Sunday, September 18, 2011

All Done

I will definitely be buying a tent for my 50 day hike.  That seems like it should be a no-brainer, but a lot of people don't.  To save on pack weight, they just bring a bivvy bag or something like it; because a tent is not really a necessity, but more of a luxury.  It's a luxury I need though, I've decided that for sure.  Unlike my first morning, (when I bolted as soon as I woke up, as if a bear had been lurking in the bushes all night, contemplating whether to eat me or not) I lounged for awhile, built a fire (I probably shouldn't admit that--but I didn't see anything that said not to) and took my time packing everything up. There's just something so much more normal feeling about waking up in a bears can't watch you all night. ;)

I headed back down the trail, this time knowing not to take the muddy route, so at least I had some new scenery. Before I knew it, I was in the parking lot.  All done.  I had planned on hiking something else because it was so early...but I was toast.  Better to just admit it and cut the day short.  The only thing I was really excited about were the bathrooms.  (TMI, sorry.  I know there will come a time when there will not be a toilet when I need it, but I'm just not ready for that experience yet) 

I called Ken as soon as I had cell phone service, and let him know I'd be home early afternoon.  Maybe we could even go out on the lake? (It was one of the hottest days of the summer, and Ken's day off)  About an hour away from home I stopped for a cheeseburger, and when I came out my car wouldn't start.  I called Ken to describe the 'symptoms', to which Ken concluded, "Sounds like your alternator's going out".  (I asked him later, "How do you know these things?"..."I just do", he replied, like freaking James Bond or something)  A very nice young man jumped my car, and it started right up.  "Don't worry, Ken, it's fixed!"  (shows you how much I know about alternators)  Ken informed me that it would most likely lose power as I was driving...but not to panic-- just stay in the right hand lane so I can pull to the side.   Don't you love driving I-405?  Isn't it great how every exit is an 'exit only', so that it's impossible to stay in the slow lane?  I wouldn't say I was panicking, but I was not having fun.  And sure enough, the power went out and I had to pull over in a tow-away zone.

Poor Ken...instead of lounging on the lake in the sun, he would be shopping for alternators and driving to Millcreek to rescue his wife.  I've said before that I hate being the damsel in distress, and I do.  But I am thankful...EXTREMELY thankful, to have a man to come help me when I am.  That would be Ken...not the stranger that picked me up on the freeway and dropped me off at the nearest restaurant...though, I'm thankful for him too.  When I called my friend Debbie while sipping my mojito at 'Canyons' (and feeling very sorry for Ken; but not having a drink wasn't going to help him any, right?) she yelled in my ear, "YOU GOT IN THE CAR WITH A STRANGER?!!!"  (Ok, Debbie, I know you weren't yelling...but your tone was yelling, you have to admit)  In my defense, what are the stats of people getting killed while walking on the freeway, vs people murdered by serial killers?   Plus, I figured this guy had to be a do-gooder, because I was a smelly mess.  Needless to say, I made it home alive.  Ken got to the car just before it got towed, threw in a new battery, got it home, and installed the alternator.  He may not be James Bond, but he's pretty dang close. ;)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Meeting Mr. Stuart

Now that I was all settled with my tent set up and my lunch digesting, it was time to decide exactly how ambitious I felt.  I had just hiked for over 5 hours, so I was pretty beat.  Though, people on the Appalachian Trail hike all day, so I figured I'd better get on with it.  Since I was easing into this multi-day hike thing (with seven more years of easing to go) I didn't feel too bad being free of a back pack for the rest of the day.  I had my hydration pack with me, with it's little compartment for snacks and toilet paper, so I was good to go.  (if I indeed needed to go...which I still didn't.  I think the trauma from the night before had me pretty blocked up)

The couple I had just been talking to said they wanted to hike "Longs Pass", which wasn't on my agenda.  He made it sound pretty cool, with a great view at the end.  If he thought his girlfriend could make it up there and back in a few hours, then it couldn't be too hard.  (she didn't seem too thrilled with hiking)  I didn't have much of a map, because when I went to buy the green trails # 209, the outdoor supply place just happened to be out of that one. (figures)  So I printed out that lousy picture of the section I was doing (shown on my last post) and called it good.  It didn't have Longs Pass on it though...oh well, I just headed down the trail anyway.  Worst case scenario is I end up in the parking lot, and I knew at least there I would find signs for other hikes.

