Saturday, July 26, 2014

Marmot Lake to Nine Stream (Part 3)

On day three I hiked six miles to Marmot Lake. Sounds kinda boring, huh? It was, and it wasn't. Part of the beauty of hiking is going into "zone" mode. You hike up, you hike down, you go through a forest, you hop over a small stream, you go up, you go down, you go through a forest, you hop over a small stream...rinse and repeat. You start to slip into a sort of auto pilot; which I'm actually kind of into. But hiking lesson #40 is a big one: Try to pay attention. Pretty deep, right?

I was plodding along like a giant oaf, (I purposely made a lot of noise the entire time...scaring away the bears, y'know. And it worked--I never saw a single one) when all of a sudden I was on the ground...hard. My foot had just barely gone off trail, and unknown to me there was a very steep drop off that made my foot slip straight down. I credit the fact I didn't pitch it over the edge to my trekking poles, which where planted and gave me the balance to fall the right direction.
It was a "what the hell just happened" moment. I hadn't noticed the precarious edge because of the shrubbery, (I love that word; yes, it must be because of Monte Python) but at that moment laying on the ground and looking down at the creek about 40 feet below with giant rocks to land upon was a wake up call. I'm not going to look up statistics, because I'm already sure this is how the majority of hikers die. (though, I doubt this fall would have killed me; just made this lesson a far more painful one learned) I had dreams of falling all that night. From now on I swear; I will be more aware. I promise.
I was hoping to find some Keebler cookies

What a beautiful stream, right? Take off your boots,
the trail is at the top

One part of this hike that I was definitely not in auto pilot for was 'the ford'. I was so nervous about it; imagining myself being swept downstream in an instant. It turned out to be a non-event. Getting to the other side and not being able to find the trail was an actual event. I almost called it a day and turned around. More about that later.
The 'real' ford...wish it looked scarier
Marmot lake is wonderful. It's cold, but not punch you in the gut cold. I stripped down to my sports bra and underwear and jumped in--glorious! Then the horseflies showed up. Why are these creatures so evil? They just don't give up...circling, circling, circling. It makes you nuts. When I got up to my private camp spot (I was not having a repeat of the prior evening) I got my handy REI towel out and went into ninja mode; that f@@#*%# horsefly was going down! This is when the nice man camped out at a higher spot decided to come say hello...and found a crazy woman whipping her towel around in her underwear like an idiot. Who's the weirdo hiker now? He was a great guy out hiking with his son; so when I was dressed I went up and said a more proper hello. This was the site to have!!! The picture does no justice; it's panoramic and breathtaking. When your at the lake, go up the steep hill to the left and you'll find it. Don't bother with the group site when you first arrive...that's where the legions of 14 year old boys will be; guaranteed.
Marmot Lake
A great spot, but the best one is on that hill

John and his son and their view to die for
The nice man let me know I really needed to do the 3 mile round trip up to Hart Lake, or even push on to Lake La Crosse if I had the energy. I didn't feel like sitting around camp battling the horseflies; so I converted to a day pack and left. I must say, if you've put in all the effort to get to this elevation, it would be a shame to not push on to see these lakes. It was well worth it.
Heading up with sweeping views all around

One of several little tarns on the ridge trail

The far end of Hart Lake. It's much larger than this
Lake La Crosse. This is as close as I got.
(I didn't have that much energy ;))
The next morning I left early because I knew I had a very long day. Even though it was my toughest day, it was the "knowing" that made it easier. There is something comforting in going back the way you came that I don't think I've really appreciated before--but I will from now on. (no more obsession with loops!) 
Took this from my tent just before going to sleep
Wildflowers everywhere on the way back up the First Divide
I had just finished 're-doing' the stream when an adorable couple showed up. I video taped her coming across so I could show my husband the big bad ford I had to do. Of course, she just tromped across like it was nothing.
Thanks for making it look so easy, beoch ;)
When I asked them how long they were planning on hiking they said they were hoping for 30 days, except they weren't sure they could make it with their food supply. I gave them what I had over packed and asked them to look up my blog and let me know how they had fared. The week after I got back we had RECORD amounts of rainfall, so they have been on my mind. If you two ever find this; hello!!!! Glad you made it out alive!
So cute, right? I love how she's clutching the food like it's gold.
At Nine Stream Camp I found a primo spot right on the river. The only thing I didn't like about it was the fact there was another site just above with a clear view of my spot. I was hoping nobody would claim it, but eventually I looked up and saw that someone had snagged it. Do I go up there and say hi? What if the person gives me the creeps; then I'll be freaked out all night thinking they are watching me. But, I figured I'd be wondering that all night regardless unless I met them; so I went up there hoping for the best. You'll never guess who it was...

"I thought you were long gone! Where'd you camp last night?" 

