Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Day 6: They Don't Call it Rainy Pass for Nothing

I arrived at the Rainy Pass parking lot at 2:30; exactly the time I had estimated I would. Pretty impressive, I thought, considering I had switched around my plan and had ended up hiking all the way from Snowy Lakes that day. My husband had told me he would try to be there at that time, but there were no guarantees.
We had agreed that I would stick a note to the reader board telling him when I had gotten there. It said that I had waited 15 minutes, then left at 2:45, and that I would see him at the camp site later. (yes, I was sad to not hike with him; I was of course hoping pretty badly that he would be there)
This picture showing bears marauding a supposed campsite
at Lake Ann was pretty disconcerting...
until I noticed the picnic table in the photo. 
The Maple Pass Loop is a busy place. Not everyone takes the spur down to Ann Lake, but enough people went by that I definitely didn't feel alone. I tried to be patient and not look up with too much expectation every time I heard someone coming. I tried to keep a positive attitude and tell myself that he would get there when he could. I think I was even fooling myself that I was succeeding in this posture of acceptance.
After two hours, this "peace" was more what I would call a concession that he just wasn't coming. I told myself that it was okay; we had talked about that if he didn't show, I would assume that the car broke down or there was some work emergency or something. (makes you appreciate how much we rely on cell phones. If you're thinking you can get service in this area, forget about it) I told myself it was just another night biggie. But of course, I was broken hearted. (and fighting all the other thoughts as to why he wasn't there that were much more unpleasant)
At just about the time I was losing the battle and making funeral arrangements in my head, there he was! Joy! I went to hug him and found he was drenched in sweat. What the heck? It's an easy two miles to the camp site and not exactly a heat wave. He saw my bafflement and just said, "I've got a funny story for you".
I'm afraid if I try to explain how he ended up going clockwise on this loop instead of the specifically instructed counterclockwise direction, I'm only going to confuse you. I had to actually see the signage to understand it myself; because Ken is not someone to get something like that wrong. I'm sure he would have figured it out sooner if he was someone to doubt himself...but instead, he kept thinking I must have gone the wrong way! I can't say I really blame him for that, but it still makes me laugh.

He got my note just 15 minutes after I had left it, and thought, "I'm going to catch her!" In his haste, he blasted by the obvious sign to Lake Ann, and instead just saw the more vague "to the lake" sign. (that would be Rainy Lake) He knows how slow I am, and really should have turned around after not passing me in the first five minutes. But, he kept pushing hard up the much steeper clockwise direction, even with all the red flag thoughts going off in his head. After 50 minutes, he finally accepted he had gone the wrong way, bolted back down, then raced back up the other way to meet me. (knowing I would be worrying)
After all that, his knee was starting to give him fits, (sucks getting old!) making the next day's plan of finishing the loop debatable. (not to mention the weather was very iffy) I knew having my sixth day of hiking consist of a pathetic 2 miles back to the car would be sorely unsatisfactory to me; but I tried not to pout. I had a lot to be grateful for...understood.

All night we listened to the rain hitting our tent. I tried to find my zen place of being okay with abandoning ship in the morning; with little success if I'm honest. I really wanted to do the loop, damn it!
In the morning, the rain was gone and there was a little blue in the sky. I couldn't get my hopes up too high though, because the way Ken hobbled off to get the water let me know the knee was really hurting. I knew it wouldn't be very nice to pressure him to do something he wasn't going to enjoy, so as we headed out and got to the intersection for the loop, I just kept going down. "Hey", Ken called after me, "you're going the wrong way". Hooray!!!! Maple Pass, here we come! (the loop is seven miles total, if anyone is wondering)

I thought that maybe this loop would be a little anticlimactic after all I had seen, but I actually think it was my favorite part of the trip. There were snow flurries, fog and clouds being swept through dramatically...even a rainbow! It was sensational in every way.

And then a grand finale finish of the skies opening up and dumping on us for the last hour as we slowly made our way down through the forest. It was sort of fun...mostly because we knew we could retreat once we got to the car, but also just the ridiculousness of the down pour as we watched the trail turn into a stream.

