoke jumpers could be seen from camp as they dropped from a plane to a fire on Box Camp Ridge. The next day as I was riding down from Red Rock Valley I could see smoke from that fire, and a helicopter made several runs that day and the next, to the river and back, dragging a bucket and dropping water on the blaze.

Depending on which way the wind was blowing, it was pretty smokey around camp in the mornings; but by afternoon it cleared so much that it was hard to tell that there was even a fire burning anywhere. Several back packers and horsemen began to arrive at the trailhead, most of them heading for Sky High Lake. A group of 25 back packers from Headwaters came out and another group of 15 from Sierra Institute went in. A commercial packer took a couple of groups in and out, packing their supplies on mules. Several small parties of horsemen and back packers went up and down the trail on their own, all coming and going to or from the same place. I avoided that area like the plague! I like a little more solitude in the mountains.

By the following Monday the entire area was socked in with smoke, and it never cleared out. I couldn’t even see the mountain across the little canyon from camp. Everyone who had packed in, both horseman and hikers alike, began to head out. By evening I had the whole place to myself, with the exception of the cars belonging to the Sierra Institute group who still remained in the mountains as long as I was there. By Tuesday morning it was no better. A Forest Service fire crew showed up at the trailhead and hiked to the fire still burning on Box Camp Ridge. Planes and helicopters were no longer of any use. The smoke was so think it was impossible to tell where the fire was, and to fly would have been taking a chance of crashing into a mountain.

I fixed breakfast and cleaned up camp while I debated on what to do next. As conditions showed no sign of improving, I decided that it was a good idea to break camp and head for home. As it turned out, I might as well have stayed where I was. It was just as smokey at home as it had been in the mountains. The whole valley was filled with smoke. Last night we got a break, and a steady rain moved in. Not the gully washer that I would have liked to have seen, but it cleared the air. This morning was fresh and clear for the first time in days. Now this afternoon there are thunder heads beginning to build in the west again. We don’t need any more lightning just now, thank you very much!

Thanks to those who have sent messages and comments to my blog. I simply haven’t had time to respond personally. As usual when I return from a trip, I have a backlog of both snail mail and email to wade through, as well as a certain amount of camp gear to clean up and put away. I will get caught up..........eventually.

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