Labor Day Death March – DAY 3! (Last one, I promise)

3 10 2012

Missed Day 1 and/or Day 2?  Hurry – catch up! While you’re at it, grab a beverage and pop some corn, ’cause this is the last leg of the journey!!  Then I promise to shut up about it…


I slept like the dead and woke up refreshed, excited and desperate to pee. Stumbling into my boots, my legs screamed their displeasure. Today would be the day I would set my new personal record for most miles covered in a single trip AND the most miles covered in a single day. But that meant I had a long, full day ahead of me. But for now, all I could think about was emptying my bladder.

J started the day as my favorite. He might have sensed I was a touch antsy about the epic day ahead of me, because he had a glorious surprise – COFFEE! We enjoyed the magical brew straight from the cooking pot before bidding our delightful campsite a final farewell. Clint did us a solid by building his cabin there, and I waved sadly, knowing I’ll never be back.

Unlike Day 2, today’s trail began gently, continuing down the valley bottom with a very gradual climb. Gradual as in unnoticeable – my favorite! And unlike almost every other hike ever, the thoughtful, tranquil, Strong and Silent Justin of the Trail was….replaced. In his place was Over-Caffeinated Chatty Cathy, revved to the max and bursting to share every thought that meandered through his brain. I can’t remember saying more than three words the first hour and half, not counting my affirmative grunts just to let him know I was still behind him. I had to giggle a bit at the role reversal – so this is what it’s like to hike with me! Then I tuned him out and let my mind step aside so my imagination could take over, and soon I was busy crafting characters and stories to go along with the beautiful forest around me.

Finally, the trail took a noticeable turn up. If legs could talk, mine would have sounded like whiny toddlers needing a nap. We had already encountered quite a few downed trees we had to climb over, and the increased amount of effort was already being felt. The day was also quickly warming up…I had to slap myself around a bit to get it together! Today was the day to show this Mother Nature lady what I was made of, and this was no way to start! So in full determination mode, up and up we went, and over log after log after log. The ones that lay about thigh-high were the worst. We trudged on and on. Finally, just when I thought I would have to throw my pride over the mountainside and beg for a break, J stopped and dropped his pack. Knowing better than to assume he was tired, I awaited instructions.

“Grab the filter and bottles and leave your pack here. We’ll take a quick detour over to the lake to fill up on water.” Ah, yes, the lake! I dropped my pack like a sack of potatoes (almost going with it) and turned off the trail after my fearless leader. We threaded our way through the open trees, still going up of course, and finally the lake appeared – quite suddenly, out of nowhere, in an unusual place for a lake on the side of the mountain. But there it was. J gave me his bottles and headed off to do his work stuff while I kicked off my boots and plunged my filthy feet into the shallow water. Finally settled, I filled all four water bottles and drank as much as I could. This would be the last water we would have for the next 10 miles or so. Time to activate Camel Mode.

Lake of the Woods, Lake Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Lake of the Woods, where I am soaking my tootsies over on the other side, wondering if there’s also a Lady of the Woods. If not, I would like to apply.

J returned just as I was getting my boots back on and we left this quiet little oasis (adequately named Lake of the Woods) to go back to our packs. Despite feeling rejuvenated from the rest and the water, it didn’t take long for me to be once again pretending like I was NOT sweating like a whore in church. The trail was getting steeper and the trees thinner as we gained major altitude towards Pistol Pass. Pistol Peaks could now be seen laughing down at us, daring us to come join their party. J had transitioned once more, this time from a chattering chimp to cheerleading coach, prepping me for our Nationals competition, also know as our descending traverse across the slope under Pistol Peaks.

