Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Category: Life Lessons

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

 

 

 

All about FUN at Lake Ann

Lake Ann

Lake Ann plus side trip to Curtis Glacier  (August 27, 2017)

A short work day on a sunny Sunday with no smoke (!) inspired Doug and me to take an afternoon day hike to Lake Ann. I have done this hike a dozen or more times, and it never disappoints. It’s also the rare hike that I have only done in perfect weather, and this time was no exception!

Stats on Lake Ann

LOCATION –– Off Mt. Baker Highway, (542), just before Artist Point.        DISTANCE — 8.2  RT, plus 2 miles to base of Curtis Glacier.      ELEVATION GAIN — 1900 feet to Lake Ann, 2300 to base of glacier.     HIGH POINT — 4900 feet (Lake Ann), 5300 glacier.        DIFFICULTY — Moderate       REQUIRED — Northwest Forest Pass

The Hike in

We scrambled out of town just as quickly as Doug’s car could drive us. The parking lot was packed when we arrived at 2:00 pm, but, thankfully we found a spot. Many hikers were already heading home. While packing my day pack, I noticed that I had only brought one sock! Major problem, as I couldn’t hike sockless in one hiking shoe, and Doug had no extra socks.  There was no way I wasn’t going, though, and my Keen work sandals would have to do. Not exactly trail worthy for these 8-times surgically altered feet and ankles! Aiming for optimism, I told Doug I’d give it my best shot. Luckily I had poles to soften the footfalls.

Note the hiking attire…sandals, bathing suit top, poles. Love the freedom!

We hit the trail by 2:10. Lake Ann trail is pleasantly variable in that it drops down for the first mile or so, flattens out, then climbs back up. The afternoon air was hot when we started and the crowds were dense. An enormous number of people were huffing and puffing their way back up as we breezed effortlessly down the first switchbacks. The crowds were a by-product of the perfect day, sunshine, and clear skies. And no smoke. The pattern for the summer had been with each rise in temperature, new fires would spring up and smoke would permeate the atmosphere. It made me giddy that we were hiking Lake Ann in warmth and blue!

Once down the switchbacks we were into the first meadow. Flowers lingered as we crossed rocky (and sometimes dry) stream beds. Views of Shuksan and Shuksan Arm beckoned us along. And more people. Both directions. Families, dogs, and a good representation of jog-bra’d females. I was wearing my bathing suit top and shorts, and I felt less self-conscious with the impressive number of other women doing the same. I loved the carefree nature of the day! We cruised the flat section for a mile or so, past the headwaters of Swift Creek, then began our climb up.

First views of Mt. Baker from Lake Ann trail

There were three boulder fields to cross on the approach to the Lake Basin, and I knew my feet might be crabby. Perhaps it was the exhilaration, the ease with which everything was coming to play out, but I didn’t really notice the lessened padding on the soles of my sandals. Or the increased discomfort. Views of Mt. Baker provided a great distraction, and we cruised at a great pace, happily passing the multitudes. A time check when we arrived at the Lake Basin said 3:55. We decided we’d climb towards the glacier until 5:00, then turn around. We still wanted to swim in Lake Ann before heading back to the car.

Up to the Curtis Glacier

A clear trail branched left toward the west face of Mt. Shuksan. The route services climbers to the summit via the Fisher Chimney route, with the upper and lower Curtis Glacier visible the entire way. Doug had never been that way, though I had been a couple of times before.  We crossed a perfectly situated stream, flowers in full bloom, and Doug was in heaven! His enthusiasm for places he hasn’t been is unparalleled, and made the slightly more challenging- for-my-feet-going more than tolerable. We passed a woman in a black dress coming down the trail, her foreign accent evident. We commented on how strange it was to see someone in a dress (and not a fitness style dress!) coming off a trail that dead-ends at a glacier.

View of Shuksan from Lake Ann trail

Perfect stream

Looking down on Baker Lake

View from glacier trail…Lake Ann and Mt. Baker

As we climbed, we could again see Mt. Baker, which had been hidden from view at the lake basin. We could also see down to Baker Lake, and the views of Shuksan just kept getting better and better. At right around our turn around time, we noticed a group of seven people just up ahead. They looked to be gathered at an end point, where the trail stops and glacier travel starts. Curious, we continued up to where they were.

The Dresses Party!

When we got to the group, it was instantly evident that something exciting was going on. The five women and two men were abuzz with activity.  They welcomed us with much enthusiasm, as if we were the king and queen arriving! The women were donning dresses, and I asked what was up. In accented English, they explained they were a group of Russians, doing some type of photo shoot right there at the base of the glacier.  I was impressed and excited about what they were up to, and commented on how cool I thought that was. The two most verbal women asked me to join in, pulling out a red dress that was an extra. I tried to protest, but that was not going to fly. Their enthusiasm, coupled with Doug’s for me to become instant “model”, made refusal impossible. I threw caution to the wind, abandoned my concern about time, and slipped the dress on over my bathing suit top and shorts. The women were thrilled! I felt silly but had a huge smile on my face.

Doug and the two men took photos of the five of us as we somewhat awkwardly posed on the rocks. Another women watched, seemingly not wanting to get in on the action. The whole experience was surreal, the primary gal, Alexandra, handing me a scarf to whip around in an attempt to look glamorous! I told her this was so far from my comfort zone it was ludicrous, but, in part that’s what made the experience so much fun! Who would have thought we’d encounter Russian women in dresses right at the base of the glacier? We learned that the woman we’d seen earlier was part of their group as well, and that there were others with them too spread out around the trail. A couple of them were from Bellingham, but the majority were from Vancouver. We didn’t know why they selected that spot for photos, but it was incredibly fun to participate.

