Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Fourth of July Creek

Hanging with the Mormon Ladies!

Second Solo Backpack Trip

Mormon Ladies Lakes Loop

Lake Edna, one of Mormon Ladies Lakes

Lake Edna, one of Mormon Ladies Lakes

For my second solo backpack trip, I planned to have another go at the Enchantments. After an unsuccessful attempt at such for the fourth of July trip, I still had Enchantments on the brain. I planned for a three-day, two night excursion, but stormy weather kept me in a campground in Leavenworth instead of in the mountains for that first night. I was set to hit the ranger station early Tuesday morning  to put in for a one-night stay in the Enchantments, hoping that on a Tuesday following a day of thunderstorms, competition for permits would be less.

When I arrived at the ranger station at 7:30, however, I could see that was not the case. Eight parties put in for the Core Enchantments, giving me a 1 in 8 chance to secure one. I honestly didn’t care that much if I got it or not, as I had a good back up plan.  And it’s a good thing I did, because again I was not selected. My usual good lottery karma seems to be on hold for this year…or maybe the universe knew that I really needed to go and spend my time with the Mormon Ladies, a group of lakes that I had heard about from the ranger after our previous failed enchantments permit attempt.

The Mormon Ladies Lakes loop takes off from the end of Icicle Creek Road, a popular road for hikes, backpack trips (including the Enchantments), campgrounds, rock climbing, and anything else outdoorsy you can think of. I’d never been to the end of the road, and I had never heard of the mormon ladies until earlier that month. I was drawn to the name of the lakes, the descriptions of them, the beauty apparent from my guide book, and the desire to simply get up into alpine lakes quickly and relatively easily. The lakes are apparently named after Brigham Young’s wives…Mary, Margaret, Florence, Flora, Edna, Ida, and Alice, to name a few. How many wives did he have?? There is also a paternal lake, aptly named Brigham Lake.

Icicle Creek Trailhead to Upper Florence Lake

In so many ways, this was the perfect backpack trip for me. I arrived at road’s end by 9:15 am, the Icicle Creek Trailhead. There was just one other couple there also getting ready to go. They were headed to Lake Leland, and would branch off from me at 4.5 miles. I realized that I could have near-complete solitude on this trip, which amazed me since my guidebook called this loop extremely popular and heavy with livestock.  Having done a solo backpack trip previously, my anxiety about being alone was much less acute this time around, and I relished the idea of quiet after anticipating the idea of crowds.

Frosty Creek

Frosty Creek

The first 4.5 miles of the trail meandered ever so gently through forest, gaining just 400 feet in that distance. Now that’s a great way to start a backpack trip! I loved letting my body warm up and get used to the weight of the pack on a flat stretch. And the trail was in great shape too…I felt like I was in heaven! I knew Frosty Pass was coming up, when the trail split off to Lake Leland and I continued up. My book described the switchbacks as hot and dusty, although the day was temperate and still held clouds from the previous day’s storms. I was prepared for anything, frankly, and enjoying just being out and on the trail.

And the trail up to Frosty Pass was definitely more challenging. There were lots of obstacles and blow downs, and much to climb up, over, and around. I had experienced lots of downed trees on my previous solo trip, unexpectedly, and it got to me. This time around, I fully expected challenge, and it didn’t phase me. I took it one step and obstacle at a time, and really did encounter each obstacle as a challenge instead of a discouragement. I was proud of myself and my attitude, and relished that the miles to the top of Frosty pass flew by.

View from Frosty Pass

View from Frosty Pass

In no time, I was at the turn off to Lake Margaret, the first of the ladies. I had no desire to camp there, as I was just hitting my stride. The trail had opened up, and cloud cover was increasing, with a threat of rain. But since it wasn’t too ominous, I continued on toward Mary Pass at 6900 feet. I had considered Lake Mary for a camping spot, but I encountered another solo female hiker heading down the pass as I was heading up. She said the bugs were REALLY bad at Mary, and she had opted to pitch her tent almost at the top of the pass to get a breeze and some reprieve. She was wandering and exploring after setting up camp, in an effort to stay moving and be less bothered by bugs. A mentality just like my own!  She had a dog with her, otherwise, I may have asked if I could join her little party. I liked her style, and she seemed to be about my age. (Note: it’s not that I don’t like dogs. But I do prefer my wilderness experience without them…just saying.)

