Through Hell to Get to Heaven, Part DOS!

18 07 2012

Sorry, I got a little excited there. This is my first ever two-part post! I don’t really know why that’s exciting, but surely it’s a milestone of some sort….

Ok, so Part 1 took us up Gold Creek to Crater Creek trailhead, where we climbed a pretty brutal 4 miles up to Crater Lake. But the gorgeous lake and blooming wildflowers and massive mountains that all happen to literally be in my backyard made the Hike of Hell totally worth it. Right? Right.

So what did we do the very next day? Another hike that was even more steep and more exposed to the harsh, hot sun and swarming with mesquitos! Yay!

I guess you could call us gluttons for punishment…..

This trail was in the north end of the valley, up the Chewuch River a bit, kind of at the base of Big Craggy and Isabella Ridge. This was another trail that would give me a whole new perspective on things, being that this mountain and ridgeline dominate the horizon north of Twisp. So I was about to clamber up into the backdrop of my everyday life. Pretty cool!

We got a real early start, when it was still nice and cool, and pulled up to the Copper Glance Trail. I would have missed it. There was a little sign next to a gate blocking a super old road that I would never have thought marked a trailhead. But there it was – the Gate to Hell. As soon as we opened the doors of the truck, the ‘squitos attacked. Nothing gets you moving like a bazillion biting little bastards! I was ready to sprint up the trail just to try to outrun the little blood-suckers!

The trial/road didn’t waste any time. We immediately started climbing. Then we very quickly stopped to take care of downed logs across the trail. The moment we stopped moving, the buzzing picked up and I was busy swatting. However, I soon learned that putting my earplugs in to block out the chainsaw also blocked out the incessant buzzzz of the ‘squeeters and they amazingly didn’t bother me as much. And I actually got my gloves dirty this time helping clear the trial of what J cut. Just being a helpful citizen…

The pace was slow with lots of logs down. I have never been more excited to work in my life. “Oh, no, another one? (huffpuff) What a shame we’re already stopping again…” The work of moving limbs and logs was a relief to the intense up-hill.

J stopped ahead of me, with no logs in sight, and I couldn’t help but triumphantly shout in my head “HE needs a break! HE must be too tired and needs to stop! Even before I did! Man am I an awesome hiker or what?!”  Oops, too soon. As soon as I set my pack next to his, ready to gloat, he turned toward the slope next to the trail and started up it. This was no steep-grade trail, this was straight up the rocky mountain-side! Was he crazy?!

So, of course, I scrambled up after him. Slipping several times and trying to come to terms with the fact that I might tumble to the valley floor and die at any moment, I finally heaved myself over the edge of the nasty rock I was sliding in and on to flat ground. J was searching the ground like he’d lost something and I leaned on my knees a second to catch my breath and thank the universe for keeping me alive.

Then I looked up and almost fell back over the wall I had just climbed. There was a gaping hole in the mountain!! Then the facts all clicked into place: a road up the mountain that was now closed off, up the steep, winding side of a mountain to nowhere, ending at a gaping hole in the rock – a mine! Then it also donned on me that I had just climbed mine tailings to see this. Hm….

Copper Glance Trail, WA mine shaft

So spooky! See anyone in there?? Maybe it’s haunted!

Rushing over to the hole, I was ready to explore. I was gonna be rich! Maybe all these years had eroded away a new vein, and I would see it with my eagle-eye vision, and I could move to the Caribbean. Woo! My lucky day!

Sadly, as soon as I reached the opening, I felt a slosh as my boot sank in mud. The mine was underwater. Lame! But I had to stand and stare a minute into all that blackness…can you imagine descending into this abyss every single day, fueled only by dreams of striking it big?? Then as I examined the rock of the entrance, I noticed the…sparkle. I wiggled a piece lose with my fingernail and held it up – I was going to be rich after all! Whirling around to tell J, I nearly knocked us both into the mine shaft, since he was standing right behind me, holding his own rocks…that were bigger than mine. “Cool pyrite isn’t it. Nice and shiny.” All my hopes and dreams shattered. Damn fool’s gold!

Copper Glance mine shaft, Methow Valley WA

Yay I’m RICH!!!

I stuck it in my pocket anyway and we headed back down to our packs to keep going. We still had a good ways to go. And man, that trail never let up. No flat spots, no dips where we could go downhill for even a second – up and up and up! The mesquitos were here and there, not so bad, but man it was getting roasty hot. Hell’s furnaces were firing up!

Then we came to a huge tree blocking the path that was going to take a while. I went up the trail just a bit to see if there were any more logs coming up, and suddenly found myself in a big, open, picturesque meadow with an amazing view of Isabella Ridge. I was floored to realize how far UP we had really come!

