Embrace the Chaos

July 12, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Sometimes, life will get a little chaotic. It’s a good thing. Go with it. Unfortunately, when life gets a little crazy, things tend to slip through the cracks. And once things start to slip, it can be painfully difficult to get back on track.

That’s why I am sitting here, over a month since my last post, struggling to figure out what to write. So I guess I will write about struggling to write. But it’s not about just writing – it’s about getting back into anything that you let slip when life get’s a little bit chaotic.

About a month ago I parted with my beloved home in the PNW (don’t worry, I am going back). I packed up my car and headed to San Jose for a summer internship with a very large tech company.

As a side note, I can assure you, if you find yourself in a similar situation; when looking longingly at your splitboard trying to decide if it is worth throwing in the car to take with you the answer is unequivocally no. THERE IS NO SNOW. Okay, that is an exaggeration – thin white strips speckle the peaks and if you are willing to make the 6+ mile trek at over 10,000 feet, you might be able to connect 2-3 turns. For all I know, I may find myself doing just that at some point this summer as well.

The point is, I found myself heading to anew place, with a lot of unknowns. It’s not the first time – but every time is a little different. Just getting to San Jose was a wild adventure. Fueled by newfound friends and a desire to make the absolute most of the whole experience, I was so busy enjoying life that I kind of forgot to write any of it down.

Then I arrived in San Jose, met a couple of my new awesome roommates and before I had a chance to get comfortable or unpack, I found myself at my first day of work. I quickly found that the “real” job lifestyle eats away at your day, and by the time you eat dinner and unwind from the day, it’s already time for bed. At least that is what it felt like at first. The day’s flew by and soon it was Friday afternoon.

I’d let a few things slip, but I was going to make the most of this summer and that meant exploring all that this magnificent area has to offer. Dammit, I wasn’t going to let everything slip. Re-invigorated, I made a quick inventory of what I would need, and packed my car as fast as humanly possible the second I got home from work. I made it out to Yosemite in good time.

By good time, I mean I gave up trying to find somewhere to camp around 11:30 and accepted that I was going to sleep in my car with a bottle of wine to pass the hours. Of which there weren’t many – backpacking permits in the park are an interesting endeavor that involves waking up at the crack of dawn so that you can wait in line with fellow last-minute adventurers. To think that the only thing I’d forgotten was my hiking boots was rather impressive.

The drive to Yosemite is a doable weekend – but a long one. I found myself getting back late Sunday. A new roommate had appeared at some point over the weekend and, if anything, I was less unpacked than the week before. Another week came and went. My daily routine of walking to the office had been replaced by a stuffy car ride. Long overdue for an oil change, the AC on my car conveniently stopped working just as the heat picked up. Add that to the cracked windshield and the ever-growing list of things I know I should fix but never make the time for.

At the end of the week, I was a little more prepared, having packed in the morning so that I could leave straight from work. This time, the destination was climbing near Tahoe. Another amazing weekend, another late return.

Yes, that is what I wore to work they day before. And yes, I found these rad guys on the internet. And yes, we are chilling at the top of the second pitch on Haystack (a classic 5.8 on the East Wall at Lovers Leap). Oh and yes, I lugged my damn camera up this wall, who knows why I did that.

Not only am I still unpacked at this point, but now dangerously out of clean (I use the term clean loosely here) laundry as well. So it seems completely reasonable that writing is the last thing on my mind.

That’s where you would be wrong. I have had some incredible experiences. Seen incredible places, met incredible people, and learned interesting things about the world and myself. If anything, I should be writing more, not less! I don’t go off on adventures looking for interesting topics to write about. But when you remove yourself from the distractions of everyday life, you give yourself time to dwell on your thoughts. And when you surround yourself with nature, its beauty inspires imagination.  It is damn near impossible to come back from an adventure and not have some thought that I want to write down.

It started to bother me – Not writing, that is. Instead of writing, I would make mental notes and try to remind myself that I should write. But I never would.

So the fourth came around. Taking advantage of what turned out to be a paid holiday, I yet again disappeared to Tahoe. Not four days since my last time making the trek.  I had no plans, other than to relax. After three full days camping, I woke up in my tent and decided it was time to get back on track.

