Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Desolation Decimation

(continued from Ross Lake East Bank Trail Part Two)
Desolation Peak is number 14 in my "100 Classic Hikes of Washington" book, so I was really excited to do it. It's claim to fame is the writer and poet, Jack Kerouac, who spent 63 days at the lookout on top in the summer of 1956. I've never read any of his stuff, but it seemed appropriate to bring one of his works along to read while I spent the night there. So I went to the library, and found a couple books that looked to weigh about 5 pounds each. So much for that idea.

Lightning Creek's dock is not so much fun in June
I did find another book in the same section that was the perfect size called "The Places That Scare You". Facing down fears is a lot of what backpacking is for me; so I grabbed it, knowing I could use all the help I could get.
Living on the edge

Therefore, as I sat in my tent that Thursday morning listening to the rain and deciding what to do, I tried to be really honest with myself and my fears. I wanted to prove I could do this, I knew that. I didn't want to come back not having accomplished what I set out to do either. Having people think I wimped out was what I really feared, and avoiding that would have been what drove me up that mountain--and I didn't like that. Bragging rights were the ONLY motivation for me, because I knew hauling that heavy bag up there to look at nothing else but clouds would have just crushed my spirit. It was hard, but I finally gave myself permission to not do it.
Good times in my tent...will these socks ever dry?

I would just stick it out where I was for another night, and then meet my friends at Devil's Junction the next night as planned. But laying there, doing absolutely nothing but thinking (and knowing I had HOURS to do it)...well, it was awful. I started imagining really terrible things; like falling off that bridge on my way back and breaking both my legs. I knew it was ridiculous to be thinking that way--but I was in a dark place.
A spooky part of the trail. I walked extra fast here.
The book I brought along talked a lot about how much we long for comfort and security, but ironically our clinging on to those things often becomes our prison. This certainly rang true for me, as I lay there in my comfy sleeping bag not wanting to get wet, and yet feeling miserable at the same time. I needed to get out of there! The biggest problem was wondering if I could get out in time to stop my friends from coming in. I had waited so long to decide to wave the white flag, that I didn't have time to make it out before dark. (plus, 17ish miles in one day would have really killed me) I finally figured I could make it to Rainbow Point easily enough that night; and even though I didn't have a permit, I doubted it would be a problem on a crappy weekday. The next day I could high tail it out of there first thing in the morning and be able to get to Newhalem around noon. (where I knew there was phone reception)
Once I had this plan, I was like a machine. I packed up in record time and got to Rainbow Point lickity split. I credit this in part to the "You Go Girl" in my pocket. Can I just say this piece of "equipment" has changed my life. For anyone who doesn't know, it's a rubber "thing" that you use to pee. (for a girl, obviously...boys have their own thing) Hence, much time is saved because I no longer need to stop to pee. Of course, I stopped in the sense that I stopped walking...but no taking my pack off, no tromping off trail to find a hidden spot, no squatting down and wondering if a tick is going to find a nice little home...(YUCK! Ticks are my new phobia. I was devastated to recently find out we have them in Washington) I just face away from the trail and take a whiz like a man. Boys DO NOT UNDERSTAND how good they have it! But no more will I have to worry about getting caught with my pants down...and if you want to know why I'm so paranoid about that, read my "For Barefoot Jake" post last January. 

My "special" pocket
I did take one little side trip before Rainbow Point. I needed to see what we would be missing at Devil's Junction, so I dropped my pack and ran down there. (glad I took the pack off--it's almost a half mile to get to the single camp site on the water) I saw from a distance that it was occupied, and I figured it would be nice of me to go tell them they could have it another night if they wanted. They were really thankful they didn't have to move to another camp, as they had everything all set up with their tarps and all. And I was thankful too, because there was a toilet with a door right there, and this time there was no avoiding squatting, if you know what I mean. So, that little excursion was a real win-win for everybody. 
Happily staying put

The view...maybe I can have my 46th party here
The next day was completely uneventful. Me and my little rubber friend cruised on out of there in plenty of time to stop the gang before they left. Debbie was so happy she didn't have to chance a night in the rain, that she promised me a party at her house--with cake and all. In the end, even though I didn't make it to Desolation Peak, I learned that in my being able to let go of my super duper birthday hike plan, I ultimately got everything I wanted. Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too. (stupidest saying ever...but it does sort of fit here, right?)
I did Roland Creek the right way the 2nd time.
I LOVE the Rei towel Rick gave me on my actual b-day.
I would have never got one myself,
but now I know I won't ever hike without it
All done, and now the sun comes out, of course.
But more importantly, how's my hair?
I even got special candles...I love you, Debbie!