Isabella Ridge, Copper Glance Trail, WA

Oh, hello, Isabella. Nice to finally meet you in person.

The lupines were blooming, the birds were chirping, the trees swayed in the breeze – just a quick little glimpse at Heaven, right in the middle of Hell. Not bad motivation to keep going…..

Once J finished and we continued, I soon realized it was indeed possible for the trail to get worse. This didn’t happen so much due to the grade, although it did increase a bit, but more due to the fact that the slope next to me was a very sheer drop. I can’t tell you what it dropped down to, since I refused to look down, but even the trail was at a slight tilt and made me walk funny, with the right foot on higher ground than the left. Thankfully this didn’t last the rest of the way, or I might have been forced to sit down and cry….

Relief came in the form of trees. Despite the beauty of the meadows, they allowed the sun to scorch down upon us and offered nothing to catch me if I tripped. Unfortunately, the trail through the trees didn’t change much, and I was about fed up with this uphill nonsense. But about the time I thought I was doomed to climb forever, we reached a lovely creek making lovely little waterfalls as it tumbled down the mountain. We both dropped our packs and dunked our faces, relishing the cold water as it rinsed off the sweat. Ahhhhhh, another taste of Heaven.

The trail after this did finally level out a bit, bringing us to a little pond. Or maybe it was just a swampy area…I’m not sure. But there was a little campsite with some logs that looked like a perfect place to rest my tired butt cheeks and eat some lunch. The shade and cold water made this a nice cool spot to stop, but I hoped as hard as I could that this wasn’t the lake. I’m no expert, but there just wasn’t enough water to classify it as a lake. But food distracted me and I attacked my sandwich like a bear coming out of hibernation.

After the goodies were all devoured, J decided to keep exploring, and we found where the trail continued. More brutal ups and downs brought us right up to the face of Isabella Ridge and into a rock field.

Isabella Ridge, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

I’m almost there!!

It reminded me of the lava fields in Oregon, but not made of lava rocks. A few scrawny trees managed to grow here and there, and I finally saw the Pearly Gates: a bright teal, crystal clear, shiny lake with a waterfall feeding it directly from the snowfields.

Sweet Jesus, this might have been the most beautiful lake I have ever seen.

Copper Glance Lake, Isabella Ridge WA

So clear, so blue, so pretty…so cold!

A couple campers had a tent on the other side and were lazily fishing in the afternoon sun. J went around to talk to them while I hopped down on a rock and yanked my boots off. Sadly, the water was at such a frigid temperature my toes couldn’t stand more than a few seconds.

Copper Glance Lake, Methow Valley WA

The mermaid rock I perched on to rest my feet

I relaxed with my toes in the sun, bathing in the beauty and serenity of the mountains. I’m telling you, this is Heaven. The trail was most certainly Hell, and this was the closest to Heaven on earth that I have experienced. I only wish my time in Heaven could have been longer, but J was working, and we had to keep moving.

At least the trail down was just that: down. I’m finally figuring out how to relax and not hurt my knees, making the return a bit easier. And it’s always fun to see the opposite views once you’re facing the other direction – it’s like a whole new trail. For instance, instead of looking up at the towering peaks of Isabella, Craggy and Sherman, I now had the splendor of the whole valley opening up below me. The smokey haze from a wildfire or two in the area gave the view a softer look, despite the glaring sun.

Methow Valley from Copper Glance Trail, WA

Wow, Methow, you’re really rockin’ the “smokey” look

Stumbling down and down, we quickly came back to the second crossing of Copper Glance Creek (or the first crossing on the way up). I had already forgotten all about it. There used to be a nice bridge to cross, but alas, raging waters or some other force of nature have since collapsed the bridge. Crossing it is now a feat that should normally be reserved for those accustomed to walking high-wires in the circus. The boards are slippery, the water fast and cold, the logs to hold on to wobbly at best, and the outcome of a fall would be nothing fun…if you survived to tell about it.

collapsed bridge on Copper Glance Trail, WA

Poor bridge has seen better days. Time to practice my mad skills!

Thankfully, I did survive, since here I am, still telling you about it. We made it back to the truck, sweaty and stinky and covered in mesquito bites, with one soggy boot from where I stepped off into the waterfall. But I had that vision of Heaven still dancing in my brain, reassuring me that given the chance, I would gladly hike right back up that trail.


Weekend stats:

Saturday – Crater Creek Trail, 8.3 miles round trip, 2195 ft elevation gain in 4 miles

Sunday – Copper Glance Trail, 6.5 miles round trip, 2800 ft elevation gain in 3 miles

I not only survived, I’m getting the hang of this……


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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