Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Forest fires

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.


Mt. Baker looking good in blue!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats on Yellow Astor Butte

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

The Hike in

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


Baker view trail break!

Still plenty of flowers on the trail…

Camping at one of many Yellow Astor Ponds!

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

Looking down on tarns…where to camp?

Where we settled.

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

Doug’s take on the trip…

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

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

Mt. Baker from our campsite

Our cooking rock with views of Shuksan and Baker

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

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

Baker in last light

Mt. Shuksan in last light

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

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

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

Doug in his COTTON pajamas…he wanted comfort!

Day hike to Tomyhoi Peak — Doug’s report

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

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

Kathie’s Note:

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

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

Doug starting up trail to Tomyhoi Peak

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

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

Not far below summit of Tomyhoi

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



Trip Highlights!

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

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


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

Enjoy the remaining weeks of summer!


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

Mt. Slesse from Tomyhoi

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






Smoky Mt. Pugh!

Mt. Pugh (also know as ‘Da Klagwats) — August 3, 2017

Yep, Mt. Pugh is pronounced just like it sounds — PUGH!  I initially had some resistance to climbing this peak because I didn’t like the name! It’s also a challenging one, gaining 1000 feet a mile for 5.5 miles, with a fair amount of exposed scrambling at the end.  I’ve done it twice now, and each time the rewards have been more than worth the effort. Even in the pervasive forest fire smoke, which is how I did it last week. Smoke caused the mountain to live up to it’s name, and it certainly obscured the stellar views at the top. But I knew all of that would be the case, and still, I was inspired to go do Pugh. And I am extremely glad I did.

Stats on Mt. Pugh

LOCATION — off the Mountain Loop highway, 12.5 miles from Darrington.  A signed forest road (FR 2095) leads to this obscure trailhead. There is no parking lot, just pull-outs for several cars, 1.5 miles after the turn-off.    NO Forest Pass required.     DISTANCE — 11 miles RT.    ELEVATION GAIN — 5300 feet.   HIGH POINT — 7201 feet.     DIFFICULTY LEVEL   —  “Very Hard” (according to alltrails).

Why Mt. Pugh?

The first time I did Mt. Pugh was in the immediate aftermath of 2015 forest fires that also permeated Northwest Washington’s air for a couple of weeks. That time, I hiked Pugh right after the smoke had cleared, and my partner Gregg and I were treated to fantastic views all around, as well as clear air, for the first time in weeks. What a joy!! We worked hard to get there, but soaked in every minute of our victory as we sat surrounded by an abundance of peaks — magnificent’s like Glacier Peak,  Mt. Baker, and Shuksan all staring us down, Mt. Ranier and the Olympics farther in the distance, and Monte Cristo, Three Fingers, White Chuck and Sloan Peak right in front of us. Oh, to have pictures of that hike now…

(This is what I would love to see — Baker left, Sloan Peak middle, Shuksan right. This photo from Beaudaddy85’s Image Gallery)

When I chose to return last Thursday, I had to carry the memories of those views in my mind. I knew the smoke from Canadian fires was dense, and I didn’t expect views. What I did expect was a challenging hike, with plenty of time in my head. I often problem solve on hikes, and I embarked on Pugh in part for that purpose. Also, I needed a Vesper Redemption Hike, since my last peak challenge on sometimes iffy trail didn’t go so well. Alone on my mission, I wanted the workout and contemplative headspace I knew Pugh would deliver — and I wanted to feel confident doing it.

The Hike Up

Part of my challenge of Vesper was time, and I didn’t want a repeat here. On the eve of both hikes I had an evening writing class, and with Vesper, I missed it despite my best efforts. With Pugh, I left the Lake Goodwin summer home at 8:00 am sharp, so as to allow enough time to hike and return to the lake by 6:00 for my online class.  I really wanted time to enjoy this hike without the intense pressure of time I so often set myself up for.

