Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: mountain weather

Copper Ridge Loop — Day 4

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

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

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

River Fords

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

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

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

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

Copper Ridge Trail to Copper Lake

Copper Mountain

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

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

First views, finally!

Mt. Redoubt in distance

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

Boulder crossing, scene of fall #3

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Mt. and Whatcom Peak from Ridge Trail

View from Copper Ridge…

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

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

Classic view of Mt. Redoubt

Mt. Lindeman, Right; Middle Peak, left

 

Copper Ridge Trail

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

Copper Lake

Looking back on Copper Lake

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

Copper Lake to Copper Mountain Lookout

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

Clouds building over Mineral Mountain

Looking up to Copper Mt. Lookout — finally!

Looking down into the Chilliwack River Valley, 4000 feet down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Shuksan from lookout

Southern Pickets! Including Mt. Fury and Phantom Peak

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

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

Panorama from Copper Lookout

Copper Lookout to Egg Lake

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

Toilet with a view!

Windy selfie, Mt. Redoubt on my shoulder

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

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

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

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

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

Headed down the correct trail from the lookout

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

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

Egg Lake, finally!

Campsite at Egg Lake

Egg Lake Campsite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpenglow on Copper Mountain, end of a great day!

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak from Whatcom Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. Do you have bear spray?”

“No, should I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Glacier from trail to Tapto Lakes

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

Tapto Lakes

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

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

Tapto Lakes

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

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

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

Middle Lakes

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

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

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

Challenger Glacier from Middle Lakes

Lower Middle Lake

Fall Color on Red Mountain

Upper MIddle Lake

Windy selfie at Upper Middle Lake

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

Whatcom Pass to Indian Creek  (8.1 miles)

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

Clouds building up as I head down…

Creek headed down from Whatcom Pass

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

Cool log formations on trail to Indian Creek

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

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

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

Suspension Bridge over Indian Creek

Chilling in the River!

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

Bathing spot at Indian Creek

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

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

Campsite Day 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake 22 — Last Alpine Hike of 2016 and First of 2017

Lake 22 Day Hike

Lake 22 is a short, relatively easy day hike accessible off the Mountain Loop Highway, near Darrington. My family has a place at Lake Goodwin, about a 45 minute drive to the beginning of the Loop. Many trails and peak climbs are accessible off this highway, and it is a veritable playground in the summertime. Each time I am at The Lake (as we call the “summer” home — which is actually used year-round), I try to incorporate in a hike with my stay. In winter, of course, this is not an option, unless it’s a snowshoe hike. But a handful of the lower elevation hikes off the MLH are good shoulder season hikes. I had the incredible good fortune of doing one of those, Lake 22, on each shoulder of this past winter — late last October,  and then again last week, on the second to last day of March.

Because of it’s easy accessibility, Lake 22 is an extremely popular hike. Washington Trails Association describes it as “the center of an oasis of alpine wetlands nestled in the Northern Shoulder of Mt. Pilchuck”. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Especially on a trail that’s a mere 5.4 miles round-trip to the lake, with an optional 1.3 mile loop hike around said oasis.

First Encounter with Lake 22 — July, 2015

In all my summers at The Lake, I’d read about but always avoided hiking Lake 22 because of the crowds. But curiosity and opportunity combined one late afternoon in July, 2015, and I finally relented. On that day, my son Kyle, his equally high-energy friend Jack, and I climbed Vesper Peak, also off the Mt. Loop Highway. After finishing the challenging, nine mile round-trip, 4400 foot elevation gain hike, none of us were ready to be done hiking for the day. So we drove to nearby Lake 22 trailhead, and zipped up the additional 1350 feet of elevation to the lake, taking the loop trail around with a multitude of other people. Back at The Lake for a late dinner, we discussed our fabulous day, reveling in our 16 mile, 5550 feet elevation day. And recounting how surprisingly busy Lake 22 was. After that, I decided I wouldn’t go back unless it was well before or after the typical summer hiking season. I wanted less people, plus a chance to see this gem in different weather and conditions.

October 2016’s Wet and Wild Hike

When I returned to Lake 22 in October of the following year, it was during an extreme rainstorm and following a period of very heavy rain. The trail starts in rainforest, and water is pretty much a constant on lower parts of the trail even in the summer. But on this day, my friend Michael and I literally hiked through water the entire way. First, it was pouring rain pretty much the entire hike. And, from the get go, stream beds were overflowing, and we had to cross multiple creeks that were more like raging rivers in inches to over a foot of water. It was spectacular, walking right through rapids, and with water racing down the trail.  Though we had full Gore-tex on, there was simply no way to stay dry. The amount of water made the trip slow going, as we had to tread carefully to stay upright. Poles were a necessity. And it was exquisitely painful on my feet, being in cold water for that amount of time.

We were completely rewarded for our efforts once to the lake, though, by cascades of dozens of waterfalls streaming off the sheer north face of Mt. Pilchuck. Michael said it reminded him of Rivendell, the home of Elf leader Elrond, as depicted in the Lord of the Rings movies. (Not having seen them, I will have to take his word for it!) But the vast number of falls plummeting down was truly breathtaking. We took the trail around the lake, marveling at the sheer amount of water flowing over even that part of the trail, our entire hike taking place in a deluge. 

Winter’s Surgical Interlude

Then there was the knee replacement in November and the foot ankle/ankle surgery in December. Hiking to and through waterfalls to get to alpine lakes wasn’t on the radar —  both from a winter weather and a recovery standpoint. My post-op course was a little rocky,  and a couple setbacks kept me in the post-op boot for longer than expected. I was finally cleared to begin hiking without the boot a month ago. I was so ready! Throughout the month of March,  I took many progressively longer low-land hikes, and I knew I’d be ready for Lake 22 again when opportunity presented itself last week.

3/30/17 — Spring Conditions with Plenty of Snow!

