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Peak fire season tips for hunters

HUNTING — It's not news that the fields are dry and fire danger is extreme.

But don't let your guard down when you go out hunting or recreating.  One thoughtless moment in these conditions can be costly.

Hunters, who have an especially big responsibility to be fire conscious, should:

  • Drive only on established roads.
  • Avoid roads with tall vegetation in the middle track.
  • Never park over dry grass and other vegetation.
  • Carry a fire extinguisher—or water-filled weed sprayer—shovel, axe, and, a cell phone for communications in addition to other outdoor safety gear.
  • Restrict camping activities to designated camping areas.
  • Not build campfires.
  • Smoke only inside buildings or vehicles.

Being able to respond is essential in the first few seconds of a fire start when it is small and easily extinguished.

Black bears hanging out at English Point near Hayden Lake

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — A black bear sow and her cub have been frequenting the English Point recreation trail near Hayden Lake, Forest Services officials say.

No reports of aggressive behavior from the bears have been received at the Panhandle National Forests headquarters in Coeur d'Alene, “but it remains important for the public to exercise caution and give the bears plenty of space to ensure future bear encounters are uneventful,” said Jason Kirchner, forest public affairs officer.

“Bear sightings are not unusual but due to the unpredictable nature of bears the public needs to understand that some caution should be taken whenever they are in bear country,” said Coeur d’Alene River District Ranger Chad Hudson.

BEAR ENCOUNTER GUIDELINES

Should you encounter a bear:

  • Stay calm. Group together, pick up small children and assess the situation. Prepare to use your bear spray.
  • Do not run or make sudden movements, it may instinctively cause the bear to charge you.
  • Give bears a chance to identify you as human, and not a threat. If the bear stands up, it is trying to see, hear and smell you better.
  • Talk firmly in a low-pitched voice while backing away. Avoid direct eye contact as bears may perceive this as a challenge or threat.
  • Continue to back away slowly and cautiously, retreating to a place of safety. Monitor the animal’s response, and adjust your actions accordingly.

More info: Center for Wildlife Information or your local Forest Service office.

Travel: Canoeing Montana’s Missouri River

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

    When I opened my eyes, the sun was not yet over the horizon and the weak light it cast was wrapped in the heavy mist rising from the Missouri River. I lay still, warm and bundled under a heavy layer of quilts, watching through the small window beside the bed as the day came into its own.  Soon I could see deer grazing in the rolling fields around the other cabins, all, like my own, early homestead shelters that had been moved to the Virgelle Mercantile and refurbished for guests.


    By the time I was up and dressed the coffee was ready in the kitchen of the old Mercantile building. I poured a cup and the steam rose from the mug in my hand as I walked back outdoors out to take photos.


    After a breakfast of whole-hog sausage and baked French toast, washed down by pots of hot coffee, in the company of others there for the guided fishing and canoeing trips offered by the Mercantile’s sister business, The Missouri River Canoe Company, we gathered our gear and took the short ride down to the canoe launch.Once our canoes were loaded we paddled away.

   This stretch of the Missouri River is shallow this time of year, no more than a couple of feet deep in some places. We made steady progress, paddling hard enough to get where we were going but stopping whenever something caught our attention. The beauty of September in Montana is that the summer travelers have gone back to work and school. We had the river to ourselves, but we were not alone. Deer splashed across inlets and an eagle sitting on the branch of a tall Cottonwood tree studied us as we passed. Farther along, a silent, watchful Coyote, camouflaged in the tall grass, turned his head to follow our progress down the river.

       Soon, warmed by the sun and the exercise, our jackets came off. There wasn’t a cloud in the wide blue dome of the sky and only an occasional gust of wind worked against us as we paddled.

    I listened as our guide, a genuine Montana woodsman who makes his living guiding, hunting and trapping along the river, talked about Lewis and Clark’s journey along the same route through what is now the Missouri River Breaks National Monument. It was, he pointed out, with the exception of the occasional barn or fenceline and the grey-green Russian Olive introduced by homesteaders as a way to shelter flimsy cabins from the relentless wind, essentially an unchanged landscape. Soon, at a bend in the river, the eerie Hoodoos and white sandstone cliffs so unique to that portion of the river, the aptly-named White Cliffs stretch, came into view.    One more thing checked off the list of places I need to see before I die.