I was on the trail by 9:30. Immediately and relentlessly, I was switchbacking in forest. The trail gained 1300 feet in the first 1.5 miles, opening up briefly at Lake Metan. There was camping to the right at this lake junction, but the Pugh trail continued left, marching up even steeper switchbacks under forest canopy for a couple more miles.

At 3-plus miles and 4900 feet, the trail opened up again and for good into a boulder field. Here, I encountered two young women with a dog — and an abundance of bugs! The women had been to the top, and confirmed that there were no views. But one proclaimed, “The cardiovascular work out alone was totally worth it!” A hiker after my own heart. Those women proved to be the only two people I saw on the trail all day.

First smoky views

Leaving the boulders (and some of the bugs) behind, the trail began the steep climb to Stujack Pass. This section was dusty switchbacks, with plenty of loose rock and larger rock steps to negotiate.  Not my favorite, but very manageable. The trail did have some erosion, and I took extra care to make sure my footing held. As I progressed, I could see behind me only the merest outline of Sloan Peak and Three Fingers. But views down the Sauk River Valley weren’t too smoky. And the trail ahead wound it’s way up a  slope full of wildflowers! THAT was my reward on this hike, I decided, since mountain views were all hazed in.  I took an abundance of pictures, fully enjoying the accompaniment of the wildflower blanket that embraced the trail.

Field of flowers ahead…

Headed up Stujack Pass

I reached Stujack pass, at 5750 feet, easily enough. According to trail reports, many hikers opt to stop here. I can see why — views would be great on a clear day, and the trail definitely increases in difficulty after this point. Stopping here wasn’t in the plans for me, though. I officially entered the Glacier Peak Wilderness, and continued on with my summit quest.

The Summit Quest!

From Stujack to summit was 1500 feet in just over a mile. Trip reports and WTA’s site made this part sound rather intimidating. There was talk of a “knife edge” portion of the trail, with exposure and scrambling required.  I remembered it from two years ago as not being that bad, and I wondered if my memory was simply dulled by the years. As I meticulously and carefully worked my way up, those sections did exist, and yes, there was some exposure and a fair bit of non-technical scrambling, but for whatever reason, none of it presented a challenge for me. I am inherently comfortable on rock, as I used to rock climb, and I never felt uncertain of which way to go or questioned my safety. It WAS a bit strange having the place all to myself, but it was also exhilarating! My only sadness was the lack of views. The hazy peak outlines gave a surreal quality to the surroundings, and I had to make do with views closer in. At one point, I could see down both the White Chuck River Valley and the Sauk River Valley, one on each side of the mountain as I climbed steadily up.

White Chuck River Valley

Socked in Sauk River Valley

Layers of haze…

After a couple of false summits, eventually I topped out. It was just before 1 pm, my total time from car to summit just under 3.5 hours. With all my photo breaks, that wasn’t too bad.  I sat on the top, gazing around at the hazy smoke, and ate a hearty lunch. Even though I could see little, I felt warmly encompassed by the presence of the mountains. And I loved being up there alone. It reminded me of my John Muir solo backpack last summer — working hard, gaining a peak or pass, and relishing in the victory. Sometimes it’s great to do that with others, and sometimes, solitude is what I crave most. Alone on the summit of Pugh, smoke and all, was just where I wanted to be.

Summit view…there are mountains out there somewhere…

Small tent site right on top of Pugh!

The Way Back

Always time conscious, I headed back down at 1:30. I knew caution was necessary heading down the craggy upper section, and I didn’t want to feel rushed. I DID lose the trail — twice — going down. I could tell others had done the same thing. I’d follow evidence of foot prints for a short bit, until, clearly, I was into rocks that were too abrupt to descend safely. Then I would backtrack to the obvious “trail”, and see that the way down was in a different direction. I never went down farther than I could get back up, but it was interesting nonetheless that I did this twice. I felt silly in my transgressions, and glad that no one was watching!

