Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What is Wrong With Us?

Hiking addiction can alter your decision making abilities...like the one that tells you, "stay warm and dry and avoid sleeping outside in the rain if possible." That's how I know my friend Leigh is also a true addict. Laying in the tent and listening to what sounded like someone hosing it down with a sprayer on full blast, she turned to me and said, "I'm sure glad you're crazy enough to want to do this with me." Of course, the feeling was mutual. But let me start at the beginning.

Leigh has gone with me for all or part of my big trips for 3 years running, so to have to miss it this year because of her very busy summer was a big fat bummer. In fact, Leigh hardly got any hiking in at all, and so she was in somewhat of a desperate state when September rolled around. She had one weekend free during the whole month, and was busy planning and preparing and looking for "suckers" to go along on an extended backpack. As much as I wished I could, I had a prior commitment; but she was full steam ahead anyway with a whole crew. I knew I couldn't be jealous, because I had got a lot of hiking in...but it's true I hate missing out.
Then the weather went from decent, to not so good, to kind of bad, to hell no. And one by one, Leigh's crew had their normal, fully functioning decision making abilities kick in to say they were out. Meanwhile, my dysfunctional brain was furiously figuring out how to make it happen, because my plans had changed and therefore had opened up a small window of opportunity.   
Poor Leigh had to completely abandon her aim of 4 glorious days on the PCT, and settle for 2 nights off the I-90 corridor. But beggars can't be choosers, right? Leigh was out of options, so it was me or nothing...and I had to work around my need to be in Bellevue by 2 pm on Sunday. Otherwise I would NEVER pick a hike off of I-90 on a weekend, because that's insanity. 
Unless it's pouring rain! What a blessing the horrible forecast turned out to be! There were still people around, don't get me wrong (we are not the only hiking addicts out there, after all) but not the hordes you would expect on a typical weekend. And we were actually completely alone at both camps! That's a FRIDAY and a SATURDAY night...miraculous!!!

How come nobody else is here? Doesn't this look FUN? ;)
Because we did need to have two cars, we decided to take advantage of it and park one at Denny Creek (where we would come out) and one at our Pratt Lake entry point. We thought we were taking it easy on this trip with low miles; but I have to admit as much as I was expecting it to be a piece of cake, most of those miles felt more like a chunk of gristle.
Dry and happy at Pratt
Soaked and done at Denny Creek
So, a couple warnings to anyone who is researching this area: the "mile" between the Pratt Lake trail and the Island Lake trail feels more like three. (So much so, that I'm convinced the map is wrong--seriously.) Also, the supposed 3 miles from the Kaleetan trail turn off to Melakwa Lake has got to be closer to 4...especially when you're drenched and freezing! ;) (Okay, the map may be correct here, but it's better to adjust your expectations anyway.)
It's a long ass way to Island Lake!
Seriously, why would you not want to do this?
And speaking of maps, I bought a $12 one (Green Trails 207S) even though I didn't think we'd need it (being it's such a popular area with plenty of signage) but the ONE spot where a sign is really needed...nothing. We would have ended up at Tuscohatchie Lake had we not decided last second to go ahead and dig the map out. So thank you hiking lesson #1, you have served me well! 
Here you go...save yourself $12! ;)
Keep left at the fork at Lower Tuscohatchie
if you want to end up at Melakwa! This bridge
does not just lead to campsites like I thought it would.
Once at Melakwa Lake, we pitched our tent in the "day use only" area, and I don't care who knows it. It was MISERABLE, and we just couldn't bring ourselves to go searching for the legal camp spots. We could not get that tent up fast enough, and it took a good half hour of being cocooned in our bags with every last one of our hand warmers stuck to feet and shoved into underwear before we felt like maybe we wouldn't get hypothermia. 
What sign?
Wet, wet, wet, wet
At one point in the night, both Leigh and I smelled a definite sewer smell. I couldn't blame her for asking if it was me, but for once I had nothing to do with it. Because of the relentless rain, and the sign for the backwoods toilet that might be closer than we thought, we both wondered if the saturated ground had given way and caused some sort of collapse. We kidded around about having a wave a crap come washing down the hill on us...but I think both of us were actually kind of worried about it. The smell dissipated, and so we went on playing cards and eventually forgot about it. But then a little later, there it was again! Where is it coming from? Then Leigh said, "Wait a second", and gave a big whiff into her tightly sealed sleeping bag..."Oh sorry, I guess it was me." OMG, we laughed so hard!!! Damn those dehydrated meals, they seriously do a number on you! After we finally settled down was when Leigh told me she was glad I came. And the truth is, even with the harder than expected miles, and worse than anticipated weather, and gas that could melt your eyebrows off, both of us knew we'd do it all over again...what is wrong with us?!?
Do you smell that?
P.S. Leigh gave me permission to tell that story, in case you start thinking I'm the worst friend ever. Reluctant permission...but nevertheless, I did get the go ahead. :) 
Denny Creek's "slide rock"...not so fun
without sun