This is hard to explain, but when I first ran into the other couple and we were trying to figure out what trial we were on, we both described coming to a Y where branches where obviously laid across one path, so we both took the trail that wasn't obstructed.  How could we have taken the same trail, when we were coming from opposite directions?  When we "back tracked", I showed them the 'blocked' trail, and they said it was different from the one they avoided.  I was curious, so when I headed back down, this time I took the blocked path.  (I knew it had to dump into the main trail--at least I was right about that) Lesson #10...if a trail looks purposely blocked, that means it was PURPOSELY blocked. (again, duh.)  That trail had been washed out and was a muddy mess! 

I wasn't the only curious stupid person though, because a couple with their dogs were trudging up the same way.  I don't hike with my dog when I know I'll encounter lots of people, because my dog's an idiot.  This couple didn't have that same philosophy, and so now I had mud all over my pants from the 'friendly' dogs.  At least I only paid $10 for them at Value Village...and they were really nice Columbia hiking pants!  When I bought them my 20 year old daughter asked me what made them so great for hiking, to which I replied, "Ummm, the material?...and the cool pockets?" (honestly I have no idea, all I know is I'd pay $40 retail)  She said, "Are you sure it's not because they are so ugly that they scare the bears away?"  (she gets that from her father ;)

I eventually came to the other 'blockade', and was finally on the main trail again.  After about an hour from leaving the camp, I came to the sign marking the "Ingalls Way" trail, with another sign that indicated that "Longs Pass" was connected to it too. (Hooray for signs!)  Let me say right here that I hated this hike.  If you like switchbacks, this is the hike for you.  I was SO glad I didn't have my big pack on... I don't think I could have made it if I had.  The only reason I kept going is because I had nothing else to do.  Plus I wanted to see that stupid view...and it had better be good.  I kept looking up to the summit and thinking "Are you kidding me?" As I finally got higher, the views were getting better, and it gave me some inspiration.
But even so, my pace was getting slower and slower...ridiculously slow, actually. I started chanting "you can make it, you can make it...", I mean, it was bad.  And then I at last got to the top.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that the view brought me to tears.  I've never had that happen before.  I'm sure the exhaustion had something to do with it (and dehydration...lesson #11, if bringing tablets that take four hours to make your water drinkable, plan ahead if you know your short on water!) but that mountain was unbelievable. 

Mount Stuart
 I didn't expect it to be so in my face (Hello, Mr. Stuart!)...the picture just does not do it justice.  And right there was a log, positioned just like a park bench to sit and take it all in. (I think someone must have put it there, because it was too perfect)

It was an amazing moment. (Fatigue can really heighten the senses)  Now to hike back...for three hours.  Man, I didn't feel like I could take another step.  I was out of water, and my hands felt puffy and tingly. (I don't think that's a good sign)  But there was no taxi, so what choice did I have?  Thankfully I had one slim fast left at camp, and by the time 8:00 rolled around my water was ready to drink.  It was wonderful to have a tent to crawl into, and although I only got what I will call 'rotisserie' sleep, it was a vast improvement from the night before.  I'll finish up next time, though it will be short because I only have to hike the two or three miles back down to the parking lot.  But the drive home is another story in itself.