I went to The Lake for a solo writing retreat. On day two, writing complete, I found myself drawn back to Lake 22. This time, my friend Doug came down to join me. We’d checked trail reports, and the hike looked doable. Predictably, all the boots that had traveled the trail earlier in the week and month had tamped down the snow. Reports said the numerous snow bridges over the creeks weren’t too worrisome. We decided we’d start the hike, and turn back if at any point either of us felt unsafe. The day looked to be blessedly free of rain, although we were well prepared with rain gear. We also wore gaiters and brought traction devices to strap on our boots should we need them in the snow.

View from the bridge…

I was worried the trail would be wet after October’s experience. But as soon as Doug and I started, I could tell it was not going to be anything close to that experience. The early creek crossings were easily negotiated on well-placed rocks. The trail is both well made and maintained to handle the huge volume of hikers, and it was easy to find a way across. The water was rushing, particularly in the falls, where it should be. We stopped on the first bridge for a spectacular view. The whole section is classic rain forest — moss everywhere, blanketing the ground and hanging from branches in a magical setting of old growth western and mountain hemlock, alder, and red cedar trees. Very pleasant hiking, and neither of us even got our feet wet, which thrilled me to no end.

Open area with clouds parting

 

 

 

 

The trail opens up at 1.5 miles. This is the area where we’d expected to encounter snow, but, surprisingly, it was snow-free for a bit longer. We did come to a section where avalanche debris covered the trail.  Logs, criss crossing each other, made for difficult navigation, and a determined lone hiker was seeking help to make it more passable. A young couple in front of us tried to help, but it seemed the job was too big for mere mortals without machinery. We waited patiently for a bit, then the young woman, a bit impatient (like me!) to get going,  said she thought we should just leave it as it was. I agreed with her, and the women ruled on this one. The determined man reluctantly let us go by, although we noticed that he stayed behind, continuing to puzzle out a solution to the problem.

Snow formations in the creek

Very shortly after, the trail hit snow for real, just before re-entering forest again for the final .6 miles to the lake. This section was a bit dicey, and we could see how many people had post-holed through snow down to the creek bed below. Doug went through once, to his thigh. I did not go through at all, for which I was grateful. Just before the lake, we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Pilchuck, right at the same place where we came to some fantastic snow formations in the creek below.

There were several people at the lake, and not a lot of space to disperse them. The bridge to cross the creek was basically impassable with snow. The younger couple got across the bridge, but the trail beyond and around the lake was not doable unless one had snowshoes. Doug and I chose to drop down onto a flat, open area, which, we

Standing on the lake…

Lunch spot

realized, was on top of the mostly frozen lake. Making sure not to get to close to the only portion of the lake that was thawed out, we set ourselves up in a lunch spot with a simply fantastic view of the breaking clouds and fog dancing across the face of Pilchuck. While we ate, the sun came out some, and a series of snow slides over on the mountain provided a constant reminder of where we were. The whole setting was pretty awe-inspiring, as we enjoyed homemade sandwiches and fruit salad with the spectacular show.

We both decided to put traction devices on for the first part of the hike down. Doug had micro-spikes, and I used inexpensive Costco Yak Trax knock-offs. His worked better than mine, but the addition of any traction device was useful, no question. The descent went much quicker than the ascent. Back at the open area, we noticed two things. First, the skies had cleared enough that we could see White Horse and Three Finger Jack off in the distance, which was very cool. And second, the determined hiker HAD had success in moving things around with the avalanche debris, such that the crossing on the way down was considerably easier than coming up. Way to go and thanks to this man on a mission!

The rest of the hike down was easy and uneventful. I took some pictures of the falls I had been too focussed to snap on the way up. We arrived back at the car extremely happy with the hike, and very pleased that we had taken a chunk of the day to do it. I loved being back in the mountains again after a long winter of recovery. And I know it’s just the first of many more to come.

Snow covered bridge

Thank you Lake 22!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 14 John Muir Trail

Main South Fork Kings crossing to Dollar Lake

Total JMT miles  —  15.7               Elevation gain/loss  —  +3800/-3620

Truth be told and not surprisingly, I didn’t sleep well on the night of Day 13. Every noise from nearby campers filtered right into my tent, and I struggled with dampness in my internal and external environment. I was up in my head through the restless night about how I wanted to interact with my neighbors in the morning, my concerns about the weather, and my need to make up the previous days lost miles. However, things always seem brighter in the morning, and I remembered my pledge to myself from Day 2  —  May I awake each day revived and refreshed. I know well enough that this is a chosen state of mind more than a reality, and I adopted that motto on Day 14 with wholehearted optimism.

I could hear people up and about even before first light, and I organized myself to emerge from the tent as well. Inside my tent, everything was still damp, but manageable. I had slept in many clothes, and had put others in my bag with me, in an effort to utilize whatever warmth and drying capacity my body heat might offer.  Nothing seemed any wetter than it had the night before, which was the best I could hope for. My tent and fly had proved worthy, and I was thankful for the extra room provided by the two person tent. While it weighed an extra pound, it’s larger capacity made it much easier to bring things in out of the storm. My pack outside was still dry enough, covered with it’s large Hefty trash bag.

Again I cooked a meal with Ginnie, my closest neighbor and a woman of similar age (mid-50’s) and physical aptitude. A road biker at heart, she had ended up on the JMT on a bit of a fluke, after securing a permit and posting her intentions on her local bike club’s website. The only person to take her up on the offer of hiking the whole JMT was her current tent mate, Tracy, who was a mid-30’s, outspoken woman with little backpack experience. They made an interesting and interdependent pair, and I enjoyed watching their interactions as much as I did chatting with Ginnie. As we drank coffee and ate oatmeal, Ginnie shared that she had miscalculated and was low on food. She asked if I had any to spare. I was surprised, as she seemed so organized, but volunteered that I did have a bit to spare. I was meeting Dave for another food drop the following day, and mentally calculated what I had and what I could do without. I was able to give her a hearty ‘protein puck’, and two energy bars. It wasn’t much, but she was grateful, and I felt really good about the opportunity to help someone when so many others had helped me.