Once off the rocks, and back down Stujack, I breathed a sigh of relief. While I never felt at risk descending upper portions of the trail, it was great to be back to the straightforward switchbacks. Hitting an easy downhill stride here,  I found myself reflecting on WHY this hike was so much less stressful for me than Vesper Peak, which completely drained me. Part of it was that the difficult parts of Pugh were broken up with straightforward trail. Vesper never eased up, moving swiftly from rocks and roots, to overgrown trail, to scree and boulders, and, finally snow.  Pugh had vast moments — including the 3.5 miles of forest switchbacks — that allowed for mindless hiking, one foot in front of the other. I like that in a trail. I cruised down, reaching the car at 3:45, more than an hour faster than I went up.

Sloan Peak started showing up a bit more on my way down.

Headed back down the trail of flowers.


I realize most people would not voluntarily embark on a view hike in dense forest fire smoke. But it ended up being just what I needed and wanted:  A long, but doable day hike with significant elevation gain, solitude, and plenty of wildflowers.

And the smoke added mystery and brought on much reflection, as I thought back to my first John Muir Trail trip in August, 2015. That 220-mile backpack trip was nearly cut short by smoke from California’s huge Rogue Fire, raging nearby and closing some passes just off the JMT.  But my hiking partner Gregg and I chose to press on, despite strong recommendations from rangers to evacuate the trail, and the fact that most thru-hikers chose to do just that.  Our decision to stay on, despite pervasive smoke, meant that we had the trail nearly to ourselves at times, and we were able to finish our mission. Completing that trip was a huge milestone for me, as I’d never backpacked three weeks in a row. That trip gave me confidence to take on a solo trip of the JMT in the summer of 2016, an even bigger accomplishment. The solo trip became the basis of my current memoir project — which is what all the current writing classes are about. All those connections filtering out from the smoke!

For me, then, the whole Pugh experience was grand. Everything worked out perfectly. Including the fact that I was back at the lake in plenty of time for my 6:00 class!

Know if you go…

This hike is hard. And it does have exposure. Each hiker can and should read trip reports, and make an initial assessment of their comfort with this. But under normal circumstances, efforts are rewarded with spectacular views at Stujack Pass, so even to get that far is well worth the effort. Beyond that point, a hiker can go as far as he or she feels safe, and turn around at any point if it feels like too much. And to make the summit on a clear day is simply sublime, a fact I can testify to from 2015’s hike. All the caution, exertion, and sweat required to get there is completely worth it!

Added bonus:  when I went a week ago, wildflowers were at their peak.  And the bugs were out, but not too bad.

Prepare for flowers!

Final thoughts…

So far this year, I have done four major peaks with trails off the Mountain Loop highway. Here are links to trip reports for the first three in case you missed them: Green Mountain, Vesper Peak, and Mt. Dickerman. There are other peaks in the area of course, (including easily accessible and climbable Mt. Pilchuck, which I have done several times before), but it felt good completing the Big Four.  It’s hard to rank them, as each has their merits. Vesper was unquestionably the most challenging, for all the reasons I’ve stated; Green was snow-filled and calls for a repeat later this season; Dickerman was just fantastic, and Pugh, while smoky, offered contemplation and perfection in it’s own way. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to climb all these magical mountains, so easily accessible from Lake Goodwin. Even if you travel a bit farther, each is worth a visit in it’s own right!

Climb on!






Delightful Mt. Dickerman

Mt. Dickerman (July 31, 2017)

In all my years of hiking, I had never done Mt. Dickerman, despite it’s easy access right off the mountain loop highway. Had I missed out!  Doug and I hiked this gem early last week, on a sunny weekday before the smoke from Canadian Wildfires came in. Few people for a very popular day hike, summit views that couldn’t be beat, perfect weather, and just the right amount of challenge all made for a  perfect day. This hike was quite possibly my favorite this year.  Sometimes you stumble upon things at just the right time…

View from Mt. Dickerman

Stats on Mt. Dickerman

Location  —  Mountain Loop Highway, east of Granite Falls     Required — Northwest Forest Pass    Distance — 8.2 Round trip     Elevation gain  3950 feet   High Point — 5760    Difficulty Level  “Hard”  (according to Mountaineers…we found it moderate)

Why Mt. Dickerman?