Sunday, October 15, 2017

High Pass Madness

"Until sanity and justice prevail, either grit your teeth and walk those last 2 miles, or see how sporty your car is."
This is how Ira Spring and Harvey Manning describe getting to hike #4 in my well worn book "100 Classic Hikes in Washington". Although I mostly get my hiking info off the internet these days, when I first started almost a decade ago, this book was to me like what the Sears catalog used to be for a kid during Christmastime. Looking at all the pictures with yearning...circling and starring and making your list of wants...there's nothing quite like actual text you can hold with your hands to bear such dreaming.
And "Twin Lake/Winchester Mountain" has been in my dreams and on my list for a very long time. I was saving it for when I had cajoled someone to go with me who didn't want to hike far, since with a "sporty" car you can literally drive all the way to your campsite.
But now that I have a Monday through Friday job, finding a hike I could get to before dark on Friday so I could have a quickie backpack had become my priority. So Heather and I (who I asked, not because I had to cajole her into any hiking, but because I knew she'd be ready to split, even with such last minute notice) set off late afternoon to test my SUV on a beautiful September weekend.
The Twin Lakes are found on the same forest road as the hugely popular Yellow Aster Butte trail. According to my book, the treacherous 2 road miles beyond the Yellow Aster parking are not owned or maintained by the Forest Service, but only exist because of an ancient mining claim; and are therefore minimally maintained by prospectors. The book authors strongly believed these miles should be given back to nature, and highly recommended leaving your car at Yellow Aster and hiking to Twin Lakes. Of course I wasn't going to do that because we were in a hurry; but I assumed that meant when we finally did get there, we would not find an enormous parking lot with room for 40 or more cars.
After setting camp and exploring a little;
this seems to be an actual forest road, not available
to the public. It's past where you come in, but
 where is starts...nobody knows ;)
I did expect plenty of people--it was a weekend after all, and a popular hike. But the sheer volume of cars (of all kinds...many that now had flat tires) was kind of shocking. I'm not completely clear on what "justice" Ira and Harvey were talking about, but it does appear that sanity has no intention of prevailing any time soon.
I'm done
My car did not even make it to the parking lot though. It may be sporty, but I called it quits after a mile. We figured we could hike that last mile before it got dark; and we were thankful we did, because having our backpacks on helped us score the last spot available, as it was a little more difficult to get to than the others. (It seemed everyone else there was truly car camping--bringing barbecues and the whole nine yards. Why not? Some of the sites had picnic tables after all!) It wasn't exactly what you'd call a wilderness experience, but we enjoyed ourselves none the less. It was especially fun being perched slightly above it all, where we could observe all the madness.
Cheers to crazy!
Although my book had described the Winchester Mountain hike as the one to do here, come Saturday morning we both decided the other, less altitude gaining option of High Pass was preferable. Not that either of us had hangovers, mind you...but it had been a long night. (People kept coming in, even well after dark. Maybe they slept in their cars?) I'll confess I did indulge in some Fireball, and ended up somehow putting on my underwear backwards before bed (not inside out, but backwards! Takes some talent...Heather is still teasing me about it!) but we both still felt ready to put in some miles-we just preferred them to be less steep. (Turns out High Pass makes up for it at the end, but it is well worth the push!)
A little more than 3 miles of not too difficult hiking and you'll come to what feels like a good place to end, but don't be fooled. Keep going up and up (yes, this part is harder...I would not want to have a big pack on!) until you cannot go any further. What a view! Thankfully Heather had a phone with a good pano option, because this is the place to use it. I know I have to replace my geriatric phone soon (how old is 8 in phone years? At least 80, right?!) but I'm hoping it will die a natural death, so my incredibly cheap self will feel justified. 
Not there yet...
Almost there...
Not much else to tell, except that when driving down, we passed what had to be at least 100 cars lined up on both sides of the road for a good half mile before and after the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead. I've never seen anything like it. We both pondered how on earth some of the monster trucks parked up at Twin Lakes were going to squeeze through the tiny gap left by some folks with wide cars and poor parking skills. Hey...maybe those two road miles Ira and Harvey so desperately wanted to be "put to bed" could instead be converted into parking? Don't roll over in your graves guys, I'm only kidding!!
Cars for dayzzzz...oh how I miss
hiking on the weekdays!