Friday, June 23, 2017

Crashing Heather's Party

I believe in miracles. I understand though, that if miracles do exist, they are unpredictable at best. Except for the miracle of 3 days of perfect weather on this last Memorial day weekend. That was predicted by forecasters, and it came to pass exactly as promised. Therefore, I knew if I wanted to backpack in the same area as my friend Heather, I would need another miracle of scoring a permit on what I knew would be the busiest weekend ever at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount.
I feel sorry for the rangers who work in poor little Marblemount. Their station is the main back-country permit office for the North Cascades National Park AND Ross Lake AND Lake Chelan. That's a lot of permits to give out, and when it's early season and there isn't much hiking that isn't covered in snow, that is where everyone is going to be headed. I knew I needed to get there when they opened if I was going to have a shot at all.
Not a bad view from camp

My friend Heather was already blissfully camped out right on the Ross Lake shore at Big Beaver boat camp because they applied for the early permit online--a system that is just being tried out this year. I don't really understand how it works, except that I missed the window when you could do it. I wasn't really invited to their family party (a birthday outing with their kids and her parents) but I thought if I could get a spot somewhere in the area, I could swing by and surprise them with a present of my awesome presence. ;)
Birthday boy
Well, the second I pulled up to the ranger station at 9 am on the dot, I knew there was no miracle in store for me. I bet there were at least 30 cars, and just as many people mulling around the parking lot. Seeing the sign that said they opened at 8 am explained a lot (I guess I looked at North Cascade's Visitors hours online by accident) but I figured it wouldn't hurt to go inside...maybe I would get an unexpected surprise. And wouldn't you know...only one person in line at the desk! Good thing I didn't give up on my miracle!  As I cheerfully smiled at the ranger when it was my turn, he smiled back and asked me for my number. Number? mean all those people in the parking lot have taken a number! Okay, I'm out. No way I'm waiting an hour to hear that there is nothing available. 
I love rock art!
And wildflowers!
My plan B was to just day hike in, stay a couple hours, and head back out. It's only 6 miles to Big Beaver camp, and it's relatively flat, and without a big pack on it shouldn't be a big deal. 12 miles total...pheesh, that's child's play! But to maximize my time, I thought I'd cheat a little and save a mile or so by taking the boat over to Ross Lake Resort. I thought I'd be fun, plus I really wanted to check the place out.
Best $2 ride I've ever had!

My plan went to perfection, as the boat arrived just minutes after I arrived. (Other folks already waiting had called) When I reached the resort and asked the lady at the desk how to get to the trail, she gave the strange directions of jumping across and "scurrying up" the rocks. Not exactly what I had imagined, but I was able to figure it out. She also let me know if I wanted a ride back, I needed to get there by 5, though I thought to myself that would not be necessary because I'd just do that extra mile back. 
...and scurry!
Smooth sailing all the way to Big Beaver--what a great trail! It was fun to pop in at the party--I got to take a ride in their canoe, get a complete history of the area from Heather's dad (it's HIS place, ha ha) and a refill of water from Heather's magical strobe light filter. (Also to be used at the rave they were having that night ;)) A look at the clock, and I realized I just may make that 5 o'clock ride after all...and y'know, I really wouldn't mind saving a mile. 
"See that mountain?...they named it after some crazy guy lived up there
for years because he though the end of the world was coming"
Quick good bye's, and I was off. I immediately started obsessing about catching that boat. I was tired. Who was I fooling thinking 11 miles wasn't going to kick my ass? Watching the clock, I knew I needed to practically run. So I did. For about 5 minutes. I'm really not a runner, even on a good day. Okay, so I'm going to be about a half hour late. Do I risk going down the steep hill, knowing I'll have to go back up AND THEN do the extra mile if she was super serious about no boats after 5? Ugh, I really need to make that boat! So I started running again...and no, that was not going to happen. I conceded to the fact I was just going to beg...they would give me a ride. 
Do you see the tree troll?
And they did! I must have looked a mess, because the boat guy immediately offered me water. I was so thankful they took extra mile when you feel as done as I felt is really hell. And I still had to make that last mile up to the highway, which was not fun at all. (It took me 45 minutes, which is really pathetic when you don't even have a pack on!)

