After a few earlier botched attempts, I finally got out for my first solo backpack trip. My intentions were specific and my expectations relatively simple. I wanted to go out on my own, hike some miles with my backpack full of gear, spend the night alone in the tent, and hike back out. I wanted a hike of 10 – 12 miles each way, for a reasonable total of 20 -24 for the two days. Mostly, I just needed to DO IT, to get over my fear of going out alone. My solo hike of the JMT is coming up very quickly, and time is running out to get that obstacle crossed off my list.
I didn’t have a specific location in mind, so I drove to the Marblemount Ranger Station, the “Gateway to the North Cascades”. I have found that forest rangers usually have good recommendations of the type of hike or backpack trip one is looking for, and updated information about conditions as well. The ranger that helped me was perhaps a bit inexperienced, as she didn’t have any stellar ideas to fit what I was looking for. I was feeling impatient, as I had left Bellingham later than planned, and so I settled on the first thing that sounded even remotely satisfactory. I secured my permit for a one night stay at Cosho Campground, ten miles in off of the Easy Pass Trailhead, right off Highway 20.
I had been to Easy Pass only once on a day hike two years previous. It’s a spectacular hike, with memorable views from the top. I know from experience, though, that “Easy Pass” is not easy. It’s 2800 feet of elevation in 3.7 miles, the steepest part of which switchbacks up very loose rock. But I figured that would be the most challenging part of the hike, and it would be over early and quickly. I didn’t know what lay beyond Easy Pass, but the ranger assured me it was “very pretty country”.
I drove to the trailhead, and was surprised to see no cars in the parking lot. It was 12:45 when I arrived, and I didn’t figure anyone would be flying in after to pass me on my way in. I knew then that I would be in complete and utter solitude for the hike in, overnight, and probably most of the hike out. My desire for solo backpacking was going to get met in spades!
I started out feeling the weight of my pack. I hadn’t overpacked, but I did bring most of what I will bring on the JMT (with the exception of all the food, of course). So my pack was a bit heavy, I was feeling sluggish, and I felt strange heading out into the unknown alone. I managed to hit my stride once I was out of the forest, and could see the pass ahead. The sun was out, and I was looking forward to the views from the pass.
Looking up Easy Pass
View from Easy Pass
I ascended the pass carefully and steadily, through rock and snow. I topped out, and the views were as spectacular as I remembered. I took some time to wander around, and snap some photos of the plethora of stately and majestic peaks in each direction. I had no map or trail guide to consult, so I had to make do with enjoying but not identifying the surrounding peaks.
As I left the pass, it became clear that the trail dropped down steeply and convincingly. I am not sure what I had expected, but not that. I thought it would meander for awhile, descend gradually into a meadow, and eventually down to Fisher Creek. But it plummeted with very steep switchbacks, one after the next. The scenery was grand, however, as wildflowers of every imaginable sort bloomed at their peak.
Trail starting it’s descent…
I entertained myself by trying to count the number of different wildflowers, but soon gave up and enjoyed them all. The distance down the steep switchbacks was about two miles, and then I was at Fisher Camp. My camp was just over four miles beyond that.
The grade eased up, but the trail conditions deteriorated significantly. It was at this time that I realized my mistake in forgetting to ask the ranger about the pattern of elevation gain and loss. I had also failed to ask her anything about the nature and condition of the trail. It was by all accounts overgrown, and not well maintained. I could see the direction it was headed, which was beautiful for awhile, but I knew it had to soon enter forest. There simply wasn’t enough open space to last four miles.
Direction trail is headed…
When the trail entered forest, it deteriorated even more. Now, in addition to the thick and overgrown brush that completely obscured the trail at times, there were multiple downed trees that created significant obstacles. I counted ten “log obstacles”, some of them very significant. Scrambling over trees and logs is not my favorite pastime, especially with a full pack. At times I felt discouraged by the nature of the trail, and asked myself WHY was I there? Of all the trails in the area, how did I end up clamoring over fallen trees and fighting my way through brush? But I was determined to keep my spirits up and view it as an adventure.
When I finally arrived at Cosho camp, it was in a deeply forested area. This is generally not my favorite type of campsite, as views are limited. Of the three available sites, I chose one right by the river, as it was peaceful with the constant sound of water. I set up my tent and cooked my dinner with only the sound of my own voice, the birds, and the river to keep me company. It was actually incredibly soothing. I hit the tent even before darkness fell.
After a decent sleep, I was up early the following morning, and back on the trail by 7:00 am. I retraced my steps, through the blow downs and salmon berries. I realized that I had descended not only the steep two miles, but most of the latter four as well. So it was a lot of up hill for the first six miles. I reminded myself that was what I had come for — practice, and putting the legs to the test with the weight of the pack. On the way back up the switchbacks, I couldn’t keep myself from taking multiple pictures of flowers. That served the purpose of distraction and rest! Here are a few more photos:
Western Tiger Lillies
Western Ladies Tresses
I topped out (again) at Easy Pass, and the rest was all downhill. I finally encountered two groups of people as I descended the pass. It was nice to see and chat with folks after my 24 hours alone in the wild! I arrived back at my car at 12:45, exactly 24 hours after I had left.
I learned some important things on this trip. I will incorporate these gems into future trips…
Get more information.
In retrospect, as mentioned, I should have asked the ranger for information on the route and trail conditions. Nothing I encountered was too challenging to deal with, but I always say “information is power”. It would have been nice to know what I was dealing with ahead of time. And while I am not generally a “map person”, I can see how having a map of the area can be very beneficial as well.
Trust your instincts and footing when you can’t see the path.
Back up to Easy Pass
In parts where the trail was completely obscured, I simply had to put one foot in front of the next, and see how it landed. It’s worth noting that in my care with this, I didn’t twist an ankle even once…which is a big accomplishment on any given trail, visible or not!
View the obstacles as challenges on the path to success!
In any endeavor, biking, hiking, or life, stressing about the obstacles brings me down. So I switched gears each time I encountered one, from a “not another!” mentality, to viewing it as opportunity to overcome whatever was keeping me from moving forward.
Focus on the positive and the “negatives” fall away.
The trip and trail wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but in retrospect, it was just what I needed. I wanted solitude, and I got that. I wanted hills and elevation, and I got that. I wanted wildflowers, views, and sunshine…and I certainly got all of that. So what was I complaining about? There was absolutely nothing “wrong” with this trip on the whole. With it’s challenges, it provided me an opportunity to choose to place my focus on it’s highlights and great aspects, and let the rest just be. Like life, it was full of ups and downs, clamoring followed by victory, moments of stress followed by relief that it really wasn’t that tough after all. I showed up, did my thing, and largely put to rest my fear of backpacking alone, one step and obstacle at a time. A victory for sure!
With these lessons in mind, I plan to head out tomorrow for solo backpack #2. This time I will go for two nights, and I may face rain, as the weather calls for such. I will not let fear of rain keep me away, as inevitably I will encounter inclement weather on the JMT. More opportunity to face down more fears. Stay tuned…