Sunday, October 15, 2017

High Pass Madness

"Until sanity and justice prevail, either grit your teeth and walk those last 2 miles, or see how sporty your car is."
This is how Ira Spring and Harvey Manning describe getting to hike #4 in my well worn book "100 Classic Hikes in Washington". Although I mostly get my hiking info off the internet these days, when I first started almost a decade ago, this book was to me like what the Sears catalog used to be for a kid during Christmastime. Looking at all the pictures with yearning...circling and starring and making your list of wants...there's nothing quite like actual text you can hold with your hands to bear such dreaming.
And "Twin Lake/Winchester Mountain" has been in my dreams and on my list for a very long time. I was saving it for when I had cajoled someone to go with me who didn't want to hike far, since with a "sporty" car you can literally drive all the way to your campsite.
But now that I have a Monday through Friday job, finding a hike I could get to before dark on Friday so I could have a quickie backpack had become my priority. So Heather and I (who I asked, not because I had to cajole her into any hiking, but because I knew she'd be ready to split, even with such last minute notice) set off late afternoon to test my SUV on a beautiful September weekend.
The Twin Lakes are found on the same forest road as the hugely popular Yellow Aster Butte trail. According to my book, the treacherous 2 road miles beyond the Yellow Aster parking are not owned or maintained by the Forest Service, but only exist because of an ancient mining claim; and are therefore minimally maintained by prospectors. The book authors strongly believed these miles should be given back to nature, and highly recommended leaving your car at Yellow Aster and hiking to Twin Lakes. Of course I wasn't going to do that because we were in a hurry; but I assumed that meant when we finally did get there, we would not find an enormous parking lot with room for 40 or more cars.
After setting camp and exploring a little;
this seems to be an actual forest road, not available
to the public. It's past where you come in, but
 where is starts...nobody knows ;)
I did expect plenty of people--it was a weekend after all, and a popular hike. But the sheer volume of cars (of all kinds...many that now had flat tires) was kind of shocking. I'm not completely clear on what "justice" Ira and Harvey were talking about, but it does appear that sanity has no intention of prevailing any time soon.
I'm done
My car did not even make it to the parking lot though. It may be sporty, but I called it quits after a mile. We figured we could hike that last mile before it got dark; and we were thankful we did, because having our backpacks on helped us score the last spot available, as it was a little more difficult to get to than the others. (It seemed everyone else there was truly car camping--bringing barbecues and the whole nine yards. Why not? Some of the sites had picnic tables after all!) It wasn't exactly what you'd call a wilderness experience, but we enjoyed ourselves none the less. It was especially fun being perched slightly above it all, where we could observe all the madness.
Cheers to crazy!
Although my book had described the Winchester Mountain hike as the one to do here, come Saturday morning we both decided the other, less altitude gaining option of High Pass was preferable. Not that either of us had hangovers, mind you...but it had been a long night. (People kept coming in, even well after dark. Maybe they slept in their cars?) I'll confess I did indulge in some Fireball, and ended up somehow putting on my underwear backwards before bed (not inside out, but backwards! Takes some talent...Heather is still teasing me about it!) but we both still felt ready to put in some miles-we just preferred them to be less steep. (Turns out High Pass makes up for it at the end, but it is well worth the push!)
A little more than 3 miles of not too difficult hiking and you'll come to what feels like a good place to end, but don't be fooled. Keep going up and up (yes, this part is harder...I would not want to have a big pack on!) until you cannot go any further. What a view! Thankfully Heather had a phone with a good pano option, because this is the place to use it. I know I have to replace my geriatric phone soon (how old is 8 in phone years? At least 80, right?!) but I'm hoping it will die a natural death, so my incredibly cheap self will feel justified. 
Not there yet...
Almost there...
Arrived!
Not much else to tell, except that when driving down, we passed what had to be at least 100 cars lined up on both sides of the road for a good half mile before and after the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead. I've never seen anything like it. We both pondered how on earth some of the monster trucks parked up at Twin Lakes were going to squeeze through the tiny gap left by some folks with wide cars and poor parking skills. Hey...maybe those two road miles Ira and Harvey so desperately wanted to be "put to bed" could instead be converted into parking? Don't roll over in your graves guys, I'm only kidding!!
Cars for dayzzzz...oh how I miss
hiking on the weekdays!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Finally Finishing Section J