View from inside my tent

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Second Day on the Esmeralda Basin Loop

Beginning where I left off: I was fully awake and feeling great at 6:00 am.  This is not something that happens to me often, if fact, it's quite an anomaly.  (especially if I've only gotten about 3 hours of bad sleep)  I can only figure I had an adrenaline rush going--because I didn't just feel great, I felt unbelievably fantastic.  I felt like I could conquer the world.  I can compare it slightly to how I felt after having my babies.  That sounds weird, but the amount of fear and uncertainty was similar (the pain factor was most definitely not similar...though I wouldn't call the un-inflated mat exactly comfortable either) as well as the intense feeling of relief that it was over.  I had my steak and eggs breakfast that thankfully no bears found (a hard boiled egg with beef jerky) and hit the road.  I went--I'm not kidding--less than a quarter mile and came upon the lake.

With the really quaint little campsite that would have been so comforting...

but had I found it, I wouldn't have had such a great natural high going, so I didn't mind so much.  I was glad it wasn't so late in the season that there weren't any wild flowers left.  Others had described seeing tons, but I was thrilled to see as many as I did.  So many beautiful fields full of was lovely.

Coming up and over the backside of Fortune Creek Pass had some decent views of the surrounding mountains, though this one (Harding Mountain?) still had some of the 'ominous' clouds from the night before surrounding it.

I had read there were some campsites at the top of the ridge, and I kept looking for them, but never found them.  There was no way I was going to get caught in the dark again...I was going to find a great campsite and I was going to figure out how to put up that darn tent if it was the last thing I did!  So I kept chugging along, keeping my eyes open for a good spot.  Coming down there was some steep and slippery places, and I took a bit of a fall.  No blood, but I did drop my camera. (lesson #8...don't hike with your camera in your hand. Duh.) Even though it's an old and not terribly expensive camera, I was SO thankful I didn't break it. (I really wanted pictures of my first two nighter!  Plus, what if I saw a mountain goat and couldn't take a picture!  That would have been dreadful)  I came to a fork in the road, with no sign.  I looked at my map, and saw there was another trail (Ingalls Way...bad picture of the map, but it's on the right) that split off of the one I was on.  It wasn't even noon yet, so I decided I'd take it.  Adventure!

I ran into a couple coming up, swallowed my pride and asked, "Do you happen to know what trail this is?"  They told me they were going to ask me the same thing.  They said they were looking for Longs Pass which is off Ingalls Way.  I said, "This is Ingalls Way, isn't it?"  They said, "Oh no...we just came from the parking lot for Esmereda Basin".  HUH?

I decided to hike back up to the fork in the road to try and figure things out.  They hiked with me and asked me a bunch of questions. (I guess I looked like a real hiker...who has already acknowledged she doesn't even know what trial she's on.  Humm...these people were stupider than I thought. ;)  The woman was particularly impressed that I was out there by myself.  "Do you have bear spray?"  First of all...I don't even know what bear spray is. (deodorant for bears maybe?)  Secondly, assuming it's to ward off a bear attack, what are the chances I'm going to find it in my pack in time while a bear is charging me?  No--I already wasted money on rope I'll never figure out how to use to hang my food...I think I'll pass on the bear spray.  Anyway, we got back to the fork, only to find out it just lead to a camping area.  They decided to go back the way they came, figuring they passed the Ingalls Way turn off;  I decided this was the perfect spot to pitch my tent! 
So we come to hiking lesson #9...never assume that a trail going off the main trail is the one your looking for, unless it is clearly marked.  But I was very happy I had back tracked--because look how cute my little spot is!  And even though I was the only one there, it felt safe. (I know, I's only psychological, but psychological safety means you sleep better, so it's important)  After getting all set up, I sat down to have lunch and think about what to do next, since it was only 12:30.  I'll write about that next time. (you already know how much I can drag these stories out...and if you don't, just read the "Chain Lakes" saga)

Monday, September 5, 2011

My First Two-Nighter! Alone Even!

