Friday, July 25, 2014

PCT Year Three

On Saturday Scout, Map Girl and I (Monkey Bars) are heading out to finish up the Washington section odof the Pacific Crest Trail. We'll walk from the Bridge of the Gods at the Washington border to Snoqualmie Pass, where we started last year. It's about 250 miles and we have about two weeks to do it. Here's the elevation profiles, not too bad:

elevation chart

elevation chart

NOTHING like last year:

Here's just one section:
elevation chart

Resupply boxes are packed, backpack is packed, all we have left to do is hike.See you in two weeks or so.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In which I stay home, worry about being evacuated, panic pack, and realize I should have just gone to the mountains.

I look up and down my street, cataloging the neighbors. They don't seem to go anywhere. How can people stay home? The summer here is so short--about six weeks--and if I don't get into the mountains, get up as high as I can, I feel like I've wasted two days. The weight of a work week of computer tapping settles heavy. Must go. Must do everything.

But this weekend was different. I had to stay around, for a number of reasons, so I tried to make the best of it. I packed my two resupply boxes for the PCT, recalling that vaguely ill sensation you get when you buy too many snacks and start eating them for regular meals. Trail mix...ugghhhh...I stared in disbelief at the scale. My backpack, how can it weigh so much? THIRTY POUNDS?  I know it's because I am carrying two dinners for three people and food for five days on the trail, but it still seems like a lot (which makes me laugh because back in my wilderness ranger days, I would have skipped along with a pack forty pounds lighter than the one I was accustomed to carrying). I panic packed and unpacked several times. Did I really need a warm hat? Gloves? In the end, scarred from last year's freezing march toward Canada, I shoved everything back in.

Okay, so the kayaking was nice.

I kayaked on the lake, trying to ignore the rising column from a fire near the A frame. Complacency had happened and most of the firefighters were sent on to another fire. The fire broke out and made a run for freedom, creating an impressive show above Mount Joseph. We tugged sprinklers around, about 2 miles from the fire front, wondering if we would have to get out, and if so, what we would take. The wind shift came in time for the fire to turn, although people speculated up and down the road. The fire moved deep into the heart of the wilderness.



Staying around? Don't like it so much. There's plenty of time in winter to sit in the house, to visit with friends, to read. As I sat back down at my computer on Monday it was with a sigh of resignation. Yes, the house was cleaner. Yes, I had done all the chores I had been ignoring. But a perfect weekend had gone by without jumping in a mountain lake. I won't make that mistake again.



Friday, July 18, 2014

this is how people disappear

I headed up through the featureless snowfield. There was a trail here someplace, but in July at nearly 10,000 feet, there was no finding it. When I did find small sections, the tread led right to a steep face, one of those "slip and you're dead" places.How badly did I want to climb this peak?

I camped here, at Upper Lake. Nobody else did, perhaps scared off by the snow. I also went for a quick swim in the ice!
I'm not a big fan of "push yourself past your comfort zone into danger" philosophy. I stray outside my comfort zone boundaries nearly every day, though few would know it because I don't act like it's a big deal. But I have decided that coming home is my job. I've been on enough search and rescue missions to know that each time someone who made a bad decision had now put our lives in danger as we looked for them. There's such a thing as determination and another called stupid. I tend to think I know the line by now.

Hmm...(I am aiming for the tallest point)
I came to a place where another intrepid explorer had paused. In large rocks he or she had written, "Went Back." Probably wise, I thought. Ahead of me, the trail disappeared into solid snow. Horton Pass and Eagle Cap Peak, my destination, towered in the distance. Just a little bit further, I thought. Then I thought: this is how people disappear. Lured onward, they make decisions that can't be undone. How do you find that line? I've managed to walk it all of my life and so I continued on.

I've always wanted to climb Eagle Cap, the peak for which this wilderness is named. Not the highest mountain in the range, but almost, you can see it from almost everywhere. Today, I decided, was that day.

The view from the top of Eagle Cap was unforgettable. A sea of mountains wherever I looked (also a lot of wildfires).


Yes I know, a braid malfunction.

