Tupper's 2 Cents

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Day 10 John Muir Trail

Wanda Lake to Unnamed lake at 11,460

Total JMT miles  —  4        Side trip miles  —  about 2.5         Elevation gain/loss  —  +1000/-500

Day 10 was different than any other day of my trip. While it wasn’t a true “zero” day (the term that describe a full rest day with no miles hiked), it was an easy day of low mileage and hours of unstructured time spent hanging around in good companionship. Our original plan for my second day with Oliver, Dave, and Olivia had been to climb Mt. Goddard.

Mt. Goddard aka "The peak that cannot be named"

Mt. Goddard aka “The peak that cannot be named”

At 13,448, it’s not the highest peak in the area, but it’s a prominent one,  jutting up beyond Wanda Lake. Dave had wanted to climb Goddard for many years. Unfortunately it looked unlikely that we would be able to do the peak, and still have time for them to hike out Echo Pass and back to Bishop in time for Oliver to catch his flight to Bellingham. So, much to Dave’s dismay (we weren’t even allowed to refer to the peak by name after our plans changed!), that mission was aborted — which left us with an entire day to hike a mere four miles of the JMT, then another 1.5 miles up to a lake below their planned exit route, Echo Pass. Frankly, the idea of an easy day rather appealed to me.

With no tight schedule to keep, the morning at Wanda Lake was relaxed and leisurely. It was also cold, as the previous night had been windy with freezing temps, and a chill definitely lingered.

Morning light, Wanda Lake

Morning light, Wanda Lake

I had experienced another poor nights sleep due to technical difficulties with my tent. I had set it up rather hastily the previous evening in the cold wind, and that resulted in some carelessness. I did not get the cross bar on top of the tent secured properly, and, as the wind blew all night, my tent blew with it — sideways, and collapsing onto me. Also, I had not properly secured the flaps on the tent fly, and they  thrashed around all night. In my usual nighttime paranoia, I thought at first it was a bear trying to join me! But even as I realized it was just my poor tent set up, I still couldn’t sleep. I lay there much of the night, wind howling, tent collapsing, and the fly blowing great guns. Not a restful night, and I was grateful to get up and out of the tent by first light.

As usual the morning was beautiful, which removed any residual fatigue. After breakfast and tent breakdown (what remained to be broken!), I leisurely and carefully packed my pack with all it’s belongings.

Contents of my pack...

Contents of my pack…

I now had the extra days of food, and I took care in packing. I took a picture of all that went in my pack, each and every day on the trail…the only variable being the amount of food in the bear canister. My pack, an Osprey Ariel,  could hold it all. The larger pack was one of the best investments I made for this trip, and I was very thankful for it’s 75 liter capacity each morning when I put everything back in. I felt more organized on this morning than any other of the trip so far, simply because there was no time pressure.

Heading out for Muir Pass

Heading out for Muir Pass

We left Wanda for the short ascent to Muir Pass. From our campsite, the elevation gain was only 600 feet in 2.3 miles. A piece of cake, really. However, the views, vista, and overall presentation of the path as it traverses Wanda and gradually ascends the pass were anything but mundane. We definitely took our time. For Oliver, it was a time of heavy nostalgia, as he had not been over Muir Pass since the 70’s! He was truly in another world of reflection and memory, and it was really cool to be witness to that.

 

Top of Muir Pass, Black Giant (left) and Mt. Solomons (right) in back

Top of Muir Pass, Black Giant (left) and Mt. Solomons (right) in back

With Rob

With Rob

With Ashley

With Ashley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was hoping to reconnect somewhere along the short JMT stretch with Rob, Ashley, and Marcus, the three soloists who had been hiking together since Red’s Meadow. Low and behold, as I was doing the final 1/2 mile up to the pass, I could see Rob’s easily identifiable blue shirt and assured gait gaining on me. I let him catch me (easy enough, he’s a faster hiker), and we climbed the last bit together. Shortly there after, Ashley came up. It was like a family reunion…I got to introduce them to Oliver, Dave, and Olivia, and vice versa. I felt surrounded and loved, and definitely part of a bigger something. At Muir Pass I consciously immersed myself in being present to it all —  enjoying hanging out, taking pictures, chatting, and relishing the spectacular views.  We stayed for at least an hour, a record for me on any pass.

After goodbyes and such, we dropped down to Helen Lake, named after John Muir’s other daughter. Wanda and Helen — great names for great lakes, and a visionary father who made the very trail through this incredible wilderness possible. I felt supremely grateful, happy, content and contemplative as we hiked. That stretch was some of the coolest geologically, as the lakes are surrounded by glaciated slabs in a myriad of colors, and dark, metamorphic rock from the Black Giant Divide covers the trail.  Gregg and I had wanted to climb Black Giant, which sits enticingly close to the trail, last year, but we did not because of smoke. I thought about proposing it for this year, but we were on the slow and easy train, and it seemed best to stay on board.

Helen Lake with Mt. Wallace in back

Helen Lake with Mt. Wallace in back

Black Giant...another peak for another day

Black Giant…another peak for another day

We stopped for an early lunch, just below Helen Lake, at an unnamed lake. As we ate, Ashley, Rob, and eventually Marcus all passed us. I felt sad as they went by, unsure if I would see them again on the JMT. My sadness was easily replaced by enjoying the moment, however, as I watched Dave jump right in the cool water, shirt, shorts and all. I wanted to join him, but knew that more backpack miles were to come, and I didn’t want to be wet for the remainder of our hike. Our plan after lunch was to hike a short but not easy 1.5 miles off the JMT, up and into another unnamed lake basin, below Echo Pass. I was nervous about the access to the lake, as it was all boulders, somewhat steep, and with no path at all. This type of hiking, called cross country, I love in theory, but I am really bad at it. You take off from point A to reach point B in the quickest, most direct fashion possible. I simply don’t have the right stuff to be comfortable with this style of hiking at this point in my life. It’s hard on my feet, ankles, and knees, and I become very slow and cautious. I joke that I feel like a grandma when I am put in a cross country situation, especially with a heavy pack.

We started up,  Dave, Oliver, Olivia, then me bringing up the rear.  As I tried to stay with them,  all my anxieties were triggered. I felt fearful of falling behind, of being abandoned, and mostly of losing my footing or balance and falling. I realized intellectually that most of my fears were overblown, as the distance was short and I could see them ahead.. But fear got the better of me, and I DID take a good fall on a particularly hairy traverse close to the top. I lost my balance, my pack went over, I went over, and I landed face down on the rocks. Unstable, pack on top, and face planted in the rocks, I called for help. Olivia was first on the scene,  and she took my pack off of me so I could get up. I got a bit teary, not from pain or being hurt, but from the scare of it. I only suffered abrasions on my knee and chin, and banged up my jaw.  But I was shook up, and gratefully accepted Dave’s offer to carry my pack the rest of the way.

Our unnamed lake

Our unnamed lake

Dave and Olivia at unnamed lake, Mt. McDuffie (left) and Black Giant (right) in back

Dave and Olivia at unnamed lake, Mt. McDuffie (left) and Black Giant (right) in back

I was relieved to get to the unnamed and sublime lake where we would spend the rest of the day and night. It was early afternoon, so we had plenty of time to relax, rest, and go for a swim. By this time, clouds flirted heavily with the sun, and the sun breaks became progressively less. After choosing sites for our tents, we all hung out and wondered what the weather would do. I kept waiting for a convincing patch of sun to entice me into the lake. That didn’t happen, but I went anyway. Sadly, no one joined me. As always, swimming in a lake of that elevation was cold, deeply invigorating, and very refreshing. But also punishing in the aftermath.

The start of our lake walk, Black Giant as our guardian

The start of our lake walk, Black Giant as our guardian

Scene from our lake walk

Scene from our lake walk

I put on all my warm clothes, and still couldn’t get warm. About 4:00 pm, Dave announced he was going to hike around our unnamed lake, and I invited myself along. As always, movement is the best remedy for me in the mountains when I just can’t get warm any other way. So Dave and I did a fun and interesting loop around the lake, which both warmed me up and also gave me a chance to really chat with Dave. At 56, he is fit, ambitious, and embarks on adventures readily and enthusiastically. I loved hearing about his adventures, past and upcoming, and the hour passed very quickly. And I shed two coats in the process..  warming mission accomplished! After an early dinner, it was an early to bed for all of us that night. I was in the tent and writing by 7:30, tired, relaxed and happy after an easy and largely uneventful day.

Highlights of the day

Hanging out at Muir Pass

Muir pass is simply very cool. The Muir Hut, built in 1930, provides “temporary shelter” for hikers from inclimate weather. An early Sierra Club supporter, George Frederick Schwarz, gifted $5,810.48 to build it. A good chunk of that money went to pay for stock and packers who hauled the materials necessary to build the hut up to the top of the pass. Seeing it, being in it, it’s easy to take something like that for granted…and yet, the materials weren’t dropped by helicopter, and I can only

Dave, me, Olivia, and Oliver in front of Muir Hut

Dave, me, Olivia, and Oliver in front of Muir Hut

imagine the effort and organization it took to build such a structure.  It’s neat inside and out, and that plus the views from the pass create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Add to this the plethora of hikers who linger there, and it just doesn’t get much better than that. The mixture of folks and their conversations, both the one’s I observed and the one’s I participated in, made the pass feel even more alive and magical.  The top of a pass is like the top of a mountain…everyone works hard to get there, the views are stupendous, and the mood of folks is always keen. Smiles and goodwill abound and are very contagious 🙂

The ease and simplicity of our time in camp

I really enjoyed having an easy day with low miles and almost no agenda. To arrive in camp at 1:15 and just spend the afternoon hanging out was fantastic, albeit a bit different for me. My pattern and habit over summers of backpacking had

Hanging out waiting for sun

Hanging out waiting for sun

been to hike all day, set up camp, eat dinner, go to bed, then get up and do it again the next day. This break in the routine, and my willingness to relinquish into it, really felt good. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly WHY just hanging out for any period of time is unsettling for me, but it’s always been that way. Even in my home life, I tend to go all day, then finally let myself chill and relax at the end of it all. It’s not that I don’t take breaks or relax, but I live with a constant awareness of the next activity or event coming up. To consciously sit, chat, and relax for hours on end was both welcoming and enlightening.

The hike around “our” lake with Dave

Similarly restless, when Dave needed an activity for the late

Looking down at our campsite

Looking down at our campsite

afternoon, I was all over that. The lake appeared small, and I figured the way around would be a quick and easy. But it had ups and downs, scree fields to scramble, and enough variation and challenge that it took us a full hour to get around.  I really enjoyed the interesting route finding required, and the conversation. It also provided a useful and healthy transition from just sitting around to more sitting. As I have said so many times, movement is key for me, and my body (and soul!) don’t do well with hour upon hour of prolonged inactivity. Our

Last supper

Last supper

short walk also helped restore an appetite for dinner. My dinners on the trail were ample, and I would eat the entire thing each night. Most days, it wasn’t hard to be hungry for dinner, after hiking all day.  But occasionally I had to gear up for full consumption, as I didn’t want to waste or carry extra food. So it helped to at least do something to stimulate an appetite for our final dinner together.

Lessons of the day

Sometimes falls happen when fear gets the better of you.

I am not saying that my fear of lagging behind or even of falling caused my fall on the cross country portion heading up to our campsite. BUT what I can say is that I was more in my head and worried about the overall process than focussing on each step. Frankly, I just wanted to be there, and I grew careless with my progress. I could sense that this was happening, but I felt a sense of urgency to being there instead of being where I was.

AND, you can fall on rocks with a heavy pack and still survive!

My greatest fears while backpacking probably involve falling and/or getting lost. When I hike, I am extremely careful not to fall. Often I don’t feel like my body can handle a fall, and I get alarmed when I so much as trip. When I trip or fall, I try to do so gracefully (?!), whatever that may mean, to protect myself from injury.  What I have found as I have gotten older and more orthopedically challenged is that there is simply no safe way to fall. So I make every effort not to go there. period. The fall on the traverse represented in many ways my greatest fear. I lost my footing, couldn’t regain it, and went over anything but gracefully. And landed on my face! BUT, the bottom line is, I survived! It was extremely reassuring that I could fall that spectacularly and nothing bad happened. I got up, dusted myself off, and the day continued. I experienced one of my worst fears, and easily lived to tell about it. One down, one to go.

