Friday, August 9, 2013

Buck Creek Pass (Part 3)

(continued from )

It seems that if you've taken a three mile detour to see an amazing view of a lake, you should at least suck it up and go the one mile more to actually see it. Though, considering the circumstances, can you blame me for not giving a crap? I figured I had about five to six more hours of hiking to get to Middle Ridge (the next stop to "tent"--with no tent, of course) and I had no time to waste. So, with a "screw you" to Image Lake, I turned right around and headed back to the main trail.
This loop takes you for a few miles on the PCT...pretty cool

A little taste of the PCT
I told just about every person I ran into (including the three guys from the previous day) about leaving my tent poles at Upper Lyman Lake. I didn't care if I looked stupid, (I was stupid, after all) I was just hoping I could somehow get my poles back if enough people knew about it. I had to talk fast though, because if you stopped for more than 10 seconds, the black flies were on you like white on rice.

I hiked, and hiked, and hiked, and hiked. There was one little camp site I didn't know about, in the woods just before you start the real push up. Very cute--right next to a stream. I took off my pack and stocked up on water, thinking it may be my last chance. (It wasn't...not by a long shot. Middle Ridge is a dry camp, so you need to get your water sometime before you get there; though I could have waited at least an hour) I really thought about staying there, but I had heard there was a spot on Middle Ridge that had "the best views ever". I just had to go for it.
Happy little trees...looks like Bob Ross painted it himself
By the time I got to the top, I again couldn't have given a crap about the views. I started in on trying to attempt to make some sort of use out of my pole-less tent.
Glacier Peak in morning glory
All I had were the tie down ropes that came with the tent (to secure your tent in high winds) and I thought I was quite clever to attach them to trees; converting the rain fly into a kind of tarp. Although, MacGyver I am not...all I was doing was making a sort of bowl to catch rain water--and there was still some threatening clouds and thunder in the sky.

At this time two men came over the ridge and asked if I minded sharing my site, because they couldn't take another step. Boy, did I get it; and of course there was plenty of room. They took one look at my monstrosity of a tarp covering and asked if I could use some help. Hell yes! Saved again by those who know what they are doing--hallelujah!
Thank you Peter and Earl! I'm so mad this picture is so blurry.
It looked good to me when I took it...
which says a lot about my brain function at the time

I am always so humbled by other hikers. They had all kinds of extra rope, extra water (I was almost out) extra poncho in case my tent failed (though now it was new and improved and even upright!)...those guys had everything. I loved Peter's ancient looking cooking pots. They have seen their fair share of adventures, I am sure. They were just so nice to me, and I am forever grateful for their kindness.

I woke up early, and was excited to hike up a short side path that went even higher to see the sunrise. It's these moments that make it all worth it. No words to describe...and the pictures are garbage compared to the real thing. You just have to go there yourself.

I left at 7:30 in the morning and didn't stop. Hiking, hiking, hiking, hiking. The views over Buck Creek Pass...the best ever, really. But as soon as I was headed down, I was over it. And let me tell you, the slog out is LONG, boring, and fu@#ing endless. I was SOOOO over it. I finally stopped at a camp I came to in the woods--the black flies were making me crazy, but I had to stop. A pair of hikers past me by on their way out. They said I had 4 miles to go. (they had hiked in that way the day before) Deep breath...just four more miles. 

A mirror is not one of the 10 essentials...obviously
Thinking I could calculate my mileage by how many songs I had listened to (according to what I averaged whenever I worked out on a treadmill...when I'm not wearing a pack or completely dead tired...but I have never claimed to have the best reasoning skills) I figured I was on my last song...MY LAST SONG! I just cannot convey the level of my exhaustion; I have never been so utterly shot. I was so relieved that my car was going to come into view at any second...probably before the end of the song, actually. This is when I ran into the first hiker coming towards me; I couldn't resist asking..."how much longer until the parking lot?" (was he going to say one minute, or five? Oh please God, not ten!)

"Oh...I'd say about an hour."