Nearly a week later I am finally sitting down to write. And for the record, I did finally unpack, and I have done laundry. And yes, I am packing my car (still no AC) so that I can leave for Yosemite after work tomorrow afternoon.

I am bummed that it has taken me so long to get back to writing. I have stories that are worth telling. The new friends who made a lasting impression, all because of a little whiskey. The backpackers who were kind enough to let me join them – from whom I learned so much about the Jewish religion and hiking the PCT. Even the holiday of solitude, where my thoughts turned inward. All are stories worth sharing.

So, let life get a little crazy. Embrace it and go with it. I promise you will have some memorable experiences if you do. And when life gets a little crazy, accept that you might drop the ball on something. But recognize that the hard part isn’t derailing your life – that’s as simple as hopping in your car on a Friday afternoon with zero plans, or drunkenly booking a plan ticket to that far away place that you always wanted to visit. It’s getting back on track that is tricky, because life doesn’t stop, or even slow down and wait for you. It can be overwhelming and easy to put off.

But make yourself get back. You will be happy once you do. I may not walk to work anymore – but I’ve managed to replace the walk with a pleasant bike ride (a fair substitute in my opinion). I still have a lot to write: nomadic pursuits, insights into earning trust, and an enriched world perspectives are just a few things I’ve delved into and hope to share in the near future, along with some rad adventures all over the place!