A couple drowned rats!
We took our time driving home; stopping at our favorite Birdsview Brewery, and also the Challenger Ridge Winery. (yes, I looked like complete crap; and I didn't care!) As always, it was very sad to see it all come to an end. It helps to already have my sights on a specific trail for my 7 day adventure next year. The classic section J of the PCT, Snoqualmie to Stevens Pass, ye shall be mine!
Snow already collecting on the mountains as we drove away
Ken's creative drying techniques

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Willis Camp, Snowy Lakes, and Up and Over Cutthroat (Days 3, 4, and 5)

Even as beautiful as my camp site was, I had a rough night. Being completely alone is always a little difficult for me. I get jumpy. I might have been solo on my five day trip in the Olympics this year, but there were still others camping at each spot I stayed. (every camp has a name and is marked and has a privy; which spoiled me a bit, I suppose) As I made my way down to my spot for the night (a much more undefined trail than what I had been traveling on all day) a big branch brushed the side of my backpack. I about came out of my skin! It took me awhile to settle down and try to just breathe it all in. I did okay; but not great.
Looking down on the Grasshopper Pass site 
That night was super windy. I don't know if my tent was sort of collapsing on me at one point, but I had a dream a bear was laying on top of me! The weird thing is, I wasn't all that scared in the dream. I was just like, "Get off me bear!", and I scared him away. It took me a moment to grasp that I was dreaming. When my brain was finally turning on, I started to realize that it hadn't really happened. It's funny how you talk to yourself when you're half asleep..."wow, that was really freaky when that bear laid down on you" (answering self) "ummm, what do you think the likelihood of a bear laying on you and not crushing you is?"(replying back) "wait, you mean that was a dream?" (insulting self) "of course it was a dream you idiot! sheesh, get a grip!" So yeah, I didn't sleep all that well.

The next day I passed a whole bunch more thru hikers. (I assume they were anyway, because I stopped asking. If they were bushy and stinky, that said it all) One of them asked me a very nervous question though, "Have you seen any bears?" I was tempted to say I chased one away after he laid on my tent, but instead just answered no. I found out later that a mother bear and her cub had been spotted the day prior and word spread fast, which is why everyone was a little on edge. I made a LOT of noise hiking down into the forest from Glacier Pass that afternoon.
I stayed at the furthest camp I could make it to that night--"Willis Camp". (finally, a camp with a name and a sign; those things comfort me for whatever reason) I knew it was stupid of me to feel safer because I wasn't in the place the bear was seen. (I was told by a couple, and then the guy who actually saw them; they were at the camp two miles before Willis) I mean, what's a couple miles mean to a bear? But, it's all about the mind games we play, right? Thankfully, I was so tired that I pretty much crashed, and had no dreams of being a bear's bean bag.

Willis Camp. The trail is right there.

The next day I had a big dilemma. I had only 6ish miles to Snowy Lakes, which everyone says is a "must". But camping there would end my day at like 1:30 in the afternoon; way to early to stop, in my opinion. Plus it would leave me 10ish miles the next day to get to Rainy Pass to meet my husband, and then I'd still have another 2 miles to that night's camping spot at Ann Lake. But not camping at Snowy Lakes meant I'd need to push on another 6ish miles for that day; miles that included going over both Granite and Cutthroat Pass, after I just got my butt over Methow Pass. (with NO possibility of calling it a day early. Much of this section's trail is dynamited into the cliff, and it is sketchy!) What to do, what to do. When I got to where I knew the side trail to Snowy Lakes should be (just past Methow Pass) I couldn't find it. I was just about to bag the whole idea and keep going (it's just another lake, after all) when I spotted two guys heading up. I took it as a sign, and rooted around for the trail until I found it. (It looks like a dry stream at the beginning, which is why I didn't recognize it as a trail; but it becomes obvious very quickly)

Arriving at the first lake, I dumped my pack and declared to myself, "You have chosen wisely!" I mean, wow. The people coming down had told me to push on and camp at the upper lake--but like I said, my pack was off. (it's only a half mile to get to the lakes, but it's a steep half mile!) I didn't care how awesome upper lake was; this was awesome enough.

My site even had it's own table!
After getting all settled, I decided I better go check out the upper lake (not all that much further) though I was a little nervous that I was going to wish I had pushed on. I found it certainly beautiful as well, but after seeing it, I decided I was perfectly content with my lower lake home. 
Upper Snowy Lake

Heading back "home" from the upper lake
A very golden Golden Horn
The next morning I didn't even make breakfast. It was so flippin' cold; and besides, I had such a long day ahead that I knew I needed to just get going. After four and a half hours of pretty much continual hiking, I finally got to the place I was considering pushing on to the day before. THANK GOD for Snowy Lakes! I would have been putting my tent up in the dark and been totally stressed out had I gone for it. (Directions say the camp is only a mile past Cutthroat Pass if your going South. It felt like three! Plus, it's pretty ugly; especially after where I had just been)
Brrrr...I was wearing every item I brought!