Short days are fine!

A zero day would probably be just fine too! These concepts, of short mileage or no mileage days are ones I have mostly applied to “other” backpackers, telling myself I don’t operate that way. Is it a matter or pride, somehow thinking I am “superior” in that I can just hike all day every day? Or is it a matter of drivenness, that I feel compelled to crank out as many miles in a day as possible on all days? Or is it my inherent restlessness, that keeps me moving and going and doing, sometimes long after the point at which to do so has any redeeming benefit? THAT,  I think the real issue. It’s why I took up mindfulness and meditation, so as to bring in another way to settle myself that is a non-doing way. It’s partly why I went on this trip in the first place, to see how I would do and be with (mostly) just my own company for three weeks. Not surprisingly, my tendency on the trail was to do just what I do in my daily life — keep busy for most of the day, and feel unsettled when I am not. I observed myself on days 1 – 8 doing very much that same thing. On day 9, and certainly day 10, the presence of my friends, and the desire to just be with them as fully as possible, slowed me down.  I was and continue to be aware that this more relaxed pace represents the exception, not the rule in my life. But what I can honestly say is that I feel myself moving towards this place of greater ease and let up in my rather compulsive need to push things quite so hard. Day 10 laid the foundation for and commitment to a zero day on my next long backpack…and in the bigger picture of my life as well.

Parting shot -- The four of us at Sapphire Lake

Parting shot — The four of us at Sapphire Lake

 

 

 

 

Family Ski Day at Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain Ski Resort

Location:  39 miles past Enumclaw, 47 miles from Mt. Ranier, “105 driving minutes” from Seattle, 4 hours from Bellingham.

Skiable terrain: 4.06 miles;  Ski runs, 57;  Elevation at top: 3912 feet

Growing up at Crystal Mountain

Mom and Dad skiing at Crystal back in the day

I grew up skiing at Crystal.  My family had a room in a 40-family lodge (Skier’s Inc.) from the time I was two until my mid-30’s, when my parents finally sold their rights to the room.  I remember vividly Mom and Dad hauling my three siblings and me up to Crystal for weekends or occasional weeks of skiing all winter long.

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Copper Ridge Loop — Final Day

Egg Lake to Hannegan Pass parking lot  (8.6 miles) — 9/14/17

Egg Lake, morning view

Morning at Egg Lake was crisp and magnificent! Stiff breezes the night before blew out the few remaining clouds, and cool gusts still swirled around my campsite.  I put on all my layers, including down hat and gloves with hand warmers, ready to embrace my last morning of the five day Copper Ridge loop. When I backpack, my fear of cold usually causes me to bring too many clothes. But on this morning, it felt great to be all bundled up against the cold but clear morning of what was sure to be a fantastic bluebird day ahead.

I sat suspended in time as I watched the first rays of sun come up. Mornings are my favorite time of day, regardless of where I am. But my ‘outside’ morning routine of 3 cups of steaming hot coffee, oatmeal with an abundance of toppings, writing, and meditatively gazing at the trees, mountains, and lakes, felt especially significant.  I knew it might be the last morning I’d wake up and immediately commune with mother nature for awhile, at least in the belly of the North Cascades. Fall was just around the corner, and I wanted to fully embrace the exquisiteness that surrounded me.  It reminded me of the last morning of my solo hike of the John Muir Trail in the summer of 2016. The reality of a time of solitude in wilderness coming to an end, the strong pull and desire to capture the peace and integrate it into my very core, my deep reluctance to return to ‘real’ life.

But eventually, I had to get moving.  The day held 8.6 miles of hiking, and I had an evening commitment that I had to be home for.  Reluctantly, I performed the mundane duties of breaking down camp, stalling often to feel the sun on my face as it streamed it’s way into my campsite. For this I was grateful. Warm sun on a cold morning makes the actions of camp break-down ever so much more pleasant.

I headed out at 9:30. The couple from Virginia was gone, I noticed as I passed through their empty site. After climbing out of Egg Lake basin, the 4.6 miles to Hannegan Pass continued it’s ups and downs. I was tired from the previous days elevation gain,  and struggled each time the trail went up. Thankfully, there were enough views to keep me entertained, and I worked myself into a satisfactory hiking rhythm.

Left to Right, Icy Peak, Ruth Mountain, Mt. Shuksan

Mt. Baker (r) and Mt. Shuksan (l) paying last respects

I reached Hannegan Pass at 11:30, and decided on an early lunch. Why carry food in my pack when I could consume it and use it for fuel? At the pass, I encountered the same two folks I’d seen coming down Whatcom Pass, who’d camped at Middle Lakes, when I was heading up. They introduced themselves now as Walt and Haley. Haley was Walt’s niece from New York, who’d come out to hike with her uncle for a week. I thought that was pretty cool! Walt and I had a great time sharing stories of our respective trips, while Haley chatted with another woman, resting with her elderly dog at the base of Hannegan Peak, while her partner ran up the peak with their younger and more ambitious canine. The sun was out, the day was warm, and it was hard to leave the comfortable social scene.

But I had a schedule to keep, and I took leave just after noon. It was 4 miles to the car, and I wanted to be there by 2:00. I picked up the pace, now that the trail was flat or down hill. There were a TON of people coming up the pass, especially for a mid-September weekday. Albeit a sunny one. I only had one incidence of drama on the way out, while observing three middle-aged women with backpacks by the side of the trail.  Clearly, they were headed in for some female backpacking bonding, something which I have a desire to do, but never have. As I watched them with interest,  I tripped and fell, again, landing hard on my butt, practically in the lap of one of the women!  My legs were too tired and my knees too sore to catch the fall. And I couldn’t get up for the same reasons. One of the women asked if I needed help. “Yes please!” I said, relieved. A brief discussion of the knee replacement followed, and all three were impressed that I was backpacking alone with the knee issues. I didn’t tell them about all the foot and ankle surgeries. 🙂

After that, the remaining miles flew by, even with my trail hyper-vigilance. I arrived back at the car by 1:50 — ahead of schedule for once! I was supremely glad to dump my pack, this time for good. I counted 39 cars in the parking lot as I drove off. It was amazing how few people I’d seen on the whole loop hike, then to see so many on the last four miles of this last day. Inevitable reintroduction to society, I suppose.

Highlights of the Trip

There were so many positives about this trip, it’s hard to choose. But here are some highlights that come to mind:

  1. Getting out on a good backpack for the year. I’d just done the one overnight earlier in August, and I wanted to get in at least one long backpack trip for the year. The broken finger and subsequent time off provided a perfect opportunity to take a longer trip to a place that’s been on my list to revisit for years.
  2. The variety of terrain and campsites. Peak climbs, dense forest walks, river crossings, miles of ridge walking, a mountain pass, mountain lakes, a lookout tower with splendiferous views — what more could anyone want? Two campsites in forest, two with expansive views, few people at any site.  It made me appreciate that this place is so tightly permitted, as the trail was never busy, and the most company I had in any camping area was just two other people.
  3. People showing up at the right times. With the exception of having to do the cable car crossing by myself, I was struck by how well things worked out with this. Steve keeping me company on Whatcom Pass, Brian and Sarah at the dual river crossings, Walt and Haley going up Whatcom pass and again at Hannegan Pass. As any of you who followed my JMT trip know, I crave a combination of solitude and being with others when I backpack. This trip had a perfect balance of both.
  4. Knowing I still got it, and getting affirmation for that.  Yeah, it felt good to have atta-girls out there on the trail. I forget that many people don’t hike or backpack at all,  let alone solo, or with as many physical ailments as I have.  Don’t get me wrong — I KNOW there are those out there doing it under FAR more challenging circumstances! Or facing something different all together. We all have our own adversities to confront and obstacles to overcome. But this was my first real backpack post knee replacement, and I was grateful it went well. My favorite way to stay sane and happy involves immersing myself in an outdoor environment that brings huge reward, and sometimes has risk associated with it too. I will go there for as long as I can, ever mindful of the risk/benefit analysis. On the whole, this trip went as well or better than expected. Although, I could have done without the falls. Which leads to my last introspective thoughts…

Reflections on Falling

My sum total of falls, counting the broken finger before the trip and the four on the trail, could have stayed at five. But apparently things DO come in threes, or multiples there of…

A couple weeks after  my return, I fell in the bathroom, slipping on the wet floor while trying to steer clear of one of my cats who loves to race me to the bathroom. I hit my left rib cage on the corner of the bathroom counter, and fractured  the sixth rib. My sixth, most painful, and hopefully last fall for a good long while.

Another three weeks off of work, and a whole lot of reflection about why all the falls, why now, and what’s the learning here? Space, time and patience of readership all prevent me from getting too deeply into this, but here are a few reflections and explanations I have come up with:

  1. I am no spring chicken and must adjust my ambitions (and pack weight) accordingly!   Let’s face it, getting older makes it harder to act young.  At age 53, I can’t get away with carrying as much weight as I could when I was 33. When I did this loop 20 years ago, I carried over 70 pounds and it did not phase me. This trip, my pack weighed around 50 pounds, and that was, apparently, too much.  Simply put, when I tripped or fell, I couldn’t pull it together to implement the correct musculature to catch the fall, and instead, landed quite spectacularly. Four times! Two face plants, two on my rear. Something to pay attention to. What brought me a sense of accomplishment 20 years ago,  the success of carrying of a heavy pack, must now be replaced by the satisfaction of staying on my own two feet! There is an undeniable link with packing lighter and staying upright that I can’t ignore anymore.
  2. Balance is affected as we age. Duh. We all know this. BUT to hear it and live it are two different things. Everyone, including me, says “Work on balance as you age.” Great advice, but what does that look like from a person to person perspective? Standing on one foot? Doing yoga? Walking on a balance beam? Crossing log bridges? Working on balance is HARD, and, admittedly,  I don’t like it. After surgeries, I will work on balance for awhile to strengthen my feet and ankles. But it’s a discipline I am not drawn to, and too soon, I assume I’m fine to jump back in, full steam ahead.  Next thing I know, I’m doing a crazy thing like carrying a heavy pack through brush on soft ground that I can’t see. With balance already compromised, a small trip turns quickly epic when I can’t catch the fall. Time for some more balance work.
  3. The brain has to catch up to the body.  In the aftermath of all these falls, I spoke with several other people who also experienced excessive falling in their early 50’s. Then it stopped by the time they reached 55, and the falling prevalence did not return, even into their 60’s. What’s up with that? My theory is that it takes awhile for the brain to accept what the body is already saying. As we age, we develop compensatory patterns to deal with whatever life throws us. Those compensation patterns can be quite complex, and effective. But it takes time for the mind to integrate the changes in status of the aging body. IF we are going to pursue the activities of a 30 year old at 50 and beyond,  we must adopt an attitude of vigilance about what are bodies are telling us. Or risk continual face plants.
  4. Slow down, take it easy, life isn’t a race!  Is there any better way to get someone’s attention than by tripping them up on the fast road of life? Generally I move quickly, on trails and through life, and, for whatever reason, universal forces decided to throw me a powerful lesson, or two, or six, about slowing down. And breathing. That’s hard to do with a broken rib, but talk about an opportunity to practice mindfulness of movement and breath! I’ll take it, learn from it, and share my takes on Falling as Great Teacher about Life.

We all have similar, powerful examples from life.  What are yours? I would LOVE to hear your stories of getting slammed down only to pick yourself back up with new perspective. PLEASE DO SHARE! 

Last shot of Mt. Baker

 

 

 

Copper Ridge Loop — Day 4

Indian Creek to Egg Lake  — 9/13/17, 12 miles, 4000 feet elevation gain.

It took awhile for daylight to enter my deeply forested Indian Creek campsite. It was 6:30 before I emerged from my tent —  bankers hours for backpackers!  Over breakfast and coffee I considered the day ahead. First up were back to back river fords over Indian Creek and the Chilliwack River. Then a climb of 4000 feet, from the low point ((2225 feet) to the high point (6260 feet) of the entire Copper Ridge loop. Then back down to Egg Lake for the night — 12 miles total.

