Just Me and My Pack

10 09 2011

Well, and Justin and his pack.  Which was important because he carried more than I did.  The plan: 2 days, 22 miles.

The trip was Justin’s idea – a celebration of a year together (my idea).  So I guess there are two accomplishments to take note of….  Anyway, we set out Sunday morning ready for some great adventure.  My only other backpacking trip ever was last summer, up to Green Lakes in Oregon, with a wildly awesome group of girls.  I had my mind made up that I wouldn’t fall behind or hold us up or stumble off a cliff.

Today’s story begins at the Cutthroat Trailhead.  This was the first time I’ve done the same piece of trail a second time since coming to Washington, but that’s ok – 1.8 out of 11 miles isn’t bad.  Past the lake, we started the upward climb towards Cutthroat Pass.  I was in front, game face on, determination in high gear, ready to attack this hill.  This old mountain was nothing THESE trunks couldn’t handle!  Alternating between humming, singing, and chattering, we charged up that bad boy like it was nothing!  Plus, we had the beautiful forest, blue skies, and friendly passing hikers to keep us in high spirits.

Several hours and 5.5 miles later, we arrived at the top of Cutthroat Pass, sweaty and hungry.  Lunch time – my favorite!  BLTs and sweet nectarines, with my feet out of their boots and propped up on a rock while I enjoyed the delightful breeze and fantastic views.  I’m not talking like, oh, that’s a nice view.  I mean shade your eyes and keep on looking, ’cause you can’t soak it all in with just one glance!  I felt like I was on top of the world, and I damn near was!

Cutthroat Pass, WA

You can see the lake way down there!

After a nice break, we headed north on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Around every single corner lay some new wonder to make me gasp and exclaim and love it.  Not kidding.  Soaring rock faces and towering peaks and vast open valleys.  Its a miracle I didn’t pitch right over the edge of the tail to bounce down the near-vertical slopes we were traversing.  I couldn’t GET ENOUGH.  I wanted to just give the entire North Cascades a big bear hug.  We soon came to some pretty mean downhill slopes, dropping down to Granite Pass.  It was pretty much the only real downhill of the day, but the switchbacks and snow piles slowed me down a bit.  Once we started across towards Methow Pass I really had to watch my step on the tricky trail.  Then Justin turned off trail — oooo, where could this lead to?!

North Cascades, Washington


I’ll tell you where – straight to vertical HELL, that’s where.  This was the last little push of our 11 mile climb, the top was my goal, and all I had to do was push myself up this ridiculous non-trail and I would be done for the whole entire day.  Sweating my tush off and cursing Justin just a bit for not even BREATHING HARD, I finally saw flat ground up ahead.  Sweet Jesus, we made it!

Snowy Lakes, North Cascades

Sweet relief...

And all that hard work was deliciously rewarded, for up here on top of this breath-taking mountain was a glorious lake.  Quickly finding a campsite and ditching our packs, we bee-lined for the water.  Flinging clothes off like they were on fire, we stripped to our skivvies and headed in.  Brr brr BRR!  I knew it was going to be cold – it is snow melt after all – but DANG.  I stepped in up to my waist and dropped under before I could lose my courage.  Shooting back up and climbing out as fast as I could, I felt like a new woman.  Refreshed, invigorated and clean, I seriously felt like a million bucks.

We basked on the huge rock slabs in the evening sun, drying off and enjoying our perch.  These lakes are an alpine treasure, and one that not many people get to see.  Off the trail and requiring a rigorous climb to find them, a person has to really want to get up here.  We explored the upper lake as well, larger than the lower one, and met some fellow campers.  After a nice visit with them, I realized that the other campers had set their site up as carefully as we had – staying on as much rock as possible, staying off vegetation whenever they could, and staying aware of leaving as little impact as possible.  I could see they held the same appreciation for the delicate place and was very grateful to them.  It wouldn’t take many people trampling around to seriously injure this beautiful area.