His rah-rah-you’re-a-rockstar pep talk was understandable after yesterday’s freak-out…and much appreciated. We spent that last mile or so to the pass mentally pumping me up for the challenge ahead. I quickly caught J’s enthusiasm and confidence and convinced myself that I am a total bad-ass and that no silly little slope is going to get me down. Bring it, Mother Nature! You just TRY to throw a mean mountain slope in my way! I set my mind against the task before me, even though I wasn’t face-to-face with it just yet. I knew there was no other option – I couldn’t go back, I couldn’t go around, I couldn’t call Daddy to come get me – this was all me. We were days into the wilderness with no other choice…and didn’t really even know what lay ahead, just that it would be bad. This unforgiving beast of a mountain was NOT GOING TO BEAT ME.

And this was my chance to show J that I could hang, that I could go out and hold my own in his turf. So there.

I happily collapsed on top of Pistol Pass and forgot this mountain would buck me off its slopes without thinking twice – I could see forEVER. Way off in the distance, we could see the valley where Mazama lived. A couple peaks on the horizon where ones I recognized from previous adventures last summer. Tons more stood proudly before me, vying for attention in the crowd. Way off that way? That’s Canada.

View from Pistol Pass, Monument Trail Pasayten Wilderness WA

Mountain peaks as far as the eye can see….love it.

I basked in the glorious setting while devouring my lunch. Now that we were sitting, my legs started complaining again, but I could pacify them with promises of no more climbing. This was the high point of the day – everything else would be downhill! Had I known just what kind of downhill we would soon face, I would have gladly climbed up every mountain in the Pasayten if it meant I could avoid today’s descent.

Pistol Pass view of Lake Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness

Blissfully unaware of what’s to come

But I didn’t know what was to come. I just knew there was challenging trail to get from the pass to the ridge line, and I was mentally revved to fight back. I buckled my straps, pulled ’em tight, and set my game face. Here we go!

We were still high (I’m talking altitude, people) which meant about half of the Pasayten stood witness to my struggles. I did well, I’m proud to announce, and there were no more freak-outs. I headed down the trail, traversing right under Pistol Peaks, watching my steps but doing fine. The drop-off to my right was not entirely exposed, since trees dotted the slope.

Then J stopped. He turned around, looked at me a moment, “Stay here. I’ll be right back.” Confused, pride wounded, I waited impatiently as he continued down the trail. Why the hell did he leave me behind?! I saw him kick at the trail here and there, move a few rocks, and cross the vertical gorge the trail went through. Then I saw him stop where the trail widened a bit and take off his pack. I thought he might motion me to take my turn, or maybe just sit and take a little break, but no. No, this confusing man set his pack against a rock and started back across towards me.

Upon reaching me, J helped hold me steady and took my pack from my back and transferred it to his. He gave me a reassuring smile and an enthusiastic “You got this!” and returned once more to cover the section of trail he had just covered. Twice. I followed, and didn’t have long before my brain realized what he was doing. He had cleared the trail, kicked in foot-holes at the really bad spots, and then took my pack so I would have as much of my normal balance and center of gravity as possible. And I made it across that sketch-ball, super scary, ridiculous piece of trail with my body and mind both intact. What a gem. 🙂

Monument Trail down from Pistol Pass, Pasayten Wilderness WA

If you squint real hard, you can see the gnarly trail. I crossed this bad boy – high five!

After that, I was superwoman – nothing could get in my way! Granted, we didn’t encounter any more trail that bad, but there were a few more iffy spots. We made it to the ridge and stopped under a tree for a snack break. Not too much further – just across this ridge and down the menacing slope to Eureka Creek. Once we made it there, all we had left was three flat miles to the awaiting truck. Piece of cake.

Fat chance. At the end of the ridge, we began losing the trail. The forest here had burned something like 25 years ago…meaning the trees that once stood here, tall and proud, now lay scattered around the ground, some tumbled on top of others, many charred and black, and plenty across the trail. We tried to follow the trail where we could, climbing over downed logs, sometimes hopping from tree to tree, but other times it was easier to go around. The terrain here threw in the extra element of danger, as this was cliff country, and walking too far from where the trail had been constructed could result in impromptu cliff diving…with no water at the bottom. Not cool.