Going down was a little sketchier. Had I gone down this snowfield, or that one? But I made it back to my tent safely. Walking the line, always.

Glacier Lake, still partially frozen.

Note: thanks to everyone who commented, sent me an email, or called to talk about my kitty. I appreciate it more than you know. Life without him has been very sad; I am resigned to his illness but still plagued by regrets--was he afraid or in pain, how could I leave him so much? It's such a dilemma. The wilderness is what I need, but it always means leaving someone behind.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

where to go when your heart is broken

Somewhere like this:
Dollar Lake

One of the differences between cats and dogs is that cats can't really come along with you on adventures. In all  of my travels I've only seen one backpacking cat, peeking out of a backpack enroute to Mount Whitney, perhaps an an HKC* attempt. So whenever I went to the woods, I always felt guilty leaving my furry pals behind.

The hardest thing about losing a pet is that you just don't know. You don't know if it was the right time to make the call, or if it was too soon. If there was something you could have done differently. If you could have spent more time with them, if you had only known.

This is the second time I've had to make the call on the operating table, and it broke my heart. The night before I took Smoke outside and he quietly watched the birds. He purred as I held him and said goodbye, just in case. It's not enough.

I brought him home fourteen and a half years ago, when I was in love with fire, and so I called him Smoke, but a lot of people liked to call him Smokey. He was cool with that. He also didn't mind vacuum cleaners, dogs, or visitors. He was a great cat. I still can't believe he's gone.



*Highest Known Cat.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On Storm King Mountain

Sometimes the hardest hike is the shortest. On July 6, I walked up the steep trail toward my friend's cross. Right behind me was Roger's dad, and I figured that if he could do it at 81, I could too, even though my eyes were blurry.



Hiking and crying, I haven't done that in awhile. But this was a sacred place, Storm King Mountain, and each step on the dusty trail reminded me of what had happened twenty years before. Fourteen firefighters, trapped in a  firestorm, in a race they could not win. Roger's brother Jim has run the distance from the cross to the ridge and he says that all Roger needed was another forty-five seconds. So little time, a few beats of the heart.


Today wasn't about making miles or being fast. It wasn't about adventure. It was about the families, and the bond they have with the mountain, with the town, and with each other. There was a four year old kid marching up the trail, and Roger's 81 year old father, fueled by love and determination. I admire them all, the families, how do they do it? How do they even go on?

The smokejumper plane flies low over Storm King Mountain...
I've had other friends die in other ways, and I've mourned them, but this is different. If you've ever fought fire you know why. There's a bond there too, some kind of invisible rope you can't get from any other thing, except maybe combat. You'll never be closer to anyone than someone you walked a fire line with. That's just the way it is. Maybe that's why it has been so hard to give it up.

..and drops fourteen streamers for the Storm King 14.

The next day I hiked solo in the desert, in Colorado National Monument. I was the only fool out there at 93 degrees under a blazing sun, but the desert has a way of reducing things down to the bone, of filling you up when you feel hollow. I needed to walk the trails, this time at my own pace.



I'm supposed to be a writer but I can't find the words. This is the future that the families and friends of the Yarnell 19 have to face. This is something so big and awful that twenty years can't erase the pain. Time doesn't heal. It really doesn't. You just go on. You just hike the trail in your own way and hope for the best.

Friday, July 4, 2014

It's Pacific Crest Trail time! Help me pick a tent...

It's that time of year again for those of us on the ten year PCT plan. This year Scout, Map Girl and I are hiking 250 miles, from the Oregon border to Snoqualmie Pass (where we started off last year.) Scout and I will have walked across an entire state (Washington) which is pretty cool. We begin in 22 days.

I did hit up the Dollar Snatcher, Wrong Way, and WeirdMart in an attempt to get backpacking food. It's a fact of life that long distance hiking doesn't necessarily consist of the healthiest of foods. You need simple carbs and sugars and you need to replace massive amounts of calories. You also can't take much freshies or meat along. Some people painstakingly dehydrate elaborate meals, but I don't have the time for that. It's just fuel! Some people also bring alcohol on every backpacking trip, but I'm not much of a drinker. So my meals basically look like this:

Breakfast: Protein shake, Carnation Instant Breakfast, or granola with powdered milk. (I kind of despise breakfast, but need to avoid bonks)

Lunch: Tortillas, hummus, cheese, jerky, or peanut butter

Dinner: Freeze-dried concoctions or quinoa with dehydrated veggies, instant mashed potatoes, couscous, tuna

Drinks: Water. (hahaha). Also, nuun tablets and gatorade mix.

