Saturday, December 19, 2015

Heather Lake Winter Wonderland

I enjoy hiking alone. I guess I forgot. I got spoiled this summer...always had a hiking partner, or several. But last week when I decided last second I needed to get out there, and nobody could come with me, I had a little "nobody likes me, everybody hates me" pity party. Suddenly, hiking alone felt like a loser activity. Silliness! I had forgotten that when I'm alone in the woods, I never feel alone, lonely, or like a loser. It's the best place to combat those feelings.
Although, I do have a hiking buddy who is ALWAYS ready and begging to go; but I mostly refuse her. She can just be such a pain, and besides, she stinks up my car. Sometimes she gives me those eyes, though; and then I can't say no. There is nothing cuter than seeing her pure delight when I give her the "okay, get in the car" nod.
I didn't realize until I pulled into the parking lot that in my haste to get going, I had forgotten a leash. Now, I will confess, I mostly don't keep my dog on a leash anyway (go ahead and hate me) BUT I always put one on her as soon as I see anyone coming. (so please don't hate me too much) I have had dogs jump up on me with their muddy paws and even literally french kiss me--so I get it. It it very important to me that my dog is 100% in control around other this no leash thing was not going to fly.
Luckily I happened to have an old compression bandage hiding in the back of the car, so I tied a knot in it and called it good. Wouldn't you know this stupid improvisation proved to be the best leash ever? I'm seriously going to use it all the time now, because with the stretchiness of the fabric it was actually enjoyable to have her pull, when typically that is what annoys me the most. (you are welcome for that tip if you have the same issue)
My wolf wannabe
I didn't expect much from Heather Lake. I knew that it wasn't too far to drive, it was dog friendly, and only 5 miles round trip--the basic requirements for my impromptu hiking fix. Sometimes it's nice when you have such low expectations--it's such a pleasure to be surprised by something that turns out so much better than what you had imagined.
I was going to name this post "A River Runs Through It" because this is one of the wettest trails I have been on--but in a really good way. It wan't muddy, so as long as you have good waterproof boots, it's fun crossing the small streams along the way. But the best part about this hike was hitting the snow line and entering the winter wonderland with all it's glory. It was so magical and peaceful and beautiful...when I saw there was a campsite I actually wished I had brought my tent. (maybe someday I'll do snow; I'm just not ready yet)

Most lakes like this do not have such an easy to follow trail all the way around, so that is a really big bonus. Watching Lexi with all her exuberant pounciness (I don't think that's a word; but it should be) made me feel a little guilty about the fact I don't take her with me often. It's not an experience she can ever give herself...only I can provide it for her. So now that I have my awesome MacGyvered leash, I am determined to bring my ever ready friend with me more often. I suppose I need to invest in some good car fresheners. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

There Will Be Tears (Section J of the PCT-Part 4)

In the morning light we could see a lovely campsite right next to the water, but it didn't matter that we had missed it. All imaginations of lake frolicking were long gone. We barely had enough energy to snap a couple photos, and without even making our morning coffee, we were off for another long day.
Passing SO many thru hikers, who would hike twice as many miles that day as us (and have been doing so day in and day out for months) made wanting to bitch and moan a little less enjoyable than it would be normally. But we did it anyway! And I'm going to do it more right now! If your a thru hiker who is reading this, feel free to roll your eyes--you've earned it!
A rare find: a clean shaven thru hiker!
This is Eugene from San Francisco
Rainier in the distance
This day was brutal. One of hardest I've ever had, if not the hardest. Leigh kept asking me for the word "scree" because, "if I'm going to complain about it, I want the right word". There were MILES of it (though mostly of the bigger talus variety) and it really did wear on the feet. But even more so, it wore on the nerves...especially when the trail was very thin or the rock seemed rather unstable.
Will it ever end?
It was at just one of these spots that Leigh turned around and joked, "I don't think this meets the safety code!" As I waited for her to get past the particularly bad spot, we both heard a rock coming down. Not good. It was the most sickening feeling watching helplessly to see if she was going to get picked off, or if this rock was going to trigger a slide.
The bad spot. Hard to even see the trail
My third bout of tears came as soon as I knew she was okay. A local man (who I didn't know personally, but I know people who did) was recently killed by falling rock while hiking; so yeah, the next five or so hours of walking on rocky ridges were a little mentally taxing.
Being so tired and stressed, our map reading went from bad to worse. Our math abilities were shot (not that mine were ever good to start with) and with so many separate sheets with different lakes, we kept getting mixed up. Though the truth be told, we kept looking at the maps trying to will them to tell us we were closer than we were.
After FINALLY getting off what I thought was the last ridge and coming into a forest, it felt like we must be getting close. Then we came upon the above marker made by a thru hiker. (meaning 2400 miles from Mexico) Again, out came the maps, because according to our calculations we were at 2398. Now remember--we are going backwards (which didn't help us with our already bad math at all) meaning this did not put us closer to our destination, but two miles further away. "They must have been stoned" was Leigh's conclusion, but I was pretty sure any thru hiker knows exactly what mile they are on after doing 2400 of them. Plus, the lakes we were headed to were named "Ridge" and "Gravel"...and sure enough, the trail started heading up once again.
Gravel Lake
Looking at that final rocky ridge stretching off into the distance before you get to the lakes (though at the time I half believed we might see yet another stretch of dreaded talus once we got to the top) made we worry if it would get dark on us. I tried to tell myself that lots of people hike at night, but honestly I was terrified. I felt so uneasy on this thin trial, I didn't want to even try to take my pack off to get at my headlamp, much less navigate it in the dark. We needed to get to that lake!
Ridge Lake (next morning)
Our saviors!
On top of the stress of wondering if we'd lose our light, we were both wondering if our friends would be there to meet us as planned. There were so many variables; so many "what if's", and no way to communicate with anyone. The final tears for both of us came when we crested the top, and there they were--packs still on. It's hard to believe we all got there at the exact same time, and it's impossible to convey the emotion. I understood logically it wasn't that big a deal if we somehow missed each other or for some reason they couldn't make it; as long as nobody was hurt, we would have figured it out. But mentally it was HUGE to see their kind faces and warm greetings when we were at our very lowest of spirits. (along with their packs full of fresh, yummy food and wine! Hallelujah!)
Best food ever!
Birds thought so too
It was a real bummer that Julie felt sick all night. We were much relieved she felt better by morning, so we could enjoy together one more beautifully clear sky on this last day out. We couldn't have asked for a better finale than the famous "Kendall Katwalk", though the height thrill had been mightily dampened by all the tight sections and drop offs we had already experienced on our prior days.
Okay, there was one more set of tears at the bottom, but those are not technically "trail tears". The "I made it!" tears are different for everyone; and for me they were very bitter sweet. How can I love and hate something so much at the same time? I couldn't wait to see that parking lot, but I was thinking about what do to next before I even had my shoes off. There is the matter of 6 missing cheater miles to take care of... close!
Done! Cell phone reception at last!

