South Fork Walla Walla River Trail leads painful fall

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The South Fork trail often borders the river between deep canyon walls.

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Nora waits on the trail.

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Nora meets a fellow hiker and a Louisiana cougar dog.

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Large timbers mark where a bridge once crossed the South Fork.

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The Demaris Cabin crumbles near a spring on the South Fork trail.

Judging from the wet spot on my jacket's left sleeve and the damp chill on my left buttock, I had hit the frozen ground on my side.

It happened on an uphill two-track 20 yards past the crumbling Demaris Cabin on the South Fork Walla Walla River Trail.

I hit with a thump.

I clutched the Nikon to my chest.

It dangled from a strap around my neck for easy access if Bigfoot or a cougar crossed the trail.

While in mid-air, I twisted around to protect it.

A reflex, I guess.

Despite that selfless twist, a loud "Crunnnch!" signaled a lens hood digging into the ice.

The sound mingled with my own "Ooomphh!"

When I felt a dampness on my right ear from Nora the Schnauzer's nose, I said, "Thanks, I'm OK."

I moaned some, however, as I rolled onto my hands and knees and gained my feet.

Then I studied the lens hood for cracks and the camera for dents or scrapes.

No visible problem, so I took a photo of the trail. The click sounded normal, and a clear image appeared in the LCD monitor.

A low-level ache settled in my joints, but nothing felt broken or torn.

I felt some embarrassment, though.

Should've been more careful. Nora, dashing recklessly as usual, had skidded several times on icy spots.

Pay attention or slippery footing may cause a downfall.

Therefore, I continued carefully up the hill as the ache in my joints slowly eased.

Apparently, several layers of clothing (long johns, wool shirt, billed cap, wool stocking cap, hooded jacket and down vest) and a daypack filled with extra clothes and water probably cushioned my fall. Somewhat.

Anyway, before the fall our trek up the South Fork trail had been pleasant and uneventful.

Yes, I missed my 6.5-foot bamboo walking stick with the non-skid rubber tip (standing in a corner at home). Nevertheless, tip-toeing at the edges of icy spots on the trail had been safe enough.

Along the way I took the usual photos. Well, actually, I missed the usual close up of the rock chimney because access to the area has been closed for plant regeneration.

And I missed the usual icicles. Winter's below-freezing temperatures along the river usually leave dramatic ice forms clinging to the craggy canyon walls.

Several piles of ice below some cliffs suggested that large ice formations had fallen. Initially, I didn't understand why. Then, at one broken pile, five empty 22-caliber casings lay on the path.

Someone had shot the icicles down.

Bored, I guess. Looking for excitement.

Alas.

Then, before we had reached Demaris Cabin, we met one of the three people we saw on the day's trek, a hiker with a friendly, galloping dog that briefly played chase-in-circles with Nora.

The mostly white dog resembled a Dalmatian, but the man called it a "Louisiana cougar dog."

After my tumble, we continued over the hill and down to the private cabins. On the flat, the ice patches became wider and more challenging.

When I nearly fell a second time, and with the afternoon light slipping away, I asked Nora if she wanted to "go back."

She did.

Half-a-mile or so downstream from Demaris Cabin, we met two men riding trail bikes on a narrow, ice-covered section of trail.

They glided smoothly over the thick ice without chains. Nora and I stood aside as the two men passed.

More than an hour later, as we crossed a section of trail high on the canyon side about half-a-mile from the pickup, the men on the trail bikes passed us again.

One wished me "Merry Christmas."

We had left home at 10:17 a.m., and we hit the trail an hour later.

We started back from the cabins at 2:09 p.m. and reached the pickup at 4:15.

Hurrying along, we made better time trekking downhill than up. Despite the fading light, and with the help of a tree-limb staff, I avoided a single downhill flop on the ice.

We drove home in the dark.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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