Backpacking Snyder Canyon
July 17, 2011
One of the things we try to remember is to set aside time to enjoy the wonderful place we live in. Sustainability as a practice is land-based, so the more we learn about the forest surrounding Windward, the better able we will be to craft a life that is in harmony with the seasons as they manifest themselves here.
On a mid-July Sunday morning, Lindsay, Andrew, Ryan, Mike and John-Micheal set out on an over-night hike to scout the rim of the Klickitat gorge between Windward and Snyder Canyon. Below are some of the different ways they experienced the journey.
We Call to the Land and the Land Calls Back*
This past weekend we continued in our never ending journey of learning this land. I regularly go for walks in these woods and while all the time I spend with my feet on unfamiliar ground is well worth my while, sometimes I find myself in places that call me back, time and again.
There is nothing around here that most people would consider a hiking trail‒instead there are old logging roads that criss-cross the plateau and end abruptly in a what was at one time a landing for piling logs and then there are the deer paths that take you to places the deer find interesting. I like it this way. It leaves me free to be drawn to the bend and slope of the land, to be lured to where the light comes through the trees, and to be guided by the sound of water.
left to right: Ryan, Andrew, Lindsay, John-Michael and Mike
Over the past few years my wanderings have led me again and again to the edge of Snyder Canyon, which is named after the creek (Snyder Creek) that flows into the Klickitat River at the town of Klickitat. The first time I caught a glimpse of this canyon was on a walk along a series of old logging roads that cross the entire plateau‒from its eastern edge above the Klickitat to its western edge above the White Salmon.
At one point, the way the light came through the trees to the south forced me off the dirt road and through the woods. What I came to was an edge, a cliff rather, that dropped down at least 1000 feet into a steep valley carved out presumably by water that flowed below. The sides of the canyon were defined by columnar basalts, rock slides and patches of Dough fir forest. It was stunning. I knew I needed to find my way back to explore more thoroughly.
On yet another day, following different urges and therefor a different path, I found my way to the edge of Snyder canyon again, this time at its mouth where the canyon opens up into the Klickitat River Valley. A spectacular view of the Klickitat as it wound it's way south through the curving hills, with snow covered Mt Hood standing starkly against a blue blue sky, welcomed me.
Here, I stood in a open field of grasses that sloped down to the east to meet the Klickitat and down to the south into Snyder creek. The edge of the plateau traced its way to the northwest, with oak woodlands on the northern slopes of Snyder Canyon and Doug Fir forests on the southern slope. Here I could breathe deeply. Here I could lay my body on the ground and watch the undulations of the grass meet the dancing of the clouds. Here I could hear the eagles floating on the wind.
the edge of the Plateau looking down the Klickitat River Valley
I was 5 miles from home, so further explorations of much distance would best be done as an overnight.
Mike, Ryan, John-Michael and Andrew making their way along the canyon edge
The other day Sarah asked for me to think of something that reminds me of how I relate to my body. A poem. A painting. What came to mind was a piece of writing by Terry Tempest Williams. She writes, "We call to the land and the land calls back. An Echo System".
We are a reflection of the land which houses us and the land is a reflection of the people that call it home. Our bodies are shaped by the ground we walk every day, it's what nourishes our cells, gives us our scars, and provides us with the metaphors that mold the way we think.
In turn, we move rocks and channel water, tend to soil, animals and green things. We wander and wonder and witness. The relationship is a mutual one, but more, it is synergistic. Terry Tempest Williams calls it a "primal affair." Humans have been engaging in this dance for a long time. So long that some of us have grown distant and isolated, some of us have forgotten the steps, the rhythm, the music.
spiral veination on a burnt out Doug fir
Knowing this land is like knowing the body of a lover. The knowing is dynamic, familiarity carries with it a mystery. Just as a diagram of a human body in an anatomy textbook is a useful reference, maps help to orient and provide names of places and landmarks, creating a common language.