At 5:30, we bid our adieu to the group.  We had just enough time to drop back down to Lake Ann and jump in the water for a quick and vigorous dip. There was still a bit of snow around the lake, and the water temperature was not warm! But the air temperature was, and we sat on a rock in the last of the sun before it dropped behind the far side of the lake basin, and ate a very late lunch (or dinner…). It was an entirely fitting setting for such a fabulous day.

Kathie and the Russian Beauties!

Take two!

Take 3!

Trying to look glamorous…

Easier without accessories!

The Hike out

We were back to the trail junction to head out at 6:15.  Alexandra and crew were just coming down off the glacier. Alexandra and I exchanged contact information, so we could exchange photos later. I loved the still-present energy in the group, especially Alexandra and Elena. We didn’t hike out with them as our pace was a bit faster, but the memories of the photos and the swim and the day kept Doug and me laughing and smiling the entire hike out. By this time, there were fewer people  on the trail, although still an impressive number remained. Everyone we encountered was in a celebratory mood.

We flew up the switchbacks, and arrived back at the car at 8:05, right at sunset. There were four more Russian women at the trailhead, and we conversed with them too. We assured them their friends weren’t far behind, and told them stories of the fun time we’d had at the base of the glacier. So much good will, joy, and excitement about being alive and out on the trail. I loved it, and I have to say the entire day made for my most memorable trip to Lake Ann yet!

Last light on Shuksan, headed back up the Lake Ann trail

Can you see the slight haze? Already, it starts to return…

In retrospect…

It’s been two weeks since the hike, and my recollections of the trip have gotten even sweeter with time. I know that’s partly because of what returned soon after, in the form of more smoke. Again. From BC fires, those in Eastern Washington, and perhaps most devastatingly, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge. I won’t repeat news stories, as most have heard by  now that the last one was caused by human activity. I don’t need to say how tragic it is, as we have all felt it. Or how far reaching. Up until two days ago,  when it finally rained, Bellingham and most of the state was shrouded in smoke from all the fires. The tragedy of this for us hikers and backpackers is one thing, but when you consider all who had to be evacuated and their property at risk or destroyed, it’s another level of catastrophe altogether.

So my memories of Lake Ann’s absolute pleasure are in stark contrast to what’s happened since. I am still not sure how to make sense of all this. Is it selfish to be grateful that the smoke is gone so I can once again breathe clean air? Is it acceptable to happily go out and recreate again, now that the smoke has cleared up here, knowing that those down in the gorge can’t do the same?

Looking ahead…

Since the smoke has cleared, today I head out again. For five nights and four days, to Copper Ridge loop and Whatcom Pass extension. Solo. I go with appreciation, humility, awe, gratitude, and respect.  As I go, I will keep in mind how transient all of this is. One minute a person can be hiking in safety, the next swept up in something risky — or worse. It’s always with a measure of caution that I go out, particularly solo. On my toes (yep, my feet survived Lake Ann!), with meticulous planning, and watching for the unexpected. The wilderness contains the word “wild” for a reason. I honor that immeasurably.

Here is link to WTA’s Lake Ann information.

And, if you want to see where I am headed, Cooper Ridge loop information.

ENJOY BEING OUTSIDE IN THE CLEAR AIR WHILE IT’S HERE!!

Mt. Baker looking good in blue!

The Challenge of Vesper Peak — Take 3!

I have a complex relationship with Vesper Peak, located off the Mountain Loop Highway in the North Cascades. I am repeatedly drawn back, but each time I go, I am astounded at how physically and mentally challenging it is. It’s been nearly two weeks since I last visited Vesper (July 19), and I’ve spent that time reflecting on the difficulty of the hike, and what it may mean for my hiking future. The Vesper Challenge carried on after doing the doing the peak to processing the impact to now, finally, trying to capturing the Complete Vesper Experience in words. I’ve attempted Vesper three times, summited twice, and at last I think I am done — at least with the peak. The lessons learned will stay with me, no question about it.

Stats on Vesper Peak

A quick digression: Sometimes, the reported length of a summit trail varies greatly, depending on which information you look at. Vesper is one of those.  WTA (Washington Trails Association) calls it 8 miles round trip;  AllTrails calls it 5.5 one way;  Wikipedia calls it 10 roundtrip.  Which to believe? Based on what I know about my sense of distance and hiking speed, I am going with Wikipedia’s 10 miles RT.

 LOCATION— Off Mountain Loop Highway, 18 miles South of Darrington and 21 miles East of Granite Falls.    TRAILHEAD — Sunrise Mine trail #707      DISTANCE — 10 miles (give or take)      SUMMIT ELEVATION — 6214 feet      ELEVATION GAIN — 4200 feet     DIFFICULTY — Rated as Difficult

Previous Vesper Hikes

A current trip report would not make much sense without a mention of my two previous Vesper hikes…

First failed attempt, June 2015

On a cool summer day in mid-June of 2015, my son Kyle, his girlfriend Lauren and I made an attempt on Vesper. It was a low snow pack year, and the hike seemed doable even that early. Several things happened that day, however, such that we failed in our summit attempt:

My hiking companions, Kyle and Lauren

First, we lost the trail soon after breaking out of the forest and brush — about a mile in. I have since learned that this is very common on this unmaintained trail. Before this first attempt, I didn’t put much stock in WTA trip reports, and I rarely, if ever, took the time to read them. Now, two years and a few attempts later, I have read dozens of trip reports for this hike. It’s amazing how many hikers report losing the trail in this same rocky section!  What happens to others, happened to us, and Kyle, Lauren and I lost track of the trail going up the steep rocks. We got up high, then had to work our way back over to the trail on loose, unstable rocks.  Lauren took a fall, which made us all nervous. Once we got back on trail, we kept going, up to Headlee Pass (4600 feet). Confident again once we were en route, we continued our summit quest.