I've had my two-nighter planned for awhile.  Jewell and I were going to do a hike she's been eyeing for sometime--Tomyhoi Peak/Yellow Aster Butte.  But because we had such a crazy winter with loads of snow, followed by an exceptionally crappy spring/summer, the road to this hike was still not cleared, and may not be at all this year.  What a bummer-I had the days off, and I hated to see them go to waste.  Maybe I could do something else? 

As you've probably guessed, I'm a big fan of loops. (Trails that is...though I love the earrings too ;)  I found one in my "100 Classic Hikes in Washington State" book that looked pretty enticing--and most importantly it wasn't covered in snow.  All my friend's calenders were completely booked because of school starting/labor day, and I could tell Jewell was relieved to have this dropped off her already crammed schedule.  Ken encouraged me to do it on my own..."It will be an adventure".  (I do so appreciate his support) I was on the fence until the day it was 'do or die', then finally decided "Why not? If I'm going to really hike 50 days by myself, I'd better get an idea of what it's like." 

I was amped when I pulled into the Esmerelda Basin parking lot.  I had already dropped my pack 2 miles down the road at the De Roux turn off (where I would start my 'loop') as suggested on a hiking website, then drove my car up to where I'd be finishing, because there is nothing worse than hiking down to your car on a dusty old road when your ready to just be done. By the time I walked back down to my pack to start the loop, it was 6:00 pm.  I knew there was a place to pitch my tent (an old horse camp) that was early into the trail, but I wasn't expecting it to be just at the end of the road turn off...basically the parking lot. It had camp sites, picnic tables, and other people...everything I was planning on for my first night alone.  But a parking lot?  It just wasn't the romantic experience I had in my head. (The experience I got wasn't in my head either...but we'll get to that.)

Like I said--I was amped--with my pack on and ready to go...and it was now 6:30.  I looked at my map.  There were camp sites at Gallagher Head Lake--that was 4 miles in.  When does it get dark?  9:00ish?  That gives me two and a half hours.  I bet I could to that...and even if it's getting dark at that time, I have my little lantern and it's a clear night...I will be able to get set up OK. (BTW...I'm borrowing this tent from Rick, big surprise, and I've never tried putting it together before.)  Over confidence is not usually a down fall of mine, but when I really want to do something, I tend to over look some of my obvious shortcomings (like my ability to put together ANYTHING). So off I went, leaving that unsightly parking lot campground in my dust. I didn't even let the warning signs of rabid mountain goats stop me. 
I passed two women coming out on horses..."Are you staying the night on the trail?" they asked in a tone of shock.  "Yep" I replied, feeling like a real bad ass. (They were probably just wondering why the heck I was getting such a late start.) I knew I had to haul ass if I wanted to get to the lake in time. (Can I say ass two times in two sentences? Oops, that makes three--and too bad, I already did it.) I felt great (this really was an adventure!) as I kept referencing my map and  knew I was making good time. By the time 8:00 rolled around,  it was definitely 'dusky', but I was at the switchbacks and the lake was just at the top.

Those switchbacks were torture, because I kept thinking, "Ok, this has to be the last one" and the light kept getting dimmer and dimmer.  When I finally got to the top, it was flippin' dark. (My idea of still having light at 9:00 was way off.) And to top it off--no lake. I was done, so I just threw my stuff down in a field--it would have to do.  I hid my food bag the appropriate "100 yards" from my stuff (like I know how far that is..."not close to" is really all that means to me)  I had brought rope to hang my food in a tree...ummm, not going to happen.  The bears could have the food if they found it. Although, it did get me thinking about bears. I totally under-estimated my "you should not be out in the middle of nowhere by yourself in the dark" instinct. I'll confess, I was scared shitless. (Which was a good thing, because taking a poo at that moment was unthinkable.)