I watched other neighbors from my flat rock perch as I lingered over cups of coffee. I recognized a couple from Day 4 Red’s Meadow infusion, Katie and Ian. Happy in love despite the rain, they had laughed and giggled all night long it seemed, and I was both envious and frustrated by this. Chatting with them in the morning, though, all was forgiven.  I made a point to introduce myself to everyone in camp, in an effort to make up for my seclusion of the previous day and night. The conversations helped to keep my mind off my freezing hands as I attempted to put my sprawl of gear back together. Everything was wet, and the day at hand was thankfully clear but consequently cold. I was still conserving my few remaining hand warmers, so I did without. It was one of the coldest overall morning pack-ups,  in terms of my hands, and everything was a struggle. I was the second to last person of the nine of us to leave camp, finally packed up and on the trail by 8:15.

On cold mornings with cold hands, I am all about setting a fast pace as quickly as possible. I carefully crossed the rushing S. Fork Kings River out of camp, calling a happy goodbye to my longest campsite to date — 20 hours in the same wet spot. I climbed the switchbacks I’d visited the previous evening as quickly as I could, welcoming the warmth from exertion and the promise of sun. At first forested, then gradually opening up, I could see from the trail that the sky was blue and the sun was out just up ahead. I was ecstatic, and my mood elevated. I came up to the Bench Lake cutoff, where solo hiker Emily had camped the night before. At the cutoff were Ginnie, Tracy, Katie, and Ian, all of whom I had caught up to in my quick ascent. Emily traipsed in from Bench Lake after a couple moments, and we had a great little gathering for a few minutes before the first four moved out. Emily and I shared stories of our wet and stormy afternoon and night. She had experienced hale and snow at Bench Lake, and her pictures, while beautiful, convinced me I’d made the right choice in staying down below with just the rain.

At Bench Lake cutoff, with Mt. Ruskin in back

At Bench Lake cutoff, with Mt. Ruskin in back

I was able to shed all my layers as we chatted, and I was down to my preferred shorts and a tank top again. Life was grand! I knew the next miles were open and gorgeous, past lakes and headed up Pinchot Pass. I anticipated the day to be one of much elevation gain and loss. Up 2090 feet to Pinchot Pass, down 3620 feet to Woods Creek, then back up 1710 feet to Dollar Lake. That was my plan, a total of nearly 16 miles, and I was starting to believe the weather would cooperate and I could do it. Emily and I discussed our plans, and hers was right on par with mine for the day’s mileage goal.

Lake Marjorie, with Mt. Ruskin (center) and Vennacher Needle (right)

Lake Marjorie, with Mt. Ruskin (center) and Vennacher Needle (right)

Lake Marjorie, with Mt. Ruskin, Vennacher Needle, and Middle Palisades off in the distance.

Lake Marjorie, with Mt. Ruskin, Vennacher Needle, and Middle Palisades off in the distance.

As we hiked separately and in our own heads, we criss-crossed paths multiple times, past lovely Marjorie Lake and all it’s magical tributaries. I was incredibly distracted by taking pictures, as the previous day I had taken none after the rain came. I stopped multiple times, for photos, food, and water, so I was bringing up the rear as I headed up the pass in earnest from Marjorie Lake.

Lake Marjorie

Lake Marjorie

There I hit my stride. I was suddenly back in powerful female backpacker mode. As the switchbacks wound tightly up the pass, the winds picked up, clouds started to come in, and I sailed past everyone. I made the top before all five of my current comrades, and they were impressed with my determination. It reminded me of ascending the Golden Staircase on Day 11, when I found a burst of energy that impressed other hikers. I don’t think of myself as being particularly fast, but sometimes the pieces all come together, and I feel like I can fly up anything.  As I hiked, I felt light, unencumbered, and free. I focussed on how each step felt, and relished that my body could haul a 50-ish pound pack up a pass with such ease.  I love that feeling of power and competence, and, while it doesn’t always happen, when it does, it’s magic.

Unnamed lake above Lake Marjorie, headed up the pass

Unnamed lake above Lake Marjorie, headed up the pass

Unnamed lake below pass, Mt. Ickes in background

Unnamed lake below pass, Mt. Ickes in background

The views from the pass were simply stupendous, despite the incoming clouds. Ginnie wanted a photo with me, whom she now called her “trail angel” after I gave her food. I happy obliged, again experiencing that welcome feeling of camaraderie. The warmth of connection, the physical beauty of the pass, and my current confidence in my physical strength, all created an overall sense of being on top of the world. It’s difficult if not impossible to qualify ‘peak’ experiences on something like the JMT. Each day offers something, and it feels like one peak experience naturally flows into the next. Instead of trying to make one be better than another, I was learning to take them all in, and fully embrace each on its own terms as it came. In some ways, I could have stayed on that pass in that warm happy glow forever. But all things must end, and I was back to mission orientation after 30 minutes of pure heaven on Pinchot Pass.

With Ginnie at Pinchot Pass

With Ginnie at Pinchot Pass

View from Pinchot pass

View from Pinchot pass

Looking down into Paradise Valley

Looking down into Paradise Valley

Tarns in Paradise Valley

Tarns in Paradise Valley

 

 

 

As I dropped down the tight, steep switchbacks into the Woods Creek Drainage, the views remained. A series of tarns (small mountain ponds) dotted the surroundings, and I could see exactly how and where the trail went through and amidst them all. I love looking down from a pass when your next few miles are laid out before your very eyes. It’s easy to transport oneself from here to there. While I didn’t want to rush the getting there,  I was getting nervous about clouds and weather on the pass. I could again FEEL that the cloud cover was thickening, and with it, my fear of rain. I hiked quickly down the pass, and continued my rhythm that I had found going up. Again, I passed all hikers I encountered, though not without calling a hello as I went. Emily and I continued our back and forth on the trail. It entered my mind we could hike together, but I was still much too in need of space to do that. So we’d chat briefly each time we passed and re-passed each other, as the trail stayed high up in the alpine meadows of Paradise Valley, where the JMT repeatedly crosses Woods creek and it’s multiple tributaries. A simply tranquil and splendid stretch of trail.