Very quickly, I became irately pissed off. Pissed off at the stupid trees in my way. Pissed off at the insanely steep grade of the slope. Pissed off at my knees for aching with every step. And super pissed off at the tweaked muscle in my butt-cheek from the motion of lifting my leg like a peeing dog forty-gazillion times to step up and over yet another damn log. Oh, boy was I pissed. Unfortunately, this did not end any time soon. We made it to the top of one knob, only to realize there was another beneath us. As we descended farther below the tree line, there were just more trees. I was hot, sweaty, grimy and PISSED.

Eureka Creek from Monument Trail, Pasayten Wilderness WA

You can see Eureka Creek waaaaay down there. But I have to make it to that second knoll first…..oh, boy.

Believe it or not, the terrain worsened. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had been on legit trail and I was doing more downhill dirt-surfing than I was one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walking. This caused more dirt, which then proceeded to coat my sweaty body and stick to every inch of me. Pretty sure I could have blown black boogers, had I chose to do so.  At long last, we reached the top of the second knoll.

Eureka Creek Monument Trail, Pasayten Wilderness WA

Pissed on top of the second knoll. Smack-talking the trail (or lack of) the whole way down.

The end was (sort of) in sight. At the bottom of this last nasty beast of a hill, I could finally relax. I was SO CLOSE! We picked our way slowly down and found more and more trail. Not that it was much better – I was basically stumbling through awful, loose rock and STILL had logs to crawl over. My attitude had also changed. No longer was I steaming mad (well, ok, yes I was) – now I was venting. First, I unleashed a tirade of smack-talk. I called that mountain every terrible name I could think of. I railed against stupid Mother Nature and her stupid fire and her stupid wear and tear of the trail. Then I turned on the “trail” and tore it a new one, using words my momma would slap me for, words that would make a sailor blush.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re my momma), this wore me out pretty fast. Time to switch tactics again. I started dangling the proverbial carrot in front of my own face. “If we just get to the bottom of this hellish mountain built by Satan himself, I get to walk on flat ground. If I just make it those last 3 miles, I get to take these awful boots off and put on my sparkly flip-flops. Once in the truck, we’re driving straight to Jack’s and getting the biggest cheeseburger they have and as much Dr Pepper as I can drink!!” Justin thought this was funny, until I became so focused on the cheeseburger part that I asked if he could produce a cheeseburger costume out of thin air to put on. If I had a real cheeseburger to follow instead of just the visualization in my head (amazing as that one was), I might be able to pick up the pace.

It was getting hard to put one foot in front of the other, and this caused me to stumble more often. My legs were in agony, my feet were obliterated, my mind was shutting down. I slowly slipped into a blank silence as I solely concentrated on keeping my legs moving. I was sure we didn’t have far to go, but my battered brain finally registered a new fact: the sun was sitting on the ridge next to us. It would dip below at any minute, then it would disappear completely. There was no way to avoid hiking in the dark at this point. Oh boy.

J kept asking if I wanted to stop for a quick break. I refused every time. I really just wanted to get to that creek, to cross to the flat ground, to get to the truck and my sparkly flip-flops and a juicy cheeseburger. My legs had reached a state of numbness and were lifting for each step as if they were programmed machines, not attached to my body at all. My feet were a different matter. We were still hiking through the nasty rock slides, and the first round of blisters had popped long ago. New blisters had formed under and around the old ones, and every single rock I stepped on jabbed at one sore spot or another.

The sun went down and I thought I might have to just lay down on the trail and die when I heard the most blessed sound to ever reach my ears – gurgling water! The creek! I wanted to weep with joy. I hobbled a little faster and came around the last curve where I could see the trail disappear at the creek crossing. I made it! I was there! I had almost made it to the end!  We took our boots and socks off and rolled up our pants to wade the creek, since the bridge had been washed out many moons before. J made it first and helped me up the bank. I would have laughed out loud, if I had possessed the energy – there was a finish line waiting for me! Ok, so it was actually just tape to indicate that the trail ended here (when coming from the other direction) but I still felt like it was there for me, and that I should celebrate. A primeval yell tore from by parched throat as I attempted to charge up the hill.