This hike is very popular, and it’s crazy that it never got on my radar. Thinking back, it’s because an old boyfriend had a bad experience in snow early season, and that colored his impression. His recollections colored mine, and I never even thought of it as an option. But with all the time I’ve been spending at the Lake Goodwin summer home, and searching for day hikes close by, it seemed a good bet for Doug and I as a Monday hike based from the lake.  Doug HAD done it before, but he had done it in fog and with no views. So he was more than game to do it again.  

Mt. Dickerman trailhead is located directly off the Mountain Loop highway, which no doubt increases it’s popularity. There are no bad logging roads to be had. The parking lot also accesses Perry Creek, another day hike which I know nothing about. Reading trip reports on this hike, people often comment that these two hikes are so busy, you can’t find a spot in the large lot. But on this weekday late morning, there were only a dozen cars in the parking lot, a good omen for us.

The Hike!

It was a typically late start for Doug and me, and we didn’t hit the trail until nearly noon. As we were heading out, we spoke with a couple just coming off the mountain. They said it was the best hike they’d done — ever! It’s hard to beat that, and Doug and I set off enthusiastically on our mission to the top. 

The switchbacks for the first couple of miles seemed endless. Steady and steep, with nothing but a rather boring forest to get through. It was a warm, cloudless day, with plenty of sweating to be had. But we knew we’d be rewarded for our efforts, so we pressed on. 

After several miles, we started getting our first peek-a-boo views. We could see Big Four and Vesper Peak, the hike that had nearly defeated me a couple of weeks before. We passed a few people coming down, but mostly had the trail to ourselves, something that seemed remarkable after reading about the popularity of the hike. 

Big Four

First wildflowers

Once we broke into meadow, we were rewarded with wildflowers, at their peak right about now. The flowers and switchbacks continued, with views every which way. At one point, a gal and her dog coming down said encouragingly “Only 1/4 mile to go!” Dickerman has lots of false summits, and she was not exactly right in her assessment. But we pressed on, switchback after switchback. The going wasn’t particularly challenging, and we were easily distracted from the seemingly endless ‘up’ by the unfolding views. 

Views just keep coming…

Trail views!

I wasn’t sure what to expect on top. On almost every hike Doug and I have done this year, we have ended up with the summit to ourselves. Perhaps its because we are able to hike on weekdays, perhaps because we tend to get a late start, but for whatever reason, this has been our experience on all recent alpine hikes. Dickerman’s top was amazingly similar. 

The Summit!

The summit of Mt. Dickerman was sublime — and worth every step and drop of sweat to gain it. There were more summit views than we could fathom. Doug occupied himself taking pictures every which way and trying to discern which peaks were which. We based ourselves on the very top, right near the edge that drops sharply north into adjacent valleys between Stillaguamish Peak, Mount Forgotten, and Twin Peaks. To the west and north, we could see Three Fingers, Whitehorse, White Chuck, Mt. Pugh and Sloan Peak.  Beyond, we could see Mt. Baker, Shuksan, and Glacier Peak. Also visible were Monte Cristo, Del Campo, Morningstar, Sperry, Vesper Peak, Big Four, and Mt. Pilchuck. It was a peak lovers paradise! 

Del Campo, Vesper Peak, and Mt. Sperry

Happy and sweaty at the top

Three Fingers and Whitehorse from top

In terms of people, there was just one lone guy and two gals up there with us. The summit was large, and there were many places to hang out. All summits should be like that of Dickerman, as each hiker or hiking party could claim their spot and enjoy solitude or choose to interface with others. We chatted with the guy, a student of Naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle, and watched the two gals below entertaining birds by letting them eat out of their hands. We enjoyed sandwiches and fruit, our current go to trail food, and completely immersed ourselves in all the glory the summit had to offer. I was simply blown away that I had never been up there, and enjoyed every minute of soaking it all in. 