However, our second problem occurred because we had not taken time to read the route description up to the summit. I take responsibility for this — I was designated “trip leader”.  Instead of crossing Vesper Creek and heading up the rock face to the summit, Kyle, Lauren, and I innocently waltzed along the trail to beautiful Vesper Lake. Beyond the lake we could see something of a trail heading up to what we thought was Vesper Peak. We followed that “trail” as best we could, Kyle leading, but the going was hairy and challenging, sometimes in snow, and always steep and vague.  Lauren and I didn’t like it much, and, while Kyle did his best to be the cheerleader, I could tell he was a bit nervous and unsure too. We finally topped out on a pass, with a grand view, and we could see people progressing upward to what we thought was the summit of Vesper.

Third, as we ate lunch, watched and evaluated, several things became clear. The day was cool, some clouds had come in, and it was quite windy. None of us were dressed warmly enough for the conditions. And the route the climbers were taking was steep and snowy, and looked treacherous. We only had lightweight hiking shoes and no traction devices. Kyle and I wanted to continue, despite our lack of preparedness. But Lauren, thankfully, was the voice of reason. She said she would not go, but would wait for us there if we wanted to proceed. I didn’t feel right about leaving her waiting on a cold and windy pass, and deep down, I knew she was right in her assessment. So we all turned back.

Later, Kyle and I looked carefully at the map, and learned that we were going for the wrong summit! The mountain we were actually attempting to climb was Mt. Sperry, Vesper’s next door neighbor. It’s much less popular, and is even more of a “climbers route” than Vesper.  I am grateful to Lauren (and eventually common sense) that we turned back on that day. Vesper stayed on the brain, though, and I wanted to go back…

Second (successful) attempt, July 2015

Ready for conquest, Kyle and I returned to Vesper a month later. This time, Lauren bowed out, and instead Kyle’s buddy Jack came along. Many things went right on this trip — unfortunately,  weather was  not one.

This time, we learned from our previous mistakes.  On the steep rock slope, we paid careful attention and followed hard to see cairns (rock piles) along the way to the more obvious route up to Headlee Pass. It was a struggle for me to keep up with mountain goats Kyle and Jack, but they were nice enough to wait for me at regular intervals. I noticed the challenge of the trail more this time around, as the faster pace combined on the loose rocks required constant vigilance. But  I fed off Kyle and Jack’s youthful energy and enthusiasm, and we reached Headlee pass quickly. Beyond the pass, we did not make the same mistake in heading to the lake, but crossed Vesper Creek and headed up toward the summit.

Kyle foreground, Kathie background, headed up Vesper Peak

Vesper in the fog

The summit approach was a bit of a challenge, somewhat increased by our weather conditions of drizzle and fog. It wasn’t an ideal day for a summit bid, but I am not sure any of us cared. We were all on the same mission! The rock slabs were snow-free but steep,  and I followed the boys as they picked their way up. Thankfully, I only had to focus on my footing, not route-finding — as long as I could see one of them, I just headed in that direction. I’d requested they keep me in sight, and, with the fog, that meant they couldn’t get too far ahead.

We made the summit,  but, unfortunately, couldn’t see a thing from the top.  It was cold, and this time I was prepared but Kyle wasn’t. He put on a shirt of mine to keep warm. He termed it “feminine green” in color, and his hefty arm and shoulder muscles nearly burst it’s stretchy seams!  We stayed on top long enough to eat a quick lunch, then headed down as fast as we could. The entire hike down was just as hard as going up for me, with lots of loose rock and uneven footing. I tried to keep up, but constantly fell behind. Kyle and Jack were patient with me, and we all had a grand time, even though the weather was poor and the path challenging.

Kyle in “feminine green”, after Vesper at Lake 22

Fun loving Kyle and Jack!

Back at the car, our spirits were high. We’d done it! None of us felt ready to call it a day. So we drove the several miles from the Sunrise Mine trailhead to the Lake 22 trailhead, and whipped out that hike too. The whole thing made for a 16-plus mile day with lots of elevation, and the whole adventure was fun and invigorating, despite the dreary weather. I felt good and strong throughout, even though I was bested by the boys. Together we’d bested Vesper, and pulled off a phenomenal hiking day, and I got to feed off the energy of two of my favorite hikers for a day.

But still I couldn’t rest on the Vesper desire. I desperately wanted to be on the summit with sunshine and a view, and so I went back…

Vesper Take 3 — July 19, 2017

Two weeks ago, I went alone to the family summer home at Lake Goodwin planning for a couple days of writing. Proximity to the Mountain Loop Highway and nice weather prompted me to say “WTF, I think I’ll take a hike!”  for one of those days. I decided on a solo bid of Vesper, on what promised to be a sunny Wednesday.  I was confident I would succeed, and drove to the trailhead in good spirits.

The way up

There was a road washout leading to the trailhead, but reports said it was easy to navigate around. It was doable enough, and I arrived at the trailhead at 11:30 am. I had an online class at 6:00 that night, and figured I’d have plenty of time to whip out Vesper and drive the 1.5 hours back to the lake in time for my class…ha!

From the get go and as I remembered, the Sunrise Mining trail required careful footing. At first it was roots, rocks,  and careful stream crossings (four) for the first mile, until I broke out into the opening. Then I was into brush so dense and overgrown that at times I couldn’t see the trail. Always, the footing underneath was uneven and tricky and required that constant vigilance I remembered from before.  I knew and expected this, but it still gave me pause and kept me going at a slow enough pace to keep from turning an ankle or twisting my knee. The unfolding views across the valley to Mt. Dickerman and up the valley towards Morningstar and my old friend Sperry kept me moving.