Matt (finally got his name right, I think I asked him every time. Sheesh, I'm bad with names) informed me he had made it up to Marmot after all. He told me a story about losing the trail after the ford, and thought he would have to turn back. (just like me! A blow down made it really hard to tell where the trail is) Just then a doe came down, revealing the path. (Snape's patronus? Sorry, I'm a Harry Potter nerd) He took it as a sign, and pushed on. Don't you love it?
Doesn't look much like a trail, does it

I loved my Nine Stream spot!
This was my first time not putting the rain fly on the tent and getting to gaze at the stars; it was a wonderful night. In the morning when I went to say good-bye to Matt, I asked him if I could trade some coffee for a little toilet paper. (or mountain money, as my husband calls it) He retrieved a plastic baggie out of his pocket with what looked to be two sheets in it. He was so sweet to offer, but there was no way I was taking someone's last two sheets of toilet paper! We both pondered why we never pack enough, considering it hardly weighs anything. I ended up tearing a few pages out of the book I took to read, and it did the job just fine. I don't know Jim Palmer (author of "Notes From Over the Edge") but I have the feeling he would actually get a chuckle at the fact I wiped my butt with his work. It's important to not take oneself too seriously, don't you think?
The scariest part of the whole trip
There are quite a few log bridges to cross on this hike, but by the time I re-crossed the last one on the way back I was hardly even phased. I'd call this trip a sort of immersion therapy experience that quite possibly has cured me of that fear. Now to start planning my SIX day hike, where I will hopefully NOT be having the same therapy for my bear and tick phobias. ;)   
The progression of bridges starts you off easy. Ha ha!!...
I think I got this

A little more nerve racking.
 I'm pretty sure you have yourself a busted ankle
falling off this one
Hard to tell how high this is, but it's up there...I'm thinking certain death if you fall.
 Except there's a handrail, so it doesn't really count.
(I stole this pic off Eric Jain's trip report on WTA; hope that's okay)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Camp Pleasant to Home Sweet Home (Part 2)

Camp Pleasant was...well, pleasant. All the camps on this trail are very nice; with nice sounding names I might add. Two Bear is the only one with an even slightly scary name; unlike the camps on the Devil's Dome Loop. (the other consideration for my 5 day trip) Who wants to stay a night by themselves at "Nightmare Camp" or "Bear Skull"; not to mention "Devil's Pass" or "Hell's Basin". Can you blame me for begging my husband to come along? No, I made a good choice in switching my plan; one where I could look forward to feeling safe and sound at places like "Home Sweet Home" camp. 

So, as I was 'pleasantly' relaxing at my fire, I decided I'd better go introduce myself to the guys. I stopped at John's site first. He let me know he was intending to come with a friend who backed out last second, so he had hauled all the stuff in by himself...and when he said "all the stuff", he wasn't kidding! He looked like he was car camping; I've never seen anyone pack in so much crap. Two lanterns? But he was just a sweet local kid with a few days off work who only wanted to chill; most definitely not the "non-weirdo" solo hiker the ranger told me about. That must be the other guy...the one staring up into the sky with his hands in the air. I decided to wait until morning to say hello to him.
Where's your lounge chair, John?
I really didn't think he was some ax murder or something. I was scared of him for other reasons. When I think about it, I guess I assumed he would consider me a stupid tag along girl who didn't know what I was doing. "Wanna hold my hand while we cross the big bad river"...I mean, seriously; no. But even the thought of just introducing myself had me imagining him giving me the "don't you know I'm out here because I want solitude" look.

Though, when I finally got up my courage before heading out in the morning, I was relieved to find him as nice as the ranger said. He explained he hadn't backpacked in years because of his bad knee from a long ago motorcycle crash. It was acting up, so he didn't think he was going to be able to make it all the way to Home Sweet Home...and just when we were starting to make friends! Oh well; maybe I wouldn't be minding some solitude myself in such a cozy sounding little camp.
At the top of the first divide

Home is in need of some repair
When I finally pulled into Home Sweet Home, I was DONE. Getting over that first divide (4700 feet) from the Skokomish side is a real bitch. The fact it was pushing 90 degrees didn't help, I'm sure. I was dripping from every pore; I have never sweat like that in my life. But the camp was everything it promised to be; from the meadow of beautiful wildflowers, to the mountains all around, to the perfectly placed cluster of trees right in the middle--it was divine. And I had it all to myself! Heaven. I set my tent up in the shade, plopped myself down, and felt I might not move a muscle for several hours. Then the gang showed up.

