Just A-hiking in the Woods

27 07 2017

It’s no secret how much I love to hike. Outdoor adventures are the usual topic of this blog. And with school out, I have all sorts of time to head out into the woods!

The last month has seen more outdoor time than the previous 6 months combined. Oh, how lovely it’s been! The fresh air, the blood pumping through my legs, the quality time with my wiggly mutt…so good! Here’s a quick peek at some of our recent adventures.


Right before school let out, Simba and I needed some nature time, and J was busy working. We set out with a map and a few suggestions from our housemate to see what we could find. Our first attempt was to climb to Indian Point from the Herman Creek trailhead, but the overflowing parking lot sent us high-tailing to our second choice: Wyeth. Both are right down the Gorge, meaning everything would be gorgeous. We poked around the awesome creek that – of course – tumbled in several rapids and mini waterfalls. Ferns, moss, towering cliffs, swaying trees – a typical gorge hike. We really live in the coolest place.

Emerald Falls, Wyeth Trailhead Oregon Columbia Gorge hikes

Simba “swimming” at Emerald Falls – next time we’re climbing UP STREAM!

Green Point Ridge trail Columbia Gorge hikes Oregon

Lunch break about 3 miles up the trail. Shared a few nibbles with this handsome mutt.

The trail, which is actually called the Green Point Ridge trail, traverses the cliffs and flattens out pretty nicely after the initial climb. It was nice and peaceful once we tuned out the road noise below, and the lack of fellow hikers was a real plus. And since it parallels the Columbia River, the views are outstanding no matter where we looked. So awesome.

Trapper Creek Wilderness

J has been working his rear off this summer, so I’m really thankful I can tag along with him. Its perfect: he gets work done, I get to hike in the woods, and I squeeze in time with my Boo. All the things I want! A couple weeks ago, J invited me along for a trip to the Trapper Creek Wilderness, one of my favorite places. This particular area is unique in that it has old growth forest untouched by the logging industry. Most of the northwest has been logged at some point or another, but not here! The result is gorgeous, old growth forest, complete with monster-huge trees, lack of dense undergrowth, more diverse species of plants and trees, and the presence of old, gnarly snags that provide habitat for cool wildlife. If you’ve never hiked through an old growth forest, I suggest dropping everything and finding one immediately. Go!

Trapper Creek trail, Trapper Creek Wilderness WA GPNF

Simba, charged and ready to go!

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Trapper Creek Wilderness WA

Don’t forget to pause and look up. The colors of the forest get me every time.

Trapper Creek Wilderness, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Dropped off trail to take a break by this babbling brook. Cold, refreshing, lovely.

saprophytes Trapper Creek in GP Forest WA

Saprophytic plants – just a sample of the awesome flora to be found. These little guys don’t produce chlorophyll!

trail work, Trapper Creek Wilderness WA

My local ranger hard at work fixing some trail tread. ❤

Gifford Pinchot NF, Trapper Creek Wilderness hiking

And of course, #SelfiesWithSimba – the best hiking buddy around!

Cascade Creek

For the 4th of July, we knew we had to get out of town. Far, far out of town. Simba is terrified of fire works and its hard to watch him panic every time one goes off. We headed into the woods with the truck loaded with camping gear and found an awesome spot on the banks of Cascade Creek, right by its joining with the White Salmon River. Since the actual holiday was during the week, we lucked out and had the whole place to ourselves! We didn’t do much actual hiking, but we did a lot of unplugged, kicked-back relaxing and it was amazing. I didn’t take many photos, since I really did turn my phone off, leave it in the truck, and enjoyed time in the woods undisturbed. Glorious.

Cascade Creek, Gifford Pinchot NF WA

Glamping!! Who wouldn’t want a campsite where someone left a giant “Race Base” sign?! (Don’t leave your crap in the forest. K thanks.)

camping in the GP, WA

I can’t help it. Our selfie game is just so ON POINT.
#SelfiesWithSimba is now a thing.

Wyeth (full circle)

And then with JBoo in tow, we hiked Wyeth again. Not quite as far, but more playing in the creek. The hiking experience is totally different for me if I’m with someone, compared to being alone. After all this time, J is still my favorite hiking companion. ❤

Emerald Falls, Wyeth, hiking in the Columbia Gorge

Emerald Falls….again

Wyeth trailhead, Columbia Gorge

He wasn’t even working this time!!

And after a nice long hike, Simba likes to partake in post-hike snuggle time. He’s such a cuddlebug. I love it.

snuggle puddle

I apparently make a pretty good pillow.

This turned into a longer post than I intended…thanks for coming along for the ride! Our other big hike is getting a post all of its own, and of course Simba and I have daily expeditions exploring the neighborhood. More big adventures are in the works, stay tuned!!

Anyone else out enjoying the great outdoors? Suggestions for other places in PNW I should explore? Tell me all about it!!


Song of the Mountain Goat

24 08 2015

Ahhhhh, summer. After 12 intense, demanding, crazy weeks, my first two sessions of grad school are over. DONE. Check and check. Time for three blissful weeks off before the insanity of fall begins.

Oh what to do?!

Since school started back today, I can tell you exactly what I did: relaxed. (That’s a really nice way of saying nothing… I’ve done so much NOTHING and it has been glorious.) Back in Trout Lake, I spent my days catching up on Netflix, taking extra long walks with my furbaby, reading terrible fiction, and knitting. All the things I neglected while school was in. Simba, especially, felt entitled to lots and lots of make-up attention, and most of my leisurely activities were done on the floor with him either in my lap or snuggled as close as he could get.

What about my J, you ask? Well, the man does have to work. And in August, he works a lot. Also, in case you hadn’t heard, the state of Washington is currently up in flames, literally, and he’s been working the Cougar Creek fire complex burning on the slopes of Mt Adams. However, my amazing beau managed to sneak in three full days for me. Three amazing, fun-filled, spectacular days in the mountains. I even managed to survive!

The location: the Mount Margaret Backcountry, which is on the north side of Mt St Helens, in the blast zone from the 1980 eruption. The plan: backpack up to Panhandle Lake, under Mt Whittier, and spend two nights, then hike back out. The participants: myself, JBoo, J’s pal Andy, and Andy’s pal Sara. The trail description on Northwest Hikers is awesome and totally worth reading and tells just what’s like: http://nwhiker.com/GPNFHike84.html

map of mt margaret backcountry whittier trail

We started at the “TH” (trail head) then hiked the #1 to the #211 and camped at Panhandle Lake. (map belongs to nwhiker.com)

We met at the trail head on a Thursday afternoon, shouldered our packs, and set boots to trail. Quick side note: I am obsessed with volcanoes and have a total crush on St Helens. Her last eruption might have been 35 years ago, but that’s recent in geological terms and the evidence is still really obvious. The slopes are covered in trees all laying the same direction regardless of their orientation to the slopes – trees that were blasted over by the eruption. We hiked through soil that is an ashy mix that quickly coated everything and filled our eyes, noses, and lungs. Many of the lakes still hold trees blasted from their roots that fateful day. SO AWESOME!!!