Looking up toward Headlee Pass

Looking back down…

Once onto the rocks, I made sure to follow the cairns. The path was an often vague traverse and upward progression on small boulders and loose rocks. Sometimes the rocks held, and sometimes they did not. Since my last time here, I’d had knee replacement and bilateral foot and ankle surgeries. That brought my total to five knee and eight foot and ankle surgeries, and, frankly, I felt tentative and cautious as I worked my way across the boulder field. I had to keep a frustratingly slow pace,  and anything resembling a hiking rhythm eluded me. I greatly missed my younger hiking companions, Kyle, Lauren, and Jack.  I felt lonely on my vigil, despite encountering a handful of other hikers.

Headed up to Headlee pass, I encountered the first snow. Most times, the trail went around it with ease, but sometimes a bit of scrambling was required to skirt the snow fields. I was amazed that we had done this route in June and early July of 2015, since in the second half of July this year I encountered more snow than on either previous trip.  Once at the top of Headlee Pass, the views start to really open up, and I felt rewarded for my efforts. Again, I was amazed that the trail never eased up, as the route continued across loose rock. Brave Penstemon bloomed right out of the rocks, and the beauty of that was inspiring.

Rock Penstemon

Rocky trail continues….

Crossing swift Vesper creek was relatively easy. Very quickly I was into snow, and I stopped to put on traction devices. I enjoyed the views down to mostly snow-covered Vesper Lake, again reflecting on how different it was two years ago when it was snow-free.

Then “the trail” was in and out of snow all the way up. I followed foot prints, as at least four people I’d seen on the way down had been on the summit that day. Sometimes the route went up through tree gullys, slick with mud, and was barely discernible. I remembered this from the previous time, and knew I was on the correct route. The snow towards the top got alarmingly steep, and I looked at the multitude of glissade (“sliding on your butt”) paths right down the mountain. Clearly, people were just letting it fly once they were up, but I knew I would not do that. I felt cautious going up and knew I would need to be more careful coming down. The idea of losing control on snow freaked me out.

Vesper Lake in fog, 2015

Vesper Lake in snow, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Carefully and meticulously I worked my way up. I could see a couple leaving just as I was approaching the summit, which meant I would be alone. Normally, I crave solitude on the trail, but this time, I was hoping for company to share the victory with. I arrived at the top at 2:30, three hours after I started. A slow pace for me, and I knew it was unlikely I would make it back in time for my class. I tried to relax with this reality, enjoying the truly spectacular summit views. I could see Mt. Sperry right in front of me, Mt. Pugh, Sloan Peak, and Mt. Baker to the north, Glacier Peak to the east, and Mt. Stuart, Mt. Daniel, and even a glimpse of Mt. Ranier to the south. Perhaps most spectacular was the sheer 1000 foot drop on the north side down to Cooper Lake below. I enjoyed circumferential views and took a few selfies, but I was nervous about going down the steep upper section of the snow. I wanted to get down before shade or cooling temps, and kept my summit time to thirty minutes.

 

Glacier Peak!

Looking down to Copper Lake

Vesper Selfie

Peaks — Gothic Peak (right), Morningstar (foreground)

Looking across Sperry toward Mt. Baker

The way down

As expected, going down the snow was more challenging than coming up. I stuck to my own foot prints as best I could, one at a time, using my poles for added braking. As mentioned, multiple glissade paths indicated others had simply slid down on their butts. They must have had ice axes or been more risk takers than me, or both. Not willing to risk a fall, I picked my way down like I came up, slowly and carefully, checking each step to make sure it would hold. Once off the steep stuff, I breathed a sigh of relief and took off my YakTrax.

But I still had to get down all the rocks that I came up,  and it seemed to take forever. Slowly progressing down, I vacillated between frustration and amazement with the effort involved to secure each step.  I could never relax and just cruise along. Literally, there was not one section of this trail that didn’t require precision with foot placement.  Descending the endless rocks was tedious, and, even with extreme caution, I still tripped and slipped at least 15 times. I stopped counting at ten. This was not a reflection of fatigue or carelessness — it just happened. I had to remind myself to slow down with each slip, and this took a mental and physical toll. When I arrived back at the car 2.5 hours after leaving the summit, I felt completely drained. And late. I knew I wouldn’t make it back for my class in time, but I was relieved to at last be done.

Why was Take 3 SO DIFFICULT?

That night I was completely wiped out. I felt utterly mentally and physically drained. Not from the cardiovascular output, as I couldn’t go fast enough to get that. But from the constant vigilance required to manage the perpetually challenging footing. My right arthritic ankle hurt more during and after this trip than at any time since surgery, and I couldn’t walk without sharp pain.  My replaced knee was fluid- filled and sore, although it mostly recovered after a day or so. But overall, that ten mile endeavor seemed, frankly, all my orthopedically challenged body could handle. I struggled to accept this, and my feeling of near-despair lingered. This hiking experience, instead of uplifting me, put me into a week-long funk! That doesn’t happen often, so I paid attention.

I kept asking myself, Does this experience mean that my hiking future can only be on established trails,  that I can no longer go to places that are only accessible off the beaten path?  I felt intensely conflicted even thinking about this, as there are still SO many hikes I want to do that are like Vesper, and the idea of having to give that up made me feel old, defeated, and on the way out. But I also don’t like to suffer, and there was a fair amount of suffering on this last Vesper excursion. How do I balance my strong desire to go with the reality of my current physical being?

As I grappled with these questions, I went back and looked at each of my three Vesper excursions. How could I take what I learned on each trip, successfully apply it to my current processing, and let those lessons serve as a guide for the future?

The Vesper Lessons

Trip One

The most obvious lesson here is know the route and nuances of the trail. I have gotten much better at this, and, as mentioned, I have become a huge fan of WTA trip reports. Both errors, getting off trail and heading to the wrong summit, could have been avoided if we had paid more attention. The extra time and effort spent getting off trail and  then back on is sometimes immense. Lauren’s fall and recovery not only cost us time, but also emotional energy. And going for the wrong summit actually prevented us from making it to the top of Vesper. As trip leader, I felt responsible and worried, and like our errors could have been avoided.