Snacks: Snickers, dried fruit, animal crackers, Snickers, yogurt pretzels, Snickers, energy chews, Snickers, LaraBars, cheese, Snickers. Did I mention Snickers?

I only eat these when I'm hiking 20 mi/day. I don't get it either.
The last piece is the tent and this is where you come in. Which tent should I take? Here are the choices:

1. Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1. Aggie has been with me on two long distance hikes and on many other backpack trips (probably 50 plus nights). Bombproof. Downsides: front entry which means rain drips on you as you crawl in. You have to carry tent poles, so they get stuffed where something else could conveniently fit (like a platypus for example). You still have to stake it out to get the best effect, though it is mostly free-standing. Bulkier in packaging with separate rain fly. Weighs a little over two pounds. Feels a bit like a coffin, but you can just set up the mesh part if it's nice out.


2. Skyscape X, of chipmunk chewing fame. Weighs less than a pound and super small (not bulky). Uses trekking poles so you don't have extra poles to deal with. Nice mesh design with an integrated fly. Downsides: Must be staked; if ground is hard, have to pile rocks on stakes. Hard to set up in wind. Not sure about a situation with horizontal wind-driven rain; does all right in showers. Feels a bit like a coffin, but you get a nice breeze if you roll back the rain fly.


What would you do?

No post is complete without a cute dog. I was lucky enough to get a pack to test out from this place and it is a great dog pack. Check out Groundbird Gear if you are in the market.

Cale is so cute, sometimes I can't stand it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Beware the Bad Chipmunks of Ice Lake

I strolled back toward my tent in a good mood. Lately obligations have kept me from backpacking, and so I had concocted what most saw as a crazy scheme. I would hike up on Sunday, spend the night, and wake up super early to race down the mountain in order to be on time for a video conference on Monday. The hike was not insignificant, so everything had to fall into place, but I knew it would be worth it.



As I hiked toward another lake, I passed three backpackers headed for the trailhead. They divulged that they had been at Ice Lake. Ice Lake! I had been sure it was snowbound. They said they had to "climb over some drifts" but "it was too late to turn back." The third person in line looked traumatized. "The lake refroze last night," he muttered. "So cold."

I had been planning to head for Horseshoe Lake, but Ice was only eight miles, which would make it easier to make the deadline. And why not? Ice Lake is one of my favorites. As it turned out, the "drifts" were merely a few snow patches, nothing to worry about. I lay around in the sun, reading and taking about fifty pictures of the same lake. Harmless little chipmunks raced about. So cute, I thought.



Then everything changed. As I approached my tent, I saw it. A chipmunk! Inside the tent! It raced around in terror, finally jumping out the hole it had chewed to get in. 

AARGH!!! I had just repaired the two holes that my poles had torn in this tent, and I had only slept in it five nights! What is it about this tent? I could foresee another order of McNett's Bug Net Repair in my future. As I sat and pondered this event, I noticed a creepy deer stalking me. No amount of chasing it away made it leave.

The tent, prior to the Chewing Incident.

Ice Lake is beautiful, but it is also accessible. It draws in the inexperienced, because the trailhead is close to the state park. The trail is nicely graded, and although it's an eight mile hike to a pretty high elevation, it's totally within the grasp of the reasonably fit. The animals are getting habituated to people, and it's not great to see. It means people have been careless with their food, and the chippies and deer know. They don't forget.

After the day hikers left I had the lake to myself. Stars twinkled overhead, seen through the (chewed) netting. Getting up at 3:30 didn't seem so bad, hiking by headlamp until an hour later, it was light enough to see. I was back before 6:30, ready to begin the work day. The chipmunks? They lie in wait. Beware.

Good night, Ice Lake.