We stayed on top for an hour, but time, again, was getting away from us. We headed down about 4:00, so as to be back at the car by 6:00. The switchbacks down were steep and monotonous, but it was a small price to pay for the overall experience. We returned to the lake for dinner, a great way to  end a fantastic day. 

Doug and Whitehorse and Three Fingers

Mt. Sperry left (snow covered), Vesper Peak, right (rock)

Chilling on top…Mt. Baker in back

Glacier peak in back


An easily accessible peak I had not done before, in full sunshine with stellar views, a reasonable distance and challenge, and a popular hike with no crowds — it doesn’t get much better than that. Every aspect of Mt. Dickerman was a highlight!

However, the highlights of this hike really hit home in the aftermath. Returning to Bellingham Monday night, we had no idea what was coming our way. Waking up Tuesday morning, smoke from multiple fires in Canada had completely permeated the region, all the way down to Seattle and over to the Olympic Peninsula. Suddenly, Whatcom county and every surrounding county was in a smoke filled haze. A week later, as I write this post, that is still the case. The fact that Doug and I got to experience the beauty of Mt. Dickerman just before the smoke made it all the more significant in hindsight.

If you go…

Go mid-week if you can. It’s difficult to imagine what this hike would be like on a busy summer weekend. Possibly similar to North Bend’s Mt. Si, although the parking lot doesn’t hold anywhere near as many cars. Our experience was so completely shaped by the lack of people and crowds,  I am sure it would be different if we had to deal with those things.

Go on a clear day. Doug had done this hike before, but with almost no views from the summit. He was blown away by the difference the views made in terms of work required to get there.

While the hike is nearly 1000 feet a mile, it didn’t seem that hard. For whatever reason, perhaps because we’ve been hiking so much, or perhaps because the views once you exit the forest just kept getting better and better, the four miles flew by. The effort of this hike was completely erased by the outstanding rewards on the summit. 

WTA aptly sums it up:  “With the possible exception of Hidden Lake Lookout, this is the finest summit view around — a rare chance to get so close to so many other summits at the same time. Mount Dickerman may have asked a lot of you to get here, but it will have more than held up it’s end of the bargain.”

Here’s the link to WTA’s info. on Mt. Dickerman


Day 9 John Muir Trail

Goddard Canyon Junction to Wanda Lake

Total JMT miles  —  11.8             Elevation gain/loss  —  +2900/-0

Day 9 was interesting in all respects. I awoke feeling nostalgic and thoughtful. Today was the day to meet up with my three friends–Oliver, his brother Dave, and Dave’s daughter Olivia–to both receive a food resupply from them and to hang out for two days and nights until parting ways on Day 11. They were to hike in over an intensely challenging pass, Le Marc Col, and drop down to Evolution Lake, then continue along the JMT to Wanda Lake, where we had arranged to meet at 5 pm. I would be headed up to Evolution Lake, and doing the same stretch of the JMT, until the meeting at 5:00. We didn’t try to arrange a get-together earlier in the day, or sooner in mileage, because there were too many variables to predict who would be where, and when. So the end of the day at Wanda was the plan.

I therefore had all day to be in my head and prepare for my time with them. After eight full days alone, I was mostly excited to see them and looking forward to sharing stories with familiar faces. Also, however, I had some mixed feelings, as Oliver is a former boyfriend with whom I had only recently rekindled a friendship. In our past life together, we had done a multitude of hikes and backpacking trips, including one with my daughter, Shannon, in the Sierras in the summer of 2012, the first time I visited the beautiful country I was now in. While I loved many aspects of that first trip to the Sierras, our time was unfortunately clouded with some heavy conflict. While I had pretty much worked through all that, it was interesting (to say the least) to anticipate traveling familiar territory again with Oliver under very different and much better circumstances.