Second, it was great to have Lauren as a voice of reason. I have learned from that experience that I can say no, can turn around, and it can be OK. That was the first time I can remember NOT going for a summit, and I am thankful we did not. Lauren’s common sense eventually filtered into mine, such that I KNEW without question that we made the right choice. Since then, I have backed off on my need to always push on to the summit.

Kyle and Lauren at Mailbox Peak, near Seattle. Thanks Lauren for your presence of mind and keeping us sane!

Trip Two

The lessons here are mostly all positive. Simply put, I felt less pain, discomfort, angst, and displeasure with the weather and trail since I was hiking with Kyle and Jack. I love to hike alone and do so often. But sometimes my head space gets more cluttered with negativity and what’s not going right when I’m alone. This trip, while not favorable in weather, was successful and fun despite conditions. Under those positive circumstances, going on and pushing the limits like we did, had a huge pay off. And it was great to share in it together.

Trip Three

Trip three taught me about time. I put pressure on myself by starting late, and trying to knock this one off too quickly. Once I realized the difficulty I was having, I could have slowed down, enjoyed my surroundings,  and not felt so frustrated by slow progress. Had I done this, my whole trip might have gone differently. Racing the clock, trying to make the summit in a certain amount of time such that I could be back in time, affected my enjoyment.

In truth, so too did the terrain. There is nothing I can do to change that. But I can change my approach for the future, if I choose to go off the beaten path, I have to plan for, and accept psychologically, that it’s only going to happen slowly and carefully. When I encounter tricky terrain with a Kyle in my future, perhaps I can turn it on. But for now, I will be content with slowing down on trails that are less than straightforward.

However, I know now I won’t give up. That first week following Vesper, I thought that was it. That I would have to put my ambitions of other such endeavors to rest. Now, 12 days after the fact, I feel confident that I can slow down enough to have the enjoyment of such a hike take precedence over the discomfort involved with doing it.

Know if you go…

Vesper is very worthwhile if you are willing to pay attention to every step and take care with route finding. It’s not a trail for beginners, or those wanting to zone out. WTA calls it a step beyond…I would say it’s many steps beyond. Worth it? Yes, if you are physically in good shape, and don’t have an abundance of lower body ailments. And don’t do it on a tight time schedule. My six hours was as fast as I could go safely, and it would have been even nicer to have had more time to relax and enjoy the spectacular views once I reached the summit.

Snowking Mountain and Mt. Formidable, background, Mt. Pugh and Sloan Peak foreground

Sperry Peak (foreground), Glacier Peak in back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more note: by the time this post gets up, snow will all but be a memory for most of this route. It’s melting quickly, and subsequent hikes I’ve taken have all been mostly snow-free. Yep, I’m still out there hiking! Stay tuned for more posts to come.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the Bike!

Trees were calling me to ride…

I told myself this year I would wait until I was ready.  Normally, I pull my bike out of storage sometime in March, regardless of physical health or weather or anything else. But this year, March came and went, and my bike sat in the garage, still waiting patiently for that first ride of the season.

I came close a month ago. It looked like a friend and I were going to form a woman’s Ski to Sea team, and I would do the bike leg. With that race at the end of May, I started feeling anxious and pressured to get on the bike. After recent knee replacement in November and foot and ankle surgery in December, I was still feeling cautious, and that added to my anxiety. I’d been on the stationary bike a handful of times at the gym, but it’s definitely not the same as getting out on the road.

Then, several things happened that made me stop and re-think everything.

Second Thoughts

No Ski to Sea

Come late March, it became evident that Ski to Sea was not destined to happen this year. I absolutely love the Ski to Sea race and all the festivities associated with it,  and I have been involved dozens of times — as participant, support crew, and spectator. However, after losing several team members, and not finding replacements, my co-captain and I made the decision that it was not going to happen this year. Frankly, I was relieved! I was still not feeling ready to ride.

The Fatal Bike Accident in Fairhaven

Right about the time we were debating Ski to Sea plans, a cyclist died in a collision with a car a mile from my work. Not only did this hit close to home proximity-wise, but it was also at an intersection that I have ridden through more times than I can count.  I used to live at the top of the hills that the biker was coming down, trying to make the light, just as a left hand turning car was also trying to make the light. They collided, and the 51-year old biker died on impact. He left six kids behind. I have done that exact same thing at that exact same intersection, pushed the light from yellow to red, carrying a lot of speed coming down those hills. But I have never been hit by a car. There or anywhere else.

Bike at Memorial Site “Bicyclist and Vehicle Collided here – March 23, 2017”

To make matters worse, the cyclist that was killed was a huge proponent of bike safety, teaching classes and such. How much more tragic can this story get? I did not know him, but I can totally imagine the mindset that caused this to happen. As a fellow biker, I admit that I have pushed lights, not wanting to stop at intersections, especially when speed was in my favor. But one mistake can be ever so costly. And now, the cyclist leaves behind a confusing legacy, as he was such a proponent of safety, yet met his end with a seemingly innocent misjudgment.

This accident gave me huge pause. I decided to wait on getting on the bike…

My Ex-Husbands Shoulder Surgery

Also right at this time, my ex-husband, the father of my kids, had shoulder surgery for injuries related to two serious bike accidents in the last year. A committed bike commuter, from Bellingham to his job in Ferndale, the first incident occurred when he was struck by a car last Spring. He broke his leg and injured his shoulder in that incident. After much rehab, the leg healed, and it seemed he might be able to resume activities (including riding) without surgery on his still-iffy shoulder.