Looking back from Granite Pass;
see the trail in the side of the mountain?
I made it to Rainy Pass at exactly the time I told my husband I was shooting for. I understood, though, that he could make no guarantees for when he could make it. The comedy of errors resulting in us not seeing each other for another two hours will be in my next post, when I wrap this thing up.

Last day:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Day Two to Grasshopper Pass

I have yet another hiking convert to my name. This was Leigh's first time on a backpacking trip; in fact, it was one of the few times she had even spent the night in a tent. Being with her was like being at Disneyland with a kid who's never been; she was so giddy it was contagious. 

Does somebody look a little excited?
It's a wondrous thing, watching someone "get it". Especially if you judged them a little as someone who wouldn't be into it. (Sorry Leigh, but you have to admit you don't come across as very outdoorsy. I mean, you did bring never should have told me that :))
I guess I can't really say for sure what she "got", except I felt that excitement coming from her that I also always feel. It's a sort of freedom, for lack of a better word, where you realize you don't have to fit in any sort of box, except the "human" one. A telltale sign is she didn't use her mascara...I don't think she even thought about it. And she said she couldn't wait to backpack again.
Leigh has found her inner hunter/gather
She had so many questions; and treated both Melodie and I as if we were Sherpas. (I know she occasionally reads my blog, so she should know better!) Though, we did run across some REAL experts on the way back to our camp from Windy Pass. 

I was hoping to see some thru hikers on this trip; I figured it was the right time for them to be finishing up their six month trek. (starting at the Mexican border and finishing in Canada) I'm pretty sure one passed us right after we started; Melodie commented once he flew by, "boy, he was ripe!" (the smell lingered for some time) That was when I remembered, "oh yeah, the thru hikers!"; and so I was sure to ask the next bushy man we met. It wasn't long before a bearded guy with a young woman came along, and they were way too cute and happy looking to have been hiking for six months. We were so mad we didn't take our picture with them (they really do feel like celebrities to me; what an amazing feat!) but I did ask if either had a blog. Here is a link to his: it's pretty cool.
Melodie's picture. She's a great photographer.
Like I mentioned last time, we had a leisurely morning and took our time getting back to the car. (I thought I was someone who took a lot of pictures, but Melodie has me beat!) Because it was a bit late in the day, I was so thankful for the ride to Meadow's campground to save me some mileage. The girls made sure I was all watered up and going the right direction, and then we said our good-byes. I could tell they were both emotional and worried for me; it was incredibly sweet.

Then Melodie said, "You're my hero" as I walked away. I thought about that the rest of the day. Hero? Because I get to go play hooky for a week? Because I'm escaping the day to day grind? No...that didn't feel right at all. Every mother or father getting their kid off to school and paying the bills and buying the groceries is the hero. But, if you're going to call a hiker a hero, then I believe the next woman I passed would qualify. 
Setting out on my own for a few days
She was the only one to announce to me without my asking that she was a thru hiker. You could tell she was proud of herself; and she should be! Turning 62 in a few days, and 30 pounds lighter than she started, you could tell that the poor thing had been through the ringer. I told her that her shoes looked like they were ready to be done (they seemed about to fall off) to which she replied, "you have no idea". 
Wish I remembered her trail name. I'll just call her wonder woman!
One of the bushy ones. He said his
trail name was Papa Bear
The PCT is a long, tough trail
And as long as we are on the subject of women hero's, I think I should mention Anish, the current record holder for the fastest thru hike of the PCT. (Not the women's record, but THE record. Boom.) Though, I loved what she said about her accomplishment; "My motivation was not coming from a competitive place. I just wanted to see what I could do for myself. I wanted to see what was possible". Here's the article if you'd like to read it. (sorry about having to copy and paste. I don't know what's up with that.)

I love trail art
So all that to say, it was hard to feel like much of a bad ass on this trip. Though, I felt grateful to be out there, enjoying it all the same.
Looking a little like a bad ass with Tatie Peak and Melodie's
loaner sunglasses on. I lost them on day 3. Sheesh.
I made it in plenty of time to the Grasshopper Pass camp and settled in for the night. I have to admit, I guess I was expecting these "sites" to be marked somehow; so I was glad I did my research to know where they were, because I easily could have missed this one. I'm SO glad I noticed it, because it was one of the most beautiful places to set camp ever.
See the water? That's where I'm headed

At least I thought so until I got to Snowy Lakes. Y'all can see those photos next time.

Part three: