Friday, June 3, 2022

Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail

One of my long ago "lessons learned" was to avoid driving north on I-5 through Olympia/Tacoma on the end of a weekend - so I could only imagine Memorial Day traffic was to be avoided at ALL costs.

For this reason, after Janet and I finished our Soda Lake trip, her husband met us in Carson to drive her back to Portland so I could continue east along the Gorge to make the long loop back via Hwy 97 to Yakima and across to I-90 and eventually up to my home in Skagit Valley. I was hoping to hit the famous Dog Mountain to see the balsamroot, but the permit God's had not favored me.

I found one patch of balsamroot ha ha

Janet recommended a lesser-known trail that is also right off of Hwy 14, and even though I had to double back because Google was confused, I couldn't resist giving it a go. I was a little surprised by the very large (and mostly full) lot, being as I thought this was more of a "hidden gem." It doesn't look like much of anything from the road, that is for sure. 

I also was not expecting another unrelenting incline (a little over a thousand feet--most of it all at once) and after the near three thousand gain at Soda Peaks Lake (also all at once) I was pretty sure I was going to wimp out quickly. But the sun felt so nice, and the views kept pulling me upward. 

Up and up
This trail boasts 6.5 miles of wandering can be done - though I am sure I didn't even do half of that. It's a shame I didn't have the time or energy to finish, since I had got through most of the hard part. But even with my knees screaming at me on the way down, I was still glad I squeezed in what I could.

The drive home was LONG, but peaceful and beautiful; plus, it was lacking ANY stop and go like I-5 was sure to have. (Though I did have to stop in Ellensburg for about an hour to let the back up on I-90 calm down.) Descending into Mount Vernon at last and exhausted from a full day of driving, it was fun to remind myself that I had walked that entire distance (and then some!) on the PCT. With my knees getting more and more grumpy, I'm not sure how many more long distance hikes I have in me. But that's okay...I'll just keep doing what I can, while I can. Happy "bonus hike" trails!

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Coming Up Short

It happened again. Second time this year I've been within a mile of my goal and had to turn around. Me no likey. 

I know I'm stubborn - though "tenacious" is a better word, don't you think? Though I do think "curious" is more the quality that drives me forward. I NEED to see it (whatever "it" is)...except we all know what curiosity did to the cat.

Janet needs a sign that says "first day of kindergarten" ;)

But at least I have enough wisdom to call it quits when quitting is required. And so the list of lakes I need to return to when the snow melts keeps growing. (You can read about my other failed attempt here )

Soda Peaks Lake sounded pretty amazing. It is really hard to find anything backpackable in May (and I've searched A LOT) so I was surprised to come across something I'd never heard of before. If I was still listing my lessons learned I'd add this one (number 57?) "Never try a trail that hasn't had a trip report posted in over a year."

Hey, we at least had a trail head map pic, haha

And I knew that! But I couldn't resist. The backpack mentioned back in 2020 in late May sounded great - yes, we should expect a little snow, but it sounded very doable. Maybe we were being a little foolhardy with the bad weather forecast and little info on this mysterious trail, but we were hungering for some adventure. 

First of all, there are a couple of ways to access this trail, which is confusing when reading the trip reports. We went in via Trapper Creek. (192) Do NOT follow the dropped pin on the WTA site which tries to bring you to the Mineral Springs "not accessible anymore" starting point. Plus the Trapper Creek parking lot is much nicer and has a good toilet. The road there is not bad either.

Starting off the trail is awesome (patting back for finding such a hidden gem) and then you hit a stream crossing. Adventure!! We don't mind taking off our shoes! On the other side we quickly turned onto the well marked Soda Peaks Lake trail, and before long things started to get a bit messy. 

First tree hump of the season!

Over, around and through the blowdowns...all doable...until we got to the "biggie." It looked obvious as to where we were to do another "under" to skirt around and find the trail up on the other side, but try as me might, we were not finding it. 

Don't go this way!!

Not "the biggie" but one you need to skirt around at the root

More mess...I got many other pics, but you get the idea

It felt like at least a half hour, but however long it was, it was far too long. We were about to bag the whole trip until I thought I might see the trail up above going in the opposite direction. And sure enough, after pushing through another bunch of branches blocking the trail we could see the still not terribly obvious path switchbacking up. (The giant tree fell exactly at the first switchback, so it really was very hard to figure out...not to mention a sign here that makes it look like the trail keeps going straight.) 

I kept convincing Janet we should keep going, even though we kept encountering these confusing and frustrating trail blockages. "We'll turn around in an hour if we don't think we'll make it to the lake" was my promise. "It will be worth it once we get there" was another one. All lies.