After breakfast and map study, I began packing up. I didn’t know what to expect with the river fords, as the rangers had said they could be “waist high”.  They also said that route finding “might be required” between the first and second crossings. All these uncertainties created more than a little anxiety as I transformed my sprawling campsite into a self-contained backpack. I left accessible sandals, extra socks, even extra shorts.  And I put my sleeping bag and tent in garbage bags, just in case.

River Fords

Ready to go by 8:15, I noticed that the couple camped just above me appeared packed up as well. I moseyed into their site, calling hello and asking if they knew anything about the river crossings. They didn’t, but we made introductions (Brian and Sarah, from Portland), and agreed we’d take on the unknown together.

It was .7 miles to the first crossing. When we got there, we looked at each other, surprised. The creek was low, and moving ever so gently. Brian decided to take off his boots and do it in socks, and I opted to do the same.  Sarah wore sandals. The first ford was barely knee high and very straightforward.  On the other side, Brian went first, easily spotting the orange tape that marked the location of the second crossing.  I walked the short distance between river banks (over rocks) in my socks. It seemed the easiest option, although a very painful one for my extremely tender feet! The second ford was equally as simple.  Again, barely to the knees. Mid-September and low water levels made these fords easy and painless.  At any other time of year, I can imagine it could be a whole different story!

On the other side, we chatted as we dried our feet and put dry socks and boots back on. Brian’s mom had just had knee replacement, and he was impressed that I was out backpacking ten months post-replacement. “You are an inspiration!” He said. “I am going to tell my mom all about you!”

They were headed to camp at Copper Lake. “That will be quick”, I said. “It’s only 5.7 miles from here.” Brian looked at me quizzically, but said nothing. That’s the number of miles I had in my head to reach the lake.

Copper Ridge Trail to Copper Lake

Copper Mountain

Brian and Sarah, clearly on a mission, shot up the far side of the creek, calling back, “See you up there!” I felt like saying “Not at that speed!” Clearly they were fast hikers, and I figured they’d be at the lake before I even reached the ridge. Plus I was camping at a different lake. I didn’t think I’d see them again, but I was glad they’d been there for the crossings. I stalled for time getting water and a snack, trying to rev myself up for the elevation gain to come.

At 9:45, I was as ready as I’d ever be. I hooked up my audiobook and headphones, wanting distraction from the inevitable challenge of hauling my 50-lb. pack up 4000 feet. After the previous day’s fall, I decided I’d take the ascent one slow, careful step at a time. The trail was steep, switchbacking relentlessly through forest. I could see why most people did the loop the other direction (the way I had previously done it). But hey, if I wasn’t going up the switchbacks, I’d be going down them, and frankly, neither option was a walk in the park! I thought of Dad again, reminding me to “put my nose to the grindstone” when undertaking challenging tasks. This was one of those times.

First views, finally!

Mt. Redoubt in distance

Eventually, the forest thinned, and I had views to further distract me. It felt like I’d been going for hours and making little progress. I was tired and wanted a substantial break, but I also wanted the sense of gaining the ridge before resting.

Boulder crossing, scene of fall #3

Finally, I came to a boulder field, and saw the first two people I’d seen all day since Brian and Sarah. I checked my watch. It was 12:45, I’d been going for 2.5 hours, and I honestly wasn’t sure where in relation to Copper Lake I stood. I asked a question I almost never ask: “Do you know how much farther to Copper Lake?”

“About four miles”, the woman, traversing the boulder field in the opposite direction, responded.

“Four miles!” I was stunned. That would mean I had only travelled 1.7 miles in 2.5 hours! That couldn’t be right. I was so rattled that I took my eyes off the ‘trail’  to look at her in horror, and tripped, again. This time I fell hard and ungracefully on my behind, a sharp rock impaling the right butt cheek. The pain caused a sharp intake of breath.

“No way,” I said. “It can’t be that far!” Her hiking partner piped up. “More like three. At the  most. It’s pretty flat along the ridge, though. And beautiful.”

I thanked him, still exasperated, and continued the short distance to the ridge. I thought about those numbers. 2.7 miles in 2.5 hours. I really was hiking slowly! Whatever — I tried to shake it off.  At the top, I plopped down, gently, for a lunch break. Sitting hurt after that fall. But the views were incredible, puffy white clouds against blue sky blanketing peak after peak.  I spent 30 minutes up there, taking in caloric and supernal nourishment.

Challenger Mt. and Whatcom Peak from Ridge Trail

View from Copper Ridge…

Mineral Mountain, foreground, Shuksan and Ruth Mt. in back

Mineral Mountain, foreground. Background, L to R: Icy Peak, Mt. Hagen, Bacon Peak.

Classic view of Mt. Redoubt

Mt. Lindeman, Right; Middle Peak, left

 

Copper Ridge Trail

Mostly revived, I hefted on my pack and moved along. The ridge trail wandered for however many miles, headed toward Copper Lake. I struggled to keep my eyes on the trail, the draw to unfolding views an incredible pull. I wasn’t sure when (if ever!) I would reach the lake, as apparently I was on the slow hiking boat that day. But unexpectedly soon,  at 2:15, I arrived.

Copper Lake

Looking back on Copper Lake

I filled up on water and took another break, this time only 15 minutes. The day was not over — I still had more switchbacks to gain Copper Mountain,  then a drop back down to Egg Lake.

Copper Lake to Copper Mountain Lookout

The clouds continued to thicken on my short break at the lake. I LOVE sunshine, and will take it anytime. But I was grateful for the cooler temps, as I could put a t-shirt on over my tank top. Carrying a heavy pack in a tank top always causes shoulder chafing, something I struggled with tremendously on my three weeks on the John Muir Trail. The extra layer between strap and skin brought instant relief.

Clouds building over Mineral Mountain

Looking up to Copper Mt. Lookout — finally!

Looking down into the Chilliwack River Valley, 4000 feet down

Copper Mt. foreground, Icy Peak and ridge leading to Shuksan behind…

My course after the lake was more steep switchbacks and more expanding views, including back to the shrinking Copper Lake. Soon I could see the lookout on Copper Mountain, and I knew I was close. I picked up the pace for the final distance, arriving just before 3:30. For that section, the distance I expected to cover in a set amount of time had returned.

Copper Mt. Lookout, actively used and maintained, but locked unless luck brings you there with a ranger present.

From lookout: Foreground, Hannegan Peak, climbed on first day, left. Granite Mt. right. Background: Shuksan, left, Mt. Baker right, in clouds

Looking down Slesse Creek Valley (Mt. Slesse prominent peak in distance), to Fraser River lowlands and North Shore Mountains far in the distance

And the lookout was spectacular! I’d been there twice before. Once, with Rob in 1997. As mentioned, we went the opposite direction, reaching the Lookout on Day Two. We spent the night right there, which I am not clear if you can still do. On that trip, I hauled in my pack a three-pound loaf of home-made zucchini bread and a bottle of red wine, among other things. I am not exaggerating when I say my pack then weighed over 70 pounds! I broke out the bread and wine at the lookout, and Rob was astounded, and grateful. We shared the bounty with two other guys also camped up there.  Definitely a highlight from that first hike.

The other time I was there was with an old boyfriend, Gregg, in the summer of 2014. That was an extremely low snow year, and we hiked up to Silesia Ridge for the night in early June — unheard of in all but the most unusual year. We set up camp in one of two always popular sites, but saw not a soul. After dinner, we hiked up to the lookout, again seeing no one. We stayed almost until sunset, dropping down the 1.5 miles to camp in a show of spectacular colors I won’t ever forget.

Mt. Shuksan from lookout

Southern Pickets! Including Mt. Fury and Phantom Peak

Shuksan and Baker…Baker can’t seem to lose her cloud topper

To my amazement, there was no one at the lookout this year either. I stayed up there for a good half hour, enjoying views in every direction. I kept hoping the cloud topping Mt. Baker would lift, but it persisted. The wind was brisk, and I had to put on more layers. The sun stayed mostly behind clouds, and the cloud formations in the distance made for spectacular viewing. And photos. I took a ton in each direction, trying to remember which peaks were which…

Panorama from Copper Lookout

Copper Lookout to Egg Lake

When I finally decided to leave, I wandered down slope. I found one obvious campsite, surmising that must be the place where Rob and I had camped. I noticed something that could only be a compostable toilet just below, completely out in the open. WOW, I thought that’s a toilet with a view! But also a view for everyone else too. I didn’t remember the toilet from a few years earlier, and figured it must be new. As I dropped down, though, the trail got more and more faint, and I realized I was going the wrong way. The trail down had to be in a different direction.

Toilet with a view!

Windy selfie, Mt. Redoubt on my shoulder

I retraced my steps to the lookout, and, in my short absence, a person had appeared.

“Where did you come from?” I asked. The guy looked at me very strangely, like did I think he dropped from the sky…?

“Uh, Silesia Ridge….” He answered. “Why do you ask?”

I told him about the toilet, and heading down the wrong direction. He said simply “The trail down goes the other way. Just on the other side of the towers. You can’t  miss it.”

OK then, clearly he didn’t know me and my propensity for missing obvious trails! I thanked him, and returned to the tower, and, sure enough, there was an obvious trail down. And another hiker coming up, who was the first guy’s hiking partner. I asked this guy for a photo, and he obliged.

Headed down the correct trail from the lookout

On the correct trail now, all was familiar. I remembered heading down the steep switchbacks with Gregg as the sun got low on that gorgeous June evening. It was pretty now too, although cloudy, and I was tired of hiking and wanted to be at Egg Lake. The day, while grand, felt like it was going on forever.

Once down the switchbacks, the trail headed back up.  Again. I was tired of gaining elevation! I could see the lake basin, but still the trail climbed. Finally, I came to the signed junction for Egg Lake.  Then it was just .3 miles of elevation loss, and I’d be home for the night.

Egg Lake, finally!

Campsite at Egg Lake

Egg Lake Campsite

The first campsite contained a woman and gear.  She explained that were staying in that site, but her husband was off checking out the other two sites, each of the three spaced far from the other. “Hey, honey!” She called to him, “Which site is the best over there?”

He started reporting back from the other side of the lake the specs on the two available sites. I’d call back a question, he’d shout the answer. Realizing how silly this was, he finally said,”Let’s wait until I get closer.” He came back, and gave me the low down on the other options available. We chatted for a good 15 minutes, and I learned that they were from Virginia, here for a ten-day North Cascades backpacking and hiking trip. The distance they’d come to immerse themselves in this beauty made me incredibly thankful that I could attain that so close to my home.

While I enjoyed the chat tremendously, I had to get my pack off.  I thanked them and moved out of their site. I decided on the site farthest away, and with it’s own compostable toilet! But not one that was visible to all the world. It was a great site, high above the lake, with views back towards the lookout tower. And exposed. The wind was brisk, and I changed clothes before setting up camp and getting dinner. I kept thinking about the surreal nature of the day, in terms of how long it took me to cover distance, and I finally pulled out the map while I waited for my backpacker meal to rehydrate.

That’s when I learned that I’d transposed numbers. What I thought was 5.7 miles to Copper Lake was actually 7.5! No wonder it had taken so long! While still no speed record, at least that helped explain why it felt like I was hiking but getting no where. The steep section was nearly two miles longer than I thought.

Somehow this reassured me that I was still in the game. I didn’t feel terribly old or slow throughout the day, but it did get my attention. Now, I realized it was just a mis-read of the map. I contemplated this while I ate. How a belief about something can hold strong even in the face of contradictory evidence. I know generally how fast I hike, yet by believing the incorrect number, I believed I was way off my normal pace even though I was not.

Evening light from Egg Lake campsite, looking back toward Copper Lookout

Reflectively, I watched the colors of the sky turn their oranges and pinks, staying up until the last bits of light had faded away. The encroaching night air was cold and windy.  Gratefully, I crawled into my tent, satisfied and with a sense of great accomplishment about the day. The mysterious pieces finally all fit together.

Alpenglow on Copper Mountain, end of a great day!