I think I asked if he was kidding three times. He finally said, "well, maybe it's not an hour, but I've been hiking quite a while"...with a "what the hell is your problem?" tone in his voice.

Buck Mountain
As soon as he was gone, I threw my pack down, laid on top of it, and sobbed for 5 minutes straight. I'm not even kidding--SOBBED; like a someone had just died. It was so ridiculous. A hiker on the Appalachian Trail averages about 20 miles a day. My daily average was about 12. I think I may be screwed. 

I did eventually make it to my car, of course. (in one hour and 15 minutes...the final 15 minutes seemingly lasting 4 hours) It was there in the lot, as promised; and my extra key was still in my pack where I had hid it. (Not that I was obsessively worrying or anything! ;)) But take a look at my ride:
click on the pics if you can't read the messages

Have you ever seen anything so sweet? I'd love to do 500 miles on the Appalachian Trail when I turn 50...but if I never do, it's okay. I have family and friends who really love me, and that's what truly matters. I hope I never forget it.

You gotta stop at Zeke's...even if it makes you sorry later.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop (Part 2)

(continued from )

Are you doing the loop?" I eagerly asked them.

Looking down on Lower Lyman
I was ready to head back to Spider Meadows in disgrace, because I just couldn't find the trail to get down from the gap to the lakes. But just as I was headed back up, three guys were starting their way down; and yes, they said they were doing the loop! I was saved!
"How do you get down?" I wanted to know.
"You just go down the glacier."
Can you see the way down? Right down the middle
Sheesh, I should have followed my first instinct.(I did have a map; it's just there is a "gap" at that point, thus a little confusing) I asked the guys if they knew where that stupid trail to the right that just about got me killed was going, and they said to some abandoned mine or something. (well, I didn't say it almost got me killed; I don't know if I was ever in that much danger...but it felt like it)

You can see the first snow field I crossed in part one
(not the highest one)
and the ridge with no way down
They said they didn't mind if I followed them, but of course I couldn't keep up with them to save my life. (I am admittedly the slowest hiker ever) As soon as they were off the snow, they took off like rockets. I couldn't help still feeling panicky and vulnerable, because there was still no trail to follow--just a talus slope. Two women were coming towards me fast from behind...maybe they wouldn't mind me hanging with them?

Except they weren't doing the loop; they were from Alaska and hiking for 10 days on whatever trail they felt like. (many intersecting trails in this area; including the PCT) I could tell they were the real deal, and I'm sure they could tell I was not. They seemed pretty relieved to tell me they were doing a different hike; like girls who just got out of babysitting their kid sister. I hate feeling like a tag along, (yes, I had a big sister who was always trying to ditch me) except I really just wanted to stay close enough to see the best way down. They lost me faster than the boys did, though I did manage to scramble my way down anyway. (It wasn't pretty)

Not much of a trail on the talus slope
I was so exhausted (I think mentally more than physically) and decided I'd stop at the first camp site I could. Wouldn't you know Thelma and Louise were already there. I swallowed my pride and asked if they minded if I shared their site, because I couldn't go any further. It turned out they were deciding if they really wanted to camp there or not, and opted not because of the bugs. (and probably also because kid sister just showed up)
The Alaskan Superwomen "Big Sisters"
(in experience, not age, of course)
I didn't care about no stinking bugs; I was ready to crash. I couldn't wait to get into my nice safe tent and just relax. Although, the bugs were horrendous; that is true. I had to spray deet around the tent zipper just to get in.
A thing of beauty
I want to say here how much I love my tent. There is nothing about it I don't love. I think everybody in the world should buy the Marmot Pulsar--or anything from Marmot, really. I'm not saying that only because I'm hoping they will give me new tent poles when I send them a link to this blog explaining that I left mine at the bug infested site when I hauled out of there so fast in the morning as to try to avoid getting eaten alive...but I say it because I really mean it, too.