Ross Lake East Bank Trail, Part Two

I was lucky enough to have made breakfast before it started raining. I was pretty proud of my skills with my new stove--I even fried an egg. But then the rain started, and it didn't stop until that night. My husband really encouraged me to take this trip in the rain, so I could practice "rain management"...though, at this point I was already getting an F, because I was starting the day with wet shoes.

One thing I discovered is how thankful I was I bought a two person tent. I researched and researched tents, and then ended up buying one on a whim because it was on sale. (I just can't help myself) It wasn't the lightest one available, but I'm glad I went for more room. It was great to pack up everything while I was in the tent staying dry--that's what you call good rain management! The last thing to do was take off my camp shoes, and put on my nasty wet shoes. Here's a tip: before packing your camp shoes (which I HIGHLY recommend taking at least simple flip flops--you'll be glad you did) scrape the bottoms on a tree to clean any gunck off. It works really well.

I actually didn't mind hiking in the rain at all; this is a good trail for it. It was half way through the day before I came across my first hikers; a very cute father and daughter pair. He commented on how huge my backpack was, which yes, made me feel like I was all that. Then, because I looked like such a professional hiker and all, they asked how I got across Roland Creek. Crap. 

He explained, "We found a tree to get across it upstream yesterday, but we don't think it will be safe today in the rain; did you find a better way?"
"Ummm...I just plowed through it because I'm a dumb ass." Ok, I didn't say that. I tried to explain that because I was staying the night there, I thought I could just walk through with my shoes on and they would dry overnight; but even the ten year old knew the only important information was that I left my shoes on.
"You didn't take your shoes off?!?"
"Nope. I wouldn't recommend that, though". And off I went, my superwoman hiker cover blown.

I often mention how much I love cute bridges, and this hike has plenty of them. But it also has a bridge from hell. I know this picture does not look like much, but your not seeing how high up it is. Probably not high enough to die if you fell...but high enough that you would be dearly sorry if you did. Not only was I terrified to cross it, I was terrified someone would come by and see me crossing it; because I moved like a 90 year old using her trekking poles like a walker. 

When I finally got to Lightning Creek Camp, I was greeting by a large group of young men. Well, I wasn't really greeted; they were all under their tarps playing cards, and they ignored me completely. I don't know what I expected, but it felt awkward. It was still raining pretty hard, so as soon as I could, I got into my tent and cocooned myself in my sleeping bag. It was depressing, I won't lie.
The rain finally let up a little, but nothing in me wanted to move. I really had to psyche myself up to get out of that tent. I decided I needed to go say hello to the boys. This was even harder than crossing that God awful log bridge; but I was so thankful I did it! I found out they were from all over the country, enrolled in a recovery program that involved all this outdoor stuff. The courage to face addiction is one I respect deeply, and watching this group of boys play, laugh, and work together was a really beautiful thing. I never heard them once complain about the rain...though I did hear them burp and fart quite a lot.
My neighbor's tarp city

The break in the rain lasted long enough to make dinner and a fire, which I was very grateful for. But I went to bed with the sound of rain, and woke up to it as well. Thursday morning--time to pack up my soaked shit and slog up the famous Desolation Peak--the trail with views to die for. (but not today; the view today would be white clouds, and nothing else) To say I was uninspired is a true understatment. Though, I had to consider I had a permit to stay the night at the one spot up there, and maybe the clouds would clear in the morning. What to do. 
For the end of the story, click here
Determined to dry my socks and shoes--
it helped a little

Monday, June 24, 2013

East Bank Trail Ross Lake, Part One

Sorry for the boring title. I had the best title picked out; "5 Days and 45 Miles When I Turned 45"...but it wasn't to be. This year I'm supposed to be up to 4 nights; but I've realized that I'm not supposed to count my trips by nights--nobody does that. You count the days you hike--and fortunately that settles my dilemma about wanting my nights to correspond to my age. (As I explained in my "I'm Up to Three Nights" post) Now that I'm counting days, everything is in alignment; as my would be cute title demonstrates.

I wanted to do this hike as close to my birthday as possible--a sort of birthday present to myself; but there are still not a whole lot of good hikes available in June. (damn snow) After obsessively looking through my hiking books, I decided to try the Big Beaver/Little Beaver Loop. But I didn't get much positive feedback about that hike when I asked on the NWhikers website. Somebody suggested the East Bank Trail, and the fact that you access Desolation Peak that way really sold it to me. But there are SO many options, thanks to the availability of a taxi boat to take you to or pick you up at several places on the trail. I wanted to make the most of it--maybe I could do the best of both hikes? I had a whole five days to do it, after all.
Getting close to 4:00--I gotta get going!

My friend Debbie wanted to come, and because of the boat ride option, I thought it would be great fun to have our husbands meet us the last day--with birthday cake of course. I had an awesome plan for us to be picked up at Desolation Peak, then dropped off at Big Beaver, then husbands hike in--two cars made it all possible.

This was all such a perfect plan, until the weather forecast. I knew Debbie was not willing to do rain, and I didn't blame her. She's not preparing for a 50 day hike; she just wants to have an enjoyable experience. The forecast went from two days, then three, then four days of rain. Not what you would call enjoyable.
What a crazy flower, right?
But I am preparing for a 50 day hike--and I know I can't count on 50 days of sun. I needed to test out my gear and learn how it performed in the rain; and see how I performed in the rain as well. So I needed to revise my plan.
No, I'm not recovering from cancer.
This is my "tick hat" I sewed myself.

Because the last day and a half looked possibly decent, I still wanted my birthday party. So why not have everyone come meet me the last night, and then hike out with me?  Everyone just needed to hike the mile to the Ross Lake Dam on Friday, catch the boat to Devil's Junction (one site right on the water---time to party!!) then the whole day Saturday to enjoy the best part of the East bank trail back to my car where I could shuttle the crew back to the other car.
Oh, if only our best laid plans were so easily realized. Anyway...

I headed out on Tuesday, and when I stopped at the Wilderness Information Station in Marblemount at 3:00 to get my permit, the first thing the ranger said was, "Are you sure you're going to make it?" What the hell does he mean, am I going to make it? Everyone described this trail as a highway--flat and easy. It was only 6.5 miles to my first camp (or so I thought) and it stays light until at least 9:00 pm...why wouldn't I make it? Was I missing something?
He let me know that lots of people don't know what they are getting into, so he was just making sure...but that yes, I should make it just before dark. This was unsettling; I expected to get to camp at like 6:30. He let me know what camps I could make fires at, (all but Desolation) but of course I wouldn't be making one tonight, as I would be getting in so late. Again--what the hell? I did NOT want to be setting up camp in the dark, so I just decided I'd better hike fast, in case the ranger knew something I didn't. (remember hiking lesson #16 "The rangers know more than you"...yep.)
A froggy friend

Nature's art sculpture 
I wore my ipod this time, so I wouldn't be doing the "guess how many miles" game. I was making good time, and got to 6.5 miles at around 6:30, just like I thought...but there was no camp. Sometimes the information you look up just isn't completely accurate--why didn't I just ask the ranger how many miles it was? Because I didn't want to look like one of those people who didn't know what they were doing...stupid pride. What to do, but just keep going, and pray I got there before dark.
My first camping spot