Anyway, so a-hiking we went. The trail is intense, full of ups and downs and brush and cliffs and dust. Grad school has assisted in my out-of-shape-ness and my pack was a bit heavy. My boots are still pretty new and not super broke in. But around every corner, on top of every ridge, behind every patch of brush, the views were incredibly breath-taking and awesome. From some vantage points, we were rewarded with all the Big Boys: Mt Rainier to the north, Mt Adams to the east, Mt Hood to the south, and of course right there in our faces, the open throat of Mt St Helens. It was like a reunion with all my buddies. Wut up, yall!!

mt st helens and spirit lake from bear pass

Oh hey girl heeeeeyyy! (That’s Spirit Lake full of blasted logs and the crater of Helens)

I’m not going to lie, the hike was pretty brutal. I was huffing and puffing, as usual, and pouring sweat, trying to pretend like my pack wasn’t too heavy and my feet didn’t hurt and I wasn’t totally out of shape. I can write up three research papers in one day but the back country kicks my rear all OVER the place. Some places required us to traverse cliff sides that made my toes curl and my stomach knot. J offered to take my pack across the gnarliest of the gnarly, but I wanted to do it on my own. Thankfully, I didn’t die.

Mt Whittier trail Mt St Helens national monument

Hike with a view. So worth it.


hiking in Mt Margaret back country, Mt St Helens

Andy reporting on the conditions of the rock. I was not looking forward to my turn.

Every time we caught sight of a lake, I was sure my torture was coming to a close. (If you notice on the map, we actually saw 4 lakes before reaching ours…yep.) There was really only one thing that inspired me to keep going, fueled me to push on, comforted me and assured me it would all be ok….

wild huckleberries Mt St Helens national monument

HUCKLEBERRIES!!! nomnomnomnom

We actually came across lots of kinds of berries, but huckleberries are the best ever. And there were TONS of them!! J finally told me that I couldn’t have any more unless I could pick and eat without breaking stride. Our next breather he turned to me and just laughed. Mission accomplished – my lips, mouth, and hands were a lovely shade of blue. YUM.

Just when I thought I would collapse and never make it, we reached our designated lake. (You have to get a permit to camp out here and only one permit is issued per lake per night.) After some confusion and back tracking, we clambered down a goat trail and haphazardly made it to the lake shores. We dumped our stuff at our designation campsites and bee-lined to the shoreline. Andy and Sara were brave enough to disregard the cooling evening air and jumped in for a swim. J and I ditched our boots and tried to rinse off as much grime as we could. Time to set up camp and get dinner going. Within the first few minutes at the lake, I was head over heels for this beautiful little spot.

Panhandle Lake, Mt Margaret back country, Mt St Helens

Panhandle Lake, our home sweet home for the next couple days. We could do worse.

I set up our tent and Chef JBoo fixed our dinner. We had packed in some ultra-classy boxes of wine and sat with our little crew well into the darkness. A few shooting stars shot over our heads and added to the ambiance. Spectacular.

boxed wine camping Mt Margaret

Undeniably classy. Lovely merlot.

After an amazing night of sleep, I woke up early and explored the area around the lake while the others slumbered. I saw a herd of elk in the brush near the trail we hiked in on, then looked up and spotted two goats nimbly making their way across the sheer cliff. Birds fluttered around in the bushes and a hawk soared above; fish splashed at the surface of the lake having breakfast. Yep, I could live here. I finally gave in to the roar in my belly and got J up. We retrieved our bags from the bear hang and ate breakfast. Near the bear hang, we noticed more huckleberry bushes, and I found my first activity of the day.

Lake Panhandle, Mt St Helens WA

Morning reflection on the still water. Lovely.

huckleberry picking Mt St Helens WA

Fruits of my morning labor. Well, the few I managed not to eat…

This in-between day was the best day ever. As the morning warmed up, we donned our swim wear and lounged like beach bums on the pumice shores of our little lake. J and I played gin rummy while laying in the sand; the boys worked on their fly casting; I poked around the tadpole convention we found; and we basically just relaxed, breathed deep, and enjoyed ourselves. J and I even gathered enough courage for a quick dip. The lake isn’t glacier fed, so it’s not that frigid, but I still barely managed 3 full strokes. I know for next time I just need to stay in long enough to numb my nerves and stay for a real swim.

fly fishing Lake Panhandle WA

The boys “fishing”.

Swimming Lake Panhandle WA

My JBoo, warming me up after our chilly dip in the lake

After lunch, we finally decided to get ambitious and hike the ridge above us. We climbed up and around and over and across and finally, after gawking at all the 360 views and the gazillion goats on the cliffs, made it to a trail sign. It looked to me like a sign you see on ski trails. It had the black diamond with a zigzag line and said “most difficult”.  Whatev, yo, I do what I want.

climbing to Mt Whittier WA

Pffffffth difficult schmifficult

Turns out they weren’t kidding. I never actually saw the top, but J tells me it was lovely. I made it almost to the top of the ridgeline, and was proud of myself for not dying. So I clung to a squat little pine tree and let the mountain goats boys go on ahead. J came back for me and we started down, while Andy pushed on to the peak of Mt Whittier. He later said it was terrifying. #noregrets

trail to Mt Whittier WA

I conquered enough to still feel like a bad ass. Like a little. And no I didn’t kick the sign down, it was already like that!

Back at camp, sweaty and hot with ash highlighting every little sweat trail down my face, I knew what had to be done. The lake was the only answer. Before I could change my mind or remember how cold the water was, I stepped off into the lake and furiously scrubbed the filth from my skin. I have never felt so refreshed in my LIFE!

Another mellow, relaxing evening with our pals and we turned in. Tucked into my sleeping bag, snuggled up against the warm lump of J in his sleeping bag, I passed out pretty fast. I dreamed that night of the goats, the white specks that you don’t even notice until one knocks loose a rock or calls to a baby. How amazing it would be to have that agility and freedom. I think I would be perfectly content as a mountain goat….

mountain goat on the cliffs Mt Whittier WA

Magnificent creatures

We took our time the next morning and finally left our awesome little camp sometime mid-morning. We saw the first people in two days and marveled at our good fortune in finding such solitude. I was sad to leave and hope to make it back someday.

Despite feeling like the entire hike to the lake was uphill, most of the hike out also seemed to be uphill. Funny how the strenuous uphill is all you remember, so hiking in the mountains seems to be all uphill, both ways. (…in the snow, barefoot, … wait, that’s how my dad got to school….) I love how the views change when you’re coming from the other direction, and I somehow managed to eat still more berries found along the trail.

Mt Margaret backcountry WA

Views for days

Bear Pass, Mt Whittier WA

My favorite view of them all ❤

And now I have to settle back into my school routine, tackling my new classes and getting to know new professors. This semester includes the observation portion of my student teaching, and I could not be more excited to jump right in with my mentor teacher and her 5th grade class.

But, more on that later…..

Happy trails!!


I Gave My Heart to the Sea

20 04 2014

We loaded the truck and made our getaway, making our temporary escape from reality. Life just hurdled us around a curve and the coming weeks are going to be crazy, hectic, trying. But Friday afternoon whispered the promise of freedom: the weekend.

In no real hurry, we rambled out of town, following the old mantra, “go west young man, haven’t you been told?” West along the Gorge, through farmland and big city and mountains until, finally, salt filled the air and a wide blank expanse filled my dark window. The coast at long last.

Darkness had already settled but the campgrounds were thankfully not full. Despite a few complications, the tent went up and us in it. Once Simba’s bed went in, he knew his place and followed. I cocooned myself into my sleeping bag, sandwiched between my favorites. Heaven.