Okay, one more

It was around 6pm when we hit the snow with about a half mile left to go. We were WET. We could hear the scary sounding wind picking up and sounding almost deadly just on the other side of the ridge. Janet's map app was leading us forward, even though the trail was totally gone, and I am sure we could have made it. But the thought of setting up a tent on the snow with wind hitting us after coming across a cold lake was enough to make this curious cat finally say "fuck the lake." Janet was in full agreement.

Are we having fun yet?

Thankfully we had spotted a flat area in the woods a few paces back, and with the patches of snow around, we had our water source. Though I will say that old snow that has been sitting on the forest floor has "earthy notes" that are hard to get past. 

Essence of pine is not my favorite

It was an adventure though! Not the kind we would have chosen, but it filled the thrill tank just the same. And speaking of filling up the tank, do not miss hitting the Backwoods Brewing Company if you find yourself exploring a trail you shouldn't in this area...I promise THAT will be worth it! Next time I'll write about my "bonus hike" I hit on the way home. Until then, happy "worth it and not so worth it" trails!! 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Hermit Trail Surprise


"We didn't get the permits."

Dani's proclamation was no surprise. Arizona's Rim to Rim Trail in the Grand Canyon is one of the nation's most popular. Dani, in case you didn't know, is my Arizona hiking friend/tour guide whom I met three years ago in Washington. As fate would have it, she lives less than an hour away from where my Dad just moved. So needless to say, Arizona is my new destination spot for hiking. This is a godsend, considering the worst months for hiking here in Washington are the best months there. Or at least that's what I thought.

I didn't mind not getting the desired permits--I was game for any ol' trail with the beautiful Arizona sun giving me some much needed vitamin D. Being as I was game for whatever my" tour guide" had planned, I didn't give any thought to this "other" permit that was obtained. Hermit Creek, she says? Sounds long as there is some water, we are all good. I mean, I may need to cool down in it, right?

Thankfully, Dani set me straight before I left Washington with a screenshot of the weather forecast. A possible low of 15 degrees?!? And snow?!? With an estimated 2-4 inches, at least I knew I wouldn't need to pack my snowshoes, but all the other cold weather gear went into the pack...along with my vitamin D supplements :(

What I didn't expect was to be going into the Grand Canyon! Turns out Hermit Creek is just another trail down--who knew? It's just an eight mile in, eight mile out situation, so we thought we'd do what is one of my favorite hiking scenarios: Day One) Hike in and set up camp. Day Two) Explore area with a day pack and Day Three) Pack up and head out. 

It's a LONG drive from where we were, so day one was actually just getting there and setting camp in one of the free (my favorite!) campgrounds just outside of the National Park. As the snow started to fall, we decided getting a warm meal and finding any other way to stay indoors was a good plan. So for your information: 1) The Yavapai Lodge has reasonably priced food and their elk chili is pretty good. (Though expect to feel a little guilty as you see all the cute elk roaming around.) 2) The IMAX theater is everything you remember from the 80's and is great trip down memory lane, but a bit pricey at $12 for a half hour show. (Though some great information about the Grand Canyon.)

I was very confused when I put "Hermit Creek Trailhead" into my GPS and it said there was no route available, but I knew Dani had our backs. Turns out when you get the permit (sorry, but I have no info on how that's done...but I will say it does not sound easy) you get the special code to get through the gate that is otherwise closed to the public. (Except by means of public transport.) I must admit, I do so love being VIP! ;)

Sorry, but you are delicious

The views were AMAZING as we drove the restricted road, but as we pulled into the hiker's lot, we were not feeling so special. Sideways snow will tend to make you feel like you are more possibly an idiot for being there then anything special. Though we fully accept we are both hiking away we went. 

Back when I was envisioning Hermit Creek as a sunny meandering trail amidst the Arizona hills, I could accept Dani's estimation of a four hour hike out on day three. Four hours for eight miles is kind of maximum speed for me, but it's not totally unreasonable. But as we plummeted 1600 feet in the first two miles, we started to discuss our plan of getting out and back to my Dad's by 6 pm on day three. (Which was a necessity for me.) Six hours later and finally getting to camp (and let me remind you, this is going down) we agreed staying that extra day was a hard no. The crazy weather (hail hitting you hard in the face for example) made the call pretty easy.

My "hikery" shot ;)

Dani taught me another important hiking lesson (sorry that I don't number them anymore) when we finally rolled into camp: if there is any question about the weather, get that tent up ASAP. All I wanted to do was eat (another lesson...don't forget to have snacks super accessible! There are often times you just don't want to stop, even though you really should) but getting caught in a deluge is far worse than hunger. And wouldn't you know, the SECOND we got in our tents, it struck--HARD. I have never been so thankful to be safe in my tent. 