The gap, Upper Lyman, and Lower Lyman Lakes
It took me 5 hours to get to Image Lake. (a purported "must do" detour off of the loop, and where I had planned to spend my 3rd night) Though, I never did see it. When I got to where I was going to camp, (about a mile from the lake) the black flies were INSANE. And horse flies too--it was a full on assault. No worries though, I knew I could get my Pulsar up in 3 minutes flat (Marmot sure makes a good product, right?:)) and all would be well. Too bad my tent poles weren't in my pack. I actually laughed, which is really unlike me; usually I would have been crying. You should have seen me trying to eat my lunch inside my flaccid tent, with my trekking poles sort of propped up behind me to at least get the mesh away from my skin because the bugs were covering me and would still bite if they got a chance. It was just ludicrous--what else can one do but laugh?

Good Lord, I hate crossing these.
How hard is it to make a hand rail?

I could hear my husband's voice encouraging me to tough it out...he was sleeping in a bivvy bag, after all. (because I had to take the tent with me after the first night...the amazingly awesome Marmot Pulsar tent that fit us both comfortably, that is :)) Although, considering he was almost stomped on by a deer in the middle of the night, I can't say I'm buying into the "you don't need a tent" concept. (This bivvy bag was a relic from Ken's old climbing days, and when he took it out of storage it smelled like death. I still can't believe he slept in that thing; I'm surprised a bear didn't try to bury him in it as a snack for later)
Soooo roomy on our first night

Ken's bivvy bag of death

This deer could have been stomping on my head,
if not for my awesome tent...
that needs new poles, please Marmot company!
I decided I was out of there. No, I wouldn't go back for my poles. (five hours, are you kidding? And who knows if they would even still be there) I figured I could make it to the next camping spot before dark, and then out the next day. Yes, I still had to spend one night without a tent, but it was better than two. I only wish I would have considered more thoughtfully just how hard cramming what should have been three days of hiking into two. To be continued. 
Click here for part three:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foiled Again (Part 1 of Loop)

If I can't even do five days, how the hell am I supposed to pull off 50? It's hard not to keep asking myself that, especially after falling short two times in a row. But then again, maybe two unsuccessful four day trips adds up to one full five day trip. You think? It's going to have to, because I'm just not going to be able to fit in another big trip this year. Besides, I know the lessons I learned on my two failed attempts far outweigh what I would have gotten out of a more agreeable and victorious 5 day trip. That's what I'm going to keep telling myself, anyway. Thus, here is yet another story of a 5 day turned 4 day backpack.

An awesome family
Our friend, Rick, has been wanting to do Spider Meadow/Gap as a multi-family hike for a couple years now. Having done it before, he knew it was an amazing hike to do with kids. Now that Summer had one backpack trip under her belt, it was the perfect year to do it; plus I saw on the Washington Trails Association page (a GREAT place to get all the info you need for hiking) that August 3rd was proclaimed "Washington Trails Day"--how apropos!
Isaac will often come up to you and ask
for a hug. I love that kid.

I felt so honored to be doing this hike with the youngest of our crew, Isaac--who although no stranger to hiking had never been on a backpacking trip. And so, even with a forecast of thunder storms, we set off for our group adventure.
Starting in...Ken and Rick would catch up later

Because I was still hungering to check off "5 Days" from my to do list, I of course saw this as the perfect opportunity. The plan was to camp together at Spider Meadow the first night, then head up to the gap on day 2 and part ways at the top. I would continue on the loop, (called the "Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop", for anyone who is interested) while everyone else headed back and spent the 2nd night at the original camp. This plan was advantageous for me in a couple ways: not only could I get help with my 35 pound backpack for the most difficult push of the trip, but because we had to take two cars, I could have my hubby move our car to where I would be ending my trip--saving me almost 3 miles of ugly road walking. (I would later find out that this truly saved my life. Ok, not literally...but almost!)