Mt. Cedric Wright

Mt. Cedric Wright

Mt. Clarence in distance

Mt. Clarence in distance

Mt. Baxter

Mt. Baxter

White fork of Woods Creek with Monkey Flower

White fork of Woods Creek with Monkey Flower

I kept moving. I was definitely feeling the steady elevation loss in my arthritic right knee. The knee was a hindrance, and it slowed me down some. It wasn’t just painful, it was also feeling unstable and unpredictable, which had my attention. But I knew rain was in hot pursuit, and I was determined this time to stay ahead of it. I finally took a lunch break at the White Fork of Woods Creek, a beautiful setting with late blooming Monkey Flowers. I allowed myself 15 minutes, then scurried along. It was within a half mile of Woods Creek Junction, the low point of that day in elevation, that the sky opened up and rain hit. I watched everybody stop and put on rain gear. I debated what to do. I didn’t want to stop, as I knew I was close to Woods and I would evaluate there. I kept going, feeling silly hiking in my tank top and shorts in the rain.  Emily joined me for that last half mile, and we debated our course of action. We independently and together agreed we would take a break at Woods and each decide there.

Waterfall running into Woods Creek

Waterfall running into Woods Creek

Woods Creek Suspension Bridge

Woods Creek Suspension Bridge

We came to a super cool suspension bridge that I remembered well from the previous year. It’s supposed to be a one person bridge, but Emily came on it right behind me. It swayed and bounced crazily as we crossed the roaring creek below! I knew we’d be fine and I didn’t want to say anything. We sat (again!) under a big Pine tree just across the bridge. Other hikers were doing the same thing, clearly debating what to do. It was 3.8 miles to the next decent camping, and space at Woods was ample. But I was envisioning a night like the previous one at S. Fork Kings — rain, too many people all on top of each other, plus giving up because of rain before I was ready. Both Emily and I decided to move on, rain be damned. There was no thunder and lightning this time, and I figured a little rain wouldn’t hurt, despite having no backpack cover.  Emily left first, and I trailed a bit behind, to create that hiking alone phenomenon I was still craving.

The next four miles were tough. I was tired, my knee hurt a lot, and it was all up hill. It was another 1710 feet of elevation to gain in that 4 miles — not a ton but I felt every step. The rain kept me moving, though, and I was very focussed on the destination. I did not remember Dollar Lake from the previous year, and the guidebook said the camping was limited. I knew many others were doing the same exact thing as me, and I hoped and prayed for a decent campsite. I played out my strategy for finding a site in my head as I went. I would get to Dollar Lake, take in the scene, then leave the obvious trail in pursuit of something up above the usual campsites.

When I finally got to Dollar, the rain had temporarily stopped, and I acted on my good instincts of where to camp. I passed the small but beautiful lake, then headed up through still vacant sites far off to the side. I kept climbing, despite my fatigue and readiness to dump my pack. I worked my way up and over boulders, looking for flat sites as I went. I lucked out! High up above the lake, but not so far as to make the retrieval of water a project, I found a large, completely hidden flat spot, that clearly had been used before. I could see down to the lake, but others couldn’t see me. I knew I would not be joined for the night, and I dumped my wet self and stuff gratefully into my home for the  night.

Evening at camp, with Fin Dome and other peaks watching over me for the night.

Evening at camp, with Fin Dome and other peaks watching over me for the night.

I immediately went down to get water. I knew I was on borrowed time from rain reprieve, and I wanted to get everything set up before it came back. I hurried down and back up with my bottles, and quickly but meticulously set up my camp.  The sky was thick with clouds, but enough blue to create a spectacular scene. I took it all in as I moved quickly to establish camp just as I like it — sprawl and all. Just as I finished, the skies opened up, again, and rain returned. It was just a shower, I could tell, and I made a quick decision to cook dinner under the tent’s large fly. I had not done this before, and I know ‘they’ say not to use a stove under a tent fly. But I felt confident in my ability to keep everything safe, and I was in a state of very high presence and awareness. I cooked, ate, and peered out at my surroundings. It was a truly gorgeous evening, with the wild clouds and late sun glinting off nearby Fin dome and other great peaks. I felt again that sense of peace and calm that only comes with being in the mountains in a beautiful spot, watched over by giants and surrounded by peace. It was a fittingly spectacular end to a phenomenal day.

Highlights of the day

Being a “trail angel”

It simply felt great to help someone out with a supply need. I was  happy I had some food for Ginnie, and that I could return, in some small way, the generosity that so many had shown me. From the get go, I had multiple “trail angels”.  Ashley on Day 7 with the tampons I so desperately needed; Oliver, Dave and Olivia with the first food drop; and Dave trekking over again the following day with another drop. Not to mention the people who helped so much to make the trip happen in the first place! I felt great gratitude as I reflected on these helpers as I hiked, and I was thankful to be able to return the favor in some small way. So much of that goes on on a hike like the JMT — hikers sharing and helping others. Because I was a determined soloist, I mostly wanted to rely on myself or my planned helpers (food resuppliers). But it was nice to step into the spontaneous role of trail angel, if only for a moment.

My campsite at Dollar Lake

It ended up being one of my favorites of the whole trip, this site high above the main group of hikers below. I felt close enough to others in case some bad thing happened, like a bear coming into camp, but far enough away and hidden from view that I had the serenity and solitude I was so craving. It was a perfect site after a perfect day.

Lessons of the day

I can hike in the rain and survive!!

I did it, hiked four and some miles, in rain, without getting so wet that I could not recover. I don’t care so much about my person getting wet, but I do care about my stuff getting wet. I have a down bag and coat, and I hate the feeling of dampness in my tent. But I made a calculated decision at Woods Creek that the rain was not so bad that I would be soaked beyond repair. I gambled some, but used common sense and my admittedly limited knowledge of weather patterns to determine that it didn’t look too risky to continue. My gamble paid off. I was wet, but not soaked. My gear was not much wetter than it had been when I started the day, and for that I was grateful. And I got where I wanted to be, and did not have the feeling of disappointment of giving into the elements. I felt really empowered by this!