But there are nuances and details to the land that can only be seen through the eyes of someone who is infatuated with the subtleties, known by the hand that seeks out the sensation of bark and grass and feather and stone against bare skin, understood by the feet that have walked its sometimes soft and rolling, sometimes rocky and demanding ground. The land can take from me my sweat and blood but I remain because it also absorbs my tears, inspires my creativity and cradles me as I sleep.
Ryan pausing at an old stump
Walking along the edge of Snyder Canyon and then down its slopes and through the creek bed, we walked on the edge of wildness. People had been here before, many of them, extracting the timber that helped to build America. But decades have since passed and Ponderosas and Doug Firs have reclaimed the land.
We followed the canyon as it curved north and human habitation fell from view. All we could see was canyon and trees and sky. And with the bald eagle, wings spread, gliding on the wind, I was reminded why I am here. Why I call this my home. Its not because of some lofty goals for humanity or some esoteric notions of how we are to live together with this earth, though these have their moments of influence. I am in love with this land. Its winds are the air in my lungs, its waters quench my thirst, its dirt is embedded in the creases of my hands. I am attached. Its future is interwoven with mine.
*Title taken from "Yellowstone:Erotics of Place" by Terry Tempest Williams
Snyder Canyon Hike and Sitting Meditation
I sometimes feel as if the universe conspires to help guide me along my journey of life through subtle omens and this overnight hike seemed to be one filled with those signs, if you were paying attention. It started off with a Bald Eagle circling around our first rest stop, which was John Michael's first time ever seeing one in the wild. This wouldn't be the last time we saw a Bald Eagle on this hike either, as it seemed one would follow us throughout our journey to ensure our safety.
We found multiple feathers from different hawks, ravens, and blue jays. We also came across large trees, wild berry patches, and beautiful rock formations. The whole hike I was having unexplainable deja vu flashbacks that I had been to these exact places before, even though I've never been to Washington in my life. All of these factors added up to make this an unforgettable hike.
making our way through oaks and pines
This particular trip was quite a special one for me as it was the first time that I had been on an overnight hike and the first time that I had slept outside. As the sun was setting our group of weary travelers discussed all types of philosophical ideas. One part that stood out to me was how comfortable we were with sleeping under the stars. We deemed that it must be some primal desire of ours to be at one with nature.
The landscape around us, although unforgiving, seemed warm and cozy as the oranges, pinks, and reds of sunset played on the background. We were in an opening surrounded by trees on all sides making it seem as if Mother Nature was taking us in her womb and protecting her children.
the rising moon at our resting site
As the sun finally set and the stars began to regain dominance, the topic of conversation shifted to how insignificant we as humans really are. For me it's such a natural feeling to feel so small when I look up at a night sky not marred by city lights and sounds. That's when I thought that I'm exactly where I should be at that moment. It may seem self explanatory but I believe when your physical body meets up your mind and spirit at the same place and time extraordinary things can happen.
Mike and Synder Canyon
On the morning of our voyage back home, one spot on our descent towards the creek caught our attention. There was a pair of rock pillars on a fairly steep section of the canyon wall that overlooked our descent. These pillars were excellent places to sit and gain an amazing perspective on the canyon surrounding us. I climbed to the top of one of the rock formations and the view was spectacular. It really felt as if you were floating in the canyon.
a bird's eye view
One of the oddest sensations is when you see a bird flying below you that is still quite high off the ground. Here the group came to agree that we ought to have some quiet time to take in the surrounding in whatever way was meaningful to us. I used the time to practice a sitting meditation where I focused my energy on the raven feather I had found and had put into my dreadlocks.
Andrew, John-Michael and Ryan looking over the edge
After a little while I could no longer feel the rock below me and then a small breeze meandered its way through the canyon, which was enough to blow my mind's eye off of the pillar. I became the very bird I was meditating upon and began to fly through the canyon, letting the breeze be my guide and my surroundings be my inspiration.