Natures backpack rack

I was very thankful that even though it was pouring rain as we were packing up the car, nobody was complaining. I would be lying if I said I wasn't struggling with the thought of another wet experience, so I really needed everyone else's positive attitude. What a surprise and delight to find a little sun once we arrived! Sure it was cloudy, but the bad forecast turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we practically had the whole place to ourselves. (On a Friday! Ken let me know that Saturday was a madhouse though, which is to be expected on any nice weekend)
Heidi and Jason--too cute
 There was only one family camping next to us--an adorable couple, taking their three small girls on their first backpack as well. Ken let me know they ran into them at the top after I left--with a five year old in tow! Very impressive. (they did have to carry her much of the way, so think twice about taking anyone that young)
Kids being kids
Our kids may have been older than 5, but I was still very impressed with their accomplishment. Getting to the gap is not easy! But so worth we stood on what felt to be the top of the world, Summer declared there was nowhere else she would rather be. Talk about melt my heart--Happy Washington Trails Day to us!
The hills are alive...

I'm...too sexy for my pack...
(I shouldn't tease, he's carrying half my stuff. Thank you, honey!)

Finally at the top, (what a haul!) and it was time to say goodbye. Everyone gathered around me and said a little prayer for my well was beautiful and definitely put a lump in my throat.

As I set off, I thought I was supposed to go straight down the glacier. There appeared to be steps in the snow going down the middle, but it also looked like maybe it was just the line of snow debris. Going off to the right there was a more obvious trail, but it had a sketchy snow field to cross. The boys thought the obvious trail to the right to be my best bet, and being concerned for my safety, Rick put on my backpack, and they both crossed over to make "steps" and make sure I made it ok. (Though Rick assured me even if we did slip, we would have just slid to the rocks to run into) 
My hero's
We kept following the trail a little further, but it stopped at an even steeper, sketchier snow field. (rocks at the bottom of this one) we doubled back, it seemed the trail just sort of meandered it's way down with no more snow to worry about; so we finally said our real goodbyes, with a couple more pictures of course.
Officially on my own
It was only minutes after they left that I knew I was in trouble. The "trail" did not meander was just mud shoots going down to a pretty steep cliff. I was immediately queasy in my stomach, and huffing back up the very steep non-trail my backpack suddenly seemed to weigh 1000 pounds. What had a gotten myself into? Do I hurry to try to catch up to the boys to tell them I changed my mind? How humiliating! No, I would go back to the 2nd snow field where the obvious trail seemed to end, cross it, and then I was sure the trail would become more apparent.
Nate getting my load to the top. Melissa helped too--
don't know what I would have done without them
I knew in my heart I was being stupid, but I was letting my determination get the best of me. The second I stepped onto the snow I was regretting it; I had no business being there with my lack of experience and proper equipment (like an ice ax to stop stop me if I slipped)...but there was no turning back at that point. I was shaking like a leaf when my foot finally hit solid ground--thank God I could just get on with it and leave that poor decision behind. Except I still couldn't find any trail. (believe me I tried!) Just the same cliff, with no way down. Now I was REALLY queasy. Determination can be a wonderful thing, but when it's mixed with pride, it can be deadly. I realized with great remorse that I may just have been horribly, pridefully, stupidly determined. Nevertheless, I had to turn around and cross again that snow field that I shouldn't have crossed in the first place.
Humiliation didn't matter at all at this point. I didn't care if I showed up back at camp in utter defeat--the thought of being with everyone filled my heart with joy. All that mattered was not being crushed on the rocks below. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic; maybe it wouldn't have been a big deal if I had slipped. I'll never know, thank God, because obviously I made it across. But I don't think I've ever been so scared, honestly. We often say an operation is "do or die", but I think one really needs to think about what accomplishments are worth dying over. This was certainly not one.

Hiking lesson (and life lesson) #33 : Determination can work for you, or against you; depending on whether or not ego is your driving force. Pray for the wisdom to know when it is, and humbly admit when you are in over your head.
It seems this story should end with me sitting around camp with everyone, gladly joking about what an idiot I am...but it doesn't. I'm sure we will all get together soon, and I'll be more than happy to get razzed about my idiocy; but this story does not end here. I still have more mistakes to make...stay tuned.
Mr. Marmot wants to know what happens next!
P.S. Photo cred to Rich for most the pics on this blog. (the really good ones :)) Thank you Rich!
P.S.S. Here you go, Mr. Marmot. :)