Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Church Mountain

Quick Trip to Church!

A Fun Outing to Church Mountain 

Mt. Baker from top of Church Mt.

Early last week, my boyfriend Doug and I took a rather spontaneous trip to Church — the mountain that is. Doug had just returned from a three-week road trip and family reunion the previous day, and I was coming off an intense three-week emotional roller coaster following my mom’s death and memorial, daughter’s wedding shower, and my birthday weekend. Jointly we decided that what we most craved was an escape into the mountains for a day.

Still early in the hiking season, we perused possible trails in and around Mt. Baker that might be accessible. Church Mountain, at 6100 feet, is a south facing slope, promising early snow-melt off.  It’s 3750 feet of elevation gain in 4.5 miles to the top — challenging enough, but manageable. Washington Trails Association trip reports showed folks making it to the meadow with ease, and some navigating snowfields to the top. We decided to take our traction devices and go for it. 

We got a bit of a late start, leaving Bellingham at noon. Sunshine and blue skies graced our hour-plus drive to the trailhead. There was much anticipation as we approached our first hike into high country together. After doing dozens and dozens of low-land hikes all spring, we’d been talking about this day for nearly four months. Finally, we were headed up to play in the mountains! 

The Trail up Church

There were only three cars in the parking lot when we arrived. One advantage of getting out early in the season is that popular trails like Church are still quiet. We were packed up and on the trail by 1:40. 

The trail starts out with a bang. The first three miles switchback steeply through dense forest. This section can be tedious if you don’t know of the expansive views that reward you when you break out into the meadow. The miles passed quickly enough for Doug and me, though, as we continued to catch up on each other’s lives.

The reward: Meadow with Baker views!

Soon we were at the meadow and had our first views of Mt. Baker sprawled out before us. We took a break to enjoy the display and put on traction devices — YakTrax for me, micro-spikes for Doug. The trail faded into non-existence as we wandered through the meadow. But with both of us having done Church multiple times before, we had no trouble navigating. We hopped the stream and made our way up, through an area of a previous snow slide. The snow was stable enough but steep as we headed straight up.

At the top we hit the trail again. The path ahead was clearly laid out, moving in an out of snow and meadow as far as we could see. We both wanted to keep going. The meadow sections held an abundance of yellow avalanche lilies, all poking their heads up to the welcome sunshine. We fell into an easy progression, up snowfield after snowfield. I led, kicking steps where it felt appropriate. I found the going easy after the birthday hike to Green Mountain with my son Kyle, an epic adventure but not one I wanted to repeat on this relaxing day. Doug admitted he felt a bit challenged in places, especially when the trail moved quickly from snow to brush on a steep slope. The footing at times required precision, but overall, was easy enough with traction devices and poles.

First snowfield

Second Snowfield

Doug navigating final snow traverse

The very last section of Church was a bit of a scramble. There is a cable that some people use for hand over hand progression,  but we opted to just work our way up the trail, a step at a time. We topped out at 4:50, just over three hours after we left the car.

Great place for a break!

The Summit!

From Church, the views were spectacular! We could see Mt. Baker and Shuksan, as well as other obvious peaks and landmarks. We chatted about more hikes to come in areas we could clearly see — Skyline Divide, Excelsior Pass, Goat Mountain. We had a great view of aptly named Kidney Lake(s)….there are more than one, but just one was melted out into a perfect shape. We sat there in awe, taking it all in, enjoying fully that we were the only ones who’d summited so far that day.

Last steep ascent to Church

Kidney Lake

Soon, however, we heard voices. Two young bucks, shirtless and excited, emerged over the top. They reminded me of Kyle with their youthful enthusiasm! The four of us chatted about hikes in the area, both of them students at Western and off for a summer of hiking and exploring. They left before we did, intending to “score some serious food in Bellingham.”

Just before we left, a very patient Doug got a chipmunk to come right up and grab a nut from his hand. No picture unfortunately, as I didn’t actually believe he’d succeed in his mission.  But it reminded me that I was on a peak with someone who takes life at a much more relaxed pace than me. I learned something in that moment. Slowing down allows for small pleasures that I have missed in my previous haste to move on to the next thing.  

Down and Back

Doug had wanted to head down right off the ridge, as in later season that’s doable. But clearly that path was too tenuous, so we returned via our way up. The sun was off the slopes by that time, which made it just a bit more challenging as the snow had hardened. But snowfield by snowfield we made our way back down to the meadow.

On one traverse, we watched two marmots going at it. They were standing up on their hind feet, having what appeared to be a boxing match, then moving in and out of their holes, chasing each other across the rocks, posturing back and forth. Fighting, mating, playing? Who knows, but it brought us great joy to watch their antics. Again, no picture, but a great memory and reward for moving slower and hence noticing more.

The rest of the hike was uneventful and quick. We scurried down the switchbacks, arriving at the car at 7:40, just over two hours after we left the top.

A great day all around, and a great way to start the “real” hiking season together. I am so looking forward to more to come. Someone must have said “The couple that hikes together stays together!”

 

 

 

Church Mountain: Testing the waters (and the feet!)