I could hear the calls of other birds and the soft sound of rushing water beneath me as my mind flew through the canyon. When it was finally time to come out of the meditation I flew back to my perch and slowly attached to my body again. I thanked Mother Nature for giving me the inspiration I needed to fully clear my mind and be free.
Hello everyone, I hope everyone is well. I have spent the last two days hiking in the wahkiacum canyon and Snyder Canyon with four friends here at Windward. Lindsay had planned the trip out well in advance and had hiked some of it already. I was not feeling well the day before the hike but I actually woke up feeling ready to go the day of the hike.
heading out in the morning
We left early in the morning and walked on a road for a while through Wahkiacum Canyon. The first day was a long hike and we found ourselves eating lunch in the meadows above Klickitat with a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. After rolling up my shorts/pulling up my socks to resemble an alpine-eske mountaineer and skipping through the meadows of cheat grass, we moved on eastward.
Ryan skipping through the fields of golden grasses
There were many times John Michael (Andrew's visiting friend) and I were left behind by the rest of the group due to an uncontrollable urge to consume the woodland stawberries (Fragaria vesca) growing everywhere. Once we caught up, we all stopped to have a snack break/nap. Then we found ourselves on a cliff and still in search of a decent place to camp.
delicious wild strawberries
Eventually we found an open meadow with a slight incline that we determined suitable to sleep on. Andrew went to find a water source while everyone else started dinner‒which was canned beans, peanut butter & jelly with homemade jelly and bread, goat chili and cheese. Once Andrew found a creek he gathered water and brought a few gallons back. We then disinfected the water with a few drops of bleach (to avoid getting dysentery or giardia), which we then allowed to evaporate off overnight.
We all created our own nest on this area of land which was somewhat clear of the tall pokey cheat grass and was mostly dirt and rocks (which we cleared). The rest of the evening was spent playing word/storytelling games and having conversations about happiness and contentment. :) The stars and moon were brilliant! I cannot remember the last time I could see so many different constellations.
resting at the campsite after the first day of hiking
In the morning we woke up and found that we all had slide down the hill about 5 feet. We also found (specifically Mike and I) ourselves to be very, very dirty. We ate breakfast and moved on. We walked along a road for quite a while then found a beautiful lookout point on top of a rock structure.
We stayed here for a while resting and meditating, then proceeded to slowly hike/slide down a steep rocky incline that lead to a creek. Once we arrived at the creek we took another break. The rest of the hike was intense as we hopped from boulder to boulder occasionally using walking sticks to launch ourselves to each plateform.
Ryan and Mike after a good night's sleep
As we came into town we came across wild raspberry bushes, a cherry tree, a bing cherry tree and a mulberry bush and picked/ate them until we were picked up. When we arrived back at Windward I immediately went to my trailer and slept. I was exhausted! But I had a great nights sleep and woke up bright and early to start another day.
walking along Synder Creek
In retrospect, I am so glad that I went on this hike. It was a great way to explore and start to understand the land. It was a great trip and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing overnight hike and I would do it again.
The clouds carry the pink feet
of the sun
through the Ponderosa
cross a river, hooves
hoeing bracelets in the clay.
The current, a braid of mirrors
collecting leaves and stones
like silverware in the sink.
Snyder Creek flowing over the stones
The lantern arms of god
carrying the flour of night
the stars meander
in the wicker
of a basket
knit to axis.
The eagle rides its disk.
And the moon, that half dish
spotted with the hard molasses
beckons to the difference‒
and the breath, the symmetry
of lichen, tongues of algae
to the spore. Easily, so easily
we attach. This is the laugh
of cheat grass on shoes‒
death into death.
cheat grass in the evening sun
Against this moment
we are delivered
to the river and born
like the lilac
bread by flame.
‒ John-Michael Bloomquist
a tired crew in Klickitat and ready for pickup
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71