Then last winter, during a cold snap, he was again riding to work, when he hit some ice. Another fall on that same shoulder, and surgery became necessary for a torn rotator cuff. He had this surgery a couple of weeks ago. These two were just the most recent in a series of bike accidents for him. Each time the kids report to me “Dad had another bike accident…”, I wonder if I should stop riding.

I know people who ride regularly increase their odds of getting in an accident. I have been riding regularly for 15 years, and thankfully, have never had an accident with a car. But still I had to wonder, was my number coming up?

Bike Accident of Other Family Members

My brother, also a bike commuter in Seattle, has been in many serious bike accidents over the last 15 years. Four of those accidents involved collisions with cars, one involved a slip on ice, and one involved him hitting a pedestrian in a cross-walk. He has suffered multiple injuries, including a broken hand and arm, and still has the litigation pending from that most recent accident with the pedestrian. That incident involved him coming down a hill fast, trying to make a light, and not seeing a pedestrian who started walking just as the light was getting ready to turn. My brother collided with him, flew off his bike, and the kid suffered a major head injury. Terrible all the way around. Brad will admit that in some of his multiple bike accidents he shared fault, but some were clearly cars not paying attention to what bikers are up to.

My niece’s long-time boyfriend was also in a bike accident last June, while riding his bike to work on quiet Bainbridge Island. He was broad-sided by a left turning car who did not see him, and was thrown 20 feet. He hurt his foot badly, and incurred $5000 in medical bills which the driver’s insurance still has not paid. He finally had to borrow the money to pay the bills, and to hire a lawyer to try to recover his medical costs. A huge price to pay for an accident where he was clearly not at fault, and there is still no resolution.

Was I ready to get back on the bike after all of this??

All this presented a serious dilemma, as March turned into April and I continued to feel uneasy. I asked myself, over and over, To what degree do I let fear interfere with things that I am passionate about?  I had asked myself that question all last spring and early summer in preparation for my solo JMT hike last August. There, I methodically went about naming and confronting those fears — then went out and had a fantastic three-week trip!  But on the bike, the fear is more widespread, as the variables and possibilities of accident or incident are only so much in my control. I look at all these people I know, and those I don’t but feel like I do now, who have been in serious bike accidents, and I have to ask myself is it worth it to keep riding? Is it just a matter of time before it’s me, or can I continue on in my safety bubble if I continue to be as vigilant as I can when I ride?

Deciding to ride.

Daffodils bring promise of sunshine

I’d be lying if I said weather wasn’t also a factor in my procrastination getting back on the bike. It’s been a cold, wet spring, and I don’t like to ride in wet and windy conditions, or below 50 degrees. But last weekend the forecast provided a favorable weather window, and I decided it was time to get over myself and all my fears and just do it! I brought clothes and food to work on Friday, in preparation to ride to work Saturday. I brought my bike in from the garage Friday night, and we had a stare down as I went about my evening. Who would win? My fear, or the bike’s desire to be ridden? The bike of course, because I wanted what it wanted. Just before bed, I confirmed my decision by pumping up my tires in readiness for the following morning.

I live up such steep hills, that I can’t make it back up if I ride from my house. Instead, I drive my bike down all the Sudden Valley hills and start my ride on Lake Louise Road. It’s still an iffy ride no matter how you dice it, as the roads to and from Sudden Valley are not bike friendly. When I first moved here, my landlady told me she strongly recommended that I not ride at all, as there have been many documented accidents on these roads in which the biker did not come out well. I made my decision to ride anyway, and did so last spring, summer, and early fall without incident.

But with all the bike accidents and the fatality so fresh on my mind, the nervous anticipation of the first ride was higher this year than ever. Plus I was worried about my knee, which still does not feel like a part of me, and does not bend well without pain.

The First Ride Happened!

I threw my bike in the car, dressed in warm clothes, and headed out Saturday morning. It was cool, and still drizzling. But the weather promised clearing later in the day, which would be good for the longer anticipated ride home.

A Biker’s Memorial

There are many ways to get to and from my house to work, but I chose the most direct one to get there. It’s about ten miles, give or take, and it’s mostly downhill. The ride went smoothly enough, although my knee felt like it was completely not mine for the first several miles. But with persistence, patience, and paying attention to what was really going on, the knee became less of a nuisance as I rode. Instead, I focused on the rain stopping mid-way, the clouds lifting, and the freshness of the morning air. I arrived at work, without incident, under partly sunny skies. A good omen, I figured. I’d purposefully ridden a different way so as to not pass the biker’s memorial. But he was on my mind, and I said a silent thanks to the biking gods for keeping me safe.

The Longer Ride Home

Lake Samish

Like some hikes, there are some places to ride that I am very drawn to. One of those is Lake Samish, about 7 miles from my place of work. For years I’ve combined a ride to or from work with a ride around Samish, as it makes me ecstatically happy for some reason. Now that I live farther away, to bring Samish into the bike commute makes it about a 22 mile ride. Not an easy task at the end of a long work day, and as part two of the first day’s ride.

Ready for the ride home

But I was committed and ready. I got out of my office by 5:45, with what I hoped was enough time to make it back to my car before sunset. The sun was out with conviction, although temps were still cool.  I’ve done this ride dozens of times, but I still never know exactly how long it will take.  I wanted to stop for pictures of the inevitable spring flowers and trees I would see along the way. In early spring, I just can’t get enough of the progression of blooms that takes place — from the earliest flowering plums and daffodils,  to the later tulips,  rhododendrons, and  flowering cherry and apple trees that line the route. It’s a flower-lovers paradise for sure!

