Early up! Keith packed in minutes, and out the door searching for the best free breakfast he can find. The hotel's breakfast was enough for me, and Kirsten followed for the same when she woke; we gathered at her table to review plans.
Leaving Keith to meet his ride, Kirsten and I shoehorned our gear into the Ion and left for the trailhead. We stopped for a hearty lunch in Unity, Oregon (bulking up on carbs for the trail), then drove into the Malheur forest eagerly trying to identify Strawberry Mountain among the many peaks ahead and hopong to get a head start on the rest of the group.
This looked good!
(An aside about photos; the ones posted here are my own inadequte efforts. The group included a professional photographer, a semi--pro, and a ccouple of eager amateurs. I plan to add links to those photos when they post them online.)
About half the group was there when we arrived at 1 pm, though, eating lunch. So much for arriving early. At least, we weren't last.
Forewarned that the group 's attitudes toward Eastern hikers had been biased by previous guest, we worked the crowd, assuring everyone that we were slow, but would hike as a self-contained team to avoid interfering with their plans. The first part of this proved true, as we found ourselves well behind the pack, puffing our way up the steady slopes.
Forest-covered hills -- Easterners call them mountains. Tall pines. And then, at the end of another exhausting climb in the afternoon heat, a ghostly blue-white mist filling the air at the end of the green tunnel.
Strawberry Falls. I dropped pack and walked into glory. The sun was shining through the tall pines on the ridge above, the dark stone layers and green lichen glowed, and the mist from the cataract above enveloped me.
We clambered up a short slope -- the first of many on the trip as it turned out, and the easiest -- set up our camp above the falls.