Eureka Creek at Lost River, Monument Trail Pasayten Wilderness WA

I am a ROCKSTAR – and who put this amazing finish line here for me?! Must have been my adoring fans.

My quasi-celebration was short lived, partly because I collapsed and partly because this was not the end. Yay! I did it! I survived! Oh, wait, nope – 3 more miles to go, in the pitch dark, with a body that can barely hold itself upright. With a heavy sigh, I turned around and let J dig in my pack for my headlamp. Lights on, break over, we began the very last bit of our epic 3-day journey.

After the numbingly cold water of the creek crossing, my feet now had more feeling than before – and it was not good feeling. Needles stabbing into me would be a better description of the pain. And  due to the state my body was in, every movement took effort, every step was a full-body event. I knew I was going too slow, but I had already hit the wall, I had already surpassed my breaking point. Our bodies have limits – we all have physical limits – but I wasn’t finished yet. I couldn’t quit yet. I had come so far, accomplished so much, but I was not done!

I finally broke. The trail seems flat on a normal day, but this was not a normal day, and every slight slope was excrutiating. Every rock threatened to be the last I could handle. And finally, it was more than my body could handle. Tears started to fall, mostly out of exhaustion and frustration, a little from pain. Thankfully, I possess a stubborn streak a mile wide, and I discovered that night in the woods that my mind is much stronger than my pathetic body. My mind lifted my leg and placed my foot. Then it did it again. Over and over, my mind forced my body to continue, despite the protests from my whine-bag physical self. I know J was worried, and he asked over and over if we should stop, if we should just take a quick break. And my mind shouted over the roar of my distressed body to tell J “no” every single time. It knew that if I were to stop, even for a minute, I wouldn’t be able to start again. And I was so. damn. close.

Those were the longest 3 miles of my life as I literally limped out of the forest. But I made it. I made it all the way to the truck. I didn’t even give up my pack, but carried it all the way to the end. I probably would have wept like an infant at the sight of that beautiful, majestic vehicle, but I was already crying and couldn’t tell. Leaning against the tail gate, finally relinquishing my pack, I realized that I had run out of tears, run out of thoughts, and run out of strength. Once my mind realized that it had got me here and could finally let my body rest, I went limp like a wet noodle. J helped me into the truck and out of my boots, but the excitement of my sparkly flip-flops was gone. Saddest of all was the time – it was now 10pm, those last 3 miles taking me somewhere near 2.5 hours. All the burger joints were now closed and the prize that had kept me going for so long was now unattainable… 😦

I sat in a daze all the way to the ranger station. I somehow limped to the car and stared into nothing all the way home. J was lecturing me on how I shouldn’t have pushed myself that hard, I should have stopped, we could have set up camp if it was that bad. Then he brought up something I was oblivious to at the time – my whimpering. The last mile and half or so, I had started a soft whimpering that escalated when I went up or down hill. I had sounded like the injured animal I was….which could have drawn predators. It’s very possible we could have had company out there – a cat, maybe more than one. We could have been in more danger than we knew.

I couldn’t process anything he was saying that night. I managed to get into the house and even stood just long enough to shower off the trail grime. I slept fitfully and had crazy dreams all night…

And there you have it. Despite the best efforts of both Justin and that whore Mother Nature, I survived. And you know what? I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait to get back out there. Ok, no, I don’t want to do that exact route again, but it was amazing to spend that kind of time out in the wilderness like that. To know that your day is about hiking, covering ground from here until you get as far as you can. I loved that.

I taught myself a lot on this trip, too. I proved to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to, even if that means pushing myself to extremes I never dreamed of. And I can push my body beyond anything I thought myself capable of. What a wonderful feeling that is! Day 3 was 16 total miles, 8 of those being from Pistol Pass down to Eureka Creek. I hiked 16 miles in one day! Over terrible, awful, hellish terrain! I was so proud of myself. So proud! My mom can’t believe I thought that was fun, that I did that on purpose – and want to do more long trips like that. But it’s something I can’t explain, that feeling, the endorphines, that high I get from the physical accomplishment – everyone has their thing that gives them that rush, that giddiness, and this did that for me.

