Through Hell to Get to Heaven, Part 1

12 07 2012

You’ve heard it all before – we need the bad to balance out the good. There must be night so we can have day, pain so we experience joy, brussel sprouts so we get dessert.  If we want a taste of Heaven, we might have to first lick Hell. I decided I wanted a super-sized bite of Heaven this weekend, so I had not one but TWO heaping helpings of Hell to go with it. But man, oh, man was it worth it.

The Heaven and Hell I am referring to involves mountains. (Shocking, I know.) More specifically, climbing them. The steps between the trailhead and the peak are a version of hell for me, but the heaven I find in the high meadows and alpine lakes is an unbeatable reward. So when Justin offered to take me with him both Saturday and Sunday, I heartily agreed. Two new trails, two new adventures, I couldn’t wait.

Saturday, hike number 1 was planned for a trail south of our house, up the Gold Creek drainage. This was more exciting than usual for me because I haven’t hiked any of the lower valley yet; we always go north (with the exception of our little climb up McClure…) It felt more like my turf, you know?? This was my neck of the woods – literally!

So I packed us a lunch and off we went, my handy Ranger and I. First up Gold Creek, where I was NOT allowed to get out and pan for gold (RUDE), then up this crazy, winding, pot-holed road that had me clutching the door handle for dear life.  My whole life flashed before my eyes at least once…

We finally reached the trailhead and there weren’t many cars. Yay! And up we went. The trail really wasn’t that bad. I mean, when you’re in the mountains, you know you’re going up. That’s what happens. But most of the trail was through forest, so we had shade, and the birds and squirrels and chipmunks make for entertaining company.

Crater Creek Trail, Gold Creek, Carlton WA

And up we go, through the forest. As usual. 🙂

There were some sections that got a tad brutal, when the trail became so steep it needed stairs. But I made it! Huffing, puffing, sucking water and pouring sweat, I even out-paced Justin at one point. Sure, he said we had a great “lackadaisical” pace, and he carried a bigger pack and a chainsaw, but I DON’T CARE! For the first time ever in all our hiking, I turned around and he was not on my heels. This is monumental, people. Let’s all just take a second to bask in my glory…

Ok, back to the trail. We weren’t done. Thankfully, there weren’t many logs down, so we Justin didn’t have too much hard work on the way up. We did meet a few people, and all of them fascinated me. First of all, that they were in such an out-of-the-way place, far from the beaten path, and secondly, because they were all what I consider “not your normal hiker.” Yes, this is a terrible statement since anyone can get out and hike, but it’s what I love about the northwest. Even people you wouldn’t expect are active and outdoors.

One pair appeared to be out on a guys’ trek, a boy and his grandfather. The grandfather is one that no longer surprises me – the men over 60 that are in better shape than I am – but the boy was such a wonderful surprise. He looked maybe 10 years old, with his own pack on, stoked to be out in the woods. If we had more of that, there would be a lot less wrong with this world. (In my professional and expert opinion…)

The other pair was this older couple, without even packs for water, coming back down. They weren’t local, I don’t think, and asked Justin about the mountains around us. One ridge didn’t have a name and the man suggested a name he came up with – I’m not the only one that does this!! (Except his name was “Dragon’s Teeth Ridge” whereas my names are more along the lines of “Kalista Ridge,” “Kalista Peak,” “Kalista Mountain”….)

We finally came up and around to see a lovely sight before us: Heaven. In the form of a sparkling lake. Crater Lake! Not to be confused with Crater Lake, Oregon, of course. Justin pulled out our lunch, I pulled off my boots, and we had a little picnic on the rocks with our toes in the water, Mount Bigalow watching down on us. The Heaven at the end of the Hell. So delightful!

Crater Lake, Crater Creek Trail, Carlton WA

Just hanging out with Mount Bigalow in the frigid waters of Crater Lake

After bombing back downhill, our day was not over. We drove back down the craziness someone deemed a “road” and across the valley of Gold Creek, then more or less up the other side. Since we were in the area, we were picking up a wildlife camera from the winter wildlife project, looking for lynx and wolverines. The road we went up was worse the first one! We were in a big four-wheel-drive truck, thankfully, or we wouldn’t have made it far at all. Justin laughed at the difference – they cruised up and down the same nightmare road with perfect ease all winter – on top of the snow in the snowmobiles.

As we navigated the hair-pin switchbacks and dodged potholes that would swallow my whole car, I looked out across the landscape. We were high up the slopes and I could see across the tops of some of the smaller peaks and ridges. What an amazing place. I mean truly spectacular. Yes, yes, I’ve said it before, but you can’t roll your eyes at me with an exasperated sigh until you see it. But you probably never will – very few people will ever see this place, especially from that vantage point. What a lucky gal I am!

Justin is a wonderful dude for taking me along to all these places I would otherwise never see. And then, as I was trying to contain my excitement at all this wonderfulness, I turned to look at the slope side of the road and almost had a heart attack. The slopes were COVERED in lupines! They were everywhere!!

For those not up on your wildflowers, the lupine is a close relative to the bluebonnet and looks very similar. I haven’t seen the rolling fields of Texas bluebonnets in quite a few years now, and here were my high mountain slopes covered in the same blanket. My little Texas-girl heart skipped a few beats.

Then I did what any good Texas girl would do and I hopped out of the truck, nestled down in the flowers and had my picture taken. Anyone from the great Lonestar State knows what I’m talking about!!

lupine fields on mountain slopes, Carlton WA

It’s like a little piece of home 🙂

We made it home without me exploding from the giddiness of the day, but just barely. The helacious trek up Crater Creek Trail…wasn’t all that bad. Despite the 8 miles round trip, I felt fine; barely even sore. And the scenery, the lake, the flowers, the happiness of the day – my Heaven WAY out-did my Hell. I guess that’s just the way of things.

And Sunday, we got up and did a SECOND Hike of Hell resulting in Heaven! But that’s for Part 2…..





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