I can cook under the tent and stay dry

This sounds silly, but it did open up a feeling of greater flexibility for me. I like to relax while I make dinner, and it’s hard to relax sitting outside in rain for 30 minutes of cooking and eating. So to be in my tent, cooking under the fly, and able to look out periodically but stay dry in the process, was all just a big bonus. Again, I was grateful for my tent (MSR Nook, two person), which allowed me to do all of this — comfortably, safely, and all undercover. I was proud of my problem solving on this front, and I went to bed feeling good about myself and my day in all respects. What a difference a day makes! 

 

Day 13 John Muir Trail

“Split Lake” (Lake 11,595) to Main South Fork Kings Crossing

Total JMT Miles — 4       Side trip miles — 1     Elevation gain/loss — +200/-1670

Morning at 'Split Lake" campsite

Morning at ‘Split Lake” campsite

Day 13 started innocently enough. I awoke after a wet and cold night at my lake of solitude. It was not raining at first light, for which I was grateful. I gave myself a hearty pat on the back for having survived my first night of rain on the JMT, and I felt good and optimistic about the day to come. The day’s goals were simple:  Dry out my gear from the previous day, and get in some JMT miles. I hoped to catch back up to my hiking friends, Ashley, Rob, and Marcus. I knew they had camped at Marjorie Lake, six miles away, the previous night, and I wanted to bridge the distance with a long day. I didn’t have a destination in mind for the night, but I was physically and psychologically prepared for a day of miles. I could see the sun attempting to peek out of the heavy cloud over, and I earnestly believed that the rain was gone, and that blue skies would return with conviction. So I lingered in camp to see if I could reap some benefit from the sun’s natural ability to dry things out.

S. Fork Kings River, with (left to right) Striped Mt., Mt. Ickes and Crater Mt. Note the skies are blue here!

Mt. Ruskin

Mt. Ruskin

But as the morning progressed, and the cloud cover persisted, I gave up my hope of sun-dried gear. I packed up my wet tent, clothes and sleeping bag and moved out. I left Split Lake and was back on the JMT by 9:00 am. My mood has lightened despite the clouds, and I was glad to be back on the solid footing of the JMT.  The going was easy, the views were good, and I removed layers of clothing as I cruised along. Soon I was down to shorts and a tank top, admittedly trying to draw back the sunshine with my light hiking attire. I sat pleasantly enough by a stream for my 10:00 am snack, and began to relax into the day.

S. Fork Kings, Mt. Ickes, and clouds!

S. Fork Kings, Mt. Ickes, and clouds!

Soon thereafter, the trail entered forest, and my views became obscured by trees. Again I crossed the South Fork of the Kings River, and continued dropping gradually for another mile and 700 feet. I could FEEL that the clouds were getting heavier, and I kept looking up, willing lighter skies to come back.  I had to stop and put on another layer, as clearly my approach of “dressing for” was not going to bring back the sun. Right on cue, I started to feel the first rain drops. “Only a light shower”, I assured myself. It was only 11:00 am, I had only travelled four miles, and I wasn’t ready to stop by any means. But within minutes, literally, and just as I reached the lowest point of the day elevation wise,  the skies opened up and rain began to dump. Accompanied by thunder and lightning, it was sudden, extreme, and a bit scary. I was rather unexpectedly in for a full on mountain thunderstorm!

I decided to stop right there and wait out the storm. I pulled out my rain jacket, and a hefty garbage bag for my pack. I experienced instant regret about NOT purchasing an actual rain cover for my backpack, which protects that pack while leaving the straps free, and would have let me keep hiking.  At the time, I didn’t want to add the extra expense to an already costly adventure and I assumed, as I could now see naively, that I would not need a pack cover, since on the previous year’s JMT hike we had experienced virtually no rain.

So I sat under a big tree, pack covered, still in shorts, but top half dry in my Gore Tex jacket and waited, watched, and listened. It was frankly eerie, as the sky crackled with lightning and boomed with thunder, one right on the heels of the next. I felt good about my location, trying to remember where you were NOT supposed to be in a thunderstorm — on a pass, in an open area with few trees, near a vertical wall, or in a cave. It seemed OK to be seated under a large tree that was one of many.

I told myself I would sit there until noon, see what the weather was up to, then make a decision to set up camp or move on. I was hopeful the weather would break, but it showed no signs of doing so. Eventually, a hiker came up, and I was ecstatic, both to see a person and that it was Emily, a young gal hiking solo who I had not seen since Donahue Pass on Day 3. I thought perhaps she had quit her JMT endeavor since I hadn’t seen her for ten days, and so was doubly glad to see her. She asked if she could sit under the tree with me, and I warmly welcomed her company for the storm vigil. We sat and talked of our trail adventures to date and those to come. She planned to go up to Bench Lake for the night, another few miles up and off the JMT. I told her I had day hiked there the previous year and that it was lovely. Of course, when we were there it was warm and sunny, not a full on thunderstorm. After we sat and talked for a half hour, it was clear no let up was in sight, and Emily decided to move on, committed to her mileage goal.  Reluctantly, I stayed behind to set up camp. With a backpack cover,  I might have joined her, but I was reluctant to get any wetter than I and my gear already were.

The campsite I was in was large, and rivulets of water were starting to form all around the flat areas. I chose what looked to be the driest spot, and set up my tent. I was efficient despite the cold, wet rain, this now being my second time in two days of setting up my tent in the rain. I was in the tent and warming up by 1:00 pm, and ate lunch inside.  I wondered if the smell of food in the tent would be a bear draw, but honestly, I was beyond caring at that point. I was relieved to be under cover and out of the rain.

Once the setup and lunch tasks were done, however, my good mood quickly evaporated.  I felt discouragement and then depression descend and wrap around me with a dampness on par with the conditions outside. I was angry at the rain for thwarting my plans. I had only gone four miles!  I tried to embrace this as another rest day opportunity.  I lay down with my book to read. I tried to sleep. My thoughts were racing, though, as I dwelled on the fact that now I was really “behind schedule” to meet up with Dave again in two more days for the second ten-day food drop. My brain knew I still had time to do the miles, but I found myself obsessing anyway. While I knew intellectually I’d made the right choice in stopping, I still felt distressed and angry about being stuck in the tent when I would rather be hiking. I tried to just chill out and accept my fate, and rest and relax. Finally, I was able to doze a bit.