I didn't have enough energy to poke my head out of my tent, but listening to them I guessed there were at least 5 boys who sounded to be no more than fourteen. They were so excited (loudly excited, and who can blame them) to use their new hammocks...and the only place to set them up was right behind my tent. I'm not kidding; I don't think there was even 15 feet between us. There was no way I could even fart unless I was prepared for roars of laughter. Ugh, this night was going to be endless.
My nice quiet spot; before the invasion
Post invasion
Long story short, I moved. I had one of the very helpful boys pick up one end of my tent while I had the other and we carried it all the way down the grassy field to the one spot away from the trees. You'll never guess who I passed along the way, illegally camped out in an 'undesignated' spot in the meadow.
My hiking buddy. See my tent in the distance?

"You made it!"...

I could tell he was as surprised as I was. The climb to get there was torturous; I can't imagine doing it with a bad knee.We both lamented about the hijacking of our supposed "home", but we were each pretty happy to have our somewhat secluded spots. He said he would most likely be heading back in the morning, so we said our goodbyes. I should have known better.

Part 3

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finally, Five Days! (Part 1)

I did it! I guess the third time really is a charm!! I can't believe it's already been almost a week since I've been back. I often wonder how 50 days of hiking is going to feel; but then I realize it doesn't matter how it feels. Whether it's hard, easy, rainy, sunny, lonely or filled with people...fifty days will pass regardless of my feelings towards them, and it will be over and I'll wonder, "Did that just really happen?" It seems that way now, and I'm sure it will seem that way then. (If I ever actually make it to the Appalachian Trail; knock on wood)

Deciding on what hike to do was the hardest part of the whole trip. I once again was trying to make a super duper birthday plan; this time because my husband is turning 50. Five days when Ken turns 50...he should be into it, right? And he tried to be, God bless him he really did. Ultimately though, I had to concede having him with me was more about my fears and what I wanted than about what he wanted. I'm glad I finally let it go; the elusive 5 day was something I really needed to conquer on my own.

There are many reasons I at last settled on heading to the Olympic Mountains; (or the ONP in hiker speak) the main one being the weather forecast. ZERO percent chance of rain for 5 whole days in one of the wettest areas in the world! I didn't even pack an ounce of rain the Olympics! For that I could ignore all the trip reports that spoke of bear sightings, which I swear are almost all of them.

Yes, it would be cool to see a bear; but I'm sorry, they scare me. I know they are not really interested in humans, but they are very big with very big claws that would hurt very bad even if their only intention was to give me a hand shake. So, because I had to stop at Cabela's on the way to buy some stove fuel, I figured I might as well get a can of bear spray "just in case".

Hiking lesson #38: Never stop at Cabela's if you're on any kind of time schedule. It took 15 minutes just to find the spray WITH the help of an employee (who had to ask two other employees) only to discover it's FIFTY DOLLARS for bear spray! And it's HUGE! I mean dang, how much spray does it take to impede a bear...or are they giving us some bargain value for multiple bears? I said screw it, and I'm glad I did. I know I could never be trusted with that stuff anyway; I mean, after spraying mosquito repellent in my eyes in a panic to get the bugs off me not once, but TWICE, I'm quite certain the only thing the bear spray would have taken down would be me. I may be afraid of bears, and ticks, and log bridges without handrails...but I think if anything is going to be the end of me, it's going to be deet poisoning.  

After the fiasco at Cabela's, the traffic, and the line at Jack in the Box, I barely got to the ranger station at Staircase before they closed. Some things to consider if your thinking about hiking here: you need to buy an OLYMPIC state park pass to get in. (No, not a Discover Pass. No, not a Forest Pass...a whole new, different pass. Sheesh.) Then you need to pay per night, per person for your backpacking permit. (another reason I was glad I passed on the bear spray) I was thankful, though, to have a ranger to answer my questions. He was so nice; gave me tips on how to do my first real ford, talked me into staying at "Home Sweet Home" camp instead of pushing on to the next (Hiking lesson #39: when the map shows a mile as only a quarter inch, pay attention because that quarter inch will be hell) and let me know there was another solo hiker with the same itinerary as me.

"Is he a weirdo?" I instinctively asked. 

It's not that I assume just because a guy is hiking alone that he's some sort of creeper; it's just that weird guys are even scarier than bears, and I believe stats would prove me right on that one.

The ranger only told me about the other hiker because of the stream I had to ford. "It's running low, but fast. It's better if there was someone with you, and maybe he'll hike with you in that section. But you never know with solo hikers. The thing is, often they are looking for solitude."
"Or maybe he's alone because he's a weirdo" was what I was thinking, but the ranger assured me he was a really nice guy and not to worry.
When you first open a can of stove fuel,
you need some sort of knife. Do not try to twist off the "safety" plug
I didn't actually get hiking until 4:30 (above picture explains why) but thankful the 7 miles to Camp Pleasant is a cruise, so I made it well before dark. Two guys were already set up, and I wondered if either of them was the nice guy who was undoubtedly not a weirdo. I'll let you know next time. :) 

Part 2:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Enchanting Eightmile Lake and Magical Clovers

If I mention "The Enchantments" to any hiker in the northwest, 99% will know exactly what I'm talking about; anyone else will probably think I'm just another Harry Potter freak (which in fact, I am). It may not be a spell, but it's always felt like it would take a little magic to be able to experience the Enchantments for myself. Although, after getting this little taste, I'm ready to conjure up whatever hocus-pocus is needed to go back for the real thing.

