Friday, September 25, 2020

Let the Spirit Guide (Finishing Section I of the PCT)

There is a total of 56 “hard earned hiking lessons learned” noted throughout all my posts on my former blog. (Now this blog again since my website attempt failed.) Why did I stop? I haven’t brought any lessons to this new website – practical or philosophical – or at least I stopped numbering them. Maybe because now there is just one ongoing lesson I’m trying to learn and live…let the Spirit guide. Of course, that idea is far too complex (or maybe too simple?) to explain, so I’ll just tell my story.

In life, we plan. Of course we do. There is nothing I enjoy more than planning a hike – it’s half the fun. I write it all down, rethink it when something changes, rework the details, rewrite the agenda…prepare. It’s all good. But life (and the trail) often asks you to let it go. Don’t get stuck in your plan. Let things flow. 

So I did. Bad forecast, roads closed, two car key swap idea out the window…oh well. Throw my painstakingly thought out agenda to the wind and go anyway. Who needs a plan. 

Well, there was ONE important part of the plan to keep – stay in the Crystal Lodge’s walk in only bunk room so we could get an early start on finishing those 38 miles I skipped last time. (The connector trail that would take us to the PCT starts steps from their parking lot.) From there our anticipated daily miles and camps would be a mystery. Let the Spirit decide. (With the help of the Guthooks App, of course!) Though first things first – we needed to drop a car at White Pass where we would be finishing. 
Except when we FINALLY arrived in Packwood to eat dinner (road closures, remember?) we were DONE driving. Then the Spirit whispered in my ear, “Why not just stay here in Packwood and do the rest of the driving tomorrow?” Why not indeed! 
We do not recommend the food at the Packwood Brewing Co...
The Spirit clearly led us here just for the beer ;)

And because we listened and went with the flow, we got to listen to the rain pounding down outside our window at the Crest Trail Lodge…instead of being camped in a dark and abandoned parking lot. Turns out the Crystal Resort totally shuts down in September (or maybe it was because of the road closures due to wild fires?) which was a huge oversight in my original “plan.” Good thing that thing was in the dumpster.
The rest of the trip was more of the same. It evolved and changed as we went along, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. For details you can see the (non) itinerary below. Happy (Spirit led) trails!

DAY 1: 11.5 Miles to Dewey Lake

Had to go up the connector trail again from the Crystal Mountain Resort parking lot. (Because I wanted to get all the miles done I missed last time…see “Mount Adams Wonderland” post for a better explanation.)  I was told this is called “Bear Gap” but you will find no signs calling it that. (Head toward Henskin Lake until you see signs pointing you toward the PCT – it’s a tough 3 miles.) Finally up on the PCT, we went SOBO another 8.4 miles to Dewey Lake. Unfortunately, my friends had misunderstood that the resort was not directly on the trail at Chinook Pass (thinking we were simply doing the “White Pass to Chinook Pass” hike as described on WTA) so those added 5.4 miles to Hwy 410 were a “bonus” for them.

DAY 2: 12.4 Miles to Bumping River

We were wanting to get a couple more miles in this day so we wouldn’t have to do 14 the last day, but the Spirit said to stop. (Okay, maybe it was my feet, ha ha!) Considering the stream here was looking daunting, waiting until morning to go across it seemed like another good reason to call it a day. And besides, it was a lovely camp.

DAY 3: 14 Miles to White Pass

We were all concerned 14 miles were going to make for a really long, tough day – but they were pretty easy and we crushed them in seven and a half hours! That is light speed for me! And thank God, because we had the same LONG detour drive home, since Hwy 410 was still closed. But it was SO worth it (I can’t thank Heidi and Julie enough for supporting me and helping me get these miles in!) and now I only have those last 30 left from Harts Pass to the border (hopefully THAT won’t still be closed next summer) to finally finish all of Washington’s PCT miles! HOORAY!

P.S. Answers to our “google it when we get home” questions along the way: 1) Bears go into hibernation pregnant and give birth while sleeping. 2) The difference between a lake and pond is mostly depth. To be a pond it must be shallow enough for sunlight to hit the bottom. 3) Roads used during this excursion were 1-5/ I-405/WA 167/WA 512/WA 161/WA 7/ US 12/WA 410/ NF 52 (the WORST!)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Who Put the Gothic in Gothic Basin

Whenever my five year old grandson asks me a question that I answer with “I don’t know,” he always replies, “Well, just google it” – Ha ha!  Though with a world of information at our fingertips, it really is that easy to get our answers these days. But the question this day was not from my grandson, and being we were up in the mountains without service, I’d have to wait until I got home for the all knowing internet to give me what I wanted.


The question of “Why did they name this Gothic Basin,” came from one of the gals as we struggled up the steep trail in anticipation of seeing this epic area with an unusual name. There were eight of us women, all of different speeds and experience, and we had a blast together – even though many of us had just met. It’s true that having this trail kick our collective asses could be reason for a quick bond; though bonds are easily formed when you are with amazing people who share such a great love. So far, meeting lovely new people through the PNW Outdoor Women’s Group on FB is batting a thousand. 


Oh Crystal! How can hiking not be fun with you around!? <3

Heidi was the instigator for this trip (having done it several times and wanting to share the pain/glory with others) and though she was the expert we looked to for advice on the inevitable “how much longer/worse is this freaking trail?” questions, she didn’t know the reason for the name. Once we got to the top, we couldn’t help assuming the name came from it’s looming and eerie feeling spires that seemed like gargoyles should be perched upon. Gothic indeed.