I woke with the light Saturday morning, the norm for me when camping. But it was the soft diffused light of an overcast morning, so I lingered in the warmth of my down bag. Simba stirred, nudging his nose into the opening of my bag, seeing if I was awake. I was rewarded with his wet tongue covering my face in doggy kisses.20140424-205825.jpg

We finally got ourselves up and ready for the day. We had beach to explore! The rain started slowly and softly, barely noticeable in the already-damp air. We secured our tent and took off.

The rain stayed steady so we found a little cove right off the road. The trail took us through the lush, saturated forest full of monster old-growth spruce trees. It was somehow eerie and enchanting at the same time, dark and mystical in the rain. The sounds of water surrounded us: falling through the leaves around us, rushing over the rocks of the creek next to us, pounding the shore down in front of us. The trees parted and there she was: The ocean.

I don’t think Simba has ever been to the ocean, at least not judging by his hilarious reaction. The tide was low, the waves gigantic, the sand stretching out far and flat. We raced for the water, then Simba noticed it was headed straight for us….

…”omg! Run as fast as you can! Hurry, we have to escape! Good it’s gone – let’s chase it again!!”


Silly mutt. He also licked a wave, violently shaking his head and sneezing as a result. We played and played despite the rain that came and went. Finally soaked through, we hiked back to the truck. I tried to dry us off the best I could and tucked Simba into his bed behind J. Then into town we went for some SHOPPING!

The rain, of course, slowed and then stopped while we wandered through an olive oil tasting room, a candy shop, a beach-wear boutique and a fantastic creperie. By the time we got back to the super-smelly truck, my arms were full of bags and J’s belly was full of crepe. A quiet dinner at a local place and we headed back to our campsite for a calm evening. J decided we needed some warmth and lit up a lovely bonfire. I made a mad dash for the food stash, dug out the marshmallows and graham crackers, and combined all ingredients for the loveliest evening I’ve had in quite a while. After failing to put myself in a marshmallow-induced sugar coma, I joined my pooch in the tent.



After an insanely glorious night of sleep, we spent the majority of our Easter morning wandering the expanse of sand past the “Beach Access” sign of our campground. Crappy weather = very few people, besides us. We didn’t mind hanging out with the gulls, the Haystacks (those gigantic rocks out in the water), and the piles of driftwood. So awesome!


I have very regal men in my life ❤

I was sad to fold up the tent and load the cooler back into the truck. The sea gets under my skin as soon as I smell the salt, as soon as I hear the inhale and exhale of the waves, as soon as I see the constant ebb and flow movement of the water. And I get a little….lyrical. But I’ll let my poetic meanderings stay in my neat-o frito waterproof notebook. For now.

Now then, back to hectic reality!!  😀

To the Top of the World (and back again)

8 08 2013

It has finally happened, people! I CLIMBED MOUNT ADAMS!!

I don’t even know how to tell you about it, I’m still in shock, trying to process it.

Ok, I’ll give it my best shot…

MAsh arrived Friday evening and we did some ritualistic chanting and sacrificial ceremonies to get us pumped up. (Ok, fine, we actually played a rowdy game of Settlers of Catan. Same thing.) Saturday we were in no rush and finally headed out for the mountain around 11:30am….just in time to put us right at the tail end of the Trout Lake parade! Since the parade route is right through town on what is pretty much the only main road in town, we just joined in and pretended we were part of it. Nothing like a parade in our honor to get our adventure started right! The fire trucks had apparently thrown absurd amounts of candy and parents started giving it to us through the open windows.

Finally through the throngs of people lining the highway (where on earth did all these people come from?!) we zoomed up to the trail head, hoisted our packs on our backs, and hit the trail. Today was a short day – just about 1.5 miles up to our campsite. Cake.

South Climb trail head, Mt Adams WA, North Cascades

Wooo! Ready to take on Adams!

girls up South Climb trail, Mt Adams WA

Look out, Adams, we’re coming for YOU!

We set up camp, admiring our super-sweet, out-of-the-way spot J-Rock secured for us. Once everything was set for the evening, we grabbed our snow gear and headed to a nearby snowfield for a quick little lesson of Saving Yourself If You Fall Off The Mountain 101, compliments of Professor J-Rock. We grabbed our ice axes, climbed up the snowy slope, then threw ourselves back down it, practicing our self-arrest technique. (Self arrest basically just means using your ice axe to stop yourself. It’s actually super fun, when it’s not for real…) The funniest part was listening to each person pretending they were falling for real: “Oh no! (grunt, fall in the snow) I’m falling guys! (scooting down on butt, trying to pick up speed) Shoot! Better self arrest! (Flipping over, self arresting like a pro) It’s cool guys, I got it! I’m fine!”

practicing self arrest south climb trail, Mt Adams WA

J-Rock demonstrating, Ash following his lead. Looking good!

Back at camp, we settled into evening camp duties like we do this together all the time. MAsh headed down to the melt-water creek to pump water, filling all our bottles and water bladders for the next day. J-Rock and I set about cooking dinner. We all ate, cleaned up, and played some wild Gin Rummy while practicing our Mountain Climber names: Mad-Dawg Davis, AssKicking Ash, Master J-Rock, and K-Rage. (You can’t climb a big mountain without an intimidating pump-you-up name!!)

South Climb campsite under Lunch Counter, Mt Adams WA

Chillin’ like villains in our camp.

We turned in early (like, before it was dark early). I snuggled down in my sleeping bag, cocooned next to J, the stars slowly appearing in the sky above our open-mesh-top tent. Four-thirty came early, but my eyes snapped open and J and I both launched out of our warm beds. It’s GO TIME! Mad-Dawg made breakfast while the rest of us packed up and got ready. The lights of other people’s headlamps could already be seen snaking up the trail – we needed to get moving! Finally, we set off across the rock fields towards the trail, excitement buzzing in the air around us.

We paused to strap on our crampons to tackle the first snow field. The air was chilly and we were all bundled up, but I was still excited to play in the snow all day. We headed up the cold slope, single file like little duckies.

snowfield on South Climb Mt Adams, WA

The sun was just starting to tint the sky.

The very top got really steep, and I wasn’t quite used to the crampons yet. Then the snow ended, and we had to scramble up over some rock to make it to the trail. I freaked out a bit, unsure I would make it – and this was the very beginning!! I nearly melted down in frustration, baffled at my decision to do this.

But once on the trail, we hiked over rock for a bit then hit another snowfield. This time we started relatively flat and gradually climbed to a steeper incline. We took a couple breaks to shed layers and grab snacks, but the climb is really just that – one foot in front of the other, slogging on. We reached the Lunch Counter first, a nice huge ledge that juts off the south side of the mountain. A lot of climbers make it to the Lunch Counter their first day, set up camp in the rocks, and start their second day to the summit from here. Tents littered the black volcanic rock and AssKicking Ash scanned for campfire smoke, hoping to catch someone’s illegal actions and write them a ticket. (No, she was not actually authorized to do this. But she’s been practicing just in case anyway.)

Lunch Counter on South Climb, Mt Adams WA

Almost to Lunch Counter! The steep slope of the false summit looms above us, taunting us….

After shedding more layers, we attacked the huge slope that goes from the Lunch Counter all the way up to the false summit, Piker’s Peak. The false summit is exactly what it sounds like: a cruel joke, a big fat faker and out-right liar. Almost the entire hike, we’re headed up towards what appears to be the top, the end, the goal. But in truth, the real summit is actually behind the false one, looming just far enough behind it that you can’t see it until you’re just about to reach the top of the false one. Thankfully, we knew the peak we were stretching for all day was not, in fact, the real summit, or the mountain itself would not have been able to stand up to my rage.

Because it was hard. The slope up to Piker’s Peak got increasingly steeper until we were climbing snow-stairs that were created from the hundreds of boots kicking their crampons into the snow to get enough of a foothold to step up and do it again. I couldn’t see well – I can’t wear my contacts any more and was forced to wear my glasses, meaning no sunglasses against the brutal glare of the sun – and I was extremely focused on getting one foot in front of the other. Only when I reached a spot big enough to fit both my feet side by side so I could stand up and rest my quads – only then did I take a peek around me. I was startled to see the expanse of sky behind me, to the left of me, to the right of me, above me. And I was even more shocked to realize the insane incline we had been pushing to climb. We were going up a damn cliff side!

I turned my eyes back to my feet, plunged my ice ax into the ground ahead of me, and forced my burning legs to keep going. We had been climbing for hours, the blinding slope never changing in front of me, my shaking muscles screaming at every step. I knew I was close to the false summit, and the real summit was so close behind that, but there were a few times when I had serious doubts about whether I was going to make it. MAsh commented later how proud they were of the determination they saw in my face, but that was honestly the only thing keeping me going: the two friends I knew were up there somewhere in front of me. We had planned this trip months ago, and it was my own fault for not being more prepared. But dear GOD who let me do this?!

Pride is an amazing thing. My brain knew that I could just turn around, sit down, and slide on my back all the way back down. My muscles screeched at me like nails on a chalkboard, to just stop this hair-brained idea, turn around, and go home. Who’s idea was this anyway? Why did I need to get to the top? The views were great from right here. Why did I think I could do one nice hike the week before and be able to climb a 12,000-foot mountain? I’m not a mountain-climber, I’m not in shape for this, I have no business being up here!

But despite the protests of my body, my mind fought back. My pride slapped a nice piece of ducktape over my muscles’ mouth and cracked the whip to continue on. Pride declared me fit and able, pointing out that my lungs actually felt fine, even as we gained altitude. Pride scorned my muscles for being such pansy-ass whiny babies. Man-up, muscles! I deserve to be here just as much as anyone else! I deserve to claw my way to the top, to see the world in all it’s glory, to feel the wind in my braids as I conquer the second tallest mountain in the state of Washington! You shut your pie-hole, muscles, I will do this because I want to, because I can, and because so many have done it before me! And if they can, I can. Now MOVE!!

All the internal motivational speeches and smack-talk is what finally pushed me over the last little lip of the false summit, 2400 feet above the Lunch Counter. The real summit came into view briefly – swirling clouds had been building all morning and gave some relief to my tired eyeballs. We had a snack, reapplied sunscreen, and watched people leap into the glissading chutes. Strangely enough, I ran into a co-worker from Bend who was doing that just – small world! I rested my eyes, rested my legs, and tried to pump myself up to continue on. We still had 600 feet of elevation left to reach the top.

But the trail to the top was much easier, tamer and kinder than the trail up Piker’s Peak. This trail had switchbacks and much less incline. We made our summit at about 12:30pm, 7.5 hours after we left our campsite that morning. We were tired but jubilant, and I’m pretty sure I let out a primeival roar of victory that sounded like a wild animal finally making a long-sought-after kill.

summit Mt Adams in clouds, Washington


As you can see, we were totally screwed by Mother Nature and didn’t get the awesome views we were promised. We got big fat no views. In fact, we could barely view each other if we walked about 10 feet away. And with the clouds came a chilly wind that sent us scurrying for layers. We donned our rain layers and took just a brief minute to savor our victory before beginning the inevitable: the descent.

Thankfully, going down is much easier than going up, especially in snow! We sat our butt cheeks in the snow, readied our ice axes to serve as brakes, and pushed off! Glissading down was fast, fun, slightly painful, and a bit exasperating for me. The first bit down to the false summit was pretty mellow and quite fun. I got a bit of snow packed into the back of my pants, but a small price to pay for that kind of SPEED!

Then we had to descend over the false summit. It was crazy steep coming up, which meant it would be crazy steep going down. I watched as AssKicking Ash disappeared over the edge. Then went Mad Dawg Davis, waiting a decent amount of time to avoid collission. Then it was my turn. J-Rock gave me a thumbs-up and down I went, shooting through the tunnel made by so many butts before me. Soon, however, I was going too fast and was having a hard time braking. I managed to stop myself a couple times, but just kept repeating the terrifying experience of flying through ice and snow, bumping over hard chunks of ice with numb legs, not being able to dig my ice ax in deep enough to slow myself. Mad Dawg rolled out of my way as I barely avoided hitting him.

I got out of the glissading chute a couple times to walk. J-Rock stopped with me and at one point, we unzipped one site of my rain pants to dig out all the snow that had lodged itself in the seat and legs of my pants. I hurt, I was frustrated, my partially numb body stung with the pain of a thousand needles and I finally yelled “I JUST WANT OFF THIS STUPID MOUNTAIN!” J-Rock patted my arm, not feeling so hot himself in the high altitude, and told me to walk a while. Finally, when I was comfortable enough with it, I sat back in the chute and continued down the less-steep slope. The rest of the way after that was pretty much cake.

midday descent at lunch counter, Mt Adams WA

Texas repreSENT! Cowboy hats on the mountain just make us that much cooler.

We made it back to our campsite, packed everything up, and finished the day back at the car. We had covered around 10.5 miles that day, to the top of the world, with an elevation gain of around 5500 feet, then an elevation drop of about 6700 feet back down to earth. Every fiber of my being ached, but I was happy. Happy to be down, happy to be done, happy that I did it. I’m still pretty upset about the weather at the top, but maybe that will be the motivation I need to do it again next summer!!

*A big shout-out and special thanks to the beasts that are MAsh, for going with me, for not leaving me behind, for not giving up on me. These two power-houses are an inspiration for their abilities as well as their amazing attitudes. You both rock my world.
And to my main squeeze J-Rock, who had more confidence in me than I did, who stayed right behind every literal step of the way, and who encouraged me, pushed me, calmed me, and overlooked my very childish behavior on more than one occasion, thank you. Now, on to our next adventure!!

Alpaca Circle of Life

10 11 2012

Anyone who knows me has had to hear all about my excitement to see/touch/bring home an alpaca from Peru. Well, my life is now complete and I can die a happy woman. However, I have also been introduced to the Circle of Life of alpacas and have been singing the Lion King song for days.

Our time had come to trek through Colca Canyon, the (debatably) 2nd deepest canyon in the world. Tuesday morning, 7am, we were ready and waiting to stretch our legs in the Andes. No one else from our hostal had booked a tour, so we had a totally private tour. We did share our van with a group of 6 dudes from Austria, and I hoped they would all be ok. I mean, we were headed to some crazy altitudes to plunge into the canyon bottom one day and straight up out of it the next. And these dudes were in their 60s, minimum. Poor things.

So on the van, we head out of Arequipa. The landscape is kind of just a desert, nothing really remarkable, so I zoned out and might have nodded off a bit. Then the van started slowing (which they just don´t do normally) and pulled over. Our guide, Veronica, jumped up pointing out the window. “Vicuñas! Vicuñas!” Groggy and confused I think this must be the chequa word for volcano, then I see something moving out there. She tells us we have entered the Pampa Galeras Refugio para Vicuñas – a refuge to protect the once-endangered national animal of Peru, the vicuña. It´s related to the llama and alpaca, but smaller and tan. And adorable.