    After a couple of hours we pulled our canoes onto a pebbled strip of beach and stopped for lunch, digging into the sandwiches and fruit like we were starving, as though we hadn’t eaten a massive breakfast that morning. As we ate, I thought about something one of the group had said the night before. He’d been telling a story and mentioned a particular day— a special day—as one of the thirty or so he actually remembered of that particular year. I’d never really thought about it before but he is right. Most of the 365 days of work and worry, scheduled appointments, hurried commutes and eat-at-your-desk lunches, blend into a blur. Not much stands out. But, once in a while, there are moments that stay with us forever, etched into memory. They are special enough to share.    

    We packed up the scraps left from our meal and pushed away from the shore, paddling on down the river. More white cliffs and narrow coulees. More photos. More memories.


    At the end of the trip, gathering our gear and hopping back into the van that would carry us and the canoes back to our cars at the Mercantile, I let what I’d seen and done replay in my mind.  From the moment I opened my eyes and let them rest on the fog-softened view, to the last spectacular mile of Missouri River wilderness before we pulled our canoes out of the water, the day was special. It was a day worth holding onto and, in that way, worth sharing.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

National Parks offer free admission Sept. 29

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate National Public Lands Day on Sept. 29.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been featured the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

La Sportiva Wildcats a hit with Pacific Crest Trail through hikers

BACKPACKING — Ultra light, ultra functional and ultra durable — those are the keys to gear that causes a buzz among through hikers on long-distance trails.

One group of hikers most of the way through their month's long,  2,650-mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, recently were comparing notes on their shoes at Washington's Chinook Pass. The durability winner in this group was the La Sportiva Wildcat trail running shoe, a Backpacker  Editor’s Choice item in the magazine’s 2010 gear review.

One hiker had 1,000 miles on his pair and they were still going strong.

While trail running shoes may be perfect for PCT through hikers, who are focused on speed and staying on the trail, they may not be the best for everyday hikers who may not be so trail hardened or who do more off-trail exploration.

Map shows forest areas closed by fires in Leavenworth-Wenatchee area

FOREST FIRES — The map above from the Wenatchee National Forest shows areas off limits to visitors because of forest fires in the Central Washington area.

The closures affect hikes in prime season and hunters out for Washington's early High Buck Hunt that opened Saturday.

Cool-headed backpackers evacuate Alpine Lakes as fires close in

BACKPACKING — After reading my post this morning about fire-related closures affecting hikers in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness,  Stephanie Akker of Kennewick emailed me the photo (above) snapped Saturday from the Colchuck Lake area as she decided to evacuate during the night to safety. 

I was happy to see your article on-line as I have been scouring for more info since we backpacked out of Colchuck, in the dark, Saturday night. 

Attached is a photo of the fire from our campsite on the north end of Colchuck.  We day hiked into the Enchantments Saturday after camping at Colchuck Friday night. We chose to evacuate after watching the fire grow dramatically over the course of 24 hours and also considering the proximity to the parking lot. 

Yes, we had to forgo our coveted permit, but felt it better safe than sorry. 

Read on for her photo of Colchuck Lake, a scene that helps you understand why it was no easy decision to leave.

Fires restrict access to Alpine Lakes Wilderness, other areas

HIKING — Many backpackers with coveted permits for the prime September season in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in northcentral Washington are finding their plans up in smoke.

Area includes Eightmile Road, Colchuck, Stuart, Eightmile, Caroline, and Trout lakes, and the Windy Pass portion of the Enchantment area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness due to a fire burning Many Enchantment area overnight camping permits are cancelled. However, the Enchantment Basin itself remains open at this time with access via Snow Creek Trail. Please call the Wenatchee River Ranger Station for more information on which permits are cancelled.

See a photo and report from a backpacker who self-evacuated Colchuck Lake Saturday night as fires closed in.

Read on for the latest press release and details from the Wenatchee National Forest.

Fires affecting front country and backcountry

WILD FIRES from recent lightning storms on tinder-dry landscapes are an issue for people heading outdoors in almost every direction.

