Friday, December 9, 2016

A Lily, a Lizard, and a Lexi

"One and done" is a great cliche, but I have an even better one..."never say never". I thought last month's snow experience was going to satisfy me for awhile, but like any addict, I'm needing my fixes more and more. Out of curiosity, and the fact I was still craving a solo trip, I looked to see what backpacking trips people have done in December. (Washington Trails Association's website is a great resource for anyone wanting to do this. Click on "find a hike" then "trip reports", then look for a small icon that says "show advanced options". This allows you to filter to a specific area or month--all kinds of things, actually. It's very handy!!) I was feeling pretty discouraged as I scrolled down because everything looked too hard or just unappealing. As I was just about to give up on the idea, I came across a report to Lily and Lizard Lake that sparked my interest. 
In all the years that I have lived in the Skagit Valley, I can hardly believe Mount Blanchard has never once come on my radar. Oyster Dome, of course, is on everyone's radar; and everyone knows you drive up Chuckanut to do it. Yes, I realize that Mount Blanchard is one and the same now, but embarrassingly if you would have asked me where Mount Blanchard was a few days ago, I would have given you the deer in the headlights look.
When I did Oyster Dome for the first time 6 years ago with my friend Melissa and we got lost, (surprise, surprise...but I will say in our defense the signage back then was very poor. All the new signs are amazing!) I remember being very intrigued by the lakes we were headed to before we figured out we were going the wrong direction. Now all the pieces have been put together, and I'm really excited to have a whole new area to explore that has basically been in my back yard this whole time! 
The white mark is for the PNT, which weaves in
and out of this area. 
I know last post I implied I was over snow--I actually never thought I'd camp in the snow in the first place. But, just like having babies, you forget the pain and only think "look how cute; let's have another!" And the picture of Lily Lake in the trip report that inspired me was all snowy and looked magical...just the kind of cuteness to get me in trouble. ;) It has been years since it snowed here (I think that report was from 2012!) therefore I knew there would not be that many opportunity's in my lifetime to go to this area so close to home and experience a winter wonderland--so even with temps dipping down to close to the teens, I decided last minute I was going for it.
As I was hurrying out the door (with knots in my stomach, not going to lie. I want the feeling, and I abhor the's the love/hate relationship that is hiking) my daughter asked, "Are you taking Lexi?" Well, why not?!?! So I quickly shoved in my pack the oldest, nastiest sleeping bag we own and gave her the "go ahead and get in the car" nod. I did think to myself, "Sure, you're thrilled now...but wait until tonight when you can't figure out why we aren't going home. You'll probably whine and drive me crazy all night." But she's getting up in years, so who knows if this opportunity will present itself again. Carpe diem! 
She actually did great it the tent and didn't whine at all,
though she did act like she was going to barf once.
That was the most terrifying moment of the trip!
So, after driving a mere 25 minutes from my house (on the freeway going north, then off at Alger exit--so much easier than Chuckanut!) I found myself in the huge Blanchard Mountain upper parking lot. The internet directions I read said that once you turn onto the unpaved forest road, you drive all the way to the end where the trail would start. So, seeing a trailhead about half way up that said "to Lily and Lizard Lake" was confusing to say the least; but thankfully I trusted the online instructions and kept going. (when I got home I looked up Google maps and found you could start at the first trailhead, but you will just end up at the upper parking that trail seems a little pointless, IMO)
This is the sign at the 2nd trailhead.
You do have to backtrack a little ways down the road from the parking lot.
It only took me a little over 2 hours to hike the almost 4 miles to Lily. (2 miles an hour is actually pretty fast for me, believe it or not) This meant I had just enough time to make it back to the car before dark if I wanted. This messed with my head for a few minutes, because I was not expecting to have an option. Why do I want to spend the night in the freezing cold when I can simply walk out of here and be home before dinner? I know it's not exactly logical, but it didn't take me long to have absolutely no doubt I wanted to stay. I love it far more than I hate it, it's that simple.
I set up camp at the exceptionally nice site you first come to, (there are many, but the fire pit right on the lake sold me) and then used my extra time to go check out Lizard Lake. I had only an hour before dark, so I set my watch timer and told myself no matter what, I had to turn around after 30 minutes. Thankfully it was the perfect amount of time...I know myself, and if the lake was in view and it was over 30 minutes, I would have kept going...and that would have been stupid because the only thing I had with me was my dog. I know getting lost going back may have been unlikely, but I have gotten lost in even more unlikely situations.
Lizard Lake