I am a hiking cheater, and proud of it. Sometimes it makes sense to sneak in a "back door" trail and make your life easier--and who needs to brag about the fact they did an "entire" section of the PCT anyway? Except, I do like to finish things. It may be messy and take me forever, but there is satisfaction in the feeling of completion, right? Someday I want to say I've done every mile of the PCT in Washington; and so the 8 miles I skipped on Section J needed to get done. So after 2 years of pining, it was time to cross them off my list.
Of course, I still wanted to do them the easiest way possible! Work smarter, not harder, right? Plus I wanted my friend Jamie to have a more leisurely experience for her second backpack; because her first time was a brutal 26 mile round trip grind to spend one night with me on the PCT last year. I promised her that helping me finish these piddly 8 miles would be easy peasy. Hindsight tells me she'll never trust me again.
Though the first night lived up to all expectations. We dropped her car off at Steven's Pass and took mine up to the cheater Tunnel Creek trail. (Though this cheat will cost you 1300' elevation in just a mile and half; so it's short, but steep. It sure beats doing a 16 mile in and out from Steven's Pass though!) Only about an hour and a half of hiking, and bam, Hope Lake! And we had it all to ourselves for the night! Easy peasy, just as promised.
Our Hope Lake home. Stunning!
I'll confess, I didn't really look at the maps before we left like I usually do. I already knew that in the morning, instead of going south like I did the first time, we would instead go north back to Steven's Pass. Easy...and following the trail was certainly not difficult. Where I messed up was thinking that just because we were going "down" to Steven's Pass, there would not be much elevation gain. I may have even suggested the 8 miles for the day would be "mostly downhill". Oops.
This is how to start your day! Ha ha!
(You know I'm posing, the lid is down people!)
FYI, the PCT going from Hope Lake to Steven's Pass has several up's and down's....three pushes up, to be exact, and they are not that easy. Actually, the last one is quite awful--especially when you are in direct sun. Honestly, it felt endless. I yelled up to Jamie (because she was ahead; surprise, surprise) if she wanted to take a break. She replied that if she stopped she didn't think she'd be able to get going again. I didn't bother saying that once we got to the top it was "all downhill", because I'd already said that several times. 


Finally, at the top, we knew the only thing separating us from a burger and beer was the final ACTUAL downhill mile and a half to the resort, so that gave us the push we needed. We passed many wonderful volunteer workers busting their butts in the hot sun to clean up the trail (yes, it made me feel guilty about complaining how tired I was!) and one of them cheerfully let us know we only had another 15 minutes to the lodge--30 minutes max. We both thought that was impossible (which was correct...it took us over an hour...maybe she wanted to punish us for not working on the trail like her?) but even the suggestion of 15 minutes made that last hour feel like an eternity. 
Are we ever going to get there?
We crawled into the Bull's Tooth Eatery looking, feeling, and smelling like hell. But after you've enjoyed your burger and fries, and looked through your beautiful scenery pics--suddenly it doesn't seem so bad. And after a few days, when your feet stop hurting, you may even think, "I want to backpack again...even though Kelly is a big fat liar."  At least that's what I'm hoping. :)
Worth it??...
...worth it!!! Love you, Jamie!

Not a Hiking Lesson; Of Course You Should Remember Shoes!

Almost 2 months ago my husband agreed to go on a hike with me to celebrate his birthday. I knew the real objective was to stop at our favorite brewery for their famous Ditsy Blonde beer, which sounded like the perfect plan to me. What wasn't perfect planning was forgetting my hiking shoes at home.
Mount Baker was coy all day. Never gave us the "full monty" ;)
I knew at some point it was bound to happen. You don't want to wear your hiking shoes, so you throw on some flip flops and put your boots by the door with a stern mental warning not to forget them. (Knowing full well you should just put them straight in the car...dammit!) Of course you don't realize you blew it until you're half way to your destination. Now what?
Ken was driving, so I did a quick assessment of our "daughter's car" (meaning our car, that she drives, and has full of all her crap) to see what options I had. I saw what I thought was a pair of running shoes, so I concluded I could make it work and we should just keep going.
Dock Butte is only a 4 mile round trip hike, so when we parked and I discovered those running shoes were actually spiked golf shoes, I opted for the more comfortable fake crocs instead. Not one of my finer decisions.
Dumb ass ;)
Wow, there still is a lot of snow at 5,000 feet--even at the end of July! And wow, there sure is a lot of people doing this hike! And wow, there is really no way to cross a snow field in $5 "shoes" without slipping all over the place and looking like a complete idiot.
See the crowd ahead of Ken? I swear he has a curse...every time, people everywhere!
Anybody else wearing crocs? Golf shoes? Flip flops? I didn't think so.
But wow...the view at the top was worth it. And thankfully I'm accustomed to looking like an idiot, so it was no big deal. I was even able to make it down without sliding on my butt, so all was good. Although, I still would have stopped for a beer with a wet bottom; because y'know, that's how I roll. (My kids LOVE when I use that expression, ha ha!)  
And a Birdsview beer is always worth it!!!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Not How I Imagined Dying on the PCT (Final Part of Section H Story)