Here's a regional roundup from Mountain West News:

Thousands of lightning strikes spark hundreds of fires in Washington state
The 300-acre Cascade Creek Fire is the worst of the 200 wildfires sparked by lightning in Washington state over the weekend.
Portland Oregonian;Sept. 10
Wildfire in southern B.C. forces hundreds from their homes
Strong winds pushed a wildfire first reported Sunday afternoon across more than 200 acres in southern B.C., and more than 1,550 residents near Peachland were ordered to evacuate.
Vancouver Sun;Sept. 10
 

Evacuations ordered as wildfire burns on Wyoming's Casper Mountain
A wildfire first reported at 4 p.m. Sunday on the east side of Casper Mountain in Wyoming grew quickly to hundreds of acres and forced the evacuation of campgrounds and dozens of homes.
Casper Star-Tribune;Sept. 10

More evacuations ordered on Mustang Complex fire in Idaho
A level 3 evacuation order was issued for residents along the Highway 93 corridor from Quartz Creek to North Fork in Idaho on Sunday, as the Mustang Fire Complex moved closer to that corridor.
Ravalli Republic (AP);Sept. 9

Wildfire threatens resort in W. Wyoming
The Little Horsethief Fire that ignited Saturday afternoon grew quickly to 800 acres, and on Sunday, residents living on Snow King Mountain near Jackson, Wyo., were put on notice that they may need to evacuate.
Jackson Hole Daily;Sept. 10
 
Crews have 8,000-acre wildfire in Montana 51 percent contained
Fire investigators believe the 8,000-acre wildfire burning in Montana south of Livingston was human caused.
Billings Gazette;Sept. 10
 

Lightning fires erupt in Wenatchee Valley

PUBLIC LANDS — Last night's wave of thunder storms in Eastern Washington has sparked numerous fires in the dry canyons and forests near Leavenworth, Chelan and Wenatchee.   Here's the just-posted Forest Service report for details on locations, with the grim warning that high winds are predicted to fan the flames.

Read on:

Corps closes Columbia campgrounds early; campers irked

PUBLIC LANDS — Citing budget cuts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed several camgrounds on the Columbia River on Tuesday — weeks earlier than normal.

The move surprised campers as they were evicted on Tuesday in picture-perfect weather for being in a campsite with their families.

Read the Tri-City Herald story.

See a list of Walla Walla District recreation sites and closure announcements.

It probably didn't help the Walla Walla District's budget last week as crews had to clean up trash from 3,000 partiers at the corps' Illia Dunes recreation site on the Snake River.

With bear spray in pack, woman suffers bites from grizzly

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS —  The recent story of a bear protecting its cubs in the presense of humans calls for a review of basic procedures for walking in bear country:

  1. Bear spray is an effective deterrent to bear attacks.
  2. Bear spray is useless if not immediately accessible when a bear is encountered.

In Montana and Idaho, grizzlies are especially active this time of year looking for berries to put on fat for the winter, as displayed in the photo above snapped last week by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Hikers and especially stealthy hunters, such as archers, should be prepared for bear encounters during fall.

See a video on using bear spray effectively

See more tips for especially for hunting and fishing in bear country.

Fire restrictions loom for Labor Day weekend campers, hunters

PUBLIC LANDS — Fire danger as well as still-burning wild fires will be a major factor for some campers and hunters heading for recreation areas in Idaho, Montana and Washington during Labor Day weekend.   

Smoking, campfires and use of chain saws are restricted on most state and federal lands to prevent more fires. Access roads and trails to some areas are closed because of existing fires, notably in Montana and central Idaho.

For example, the Selway River Trail, popular with hikers and hunters in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, is closed this week as fire crews clear timber falling on the route in the Moose Creek District.

No major fires are listed on the Colville or Idaho Panhandle National Forests, but fire restrictions are in place.

Despite cooler temperatures, fire danger continues to be rated extreme in much of the region, said Joani Bosworth, spokeswoman for the Umatilla National Forest. 

National forest websites are the best all-hours sources for updates on fire-related restrictions.

Websites with updates on fires and restrictions include:

THROUGHOUT THE WEST

IDAHO

WASHINGTON

Party trash forces Corps to close Snake recreation area

PUBLIC LANDS — A popular recreation area along the Snake River southwest of Pullman will not be open for Labor Day because it was trashed last weekend by hard-partying visitors.

Apparently school's in session at WSU.

The Corps of Engineers closed the Illia Dunes after more than 3,000 visitors left broken bottles and beer cans on the beach and littered parking lots with trash, creating health and safety hazards.

The corps says it doesn’t have the resources for such a big cleanup job if visitors can’t pick up after themselves.

The dunes are a popular recreation site with sandy beaches on the south shore of the Snake River about three miles downstream of Lower Granite Lock and Dam

“Was there a dinosaur out there?”

Having an astonishing variety of outdoors skills is one way.

Being the one person who never complains is another.