Lizard Lake had very nice sites too
This may look like I'm having a cozy time by the fire when I got back, and trust me, I tried. Except with everything so frozen, it was just too much work and not enough cozy, so I gave up and went to bed after only a half hour or so. This is the part I was dreading the most...the LONG night...the laying there for HOURS. But I've been watching the TV show "Alone", and those guys had to hunker down in their shelters for DAYS. So, I figured 5:30 pm to 7:30 am was not going to kill me. And it wasn't that bad, because I have a real talent for sleeping.
Though of course, I wake up a lot during the night, and at one of those times I found that Lexi had gotten on my $200 NeoAir X-therm sleeping pad (worth every penny...maybe someday they will pay me for saying so) and popped it with her nails. I FREAKED out--screaming at her, shouting how I knew this would happen--and poor Lexi was so contrite and cowering in the corner, saying over and over how sorry she was. Wait a second...Lexi was telling me she was sorry? Damn it, I was having one of my crazy dreams again. I tell you, those can really be unnerving! 
With such a short hike out in the morning, I decided it was worth heading over to Oyster Dome to see it again (for the 4th time) and it did not disappoint. Not a soul there, which you know is a miracle if you've ever been. A little tricky coming down the icy steep sections on the way back (I'm never above getting on my butt and sliding down if I have to!) and then a right turn on Max's shortcut and you make a nice little loop back to your car. I think it will be tough to find a better 10-ish mile hike (easily done in a few hours if you don't have a backpack) that is only minutes from 1-5; though I'm guessing those lakes are a mosquito hell in the summer. One more reason to open my mind more to this winter hiking thing. Someone commented last post that they expected I'd be sleeping in a snow cave before long. Who knows? You know what they say, "Never say never!" ;)

You could do two loops--
or even a figure 8! Lots to explore!
P.S. FYI, the foggy forest picture you see on my main page is from that first hike I did to Oyster Dome. :)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Snow on the 4th of July

Last year I did a day hike to Heather Lake and found myself in a "winter wonderland." It was so peaceful and beautiful that for the first time I gave the idea of backpacking in snow a consideration, and it's been on my mind ever since.
I didn't know if I would ever feel ready for a winter backpack; it's seems like something only an "expert" should do. But this past month I found myself so fiercely wanting to getaway that I was going to get out there, ready or not. I know I'm not the only one who found the elections this year wearisome on a whole new at the height of all the turmoil, escaping to this imagined snowy serenity seemed the perfect plan. But even more than seeking tranquility, I wanted to feel fear. I know it sounds weird, but it's been over 2 years since I've done a solo backpack, and I am longing for the sensation it gives me. Don't get me wrong, I don't like feeling afraid; I never even watch scary movies! But the fear I experience when I'm out there in the corny as I know this will probably sound, I can only describe as life giving. The "in the moment" fear gives a new perspective to all the "in the future" fears, and creates a stronger ability to face them. Though, that kind of fear is going to have to wait, because I could not venture out in the snow without at least asking Leigh if she wanted to come with.
And Leigh's response when I texted her if she was interested?..."I've been dreaming about this!" She has been swept off her feet by backpacking in a way I have never seen anyone fall in love. Out of all my friends who I know enjoy it, I knew she would be the only one excited about going in November. I expected though, that she might be thwarted by her busy life, or her husband who isn't too thrilled with her new found passion. He worries about her, which I think is sweet. But it was her birthday week, so she had a trump card that she played in her favor.  
You know I love tree art!
I really wanted to make all Leigh's birthday dreams come true and find the perfect place with "just enough" snow, which wasn't working out so well. It seemed like every hike was either no snow, or more snow than I wanted to deal with. When I let Leigh know the 11 mile round trip hike I settled on (4th of July Pass--hence the extremely clever title! ;)) was just below snow level at 3400 feet; and therefore we would most likely have a "soggy-land" rather than a wonderland, she replied "snow would be great, but I just want to get a hike in." That's my girl!!