I will say that Dani's guess at four hours out was not ridiculous...for her. And as we hiked together and she always stayed within sight, I kind of forgot we are on different planets when it comes to speed. But that last hard mile up, she cut the apron strings. "I'll see you at the car. I'll wait an hour before I come looking for you." And sure enough, I was right on time. (An hour AFTER she got there, to be clear...and that was just one mile.) I'm so extremely thankful she puts up with me. May you find a hiking tour guide who is just as wonderful. Happy "unexpected but amazing" trails!
My Arizona Angel


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Talapus Lake Snowshoe

Don't you wish that President's Day was in the summer? I mean, a day off in February feels like kind of a waste, doesn't it? But now that I'm kinda into the snowshoe scene, I thought maybe I'd try another winter squandered day off for me! 

But nobody could go with me. Did I really want to do this alone? Winter backpacking means a LOT of time in your tent (unless you like hiking in the dark) and though I enjoy my alone time, I do have my limits.

At around noon on Sunday I suddenly decided, "screw it, I'm going." I threw my stuff together and headed out. I had been researching Talapus Lake and knew the 3.5 miles of road walk to the parking lot would be easy. From there I could decide if I wanted to camp in the parking lot like I did at Kelcema Lake or try to push on the to the lake, which is another 1.7 miles.

There were just a few cars at 3:30 on the side of the road where you have to park (almost immediately after you get off of I-90 because the forest road is closed in winter) which was a relief because there is not a ton of room and I had read it could get busy. I also read you didn't necessarily need snowshoes, so I tried to see how far I could comfortably go without them, which lasted all of about one minute. That lasted all of about 15 minutes, until the road became mostly snow free, so they came off again. That lasted about a mile, then back on with the snowshoes. This was putting me in a bit of sour mood because taking snowshoes off and on is annoying as hell in my book.

Finally, some people were coming down from the top. I wanted to know if getting to the lake was as easy as I had hoped, since I was still deciding if I wanted to go for it. She advised I should have a GPS map app to lead me, as the path was really hard to follow. Dang. Parking lot camping it is. She did say there was reception at the lot, so if I wanted, I could download Alltrails or something. Probably a good idea, since it was already starting to snow, so their snowshoe prints would most likely be gone by morning.

Is there video of me peeing somewhere? ;)

And they were...VERY gone by morning. I expected some snow, but holy shit, it looked like close to a foot! (And yes, it was a LONG night. In my tent at 5:30 pm. Ugh.) Good thing I downloaded that map. But it REALLY drained my battery. Good thing I brought a battery pack...and no cord. UGH!! Why even bother going to the lake when I can't even take a picture! 

1%?!? Take a picture, quick!

That's sad, I know. It's not about the picture. Life actually happens regardless of whether you have proof. Life might happen even more genuinely without that damn phone, right? And wow, what a day to experience life. So, I left my dead phone in the tent and promised myself I'd turn around as soon as I didn't feel confident I was following the trail. 

"This is easy! This trail is obvious!" I thought to myself as I went further and further in. "Maybe not to your average hiker, but clearly all my time in the woods has heightened my ability to read the trail," I told myself as I gave myself some serious mental back patting. After what felt like a couple miles, I got to a sign that warned hikers not to cut switchbacks. "I must be close...looks like a clearing ahead where a lake might be!"

And just like that, I had no idea where the trail was. I kept going anyway. I couldn't get this close without seeing the lake! But then I remembered my promise. I had to turn around. 

But wait. I saw some other person's snowshoe prints coming up over there! Someone must have been camped at the lake, and I just missed them when I got off trial. I got out my paper map, and yes, it did seem like the elevation goes down to the lake. Cool, I just need to follow these and I'm golden.

I almost turned around a couple of times, because I didn't like how far down I was going; but then I'd see something that looked like a clearing. The tease of the lake being "just ahead" kept me moving. When no lake would appear, I'd get out my map again. Did this person come from a different trail? But there were none. What's it going to hurt to keep following a bit further.

When I saw an opening ahead with a bathroom, I knew I was finally there. But still no lake--just a large clearing. And the person's tent is still here! Weird. My mind whizzed around trying to make sense of it. "They must have hiked in really late. Wow, what a bad ass! No wonder they are still asleep. But maybe they aren't okay. Maybe they are dead! Oh, don't be dramatic...but I really should make sure, huh?"

I approached the nearly snow buried tent hesitantly and was just about to call out to the mystery person inside when it hit me like a bullet. This is my tent. 

The sensation that came over me is hard to fully convey, but the first thing I did was laugh my ass off. How in the world did I not realize I was following my own prints? (In my defense, everything looked so different! And the trip back felt SO much shorter!) But besides feeling unbelievably stupid, I felt utterly amazed that this mystery bad ass was actually me. Looking at that tent (it was seriously almost buried because of melting tree snow falling on it while I was gone) and realizing I was the one who slept there made me feel a new appreciation for myself; even with my dingbat-ness. Such a strange roller coaster of emotions, going from confused to stunned to relieved to embarrassed to proud. It felt like a real mind fuck to be honest. (The scene where Harry realizes it was actually him and not his father who fought off the dementors came to mind for those of you who are Harry Potter nerds like me.)

