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Scott and Stacey Havel, with Halle, 5, Lenie, 2, and dog Bella, pose for a photo at the 'L.' [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

An unplanned hike straight up to the 'L'

Sometimes hikes don't go as planned. And sometimes that's a good thing.

Plans for a hike along the Bullard Canyon Trail fell through not once, but twice. A ride to the trailhead up the canyon for a pleasant one-way, 4.5-mile hike back to downtown Lakeview, where the trail ends, fell through. Then, after driving to the trailhead with thoughts of hiking out and back, the prospect of jumping the swollen creek didn't look appealing.

Instead, it was back to town and the Lakeview swimming pool park to go on a hike I hadn't made for years — up one of the trails that dive off the hillside just north of the pool.

The trail was immediately steep, zigging and zagging up a series of switchbacks that quickly offered bird's-eye views of downtown and, farther west, the expansive valley framed by a series of snow-covered peaks. Wildflowers lined the path, but the big surprise was a rusting Fordson tractor permanently parked in the hillside at one of the switchbacks.

At a junction I headed right, or east, along a seldom-traveled dirt road that continued up and up, following a ridgeline above Bullard Canyon. After a half-mile of plodding up toward Black Cap, the peak that overlooks Lakeview, and with yet another uphill grunt in sight, I doubled back.

What's next? Maybe I'd head back down, stop somewhere for breakfast and drive home.

Things changed.

Nearing the junction, a family — a mother and father with two young kids and a bouncy dog — had just finished the uphill climb and turned left, or north. Maybe they knew something.

Scott and Stacey Havel, with their 5-year-old Halle and 2-year-old Lenie and dog Bella, were heading toward the "L" on the distant hill.

"It's a sunny day and we thought it would be good to get outside. We're tired of the snow," Stacey explained, evoking an loud, "Yeah!" from Halle.

They stayed on the undulating gravel road. Not wanting to interfere with the family outing, I went cross country, weaving and meandering along a ridge. After crossing a creek, the "L" disappeared. No problem. I kept climbing and angling north, finding more lightly traveled dirt roads. Back and forth, then forth and back. Where was the "L?"

Eventually the Havels came into sight, steadily forging up the gravel road to a junction where, flummoxed and not finding the "L," I met them.

"Up there," Scott instructed, pointing up the faint remains of a seriously steep road. He said Lakeview groups, including Boy Scouts, used to drive up road with a load of white paint to freshen the "L," which from a distance looks like it needs a new whitewashing. Given the pitch of the road-turned-trail, it's obvious why it's seldom repainted.

Up and up we went, Stacey holding Halle's hand and offering words of encouragement while Scott hefted Lenie on his shoulders. The Havels stayed steps behind me, Scott pouring sweat with his piggyback rider, a warming sun and the elevator shaft-like grade. Incredible. Guiding and hauling two little girls up a steep, rocky-rumpy trail is quite a feat, a true feat of strength.

The "L" is a mumbo-jumbo of mostly small rocks formed in the shape of the letter L. Each rock has been splashed with white paint. Scott believes painting volunteers take one of the dirt roads and unload at the bottom of the final hill and schlep paint and supplies up, or drive up the road to Black Cap and hike down.

Near the bottom of the "L," the Havels settled in for water and lunch. I headed back down. While pausing to savor the scenery, a turkey vulture glided in the thermal, then dove, passing just a few yards above me, seemingly checking me out.

"I'm not dead yet," I hollered before continuing down the slippery slope back to the park.

No, things didn't go as planned. But it was a "L" of a hike.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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