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 3

Whatcom Pass to Indian Creek Campground — Sept. 12, 2017

As I lay in the tent waiting for daylight, I thought about the elusive trail to the lakes (Tapto and Middle) that I’d failed to find the previous afternoon.  Mentally, I retraced my steps from campsite to Whatcom Pass and beyond. I remembered a trail to the left, just at the pass, but blocked off with logs. Universal trail speak for “don’t go that way”.  Of course that had to be it! I knew the trail went left, and I knew it went up. The “blockade” only indicated that it wasn’t the main trail. I had to laugh at myself. Sometimes, I miss the most obvious things in my desire to be a rule follower and conscientious hiker.

Inspired with my realization, I grew impatient for first light. Morning light comes earlier on the top of a ridge than in the forest, and I was able to get up and at ’em by 6:10. It was a beautiful dawn, sky mostly clear, last stars fading into the promise of a beautiful day. At least for the morning — Derek, the German, had thought the weather was changing, and I wanted to day-hike the lakes, return to my site, pack up, and get down off the pass before any weather came in.

Day hike to Tapto and Middle Lakes (4 miles total?)

I left my campsite at 8:15,  jacket pockets stuffed with provisions as I had no day pack. When I passed Forest Service guy’s campsite, I noticed he wasn’t there, apparently already up and about.  I crossed the small creek just beyond, the sun so bright I had to put my sunglasses on to see. The morning air was crisp with the coming of fall only days away.  I relinquished fully into the late-summer day that lay before me.

Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak from Whatcom Pass

When I reached the “blocked” trail heading left, I saw Forest Service guy coming down. Had he been up to the lakes already? He was holding a cup of coffee, so I gathered not.

“Good morning!” I called,  glad to see him and eager to pick his brain about the hike to the lakes. “Have you already been to the lakes?”

He laughed. “No, just out for a morning wander. Are you headed up?”

“Yes!” I replied, my enthusiasm bringing a smile to his scruffy face. “I want to do both Tapto and Middle before heading back down to Indian Creek for the night.”

He introduced himself as Steve, saying he was off duty and camping at the pass for a couple of days. As we chatted it became obvious how well he knew the area, including to the lake region where I was headed.

“Do you think I will see any bears up there?” I asked. Steve had come in late last evening, wandered into my site to see who was there. He’d scared the pants off me, convinced as I was that HE was a bear after my earlier bear sighting. I still had bear on the brain.

“Very possibly”, he drew the words out slowly. “Did you know that from here down Little Beaver Valley to Beaver Pass has the highest concentration of black bears anywhere in the North Cascades?”

“No way.” I replied, alarmed. “Seriously?”

“Yep. Do you have bear spray?”

“No, should I?”

He shrugged. “I don’t carry it. Some do. I am sure you will be fine.” He paused. “But just so you know, you will have to work for the lakes! It’s a steep and rugged trail.” His eyes danced as he said this, even through his sunglasses. I couldn’t tell if he was messing with me or just appropriately cautioning me.

For a brief moment, I reconsidered my plans. But I knew I’d go.  “I’m always up for a challenge.” I said. “But hey, are you going to be hanging around for awhile this morning? It would be nice to know that someone knows where I’m going.”

Again he laughed, held up his coffee cup. “I’ll be hanging here all day, gazing at the mountains and sipping coffee and vodka.”

“Together?” I wanted to ask, but instead said, “Ok, I plan to be back by 11:30, noon latest. If I am not back by 1:00, will you come looking for me?”

“Yep, you got it.” Steve answered, glancing at his watch.  “I won’t lose track of time, I promise. And have a great hike. It’s really beautiful up there. It’s why we come here.”

I thanked him, wished him a good morning, and headed off.

Challenger Glacier from trail to Tapto Lakes

Another view…Whatcom Peak (right) and Challenger (left)

Tapto Lakes

The first mile of the trail was incredibly steep, requiring hand over hand assistance in places to gain it. I wondered how the two hikers I’d met the previous day, who had camped at Middle Lakes, had done it with backpacks. I was grateful for no pack weight, and for my poles to help with balance and upward mobility.

After a mile or so, the trail split. To the left was Tapto, to the right Middle. I decided to go left first. The views of Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak behind me grew in magnificence the higher I climbed. The route was completely open, the trail faint in places, but easy enough to follow. I ascended a steep section of scree, but the trail didn’t in any way make me nervous. The two large, fresh piles of bear scat that I saw on the the trail? Those definitely made me nervous. And very watchful.

Tapto Lakes

L to R: Unnamed Ridge with Easy Peak, Mt. Shuksan, Ruth Mt. (from Tapto Lakes)

I reached the overlook to Tapto Lakes, and opted to drop part way down into the lake basin. I could see I wasn’t going to gain much by going all the way down. I sat on a rock for 15 minutes, gazing down at the lakes and up to the surrounding mountains, taking it all in. I embraced the feeling of being nestled in while watched over, embraced by the clear mountain air, one with the stillness, and completely at peace.

I retraced my steps back to the junction with Middle Lakes, taking photo after photo as I went. It’s often difficult to capture moments in photos, and I never used to even try. I’d just immerse myself in the experience, believing that photos took me out of the moment. But with time, I’ve accepted that I LIKE to look back at my photos, and they’ve also become a way to visually share with others my adventures in the mountains.

Middle Lakes

The trail branching toward Middle Lakes was also vague. At first it followed a mostly dry creek bed surrounded by blueberry bushes, then turned upward. On this short section I saw three more piles of bear scat, for a total of five. Same bear, or several? I tried not to think about it.

Soon I reached a large scree and boulder field, the way marked with the sporadic cairn here and there.  Just enough to get a sense of where to re-enter trees on the other side. After a  brief tree section, I was in a wide expanse of mostly boulders, the early stages of fall color apparent on the slopes of Red Mountain, which I knew guarded the Middle Lakes.

A bit of route finding was required to find the first lake, as the trail disappeared into rocks.  I made sure to pay attention to landmarks so I could find my way back. Quickly I dropped down to what clearly was the lower Middle Lake, and, while nice, it wasn’t that spectacular. I returned to my boulder landmark, and headed up to what had to be the upper lake. This lake was much more spectacular, steep snowfields coming right down into it. I sat briefly and gazed, remembering Steve’s comment: “This is why we come here.”

Challenger Glacier from Middle Lakes

Lower Middle Lake

Fall Color on Red Mountain

Upper MIddle Lake

Windy selfie at Upper Middle Lake

At 10:30 I headed back. I kept a watchful eye, both for potential bears and to make sure I stayed on trail. It was a steep and fast descent, and I was back at camp by 11:15. A few clouds had gathered, and I was eager to get down  off the pass while I still had sunshine. I broke camp and was set to leave by noon. Since Steve’s site had been empty on my return, I left him a note, telling him I was back safely, and thanking him for his information on the hikes.

Whatcom Pass to Indian Creek  (8.1 miles)

The way down the pass on Brush Creek trail was uneventful.  I listened to an audiobook to help pass the steep 5.4 miles. I saw no one. Clearly not many people camp at Whatcom Pass, at least not mid-week in mid-September.

Clouds building up as I head down…

Creek headed down from Whatcom Pass

At the junction of Brush Creek and Chilliwack Trail, I continued straight to reach Indian Creek Campground. It was only 2.7 miles from the junction, and I was making decent time. I wasn’t in a hurry as I knew I’d reach camp plenty early. The trail was once again brushy and thick, sometimes hard to see, and, remembering my fall on day one, I was careful with my footing.

Cool log formations on trail to Indian Creek

Despite my best efforts to stay upright, however, I tripped and fell. Again. This time,  I tried to save the fall with my left hand, instinctively protecting the broken finger on the right. In the process, I hyper-extended my left thumb. It hurt, and I instantly remembered my dad dislocating his thumb in a similar type fall skiing once when I was a child. An orthopedic surgeon, Dad put his own thumb back in place right there on the slope, the pain evident on his strong face. The memory made me cringe, as I lay face down in the dirt, pinned once again by my pack, but extremely thankful I wasn’t injured.

It did give me pause, though, two falls in three days. Was I a has-been with heavy pack hiking? I decided not, but I did feel shaky as I unbuckled my pack so I could crawl to my feet. I’d just have to further up my care and vigilance with footing. I hate falling, and twice was more than enough.

I knew I was close to Indian Creek, and I finished out the last half-mile ever so carefully. And humbly. A suspension bridge over Indian Creek brought me to the campground at 3:45.  I dumped my pack with relief and went looking for a campsite. There were several, and no one else was there. I chose one close to water and the bathroom.

Suspension Bridge over Indian Creek

Chilling in the River!

I felt dirty and tired, and a dunk in Indian Creek was calling. I headed down with a change of clothes plus extra warm clothes, my camp towel, and water bottles to fill. I thought about going in the creek in my dirty clothes, but since no one was there, I stripped down to nothing and waded in. It was cold and invigorating! There was no place deep enough to dunk, and the water was moving rapidly, so I had to make do with cleaning up via bandana, splashing around happily like a bird in a bird bath. I even dunked my head to get the grime out of my hair. I felt cleansed and revived as I dried off on the shore. And glad no one had showed up! I filled up my water bottles, plunked in chlorine tablets, and returned to my campsite.

Bathing spot at Indian Creek

Back at camp, I set up my tent and prepared my space. It was a large site in which I could sprawl, my favorite. I cooked, ate, and was writing when a couple showed up about 7:00 and took a site up above mine. While I was prepared for solo camping, I’ll admit it was nice to have company. Eased my bear anxiety for sure.

Through my writing I processed the various events of the day. The interaction with Steve, the solo day hike to the lakes, the spectacular views, the fall on the trail, and the rejuvenating bath in the river. Another day that had it all.  I reveled in gratitude as I prepared for bed: grateful to be there, uninjured, and ready for a good night’s sleep. I knew I’d need it, as the next day held longer miles with intense elevation gain.

Campsite Day 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 2

Mt. Challenger, (L); Whatcom Peak, (R), from Whatcom Pass

U.S. Cabins Campground to Whatcom Pass.  Sept. 11, 2017

I was stiff and sore when I woke up Monday morning. I felt about 100 years old as I literally crawled out of the tent at first light.  Maybe I am not so cut out for backpacking with a heavy pack as I thought! But after walking to the pit toilet, which was a LONG way away, and some stretching, the aches and pains started to dissipate. I settled myself around the huge fire ring, breakfast makings at the ready. I felt more like myself with each breath of clean air…and hot cup of coffee!

The morning was as quiet as the previous night, with only a few birds and the nearby river lending auditory company. I contemplated the day ahead. I knew nothing of the trail up to Whatcom Pass except that it was steep, but I had all day to cover the 7.2 miles. Plenty of time to arrive, get settled,  and still get in a day hike from the pass, I reckoned.

U.S. Cabins to Brush Creek Trail Junction

I took my time packing up, and didn’t hit the trail until 9:45. The first mile was flat, the trail loosely paralleling  the Chilliwack River. It was wet and brushy, and I was careful not to trip. I was all up in my head about the cable car crossing just ahead. I had a multitude of memories and some concerns about my mode of transportation across the river:

First, I remembered with hilarity this crossing from 20 years ago. On that hike, my ex-husband Rob and I had our dog, Magnum, with us. An 85-pound yellow lab, Magnum was not even supposed to be with us. Dogs are not allowed in National Parks, and, I confess, we snuck him in. Back then it was much more lax than now. Rest assured, I would not do that now!

We had no idea what we were in for with Magnum and the cable car. Somehow, we loaded him into the cable car, with me as his escort. Rob hauled us both across, hand over hand, as I tried to calm a very nervous Magnum in the swaying car, far above the river below. We unloaded at the platform on the other side, and waiting while Rob came over with both packs in the second round.

There we all stood, looking down the straight up ladder, about 12 or 15 feet (see pic) that we had to descend.  How do you get a large animal down a steep ladder? Always good problem solvers, we put Magnum “on belay”, such that he was roped up in an improvised chest harness.  Rob “lowered” him down from above, as I went down step by step, attempting to calm the flailing (and flying!) Magnum as we went.  It was both nerve racking and hysterical, and a true highlight of that trip!