But when it comes to making yourself a legend during a camping trip, there's nothing quite like epic snoring. 

Perseid meteor shower delights area campers

SKY WATCHING — Other than a bit of lingering haze from the region's wildfires, the weekend provided picture perfect conditions for watching the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower.

I'm impressed at how many of my Facebook friends were out camping in wild places to get the most from the event. (See photo above by Blake Sommers/Outdoor Flip Photography, who was camped at Revett Lake near Thompson Pass at the Montana-Idaho Border — Hike 24 in 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.)

The higher the elevation and the farther you are from city lights, the better the viewing.

When our kids were young, our family had a tradition of renting one of the area's fire lookouts or at least camping near one for the Perseid event. We'd roll out our sleeping pads on the lookout catwalk and watch the “shooting stars” until we faded away to sleep.

This year, near the Cabinet Mountains Widlerness, I was graced with a view of a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere with a streaming tail of orange that raced directly up the Clark Fork River. It was better than the Olympics closing ceremony.

Here are more photos of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Universe Today readers around the world.

Colville Forest releases revised South End motorized use plan

FORESTS – The Colville National Forest is seeking comments on a revised proposal to regulate dispersed camping and designate and expand roads and trails open to motorized recreation.

Comments are due by the end of August on the South End Project scoping notice and plans for the Tacoma, Chewelah and Calispell drainages).

  • See the revised proposals in the document attached to this post.

The original plan was appealed last winter by conservation groups.

The project goals include designating an expanded system of routes for motor vehicle use.


Documents:

Water OK at Pioneer Park Campground near Newport

CAMPING – The drinking water supply has been tested and OKed at Pioneer Park Campground near Newport, Colville National Forest officials said today.

The water system had been shut down for a week after reports of possible contamination.  

Volunteers removing illegal camp at Mount Spokane

STATE PARKS — The Spokane Mountaineers are organizing volunteers to remove an illegal camp apparently established by skiers in a pristine forest on the west side of Mount Spokane State Park.

The illegal campers had installed a stove and cut down trees during the winter.

E. coli contamination found at Pioneer Park Campground near Newport

CAMPING — E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria was discovered Aug. 4 in the drinking water at the Pioneer Park Campground in Pend Oreille County.

Today Colville National Forest officials said the Newport Ranger District had notified guests who recently stayed at the campground if contact information was available.

No reports of illness had been received, they said. 

While the campground three miles from Newport remains open, the drinking water system has been shut down while the Forest Service investigates the source of contamination.

Info: Contact the Newport Ranger District (509) 447-7300.

Colville forest crews still clearing storm blowdowns

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NATIONAL FORESTS — Crews have reopened all the primary roads on the Colville National Forest since a July 20 storm leveled trees on roughly 4,000 acres of the 1.1 million-acre forest.  Most of the damage was on the Republic Ranger District.

Some of the seconary roads and trails are still plugged with trees that were toppled by the storm — or weakened so much that they're still falling.

Crews have cleared all secondary roads listed as “open” on the Colville National Forest Interactive Motor Interactive  Vehicle Use Map, said Franklin Pemberton, forest spokesman.  If a road was useable this summer before the storm but not officially designated as “open” to motorized use, crews will not be dispatched to cut out the blowdowns, he said.

“While all roads that were passible prior to the storm event have been cleared of down trees, it is important to note that there are roads that were washed out do to storm activity prior to this event that have not been repaired,” he said.

A list of those roads can be found on the Colville National Forest Web site under Conditions: Road Report

All trailheads are open, but trails can still have trees down across them and potentially weakened trees that could come down.  More trees have fallen on some trails that have been cut out, he said.

“If you're a mountain biker or equestrian headed out on the trails,  you should bring a saw,” he said.

Ten Mile Campground south of Republic (see photos above) remains closed and the Empire Lake dispersed campsites are also closed.

Updates: Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400.

Storm nearly dealt Cheney family a death blow at campsite

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CAMPING — The best part of this camping trip?   Nobody was killed.

A Cheney family survived a harrowing evening during the storm that ravaged Ferry County on July 20, 2012.

See their photos above.

See a story about the storm and brief surge of hurricane-force winds swept through the region

Some Colville Forest area still inaccessible from storm

NATIONAL FORESTS — A week after a storm and brief surge of hurricane-force winds swept through the region, areas around Priest Lake and especially the Colville National Forest are still clogged with downed trees.