There are lots of little creeks to cross, and even though my shoes got wet, they didn't get wet inside because I bought super-duper water proof shoes. I was feeling so confident about their water repelling capabilities, that when I got to a "big" creek, I decided to just run across. I was at 8 miles, so I figured I MUST be at Roland Creek, and my camp would be found as soon as I crossed. (at least I was right about that) I was really tired, and I didn't want to take the time to take off my boots...I could take them off as soon as I got to camp and let them dry overnight, right?
It doesn't look so bad, does it.
Yes; yes it is
This was my biggest lesson of the trip--shoes don't dry overnight. They might dry in a day--if it's not raining constantly. But super duper water repelling shoes don't repel water once they are soaking wet, idiot. So, lesson # 32  is a big one that I can't emphasize strongly enough: just take off your flippin' shoes, and ford the creek like your supposed to. Click here for day two.
I had plenty of time to make a fire.
Maybe the rangers don't know everything. ;)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boulder River Rampage

It was one of those days I just wasn't going to be messed with. Most people know this is not usually the case, because I really suck at laying down the law. But this day I was sick of nobody taking me seriously... this day I was a force to be reckoned with. (My friend Debbie always gets that saying mixed up, so when she's mad she'll boldly announce, "I am NOT a force to be reckoned with!!"; which of course gets her giggles instead of the holy fear she is looking for)

As you could have guessed, it was my kids that got me into this mood; but it was poor Kayden (a friend of my oldest daughter) who got caught in the wake of my fury. I was determined to get a hike in, because I had been denied the last few weeks. I was leaving at 1:30 pm, and that was that. I invited Kayden to come along, and I let her know the deadline. She called at 1:30 to let me know she was on her way. I told her I was sorry, but on the way was not good enough, because we were leaving. I still feel a little bad about it; but I'll confess it felt a little good too. I've always tried to suppress my inner bitch, but I'm finding sometimes she's really great to have around. She just needs to be controlled is all.
Summer and two of her friends were coming, and now that I had an extra seat I decided last minute to take my other bitch along--my dog, Lexi. I don't usually take her hiking with me, because just like my inner bitch; she is not easily restrained. But she really needed the exercise, and if there was ever a day I felt up to showing her who the alpha was, it was today.
Cute bridge alert!
It took us a little over an hour to get to the trailhead, with Lexi whining and acting crazy most the way. This is a really popular hike, and it was a nice Saturday, so I wasn't surprised to find cars lined up for probably a quarter mile. There were a ton of little kids, and little dogs...just what Lexi wants to dominate. That, combined with Summer and her friends running ahead of us, made Lexi even crazier than usual. I honestly wanted to choke that dog for the first 3 miles, and I promised myself this was the last time I was ever taking her with me.

The girls wanted to go down to the water at the first falls, but there was no way I could take Lexi down there with all those people. When we got to the second falls, we had it to ourselves, so we headed down and got some good pictures.

After that, I made the girls go a little farther on the trail, until my odometer said 3.5 miles. (to make a nice even 7 miles for the day) Heading back, I finally felt like I had Lexi under control--my "calm, assertive" self was kicking in, and it felt good. I told the girls to go on ahead, and that we would meet at the first falls that we skipped on the way up.

3.5 miles...we get to go back now!
When I got to the falls, I saw a few people down at the water (but not too many) and I figured the girls were already down there as well. As I headed down, I took Lexi off leash because it was just so much easier to scramble over the rocks that way. When I got to the water, I found no girls. This made no sense to me. How could they not be down here? I yelled for them (screamed is more like it) and looked everywhere--even asked the other people. No girls. My calm assertive self was going out the window fast, and my hysterically panicked self was coming on full force. I headed back up to the trail, even though I was sure they couldn't be up there, and then Lexi took off. This of course added to my hysteria. I was on the verge of tears, yelling for the girls and the dog, heading down the trail, when they finally came into view. 

I greeted them with a very welcoming "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!!" They seemed shocked--they explained they simply didn't notice the falls and kept going. (which was exactly my point...how could you possibly not notice the falls?)  Though, I had to admit it made a lot more sense than a triple kidnapping--why do our minds always go to the worst case scenario? Summer said when Lexi came running to them with no leash, they figured I had fallen off the cliff. Love makes us worry...and even though I had to apologize for getting so angry, the other girls assured me their parents would have showed them just as much loving rage. 
I also had to apologize to Lexi for being so impatient with her; I mean, she did sort of end up saving the day when she got the girls to turn around and find me. And so, I think hiking lesson #31 could be either literal or metaphorical: Don't be afraid to take your bitch along, because you never know when you may need her.