View from Mary Pass

View from Mary Pass

On Mary's Pass

On Mary’s Pass

I topped out at Mary pass by 3:30, and I was feeling strong. I’d gained 4000 feet of elevation for the day, and, honestly, I barely felt it. Maybe it was my mindset of anything goes, how well my backpack was fitting, or the cool temperatures that were perfect for hiking…but I felt like I could go on forever. However, I had to figure out where to stay the night, as my camping options would be limited if I opted to go much further. The book had described Upper Florence Lake as THE place to camp (besides Mary)…but warned that one

Upper Florence Lake from Mary Pass

Upper Florence Lake from Mary Pass

could never find a campsite there. From Mary pass, I could see down to Upper Florence, and it looked like a great option to me. I dropped down, and actually missed the turn off to get to Florence, so intent was I on studying the lake for all those backpackers I was sure must be down there somewhere. I backtracked after I realized my error, found the trail to the lake, and dropped down. I’d seen clearly from my vantage point high above the lake the campsites, and felt certain that NO ONE was there. I thought maybe there was something wrong with the sites, or that I had the wrong lake. Not a soul was present, and I had my pick of sites.

Camping with Florence

My campsite

My campsite

View from my campsite...

View from my campsite…

It wasn’t even 5:00 pm when I dropped my belongings at my chosen site. It is unusual for me to stop hiking so early, particularly when I still had so much energy. But I took my time setting up camp, washing my feet in the lake and putting on long pants and sleeves. I could tell right away that the bugs were bad…they swarmed me constantly and relentlessly. I do not like bug spray and almost never use it. However, on this evening I did, and rubbed my bug hat and flaps with it to try to keep the bugs from driving me nuts. I have good bug tolerance overall, and rarely get bit. But these guys were plentiful and hungry after the previous day’s rain, and I was their only target!

I set my tent up and made dinner, all the while doing the bug shoo. It was distracting for sure. After dinner, I thought I’d go on an evening hike up to a nice knoll I could see from camp, to get away from the bugs. The clouds were coming and going, mostly coming, and the weather had a dramatic feel to it. Surprisingly, once I was done with dinner, I didn’t feel like putting my shoes back on and going anywhere. Instead, I crawled in my tent with the rain fly open…and the sun gleamed in as it flirted back and forth with the clouds. It was pleasant and lovely, and I was out of the bugs. I wrote and read some, until an acceptable amount of near-darkness allowed me to call it a day and try for sleep. I felt peaceful and satisfied with the day, and slept reasonably well.

Florence to Chatter Creek Trailhead

I was awake before first light. I lay in my tent until just after 5:00, when there was enough daylight to get up and moving. The morning was cold, and a heavy dew had settled in overnight. I actually relished this, as one of my fears for the JMT is that of trying to pack up and get ready to hit the trail when the morning is cold. My hands get cold easily and then they don’t work well or warm up well. I had brought hand warmers for this trip, and I decided to try it. I stuck a pair in my gloves, and made breakfast and coffee while alternately taking my fingers out of the finger compartments in my gloves to wrap around the hand warmers. This strategy worked well, and I was able to get everything broken down and put away without too much cold-hand trauma. The sun had entered the campsite by the time I was ready to go at 7:30, and the day looked to be lovely.

View from Ladies Pass

View from Ladies Pass

Marmots atop Ladies Pass

Marmots atop Ladies Pass

Ladies Pass was the next event on the trail. Just a mile or so away, it was all flowers, beauty, and views to get there. There was also snow, and the snow was too hard to traverse in the early morning chill, so I climbed up and around. The views were stupendous, and I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music! I came up and over Ladies Pass, and before me lay four mountain goats taking a rest above Lake Edna. The scene was pastoral and perfect. By the time I was camera ready, the goats had ambled off…but Marmots remained, and the lake below was serene and other-worldly. It reminded me of the Enchantment Lakes, and I was truly in awe of the splendor.

Lake Edna

Lake Edna

The trail wound down and around Lake Edna. I embraced it all, not wanting it to end. The trail splits shortly after Edna, and I would be heading back to Chatter Creek. Briefly, I entertained continuing along Icicle Ridge Trail. I knew you could go for many more miles, and still work your way back down to Icicle Creek Road via Fourth of July Creek Trail. But my car was already 3.5 miles from the trailhead I would come out at, and to go farther would be ludicrous. I didn’t want to leave the ridge, but reason won over. I turned for the Chatter Creek trail.