Suddenly, I was rudely awakened by a mass of hikers entering my personal campground. I could hear voices, many of them, and they were discussing where to pitch their tents right there in the exact same spot I was in. It was a large spot, but there were also other campsites nearby, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why they would want to camp right there almost on top of me. I could hear four tents going up, which meant at least eight people, and they had me surrounded! I was really irked, and lay in my tent fuming and writing. It reminded me of Red’s Meadow on Day 5, when all the late backpackers came in and set up camp in the already over crowded backpacker camp right at dark. I was extremely puzzled, again, by why people would want to be so close…to each other, and to someone they didn’t even know. I let out all my frustrations through the pen, then forced myself to try to see it from their perspective. It was 3 pm, which meant they had been hiking in the rain for hours and were probably soaked. They probably saw my tent and a site that seemed doable, and just decided to stop. I tried to be forgiving and gracious. I told myself I would not get out of my tent until I could be kind and courteous.

I stayed in the tent until 4:30, when the rain finally started to let up. I cautiously poked my head out, and the woman who had set up the closest to me was right there in her tent with the fly open. Literally, I crawled out of my tent and hers was less than a foot away.  I recognized her as Ginnie from Red’s Meadow, the labor and delivery nurse who I had really liked. Her tent mate was Tracy. They apologized for their super close proximity, and I told them no worries. I was still irritated, but I was relieved they were at least people I had previously met and liked. The other surrounding tents’ occupants were inside, and I chatted for a few minutes with Ginnie about their day and how they had ended up there.  I wandered a bit to find a place to pee, then came back and decided to make an early dinner since I was up and out of the tent anyway.  The rain was down to a drizzle, and the thunder and lightning had stopped. I foraged through my pack, thankfully dry from the garbage bag, and found stove, food, and water to make my simple dinner. Ginnie joined me, and we cooked our dinners side by side on the one flat rock in our deluged camp site.

After dinner, I decided to go on a walk. I had been sitting or lying for over six hours, about my max for non-movement. I started on the JMT in the direction I would head in the morning, just to move and see what I was facing. Since it was the low point of elevation where we were all camped, I knew it would be uphill. I hiked for about 45 minutes, up switchbacks that I vaguely remembered from the previous year. It was nice to move, and the hiking warmed me up and brought blood back circulating into my muscles. It was still a dark and gloomy day, and I was still discouraged about losing a day’s hiking and the continued rain and wet, BUT I also felt my mood revive, as always, after a good walk. I returned to my tent, and people were in theirs so I didn’t have to make conversation. I got ready for bed, still accompanied by persistent drizzle, and was back in the tent by 7:00. I wrote some more, and read until darkness. I was frankly relieved that the day was done and that I had regained my sanity despite my frustrations.

Highlights of the day

Getting through it without being bitchy!

I have a tendency to want and need to withdraw into myself when I am frustrated, angry, or depressed. I was prepared to do that on this day when the rain came — be alone, and just tough it out. Then people came in, and I had to be a bit social, or else seem completely rude. I was able to strike a balance with that, being mostly alone with my disparaging thoughts,  but also somewhat interactive.  Especially with Ginnie, who I did really like. As we cooked our dinner together, we chatted and I learned more about her and how she ended up on the JMT. It helped tremendously to have this time with her to get out of my self-imposed pity party.

Getting out on a walk!

I have said it a thousand times before and I know it to be true…after periods of inactivity, whether sleep, a long car ride, or hours spent cooped up in a tent, movement is the ticket for me to feel “normal”. Just moving my body, and getting blood flow to stagnant muscles, and being out in nature, even if it was rainy and wet, did wonders to lift my damp mood. I cannot say enough about how this small endeavor shifted my perspective from one of despair to gradual acceptance of my reality.

Lesson of the day

Frustration with lack of control exists in nature as well as in civilization.

It’s a simple but true statement…I take myself and my tendencies wherever I go. I could see it with the Llamas a few days prior, and I could see it here. I don’t like it when I have a plan and something gets in the way. Until this day, my plans for the days activities and miles got met, despite inevitable obstacles.  But the conditions on this day were too much. I felt an immense amount of irritation about something I could not control. Out in the wilderness, I realized, is just a microcosm of the bigger picture of life. I let myself dwell and obsess on the weather holding me back, just as I let myself worry needlessly and endlessly about things in my day to day “normal” life that I can’t control. I struggle with acceptance of the things that get in the way of my carefully laid plans. I was reminded on this day of the AA serenity prayer: To accept the things I cannot change (the weather), to have the courage to change the things I can (my attitude) and the wisdom to know the difference (embrace instead of fight the reality).

 

 

 

 

 

Day 12 John Muir Trail

Lower Palisades Lake to “Split Lake” (aka Lake 11,595)

Total JMT miles — 4       Side trip miles, including Split Mountain  (14, 042 feet)–  4.5

Elevation gain/loss  —  +4000/-3005

I awoke surprisingly refreshed after a cold, windy, and dusty night up above Lower Palisades Lake. The campsite offered spectacular early morning views, and I took my time with breakfast, coffee, and writing. From my perch I could see campers below, as they packed up to move out, and watched Ashley, then Rob leave for the trail. I knew Marcus would be somewhere behind. I was hoping to be able to hike with them some, but they were too fast for me on this lazy morning.

I was uncertain what the day held for me. The first task of the morning was straightforward —  gain Mather Pass, less than four miles away.  But I would have to make a decision at the pass what to do next. The previous year, Gregg and I had made a half-hearted attempt on Split Mountain, a just over 14,000 foot peak easily accessible from the JMT.  That time, I didn’t have enough clothes with me for a 14,000 peak climb, the views were obscured by smoke anyway, and Gregg simply didn’t want to do it. So we only hiked to Red Lake Pass (12,630 feet), which still gave reasonably good views under the circumstances. This year, I was strongly drawn to complete the mission of climbing Split, and strategized all morning about how I could pull that off.