I should have got a ride on this guy! ;)
So I may not have gotten my miracle of a backpacking permit on the best Memorial day weekend in 20 years, but I did get many other miracles; a great day with great friends, lungs that breathe in and out (quite heavily!), legs that get me to where I want to go (even if it is slow) and beauty all around for me to enjoy! The miracle of living is really the best of all.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lower Big Quilcene Trail

The ferries hate me. Or at least sometimes if feels that way. This is the 5th time they have almost ruined my hiking plans...but I have prevailed!! The evil ferries cannot win!
Mostly it's the Coupeville ferry that has been my nemesis. Winds, tides, and tons of people I don't expect to be also taking the ferry are all to blame. I prefer to not blame my own forgetting or waiting too long to make a reservation, because what fun is that?
The line to get in line. Not good.
My sister in law had been begging me to take her on her first backpacking trip, which of course thrilled me to death. There's nothing quite like a first timer--especially one who is game for April temps! Juli grew up camping and is no stranger to roughing it; her only concern was that she felt too "old" and "out of shape" for a backpack. Hogwash! I knew she was tough as nails; and besides, neither of those things have stopped me! ;) I can't think of much that should stop anyone from going out into the wilderness, if that's what they want. I've come across a blind hiker, I've seen articles on hikers with every condition you can imagine (and there's my friend Cynthia, who came with me last year with her own breathing machine in tow!) and as far as old goes--if Lee Barry can thru hike the Appalachian Trail at 81, then age is not an issue. (And of course there is Grandma Gatewood who was my inspiration to start backpacking--look her up!!)
You go girl!
So Juli had the most important requirement needed; the desire to do it. "Nature therapy" is what she was after, because as we all know, life is stressful. But there is something about the simple quiet of the outdoors that heals. And that therapy is accessible to anyone who wants long as they can get past those dang ferries! ;)
Can you see Juli? Ha ha, my brother made her take his hunting gear.
Thank God, because she would have froze without it!
I know I'll bore you if I try to explain all the in's and out's of coming up with the plan for this simple one night let's just say this hike was a constant work in progress. In my own defense, I did try to make a reservation once we nailed down an agenda, but it was too late to book a spot, so I had to chance getting on as overflow. I had a bad feeling that 11:45 am would be full, but I figured even the 1:15 would work because it's starting to stay light much later. But the 2:45? Seriously?
Madly texting Juli that maybe a hotel reservation was in order as my stupid phone was approaching less than 5%, it dawned on me that because she was waiting for me with a car in Port Townsend, there was no reason I couldn't just get on the ferry as a walk on. Well, there was the little problem of the 2 fully loaded backpacks, but I figured I didn't have to carry them very far.
Once I figured this out (unfortunately too late for the earliest ride) all was smooth sailing; until I discovered we needed to go back to the restaurant to finish the bottle of wine Juli had ordered at her favorite waterfront eatery while patiently waiting for my arrival. "It's such a better deal than buying a glass"...she's a woman after my own heart! And how could I argue that the half bottle waiting for us couldn't go to waste. Of course we'll go back there and finish it!!
We'll get hiking when we're good and ready!
So, not getting on the early ferry, spending extra time at the restaurant, and the fact that we missed the turn off to the trailhead made for a much later start than we were hoping for. (Hiking lesson #53: Do not rely on your co-pilot to navigate if she's had a the majority portion of a bottle of wine, hahaha! But getting distracted by talking really is a problem--one I've had multiple times, so I seriously need to focus when the GPS signal can no longer be relied on.) Arriving at 4 pm and having 5 miles to our camp meant possibly setting up in the dark, which was not the experience I wanted for Juli's first time. But thankfully Juli was game for anything, so off we went.