And! on a side note, my first ever 3-part post! That counts for something, right? Or just means I’m way too long-winded. The latter? Well, that’s alright.  It took me forever to be able to process all this and get it down in words, but we have it – my tale of the weekend J tried to kill me, and how he DIDN’T succeed!


Day 3 stats:

16 miles total (5 from Clint’s Cabin to Pistol Pass, 8 from Pistol Pass to Eureka creek, 3 from Eureka Creek to the trailhead)

Elevation gained: 3000 ft;
Elevation lost: 5000 ft;
Body parts left on the trail: none that I know of!


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!!


Moose Hunt!

10 07 2011

My pack is packed, my shoe laces are tied, my game face is on.  Today is the big day, people, the best day!  I’m hunting a MOOSE.  You heard correctly.  A moose.

The morning is cool as we set out.  This is my first trip into the Pasayten.  We park at the Lake Creek trail head and prep.  Chapstick: check.  Pigtails: check.  Pocket knife: check.  Lets go.  The man at the first campsite confirms my suspicions: a bull moose has been sighted!  They got fifty feet from his snorting face, up by the second pond.  Perfect.

In full stealth mode, I creep up the trail.  There’s something eerie about hiking through a burn.  Instead of a lush forest, blackened spires pierce the sky all around.  The Farewell Fire 7 years ago turned this whole valley into a tree graveyard.  But now the brush had taken over, and moose love this stuff.

Farewell Fire burnt trees

Good thing I’m a master at silence.  Except when branches slap me, or scratch me, or trip me.  Ouch!  You stop that, you stupid brush!  I don’t care that you’re flourishing in the bright, open sun shine!  Can’t you see I’m trying to sneak up on a monstrous moose?!  I disgustedly slurped from my oh-so-handy straw from my hydration pack, pouting.  Stupid brush.

Soon, I have some help.  Lake Creek is swollen and furious, crashing over fallen trees and thundering around boulders.  My angry outbursts are drowned out by the outraged waters.  Rivulets of water cross the trail often, anxious to join the big party headed down stream, and we easily step over them.  Then we come to one that requires a few stones to be stepped on.  WAIT!  What’s THIS???  A track?  Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, that would be a couple hoof prints in the mud. Dun dun duuuuun….. My moose was here not long ago!

Moose Tracks in the Pasayten Wilderness

Ooo shiny, look at all this pretty granite…  No!  Focus!  Back to the moose tracks!  As we continue up the sandy path, moose tracks are mixed in with boot prints.  Soon we’re fighting through more thick brush.  In my vivid imagination, I am now an explorer of the great Amazon, hacking through the jungle with my crew in search of a great, unknown beast…..Hiye YAW!

Ouch!  I kick and trip over yet another rock as I gaze out over the raging creek.  Better watch where I’m going.  I’d hate to get myself injured and have the beast…I mean the moose…sneak up and attack me.  Then I trip again as I’m methodically scanning the hillsides for my prey.  Something must be wrong with my concentration; I’m soon tripping every few feet as I glimpse awesome new flowers – “What’s this one called??” – and pretty butterflies and ridiculous waterfalls.  What a great hike!

Pretty Patch of Washington Wildflowers

Wait a minute, this isn’t a leisurely hike!  I’m here to find my moose!  Attention trained back to the dirt at my feet, I am relieved to see the moose tracks still on the trail.  Then, tragedy strikes: a fallen log blocks the trail.  OH SWEET JESUS, WHAT ARE WE TO DO?!?!  Fear not, I brought along my handy Ranger, who chopped that stubborn trunk into submission.  Before long, the trail was clear once more, and the mission continued.

