Sunday, November 20, 2016

Snow on the 4th of July

Last year I did a day hike to Heather Lake and found myself in a "winter wonderland." It was so peaceful and beautiful that for the first time I gave the idea of backpacking in snow a consideration, and it's been on my mind ever since.
I didn't know if I would ever feel ready for a winter backpack; it's seems like something only an "expert" should do. But this past month I found myself so fiercely wanting to getaway that I was going to get out there, ready or not. I know I'm not the only one who found the elections this year wearisome on a whole new at the height of all the turmoil, escaping to this imagined snowy serenity seemed the perfect plan. But even more than seeking tranquility, I wanted to feel fear. I know it sounds weird, but it's been over 2 years since I've done a solo backpack, and I am longing for the sensation it gives me. Don't get me wrong, I don't like feeling afraid; I never even watch scary movies! But the fear I experience when I'm out there in the corny as I know this will probably sound, I can only describe as life giving. The "in the moment" fear gives a new perspective to all the "in the future" fears, and creates a stronger ability to face them. Though, that kind of fear is going to have to wait, because I could not venture out in the snow without at least asking Leigh if she wanted to come with.
And Leigh's response when I texted her if she was interested?..."I've been dreaming about this!" She has been swept off her feet by backpacking in a way I have never seen anyone fall in love. Out of all my friends who I know enjoy it, I knew she would be the only one excited about going in November. I expected though, that she might be thwarted by her busy life, or her husband who isn't too thrilled with her new found passion. He worries about her, which I think is sweet. But it was her birthday week, so she had a trump card that she played in her favor.  
You know I love tree art!
I really wanted to make all Leigh's birthday dreams come true and find the perfect place with "just enough" snow, which wasn't working out so well. It seemed like every hike was either no snow, or more snow than I wanted to deal with. When I let Leigh know the 11 mile round trip hike I settled on (4th of July Pass--hence the extremely clever title! ;)) was just below snow level at 3400 feet; and therefore we would most likely have a "soggy-land" rather than a wonderland, she replied "snow would be great, but I just want to get a hike in." That's my girl!!

When we pulled into the enormous Colonial Creek Campground parking lot, we were the only car there. It felt eerie, and I realized this trip might provide my longed for fear after all! After walking through the campground and missing the sign to Thunder Creek, we ended up doing a complete loop and found ourselves back at the car. When you can't even find your way to the start of the trail, it may be cause for concern. ;) We finally got on course, and trudged along in the rain until we reached the turn off to the 4th of July Pass...and then the wetness level got turned up considerably. When the trail itself wasn't a stream, we had to go over at least 6 waterfalls that flowed right over the trail. Thank God I just replaced my boots! Though, we both had water go over the tops of our mid height Vasque's when we decided plunging through the water was preferable to maneuvering over the slick rocks on the steep edge of one of the falls. (though balancing over the rocks surely would have provided a heavy dose of that life giving fear!...except it's not very helpful if I actually end up killing myself!)  
Trust me, this edge is far more treacherous than it looks!
As we got within a mile of our destination, we were starting to see some dusting of snow on the ground. Though it was not quite my "perfect amount", I was hopeful that sometime in the night the rain would turn to snow and we would wake to a small taste of our winter wonderland. Things changed quickly when we were just 10 minutes from camp, and the dusting was now suddenly at least 4 inches. Hey, this is cool!...and unexpected...and really cold...and do we put the tent right on the snow?...and wow, it's really coming down now...and maybe I should have read up more on this. I certainly was feeling more fear than I had expected; but despite the fact I thought I wanted it, it did not feel good. I pushed it down, and played it off with Leigh; however I was seriously worried we were in over our heads. Selfishly though, I couldn't stop thinking how thankful I was to not be alone.
My "playing it off" with Leigh was mostly making jokes about us dying. Maybe not the best way to go about giving comfort, but wit is always how I deal with stress. She played along, because we have that kind of humor in common, but eventually she did ask me to stop because I was making her nervous. I know a part of her can't help looking to me as the supposed expert, though she absolutely should know better. 
Case in point, I thought I would keep myself busy and my mind off of worry by making a fire. I'll confess I became slightly obsessed--I had brought 2 duraflames and was determined to make the most of them. Everything about this plan was stupid and foolish, because no amount of fire was going to make up for how soaked I was getting while doing it. But the problem with obsession is it doesn't matter if you know what your doing is I kept at it until I had my pathetic little pointless fire. I made Leigh come out of the safety of the tent to "enjoy" it (aka, take a picture) and then she promptly headed right back in. I felt I had to have some sort of justification for allowing myself to get so fixated on such an irresponsible endeavor, so I decided using my pot over the fire to melt snow was going to make it all worth it. (we had only a little water left; and no desire to try to find the "trickle" of a water source mentioned in other reports)
See how cozy?!...this is fun, right?

Take the damn picture already,
my hat is getting wet!
Hiking lesson #52: Do NOT melt water over a duralog. I don't know if I'll ever get the smell out of my pot, and besides the water was almost undrinkable with it's plastic smoke taste. Plus, melting snow for water is ridiculous, as it takes about 200 refills of snow to make maybe 4 ounces. (that might not be exact science ;)) So please enjoy the above pictures--they are the only redeeming factor of my harebrained ambition.
Another thing to keep in mind, though not exactly a "lesson", is that hiking in the winter means you are in the dark a LONG time. Without a fire, this means laying in your tent for hours. We played cards, we talked, we wiped down the inside of the tent where it was dripping on us, we worried why the tent was dripping on us, we drank, we shook the snow off the tent, we got out of the tent to re-stake the tent in hopes it would help, (and got even more wet in the process because our rain gear was far too drenched and frozen to put on again) we had a little more wine and played a little more cards, and then we dared to look at the clock...6:30. Shit. Needless to say, the night lingered a bit.
makeshift gloves
But what really kept us awake was thinking about what it was going to be like it the morning. Listening to the snow all night (which did not sound fluffy in the least) made the idea of packing up our freezing, soaking wet gear while being half buried in snow a terrifying thought. We both decided we'd just have to haul ass in the morning and retreat as fast as possible and hope the trail wasn't too hard to follow back. 

A little more than the "perfect" amount
Maybe I prayed too hard for snow?

What a relief to wake to sun!!!! I cannot even convey. We now knew we would live to tell more tales...though I highly doubt that those tales will include snow. One and done as they say; so until next spring, I bid you adieu!
Not dying...the gift that keeps giving!
P.S. I totally forgot to give a shout out to Annie's Pizza in Concrete. So many places are closed this time of year, but Annie's is year round and EXCELLENT food. Family owned...three generations were there as we ate.  Seriously sweet and homey; and like I just mentioned, super good food.


  1. Thanks for the trip report. I can relate. Back in 2005 I did my first winter backpacking trip. I did it solo and camped on the summit of Iron Peak. Though I planned it very carefully I felt some trepidation going where nobody else would be in the winter. You brought back some great memories.

  2. Kellbell, what you are calling fear is what makes for experience about which you don't know the outcome. Car camping is not an adventure, but your first snow camp was! You will be sleeping in a snow cave before long, I bet, aided by your equally adventurous friend.