The first 2 miles of this trail are sort of a snoozeville. But it's easy and pleasant, and then you are down to the river and it starts to take on a much more rain forest feel. Before we knew it, we were at the first camp. I hadn't even considered staying at "Bark Shanty", probably because I had read that "Jolly Camp" was beautiful; and besides, stopping at just 2.7 miles felt like cheating. But dang, this camp was NICE! And huge! And stopping meant we would have more time to just enjoy ourselves. Well, y'all know I'm never above cheating, so stop we did!
Juli was completely gaga over our location. I didn't realize her expectations were "pick a random spot under a tree" low. And the fact we had warm food!...she was blown away. Fire?! Not in her wildest dreams. She was making me feel like I had brought her on a Caribbean cruise! I'm afraid my next newbie has a lot to live up to!
Snug as a bug in a rug
Next day we packed our gear, and then left it so we could complete our goal pack free. (I had to see if our original destination of Jolly camp was's not. But the 2.5 miles to get there are lovely and definitely worth doing.) When we got back to retrieve our stuff we found Bark Shanty was completely taken over with another large group, which confirmed we did well in persisting to make this trip happen on a Friday instead of a Saturday. 
Jolly Camp didn't feel very jolly to me
The signs on this trail are super cute! I may have to try Notch Pass next time
Quite a crowd, and we saw another family coming in as we were leaving!
Once we were done, we had to stop for the obligatory burger; so we decided to check out the crazy place we both have taken pictures of on other trips, but have never dared to try. 
Holy Moly! "Fat Smitty's" is even crazier on the inside! What a treat though. We decided to split the burger, (highly recommended!) but then Juli hesitated because she saw that it was an extra $1 charge. "No worries" I assured her, and pretended to grab one off the wall. Heck, what else are they there for, ha ha! (FYI, you do need cash to eat there though, because they don't take credit.)

How stupid were we to not even check the ferry schedule for the trip home? Of course it was just pulling out as we were pulling in, so we had a little over an hour to kill before the final crossing of the day. Thankfully Port Townsend is a place Juli visits often, so she was more than happy to stay and drive me around for a little tour. We both decided we would definitely have to meet there again, but next time I promise I will have a reservation in hand!
P.S. Thank you Juli for being the photographer for this trip! Hiking lesson #54: Always check to see if you've put the memory card back in your camera! :)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Living the Dream (Hiking in Nevada/Utah/Arizona)

Motivational speaker, Matt Foley, warned us all that we would probably grow up to amount to "JACK SQUAT" and find ourselves "living in a van down by the river." Well, la dee frickin' da, wouldn't you know that's exactly where my husband and I found ourselves...and I can't think of a better way for us to have celebrated 30 years of marriage. (Only thing that could have made it better was if we had "rolled some doobies", ha ha!)

Hell yes! LTD!

Would you pass the government cheese, dear?
I was pretty surprised when my husband agreed to spend a week driving around in such a "colorful" set of wheels; but I had found such a great deal, and frankly, he probably would have agreed to just about anything only to get away for a few days. Though thankfully he's learned to enjoy hiking just for hiking sake, (not easy for a former adrenaline addict climber) so driving to a few of Utah's National Parks and hitting some trails was a plan we could both agree to.

After picking up our rental van in Vegas we spent our first full day hiking at Red Rock Canyon.We were so glad we had already decided to drive back to Vegas to stay another night at a hotel, because the campground there was already completely full. I had no idea this place was so enormous and that we would have so many trails to choose from. (You can drive the 12 mile scenic loop and see quite a bit without even leaving your car, but be aware there is an entrance fee...I wasn't, and by the end of this trip, I was cursing entrance fees!) I'm glad I did a little research before hand and had read that Calico Tanks was a good moderate hike of 2 and a half miles--no need to wear ourselves out straight out the gate!
A great payoff view of Vegas at the end of Calico Tanks
Immediately Ken had climber envy, and was kicking himself for not packing his climbing shoes and a chalk bag so he could at least do a little bouldering. Every hike on this trip provided him nearly endless opportunities to salivate over routes. "Look at that overhang!, that crack is endless...can you see where they drilled the bolts?"--oh, the heartbreak of missing one's glory days. 
I wanna keep going!!
"Ken, get back here!!!"...JK, this is some other lucky climber
Speaking of younger years, visiting Zion after 10 years away (we celebrated our 20th there by doing "The Narrows") made us long for the good ol' days. We thought it was busy then, but it's a whole new level of crazy now. It was unfortunately proving to be Ken's worst nightmare come true...wait in line for the campsite (over an hour, though we were lucky to even get one)...wait in line for the permit (no luck there; water at "The Subway" hike was running too high as it was still March)...wait in line for the shuttle (no cars allowed anymore, even during "slow" season)...wait in line for the bathroom...and finally the kicker, wait in line for the trail!!!
Somebody shoot me
You'd think death warnings would be a deterrent
"Calling number's your turn"
Seriously, Angels Landing looked more like a Disneyland attraction than anything you should find in nature. Ken had been pondering why on earth Utah would pick "The Beehive State" as it's official nickname; but waiting and observing the buzzing masses, he turned to me and simply said, "now I get it." 