The infamous Magnum belay spot!

Cable car

Pack’s in, now to load in self…

But this time, there was no Magnum. Or Rob. Or anyone. I was on my own, not having seen a soul all morning. The car was “parked” on the other side of the river, so I had to haul it back over before I could entertain my current worry:

The rangers, when I got my permit, said there had been a hornet’s nest in the car, but they didn’t know if it was still there. Stuck in a car with angry hornets would surely be worse than any challenges with Magnum! In that case, I’d have to ford. But once I got the car to my side, I checked it out. Thankfully, no nest.

I loaded in my pack, then myself. I began the slow process of pulling myself and my pack, at least 175 pounds total, back across the river. I wore gloves, and this helped some. But I also had the broken finger to deal with, and the process was tedious and tiring. The rope was that old yellow kind, not super keen on sliding easily through the cables. Each pull was a Herculean effort! Even under the best of circumstances, but the finger (splinted for protection) made it even harder.

When I finally reached the other side, my arms were burning with the effort. It was one of those times when I realized that backpacking alone ain’t always easy! Where was that partner when I needed him? (or her)?  BUT, it also gave me an immense feeling of satisfaction to have done it, and I was relieved it was over.

Pack back on, I clamored up the river bank, the trail nearly hidden by the wet and heavy brush. No rest for the weary! Finally, I came to the junction with Brush Creek trail.

Brush Creek Trail to Whatcom Pass

Normally, I don’t haul a heavy pack up to a place like Whatcom pass just to spend the night. Usually, I’d day-hike it instead. But I’d heard great things about the pass itself, with it’s views of Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak, as well as down to Little Beaver Valley, and a collection of lakes above that I also wanted to explore. Since I had time, I decided to camp at the pass and enjoy all that in a leisurely time frame.

Heading up, I had my moments of doubt! Brush Creek trail gained gradual elevation for the first 2.5 miles, but steepened dramatically after that. My pack felt heavier with each upward step. I kept thinking the trail would break out and I’d feel the sunshine I was so craving after yesterday’s forest walk.  But the trail stayed mostly in the trees, with peek-a-boo views coming into play only periodically.

Whatcom Peak making an appearance.

One of many creek crossings headed up the pass

Glad the trail isn’t going that way!

But I was in no rush, and took frequent breaks in those rare moments of sunshine when they arrived. Near the top, I encountered two people coming down, the first I’d seen all day.  A 60’s-ish man and young woman, who said they had camped two nights at Middle Lakes, one of the day hikes I was coveting. They said it was serenely beautiful and well-worth the effort to get there. That spurred me on to the top.

I reached Whatcom Pass at 3:45. No speed record for sure, but I felt great to finally arrive. I found Derek, the German dynamo, in one of three campsites. His previous night had been much closer to the pass, and he seemed like a go-getter. I asked him when he’d arrived “Oh, about 10:30” he replied.

The site I chose was open and windy, but just what I needed. It overlooked a sprawl of  peaks I couldn’t name, and the sunshine I’d been craving was full-on when I arrived. After last night in the forest, I really wanted air and exposure.  I dumped my pack in relief. Wanting to explore while the sun was still relatively high, I chose not to set up camp, but took off instead with my coat pockets full of provisions.

Day hike exploration — Little Beaver Trail and Whatcom Arm

I chatted briefly with Derek on my way past his camp. He gave me what I thought were directions to head to the lakes. Said it took him “an hour up, and 45 minutes down” for his day hike to Tapto Lakes. I knew I’d have enough daylight to do that and get back to set up camp. He said something about trying to camp at a different site than he had a permit for, but I only half listened. I wanted to get hiking while daylight was still on my side!

At what I thought was the left hand turn he’d mentioned just over Whatcom Pass, I left the “main trail”.  Quickly I realized this trail was dropping down, switchback after switchback, instead of going up toward Tapto and Middle Lakes. I realized I was on the Little Beaver trail, which heads down valley for seven miles to Beaver Pass. I decided I’d follow it for a half hour then turn around. Some views of the glacier appeared, and I was happy enough with my wander. The sun was too low to shine on me, though, so mostly I was back in shade.

Top of Whatcom Pass, with Challenger Glacier

Challenger Glacier

Looking down into Little Beaver Valley

After thirty minutes, I took some pics and turned around.  Maybe I’d still have time to find the lakes, I thought. Distracted, I didn’t notice the black bear feasting on berries a mere 20 feet away. He (or she) saw me though, and bolted up the steep hill, in the direction I was going (of course!) Scared the crap out of me! I had just seen a bear on Mt. Dickerman 9 days previous, and two bear sightings in 10 days was more than I wanted. I scurried back up the hill just as fast as I could!

At the junction where I turned down, I went straight and headed toward Whatcom Arm. I knew this wasn’t in the direction of the lakes, but I wasn’t ready to head back just yet. I wandered a bit on a ever-diminishing trail that got rockier and rockier as it went, and soon deposited me in a scree field that went straight up. I wasn’t into a scree scramble, so I turned back towards camp.

Campsite excitement!

As I passed Derek’s site on the way to mine, I noticed it was empty. This puzzled me greatly. It also alarmed me. Now I was alone on Whatcom Pass with a bear nearby! I felt a bit anxious, but decided to embrace those feelings and be brave. I recited one of my self-compassion phrases to myself over and over: “May I stand strong and courageous in the face of fear!”  I did all my camp set up with a watchful eye, and cooked my dinner as far from my tent as the site would allow. I had great rocks for sitting and cooking, and I let myself relax into contentment.

Campsite at Whatcom Pass

View from my campsite

I was in this reverie of enjoyment, watching the setting sun. Suddenly I heard something moving into my campsite! In a split second, all calm was broken as I turned toward the noise. I thought for sure it was a bear! But instead, it was a burly, bear-like man coming round to my site. “Oh my gosh!” I said, totally startled and rattled. “I thought you were a bear!!”

The guy apologized, said he had just arrived, and wanted to see if anyone else was camping at the pass. Recovering my composure, I told him about my earlier bear encounter. “Don’t worry”, he said, “I’m with the Forest Service, and I will be right next door. If you have a night time visitor, just holler!” Apparently he’d set himself up in Derek’s vacated spot.

My sense of peace returned. I watched the light do it’s last dance on peaks across the valley, the colors of the sky gradually fading from their dramatic oranges and pinks. I settled myself in my tent and prepared for sleep. The wind had died, the night was still, and, admittedly, I was happy not be alone on the pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge Loop and Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 1

Copper Ridge Loop, with spur hike to Whatcom Pass, plus day hikes to Tapto and Middle Lakes, and Hannegan Peak.

A broken finger and a weather window combined in perfect harmony to allow me to take five days last week and get away on a solo backpack trip. I broke my right ring finger in a dog accident (bowled over from behind by three dogs!) on August 31. There are many things one can do with a broken finger, but, alas, delivering massage is not one of them.

But backpacking with a splint? No problem.

I had wanted to do the Copper Ridge Loop for years, having only done it once with my ex-husband, back in 1997.  We also did it in September, and it stayed in my memory for it’s high ridges with stunning views, deep river valleys with exciting crossings, pristine alpine lakes and meadows, old growth forest, a spectacular lookout, plenty of mileage, and great day hike potential. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

View from Copper Mountain Lookout

Stats on my trip:

TOTAL DISTANCE  —  About 55 miles.       LOCATION  —  Begins and ends at Hannegan Trailhead (FR road 32).  ELEVATION GAIN —  About 8600 feet.         HIGH POINT —  Copper Mountain Lookout, 6260.     SIDE TRIPS  — Hannegan Peak, Tapto Lakes, Middle Lakes, Egg Lake.      DIFFICULTY  —  Strenuous! But so worth it.   REQUIRED — Backcountry permits to camp (available at the Glacier Service Station), first come first served. Northwest Forest Pass for parking.

A word about permitting:  This is a very popular loop hike, and permits are required. I showed up at the ranger station the day before my planned departure, which is the earliest you can get a permit. The rangers were extremely helpful with trip planning. I wanted to take the loop clockwise, as that is how I’d previously done it, and that seems to be most “recommended”. However, campsites were not available on the dates I wanted to go that direction, so I opted for counter-clockwise. And an extra day — originally I planned for 3 nights, but to do all I wanted looked like it would take 4 nights and 5 days.  I left the ranger station excited and ready for adventure!

I will break this trip into five (hopefully short!) posts. But don’t wait until the last post to consider this for a great fall backpack trip. Fall color and blueberries await!

Day 1 — Hannegan Trailhead to U.S. Cabins (10.2 mile).  Side trip to Hannegan Peak (2.2 miles). Sept. 10, 2017

Trailhead to Hannegan Pass

My permits secured, I drove straight to the trailhead Sunday morning.  It wasn’t as early of a start as planned, but I was on the trail by 10:25. My pack was heavy — much heavier than I wanted. Not only did it contain 5 days of food, but extra clothing galore, as I had been warned of potentially “waist high” river crossings. Plus, while Day 1 was mostly clear, it had rained substantially the previous two days (thankfully, as it cleared away significant forest fire smoke) and rain remained a slight threat in the forecast. I knew I’d be hiking in a river valley for two days, and I am absolutely paranoid about getting wet and cold. I didn’t weigh my pack, but it was on par with last years heaviest on the John Muir Trail — 57 pounds. I struggled to even get it on at the trailhead!

One more note:  This was the first significant backpack trip since knee replacement last November. Though healing has been good, I am a bit knock-kneed as a result of the surgery. I tend to drag that right leg a bit, and I trip much more often than I used to. So I knew I would have to be extra careful with the added weight of the pack.

The first three miles of the trail were uneventful. Ruth Mountain emerged after a couple of miles, and she was spectacular despite the clouds. I have climbed Ruth once, and I loved it. Good memories of that trip and watching her come into view made the tedious going up the pass somewhat easier.

Ruth Mountain from Hannegan Pass Trail

I arrived at Hannegan Pass (four miles) at 12:30. I immediately dumped my pack, fished out a jacket with pockets and stuffed in my lunch. I wanted to climb Hannegan Peak (1.1 miles, 1100 feet elevation) while I could. The day was mostly clear, and this would be my only view opportunity for the day, as I knew I’d be heading into forest for the remainder.

From Hannegan Peak trail…Mt. Sefrit, Nooksack Ridge, and Mt. Baker

Also from Hannegan Peak trail…L to R — Ruth Mt., Jagged Ridge, Mt. Shuksan

I sailed up Hannegan Peak, enjoying the absolute freedom of hiking with no pack after miles of slogging upward with a heavy one. I joined four other people at the top, all basking in the intensely powerful views.  I took pictures in each direction, trying to determine which peaks were which. I settled down and ate my lunch squarely in front of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, Ruth Mt., and the Nooksack Glacier and Tower.

Shuksan from Hannegan Peak

Top of Hannegan Peak, with Baker and Shuksan

It was hard to leave this scene,  but I still had 6.2 miles to go for the day. After 40 minutes, I reluctantly retraced my steps back down to the pass and re-shouldered my heavy pack.

View North to BC peaks and Silesia Creek Valley

Hannegan Pass to U.S. Cabins

The trail drops for a mile, then splits in three directions. To the left is Copper Ridge Trail, the one I would be taking if I had my druthers. To the far right is a trail to Boundary Camp, which, thankfully I was not staying at. Apparently, it’s trashy. Instead, I followed the Chilliwack Trail, loosely following the river.

I didn’t particularly like this section, as both the ground and brush were very wet from recent rain. The trail was mostly cut away, but in some places I had to blindly plow my way through wet brush. At times I couldn’t see the trail at all, a bad scenario for me. I tried my best to move carefully, yet keep up some speed.

Then the inevitable happened. I tripped, tried to save my fall with my right pole, but the ground was too soft. My pole sank uselessly a foot or more into the soft ground, and I landed hard, face first in the wet dirt, pack pinning me down. I was both surprised and embarrassed, though no one else was there. There was no way I could get up except to unhook my pack and ungracefully roll out from under it. I was covered in dirt and frustrated.