When we pulled into the enormous Colonial Creek Campground parking lot, we were the only car there. It felt eerie, and I realized this trip might provide my longed for fear after all! After walking through the campground and missing the sign to Thunder Creek, we ended up doing a complete loop and found ourselves back at the car. When you can't even find your way to the start of the trail, it may be cause for concern. ;) We finally got on course, and trudged along in the rain until we reached the turn off to the 4th of July Pass...and then the wetness level got turned up considerably. When the trail itself wasn't a stream, we had to go over at least 6 waterfalls that flowed right over the trail. Thank God I just replaced my boots! Though, we both had water go over the tops of our mid height Vasque's when we decided plunging through the water was preferable to maneuvering over the slick rocks on the steep edge of one of the falls. (though balancing over the rocks surely would have provided a heavy dose of that life giving fear!...except it's not very helpful if I actually end up killing myself!)  
Trust me, this edge is far more treacherous than it looks!
As we got within a mile of our destination, we were starting to see some dusting of snow on the ground. Though it was not quite my "perfect amount", I was hopeful that sometime in the night the rain would turn to snow and we would wake to a small taste of our winter wonderland. Things changed quickly when we were just 10 minutes from camp, and the dusting was now suddenly at least 4 inches. Hey, this is cool!...and unexpected...and really cold...and do we put the tent right on the snow?...and wow, it's really coming down now...and maybe I should have read up more on this. I certainly was feeling more fear than I had expected; but despite the fact I thought I wanted it, it did not feel good. I pushed it down, and played it off with Leigh; however I was seriously worried we were in over our heads. Selfishly though, I couldn't stop thinking how thankful I was to not be alone.
My "playing it off" with Leigh was mostly making jokes about us dying. Maybe not the best way to go about giving comfort, but wit is always how I deal with stress. She played along, because we have that kind of humor in common, but eventually she did ask me to stop because I was making her nervous. I know a part of her can't help looking to me as the supposed expert, though she absolutely should know better. 
Case in point, I thought I would keep myself busy and my mind off of worry by making a fire. I'll confess I became slightly obsessed--I had brought 2 duraflames and was determined to make the most of them. Everything about this plan was stupid and foolish, because no amount of fire was going to make up for how soaked I was getting while doing it. But the problem with obsession is it doesn't matter if you know what your doing is I kept at it until I had my pathetic little pointless fire. I made Leigh come out of the safety of the tent to "enjoy" it (aka, take a picture) and then she promptly headed right back in. I felt I had to have some sort of justification for allowing myself to get so fixated on such an irresponsible endeavor, so I decided using my pot over the fire to melt snow was going to make it all worth it. (we had only a little water left; and no desire to try to find the "trickle" of a water source mentioned in other reports)
See how cozy?!...this is fun, right?

Take the damn picture already,
my hat is getting wet!
Hiking lesson #52: Do NOT melt water over a duralog. I don't know if I'll ever get the smell out of my pot, and besides the water was almost undrinkable with it's plastic smoke taste. Plus, melting snow for water is ridiculous, as it takes about 200 refills of snow to make maybe 4 ounces. (that might not be exact science ;)) So please enjoy the above pictures--they are the only redeeming factor of my harebrained ambition.
Another thing to keep in mind, though not exactly a "lesson", is that hiking in the winter means you are in the dark a LONG time. Without a fire, this means laying in your tent for hours. We played cards, we talked, we wiped down the inside of the tent where it was dripping on us, we worried why the tent was dripping on us, we drank, we shook the snow off the tent, we got out of the tent to re-stake the tent in hopes it would help, (and got even more wet in the process because our rain gear was far too drenched and frozen to put on again) we had a little more wine and played a little more cards, and then we dared to look at the clock...6:30. Shit. Needless to say, the night lingered a bit.
makeshift gloves
But what really kept us awake was thinking about what it was going to be like it the morning. Listening to the snow all night (which did not sound fluffy in the least) made the idea of packing up our freezing, soaking wet gear while being half buried in snow a terrifying thought. We both decided we'd just have to haul ass in the morning and retreat as fast as possible and hope the trail wasn't too hard to follow back. 