We pile out of the van and furiously snap pictures, the poor vicuñas running scared. We finally continue, pointing out the windows excitedly as we see herd after herd of grazing animals. We´re getting  into prettier  country now, with scrubby vegatation and some visable evidence of the surrounding chain of volcanoes. We stop at a little road-side restaurant for a potty break and coca tea. I´m awkwardly trying to sip the bitter tea without eating all the leaves when I see something poofy out the door – an ALPACA!! I race out to see and the other guide gives me some coca leaves. “Feed them, they love it.” So I sat on the bench, shaking with excitement, feeding the two little alpacas with one hand and burying my other hand into their soft puffy wool. The trip is now complete for me, and we haven´t even reached the canyon!

We drive on for several more hours. We´re slowy approaching the canyon and we start to see the remote villages that still exist out here. Along with the villages, we see the terraces beggining to appear on the landscape along with fields and stone walls to mark everything. At one point, we get out and go on a quick 15 min walk among the fields to help get our lungs more accustomed to the crazy-high altitude. It´s quaint and beautiful and idyllic, like something straight from a movie.  Some of these terraces were built by the pre-Inca cultures that live here, the Collaguas and the Cabanas, the oldest dating back 800 years!! We get back on the bus and continue, the road soon becoming terrifying. No more pavement, road construction, and hairpin curves have me holding on for dear life. Then, suddenly, we stop. Veronica gets out, so I follow, soon to discover this is our starting piont. We get to the lip of the trail, the canyon and mountains spread out intimidatingly in front of us. We secure our packs and take off. Starting altitude: 3600 m (someting close to 11,000 ft, I think).

The trail is dusty and dry, nothing but cacti to break up the solid tan canyon wall. The basalt rock is cool, and birds fly around, but I´m fascinated with our lovely guide. We chat as we walk, and she is outgoing and friendly. And so interesting! We practice our Spanish, she practices her English, and in doing so tells us all about the canyon, the people, the culture, the history. She answers every question we have for her! We also get to know each other since we know how to ask most personal questions in Spanish. And so it goes, down down down into the canyon. I can´t wait to add some pictures later, the views were absolutely astounding.

I was hot, sweaty and guzzling water when a bridge came into view – we had reached the bottom! We got to sign our  names in the book of the Gate Keeper and took a break. My knees were killing me from the 1000m hike down (close to 3000 ft) but what a victory! The trail continued up and down, through the complete opposite of what we had been hiking in – lush vegatation, tiny fields and irrigation canals, trickling water – the side the people live on. I was wearing down and slowing up, contemplating flagging down one of the passing donkeys, when we reached our first destination: LUNCH. There´s a little collection of huts with a kitchen and what appeared to be just a home that offered homestays. We sat under a lovely pavillion while Veronica brought out lunch: the traditional meal of veggie soup followed by lomo saltado. I scarfed mine down, manners be damned. I hadn´t eaten all day, and here it was 3 in the afternoon!! After letting our food settle a minute, it was time to keep going. I asked Veronica what meat was used in the loma saltado and almost fell over at her answer – ALPACA.

And it was delicious – maybe my favorite dish so far. Circle of life, people.

I didn´t have much time to ponder the fact that I just ate my favorite animal, and loved it, because Veronica had all sorts of new stuff to show us. We passed avocado trees and pomagranate trees, vibrant flowering vines, crops, aloe plants and the giant agave plants. Being into this sort of thing, we soaked up all the info she threw our way. Lots of big prickly pear cacti lined the trails, and showed us the cochineal bugs. I wouldn´t have even guessed they were bugs, but she plucked one off and squished it on her palm. The grey little bug smeared brilliant crimson across her hand!! They harvest and dry these bugs to export all over the world for the dye. Check your red lipstick or candy next time to see if “cochineal” is in the ingredient list…

We pass through a little side gorge after encountering a fork in the trail…and choosing the shorter option.Veronica continues to point out interesting things to look at and tells us about the trails up above us that appear to climb up the rock face – trails left from Spanish times when the invaders where searching for gold in these mountains. I guess the trails are still there because they found it… The trail is going up and down and the sun is dipping in the sky. We finally reach a high point, pause for a snack, and continue back down towards the river. We cross once more and hike up to our evening accomodations: Paradise. The sun is setting and it was hard to get the full affect, but we got the gist of it – the lushest vegatation you can think of, flowers and palm trees, huts with bamboo sides and thatched roofs, waterfalls (though not natural) and several swimming pools. Um, yes please!

We settled into our hut, just big enough for a double bed, and explored the grounds by headlamp. A pavillion contained chairs and tables, and the guides were cooking dinner for us and the other 2 or 3 groups that were also here. The only electricity I saw was one light bulb hanging over the kitchen. We ate our delicious meal and passed out almost immediately.

The next morning, we were back on the trail at 4am, hiking by headlamps. Silence prevailed as we were still waking up, and today´s hike was all up. We climbed for about 3 hours, up and up, often climbing huge sets of rock steps, making me more tired. It was no surprise when several different times I got a break because I needed to stop on the side to let a villager and donkeys go by. Those people are amazing in their ability to rocket up the canyon sides!! We watched the sun rise and continued our climb. About half way I really started to feel the altitude and had to stop more often to suck air. I was contemplating giving in and rolling back to the bottom when a tall Brit when flying by. I blame his 12 foot legs for his speed.

Finally, we did make it to the top. Three hours to climb straight back up 1000m – and all before breakfast! It was only 7am! We trekked through some more fields into the little village there. Veronica led us along the cobblestone streets where there were more donkeys and llamas hanging out than there were cars, to a little house that turned out to be our breakfast stop. We walked in and I almost passed out when I saw the group of 6 Austrians already seated at the table. How the hell did these old codgers beat us, and not a heart attack among them?! Turns out, they did leave a touch earlier than us, but I was by far hurting the worst, and now I had my injured pride to add to the list of injuries.

Breakfast was laid out before us in a traditional family style – baskets of bread, plates of meat and cheese and avocado, and bowls of scrambled eggs. We passed everything around and had a good old time. Our bus picked us up and so began the journey back to Arequipa. Scheduled stops brought us to several look-out points, tiny villages, and tourist stops. We stopped with about a gazillion other people at a designated spot to see condors, the world´s largest bird that can fly. On the way there, one swooped down pretty close to our bus, so we had no real desire to sit at the tourist landing waiting with everyone else. The villages were cute, and saw more alpacas, and Veronica gave us a mini tour of one of the original Spanish churches. Oddly enough, they all have big crosses out front…because the indiginous people weren´t actually allowed inside to worship. Huh.

The last and largest village had a restaurant where we were served a buffet lunch of all kinds of insanely good food. Then we drove back past the amazing sprawl of terraces and fields. Yes, I loved them to pieces. I was nodding off again against the window when we made another fantastic stop – a natural hot springs!! We were given an hour to lounge in the modern facilities, so out of place amongst the traditional villages, to relax out worn out muscles. Then we continued to our last stop of the day: the highest point in the area you can drive to. (Safely, anyway…) The point on top of the mountains where we pulled over sits at 4800m (about 16000 ft) and I was amazed at the strange feeling taking over my brain as it became oxygen deprived. We soaked in all the views of the massive volcanoes before us, listening to the history of how important this place was to the people because it was where they could get closest to all the gods at once and make their human sacrifices, and how the massive amount of rock piles are there in homage to the past. Some cute llamas decorated in thier Sunday best posed for pictures in the crowd. I was ready for the bus down to get my body back to normal.