Back in our own camp, I couldn’t help but sit and stare.  This place held a magical, surreal power over me.  Mother Nature at her finest.  Nothing I can describe to you, no pictures I show you will be able to convey the awe-inspiring magnificence of our surroundings, seeing the wild terrain from this high vantage point.  And I simply couldn’t get over it.

Snowy Lakes North Cascades

Our rockin' awesome campsite

As the sun started dipping below the peak in front of us, we added layers of clothing for the evening and started dinner.  We set up camp, both of us in pretty jovial moods.  Couscous and veggies for dinner, then some dessert, and an attempt at hot chocolate.  Justin showed me how the hard-core backpackers do it: save your dishwater (waste nothing!) and just boil it for the hot chocolate.  Sorry, Charlie, no can do.  I hate to say I’m not hard-core enough for that, but I couldn’t do the couscous-flavored chocolate or the chunks in every sip.  I’ll pass, thanks.

Crawling into the tent after prepping for nighttime, we realized we were on a bit of a slope, and every wiggle sent me sliding into Justin.  (Don’t believe his claims that this wasn’t on purpose….)  We stayed up long enough to watch the alpine glow finally dissipate and see the stars start peeking through.  We left the fly off the tent so we had a great view from our sleeping bags.  Snuggled up on top of the world so close to the heavens…most romantic evening ever.  Quite the anniversary present, if you ask me!  😀

Despite being toasty warm and not uncomfortable, I didn’t get much sleep and was up bright and early.  At least I got to watch the glow returning to the mountains.  Retrieving our food, I chowed down on our gourmet pop-tart breakfast while enjoying the fantastic morning.  Sleepy-pants Justin finally crawled out to join me and we took our time, not wanting to leave.  After refilling our water from the lake, we finally packed up.  So sleepy, we headed down the steep secret non-trail.  Thankfully, today was almost all downhill, and all the views from yesterday would be see from a whole new angle.

Unfortunately, the steep downhill to Granite Pass from yesterday was now an uphill torture.  I started ok, but flat-out ran out of steam about 3/4 of the way up.  I forced my knees around the switchbacks, dragged my feet across the piles of snow, and huffed and puffed for breath.  Just when I thought I’d have to lay down and take a nap, I reached the top.  We had a much-needed lunch right off the trail.  I don’t even remember what it was I stuffed in my face, but it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to keep going.  The rest of the trek down was pretty quiet, both of us in our own la-la land, occasionally blurting out a random phrase the other didn’t understand.

Cutthroat Pass was still amazing, even the second time around.  Anyone who can’t appreciate the magnitude of such views is dumb.  And we can’t be friends.  I took a good look around, a couple deep breaths, and then finally turned to continue on.  I could have cried I was so grateful to reach the trees.  Some dumbass forgot sunscreen (yeah, that was me) and my pigtails felt like sandpaper against my scorched neck.  Even my legs burned, since I wore capris, despite the crust of dirt covering them.  Once back to the truck, we eased out of our packs, stretched a bit, and headed back to town.

And you know what?  I was not that bad off.  Sure my feet were a little achey, and yeah my legs have felt better, but I was not about to die.  I could still walk just fine.  We even stopped at Three Fingered Jacks for some chicken strips and a beer before going home.  I think this means I’m working through my pansy issues, and finally starting to adapt to my new home.  I’m becoming more hardy, more capable in this harsh though beautiful environment.  My apologies for gloating, but I’m proud of myself.  😀

Final stats:  22 total miles, 3000 ft total elevation gain, 5 miles along the PCT.  One day I will conquer the full PCT, Mexico to Canada.  I considered this weekend training.  All in all, I’d say that was the best celebratory gift I’ve ever been given.  Can you top it?!




3 responses

13 09 2011
Chris Stringer

Wow great post, loved the pics and description. Glad you are getting out there into such cool places. PS – Obie misses his BFF.

16 09 2011

Thanks Stringer! Tell Obie I miss his cute face – and I still need to meet baby Orion!

26 09 2011
Sarah Thornburg

Wow! That’s an awesome post. I’m happy for you and think you picked a unique 1 year anniversary weekend adventure! Oh and props to Justin too. haha

Give it to me straight -

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