A little more than the "perfect" amount
Maybe I prayed too hard for snow?

What a relief to wake to sun!!!! I cannot even convey. We now knew we would live to tell more tales...though I highly doubt that those tales will include snow. One and done as they say; so until next spring, I bid you adieu!
Not dying...the gift that keeps giving!
P.S. I totally forgot to give a shout out to Annie's Pizza in Concrete. So many places are closed this time of year, but Annie's is year round and EXCELLENT food. Family owned...three generations were there as we ate.  Seriously sweet and homey; and like I just mentioned, super good food.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Summit Lake Reflection

Doing a little reflecting on that reflection
My sister in law lives in the shadow of Mount Rainier. (okay, about 60 miles from it...but that does not sound very poetic ;)) Ask her grand-kids, and they will tell you it is her mountain. It's her sanctuary; her place to retreat, reflect, regroup. Life has given her many reasons to do these things, especially this last year. Though, sadly she hasn't had many chances to visit her mountain--so it was with great honor I took her on a day hike to one of the few places by Rainier that she has never been.
Driving over the Carbon River bridge 
I was actually really hoping to do a backpack. If you truly want to "retreat", you need a tent in my opinion (sorry, but a RV is just not the same) except Juli didn't seem all that excited. But, duh...isn't it just like me to ask someone who has never been backpacking to go in November when I haven't even done it. I tend to push people to go "all in" like that. It really is not very sensitive of me and rarely works, so you'd think I'd learn. 
Though, you can't blame me for considering Juli when it comes to freezing temperatures. I've never met anyone who not only tolerates the cold like she does, but craves it. When we got out of the car at the trail head, she could not understand how I could be shivering in my 3 layers of coats and hats, because she was in heaven. But the only thing on my mind was, "Stay the night?!?! What the hell was I thinking?"
This tree looked like a piece of art; like a curling ribbon! 
I guess I think I'm some sort of photographer, ha ha
Speaking of the trail head, a warning to all who would dare the 3 miles of forest road up there--you better have an SUV or better. I read a trip report where someone said they made it in their Subaru, so I didn't think it would be as bad as it was. Yikes! It felt more like a stream bed than a road in some places. (a thank you to Max, my trusty Ford Escape, who has never let me down) But if you do brave it, do not miss the waterfall on your left about half way if there is anyway you could.
Once on the trail, we came to a quaint little lake with one cute campsite (only a mile in) that made me flip flop again about wanting to backpack. (it helped that it was in the sun) If you have small kids, and a SUV of course, this would be a super easy intro to backpacking. I would want to make camp, then push on to Summit Lake for the day...but I'm not sure I would recommend that.
Dang it! Where's my backpack!
The problem is, once you're at Summit Lake, you're going to want to stay. The campsite we came to (turning right) was absolutely amazing. This is where Juli was sold. "We are coming back" she gushed. Another one bites the dust...and we weren't even at the good part yet!
Summit Lake

Campsite view of the lake
The opposite side ridge view. Two views for one!
From the pictures I saw of this hike, I knew Juli's mountain should be in full sight, but it was nowhere to be seen. I really wanted to surprise her with the glory of the "in your face" view I was expecting (and snow, which was also missing) and now was concerned I had hyped it up too much in my mind. But there is no need to worry--just keep going right. Continue up, even though it feels like you are leaving the lake behind, and you will not be disappointed.
Just a little snow on the way up
I never touch up any of my pictures;
but I just had to play with this one
We sat on a perfect lunch log and took it all in. I'll let the pictures do the talking; I mean, what else is there to say? It was perfection. Knowing there would be nothing else that could beat that view, we decided not to complete the loop around the lake and just went back the way we came. Reflecting and regrouping had been accomplished--but what about retreating? I know Juli is game, but the question is, can I handle the cold? We shall see. 
Thanks for letting me use some of your pics, Juli!
You've inspired me that playing with them is a lot of fun!