First Rhodies on my favorite stretch of Samish

Lots of stops and starts, but the ride went smoothly enough. Over the course of the ride, I passed five lakes, including Samish. All were glittering with late afternoon sun, their very presence implying peace and serenity. My only troubles were that I was freezing in the shade, and had to pull out my hand-warmers six miles from home. My knee admittedly struggled with all the uphills, and my back made me feel 100 years old!  With two previous back surgeries, it takes time each year for my back to acclimate to riding.

 

Last sunlight…

But with sun glinting through the budding and occasional flowering trees, I had plenty of things to distract me from pain. A curvy road high above Lake Whatcom finishes off the ride. It’s somewhat risky, with little shoulder and so many wild turns. But, what views! Mossy trees, huge gullies, spectacular lake views from high bridges. My turn off came at Lake Louise, with one very steep hill to master, then I was back to my car. I arrived at 7:55, five minutes before sunset. Relieved to be safe, happy to be done.

Driving home, I again asked myself the question, How can I experience these types of things if I stay home from fear? I don’t have the complete answer. I only know I am drawn to do it again and again. I love being on the bike, and I especially love the long ride home, even with it’s rough, curvy roads with high speed limits and little shoulder.  Many say I am crazy to do it. But I always feel safe. Enough. So far…

Did the ride help me to solve my dilemma?

Yes. And no. There is no definitive resolution when the question of personal safety is involved. I never go on a ride without proper clothing, a helmet, and extreme vigilance. It’s the only way I know to do it, and, so far, it has worked. It was a hard decision this year, and one that I chose to think on for a month before I acted. Now, my bike is ready for action, and I am too. I will keep riding.

When I ride, I will do everything I can to be careful and cautious. It’s the best I can do. And I will remember all those who have not been so lucky — and hope my luck holds. With that in mind, I look forward to six great months of being on the bike!

 Ride Happy and Ride Safe!

 

 

Snacking on Humble Pie

I originally intended to call this post “Eating Humble Pie”. If I am fully honest with myself and my readers, however,  I realize I am not ready for a whole pie or even a whole piece. But I know I can handle a few bites. Let me explain…

The Humbling Situation

I’ve had complications from recent surgeries, as many of you know. Some of this I’ve said before, but in this recounting, I am being honest as to my responsibility in pushing too much too soon, the part that is hardest for me to admit — to myself and to others.

Right knee replacement, 11/14/16.

The aftermath of this has been pretty good, although I still have significant pain at times. Never having had a joint replaced, I don’t know how much of this pain is “normal” and when I should be concerned. I also have a distinct “clunking” noise and feeling in my knee each and every time I move it in a particular way. Part of the plan, or something awry?  I don’t know. I have been assured and reassured that my knee replacement is solid, and that I can’t hurt anything. Those are dangerous words for someone like me, who can and will put up with a lot of pain to do what I love. I was out on trails and walking as early as 3 weeks after this surgery. The  complexity of  the knee replacement was furthered when, at just 5.5 weeks post op, I had foot/ankle surgery on the left side.  I was on crutches in various capacities for 5 weeks after that surgery, using the right leg for full weight bearing. That was, simply put, hard on the new knee. Now, 3.5 months post-op, I am still with pain and uncertainty about the status of my knee.

Left foot/ankle surgery, 12/22/16.

This recovery started out fantastically, the best yet of all eight foot/ankle surgeries. I was walking without crutches early, and taking long hikes in the post-op boot —  feeling on top of the world and certainly my recovery. Then, a fall in the snow over three weeks ago caused an initial setback, from which I recovered quickly after five more days in the boot.  I took myself out of the boot and started walking again, believing I was ready. On each of my first five days post-boot round two, I walked. The mall on day one, Lake Padden on day 2 (2.6 miles),  the interurban trail on day 3 (4 miles), adding slightly more miles each day. Each day I noticed a bit of pain in my forefoot, but told myself it was nothing. On day 4, I walked Lake Padden before work, worked all day, then walked it again after. A very normal activity for me, usually.  But by the second walk, I could barely do it and hobbled all the way around. I knew something was up. Again, I told myself it was just muscles in my foot getting used to working again after being on vacation for 7 weeks…but deep down, I recognized that the pain was different. Stubborn as I am, on day 5, I took a scheduled walk with a friend, but I was limping so badly I could barely walk. I am embarrassed to say I walked five miles like that, each step a painful reminder that I shouldn’t keep going.

It was all I could do to keep a shoe on after that walk. My foot was swollen and very tender. But I  went about the rest of my day, which involved an outcall massage, all the while trying as hard as I could not to limp. It was almost impossible, but I am good at compartmentalizing pain and discomfort, physical and emotional, and did what I needed to do. The massage finished and back home, I took my shoe off to rest my poor foot. It was inflamed and exquisitely alive with pain, the kind where you don’t even want to touch the affected part. I hoped and prayed it would recover overnight. That wasn’t completely out of line, as many times on long hikes or after intensely physical days, I go to bed with significant aches and pains that DO almost magically go away overnight….or at least move again to a manageable level.

But this was not a normal ache or pain, I could tell. Tuesday morning, day 6 out of the boot, I still couldn’t walk without a significant limp. The pain was intense with every single step. Fortunately, I had my six week post-op check that morning. (I was actually almost eight weeks post-op: for various reasons, all related to weather, either the office or I had to cancel two previous appointments). The reason I mention this is because I had to, or chose to, make decisions during this two week time frame about how and what I would do. I even went so far as to email the PA and tell him after the first appointment cancellation that I was taking myself out of the boot, and I hoped that was ok. To his credit and my discredit, he replied that he could not medically authorize that without seeing me and getting x-rays first. I chose to be rogue and go AMA (against medical advice), and I paid the price  — twice. First with the fall on my first day in round one without the boot, then with the whole episode of progressively worsening pain in round two walking in shoes. THIS was my first inkling that there was pie to be eaten…

