Cascade scramble ducks

September 7, 2019, day 3

Juniper Gulch to Wild Rose Reservoir, ~15 miles, ~42 miles total

  • Question: What does a Cascade scramble duck say?
  • Answer: Schwack schwack!
  • Question: What does a Cascade scramble duck say when it takes a swim?
  • Answer: Schwim schwim!

Maybe you had to be “schwimming” along the shores of Lake Owyhee Reservoir for that to be funny, but the joke amused us all day long.

Gabriel and his good friend/trip partner/colleague, Ian, coined the term on one of their brushy trips up some insignificant forested peak with 400 feet of prominence. (Oh the glory!) Schwack rhymes with quack and ducks are funny, so the joke has stuck. I learned about the Cascade scramble ducks this summer while the three of us were on a surprisingly minimally brushy trip in the North Cascades. Now I love Cascade scramble ducks!

Today we “schwam” and did some light “scwhacking”.

After a beautiful morning walk further down Juniper Gulch to Leslie Gulch all the way admiring tuff formations and imagining climbing routes (turns out there are some around) we got to the Slocom Creek campground. A good spot to dry out our gear (it’s dewy in the desert), admire tuff formations, breakfast with a picnic table, and take the psychological weight of two days of trash out of our packs.

We chatted with some fellow west of the Cascades recreators enjoying the scenery and birding their way back to Portland. The first people we’ve seen since leaving Lake Owyhee State Park. Fun to converse with public lands enthusiasts and talk conservation ethics. One of them even knows our friend Wired. It’s a small world.

Then it was time for us to head down to the reservoir – Lake Owyhee – and assess whether we’d walk the shore, swim, or traverse high. There was one rock dyke we knew we’d have to swim around, but otherwise the going looked okay. We reconfigured our packs for a second time in one hour. By the time we’d got all of gear stored in dry bags and trash compactor bags the sun was shining on us and a swim sounded pretty nice.

At first it was a little intimidating to set off into the water to swim with our packs on our backs. But we started to get the hang of it. Stay close to the edge, keep the pack straps loose, when possible walk submerged in the water to enjoy the perks of buoyancy. Great blue herons and ospreys nearby seemed surprised at our presence, but the boaters fishing in the lake were unphased by hiking weirdos bobbing along the shore.

The water was a good temperature and the experience novel. It was so much fun! We kept saying, “Schwim, schwim!”

We called the walking in the lake “duck walking” and it was about as fast traveling as walking along the loose, rocky shore. As we got close to Spring Creek it was easy footing on the lake shore. A good thing too, as soon after we crossed the creek we started to see cows along the lakeshore and the water quality changed considerably along the banks (silty, poopy, smelly water that looked neon green in our polarized sunglasses).

Soon enough we were traveling overland to Willow Creek to begin our ascent back into the highlands. Along the way we saw a coyote, who took off when it saw us. Such beautiful animals! It was special to watch Coyote lope along up into the sage. I have much respect for such intelligent, family-minded, adaptable cainids, and love to hear them sing.

We filtered water from the lake from a less cow-afied spot and then headed up Willow Creek Canyon along cow and horse maintained trails.

We’ve decided to think of cows as fellow hikers. They are frequently the ODT trail builders and maintainers. They certainly made it easier to hike up Willow Canyon! What’s described as cross country in our guide materials is practically a trail. The cows even try to make “soil” with their splats of manure to fill in eroded areas.

Some minor brush bashing in places where the cattle had differing opinions about routes, our first confirmed rattlesnake encounter (it let us know it was there and then kindly slithered off the trail), and honeycomb tuff formations and we eventually ascended to join a pleasant road.

Pretty views along the way, we started cruising along the road and soon made it to the great water trough of note in ODT trip photos. I’ve been dreaming of getting to this trough for years! One of Powder River’s finest with cold, clear spring water flowing into a trough covered in duckweeds. The trough looks over grassy hills with lone junipers in the distance. It’s situated in a beautiful place. I was thrilled!

Gabriel noted that maybe Allgood was right, saying that the problem with those of us long distance hikers who keep wanting to walk is that “we’re all broken”. Spending our vacations hiking days on end with heavy packs, sitting in ditches, not showering for weeks, and getting excited about water in a cattle trough. Oh well, one person’s best vacation is another person’s worst nightmare. I’m grateful we can walk to this trough!

With the last few days of warm temps and what we thought (in the moment) that this was the last water for 30 miles, we loaded up. Gabriel with 7 liters, me with 9 litters. Ooof! 18 pounds more in the pack and still 5 days of food (heat had diminished my appetite and the WinCo bulk section had bulked up my food weight some more). Heavy packs and time to go up hill. We decided to think of it as resistance training for the possible 40-mile water carry and 6 days of food we’d have in the next section.

Uphill we wen. Slow and steady to a beautiful cross country section taking a straight baring across grassy hills – though some spots a monoculture of medusahead – with hiker cows feeding nearby. We got to muddy, cow-afied Wild Rose Reservoir just before sunset and walked a few minutes more.

Camping amid sagebrush, we could hear coyotes singing, saw jackrabbit hop about, and watched a light show of pink sunset colors while eating dinner. A peaceful night and ending to a satisfying day. This was the ODT I’d been dreaming of for years.

Our packs at the Slocom Creek campground admiring the views while we sat at the picnic table eating breakfast.

Duck walking along the shore of Lake Owyhee Reservoir.

Marmots like to “schwim schwim”!


Gabriel getting water from *THE* water trough. Powder River’s finest.

Mukmuk and the duckweed-covered trough with the best water on the ODT.

Sunset view from camp.

2 thoughts on “Cascade scramble ducks

    • Marmot says:

      Hah hah! Thanks Don. The lake swim was good practice for what’s to come in the next section where we will be swimming across the West Little Owyhee River several times. It was good to get dialed in!

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