Alas, with relationships on my mind, the early morning at Goddard Canyon campsite saw me watching the nearby couples (the ones with all the laundry hanging in camp) packing up and heading out. There were two couples, and they worked quietly and compatibly even before daylight, to get packed up and move out. They were on the trail by 6:30! I was impressed with their efficiency and obvious effective partnerships. As I watched, ate breakfast, and did my morning writing, I reflected further about relationships and my current state of being alone vs. my very real desire to have a partner:  both to do things with and in my life overall.

Also on my mind was last year’s JMT hiking partner, Gregg. While he and I had partnered very well for the most part during two fabulous summers of intense hiking and backpacking together, we found that we did not have enough in common in the rest of our lives to sustain the relationship. That relationship ended in spring 2016. This topic then–of relationships past, my current state of being alone, and my desire for future partnership–accompanied me throughout Day 9.

Evolution Creek

Evolution Creek

I got organized and on the trail by 7:45 am. The first task before me was the Evolution Creek wade, 1.6 miles after leaving camp. Even in the mid-August dry season, this creek is only passable by wading right through it. I remembered this from last year, stressing and debating with Gregg, shoes on or off, sandals or bare feet, what was the best way to do it? We finally both just walked through with our boots on, as it seemed safest and easiest. This year, I didn’t give it a second thought. I walked right in, boots on, using my poles for balance as I crossed. Getting my feet and boots wet, yet having stability for the crossing, far surpassed any other plan given my surgically repaired feet and unstable knee. On the other side, I didn’t even stop to change my socks, figuring I’d walk for an hour or so, give things a chance to dry out, then stop.

But my already reflective mood was magnified ten-fold during the next several miles as my soggy feet and I trudged along. It was during this stretch of trail on last year’s trip that Gregg and I first became aware of smoke from the Rogue Fire, an event that dramatically changed the remainder of our trip.  From the moment the first hiker told us of smoke, the air on the JMT suddenly shifted. It wasn’t even the smoke itself at first, but it was the talk of smoke. From the shores of Evolution Creek until the end of our hike, the smoke, with all it’s ramifications, was to be a continual topic of conversation and concern… between Gregg and I, among all passing hikers, and with the rangers we encountered along the trail. Many hikers left the trail, abandoning their JMT quest altogether. Some kept on, wearing face masks and hankies to shield themselves from smoke. The visibility, as reported by the rangers, was down to 1/4 mile. Long story short, after 24 hours of discussion and considering all variables, Gregg and I decided to persevere with our quest. We continued the 100 + miles remaining on the JMT, and yes we had obscured views, but not completely and certainly not all the time. We also had the trail practically to ourselves periodically, especially in the first few days. It was eerie how quiet it became after so many hikers left. On the whole, we were extremely happy that we did continue…and the smoke also added an incentive for me to return this year, to see all that I had missed in year one because of it.

Somewhere along the trail...

Somewhere along the trail…

It was on this same five-mile stretch–from Evolution creek to the base of Darwin Canyon, which ascends to Evolution Valley, Basin, and Lake–that I spent the remainder of my morning walking, stopping, contemplating, and reminiscing. The trail winds through three meadows, Evolution, McClure and Colby. It’s a magical place of cascading waterfalls, canyons, and eventually fantastic views of the basin’s peaks…all named after the founders and developers of evolutionary science.

A brief and interesting side note about the naming of Evolution Valley and it’s surroundings: In  1895, a Stanford professor and visionary of the JMT, Theodore Solomons, named the six prominent peaks he could see from his post in what he came to call Evolution Basin. He called them Darwin, Fiske, Haeckel, Huxley, Spencer and

Mt. Huxley

Mt. Huxley

Mts. Darwin and Mendal

Mts. Darwin and Mendal

Wallace, in honor of the prominent proponents of the newly identified field of evolutionary science. Mt. Mental was later added to the grouping. He also named Evolution Creek and Lake, with the associated Valley and Basin in between.  Solomons wrote of the naming: “I could think of none more fitting than the great evolutionists, so at one in their devotion to the sublime in nature”.  This lore and history adds significantly to the intrigue of the place, where one perceives clearly how the formation and slow change of the physical world in the long-distant past has created a magical environment for us to enjoy today.