Shaking myself off, I continued on. I remembered the very first time I backpacked, at age 7. Then I was carrying a pack too big and heavy for my small size, and I similarly tripped. The pack went over my head, such that I was bent in half, unable to get up until an older sibling helped me. At least then I was agile enough to stay partially upright! With age, I’ve found I fall more spectacularly, as it seems to be easier on the body to not fight it.

After the fall, I slowed down, checking footing with each step. When I came to Copper Creek campground, I saw my first hiker since Hannegan Pass. Named Derek (pronounced Dirk — he was German), I learned he was headed the same direction as me, and on a similar hiking schedule. We’d be at different campsites that night, but would both end up at Whatcom Pass the following night. I was grateful for at least one person hiking my way, as the trail had been so quiet.

The theme of solitude continued when I finally arrived at U.S. Cabins campground, right at 5:00 pm. I had my choice of sites in the sprawl, as no one else was there. I chose the site closed to the Chilliwack river, both for ease of getting water and for the calming sounds of the flowing water.  My site was big enough for 6 at least, and I got to do the Kathie Tupper Sprawl! The evening was stress-free and leisurely, as I spent time writing and reading after dinner. Magnificent colors emerged at sunset, and I crawled into my tent by 7:40, even before complete darkness fell. A great first day, fall and all.

Sunset on unknown peak from campsite, Day 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First backpack trip of the year, Yellow Astor Butte and day hike to Tomyhoi Peak

Looking down on Yellow Astor ponds and Mt. Shuksan from trail up to Tomyhoi Peak

Yellow Astor Butte and Tomyhoi Peak (8/21 – 8/22)

The past three summers have involved multiple backpack trips, but this was the first for the summer of 2017.

I went with my friend Doug, and it was his first backpack trip in 40 years! We chose Yellow Astor Butte for it’s ease of access, short distance, and familiarity. Both of us had day hiked it a dozen times, and I had previously backpacked there with my kids, so I had a good idea of where to camp. Plus, climbing nearby Tomyhoi Peak was on the agenda for day two.

Doug and his new pack — no more external frame for him!

Stats on Yellow Astor Butte

LOCATION  —  Off the Mt. Baker Highway, 542, 46 miles east of Bellingham. Take Twin Lakes Road (FR 3065), just past Shuksan Maintenance Facility.  It’s 4.5 miles to the trailhead.    DISTANCE —  7.5 miles, give or take.      ELEVATION GAIN —  2677 feet (to the top of the Butte)   REQUIRED — NW Forest Pass. NO PERMITS REQUIRED TO CAMP — but get there early, it’s a popular spot!

The Hike in

Typically for us, we didn’t get an early start. After accomplishing all the details of packing up,  we finally hit the trail early afternoon. With such a short distance to hike, we weren’t worried. The day was gorgeous,  the trail straightforward and, as always, spectacular. Yellow Astor Butte is a favorite of mine, as views unfold magically and continually once you leave a short forested section, and it’s guaranteed that your jaw will drop seeing Shuksan and Baker in all their glory.  I’ve done many hikes this year featuring those two mountains, but it never gets old!

 

Baker view trail break!

Still plenty of flowers on the trail…

Camping at one of many Yellow Astor Ponds!

At the junction with the butte, we gazed down at some of the dozen, ponds, or tarns, trying to decide where to head. One in the distance caught my eye, far enough away from close-in campers. Even on a Monday, I knew it would be busy!  We wandered past the closer ponds and campers, and found a spot. I dropped my pack, peered over a rocky outcropping where we’d cook…and saw that there was a couple not far below that. The guy was clearly unhappy that we were going to camp there, even though we couldn’t see them from our selected spot and could give them visual privacy from the rock. Momentarily, we hesitated, as the last thing I want to do in the mountains is piss someone off or have them feel encroached upon. Many times,  I have felt my space invaded, especially on last summer’s solo JMT hike. Doug and I discussed it, and decided to camp there anyway, as it was a good size for our two tents, and enough distance away from the party below.

Looking down on tarns…where to camp?

Where we settled.

After setting up camp, we took a swim in the nearest tarn, cooked dinner, and settled in for the night. The best part of all this was Doug’s supreme enjoyment of the whole experience. Instead of putting words in his mouth, I will share his write-up on our trip:

Doug’s take on the trip…

Kathie and I did a backpacking trip to the tarns at Yellow Aster Butte (4 miles, 2150 vertical feet) on Monday, 8/21, then the hike up Tomyhoi Peak (5.5 miles round trip from our camp and about 2900 vertical feet–nearly all of it coming in just 2.2 miles) and the return to the trailhead (4 miles again and about 400 vertical feet) on Tuesday, 8/22, for a two day total of 13.5 miles and 5450 vertical feet.  

Kathie and I had previously been on a day hike to Yellow Aster Butte on July 24.  It’s a short, straightforward hike that quickly breaks out of the trees, runs through meadows full of wildflowers, crosses a snowfield, and at the end, climbs straight up to spectacular views.  We’d gone late in the day and had the top to ourselves for more than an hour.  This time, instead of climbing we turned left and descended to the tarns, 12 shallow ponds left by melting snow, most of them three to four feet deep, a few deeper.  Another magical place.  From the heights we counted at least three occupied campsites, and as we walked through the rocky, rolling terrain down on the ridge, we found we were racing two other couples also looking for places to camp.  We found the perfect spot, not far from two tarns, sheltering behind few trees and a small mound of rock with a full view of Mt. Shuksan and a partial view of Mt. Baker, where we’d spend most of our time.   

Mt. Baker from our campsite

Our cooking rock with views of Shuksan and Baker

I hadn’t been backpacking in decades, not since I was 24 and hiked in 12.5 miles to the Chinese Wall in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness with my brother Rick and his ex-wife Susan.  I remember my pack had an external aluminum frame I was proud of and it weighed in at just under 50 pounds.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to the campsite the first night and camped in rough terrain just off the trail.  I slept in a small gully under a tarp in a heavy sleeping bag that featured flannel.  Air mattresses were not yet the thing, so I made do with a ground cloth.  I wore a wool shirt and jeans–what else?–and army boots that were shredding my feet.  The second day we got to the campsite and set up, but because my feet were so blistered, I didn’t go on the hike we’d planned using a paper topographical map we’d happily bought at the Power Horn.  6-12 (or was it Off) kept the mosquitos at bay.  We searched for springs where we could fill our steel canteens.  Toward the end of the day, we gathered “squaw wood” to build a fire for warming, make coals for cooking (how could we have lived without tin foil), and after a restless night we plunged into freezing temperatures to build another fire to start the coffee in a steel coffee pot so we could stop shivering.  There was dried food, sure, but only raisins and oatmeal–and in those days, nuts meant peanuts–which may account for my aversion to them all today.  On the third day, we hiked out.  I was hobbling for a week or more on those feet.  That was the last time; is there any wonder?

This time, everything had changed.  It’s true, I’d dropped a grand and Kathie had borrowed a tent to make it so, but I was COMFORTABLE.  I ate well, slept well, made tarn water potable with Sawyer and Platypus filters and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Baker in last light

Mt. Shuksan in last light

For this I have Kathie to thank.  She’s an inveterate backpacker–two summers ago she did all 215 miles of California’s John Muir Trail plus several peaks along the way over 17 days (13 mile days if you don’t count the side trips), but that was with a friend, so last year she did the same thing alone.  Kathie and I love hiking together and have done a dozen high-country day hikes so far this summer.  She was determined to share her joy and take me to the next level.

Which she did.  I loved watching the light ebb and flow over the mountains as night settled in. 

Morning light on Baker and the knob I would climb up and over later that day.

Doug in his COTTON pajamas…he wanted comfort!

Day hike to Tomyhoi Peak — Doug’s report

The hike up Tomyhoi Peak was a real treat:  I’d seen it from the top of Yellow Aster Butte and it didn’t look like much, but boy was I ever wrong!  I knew Tomyhoi was a rectangular block only about a mile and a half south of the border with Canada and its summit required technical climbing skills (way beyond me), but what I didn’t know was it had at least three false summits, was topped by a glacier, and had incredible views from the top, even on a-little-less-than-clear day, which we had.  The trail was up, up, up, sometimes demanded hands to clamber over rock, offered long traverses across scree, and at one point skirted a 200 foot drop-off.  Only five rocky steps to be sure, but exposure enough to shiver my timbers.  The “top” where we stopped above the glacier was exposed as well.  Had we had our minds set on summiting, we would have had to make a 30 meter crossing of the top of the glacier–which didn’t look all that hard–but a slip would send one sliding into the crevasses below and would likely have been fatal. Reports I read afterwards recommended crampons and ice axes, and that was just to get to the technical climb.  No, I was happy just where I was. 

After Tomyhoi, Kathie added probably another two miles and 800 feet to her total as she climbed over a series of knobs on a boot-beaten trail to check out the long-rumored connection between the tarns at Yellow Aster Butte and the end of the High Divide ridge hike at Welcome Pass. She’s a mountain goat at heart with rock climbing in her past, but the going was tedious even for her, a steep scramble much of the way.  I’m glad I opted to cool my heels and make (potable) water.  

Kathie’s Note:

The connection does eventually lead to Welcome Pass. I almost made it, but turned around because of time and fatigue with the rocky path. After Tomyhoi, another 1.5 hours of steep up and down on sometimes very sketchy, nearly non-existent “trail” was more than enough!

Looking up at Tomyhoi Peak, way off in the distance, beginning our day hike.

Doug starting up trail to Tomyhoi Peak

Layers of views on our way up to Tomyhoi. Whatcom Peak and Challenger Peak in the distance

Five layers of views! Fourth out — Copper Ridge, my next backpack trip. Beyond, far right, Mt. Redoubt, left, Mt. Spickard

Not far below summit of Tomyhoi

Canadian Border Peak, left, American Border Peak, right, from near top of Tomyhoi

 

 

Trip Highlights!

There were so many, it’s hard to list. But here are my top four:

  1. Doug’s excitement of his first backpack in 40 years. I love to share the experience of backpacking with another, and what a great customer he was!
  2. The day hike to Tomyhoi Peak. I’d done this twice before, but forgot how challenging and interesting of a hike it was. I loved doing it again with the very enthusiastic Doug!
  3. Our campsite. Despite our crabby neighbors, it was pretty much perfect!
  4. Being out backpacking, finally. I have missed it so much since returning from the JMT last summer. What a great joy to be back into the mountains again for an overnight!

 

My backpacking excitement renewed, I have a three night solo backpack trip planned at the end of this week to Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass loop. I can hardly wait!  Hopefully, smoke will abate. A tough year for forest fires. 

Enjoy the remaining weeks of summer!

 

Dropping back down the steep trail, Winchester Mountain and Whatcom Peak in distance

Mt. Slesse from Tomyhoi

Seen from my final wander…American Border Peak, left, Mt. Larrabee, right, and down to ponds.

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Hike to Green Mountain

My yearly trip around the sun culminated (or began again…) with an epic journey up Green Mountain with my son, Kyle, on Friday, June 23, 2017.

The Circumstances of the Hike

Kyle, age 24, is getting his doctorate in Physical Therapy at Emory in Atlanta. He is into his second of a three year program, and I have only seen him once since he left the Northwest over a year ago.  That was at Christmas time when he was home for a few weeks. Normally, when Kyle and I get together, we hike, as he is one of the only people I know who will take on some of the crazy, ambitious hikes I sometimes like to do. He has an infectious energy and enthusiasm about anything trail related — actually anything physically related — that is unmatched. He is a great hiking partner! When he was home last winter, I was unfortunately rehabbing both knee replacement and foot/ankle surgeries, and there was no hiking to be had.

About a month ago, Kyle let me know he’d be home the weekend of June 23 -25. His step-mom had bought him a ticket to come home for a surprise visit with his dad for a late Father’s Day. I was beyond excited, as that Friday was my birthday, and I could think of no better way to spend my birthday than hiking with Kyle.

Immediately, the wheels started turning, and a plan began to hatch.  Kyle’s dad, Gary,  is a teacher in Ferndale, and their school year was delayed by weeks due to snow. He would still be teaching that day, June 23, for his last day. So it was feasible, if we could play it out correctly, that Kyle and I could squeeze in a hike while he was here and before he went to Gary’s for the surprise visit, AND it would be on my birthday. I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present!