The good news is that powerline crews, government agencies and private citizens have been working their butts off with chain saws and equipment to make progress.  The bad news is that some areas are a big mess and still unaccessible.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area reports all campgrounds and facilities are open.  Priest Lake Range Station reported that some trails got “hammered” with blowdowns, but no specific reports were available. Forest trail crews and volunteers had just finished a logging out 192 miles of trails on the Priest Lake District the week before the storm struck, killing a man in his pickup in the Priest Lake area.

Generally, the Panhandle National Forests came out of the dangerous storm fairly well, said Jason Kirchner, forest spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

But the Colville Forest's Republic Ranger District and portions of the Collville Indian Reservation, where assistance is still being requested, are a different story.

Here's the word from Colville Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton:

The impact to recreation specific to the Republic R.D. from this event is severe. 

Crews have made significant progress on getting all of the main forest service (FS) roads open and “passible”.  All of the main FS roads are passible for a full-size pickup truck, but motorhomes, camp trailers and horse trailers are not recommended.  Work continues to open all of the main FS roads completely to larger size vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines and is expected to be completed by this Friday.  Many secondary FS roads remain blocked by down timber and will be opened once all the main roads are completed.

Many roads to trailheads remain blocked and trail conditions are being reported as being blocked by down timber.  All campgrounds are open with the exception of Ten Mile Campground.  Crews will continue to work to open secondary roads that lead to recreation sites and trailheads, but there is no estimate of when this work will be completed.

Forest officials are still recommending that visitors to the Republic R.D. stay in the developed campgrounds and limit their travel on the forest as much as possible.

Contact the Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400 for specific recreation questions.

Hikers: check conditions before you head out

TRAILS — Heavy rain and lingering snow have created a few obstacles for hikers, campers and other heading into the backcountry this weekend. Best to check with Forest Service offices today to make sure your destination is reachable.

For example:

  • Hikers headed to Iron Mountain area east of Bonners Ferry will have to walk an extra half-mile to the trailhead because of a washout on Boulder Creek Road. The washout and lingering snow have kept trail crews from the area.
  • Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road was blocked for three days this week after a dozen or so mudslides buried sections of the popular road for miles. It’s open again today. However, the park service says more bad weather is expected on Friday, with a flash flood watch issued for the park from noon to midnight. Heavy lightning, hail and wind up to 60 mph is expected.

Lingering snow has prevented trail clearing in some areas.

  • Idaho Panhandle crews have just begun logging out the Long Canyon area in the Selkirk Mountains northwest of Bonners Ferry.  But the Parker Ridge area above is still covered with snow.

Priest Lake: All 192 miles of trails on the district have been logged out, getting a big boost from the Back Country Horsemen, who cleared out 50 miles of trails in their annual Memorial Day campout work party.

Huckleberries are ripe in some low to mid elevations.

Free backpack cooking clinic Thursday at REI

BACKPACKING – Backpackers who are tired of Ramen and balk at plain instant oatmeal might benefit from the free clinc on backpack cooking basics Thursday (July 19), 7 p.m., at REI in Spokane.

Topics to be covered include recipies as well as preserving, preparing packing and cooking tasty meals that won’t weight you down.

Camp cooking clinic Thursday at REI

CAMPING – A free clinic in basic camp cooking will be offered Thursday (July 12), 7 p.m., at REI in Spokane.

Bear aware: Tips for camping in bear country

WILDLIFE — The summer camping season is kicking into high gear, putting more people out among wildlife, including bears.

The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project offers basic tips to help campers avoid attracting bears, which can be dangerous to people and destructive to their camping gear.

Worse, a bear that finds value — notably food — in raiding camps almost surely will become a repeat offender that ultimately will have to be killed.

Click “continue reading” to refresh your memory on tips that come from years of case studies:

Sea Kayak Adventures offers discount for orca trips at Johnstone Strait

ADVENTURE TRAVEL  – $200 discounts are being offered for guided six-day sea kayaking trips geared to paddling with orcas off Vancouver Island.

Nancy Mertz, co-owner of Couer-d Alene-based Sea Kayak Adventures, said they have a few slots they’re trying to fill for camping excursions in the famous killer whale waters of Johnstone Strait.

Info: 800-616-1943 or www.seakayakadventures.com.

My wife and I joined one of these groups a few years ago and the exprience of paddling with orcas ranks among the most exciting in our repertoie.

See my short narrated video presentation on the sea kayaking trip to Johnstone Strait above.