There Will Be Tears (Section J of the PCT-Part 3)

Heading out from Deep Lake I pondered that this coming night would mark us being over half way done, because it would be evening  number 4 out of 6 frigid sleeps. But sitting down to write this and doing a little math, I discovered our Escondido Ridge camp (which I pronounce differently every time I say it) was pretty much exactly our half way point of 33 miles.
4 days to complete 33 miles...and now there would be only 3 to finish another 33. This would help account for why days 5 and 6 felt so hellish, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, because day 4 was probably my favorite. With the sun in the sky, and a very long stretch of golden and red maple filled easy forest walking, all was right with the world. The push up the ridge had a gorgeous view and was not nearly as difficult as we had anticipated, even though we had to carry all our water up to the dry camp.  

So many Maples!

 Amazing view of Waptus Lake as you head up
We were in a bit of a race with the only other pair going southbound to get to the best spot.(we met them at Deep Lake. Hello Angela and Christie if you ever stumble upon this!) Was there a best spot? Didn't matter...we were still going to get there first! (for those of you reading this to get info about this hike, there is an unmarked camp spot at mile #2421. As you can see from the pictures, it is clearly the best. ;)) We were barely set up when the other gals passed. If this was the last spot on the ridge, then they would have 9 miles to get to the next one. (there is one more, but we just didn't know for sure at the time if this was the one shown on the map or not) We were not willing to take that risk, but they were, and so they got another mile on us that day and we never saw them again. (making me the "slowest hiker" grand champion!!!)
I win!!!

Goodnight moon!

Hello day 5
Day 5 marked the beginning of our obsession with miles. How many have we gone, how many do we have left...I really need to bite the bullet and just buy an odometer, because I really suck at reading maps. Leigh had printed the "Halfmile's PCT" maps for section J (all 8 of them) which we referred to constantly; but although they include extensive notes, most the time we were scratching our heads. What the hell are those little blue diamonds for? It would seem logical that they mark every "halfmile" (hence the name)...but no. Then we thought that somehow they corresponded to the diamond markers we would randomly see nailed to trees, but that didn't pan out either. It's still an unsolved mystery; one which I am very open to being enlightened to. 
What the hell?
At around 6 o'clock, we were both feeling we should have gotten to our Spectacle Lake destination already, so with frustration Leigh looked back at me and said, "I'm really tempted to get the map out...but what does it matter?" And she was right. There was nothing to do but keep going.
Leigh confessed she got through the day by fantasizing about how she'd be able to clean up a little at this supposedly most splendid of all the lakes, but time was not on our side as we reached the turn off down to the lake. Our dreams of having any daylight left were squashed as we scrambled our way down. "You better write about this in that blog of yours" was all she could say about that dreadful half mile trail.  
This is actually from an earlier "obstacle course"
section of the trail, left behind by this year's fire
I don't know if it was because we were so tired, or because it was starting to get dark, or because the Blood Moon was coming, but that stupid trail seemed impossibly hard to follow. (or maybe it's just a really crappy trail?) And in this giant area, not a campsite could be found. It felt eerie. This is where my second set of tears came. Leigh and I had separated so I could get water, then I couldn't find was just one of those nights. Thankfully, I only have two more sets of tears to come. Stay tuned. 
Damn you Spectacle Lake!