The current reality…

I hobbled to my visit with the PA, on day six of round two AMA. I told him the whole story, and confessed all my transgressions. I’ve seen the same PA for most of my post-op visits, and he has been involved in at least two of my four foot/ankle surgeries with my foot surgeon, Dr. T.  Both Dr. T and the PA know my feet, ankles, and psychology well! Including my desire and need to get back out on the trails as soon as possible after surgery. To a degree, they both endorse this, as long as it doesn’t jeopardize their surgical work and my recovery in any way. This time, though, the X-rays showed a new stress fracture in my foot, and that really put me in my place. The surgical sites and structures were well healed, but this new problem had crept up quickly. In short, my walking too much too soon once out of the boot led to the development of a stress fracture in the third Metatarsal bone.  Perhaps the bones were softer from not being used, and apparently I went at the walking too aggressively, relieved as I was to finally be out of the boot. I have had a stress fracture before, and the pain and symptoms certainly fit with his diagnosis. The way I left it with the PA is that I would rest the foot for four more weeks, then return for further X-rays. And no more walking of any distance without the boot. I left the office humbled and depressed.

The aftermath…and a few words about my psychology.

End of the Lake Whatcom Trail…this is why I walk.

I lasted three full days without a walk. During that time, I sunk deeper into depression. Here is where things get interesting.  I write this believing that some of you can relate to my struggle for balance. Sharing and being honest and forthcoming about this part of my psychology is both an attempt to explain WHY I continually push the limits of what my body will allow physically, and an exploration into the whole question of “how much is enough, and how much is too much?”  I am not ignorant or unaware of the risks or trying to put my recovery in jeopardy. I do these things because, deep down, my NEED for some type of physical movement and especially contact with the outdoors is deep seated and real, such that I will go to extremes to make it happen. THIS particular struggle and balancing act, how much I can do following injury, surgery, or some other medical issue, has been a constant companion in my life for over 30 years. My stories about getting out too soon following something run round in my head like a broken reel tape. Why, then, don’t I stop pushing so hard? Why not just sit around and do nothing for days or weeks on end, letting my body heal and trust that things will take their course? To my credit, I can and do usually do that for at least a week following surgery. Then, my restless nature gets to me and I start scheming ways to get out and about.

It’s always the same, the struggle to know how much is enough and what is too much. I tend to err on the side of the latter, yet my ongoing quest is to find the former. Exercise and endorphins are addictive, yes, but I don’t need that so much. What I need is to be outside. Some part of me dies when I can’t be. For me, walking trails and being in nature feeds my soul to an immense degree. Hence the name of this blog, and my whole pursuit of walking, hiking, and backpacking. I am driven to go and to be there, in whatever capacity I can, and as soon as I can. So, after three days of no walks, being inside and sinking further into depression, I decided to go back into the boot for walks and hikes outside. The boot was and is trashed and duct taped almost beyond repair, and had to be retrieved out of the garbage.  But I made a decision on that Friday, three days after my visit and diagnosis, to go back into the boot and hike for the remaining weeks until I return to the PA for x rays. I had to restore balance.

The next steps…

Lake Padden with recent snow…

It’s been two weeks and a handful of days, and the hiking in the boot strategy is working! My foot is much better, and I have stayed 100% true to my pledge and promise not to hike in a shoe. I have taken hikes to places and in conditions that I would have missed had I not gone back to the boot. I am working and doing daily life in street shoes, a compromise the PA and I agreed upon. I can say with conviction that healing is taking place, and I am happy about that. And I know I will stick with the protocol. My knee, always troublesome, is another story. In the spirit of non-denial,  I made an appointment this week to see the knee surgeon, to determine if the pain and clunking is normal or something to be concerned about. I will take his advice to heart, and that’s a promise too.

But here is what I know. I know this “enough/too much” battle will continue. I am not out of the woods yet, I may never be completely. I get humbled by these experiences, and I do learn my lessons. I do take bites of that humble pie, and I think about what it would take for me to eat the whole thing.  But even as I do so, I know my tendency will always be too get out just as soon as I can, and sometimes that will be sooner than ideal. SO many people in my life have told me to be careful, to slow down, to not be so driven, to cut back. For all of those, I take a bite.  I am aware I “use” exercise and movement as tools to keep myself sane, no question about it. I am reliant on that, and it is hands down may best coping mechanism for dealing with stress. Sometimes it’s too much and too soon.  What I want to say is that I AM listening, and that I am getting the message!

It’s a work in progress, and a repetitive theme of my life — not just with exercise, but in all areas. As I work on writing my memoir, I am exploring this theme of how much is enough and what is too much, in depth. I have settled into my exploration, with full awareness of my tendencies, and full commitment to discern for myself my own boundaries in this area. I will continue to share on this topic, and would welcome your thoughts. EVERYONE has an area of life in which they must ask themselves these same hard questions.  I believe that by getting open and honest about our deepest areas of struggle we can make headway into dealing with them.

My hope is that, by writing this post and laying it out there,  you may be inspired to ask yourself the same hard questions. Where in life do you push too hard and pay a price? Work? Over commitment? Lack of sleep? Poor nutrition? Substance use? Care-taking others over yourself?  Too much electronic escape? When is it all enough, when is it too much?  Unquestionably, life is a long , sometimes arduous, complicated journey filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s only about surviving and making it through one day at a time. We all have our fallbacks and coping mechanisms that we use to get through these times. Some are clearly more destructive than others. I am the first to admit I have dabbled and jumped head on into far more dangerous territory than reliance on exercise in my past.  I have conquered significant mountains of overcoming, the specifics of which I am currently reliving as I write my memoir. On the whole I feel quite satisfied with where I am in my ongoing quest to find balance in life. Right now the exercise vs. rest is my biggest challenge.

What is yours?

 

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