Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: mountain goats

Third and Final (mostly) Solo Backpack Trip before I go…

Ptarmigan Ridge and Chain Lakes Loop

For my third solo backpack trip, and final trip before heading out for the John Muir Trail, I wanted to get in some “serious backpack miles”. I was hoping to find a loop that would give me 14 – 17 miles on each of two days, with one overnight in between. I told myself that’s what I needed, to feel “completely ready”, and to give my legs, feet, and equipment one final test.  DSCF0187

But once again, some voice of reason inside me said, “No, Kathie, that’s not what you really need. Take it easy, don’t push so hard…just enjoy the heck out of this last experience before you embark on the big one…”  And so I did.

Trip Overview

I started at Artist Point, at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway. I did a straightforward trip to Ptarmigan Ridge with a friend on day one, then played on the Sholes Glacier below Mt. Baker for the remainder of the day. I spent the night at a private and hidden campsite on Ptarmigan by myself after my friend hiked out, with Mt. Baker as my guardian. For day two I did a longer route out, incorporating in Chain Lakes Loop. Back at my car, I did a final day hike of Lake Ann and went swimming.  The weather was absolutely perfect, and I had more views of  Baker, Shuksan, and multitudes of other peaks that I wish I knew the names of but can never recall. I don’t know if it’s possible to get enough of the magic of being so closely intertwined with all those peaks and in that environment, but I was darn close. I immersed myself from 8:30 am Wednesday until 6:30 pm Thursday into pure heaven.

Artist Point to Ptarmigan Ridge and Sholes Glacier

If you have never been to Artist Point, drop everything and go there! You can drive your car to the front row views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan, without having to hike at all. Or you can knock off an easy 1.2 miles on Huntoon Point loop, climb Table Mountain (3 miles steep but worth it), embark on Chain Lakes loop (6 – 8 miles, depending on how you do it), or take off for Ptarmigan Ridge (9 – 12 miles). On a sunny day in summer, anything is possible!

Beginning Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Beginning Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

My friend and I hit the trail for Ptarmigan Ridge at 8:30 Wednesday morning. I carried both my backpack and some of his gear, as he does measurements on the Sholes Glacier and was hauling in drills and solar panels and other assorted heavy items. Point being, my pack was good and heavy, so I got to test that out. The vistas on this hike simply never disappoint. Neither words nor photos can do justice to the magnificence, but I will give it my best shot.

The trail DID have some steep snow traverses. Early on, I was tentative and felt uncertain. I had poles, but no crampons. Normally, I don’t feel anxious about snow, but with the weight of the pack, I noticed a tendency to feel off balance. I also noticed that the more we hiked on snow, the

One snow traverse at a time...

One snow traverse at a time…

more comfortable I became. Hiking on snow always brings fond memories of being in the mountains, of spring skiing, and multiple positive associations. In no time I was into a rhythm, and stopped worrying about slipping or falling. One step at a time, one snow field at a time.

The 4.5 miles to my designated camp site went quickly. We arrived before noon, and I dumped my backpack and went down to fanny pack for our glacier travel.

The time on the Sholes glacier was fun and informative. My friend measures snow loss and glacier melt by various means. He had been up there merely six days prior, and in that time frame, up to 20 inches of snow had melted off. It was great fun cavorting on the glacier, but sad to think of it’s decline. I enjoyed being there and learning about glacial melt-off, and what it means for the bigger picture. A humbling and awe-inspiring experience.

Sholes Glacier

Sholes Glacier

Glacier time!

Glacier time!

As we returned from the glacier, we were in for a real treat. A herd of 26 mountain goats were munching their way along the route back to my campsite. I have to say, I have seen many mountain goats in my time…but never a herd of 26, and never so fearless and close. What a great way to cap off a great day!

I kept thinking, it just couldn’t get any better. Back at camp, I set up my tent and made food. Each action witnessed by Mt. Baker, standing guard over me. I stayed up until sunset, as I knew the alpenglow on Mt. Baker and Shuksan would be fantastic. It did not disappoint…

Mt. Baker from my campsite

Mt. Baker from my campsite

Last light on Mt. Baker...

Last light on Mt. Baker…

And on Shuksan...

And on Shuksan…







Out Ptarmigan and around Chain Lakes loop

I awoke Thursday morning, well rested and beyond content. I took my time packing up, and was on the trail by 8:30. I planned to incorporate Chain Lakes loop into my return hike, both because I wanted the extra backpack miles and because it’s simply a lovely trail. I have run this trail multiple times in my past when I could still run, and I have also snowshoed it one early June with my son. Positive associations and memories abound, and there was no way to go wrong on this beautiful day. I felt strong and capable, and again totally immersed myself in the experience. Here are some views along the way…

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Mt. Shuksan from Herman Saddle

Mt. Shuksan from Herman Saddle

Mt. Baker from top of Herman Saddle

Mt. Baker from top of Herman Saddle

From the trail...

From the trail









As I hiked the loop, I thought about how I have come to readiness for the upcoming John Muir Trail. I transported myself in my mind to the trail as I went up and over Herman Saddle, and ascended the top. I fluctuated back and forth between full presence in the moment, and visualizing myself on the upcoming trip. I ran into multiple hikers on Chain Lakes loop, some of whom I chatted with and shared my upcoming adventure. All of this helped the trip to take on a new reality.

It hit me that I am ready, and I am there!  I have done the preparations and tested the waters along the way. I have put in the miles, revised and refined the gear, and come to a place of acceptance with my physical self, limitations and all. The only way to describe how I felt as I completed this loop, back up to Artist Point, is to say that I felt at great peace. When I first set out on these solo hikes, I was worried and anxious. Now, completing my third and final, I felt confident and certain that I will be OK on the JMT.  I am ready.