View from Lake Edna

View from Lake Edna

I assumed the trail would start to drop immediately. I had 4000 feet of elevation to lose. But instead, it went up and down, over boulder fields and more snow fields, and navigation was challenging. I had to stay on my toes, and try to keep track of the trail when it disappeared in rock and

snow. Eventually I topped out (again) at a pass, and the trail began to descend in earnest. Steep, open switchbacks, lay before me, and flowers and creek sightings. It didn’t look like too bad of a way to get back to the trailhead.

Chatter Creek

Chatter Creek

Down into the valley...

Down into the valley…

And it wasn’t. The hike ended as it started…quite perfectly. The trail past the last pass,  while steep, was in better shape than Frosty Pass, and easy to follow. I felt totally zen, and marveled at how good of a fit the trip was for me overall. I felt really good physically, and like I could have continued on for many more hours and days. THAT is what I wanted to feel, like I had gas in the tank at the end of the trail. I saw just one more lone hiker almost at the bottom of the Chatter Creek trail…for a sum total of four other hikers the entire 20 miles. On the road back to my car, I had nothing but positive thoughts about the trip overall.

What went right…

Altra Trail Runners and Dirty Girl gaiters...the perfect combo!

Altra Trail Runners and Dirty Girl gaiters…the perfect combo!

As I walked those last 3.5 miles on roads, I thought about what all had gone well. My gear was good, and my feet were good. I have come back to the great combination of trail runners and gaiters…and that’s how it will stay. I felt “one with the backpack”, similar to how I feel with my bike when I ride. At all times during the two days, I was at peace with my solitude, surroundings, and even the obstacles I encountered. I had lakes and flowers and mountains spread out before me like a first-class buffet. I got to do a loop hike, where each step took me somewhere new. And since it was a hike I had never done, it truly was all a new experience. I returned to my car with energy to spare, and ready to take on more. JMT here I come!

I simply could not have asked for more on this trip. It was perfect in every way.  (Well, except maybe the bugs…)

 

For more information on the Mormon Ladies Lakes loop, click HERE

4th of July Backpack Trip — Day 4 and Summary

Out from Lake Stuart and up Fourth of July Creek Trail

Before we retired Sunday, we discussed options for the last day of our trip, the actual 4th of July. I don’t like the hubbub of the fourth, and didn’t have any need or desire to get back to Bellingham early. Shannon and Kevin had options of parties to attend, and wanted to hike out and leave. Since we had two cars, we agreed that I would pack up and head out right after breakfast in pursuit of a local day hike, and they would vacate the campsite at their leisure.

Mt. Stuart at sunrise

Mt. Stuart at sunrise

I awoke early enough to capture the first morning light on Mt. Stuart from our campsite. It was a beautiful sight from a great campsite… and in some ways I was sad to leave. For my first backpack of the year, and the first ever with some of the new gear, I felt confident that I had figured some things out. My pack went together much easier for the return hike. I had eaten all of my food, which meant I could fill my bear canister with other things. The bear canister is obnoxious, but it’s required for my trip on the John Muir Trail, and I had brought it to resemble that upcoming trip as closely as possible. In preparing to leave Lake Stuart,  I took more time to pack my pack, and work with it’s numerous pockets and compartments. Because it is a new pack for me, it takes time to learn it’s nuances.  The pack I am using is an Osprey Ariel 75…which is plenty big for a multi-week trip, and I figure if I can’t get everything in it, I shouldn’t be going!

Shannon and Kevin were up before I left, and we said our goodbyes. I think we all felt good about what we had done, and that we had made the best of our four days. Even though we didn’t get to backpack the Enchantments, we made it there with a day-hike, got to experience Horseshoe Lake, and had good relational time. A winning weekend all around!

As I hiked out, I contemplated the trip and others to come.  I felt good about the miles I had put in, although my feet were clearly not happy.  I acutely felt each step in that 4.5 miles back to the car, and the discomfort was intense. I made the decision right then that the hiking boots were not going to make the cut. While I like the added protection and ankle support, my left foot was killing me…and that was  after just  three days and 40 miles, most of it day-hiking. I couldn’t imagine enduring that pain for 20 days and over 240 miles, almost all of it with a backpack. Last year I did the JMT in Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes…and it appears that I will be doing that again. For whatever reason, those shoes with my orthotics do not cause the same type of discomfort and pain, and the Enchantments trip really solidified that for me.

Fourth of July Creek Trail on the 4th of July!