I was sad to say good-bye to the wonderful canyon, the adorable vicuñas, and the gorgeous mountains. But most of all, I was sad to bid farewell to my new bestie Veronica. The very first day, she told me I had great hiking rhythm and really did well, then she put one of those goreous vibrant flowers in my hair – besties for life. Best guide on the planet! We also waved adios to Arequipa and caught the night bus to Cusco. It was a difficult night and a difficult first morning in Cusco, but in the last 3 days, I have fallen head over heels for this city!! Inca ruins are everywhere, even in the modern buildings. We´ve visted the site of Saqsayhuaman (I swear on my first born´s life it´s pronounced “sexy woman”) where the Spanish finally, agaisnt all odds, defeated the Incas. We met up with our new pals Harry and Louisa who we first met in Huacachina and had a wild night out with them. And we have trekked all over the city on foot, exploring every bit we can! I could totally live here.

And tomorrow we start our next big adventure: Machu Picchu! We´ll spend the next two days in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, seeing all sorts of cool stuff. Yay! Speaking of which, I have an early morning and need to get to bed!
Much love to all,


Labor Day Death March – DAY 2!

20 09 2012

In case you missed Day 1, click that link and get with the program. Are we all ready? Moving on. 

Day 2 started out…cold. I was super snug in my sleeping bag, but hadn’t slept all that well. And as I woke up (way earlier than I had planned), I had a problem: my stomach seriously hurt. Unfortunately, I knew what had to happen. I took a deep breath and whispered J’s name. Amazingly he woke up and peeked out at me from his cocoon. “J, it’s Time.” He looked at me super confused as I unzipped my warm, cozy, oven of a bed. I finally had to nudge him out of the way since he had yet to move away from the door. “Where are you going? What’s it time for?” I slipped into my boots and out into the trees.

My first major accomplishment of the trip: my first-ever poop in the woods! You think that’s funny? Have you ever had to go poo in the woods – as in no outhouse, no Port-a-Potty, dig your own hole kind of deal? I have gal pals who can’t even PEE in the woods. TMI? Too bad. I was tremendously proud of myself; this was a milestone. Yay for me!

And then I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I popped in my contacts and puttered around taking care of all my morning duties (no pun intended) – retreieved the bear hang, ate breakfast, made my lunch for the day, repacked my pack, brushed my teeth. Lazy Bones J was still sawing logs in the tent while I was chilly and fighting a righteous headache. I headed up to the lake shore and waited for J to get up, stretching my stiff muscles. Nothing like early morning yoga watching the sun rise over a high-alpine lake. J finally woke up and we were soon ready to get back on the trail.

unmaintained monument trail, Pasayten Eureka Creek WA

Unmaintained trail from here on out – caution all ye who continue forth! (Oh we’re continuing all right!)

We circled the lake and came to a tree down, blocking the trail. This was it: the end of the maintained trail – nothing beyond this point had been kept up for the last 25 years or so. Woo! Around the huge tree we went, and started the vertical ascent to the top lip of the glacial bowl we had slept in. The trail wasn’t much, but obviously used. We trudged up the steep grade and finally summited the saddle. My breath was literally and figuratively taken away. Valleys are peachy keen for pansies who like it on bottom, but no valley bottom has a view this incredible.

Above Fred Lake, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Reached the top! These views are totally worth the grueling climb! (This is facing the way we just came up, with Fred Lake down below me.)

Towering peaks rose to greet us on all sides, their slopes giving way to tumbling valleys stretched out as far as we could see. Whoa. The morning sun warmed the air and we stripped a layer before continuing. We dropped down to Doris Lake and met a bunch of different groups. Good thinking the night before – it was crowded up here. I was a bit bummed, to be perfectly honest. I come out to a remote wilderness…only to be surrounded by people. J assured me we would soon pass the throngs of people – most came here to climb this awesome series of peaks – Osceola, Carru, and Lago. I hope to work up the cahones to do that one day….

Osceola, Carru, Lago Peaks, Pasayten WA

Left to right: Osceola, Carru and Lago. And Doris Lake to the left, under Osceola. How cool to climb these bad boys! (And please ignore any weirdness in light – this is a stitched panorama…)

We lost the trail after leaving Doris, but knew the general direction to head. J was leading (since I had been fired) and we dropped elevation fairly quickly, through lush meadows broken by the odd stand of trees, babbling brook and patch of shrubs. I slowed us down a bit when the trail got sketchy, but I couldn’t help it. I was still getting used to the weight on my back changing my balance. Finally, we made it to the very bottom – a dead end up against Shellrock Pass, and the headwaters of Eureka Creek. I’ve been to the end of Eureka Creek, where it hits Lost River, so this was pretty cool to me. Shellrock Pass, however,was a different matter….

Shellrock Pass, Pasayten WA

Ah, Shellrock. The pass is up to the left. We traversed that nasty rock above the tree line. It was hell.

The morning was close to over and we had a long ways to go. First order of business: conquer Shellrock Pass. Up we go (again)! We crossed huge rock slides where marmots and pikas chirped at us, scolding our every step. The bottom of the rock slides was a kind of marshy area with several puddles. Soon, the massive rock faces glared at us from all sides – we were eye-level now, baby. Looking across, we could see a couple of people traversing one of the slopes. I couldn’t help but be impressed – there’s no trail up there, nothing to even guide you…in fact there’s nothing. You are fully exposed, just you and the sky and a wicked drop-off.

The trail intensified and I soon received a slap in the face from old Shellrock – my first test. The “trail” was in loose, nasty, gravel-like rock and was traversing across the slope. So to my right: steep slope up; to my left: steep slope down. I was going pretty slow, picking my way across, when my boots slipped. I froze in place, not wanting to throw myself further off balance. I finally managed to pick up one foot and then the other and take a few more steps, carefully placing each step and testing it before putting my whole weight on that foot. Then the trail became a bit washed out and my boots slipped again. I grabbed for the up-slope, but there was nothing for me to hold on to. I’m not afraid of heights at all, but in that moment, I panicked and became terrified of falling down that slope. I became frozen with fear and cried out when a shift in weight caused my boots to slide further. J had turned around to see what happened, and I think he freaked out a bit – not necessarily at my position, but at me freaking out at my position. He’s used to this sort of thing, he knows his boots might slip but will catch. And he’s a mother-loving mountain goat. But I’m not. And I don’t know that my boots will catch. And I do know that it was a hell of a long way down, and that my only choice was to keep going. J couldn’t save me, or even help me really – I had to get myself out of this. I wanted to come on this trip, I wanted to do this, so it was time to get my act together and man up. Leaning into the up-slope, I shuffled one foot forward a bit. Then the other. I finally got one foot solid enough to stand back up and took the last few steps to where the trail widened and flattened – sure footing. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and stood for a moment, trying not to look down. J probably thought I was still stuck, since he was still coaching me: “You’ve got this, you can do it, you’re doing great, just a little farther…” I gave him a weak smile and started walking again, slowly, placing each foot more precisely than before.