But no, almighty Google simply states: “The mountain was named for early prospector William Gothic”…how boring. But I can guarantee you that is the only thing boring about this trail. Be ready for 12.5 miles (The WTA website lies…if you are expecting their stated 9.2, you will be in for an unpleasant surprise) with almost 3,000 feet of gain – much of it scrambling. I’m glad Heidi talked me into doing this as a day hike instead of a backpack; though the camping spots up there are quite beautiful, and there is a privy. (FYI to anyone wanting to take this on with 40 pounds on your back…all I can say is you’d better have your hiker legs, or lots of time/patience/and sheer will.) 

Heidi is showing us how to rock climb
Not a trail for the faint of heart

After crawling off the mountain, most of us met up at Playa Bonita, which is now our go-to spot after any hike on the Mountain Loop Highway.  A monster size Margarita with a grateful cheers to us for making it out alive – along with talk of future places to explore…I couldn’t think of a better way to end a day. Happy trails!

Google doesn’t know these are called “Tittyshrooms”…you have to hike with Crystal to learn these things 😉


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Hiking with Heidi

As thick wildfire smoke permeates the air outside here in Washington, I have decided sitting in my favorite comfy chair and catching up on the hikes I never wrote about is the best way to spend this gloomy, hazy Saturday. When I realized all these hikes included Heidi, I knew I had my title.

I started this website with a post about backpacking with a group of gals I had never met, and what a wonderful adventure it was. (Thank you Facebook special groups! Facebook may drive us all crazy at times, but it does have a few redeeming qualities.) Soon after that experience, I decided to try my luck again with yet another stranger’s invite into the woods. Heidi posted she had a permit for Mount St. Helens and wanted to know if anyone was brave enough to join her. Why not? 

Trying to convince the ranger not to throw us off the mountain 😉

Normally I would never agree to spend a couple days with a complete stranger, but hiking tends to make me throw all caution to the wind. I’m so thankful. Turns out Heidi lives just minutes from me, and from the moment we met she has felt like an old friend. 

The wrong (though better) way to enter the Ape Caves. Of course I made Heidi go first 😉

I knew I liked her when she said she wanted to throw in a bonus hike on the way there. So hike #1 is the Ape Caves in Cougar, WA.

The caves are so much more beautiful than I expected

Things to know about the Ape Caves:

  1. Thankfully, there are no apes. (Named in honor of a local boy scout troupe called “The Apes.”)
  2. It’s touristy. Huge parking lot, lots of people. You can walk barely a few feet, go down into the caves via a big staircase, get a pic, and leave. I’m guessing about half the people do just that. 
  3. You can also walk 1.3 miles to the cave’s exit and go backwards. We did this by accident, but were very glad we did because it felt way more adventurous. Though be warned, the hole you go into is easy to miss, and we probably wouldn’t have found it if not for the people who popped out just as we were about to give up the hunt. (The stairs are not very visible from up above where the trail is.)
  4. You have to do some serious climbing. There is an eight foot lava fall wall that is no joke, and climbing down it in the dark is tricky. But totally fun if you like that kind of thing. The idea of bringing small kids though is not a good one, IMO, unless you are okay doing it the touristy way. 
No shame in being a tourist

Hike #2 was of course Mt Saint Helens, after a stay at the Lone Fir Resort. Getting an early start is very important if you are slow like me, so the Lone Fir is a great way to make that happen. Some things to know about summiting Helens:

  1. The Monitor Ridge hike requires a permit, which is not easy to get because they fill up fast. The cost is about $20, and you will find them here:
  2. The permits are very specific. Heidi filled hers out with “hiker #2” because she didn’t know who she’d get to go with her. On the way up, another hiker let us know this was a no-no, so we seriously tried to outrun the ranger when we saw him coming. (He goes up every day…he will catch you. But he was nice and just let us know “next time” to put the actual names and have ID on you too. No worries, I told him, because there was no way I would be doing Helens a second time! 
  3. It’s not easy…but it’s not horrible. There is a lot of scrambling over rocks, and gloves are handy– but seeing questions now on aforementioned Facebook groups, it seems many people over-think this. I might say this a lot, but it’s true: if I can do it, just about anyone can. Give yourself plenty of time is all. 

My third hike with Heidi was our “spook-tackular” trip to check out the Iron Goat Trial off of Hwy 2. I actually wrote an article for “Explore Washington State” about it, and you can find that story here:

And last but not least, Heidi took me on one of her favorites on the Mt Loop Hwy:  Things to know about #4 Mount Dickerman: 

  1. Get ready for switchbacks…there are somewhere around 52…and then you are still not at the top.
  2. Lots of sun exposure once you are out of the woods. I should have brought my new hiking umbrella!
  3. There is a great parking lot with lots of room…for God’s sake, skip Lake 22 and just go here instead. Yes, it is hard, which is why it is less crowded. But you will be glad you pushed yourself–and VERY glad you didn’t have to park your car out on the highway. (Cars lined up from Lake 22 parking lot overflow for a good quarter mile on the day we drove by. Ugh.)
  4. If you want to giggle whenever you say “Dickerman,” you are my kind of person.
Dickerman will kick your butt…but it’s worth it

So, there you go! Thank you smoke, I am all caught up! And because winter will soon be upon us, I should be able to get my upcoming hikes on here lickity split. I have two more planned (fingers crossed the air quality improves) and guess who I’m going with? My hiker soul mate, Miss Heidi. I hope everyone reading this finds theirs. Happy Trails!!