Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Copper Ridge Loop

Copper Ridge Loop — Final Day

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

Egg Lake, morning view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the Trip

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

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

Reflections on Falling

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

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

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

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

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

Last shot of Mt. Baker

 

 

 

Copper Ridge Loop — Day 4

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

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

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

River Fords

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

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

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

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

Copper Ridge Trail to Copper Lake

Copper Mountain

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

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

First views, finally!

Mt. Redoubt in distance

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

Boulder crossing, scene of fall #3

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Mt. and Whatcom Peak from Ridge Trail

View from Copper Ridge…

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

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

Classic view of Mt. Redoubt

Mt. Lindeman, Right; Middle Peak, left

 

Copper Ridge Trail

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

Copper Lake

Looking back on Copper Lake

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

Copper Lake to Copper Mountain Lookout

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

Clouds building over Mineral Mountain

Looking up to Copper Mt. Lookout — finally!

Looking down into the Chilliwack River Valley, 4000 feet down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Shuksan from lookout

Southern Pickets! Including Mt. Fury and Phantom Peak

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

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

Panorama from Copper Lookout

Copper Lookout to Egg Lake

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

Toilet with a view!

Windy selfie, Mt. Redoubt on my shoulder

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

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

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

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

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

Headed down the correct trail from the lookout

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

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

Egg Lake, finally!

Campsite at Egg Lake

Egg Lake Campsite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpenglow on Copper Mountain, end of a great day!

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak from Whatcom Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. Do you have bear spray?”

“No, should I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Glacier from trail to Tapto Lakes

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

Tapto Lakes

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

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

Tapto Lakes

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

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

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

Middle Lakes

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

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

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

Challenger Glacier from Middle Lakes

Lower Middle Lake

Fall Color on Red Mountain

Upper MIddle Lake

Windy selfie at Upper Middle Lake

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

Whatcom Pass to Indian Creek  (8.1 miles)

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

Clouds building up as I head down…

Creek headed down from Whatcom Pass

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

Cool log formations on trail to Indian Creek

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

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

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

Suspension Bridge over Indian Creek

Chilling in the River!

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

Bathing spot at Indian Creek

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

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

Campsite Day 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 2

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

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

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

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

U.S. Cabins to Brush Creek Trail Junction

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

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

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

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

The infamous Magnum belay spot!

Cable car

Pack’s in, now to load in self…

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

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

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

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

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

Brush Creek Trail to Whatcom Pass

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

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

Whatcom Peak making an appearance.

One of many creek crossings headed up the pass

Glad the trail isn’t going that way!

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

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

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

Day hike exploration — Little Beaver Trail and Whatcom Arm

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

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

Top of Whatcom Pass, with Challenger Glacier

Challenger Glacier

Looking down into Little Beaver Valley

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

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

Campsite excitement!

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

Campsite at Whatcom Pass

View from my campsite

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge Loop and Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 1

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

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

But backpacking with a splint? No problem.

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

View from Copper Mountain Lookout

Stats on my trip:

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

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

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

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

Trailhead to Hannegan Pass

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

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

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

Ruth Mountain from Hannegan Pass Trail

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

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

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

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

Shuksan from Hannegan Peak

Top of Hannegan Peak, with Baker and Shuksan

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

View North to BC peaks and Silesia Creek Valley

Hannegan Pass to U.S. Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset on unknown peak from campsite, Day 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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