Shellrock put me to the test, shoved me right out of my comfort zone and tried to break me. Too bad, Shellrock, I beat you!

Shellrock Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, WA

Thanking my lucky stars with each step, now that I’m on trail that isn’t try to kill me. Nothing like living on the edge!!

We made it to the top of the pass without further incident, though I was slow. J was freaked out by how quiet I was and filled the silence by telling me what a rock-star I was (ha) and that I was almost there, and that the rest of the day would be downhill. As the trail peaked and I was finally on top, I dropped my pack and let my shaky legs rest. We ate our lunch surrounded by this harsh beauty. I was glad I was on this trip with J and had a whole new appreciation for his abilities. He related a story of his own not-so-wonderful trip to Shellrock as a teenager – a trip in which J’s cousin dubbed this ShellShock Pass. I heartily agreed that was a much better name.

Shellrock Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, Monument Creek, WA

Looking out from ShellShock across towards Many Trails, Lost Peak and Three Pinnacles. We’re headed down, down, down the valley.

We descended the other side of ShellShock into a marshy area full of flowers, a few trees, and water. It looked like a park. The little tarn made for a great camping spot, so I dropped my pack and settled in for a little rest while J checked for campsites. My mind wandered delightfully as I gazed around this little oasis, idly stroking the little purple flower next to me. By the time J got back, the sweet breeze in my hair and sun on my face had just about put me to sleep.

Tarn under Lago Peak, Pasayten Wilderness

Apparently, this is called a “tarn”. Don’t make me pronounce it…my redneck shines through….

Stumbling up and back into my pack, I fell into step behind my fearless leader. We didn’t have far before another break, but my mind was whirling the whole time. By the time we reached the junction for Butte Pass, which J was going to quickly run up to grab a sign and run back down, I was a wreck. My tired, convoluted female brain had convinced itself that J’s silence and quick pace were sure signs that he was not just pissed for letting me come along but pissed to the point that I would never get to come on another trip ever again. Well, great! And just when I was having SO MUCH FUN. (Turns out this was, in fact, all in my head.)

wilderness signs, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Old signs, pointing the way

We stopped so J could run up to Butte Pass and I kicked my boots off for a bit. Then my over-active imagination took over and I started turning every sound into a potential bear attack. I laughed at my silly self but put my boots back on, just in case. I had no idea how long J was supposed to be gone, nor did I have a watch, WHERE THE HELL WAS HE?! Convinced he had been eaten by a bear, I was ready to go hunt for him when I saw him jogging back down the trail. (Seriously. Jogging.) Whew! He wasn’t eaten! (J said this wouldn’t be where bears would hang out anyway. Now he tells me.)

Back down the valley, more pretty scenery, and we start chatting again. I’m amazed at how well the trail has held up, after all this time. J tells me stories of other wilderness trips. We had much discussion around the day’s destination and finally decided that today we’re going to stop at a campsite called Clint’s Cabin instead of trying to make it all the way to Lake of the Woods. We had already lost too much time throughout the course of the day, and a longer Day 3 would be better than pushing too hard and hiking after dark. Now that we’ve got that settled, I no longer feel like I should be pushing my legs as fast as they’ll go. Yay!

Not much further and we reached Monument Creek. We hadn’t followed it long before we stumbled upon something peculiar: rusted out old stove parts. Like super old. Maybe from mining days? Then I saw a faint trail that seemed to head toward the water. Hm, guess I better see where it goes! It did indeed lead down to the creek, it’s waters running over super cool rock slabs. You could see evidence of how gnarly the creek could get in spring. J joined me and we explored a little farther down, stumbling upon the coolest spot – a perfect swimming hole! We knew we didn’t have much farther to go and plenty of time to get there, so….. Skinny dipping time! Well we couldn’t very well get our only clothes all wet, without being in camp to hang them dry, now could we? 🙂

Monument Creek, Valley bottom, Pasayten Wilderness WA

The light was terrible for pictures, but I instantly fell in love with this secret little swimming hole.

Probably since I was bragging on it earlier, the trail soon started getting much harder to follow, once we finally returned to our hike. Ok, so realistically this was due to the fact that we were now in the bottom of the valley, and there’s more vegetation to grow over it, more trees to fall across, etc. We crossed some little streams and completely lost the trail…as we emerged from the trees into this amazing meadow dotted with aspens. Looking up, I realized it was probably the very bottom of an old avalanche shoot, but whatever. Who cares – it was gorgeous. There was this serene hush over the whole place, broken occasionally by the rustling of the aspen leaves. J about left me as I dawdled in this magical spot.

avalanche shoot, Monument Creek, Pasayten Wilderness WA

I expected to find some fairy rings or elf houses or something. It was like a scene from a Disney movie.

Then I heard him shout. Wait, what? More noises sounded like something in the trees, and I rushed to catch up. Would I finally get a wildlife sighting? Was my bear finally here to eat me? Yes and no. The critter we startled was a huge porcupine, lumbering off with his quills at attention. He didn’t go far before he must have decided we weren’t a threat, and he turned to look at us, sitting up on his back legs like a circus dog. What an amazing animal! I never knew how BIG porcupines can get! Doesn’t take much to impress me…

More trail, more pretty trees, across the creek, hey! there’s a cabin! No, for real this time! Well, it used to be a cabin. I didn’t even have to ask if this was Clint’s Cabin – there was a sign! Those helpful Forest Rangers. We tossed our packs and started poking around. I got the filter and water bottles and started looking for a way to get back down to the creek. Tomorrow we would be covering a lot of ground with few chances to fill up our water, so we were trying to hydrate as much as possible beforehand.

Monument Creek at Clint's Cabin, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Man I love this creek.

All the awesome rock that the creek had carved out made some crazy little cliffs, and I had a great slab to sprawl out on while I pumped water. Such a sweet place. Clint did a great job picking out a spot for his cabin – I would LOVE to have this backyard! Finally I headed back and J already had much of our camp set up.

Client's Cabin, Monument Creek Trail, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Home Sweet Home. Well, for the night. Thanks, Clint, whoever you were!

The sun was going down and we put an extra layer on. Then J gave me fantastic news: we were having a FIRE tonight!! The site already had a rockin’ awesome fire ring – off to gather firewood! In no time at all, we were snuggled all cozy-like on a nice log bench soaking up the toasty fire glow.

Oh, but J wasn’t done – he made the evening even more spectacular. While I lounged and played in the fire, he cooked us a romantic freeze-dried dinner, complete with some candy for dessert! I may be a hopeless romantic, but this was whole scene was getting me all mooney-eyed and full of butterflies. J even found a freeze-dried dinner that didn’t have any kind of cream or other dairy, since I’m lactose intolerant. How thoughtful! (Or that was for his own safety. Either way, still gets him bonus points.)

Clint's Cabin campsite, Monument Creek, Pasayten Wilderness WA

JRock building us a fire to cook me a romantic dinner with which to woo me. It worked.

Full, warm, and happy, I crawled back in my sleeping bag, once again scooting over as close to J as I could get. What an awesome camping buddy! I drifted off easily, slipping into a dreamland of aspens and fairies and porcupines…..and that’s the end of Day 2!

Day 2 stats:

About 11 miles total;

Elevation gained: 3500 ft; elevation lost: 2000 ft; near-death experiences: 1.


Shellrock: 0; Kalista: 1


The Labor Day Death March

16 09 2012

…also known as “The Weekend Justin Tried to Kill Me.”