Hike Preparations

The window of opportunity created, I started thinking about what sort of hike we could do to fully maximize the day. It had to be alpine, a peak, and challenging but doable within a day’s time frame. I had put in a request for sunny weather for the event, and it appeared mother nature would deliver! Ten days out, a week out, days out, all the forecasts showed that the weekend of June 23 -25 would be a beautiful scorcher with record temps in and around our potential hiking playground.

I decided on Green Mountain. At 6500 feet, the trail up is a reasonable 8.5 miles round trip with 3300 feet of elevation. It’s off the Mountain Loop Highway, near Darrington, and near our family summer home at Lake Goodwin, where we’d be stationed for the adventure.  I checked recent online trip reports to see what hiking conditions were like at Green Mountain, and found a mixed review.  A few hikers were making it to the top, others were bailing out at lower elevations because of snow. But all reports agreed that the snow was prevalent enough that route finding was an issue. I did my best to prepare for both of us,  as Kyle would be flying in from Atlanta and we’d head straight to the lake then the trail. I secured YakTrax for both of us, gaiters, and poles, one with a ice axe head.

I picked Kyle up at the airport at the Seattle airport at 11:30 pm Thursday night. We drove to the lake, got to bed by 1:00. I was up at 5:00, sleep deprived but ready for the day. I made pies with my sister Kari for the birthday dinner that night, and then got ready while Kyle and Kari ate breakfast together. Kyle consumed five scrambled eggs, two pieces of toast with peanut butter, and a huge bowl of Cheerios with local strawberries. Wow! I didn’t realize the kid ate so much.

Off to the trailhead

We were on the way by 7:40, only ten minutes behind schedule. Google told us the drive would be 2 hours and 22 minutes.  Google doesn’t know how Kathie drives on logging roads when she is mission oriented! We made the drive in just under two hours. The time flew by, with Kyle updating me on school, and me updating him on family. My 90-year old mom had died on June 1, an event that I am still processing. I shared events of her death, the challenging aftermath, and the memorial service the previous weekend. It was good conversational time, and kept us both awake.

Somewhat surprisingly, there were no other cars at the trailhead when we arrived. We were packed up and headed out before 10:00.  The first couple miles of trail are straightforward switchbacks through forest. We continued our conversation, Kyle asking questions about my writing and all the associated aspects of that. It was very cool to share something as significant as the memoir writing process with my son, and I delighted in his interest.

Traversing meadow before the snow

In no time the forest disappeared and we broke into our first meadow. Kyle was absolutely enthralled, taking pictures and exclaiming over and over “THIS is what I most wanted. THIS is what I’ve missed so much. You just don’t get this in Atlanta!” His enthusiasm matched the unfolding views as we continued our switchbacks up through the meadow. Avalanche Lily’s, Indian Paintbrush, Columbine, and Lupines all dotted the landscape as we went. We even saw a smattering of late-blooming Trilliums, one of my favorites.

Lupine

Paintbrush

Trillium

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Challenge

Too soon, the trail hit snow. We put on our YakTrax, and moved into navigation mode. I had done the hike twice, and had a sense of where the trail went. But everything looks different in the snow. There was a stream to cross, and we did so on a snow bridge.

The way up, just before the traverse that put us off trail

Once on the other side, I had a vague recollection of where we should be, and it was definitely not where we were! We wandered some, ending up too high, then dropping down this incredibly steep but short slope, not on snow but dirt, branches, and plants. At the bottom, we could see the lookout on the top of the mountain, high above, and with a huge field of snow at it’s base. I knew from previous hikes that the trail traversed quite far around before heading up, and so we didn’t even consider heading right up the snow field. In retrospect, that may have been the easiest (and probably safest) route to the top. But we didn’t go that way.

Instead, we traversed. And not on trail. I kept thinking the trail would appear, as we continued across a very steep slope that was just about all I could handle. My right foot, ankle, and knee all complained, as that appendage bore the brunt of each and every step of the uncertain traverse.  This went on for far too long, Kyle moving ahead then waiting for me, each of us continually looking for the trail. After what seemed like ages, I told Kyle I couldn’t keep traversing. It was just too painful. I stopped while he went ahead, around the next bend, to see what other options might show up. He returned with the news that none did.

We stood together, on this incredibly steep slope, looking up. We could see a way up that was snow-free, but with loose rocks, plants, and a grade that was so precipitous as to appear almost  unmanageable. In these types of moments, you have to make a decision. Move up, or backtrack and go back down? For the record, I am am not a “go back” kind of gal, but I seriously considered it here. We only had so much time to work with, as we had to be back to the car by 4:00 at the latest for the events that came after the hike (Kyle getting to his dad’s, and my planned birthday dinner). But going back felt like defeat. And then we’d still have to figure out a different way to the top, or just give up the summit altogether. Kyle felt confident he could go straight up, but was (appropriately) worried about me. Especially my recently replaced knee. It’s still not fully recovered, and anything that puts stress on the artificial joint causes swelling and a lot of pain. We both knew I could push through only so much.

Kyle looked at me expectantly, eye brows raised, concern not able to mask his eagerness. I took a deep breath, nodded, smiled. “I’m game if you are.”

“I’ll go first”, Kyle declared, quivering with excitement and raring to go, “and let you know what it’s like.”

“Okay, just don’t get too far ahead, I need to be able to see you and check in with you.”

I’ve done this a couple of times before, headed straight up a mountain off trail but not on snow. It’s physically challenging and guilt producing.  Walking on newly appeared flora and fauna feels terrible to this trail-conscious hiker. It’s not an approach I would recommend, as it is so important (and so much easier) to stay on trail.  I had to attempt to put my guilt about that aside, as even if we turned back we’d still be off trail.

So up we went.  We were still wearing YakTrax, which actually helped with traction on the steep and loose terrain. Sometimes poles were helpful, sometimes not. At times it was an all-out hands and knees type of ascent, using the sparse plants that looked sturdy enough for upward progression. It was a combination of scrambling, using my rock climbing skills, and keeping my wits 100% about me. It felt absolutely important to not fall, and that was my focus with each step. More than once I stood, precarious balanced, not at all sure how to make the next step up. It doesn’t happen often that I get right to the edge of what I can do on a mountain side. This experience put me there. I kept watching Kyle’s progress, believing that if he could do it, so could I.

Eventually and mercifully, our efforts finally brought us to the ridge! In my previous climbs of Green Mountain, the ridge was the most challenging part. Here, after what we’d done, it frankly seemed like a cake walk. Yes there was snow, and some exposure with fall potential on both sides, but plenty of room to navigate up all of it. Both of us were exhilarated to have made it that far, and we knew we’d make the summit. Soon, we could see the lookout, and it was only a matter of time before we’d be there.

As we happily climbed this last part, we made sure to look for a different way down. I told Kyle, no way would I be able to go down what we’d just come up. He agreed, and we scanned for a doable decent even as we continued up. We saw a snowfield that angled over towards the main snowfield, and it seemed manageable. We decided to return there after summiting for our way down.

The Summit!

Summit, with Lookout in back

 

The lookout at Green Mountain was locked, but we dumped our packs and wandered around it’s somewhat rickety deck. This lookout, like so many of the dozens that remain on mountain tops in the Cascades, had to fight to be preserved. As recently as 2010 dismantling was threatened, as environmental groups protested the use of helicopters to rebuild and maintain it after Obama signed the lookout into preserved status. Instead, a group called Friends of Green Mountain biked and hiked with 50 pound packs to rebuild, and continue to maintain, this lookout. Something seemingly so simple as a lookout on a mountain top is never without a story!

The sky was a deep blue and cloudless, and the number of peaks in our view was endless. I could point out Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker, but dozens of others I did not know the names of, sadly. “What’s that peak?” Kyle’d ask. “Sorry, Kyle”, I’d reply, “You came with the wrong partner for peak naming! We’ll just have to sit and immerse ourselves in the wonder of it all.”

And we did. We sat on my designated favorite flat rock 20 feet below the lookout, munching on turkey sandwiches, cherries and grapes. It was an all encompassing sensory feast. We talked of both serious and light topics, and my heart was completely full. It simply doesn’t get any better than being on a peak, with a loved one, sharing meaningful conversation mixed with moments of silence, surrounded and enveloped by snow-covered mountains everywhere you look.  I felt like I could sit there forever.

But time vigilance sat with us too. We had agreed to leave by 1:30, and right on the dot, we were packed up and headed down.

Down the Snow

We descended quickly, back down the steep patches of snow mixed with rocks. After 15 minutes or so, Kyle called up to me. “Do you think we’ve gone too far, Mom? Did we miss that chute we saw on the way up?” I’d been thinking the same thing. I’d been looking carefully, seeing nothing resembling the slope we picked, but also knowing that everything looks different on the way up than down.  Perhaps we had missed it…

“I don’t know, Kyle. Maybe. I’ll wait here, you go ahead a bit more, see what you think.” I was dreading the idea of going back up, again, what we’d just come down.

I watched Kyle, contemplating. Time was ticking by. If we were going to go back, up, we had to move. Kyle turned around quickly, probably thinking the same thing.

“I don’t know what happened, Mom, but we probably should go back up.”

I agreed, and reluctantly, we started back. It was easier this time on the snow sections, as we’d been here a couple of times before. “If we do this enough times”, I commented, trying to keep it light, “we’ll have established a regular highway up here!”

We both kept peering over the edge, looking for a way down. We analyzed one snowfield, but there was an area with potential rocks that we just couldn’t see. Kyle was semi-game. “I’ll go first”, he offered. “See what it’s like…” But I couldn’t help remembering a snowshoe hike he and I had done three summers before. On that hike, fearless Kyle took off down on a steep slope that almost put him over a waterfall on an unexpected cliff that he couldn’t see from above. He was able to self-arrest and stop just in time. There was no way I was going to let him do a repeat.

“I don’t feel good about that, Kyle.” We looked at each other, he nodded. “Yeah, me neither.” He said. We were definitely on the same page.

The only option was to return almost all the way to the summit, and drop in just below. Kyle lead, and he stopped at a place where a steep entry point looked possible. It required a drop of 20 feet through trees and brush so steep that both hands and feet would be required. Kyle went first, leaving his poles with me, aptly maintaining his grip on the available limbs and the overall situation. “You can do it, Mom.” He looked up encouragingly. “It’s not that bad.”

I tossed him all four poles, so I too could use my hands. The tree trunk and branches and brush provided enough hand holds such that, while the footing was unstable at best, I felt safe enough. But at the top of the snowfield, my confidence wavered. It was a long, steep, snowfield, that would put us up back where we had began our errant traverse on the way up. I desperately wanted to be there, but I did not want to slip and fall. It felt of crucial importance to stay upright. Kyle was eager and willing to try glissading (sliding on one’s butt, basically) down the whole thing, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I was too anxious, too worried about my knee, too fearful that if I started slipping, I wouldn’t stop. Too fearful that one or the other of us might sustain an injury, and that would present a whole different set of challenges.

“I can’t glissade this, Kyle. I am sorry.” I said simply. “I need you to go first, and kick steps on the steep sections. I know you want to let it fly, but safety has to come first. I’m worried that I won’t be able to recover if I fall.”

The snowfield down. The small dot just above the rock is Kyle

And Kyle obliged. The sun was directly on us as we went down, so bright it almost hurt. I focussed on each step, one at a time, knowing that if I was safe in one step, I would likely be safe in the next. Kyle kept turning around, making sure I was okay. At one point, I slipped and dug in a pole so hard it bent. Severely, about 8 inches up, such that it was now a hook more than a pole. Kyle offered to switch poles with me. The role reversal we were in here did not escape me.

As the grade eased, I gained some confidence. Kyle was able to do his boot-skiing, and I relaxed into a walk/slight slip, caught by the traction of the YakTrax. I was relieved when we hit the bottom, with no incidents other than the bent pole.