Memorial Day morning dawned sunny and beautiful. As I drove to meet a friend for an experimental hike up Church Mountain, I was feeling thoughtful and contemplative. The mountains are always a spiritual place for me, and what better way to explore spirituality than the physical challenges of a mountain called Church!

This wouldn’t be my first trip up Church, a nine-mile round-trip hike off the Mt. Baker Highway an hour from my house. But it would be significant for many reasons, and I had lots to ponder as we drove the winding mountain roads to the trailhead.

First, it would be my initial alpine adventure for 2016. There is always something momentous about my first foray into the mountains, leaving the lowland forest hikes behind to embark on an adventure above tree-line. Even after hiking trails near Mt. Baker for my entire 23 years in Bellingham, I never tire of the plethora of mountain views available so close to home.  Anticipating that setting brought a smile to my face as we drove.

Top of Church Mtn

At the top of the Church Mountain trail

Challenges

Second, Church Mountain’s steep trails and the presence of snow raised another issue for me to ponder as we drove. I was just 3.5 weeks post-op from the most recent surgery on my right foot and ankle, and just 5.5 months post-op from surgery on the left foot. In essence, that left me with no good foot to count on! Recent trail reports indicated the meadow was covered with snow, and the remainder of the hike would also be in snow should we choose to continue beyond. Normally, this would not be too daunting, as hiking in snow is something I have done a fair bit of. But with the recent round of foot and ankle surgeries I wasn’t at all sure what I could do. And I felt unusually cautious, not wanting to jeopardize the healing process for my feet.

So to help manage the fear and to set realistic expectations I made a deal with my hiking partner that we would go without expectation of reaching trail’s end.  And a deal with myself to make the goal simply to see how my feet would do, and to focus on enjoying the hike.

The path upwards

The first three miles were predictably tough. The trail is a beautiful walk through the forest, but it gains about 1000 feet a mile, which is continually up. I was hiking with poles, my new found friends following the foot, ankle and knee surgeries of recent years – I have learned to not be above getting help when I need it!

We finally broke out of the forest and into a gorgeous alpine meadow, where we stopped for lunch. My feet were in quite a lot of pain, and they were very grateful for the opportunity to rest. Memo to self: rest is like poles – don’t be too proud to use them.

After lunch we continued on, and now we were trekking through the snow. The foot pain was back.  I distracted myself from the pain and challenging conditions by telling my hiking partner about my new endeavor, the Tuppers2cents blog that you are currently reading. Sharing my excitement for this project kept me focused on something other than pain. While not ignoring my discomfort altogether, I found a balance of paying attention to it AND remaining conversationally engaged. We encountered many other hikers up to just what we were, continuing on towards the top. There is a camaraderie and joy among hikers out for an early season hike that is infectious beyond belief! I felt just like one of them, completely in my element, and it was easy to keep going, step by step.

To the top and back again

The mile and some following the meadow flew by, and soon we were very near the trail’s end. The last part is a rocky outcropping that gives a break from the snow, but is a bit exposed and tricky. Once we were at the base of that, I knew we would make it. It’s a safer kind of challenge for me, as I rock climbed extensively in my younger years. If I feel at all uneasy with terrain, I always implement the Three Points of Contact Rule I learned as a climber:  Keep three of four contact points (hands and feet) on the rock/path…when you feel solid, move only one and replace it with the fourth. That way, you will always have three points of contact secure on the path, and this increases stability and decreases the chance of a slip or fall. In this fashion, we ascended the top, and joined a handful of others enjoying the sun and circumferential views of all the surrounding peaks. The feeling of accomplishment was immense, and again I noticed that my feet liked the rest. After a round of pictures, we started our decent.

Church snow

Traversing the snow on the way down

The trip down is always more difficult and intimidating. I do not like traversing down snowfields, as the chances of slippage are greater. As we descended, I relied heavily on my poles, and felt at times like a grandma with my caution and slow pace. But what I know to be true, on hikes and in life, is that if I am steady, confident, and stable at each step, the chances are pretty darn good that I will be so in the following step as well. That is how we got down through the snow…one careful step at a time. It wasn’t the fastest hike down, and it was tedious. But I made it down without slip or incident, for which I was both grateful and relieved.

After the three mile forest trail, we arrived back at the car.

It’s about listening and trust

I felt an indescribable feeling of happiness and success…mixed with just a wee bit of concern.  I briefly worried, had I pushed too hard?  Would I pay a price for my ambitious adventure? Would I experience a setback of healing? Somehow, I knew intuitively none of that would happen. I trusted and listened to my body with each step and with every rest, and paid attention to the feedback I was getting. Plus there were just too many green lights from the universe along the way to believe harm would result.

At past times in my life, I have not always listened to my body so well. It is still something I struggle with, this desire to push the limits and jump back into things too quickly following injury or surgery. My desire and will to participate in life sometimes exceeds what my physical body is capable of. I am the first to admit I don’t have this delicate balance mastered, and each trek is an endeavor to refine the line between enough and too much.

But for this day on Church, the balance was there, and my desire and ability to keep going while still listening to the pain paid off. The hike was not only beautiful and rewarding…it gave me hope and inspiration for many more hikes to come as snow continues to melt and paths continue to clear.

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