Before going to bed...notice the rock
in both pictures

Last picture in the morning before my phone died

Needless to say, I was super stoked I didn't have to turn around and go back. Can you imagine if I had actually done that! And I nearly did! But let me tell you for certain, a second time around and I would NOT have been laughing. But thankfully all I had to do was pack up and make my lone tracks back down to my car in the beautiful, powdery, virgin snow. And though I do wish I had more pictures, they wouldn't have made this trip any more of a crazy, wonderful, and slightly fucked up experience. Though I will be sure to bring a camera when I go back this summer to finally see that damn lake! I bet when I pass that "no cutting switchbacks" sign I'll still have another mile to go, ha ha. Until then, happy "always be able to laugh at yourself" trails! (P.S. The first picture of the lake isn't mine, but I couldn't let you know I didn't make it to the lake and wreck the story ;))

Glad I could get my car out,
and charge my phone ;)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Kelcema Lake Snowshoe

I'm not a total virgin to snow camping, and neither was Beth. We told our consecutive chilly stories as we drove to our winter wonderland...all of them slightly missing the mark of what we considered the "full Monty" snow backpack experience. I stumbled upon Beth's plea on one of my FB hiking group pages: "I'm hoping to do a quick one nighter snow backpacking trip...anyone local who'd like to join in?"

How could I resist? This is how I met Beth three years ago when she invited all comers to join her on Section K of the PCT. (Story here) Beth's not afraid to roll the dice, that's for sure. But no risk, no reward...and we all hit the jackpot when our girl group bonded on that trip, and every year since. 

We were both ready to risk again with this last minute excursion that was a little out of our comfort zones. A late start was necessary, which meant setting camp in the dark was going to be unavoidable. But this snowshoe is almost entirely a road walk, so we weren't overly concerned. Arriving at Deer Creek just before the road closure, we faced our first challenge--parking. The lot there was a slushy, snowy mess...a place begging to suck in your tires and never let go. Parking on the road meant risking a ticket; so we did a little of both. Don't worry, we left plenty of room for folks to get around; but it wasn't pretty. 

Though everything else was pretty--very. Well, except for the several places where water had cleared the snow off the road. Crossing the last (and worst) one, Beth discovered a leakage spot in her boot :( I had already discovered a gear failure at the get go (pic below) but Beth came to the rescue with an extra strap that we were able to Jerry rig it with. 

Offer Up fail...will I ever stop being a cheap ass?

We unpacked our headlamps with a whole two miles to go, due to my utter slowness. The road walk is only four miles, so I had sort of imagined not having to get them out until we hit the real trail. (Which is only a quarter of a mile long! I will be heading back in the summer to take my grandkids for sure.) My past winter backpacks had not needed snowshoes, and the combo of needing to lift them out of the wet, heavy snow with the constant uphill proved to be murder on my out of season, flabby thighs. 

Beth is usually hours ahead of me, but this time her light was a constant beacon ahead. "Is the snow making you this slow too, or are you just keeping pace with me?" I had to ask. Her long pause told me all I needed to know...God bless her.

We finally arrived at the Kelcema Lake parking lot. Time to start to "real" trail. But dang, we got this large open flat area all to ourselves. No brainer...our packs came off. My legs couldn't even squat to pee without cramping, so it was obviously time to wave the white flag.The whole peeing situation in general was a major problem, as the snow was so soft you'd sink in when crawling out of your tent at night. (And did you know holding your urine only makes you colder?) I used my z-light foam pad as a mat to stand on, and my poles to help lower me enough as to not dribble on it (because I'm not exaggerating about the cramping). I'm pretty sure the night creatures were laughing at me. 

The beautiful morning made it all worth it. Being able to do the half mile to the lake and back without our big packs was a life saver, as the path was quite challenging. It was also so nice to be warmed up from the hike before having to break there anything worse than touching those freezing tent poles when you're still so cold? 

The sunny sky and downhill to the car made for a great ending. As far as ending this post goes, I'll conclude with a list of things I need to bring next time...and there will be a next time! Happy wintry trails! 

1) More hand warmers! (at least a dozen)

2) Both of my z-light pads. (So I can double up on my sleeping pads and still have the door mat)

3) Sunglasses (Can't believe I forgot)

4) My Whisper Light stove instead of my Jetboil (White gas burns better in the cold conditions) with a FULL container of gas so I can melt snow without worrying about running out. I'll be leaving my filter home because even being careful, I fear it'll freeze. (Which ruins them.)

5) My She Pee. (It's been awhile...I need to practice!)

I'll be back Mountain Loop Hwy