So there I was, entertaining heavy thoughts about past trips in the area with past partners while wandering through this magical place named after pioneers in the field of evolutionary science. I felt like anything but “the fittest” speciman of the human species during those miles, and I am thankful that not only the fittest survive the JMT! I was slow, easily distracted, constantly taking breaks, and basically in a highly unsettled and extremely inefficient hiking state. While I cannot say exactly why I moved so slowly and aimlessly, I know that having all of the above thoughts on my mind was somewhat overwhelming.  It took me over four hours to cover the six + miles to a particular set of switchbacks that I had been anticipating all morning. I had done the switchbacks twice the previous year with Gregg: once when we day hiked up to Darwin’s Bench to see how much the smoke was really affecting things, and the following morning after we decided to stay on the JMT. I KNEW once I hit those switchbacks I would finally hit my stride, but it took me all morning to get there.

Finally, I hit the switchbacks, and the switch flipped on! Similar to past experiences gaining passes or ridges, I flew up the switchbacks, urgently yet effortlessly. Past the cut off to Darwin’s bench, and past the last stunted trees, and into the opening of Evolution Basin and Evolution Lake. I was so very grateful to be there. It was a weird, rough morning in many ways, and breaking out to the lake was immensely rewarding. I was moving right along, keeping a steady, fast pace, while glancing over at the lake. There were several parties of folks, some doing yoga on the shore, others eating and resting. I wondered briefly if any of them were Oliver, Dave, and Olivia, but I knew none of them would be doing yoga! As I continued around the lake, though, I was met with three smiling faces when I came upon them on the far shore having a late lunch. Oh, what perfect timing! My feeling of relief multiplied, as I knew in that moment I would experience no other stress that day…about schedules, being on time, or wondering if the planning of where and when to meet would all work

Evolution Lake, Mt. Huxley (left), Goddard Divide (right)

Evolution Lake, Mt. Huxley (left), Goddard Divide (right)

Oliver, Olivia, and Dave at Evolution Lake

Oliver, Olivia, and Dave at Evolution Lake

out. There they were, and as happy to see me as I was to see them!

After rounds of hugs, I ate the remainder of my lunch with them, and we shared stories about their very challenging route over Le Marc Col and my time on the trail. As we all hiked the remaining 2.3 miles together to Wanda Lake, my fears

Mt. Solomon (left) and Goddard Divide, on the trail to Wanda Lake

Mt. Solomon (left) and Goddard Divide, on the trail to Wanda Lake

and anxieties continued to dissolve. I felt at peace, relaxed, and reassured by the ease with which we all fell into hiking and being together. We took a leisurely break at Sapphire Lake, a simply beautiful, deeply hued lake. I loved this lake so much last year, I

Sapphire Lake

Sapphire Lake

Sapphire the kitty

Sapphire the kitty

named my cat after it, for her deep blue eyes.

 We reached the shores of Wanda Lake (named after one of John Muir’s daughters) about 4:00, ahead of

Wanda Lake

Wanda Lake

our projected 5:00 meeting time. We shared a truly lovely evening together, including a swim for me (Wanda Lake, at 11, 380 elevation, is no bathtub!), dinner, and a beautiful sunset. I felt thankful and so appreciative to them for hiking over to meet me, especially upon learning how challenging the route was. Of all methods of receiving food on the JMT, a hand delivery is hands down the best…and I was blessed to be the recipient of that. And I appreciated the added bonus of hanging out with the three of

Campsite at Wanda

Campsite at Wanda

Warm clothes after a dunk in Wanda Lake

Warm clothes after a dunk in Wanda Lake

them for a couple of days, which I was very much looking forward to. As I took final pictures of the glorious sprawl laid before me before crawling into bed I felt a sense of complete peace and satisfaction.

