OUTDOORS - Maxwell Lake provides soothing silence

The quiet leads to a nap before the hike out of the Eagle Cap Wilderness

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Nora waits for Don at a log crossing.

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Nora — backpack on and ready to go.

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Bright sun illuminates rocky cliffs as Nora waits for her photographer.

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A hiker and her dog say "Hello" to Nora on the trail.

I woke to a soothing silence after napping beside Maxwell Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Nora the Schnauzer and I had hiked the four-mile trail over the pass that morning. We explored, and I took photos while several teenagers larked.

When they left and silence replaced the racket, I relaxed.

Later, when my eyes opened, my drooled-on chin drooped onto my chest. My neck cramped from the strain. I shifted my back against the granite boulder, rolled my head from side to side and rose slowly.

Nora stretched, as if bowing on forefeet, and yawned.

She shook until airborne, and I snapped her pack onto her back. She trotted off and stood in the sparkling-clear stream that springs from the lake.

I slipped on the day pack, attached the camera to my chest harness and picked up my bamboo walking stick (especially useful on slippery downhill slants).

From a tall rock I breathed deep and surveyed the lake, the granite walls, the tall clouds and the blue sky once more.

The camera said 3:03 p.m. We had lollygagged at the lake for three-plus hours. In less than 15 minutes, we reached the pass and started down.

We soon met an athletic young woman from Seattle (with impressive calf muscles and star tattoos) and a strong brown dog.

Minutes later we met two men and two women from Portland. They made Nora's day with their attention.

Next, we met an athletic-looking guy from Seattle. He hiked with the woman and the dog.

At the first switchback, the trail slanted down more gently and offered a dramatic view of Eagle Cap Mountain with ominous dark clouds.

Nora took the lead, but paused often to peer down rocky slopes after squirrels. Once, after I passed her, I heard her pack scrape against the rocks 10 feet below the tail. Flinging dirt, she buried her face among the rocks .

I walked back. She stopped, but her pack had lodged among the rocks. She couldn't climb back to the trail.

I scrambled down, gripped the strap on the pack and lifted her free. She scooted ahead down the trail.

Near the bottom, a stomped-out route through leaves and dirt indicated something or someone had cut across the switchback. Perhaps deer, but I suspected the teenagers (racing pell-mell?) that had left the lake earlier.

I saw similar signs at the next switchback corner.

Wilderness rules prohibit switchback cutting, not that deer should know that.

Shortly after that, as I strolled along sipping cold water from my CamelBak's tube, with Nora 20 feet ahead, a voice behind me said "Hi."

I jumped and whooped.

"Sorry," the woman with the muscular calves said. "I didn't mean to surprise you."

She wore a dark nylon top and carried a water bottle, and she didn't have the dog. I stepped aside, and she ran past.

As she dashed past Nora, I saw that she had square-shaped tattoos on her calves. She moved so fast that I couldn't see them clearly.

When we reached the saplings across the side stream, Nora again scooted across without hesitation.

At the wagon I stowed the gear. We crawled the 17 miles to Lostine in an hour, stopping once to photograph elk in a meadow two miles from town.

I stopped again at Lostine's Blue Banana for coffee, but found it closed.

So, as Nora snoozed, I drove home in silence.

We arrived with the sunset.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

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