Back to the car

We regrouped for a moment, trying to figure our way back from here. Clearly, we’d gone wrong on the way up, and now I led intuitively with what seemed right. I prayed for trail gods to guide us to the trail, as I was pretty much spent. Rarely do my legs feel like jello, but they resembled that here. And time was going way too fast. It was past 2:30 at this point, and we still had some navigating to do to get out of the snow for good.

But apparently, we’d paid our dues and the trail gods did smile on us.  Our path led us right to the trail, and we were able to follow it with relative ease even as it moved in and out of snow. None too soon, we were out of snow for good, and we both whooped and hollered. “YES!” Kyle declared once we hit predictable ground. “We did it, Mom!” I was ecstatic and still adrenalized, but trying to relax after the challenging descent. We whipped off our YakTrax, the relief as welcome as the easy trail ahead.

“We gotta move it, Kyle.” I said, again checking my watch. “I am not sure how many miles to the car, but we have an hour to get there. You go first, go as fast as you want, I’ll let you know if I can’t keep up.”

Kyle’s legs were as spent as mine, a fact that made me feel good. We’d both pushed a physical limit.  While my knee hurt a lot, it didn’t seem any worse for wear. I wondered what the knee doc would have thought about what we’d just done. I am not sure he would have endorsed it.

We hoofed it going down. At one point I said to Kyle “If you want to go a little faster, I can do it.” He turned around, looked at me semi-incredulously. “You want me to go faster? OK, I’ll do my best!” We didn’t run, but we were close, still on track to make the car by 4:00. We made it  — barely. It was 3:55 when we flew out from the last switchback. We hopped in the car, this time switching roles with Kyle driving and me navigating. Only one obstacle came our way on the tedious, 20-mile logging road headed out. We came up on a camper pulling a horse trailer, who would slow way down for the pot holes, almost stopping so we could pass, but then speeding back up again as soon as Kyle would start to edge around. It was extremely frustrating, but something you can’t do anything about. With Kyle’s patience just about completely tried, the guy finally moved over — once we hit the paved road and could have passed him anyway.

It all ended up OK. We made it back to the lake right at 6:00, where Kyle took off on his trip up north to Bellingham to surprise his dad, and I had my birthday dinner at the lake with Kari, my daughter Shannon and her fiance Kevin, and my brother Brad and his daughter. It was a great ending to a fantastic day — and  superb birthday.

What I’d do differently next time…

While many things went right in the day, there were some valuable things I learned form this trip. Always, the learning. What would a trip into the mountains be without that?

ALLOW MORE TIME.   This is a common theme in my life, and I am constantly working on it. I am one to cram in as much as possible into any given time period, and this hike and day was no exception. With the exception of our 40 minutes on the top, and later, after dinner sitting at the picnic table with Shannon and Kevin, there was really no down time in this very busy day. I loved it, but the constant time pressure, especially on Green Mountain, did affect my ability to fully relax.  As I move into my next year of life, easing up on time, and trying to do less and enjoy it more, is a focus.

CHECK ROUTE DESCRIPTIONS AND MAP MORE THOROUGHLY.  I had glanced at a couple of trip reports, and had Kyle read a few too. But neither one of us paid much attention to details, and we did not have a map of the route with us. Kyle took a picture of the route map at the trailhead, but that proved useless once we were off course and into snow. Navigation and map reading are not my strong points, and I realized here, again, that these skills would have come in handy here. Perhaps a navigation class is in my near future….

CONSIDER ALL OPTIONS BEFORE COMMITTING.  It would have unquestionably been easier for us to head straight up the snow, or certainly switchback up the snow, than the route we chose. But honestly, I didn’t even think about that as option, I was so focused on the traverse. I certainly missed the forest by obsessing on the trees here! Slowing down to analyze and being less impulsive are also directions I want to move in the coming year. 

TURN BACK WHEN IT LOOKS UNREASONABLE TO CONTINUE. Again, this is one we should have considered long before we got so far in. It’s always hard to explain, or rationalize, the need to push on in such situations.  Going back probably would have saved us time, and certainly energy, but I felt that we needed to either go on or bail. In the end, we probably worked even harder. In the coming year of hikes and adventure, I will remember to explore the option of turning back. 

To our credit, there were things we did do right. We prioritized safety, we moved with care and caution, we had good supportive team work, and, most importantly, we kept our senses of humor and adventure. And certainly we had fun!  All in all, it was a fantastic day, and the adventure was well worth the cost.

Green Mountain is a great hike! As snow continues to melt off, it will get easier to navigate. Here’s a link for more information: Green Mountain Trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Bike Ride…and other Memorable Events

Happy Mother’s Day!

To all of you Mom’s out there…I hope your day was special!  

Somehow, this Mother’s Day was especially sweet for me. All the events contained within had special significance — from spending time with family at the Family Summer Home, to a spectacular bike ride in Snohomish County, to my daughter’s bridal dress fitting, and finally, culminating with a visit to see my 90-year old mother this evening, with two of my three siblings.

The time at Lake Goodwin

My family has had a home at Lake Goodwin, an hour south of Bellingham and north of Seattle, since  my mom was 11! The sprawl is contained on three waterfront lots that my mom’s parents purchased back when you could still do that. The humble beginnings were mere land, and now, 79 years later, a large house resides there. The initial one-room cabin has been remodeled and added on to dozens of times, and the house now sports a huge bunk room, sleeps 20 easily, and contains a large workroom and a 3-car garage. There’s nothing cabin-like about this place.

The dock…half of which fell apart last winter in the ice and snow…yet another project!

Lake Goodwin!

The entire time they were married, my parents kept Lake Goodwin, aka “The Lake” going with gardens, sport courts, water activities, and more projects than you could shake a tree at! My dad lived and breathed projects at the lake, and spent countless hours in short cut-off jean shorts, a tool belt, work boots, and not much else.  He worked unceasingly to keep the place functional. My mom spent countless hours in the beautiful gardens that he helped her create, and the place was a showplace for my entire growing up time. People would drive by slowly and look at the gardens, that’s how beautiful everything was.

Then, 5.5 years ago, my dad left this world, and something of the lake died with him. It took us awhile to all wander back with much enthusiasm. We started working on refurbishing and sprucing things up a couple of years ago. It’s been a huge and never-ending project.

This weekend, we had a full-on work party up there. While the number of participants was relatively small — my brother, my sister, her son, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, my daughter and fiance, and myself — we really cranked things out! Let’s face it, my parents were packrats, and the sheer amount of space for storage is immense. Between the eight of us, we went through the garage and workroom, including spaces above both that no one had hardly ever been in. The piles of gardening supplies, chemicals from the 70’s and earlier, painted lumbar, ancient building materials, tools, and so much else filled a huge dump truck — twice! We took 3.5 TONS of stuff to the dump in two days! And loaded the entire back of my brother Brad’s pick-up with hazardous waste materials to be disposed of this week.

One of two dump trucks full of garbage.

The back of Brad’s truck, completely filled with hazardous waste!

The work party started yesterday and ended today. We had such a great time, wearing gas masks to keep from dying ourselves from all the fumes, and setting up relay systems from the upper reaches of the garage to carry things out to the truck. The sorting of the garden tools was an especially memorable experience! How can so many tools be accumulated over time?

Left to Right — Mark, Anna, James (behind), Shannon, Kevin — and all the large gardening tools that came out of the garage!

Last night’s Mother’s Day dinner

My daughter and niece planned and cooked dinner for all of us last night, as an early Mother’s Day dinner. We sat around after the work day, eating at the huge table that my wood-working father extraordinaire made out of a tree he himself cut down,  in the chairs that he also made. All the while overlooking a spectacular sunset over the lake. Dinner and the company was great, reminding us of the hundreds of times we’ve sat there before, with both parents also at the table. It was a fitting way to remember my dad and to also celebrate my mom, who is far too feeble to go up there anymore. And my sister Kari and I didn’t have to lift a finger with dinner prep or dishes — a real bonus. THANKS SHANNON AND ANNA FOR A GREAT DINNER!  And James, Mark, and Kevin for cleaning up!

The Mother’s Day Bike Ride!

This tradition started when my son Kyle and I lived alone together after Shannon had gone off to college. It was about eight years ago, and Kyle graciously asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. “A bike ride!” I said. So Kyle, who is a phenomenal athlete but not a road biker, faithfully accompanied me on a 40-mile bike ride on his dad’s bike, which did not fit him well. He suffered, especially in the area of the bike seat, but maintained a positive attitude and patience until close to the end when he finally said “Mom! Is this ride EVER going to end?”

I have not talked Kyle into going on a long ride with me since. And he attends Physical Therapy School in Atlanta, so this year he was definitely off the hook! But I have tried to get out and ride each Mother’s Day if at all possible. I took my bike to the lake this time, hoping for a break in the cold, wind, and rain to ride this morning. It was raining when I woke up, but by 8:00, it looked to be mostly stopped. I decided to go for it!

I left the house by 8:30. The ride combined roads I know and some I don’t. I have lived at the lake for a couple of time periods, and spent a decent amount of time riding the roads, all in Snohomish county. But today, I wanted to do something different. After riding past the Fish Creek U-Cut farm, where we used to get our Christmas Tree the day after Thanksgiving for my growing up years, and down into Sylvana, with the Meat Market and a few other small businesses, I asked a couple that looked local if they knew the roads. I wanted a slightly different loop, and they directed me to a road that would eventually lead me back to Marine Drive, when I would then know where I was.

Snohomish County roads…

Threatening skies…

The roads were lovely, country, farmland. Rain spat at me periodically, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I had dressed warmly, and I was, for once, not struggling with cold hands (even though temps said 48 degrees when I left!). When I got to Marine Drive, I turned the wrong way, and ended up in Stanwood. Not exactly what I planned, and I backtracked several miles. Then I was looking for the road to wind my way back up to the Lake Goodwin Road, and somehow got on a road that was washed out. I had to carry my bike up and over road blocks and navigate a huge “water over roadway” segment. Then that road was not the one I thought it was, and I had to work my way back and around a neighboring lake before getting back to the LG road.

All told, my ride took just over 2.5 hours. It was fantastic in all ways, especially in that it was one of the first rides I’ve done this year that I actually felt power in my legs and energetically strong. I absolutely loved the ride, and even the bits of rain that continued to fall periodically did not dampen my spirits.

I returned just in time to put in a final hour of work before showering and heading back north to meet Shannon at the bridal shop.

The Bridal Dress Fitting

Shannon’s wedding date is September 3, and I have had the motherly privilege of being involved in her dress fitting. What a great mother/daughter activity today, and always fun to learn how to bustle up a hem. I’d post a photo, but of course I am under specific instructions never to do so until the wedding day…

I also got to talk on the phone with Kyle on the way to the bridal fitting, and it’s always wonderful to catch up with him and his long-time girlfriend Lauren, also at Emory.

Feeling warm and fuzzy with both kid interactions complete,  it was time to drive to Seattle to visit my mom.

The visit with Mom — a great way to end the day!

L to R — Mom, Kari, Brad, Kathie

My mom is in a home in Seattle. She has been on Hospice since July, but is still going strong. She never leaves the care home she is in, and has significant trouble with her memory, as well as a number of other health problems. But she is also of 100% Norwegian blood, and seems to be ticking right along!

Since I’d had to leave early for the bridal fitting, I didn’t know if my visit to Mom would coincide with that of Kari and my brother Brad’s. But sure enough, I text Kari five minutes away from Mom, and they had just arrived! So the three of us got to visit with my mom all at once. I have visited with Kari quite a lot, but it was really fun to have the three of us there. The only one missing was my sister Chris, who is in Disneyland with her grandkids. We had a really nice time, with Mom mostly watching and listening to the three of us, but also inserting a question or comment periodically. We were able to tell her all about our weekend at Lake Goodwin, and what we got done. We all know she won’t remember any of it after our visit, as that is just how it is. But it really was a grand way to end Mother’s Day, and I know it made her happy to see us all.

This Mother’s Day, I am so grateful…

To be a mother, a daughter, a sister, for time with family, for the memories and current realities of Lake Goodwin, for good health and the ability to ride my bike, and for all the blessings that exist in my life. What a highly memorable Mother’s Day!

 

 

 

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