For more information on these hikes:

Ptarmigan ridge trail

Chain Lakes loop

Table Mountain

Huntoon Point trail

4th of July Backpack Trip — Day 3

Aasgard Pass take two — With Shannon, Kevin, …and wind!

As planned, the three of us got an early start in order to do Aasgard Pass and the Enchantments as a day hike. It was the second day in a row for me, the first time ever for Shannon and Kevin. Shannon had previously backpacked down Aasgard but never been up it, and Kevin had seen the Enchantments from the Snow Lakes entrance, but never set foot on the pass. I told them we should leave camp by 7:00…we hit the trail by 7:20 am.

I knew this day would be longer than my 11-hour endeavor of the previous day. Shannon and Kevin don’t hike as fast and don’t like to rush. I was mentally prepared for this, and thought it would be a good break for my tired body.  I felt generally OK after a night of rest, although still fatigued, and my feet were hurting. The left foot was re-taped with blister bandaids and felt secure, but it was simply unhappy in the hiking boot. I wished I had my trail runners for a day of reprieve…alas, they were in the car. I DID take my poles for this days adventure, as I had missed having them in round one.

Stuart, Colchuck, and up Aasgard Pass

Our pace was good leaving Lake Stuart.  It was a great warm-up, and the fastest part of the day for sure. The morning was much cooler than the previous, as a wind had come up overnight and persisted. We still managed to shed clothes on the way up to Colchuck Lake, but it was breezy. At the overlook we snapped photos and snacked.

Kathie and Shannon at Colchuck Lake

Kathie and Shannon at Colchuck Lake

We chatted with a ranger I had seen the previous day, and he was impressed that I was up doing Aasgard again. As we chatted, a couple with a dog came up to the rock, plain as day. Dogs are not allowed in the Enchantment region, and signs clearly state this. The woman feigned ignorance, or maybe she really didn’t know. The ranger was merciless, and wrote her a ticket and sent them back down. A bummer of an ending for that couple’s day hike. 🙁

We worked our way around Colchuck Lake, and reached the base of the pass. Shannon is a better picture taker than me, and likes to take photos. She captured me at the base of Aasgard, just as we were heading up.

Starting the ascent...

Starting the ascent…

Our journey up the pass was quite a bit slower than the previous day. In the beginning I welcomed that, as I was tired and the slow pace suited me well. I noticed that my body felt less taxed at that pace. I also noticed that I didn’t get us off route. Either I paid closer attention while I waited for Shannon and Kevin, or else I felt a greater sense of responsibility for finding a good route with my daughter mommaandbabyand her boyfriend following behind! Either way, the first part of the pass was relatively uneventful.

On the way up we saw a momma and baby goat resting on a rock right on the route. I wondered if the baby was sick, as they didn’t move at all even when we came right near them…

Shannon and Kevin making their way up...

Shannon and Kevin making their way up…

All was well through the traverse of the snowfield. By the time we had crossed, it was clear that the wind was really picking up and it was getting cold. Shannon and I stopped to put on layers. I had a long sleeve thermal shirt, down jacket, and gloves, and I put it all on. Warm-blooded Kevin stayed in his t-shirt, still sweating!

The rest of the ascent was very cold and windy, and I was tremendously distracted by the cold. This is where going slow is frustrating, because I will usually use increased speed to warm up when I get cold. But since I wasn’t going to go ahead, and we kept moving up at a pace that didn’t require much exertion, I got more and more chilled. At the top, it was super cold, and we barely took time time to snap photos. At this point, even hot-bodied Kevin put on his down jacket!



A quick lunch at the highest lake, then back down the pass

We dropped down to the first of the Enchantment lakes to eat our lunch, and try to get out of the wind and warm up. We ate, but didn’t warm up. The wind was cold and relentless, and I longed for the previous day when I was in shorts and a tank top and sweating! I got obsessed with being cold, and wanted to get moving. I don’t function well when I am cold, and it is hard for me to warm up once I am solidly there.

We scurried back up to the pass, and began our descent in the biting wind. It took most of the way down Aasgard Pass for me to finally warm up. At one point, I wore Kevin’s down jacket on top of everything else I had on in an effort to get warm.  I felt under prepared, and a little silly for not bringing more clothes. Mostly, I felt acutely aware of how much conditions can and do change in the mountains…from one day to the next, and sometimes from one hour to the next.

The way down Aasgard was tedious and at times frustrating. It took us about three hours to get all the way down. I kept having to remind myself to be patient, and to enjoy the surroundings and company. It was quite the day, overall, and I didn’t want to dampen it by getting impatient about anything. Instead, I focused again on how my body felt at the slower pace, and noted that it did feel better and less stressed. The physical exhaustion, then, was definitely less. The mental exhaustion, though, was greater, as we were simply out there and in the thick of it for longer. Perhaps I can learn to strike some sort of happy medium between the two…

The final descent and back to camp

Once we were back to the Colchuck Lake trail, Shannon could sense my impatience and frustration with the pace. Half way down, she suggested I go ahead, for which I was grateful. She knows me well, and recognized that it took a toll on me going that slowly for the day. I thanked, her, and took off. I made it back to camp as swiftly as I could. The two days of intensity had worn me down, and I was ready to be done.

I was working on dinner prep when Shannon and Kevin came in at 8:25 pm. It was a thirteen hour day for them, just slightly less for me. We had all done it, a feat that felt like a huge accomplishment. I was happy and relieved that we all made it down safely and were back at camp. We even finished dinner and got into bed before the last glimmer of light left our campsite. A sleeping bag in a tent never felt so good!




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