Ranger chopping tree

We cross over sparkly rock slides and through thickets of wild rose, thimble berry, twin berry, and snow brush.  We stalk through tiny meadows of brilliant wildflowers – tiger lilies, columbines, fire weed, asters, penstemons, yarrow, and scarlet gilia! – and hop over more babbling brooks.  I am frolicking my heart out, pockets full of sparkling stones, braids full of colorful blooms, when a new sight stopped me short:  a LAKE!  I completely forgot there was a lake on this trail!

Black Lake in the Pasayten Wilderness, WA

Here, some trees had survived.  We got shade AND Black Lake!  Across more streams and more rocks slides and the trail finally dipped down to the water.  What a lovely little beach!  Perfect for a picnic – who wants trail mix?!  Power bar clamped firmly between my teeth, I yank off my socks and shoes to test the waters, fully prepared to fling off all clothing for a nice little dip.  There wasn’t another person for miiiiiles – JESUS ROLLERBLADING CHRIST that water is FRIGID!  Were monster icebergs floating right beneath the surface, allowing me to think the shimmery waters were warm enough to not cause instantaneous hypothermia and full body frostbite??  What kind of CRUEL JOKE WAS THIS?!

I ate the rest of my lunch in sulky silence.  Rude, lake; that was just RUDE.  However, not far up the trail, the multitude of happy flowers beckon me from my dark mood.  Its ok! they say.  Why play in the boring old lake when you can skip through the hillsides with us?!  Of course, they were right.  And skip I did.  I skip along logs, and over the rocks, I skip through an empty campsite and through the sand at the far end of the lake.  I skip in circles just because I can!

Washington Wildflowers on the trail

Then we turn back.  Five miles in, we have reached the end of our trek.  We are going no further.  This time, we move a bit quicker, so I have to switch to a faster tune to hum so my frolicking can keep up.  A few lovely grand jetes over the streams, a twirl over that rock – I am busting some of my best moves to Adele’s Rolling in the Deep when we arrive at the thick brush again.  My karate chopping dance moves are no match for the vicious branches, many of which are thorny, so I finally settle down to “normal” hiking.  So boring.  I take another long pull on my hydration straw only to have it squawk back at me.  Dang it!  Out of water!  I’ll have to STOP and take my pack OFF to get to my reserve bottle!

Houston, things are looking sketchy.  We might not make it.  That sun – its scorching down on me like I slapped its momma.  These bushes – they’re so scratchy and never ending, laughing at me every time I flinch.  Despite all my best efforts, the blisters are bubbling away inside my shoes.  We’ve been hiking for HOURS and haven’t made it back yet – we’re going to DIE OUT HERE AND NO ONE WILL EVER FIND OUR BODIES ONCE THE WOLVES AND BEARS ARE DONE WITH US – hey that looks like our car!

I flop my dirty, tired, scratched-up self against the truck, face-down, enjoying the cool metal against my face, certain I won’t be able to take another step for a week, at least.  Wait!  My head pops up, ears perked, eyes alert.  I drop to the ground, back into stealth mode.  There it was again!  Definitely twigs snapping.  THAT CRAFTY MOOSE PLAYED A TRICK ON ME, GAVE ME TEMPORARY AMNESIA SO I’D FORGET MY PURPOSE, THEN SNUCK UP ON ME TO END MY GLORIOUS LIFE RIGHT HERE IN THE PARKING LOT!  Oh, or its a startled doe, trying desperately to decide what the hell I’m doing, and make her escape.

Startled Doe

Well, so much for my moose hunt.  My ADD ruins everything.  I did come away with a wicked tomato tint to my neck, chest and arms, three blisters, and a blown-out right shoe.  So I guess at the end of the day, I can at least say I’m such an EXTREME hiker, no shoe is safe!!  TAKE THAT!  And don’t you worry, you sneaky moose, tomorrow is another day….

hole in the shoe


*Note from the author: the phrase “Jesus Rollerblading Christ” is not the author’s own witty humor, but actually a quote from Matt Inman, author of The Oatmeal.  All credit for this hilarious outburst is entirely his.  

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