On my adventure thus far, I had been freaked out by a couple things: the thought of drug addicts invading my camp, and unknown creepy howls in the middle of the night. (Oh, and those darn grouse that stay quiet and hidden until you are right next to them, then they furiously flutter away...scares the crap outta me every time!) As I was approaching the camp I needed to stop at for the night, it was my fear of people that was most on my mind."Campsite near an unpaved road" was the PCT map's description; exactly where all the crazies would come find me, I was sure. I told myself I would camp at a random place in the woods if the site looked too sketchy, because I knew I could not make it another 6 miles to the next designated spot.
Finally reaching the campsite, all I can say is "near" the road was an understatement...it was practically on the road! But "unpaved" was also an understatement, because this road looked like nobody had been on it for years. I deemed it safe, even when I noticed a shot gun shell, because I figured it could have been there for over a decade. Though unfortunately, it did put thoughts in my head. I had seen many shot up signs along the way thus far, and it added to my impression that whoever was wandering these wild forest roads could not be trusted. Now, I know shooting up signs does not a rapist/murderer make...though it doesn't exactly suggest "law abiding citizen" either. But, I pushed those thoughts aside, because I was excited that this site had a makeshift fire pit. My Sasquatch night was not far from my mind either, and I was looking forward to making lots of smoke before going to bed.
Looks cozy enough, right? WRONG!
I was cuddled up in my sleeping bag and feeling close to sleep, even though there was still plenty of light in the sky, when I heard another strange howl. "You've got to be kidding me!" was all I could think as I held my breath and listened. More cries, yells, and hollers. Those are guys whooping it up! Why are hikers doing that? Wait...it's coming from the road!!! OMG!!!!
The "untraveled" road
I immediately went into full fledged panic mode. I realize now I had created a whole story in my head; one that was developing ever since my experience at Gillette Lake. Here is how my drama played out: A group of drunk/stoned men come up the road piled in the back of a big ol' truck...they see a woman all by herself camped next to the road...they continue up and do their partying and shooting madness...once they are done, and completely hammered, they come back down and decide they want to harass the lady in the tent...things get out of hand as they incite one another...and now you have a Dateline episode.
This story was very real to me, so my body was reacting as if it were real. I think I may have even been having a panic attack, because I was having difficulty breathing. I don't think men can fully appreciate the gravity of this fear. Even if they worry about the women they love, they haven't lived a woman's life. But I know every woman reading this understands my panic completely.

All the options for what I should do went round and round my head, but ultimately I decided to just stay put, because it dawned on me that they hadn't actually seen me. Why would they assume it's a woman in the tent? (And if I got out to pack up, they might then come back and actually see me.) But I couldn't get past the possibility that this story could come true; thus when I discovered my phone had a couple bars, I sent my husband a quick text before turning it off to save the tiny charge I had left. Here it is:
"I'm camped by an abandoned road at mile 2183. I'm really scared because a bunch of guys just came up the road hooting and hollering and they are shooting. I just wanted you to know, so you know what happened if I don't come back. I was raped and murdered by a bunch of drunk guys. Not how I imagined dying on the PCT. ;) "