Although I was tired and my feet hurt, I couldn’t shake the idea of doing one more day hike in the area before heading home. The hike I wanted to do was the Fourth of July Creek Trail. What better day to do it than on the Fourth of July! I left the decision to fate, surmising that if there was parking at the trailhead for the hike, I would do it. If not, I would head home. Since the Lake Stuart trailhead was absolutely packed when I got back to my car, and there were cars parked a long ways down the road, I reasoned I had about a 50/50 chance of hiking.

fourthofjulysignApparently, not everyone was drawn to the Fourth of July Creek Trail. There were only four cars in the parking lot when I arrived. There was a big group of mountain bikers that occupied two of the cars. I thought maybe something was wrong with the trail what with so few people. I asked the bikers about the conditions. They said it was in great shape, and had recently been cleared of all debris. I looked at the trail notifications, and all it cautioned was that rattlesnakes had been seen on the trail. I vaguely remembered doing this hike back in my early 20’s, and recalled that it was steep, open, through quite a bit of burn-out, and very hot. This day was still a bit chilly, and I didn’t think heat would be a problem. I checked the guidebook, and sure enough, it was 4600 feet of elevation gain in five miles. But the book promised great views well before the top, and I figured I would go for two hours then turn back.

I changed my shoes, relieved to done with the hiking boots. The trail runners felt much better, and, encouraged, I hit the trail and started up. After just 1/4 mile, the trail immediately crosses the Fourth of July Creek.  I was trying to avoid getting wet, and chose to cross on a log instead of over rocks. Somehow, I slipped and fell right into the creek! It surprised the heck out of me, and of course I got soaked. I scratched the back of my leg, and it was bleeding quite a lot. I thought maybe that was a sign from the universe that I was NOT supposed to go on the hike. I recovered enough to walk back to the car, pondering this. I felt discouraged, but decided not to give up.

I changed clothes and socks, and went at it again. By this time it was 11:15, and I told myself I would turn around at 1:15. For round two, I decided to take headphones and listen to an audio book I was almost done with. I must confess that sometimes I do listen to books when I hike…it’s a relatively new habit, and one I don’t plan to bring into my backpacking life. But sometimes when I hike I LIKE the distraction of listening to a good book…especially on a hike that promises to be as relentlessly steep as this one did.

Up and up I went. I passed some other hikers, and eventually the mountain bikers. They were literally pushing their bikes, as the trail was too steep to ride. They were headed up to the pass, then planned to zoom down a different and longer trail off of Icicle Creek Ridge. That’s a lot of work for some short thrills, but they were into it and excited. I continued on alone until about 1:00, then decided to eat lunch and turn around. The views were OK, although you could still see burned trees, which slightly bummed me out.

Lunch spot, where I planned to turn around...

Lunch spot, where I planned to turn around…

Just as I was preparing to leave, the mountain bikers caught back up to me, and I asked one to take a photo before heading down. He did, but also told me I was close to the top…only about half an hour more, he estimated. He said it was totally worth it, and encouraged me to keep going. I told him I would think about it. They moved on, and I thought, what the heck, I had come that far…and so I pressed on. The trail got full of flowers, and if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on just getting there, I would have taken some photos. The views continued to get more expansive, and I lost the burned trees. The chilly wind also picked up, as I was now close to 7000 feet. I started having a deja vu of Aasgard Pass the day before, and moved as quickly as my tired legs would allow to stay warm.

View from the ridge

Soon I could see the top and where I was headed. I could also see that the views were not going to get much better, and that the clouds were coming in. I was close, but enough was enough! I didn’t feel like going to the very top, and it felt great to be OK with that. I put on my shirt and coat, ate my last power bar, and took a photo as my audio book finished up. I made the hike down in stillness,  at a quick and steady pace.

Summary

I arrived back at the car at 3:45. I took stock of the physical body before driving home. My arthritic right knee was unquestionably sore, most likely from all the miles and the steep descents. I knew it would probably swell up and cause trouble for the next several days. My feet, however,  were much better than in the morning, since I had switched shoes. Overall, I felt pretty darn good after hiking 50 miles in four days.

The trip definitely increased my confidence for the upcoming John Muir trip. I will be doing similar daily distances, albeit with a backpack. I have a better sense of my gear, and how to make everything fit. I still need practice on this, but I have a month to figure out all the remaining details and work out the remaining kinks….

Next up: First solo backpack trip (this time for real!), scheduled for later this week. Stay tuned for that!

 

 

 

 

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