I got out my $5 little lantern I bought at Walmart (what did I tell you about failing the "just buy the good equipment" test?) and got to work putting together my tent. What a joke.  Did I mention there was now ominous clouds in the sky? I prayed it wouldn't rain (the forecast had only a sun with no cloud--I should have known better) and laid the tent down along with my 'self inflating' mat (only if you twist the cap--which I discovered the next night) and finally my sleeping bag on top. All I wanted was to get in that sleeping bag as soon as possible. Why being inside a sleeping bag would make me feel safer, (like a bear cares...heck, to him it's just a wrapper) but it did. But not safe enough to get much sleep, making this one of the longest nights of my life. Have you ever played the "I refuse to look at the clock" game, only to give in and discover it's been just an hour? That game sucks. I finally dozed off a little, and when I woke up there was some lightness in the sky. "Do I dare look at the clock? I bet it's not even 5:00 am."  I have never been so overjoyed to see 6:00 on a clock in my life! I had survived the night! Next post will be day two--where I ward off the rabid mountain goat.  (Just kidding!)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baker River Trail

Back when we used to get the paper, (does anyone get a paper anymore?) I noticed a blurb for 'Hike of the Week".  I cut it out, and filed it in my 'misc' folder. (along with my sketches for the potting shed we never made, and the inspirational pictures for remodeling the kitchen that we never used)  I don't know what made me remember that hike, but I dug it out last weekend.  (it had to be in there for at least three years)  I was having another 'Devil's Mountain' kind of day, and figured it would be a good idea to sequester myself from other humans likely to tempt me to snap badly at them . (aka, my children) 

It was a beautiful drive to the Mt. Baker area, and it felt good to belt out whatever song came on the radio. (I cried singing Alicia Keys "No one"...if you've ever heard this song you'll know it's not even remotely sad.  If this doesn't prove I was hormonal, I don't know what would)  I was glad to have very clear directions to get there, complete with mileage from road turn offs and such.  I set my odometer at precisely the right times, so I would be sure not to get lost.  When I finally went the 6 miles past Mount Baker Campground, I looked for the "junction" where I would go left.  What the hell's a 'junction' anyway?  I mean, it's not exactly a fork in the road, right?  Is it just an intersection?  There was a road there, on the left, and a different campground on the right...but why not just say "turn left when you come to the next campground"?  But I turned left anyway...because I didn't want to question the precise directions.  "Go up the road half a mile to the large parking lot".  I figured if there was no parking lot in a half mile, then something was up.  But there extremely creepy parking lot.  With one car full of teenage boys doing doughnuts.  Suddenly I really wished I had brought my dog, or at least a can of mace.  I turned around and headed back to the road, cursing those up-to-no-good boys.

I went across the street to the campground and found a bathroom.  I waited.  I decided to go back and give it another try, because maybe the boys left.  Sure enough, nobody was up there when I returned, so I drove around trying to find any sort of trail head sign.  Nothing.  I did find fire pits in the parking lot and quite a few beer bottles.  I didn't even bother getting out of my car...this was so off and I felt really, really uneasy.  What to do but start heading back and maybe do something else?  I drove about 15 minutes and pulled over to look at a map to try and find a different hike.  Yes, a map.  Why the heck I didn't look at it in the first place is beyond me...but I just had such total confidence in those detailed directions.  And there at the end of the road was "Baker River Trail", clear as could be.  So this is the all the directions I actually needed, "GO TO THE END OF THE FRICKEN ROAD". 

So I turned around and drove to the end and found the very clearly marked trail, complete with bathrooms and families and normalcy.  I was relived, and also pretty pissed I had wasted probably about 45 minutes because of those bogus directions. (when I came home and complained to Ken he just said, "You mean the paper got something wrong?"  I do love a man who is skilled in sarcasm) So here is hiking lesson #7; before driving to the trail head,  check at least two sources for directions to make sure they match up.  The hike itself was everything I was hoping for: easy, peaceful, beautiful. (sounds like a cover girl commercial, sorry) A calming stroll was just what the doctor ordered, and I returned home in a much better state of mind.