I have to roll my eyes a little now, because of course I had imagined dying this way plenty of times. The winkey face at the end was my way of acknowledging that I knew I was being a bit extreme in my logic. I understood I had created a "worse case scenario" that was most likely not grounded in any reality. I trusted my husband would know that. He's never been one to panic, and even though I felt a little guilty putting this worry in his head when we both knew there was not a damn thing he could do about it anyway, I also knew sending it would help me calm down. Ken doesn't construct these kind of horrific fantasies; he would instead deconstruct it, and come to the belief that I would be okay. I needed that same mindset. It took the better part of the night, but eventually I too was able to talk myself out of the dire tale I had convinced myself was happening when it wasn't.
I love my breaks now! Thank you lesson #54!
So, although this is not exactly a hiking lesson, it is one of the most profound and difficult life lessons I am learning and will continue to learn, so I'm including it in my list. Hiking Lesson #55: Be careful with your imaginations. Though it is true that tragic events happen in life, playing them out in your head does not "prepare" you to face them, it only robs you of peace and makes you suffer through a false reality. Knowledge of survival techniques is different--but you can learn plenty without imagining a horror film with you in the starring role. Doing so does not add to that knowledge, so don't fool yourself into thinking it does.
Why not imagine yourself as a super hero instead?
I am not going to go through the night's "deconstruction" process, but I do feel I need to explain that at some point I realized I never heard an engine. In the morning I checked the road, and sure enough, no broken branches or any sign that a car had come through. The only answer I can come up with is this: what I had heard was simply a group of kids coming down on mountain bikes, whooping and hollering at the excitement of it. My mind heard them coming up instead of down, because that fit my story. My mind heard gunshots instead of far away firecrackers (it was the Friday after the 4th of July, after all) because that fit my story as well. I was interpreting everything through the lens of my pre-existing anxiety.
Before I left to head for my final camp, I stood there on the road and imagined how fun it would be to fly down that hill on a mountain bike; living only in the thrill of that moment of speed and danger, without letting any fear or worry of crashing stop me. I smiled and went on my way, determined my last night was going to be a good one.
An amazing campsite I had to pass on because it was dry.
 Not having water was not an option at this point. 
It was yet another day of isolation...once again, not a single soul to be found. After 8 miles, I got to the water and where I planned on staying. Before setting up, I thought long and hard about going the next 4 miles to my car. I had plenty of time; much less energy of course, but I knew I could do it. Except I felt I had to conquer this last night; undo the terror of the night before. I decided to stay, and that I'd even put ear plugs in. Whatever was going to come in the night, let it come; but I was sleeping, dammit! If bears, or Sasquatches, or crazed men come to get me, so be it. Laying there listening for upcoming doom would not change it anyway.
Water was off trail and a little tough to find,
but other hikers are always so helpful!
Camp #8!
I did have a visitor that night. Just before I retired to my tent, a young man showed up asking where the water was. He was just beginning his journey--started at Panther Creek (I told you most PCT'ers don't bother with those first 21 miles on Section H!) and planned on finishing all of Washington. I wanted to give him the trail name "Baby Face" because he honestly looked to be all of twelve; but besides the fact he probably would have hated it, I don't think it's fair to get a name on your first night. I wished him well before I went to bed, because I knew I'd be up at the butt crack of dawn and would never see him again. Just before putting my ear plugs in, I hesitated...what if a bear attacks my neighbor and he needs my help? Ha ha, oh brother! I shoved them in hard, and it was lights out...Baby Face was on his own.
The bunker hill for trees
That's it! Nothing more to tell. I finished; and so here I am, only a year away from facing my biggest goal/challenge/fear of hiking 50 days on the Appalachian Trail. It's been almost 8 years of growing/changing/learning; from my first backpack on the Chain Lakes Loop until now. Is 55 lessons enough? (I love that I ended on double 5's! Feels serendipitous:)) Will I chicken out? Get injured and have to quit? Have a life situation where I won't even be able to go? No need to speculate or worry, because only time will tell. Let it come, and let it be what it will. I think I'm ready.
9 days! Check!
P.S. I'm glad I choose to have such a short day on my way out, because I needed the ENTIRE rest of the day to drive from the south end of the state to the north. This is not a hiking lesson, so I don't have to wreck my perfect number, but advice for all is never drive through Olympia/Tacoma on a Sunday. The only blister I got from this whole trip was from wearing slip on's and having to use my clutch for hours during the unending stop and go traffic. I had to recover from that drive far more than from my hike!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Angel Time and an Encounter with Norseman