…or maybe even “The Best Weekend I’ve Ever Had.” It’s hard to pick. They all apply.

So just what kind of torture did I endure, you ask? Only my favorite kind, of course: hiking!  This was no normal jaunt down the trail, however. This was a 3-day wilderness expedition, complete with unmaintained trails, burly mountains, and full packs. And before you start harping on ole JRock for dragging me out and trying to murder poor little me, know one thing: I begged for this trip!

Oh, you heard me. Begged. Three-day weekend, and I needed out. Out of the house, I mean. Away from my desk, away from my chair, away from this house, AWAY. A case of summer-time cabin fever, feeling swamped at work, and too much time at home by myself. So J agreed to take me out with him.

If you’ve been around awhile, you might remember this time last year – J and I celebrated our 1-year anniversary atop a mountain, on my longest ever hike. This trip would get to double as a get-me-the-hell-outta-the-house trip AND our 2-year anniversary back-packing trip!! (Awwwww…) The trip would also trump last year’s and become the new Longest Ever Hike (for me).

I went into this trip knowing a few keys points: I would be covering more mileage than I ever had before, and I would be doing it in some of the most brutal and unforgiving country out here. (insert gameface) BRING IT. I was so pysched to get out and push myself; let’s see what this chick is really made of!

Saturday morning started off well. We made it up to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass, which was a plus since I’ve failed at this before. Day One would be fairly mellow in terms of terrain we were covering, compared to what was in store. We headed down, down, down, dropping elevation as we cruised down the valley of the middle fork of the Pasayten River. This cruise lasted for about 8 miles, miles we filled by practicing Spanish vocabulary (Me: como se dice “bush”? J: “arbusto” Me: Me gusta el arbusto!), discussing the summer of fun (“did you see my killer dance moves at A and M’s reception?!”), and dreaming of our future (“and when I finish the teleporter and become a billionaire, where should we live first?”). There were also times we would both lapse into silence, drifting off into our own heads, entertaining our own wacky brain trains for awhile. This would occasionally result in hilarious random word vomit as one of us would suddenly spew forth random sentences which the other had absolutely no clue about. Even more crazy is that the recipient of this would often add a completely unrelated comment stemming from their own internal conversation and we would both once again retreat into our internal mine shafts. I seriously wonder how I make it out of there alive sometimes….

We met several groups of people out enjoying the weekend. One group was a wilderness leadership group out for 18 days – now that’s intense! Another group of a couple dudes was headed the same direction we were, and we leap-frogged down the trail, re-passing each other as we stopped for breaks at different times.

Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Down the trail we go!

We reached the bottom of the valley and had the pleasure of hiking alongside the currently calm waters of the Pasayten River. In spring, the river rages, but this time of year it’s content to babble along the rocks, singing us a sweet song as we marched along with it’s beat. With the calmer waters, we had no problem crossing and stopped on the other side, in a nice meadowy area for lunch. The surrounding forests, open meadows, and towering peaks piercing the sky all around made for some beautiful scenery – as usual. No, I will never grow tired of the awesome beauty of Mother Nature’s work out here.

At one point, we came upon a campsite that J checked out, only to find a trail leading up the bank on the other side of the river. Of course, we dropped our packs and rock-hopped across the water to check it out.

Trail to stock camp, Pasayten River, WA

What’s this? A secret trail? Better check it out!

We found a pretty old stock camp from who knows when, which rang a bell in J’s noggin: there was a report of a cabin back here. Time to explore! We set off in opposite directions to see what we could find. I, naturally, caught a glimpse of it almost immediately. Until it turned out to be a tree. I headed across the bottom of an avalanche shoot and back into the trees and saw the real cabin. Until that turned out to be some shrubs. I got fired from discovering the cabin, which we never did find, and we finally headed back to continue our journey. (This was the second time I got fired – the first was for bad navigating. And all in the first half of the first day….)

Not long after this, we came to our juncture: one trail kept going straight, the other turned and headed up. I’m sure you can guess which way we were headed. We rested with a quick snack before the last 2-ish miles of the day. (Snack breaks are my favorite.) Then began the climb. The day so far had been cool and breezy, enough so that I wore my jacket most of the day. Not anymore. I was stripping all the clothes I could as I poured sweat with every step. The climb was steep, filled with switchbacks, but at least in the trees. Despite my intense heavy breathing and disgusting amount of sweating, I felt pretty good and kept on chugging along. As with most climbs, I was delightfully rewarded.

Fred Lake, Pasayten Wilderness North Cascades, WA

Wowzas, I like this place!

At the top, we came to a little stream running down – the outlet of the lake. Fred Lake, to be exact. Our day’s destination. A couple of gentleman were crouched at the stream, filtering their water. We stopped for a chat and discovered there were quite a few people up here. All but these guys had continued on, headed to Doris Lake. We had thought about doing the same, but we decided to stay away from the crowds in case there were no campsites left. Almost immediately within arriving at Fred, I started adding my layers back on. A brutal wind was whipping down from the peak, chilling the air quickly. I had grand plans to soak my feet in the lake and rinse off my filthy legs, but only one leg got dipped before I decided I’d rather be dirty. Brrr!! I raced back to camp and shimmied into my long johns. We set up camp and ate dinner, huddled against the wind. I had serious doubts about making it through the night.

Fred Lake, Pasayten Wilderness, WA

I was freezing. I have on every piece of clothing I brought, plus J’s rain jacket. J put on a light jacket and hat. Show off.

Finally, out came our food – dinner time! J and I each brought a dinner for the trip. I had made a cold pasta salad for us, which immediately became Day 1 Dinner since the cooked pasta was heavy. Oops. But it was delicious and lightened our packs! Then J fired up our little stove and made some hot apple cider. The sun was still up so we headed over to the lake to enjoy the view and drink our cider, warming our souls and bellies before getting ready for bed. He even let me hold the pot (which we were drinking the cider straight out of – we don’t need no stinkin’ cups!) so the heat could seep into my cold thighs.

Despite the beautiful setting, we hustled back to get everything prepped for the night. J tried teaching me how to make the bear hang (a bag with all our food, etc, so bears couldn’t get it and so it’s not in the tent with us in case they try), but I was shivering and just wanted in my sleeping bag. Yes, knot, ok, four feet from tree, right, a bunch of feet from the ground, sure ok, whatever you say, let’s go! Finally there was nothing left to do…so off to bed. Burrowed in my cozy bag as tight up against J as I could get without slipping off my thermarest, he poked just enough face out to kiss me good night. Happy Anniversary, darling. And that’s the end of Day 1!

Fred Lake Stock Camp, Passayten WA

Resort de la Fred, home sweet home for the night.

Day 1 Stats:
Start: Harts Pass; End: Fred Lake;
about 10.5 miles total; elevation drop: 2000 ft; elevation gain: 2000 ft.

***Editor’s note: I’ve been working on this post a heck of a long time. My blog has not been neglected, but I’ve been unable to publish. Writer’s block maybe? I finally decided to break out each day of this trip into separate posts so I could actually publish something. I don’t flatter myself in thinking anyone has been on the edge of their seat for weeks, waiting to see what I’ve been up to, but I wanted to just assure any who cared that I had not, in fact, been eaten by the monstrous spider who is STILL outside my bedroom window. Days 2 and 3 of the Labor Day Death March will be up shortly. Then probably another post right after that because I just have SO MUCH TO TELL YOU!!


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