Headed up Mather Pass, looking back at Upper Palisade Lake, and Middle Palisade Mt. and Mt. Sill

Headed up Mather Pass, looking back at Upper Palisade Lake, and Middle Palisade Mt. and Mt. Sill

The hike up to Mather Pass is beautiful in and of itself. I first traversed Lower, then Upper Palisade Lake, crossing small streams along the way. The final ascent to the pass is through loose talus, with nary a tree to be seen. Mather Pass (12,100 ft.) sports simply spectacular views, as you can see a total of six 14,000 foot peaks from the top. Even with a late start and easy pace, I made the pass by 11:00 am. I took it all in, enjoying the company of other hikers, including late-start Marcus, and the three older hikers from the day before who termed me “legendary”. There was also a group of men from Texas, backpacking a five-day loop hike that incorporated in parts of the JMT and came in and out nearby passes. There are a multitude of backpack trips possible in the vicinity, and many hikers are up to something entirely different than a JMT through hike. It was nice to relax and take my time on the pass, as I contemplated my next move.

From Mather Pass, L to R, North Palisade, Mt. Sill, Middle Palisade

From Mather Pass, L to R, North Palisade, Mt. Sill, Middle Palisade

Palisades from Mather Pass

Palisades from Mather Pass

I looked down at Split, and the lake below it. I kept thinking I would have to drop down the pass, hike over to the lake, dump my stuff there, climb Split, return to get my stuff, get back to and on the trail, and THEN find a campsite for the night. All that seemed overwhelming, and, sitting there looking down, it finally dawned on me that I could just camp at the lake below Split for the night. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me earlier. I think my mindset, of being JMT through hiker, made my first thoughts go to the place of only camping on the trail. But having camped with Oliver, Dave, and Olivia at the unnamed lake a mile off the trail, I realized I could do the same, by myself. It was a weird rush of both confidence and fear that I could do something like that alone. Get off trail, find a campsite, go climb a 14,000 foot peak, return to my site, and sleep there, ALL BY MYSELF. As I sat on the pass, the idea started to form, and I knew that is what I would do.

Split Mountain and "Split Lake" from Mather Pass

Split Mountain and “Split Lake” from Mather Pass

I told Marcus of my plans, as I knew he would pass it on to Ashley and Rob. I didn’t want them to think I had dropped off the face of the earth if I didn’t catch back up. I was nervous in my declaration, wondering if it was safe to do the peak alone, as I knew no one else would likely be there. The sum total of my over 14,000 ft. peak experiences to that point was Mt. Whitney the year before, and Mt. Rainer twice in my 20’s. Admittedly, I was already at over 12,000 ft. as I thought all this through, but still…a peak is a peak, and I didn’t want to be foolish or rash in my pursuit of bagging another “14.”

Each step after I left the pass became a step on a mission. I wanted to be established at camp and on the way up Split by 12:30. My guidebook said it was a six hour diversion from the JMT. I figured I could do it in four hours from the lake, five tops, giving me plenty of time to come back to camp, eat, and get settled for the night. I dropped down the side of the pass, and to the place where I remembered heading back up towards the unnamed lake below Split (which I came to call Split Lake). Once I left the trail, I became cautious, as cross-country travel (hiking off trail) is not my forte, especially with a heavy pack. I made my way to and part way around Split Lake before finding a suitable site, a place where clearly people had camped before. I dumped my stuff, rinsed some of my very dusty clothes from the previous night in the water, and hung them out to dry. I made sure to hang them where I could see them on my return, as I didn’t want to miss my site entirely after the ascent. After a quick lunch, I packed up my day pack with extra clothes, more food, water, gloves, and the guidebook. The guidebook was vague at best in it’s route description, being a JMT guidebook that merely mentioned Split Mountain as  good possible 14,000 foot peak side trip.

On the way up Split, looking back at Mt. Bolton Brown and Split Lake

On the way up Split, looking back at Mt. Bolton Brown and Split Lake

The nature of fear for me when doing something like Split Mountain is different than the run-of- the-mill worry that I might be doing “too much” in any given day. Physically, and time-wise, I knew I would be fine. The anxieties associated with climbing Split had much more to do with inexperience off trail, and the fear that I would “miss” the easiest way up. I looked at the route description, and it simply said to pick your way up the eastern side of the slope, then cross over talus to the western side, looking for vegetation and possible ‘use trails’ along the way.  I realized that I needed to get to Red Lake Pass, then on the mountain and feel it under me, in order to gage my path and progress, one step at a time. That’s what I know how to do best, just get myself on a task, and take it as it comes instead of overthinking the “right” way to do it.

Building clouds over Mt. Bolton Brown, The Thumb, and Birch Mt.

Building clouds over Mt. Bolton Brown, The Thumb, and Birch Mt.

The other fear I had, another unknown, was the weather. I could see the clouds were building, and I knew that afternoon thunderstorms were notorious in the Sierras. It was still mostly sunny when I left Split Lake, and I did not even bother to set up my tent to put my belongings inside, figuring I’d be back long before any significant rain. But as I started up and continued along the ascent, the clouds continued to thicken, and the wind was at times fierce. It was invigorating, exhilarating, and frightening all at once. I knew I would not be blown off the mountain, but sometimes it felt like I would. The wind was so loud at times, I could barely hear myself think! I was thankful for the layers of clothing I had brought, as I knew I would need them all. Cool temps, wind, and my anxiety all kept me moving up the challenging ascent at a rapid pace.