The Enchantments refer to an area in the Alpine Wilderness considered by many to be the Holy Grail of Washington state hiking. Indeed, it's so popular that you have to enter a lottery and hope you win the permit allowing you to camp amidst it's wonders. (Along with the privilege of handing over a few dollars.) Every year I consider it, and every year I fail to enter in time. It's sort of in my nature to rebel against jumping through hoops, and the whole thing just felt like far too much bother.

Officially in the Alpine Wilderness
This year the 4th of July fell on a Friday, with the added blessed miracle of a good weather forecast. My friend Debbie was asking me to help her plan a little getaway to celebrate her husband's birthday, which was on the 6th. With their recent purchases of all kinds of Costco camping gear and the guarantee of sun, a cozy little camping weekend in Leavenworth would be just the ticket! Except there was the slight problem of Leavenworth having first come first served sites at all the campgrounds, and IT'S FOURTH OF JULY WEEKEND WITH SUN. But it was our only choice, considering every site in the entire state that you could reserve was already booked.
"Little" Eightmile Lake...almost to the big one 
I've been dying to do my first backpack of the year. Choosing to go on the fourth of July weekend was probably not the most brilliant idea...but going on the 3rd so I could be in Leavenworth early enough on the 4th as to have a shot at a campsite was brilliant! Researching the area I found the perfect hike; just six miles round trip, easy to drive to, several sites around a beautiful lake...and an "Enchantment Zone" permit requirement. (wah, wah, wah)
Lots of beautiful wildflowers

Eightmile Lake may be in the Enchantments, (quite a few things are named "Eightmile" in the area; I have no idea why, but it has nothing to do with mileage in this case) except it's not really IN the Enchantments. The Holy Grail area is in the "core", and can only be accessed through three other zones; none of which include poor little Eightmile Zone. So even though it's still wildly popular, it's sort of the red headed step child of the group; which gives someone a chance at getting a permit without having to enter the lottery. Therefore, with just a few clicks on the computer and a twenty, I scored myself the last available one for that day. (Go to to try for yourself.)
Somehow I talked my oldest daughter into coming with me. Just two years ago she would have said "No way!", but one by one she is facing down all her fears, and I couldn't be more proud. She felt ready to cross "being mauled and possibly eaten by wild animals" off her list, so away we went.

I'm afraid Amber gets her ability to vividly imagine horrific outcomes from me. The mind can be a wonderful dreamer, and it can also be a terrible tormentor. When I read on a trip report about someone getting freaked by the log bridge, (without handrail) I sort of panicked. I utterly hate them; I feel I'm just clumsy enough to fall off and break both my legs and maybe even die. I decided to keep that information to myself--Amber didn't need any extra fears telling her why she shouldn't go.

As we walked along the trail, Amber kept finding four leaf clovers. I'm not sure if it was some sort of mutant strain of clover, but the luck was bounteous. After finding one with five leaves, and then another with six; she declared that we had now become invincible. (Then murmured "famous last words" under her breath.) I was hoping this feeling of invulnerability would extend to the log crossing; and sure enough, the darn thing didn't even give her pause. I had to confess my own misgivings about it, but then strode across with the assurance that I had our magical leprechaun powers protecting me. ;)
Easy Peesy
There were two other groups already set up when we got to the lake. I was trying not to mope believing that the best sites were taken, then we went just a bit farther and claimed what truly was the perfect spot. What a view!!! A short climb down brought us to a wonderful place to jump in the water...if it wasn't so freakin' cold. Instead we sat and watched several fish swim by; it was pretty magical, even by Hogwarts's standards.

They're always after me lucky charms!!!
The hike out the next day was uneventful (except for the masses coming in) and speaking of magic--would you believe we were able to get a site at one of the campgrounds, fourth of July and all! I hope my luck will continue on into next year, when I'm determined to finally apply for a coveted permit for the "real" Enchantments.

The view out our tent door. Amazing.

For each petal on the shamrock
This brings a wish your way -
Good health, good luck, and happiness
For today and every day.

or maybe you know this one better...

Hearts, Stars, and Horseshoes, Clovers, and Blue Moons! Pots of Gold and Rainbows, and me Red Balloons!  ;)

All done. High five!

Now for some fun in Leavenworth