Relaxing? I sure hope you know how to tie a knot!
The next day we decided to abandon our hard fought for site and continue on to Bryce. Looking at the forecast and seeing nothing good anywhere, we decided if we were going to get rained on, we might as well have a change of scenery.
Goodbye Zion! 
Hello Bryce!!
It was a good call, because lucky for us Bryce got cold enough to bless us with snow instead! We did the "Figure 8", which is a combo of both the Navajo Loop and the Peekaboo Loop, and I could not recommend it more highly. What I wouldn't recommend though is trying to sneak off to pee when your husband has the camera. ;)

Where's Waldo?

The only regret we had for this leg of the trip was not buying more firewood to last us into the freezing night. But resourcefulness prevailed, as we found quite a plunder of charred log remains at our neighboring sites. (I always find this activity oddly thrilling...must be my extreme love of free stuff)
I got the quesadillas!
I got the Coronas and salsa!
In the morning we scraped the ice off the van and doubled back to Zion in hopes that the water level had receded enough to snag a last chance permit, but it was not to be. Some quick Google searches for an alternate hike lead us to a less popular trail in the Kolob Canyon area just outside of Zion. Another good choice, because our muscles were still upset over the steep declines and inclines of the previous two days, and Taylor Creek is an easy in and out 5 mile beauty. (And it's included in your Zion Park entrance fee--thank God because I couldn't handle another fee)
"Would you look at the size of that wall?!? Sigh..."
Historic cabin on the trail
Very cool arch at the end of the hike
Go another 10 minutes (no real trail) and you get another treat
The last hike of the trip took us to a new state; and although I had thought I had outwitted the fee Gods by choosing it, lo and behold you have to pay $30 just to drive through the Lake Mead area to get to it! (You could avoid this by coming a different direction, but we did end up camping at Lake Mead, because of it's proximity to the hike.)
Arizona Hot Springs begins as possibly the ugliest trail I have ever been on. Starting off as a wide desert wash going under the highway, it doesn't look like anything anyone should be doing for any reason. (And you shouldn't do it for any reason in the summer, because you would fry!) But it makes up for it after about 2 miles when you arrive in the slot canyon area, and then be prepared to be blown away once you reach the hot springs.
He's always got to add the tiniest rock he can find

Now you would think sitting in such a secluded spot in 110 degree water would be relaxing, but all I could think about was not getting any water in my nose so I wouldn't die from the rare but deadly amoeba found in the springs.(It can only enter through you nose...isn't that weird?) Ken lifted his wet finger to pick his nose and I just about had a heart attack! "I just had a scratch!" he insisted, but I think he was enjoying freaking me out, as usual.
For God's sake, keep your nose above water!!!
Neither of us were aware we were less than a quarter mile from the Colorado River. I don't know how that got past me when researching this hike, but thankfully a fellow hiker filled us in. There are a few different ways to get to the springs, and obviously we choose the one that didn't include the river. So we pushed on, down the ladder, and found ourselves at another bee hive of people. A large kayaking group was camped out there (what an amazing spot) so we were extremely lucky to hit the hot springs at a time when they were not there. And so far neither of us has shown any signs of our brains being eaten by the Naegleria Fowleri amoeba, so we were fortunate all the way around. ;)
The 30 foot ladder was a little unnerving  

Of course, being married to such a great guy and good sport for a blessed 30 years...and not having to actually live in a van down by the what makes me the most fortunate adventurer ever. So here's to 30 more years and many more adventures to come!
Because our ride was named "The Money Van", Ken had to
take a "money shot" to go with it. Gotta love him.