Highlights of the day

Going to the place of thinking about relationships.

So much of why I went on the trip alone had to do with coming into my own…as a strong woman, independent of any need for a man to support me. This is a much bigger topic than a blog post highlight, but on this day I actually started thinking about what I really want in my life in terms of relationships.  I allowed the idea to creep in that there is a part of me that wants a romantic partner. I realized that being independent and solo has its place and time, and I was thrilled to be doing just that. But the events and memories of the day DID cause me to start really considering what I want for my life in the future. I don’t have it all figured out, most assuredly, but I did get back to the place of acknowledging that when the time is right, partnership IS something that matters to me…as much as this fierce desire to capture and get comfortable in my alone time.

Meeting up with the group at Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

This was another example of Perfect Timing on the trip. These occurrences, when things worked out beautifully despite my fears, stopped surprising me after this. I won’t say I came to expect them, but I did come to accept them. For whatever reason, the universe, God, or whatever one may choose to call it, really wanted me on that trip, at that time in my life, and a relatively smooth path continued to be laid out before me. I’m not saying it was easy, but I knew I was where I needed to be and my confidence that things would be OK grew stronger. I could not have better planned running into Oliver, Dave, and Olivia had I tried. It’s worth noting that it took me ALL MORNING, and then some, to get to where they were hanging. If I had moved more quickly through the lower meadows and creeks, I would have missed them. Somehow, my intense head-space kept me slow, and there I was, arriving at the shores of Evolution Lake, right as the three sat relaxing and lunching. Just a coincidence? I choose not to think so.

Lessons of the day

Hang in there with yourself, even if the self is burdened by stuff!

During that six plus mile stretch, before finally reaching the switchbacks, I felt quite overwhelmed by stuff. There was seemingly “too much” going on in my brain, thoughts swirling around like smoldering smoke after an extinguished fire. I was trying to keep my thoughts and reflections in perspective and at bay, but they kept appearing and reappearing, played out in different scenarios. I couldn’t seem to put them to rest. But I hung in there and kept going with it all, the heavy blanket of existential stuff, while wandering through a highly inspired stretch of trail. It was, at times, surreal. Once I hit my stride, though, I was able to let the heavy stuff start falling away. Each step I took, each switchback I gained, I felt lighter and more confident that by hanging in there and in fact indulging the morning feelings of being overwhelmed, I could start letting it go as I moved along. By the time I reached the top and the lake, I felt 20 pounds lighter, and in a great head-space to encounter my friends. And it’s fortunate…as I would be taking on the ten plus pounds of food they had carried over for me. 🙂

Sometimes, you just have to lighten up!

What I liked most about encountering Oliver, Dave, and Olivia, was watching their easy demeanor with each other. I have been around Oliver and Dave before, but never the three of them together. I had last seen Olivia when she was 15; now she was a mature, smart, inquisitive 19 year old, headed off to her second year of college. She had done the entire JMT the previous year with another young gal, and we had a great time talking about our experiences hiking the trail, as solo and semi-solo women. The whole adventure for the three of them had evolved over the previous months, from Oliver’s idea to come join me on a stretch of trail, to Dave saying perhaps he’d come too, and Olivia accompanying them to spend time with her dad and uncle before going back to college. Overall, it was a great set up. Since I am a people watcher by nature, I enjoyed watching the banter between the three, how they interacted and joked with each other. It reminded me to not take myself so seriously!! That theme kept coming up–how seriously I take myself and my life–and I was able to, for my time with them, be immersed with folks who reminded me to just relax, enjoy the moments, and remember to laugh and smile.


Last light at Wanda Lake

Last light at Wanda Lake

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