Split Mountain, Elevation 14,051

Split Mountain, Elevation 14,051

Looking North from summit of Split

Looking North from summit of Split

I can’t say I ascended Split with any great finesse. At times, I was clearly “doing it right”. At other times, I picked my way up, through steep, loose rock, a smattering of vegetation, and some exposure. I never feared that I would not make it, but I did feel quite alone and wished for company in my (lack of) best route-finding skills. I reached the top in exactly two hours from when I had left the lake below. At the top, despite the clouds, the views were stupendous.  I put on all remaining layers, took photos, and ate the food I had brought. I stayed 15 or 20 minutes up there, taking it all in, but also keeping a close eye on the continuously building clouds. I felt a great sense of accomplishment that I had done it, and allowed myself to embrace that feeling before letting fear seep back in. I knew I still had to get down and back to camp, and hopefully before rain and thunder.

 

Looking East from Split to Red Creek Basin

Looking East from Split to Red Creek Basin

I had a better view of the use trail from the top. I did my best to follow it going down, and it was much easier than my disorganized and indirect path up. But the use trail flitted in and out of boulders, scree, and vegetation, as often as not disappearing all together. I was trying to keep a good pace, but it was steep in places; thankfully, I had my hiking poles, and I relied on them heavily to ease the seemingly endless downward slope. I was making good progress, mostly, when I felt the first rain drops, about half way down. I really tried to pick it up then, which resulted in a good slip and fall.  I jammed my finger in between two rocks, inside my gloves. It hurt like the dickens when I pulled it out.  I also scraped up my leg pretty good. I had blood running down my leg, and my finger was hurting, but I kept going. The rain came in earnest as I got down closer to the lake, with it’s accompanying thunder and thankfully distant lightning. I kept my eyes peeled for my hanging laundry the closer I got to camp.  I knew that my stuff would be getting wet…down sleeping bag, down coat, all my other clothing. I wished I had set up my tent before, but there was nothing I could do except keep on a step at a time.

When I finally got back to camp, I scurried into rain gear and began setting up my tent as quickly as possible. I did the whole thing in my gloves, realizing in some corner of my mind that I was bleeding through my gloves, but not caring. I simply wanted to establish a dry place to put my things out of the rain. It’s worth noting here that I have very little experience backpacking in the rain. That fear, of weather and rain, was near the top of my anxiety list coming on the JMT solo hike. But, since I had basically no rain the previous year, I somehow assumed that I would not have it this year. So even as I watched the clouds build, I STILL stayed in the zone of denial that it would actually rain on my otherwise perfect parade! But mother nature clearly had something else in mind for me on day 12.

Wet, bleeding, and finally in the tent, I took off my gloves to see the damage. I had a significant cut and missing chunk of skin on my right middle finger, and had consequently bloodied up everything I had touched in my haste to set up camp. My tent, sleeping bag, pad, and clothes were now all wet AND bloody. Just what I need for bear protection, I mused. But frankly, I was so relieved to be in the tent and out of the rain, I continued to take it a step at a time. I found first aid, bandaged my finger, and used my ample supply of handi-wipes to clean up as much blood as possible. I sat there, relieved, happy, and warm enough despite the wet. Had I dodged a bullet? Was I really at any great risk? No, I decided.  I just got wet and cut, but no major damage was incurred.  And I had done Split Mountain, like I had so wanted to.  I was supremely relieved to be back in camp, in the tent, at the base of a fantastic peak, by a fantastic lake, and, so far, I had weathered the storm. And all that all on my own!

I waited for a slight break, cooked dinner, and crawled back into the tent for an early night of reading and writing. I was optimistic again about weather…hadn’t my book said usually the storms moved in and out fast? So I went to sleep fully believing that would be it for my rain experience on the JMT, and thankful that I had survived it just fine.

Highlights of the day

Climbing Split Mountain

Red Meadow Creek Basin from Split Mountain

Red Meadow Creek Basin from Split Mountain

Mt. Bolton Brown, Middle Palisades, and The Thumb from Split Mountain

Mt. Bolton Brown, Middle Palisades, and The Thumb from Split Mountain

I had a goal, I saw my obstacles, I pondered them, and I did it anyway. I formed a strategy to do it logically and practically, by basing my operations out of Split Lake instead of off the JMT. I loved the views from the peak despite heavy clouds, and while it would have been nice to have someone up there with me to share in the experience, I fully embraced being there alone. I felt unquestionably satisfied and proud of myself for doing it, despite the complications and challenges.

Confronting fears

There was ample opportunity here. Fear of the unknown, fear of climbing a peak alone, fear of establishing camp alone off trail, fear of weather, fear of getting wet and cold, fear of falling. A little bit of all those things came to be, and it was all OK. I fell (again), and survived (again). I got wet, my stuff got wet, but I problem solved as well as I could. I accepted my fate, and I was actually able to embrace it as all part of a great overall experience.

Lessons of the day

Make camp before you embark on the task at hand

This was the biggest learning for me on this day. If I had set up my tent ahead of time, and put my stuff in the tent instead of leaving it all out, I would not have had the same sense of having to scurry down the mountain so fast. In turn, I may not have fallen, and I probably would not have cut my finger, or bled all over everything in my haste to get my belongings secured. I thought I was saving time by leaving immediately after getting in camp. I assumed the weather would hold off until my return. That’s not what happened, and I paid a price.

Optimistic thoughts don’t always overrule mother nature!

Ominous Clouds forming into rain

Ominous Clouds forming into rain

On some level, I knew I was at risk for rain. I was in denial, though, and believed that my optimistic thoughts could somehow hold off the rain. I had been SO blessed with good weather and lacked any real weather related challenges on on all of my previous backpack trips. I just assumed my luck would continue. I believed that the rain would not come, or if it did, it would come at a time of convenience for me! I was not shocked or angry when it came, but I did realize how little control my thinking, even when positive, had over the actual forces of nature. If a storm is coming, it’s coming, regardless of how much I may choose to believe (and hope) otherwise! Surviving this first storm, I felt empowered and grateful for it. I actually assumed (again!) that that would be it for my weather experiences. Again, I was wrong in my assumptions, as the next couple of days would demonstrate…

Live and learn…

Simple but true. On the trail, off the trail, and in life, that’s what it’s about…and Day 12 was a really good one for that.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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!

shannonandkevinattop

kathieontop

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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