I had been on the trail 51 hours without seeing another face. I've always been pretty okay with solo hiking, but this kind of isolation I could do without. Though, paradoxically, as much as I wanted to connect with whomever it was I passed sleeping in their tent, if I'm honest, I was also relieved to have avoided them. It's the conflict of needing companionship, but fearing rejection even more...pretty much the human struggle in a nutshell, wouldn't you say?
Trying to get creative with the increasingly boring food...
bad idea
I was only 4 miles from where I planned to camp for the night (all downhill--thank God!!) when I spotted a human! "Play it cool and don't babble on like an idiot", I scolded myself before we past each other, but thankfully he was down to chat for a couple minutes. He told me he was completing this section of the PCT after waving the white flag because of rain on his last attempt. I told him he was the first person I had seen in days, and he informed me there were two women down at Trout Creek. Again, I was playing it cool, so I didn't break out in dance. After he left, I realized he didn't actually say they were camped there, so I tried to prepare myself for disappointment in case they were gone when I arrived. But man, was I hoping with every fiber of my being I wouldn't have to spend another night alone.
Anita and Nikki...my angels. They made me feel so welcome, even though I straight up asked if I could camp on their site without even looking if there was another option. Hell, I would have asked if I could sleep between them if I thought I could have gotten away with it! I was so ready to have people around me, and they didn't hesitate to tell me to make myself at home. 
We chatted about our experiences so far. They were "hiking their own hike", and had settled in this spot after finally saying screw it to their 100 miles in 7 days goal. We all agreed that Section H was a little more than we bargained for. When I told them my previous night's story and explained how I had past a tent, they both looked at each other and exclaimed, "It must have been Chicago!" 
Screw it, we are staying put for awhile!
Ha ha, I loved these gals!
I wasn't clear on when they met "Chicago" (her home town; they couldn't remember her name) but they obviously had an in-depth conversation with her, because they talked about her like a couple of mother hens approving over their chick. "She had beat her demons" they affirmed, "she was leaving here feeling like she was enough, and that she was going to be okay." Now I was extra sad we missed each other the night before, but I was thankful Chicago got her angel time too. Maybe she'll come across this blog somehow and realize she has a trail name; I think Chicago is a good one! I'm so jealous! Maybe someday.
After an early goodbye to my angels, it was back to total solitude. Even though I was close to Panther Creek Campground, and had to do a little road walking, still I saw no one. It wasn't until well past noon, while I was sprawled out all over the trail taking one of my newly appreciated long breaks, when I saw him. 
Even though he would have practically had to step over me, he still startled when I said hello. "I was so in my head, I didn't even see you! I haven't seen anyone in days!" he announced animatedly as he plopped himself down right next to me. 
"You're a south bounder" I stated. No need to ask; he was so geared out it was obvious. Plus he looked like hell. I was astonished he had made it through all the snow; I honestly didn't even think it was possible, and told him as much.
"I'm here to tell you it's possible...but it's changed me." It gave me chills when he said it. I couldn't believe I was lucky enough to get a little of his story; thru hikers rarely stop midday just to talk. He told me he was dropped off at Hart's Pass on June 12th, and tried to go north for the 31 miles to Canada, (so he could "start" his south bound journey) but turned around just 11 miles shy because after 6 self arrests, he had to "call it" and surrender to the fact he would have to return later to finish that part. (A self arrest, for anyone who doesn't know, is when you stop yourself from sliding off the mountain with your ice ax.) He went on to say he verified with a ranger that a grizzly mama bear was just 20 feet away from his tent one night. She had taken his shirt that he had hanging out, and then had gone on her way. In the morning he saw her tracks (which I'm assuming he took pics of for the verification) and also cub tracks just a little further above. "She was putting herself between me and her cub" he explained. "Good thing you didn't get out to pee!" I joked. He looked at me like he didn't think it was funny. "Nothing would have gotten me out of that tent." I'm sure truer words were never spoken. 
I told him my Sasquatch story, because y'know, I was trying to hang with the big dogs; but I don't think he was impressed. He warned me about the upcoming 11 miles with no water, (I already knew I didn't have enough, but damn if I don't hate hauling water uphill!) then I asked for a picture with him like a crazed fan. We went our separate ways, and once again I was back to being alone. If I had known my scariest night yet was still ahead, I might have turned around and gone with him. Part 5 will wrap this all up, I promise.
Me and Norseman...
okay, I look like hell too, ha ha!
Someday I hope to hear the entire story of his making it to Mexico.