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A Weekend With My Dad

May 20, 2013 | Posted in Snowboarding | By

It has been ages since I had a weekend with my dad – just the two of us, no fixed agenda and no rigid plans. Our time together is usually dictated by some compelling outside force that brought us to the same place at the same time. A wedding, a graduation, a family vacation, etc.; there was always something going on. Whatever that something was, it meant that our time and attention was already focused elsewhere. There was a plan – put in place by someone else, and we were lucky if we could sneak away from that plan even for an hour.
Last summer I did manage to steal away, from a week with relatives celebrating my cousins wedding, for the better part of a day with my mom and dad. It was a huge ordeal and clearly a disruption from the predetermined plan. The result was a hasty trip to the Shenandoah Mountains, where we felt rushed and in a hurry to get back. It was hard to stop and enjoy the moment.  (Not to mention the, while beautiful, Appalachian’s lack of rugged Cascade peaks to which I am growing accustomed.)
So, when my dad said he was coming in town for a weekend, just the two of us, I was quite excited.  I began to formulate ideas in the back of my head for things we could do together. The time was ours and we could spend it however we liked.
My family has always been incredibly active – A trait that I hadn’t adopted until recently. I wanted to share my passion for the outdoors with my dad, who I knew would appreciate the somewhat unique ways that I choose to experience. More importantly, my parents were to ones to first get my excited about skiing (and I guess snowboarding). They have been skiing since before I was born, but always at a resort.
I wanted to take my dad out backcountry skiing and he was all for it. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend either. A spring bluebird day on a volcano seemed like the perfect place to start.  The question then, where do I take my dad for a first tour? I immediately thought we should go to Camp Muir. A day touring on the tallest mountain in the state, with incredible views, would surely be impressive and memorable. But there was an element missing. The views on the way up to Muir are incredible, but arriving at camp is somewhat underwhelming. Rainier still looms above you and I always get a sense of incompleteness when I turn back at Muir. Incredible? Yes. Breathtaking? Sure. I can do better.
Last year, I climbed St Helens on my birthday. It was an awesome day, and something I had been itching to get back to. I remembered it as a much bigger day than Muir, but nothing toocrazy. I decided to leave the final decision up to my dad. I gave him the options Muir or St Helens (I know…I am a nice son). Both consist of (for the most part) fairly mellow touring, both have incredible views, both make for a great day. Muir ends up higher at just over 10,000’, but St Helens is a longer day with more elevation climbed, by a considerable margin. With St Helens, you get to stand on top of a mountain.
I tried to be objective but I think my desire to get back to St Helens was apparent. So when I asked my dad, which he would prefer, he said he was “up for a longer day.” So, St Helens it was.  I did have my reservations. My dad is 62, has never used AT skis, and has been living in the desert for the past several years. But, he is my dad and he is a badass. So when he said he was up for it, his enthusiastic attitude was all of the convincing that I needed.
I’ve come to realize climbing a mountain is a lot like many other pursuits in life. In the moment, you can push yourself sometimes harder and further than you could have imagined possible. After the fact, you completely forget about the challenges you faced, remembering only glimpses of your struggles, your memories dominated by the overwhelming satisfaction of succeeding at whatever it was you set out to do.
St Helens’ was easy last year. I woke up early, on my birthday and climbed a mountain. The view from the top was incredible and the ride down was awesome. On top of that, we were home at a decent hour, too.
So, I may have forgotten just how early we woke up. I may have also forgotten just how long it took to reach the rim and how late we got back to Seattle. Yes, it is a very doable day trip, but it is a longday.
My dad showed up Friday afternoon, after driving over from the Tri-Cities. I got him set up with rental skis and boots, touring in rental boots sounds absolutely no fun. The afternoon sipped by and by the time we were both hungry, our plan was thus: we are waking up early, to climb St. Helens and that was about it. I’d yet to look up how far the drive was, where we had to pick up the permits, pack food, or really pack anything for that matter.
On the way to dinner, it became apparent that my dad was exhausted. During the drive, he would ask a question, then fall asleep before I had a chance to answer. A few minutes later, he would wake up and, without a missing a beat, ask another question. At some point, I stopped answering. I was starting to get worried. I had just done the math, and realized our alarm needed to go off at roughly 4:30 am if we were indeed going to climb St Helens.
That was much earlier than I had anticipated or remembered. But, my dad took it in stride and was wide-awake and ready to go in the morning.  We made excellent time on the drive, stopping only once and well, twice if you count the speeding ticket.
Upon picking up our permits, we were delighted to discover that we were near the tail-end of nearly 375 like-minded individuals who wanted to spend the beautiful day climbing a mountain. I’d expected a crowd, but was yet again shocked by one of the small details that I had forgotten since climbing the previous year.
So we took off. There was still snow all the way to the car, allowing us to start skinning right away.  My dad threw on the skis and so began his first backcountry ski experience. There was a bit of a learning curve. It’s hard to relate skinning to any one other activity and it takes some practice and getting-used-to before you learn to balance and trust that you can indeed stand up straight without sliding back down the hill.
We weren’t in any sort of rush, so we took our time. After all, we didn’t need to reach the summit to have a great day. As we meandered through the woods, my dad started to get the hang of it. I was having a great time and I think he was too. The slog to the summit really is just a long push. There were a couple of short tricky sections where we carried our skis, but for the most part, it was just skinning, all the way to the summit.
In the morning, I set a turn-around time of 4pm, in case we hadn’t made the top by then.  During our last lunch-break, I looked at the time. It was 2:30 and my best guess pegged us at about 1000’ from the summit. Doable for sure, but my dad was clearly getting tired. I pulled out (one of several) energy reserves I had stashed in my pack and hoped that we would make it.
I’d been staying with my dad the whole way until this point, I didn’t want his first experience to find him climbing all alone and it was by no means a race. I knew my dad could make it to the top, but we were going to have to hurry. Apart from the lure of chocolate and beer, one of my best motivators is to not want to fall behind. So, I took off and told my dad I would see him at the top.
Sure enough, my dad made it to the top of Mt St Helens, just shy of our 4pm turn-around time. At that moment, I was so excited and proud. I think that anyone familiar with the sport would agree, for a first time in the backcountry, climbing to the top of Mt St Helens is no small feat.
While well over 100 people had already left tracks, down the south face of the volcano, we still enjoyed some fantastic spring corn and even found a few sections still pristine. The reward for a hard day’s effort. We were able to ride all the way back to the car, with just a few hazards to navigate. With the warm weather, it was likely one of the last days that you could ride all the way to the car without getting extra creative.
If the weekend had ended there, it would have still been fantastic, memorable weekend. But it didn’t. I think it was our ambitious plan that fueled a friendly father-son competition of sorts. It came to be that neither of us wanted to admit that we were in fact tired or sore. So, when one of us mentioned a Sunday bike ride, our response was, “sure that sounds fun!” It was like a game of chicken and the loser was our legs.
In all seriousness, we had a delightful bike ride, broken up with breakfast at Portage Bay Café (with mimosas!), a nap at golden gardens, and a beer at the Fremont Brewery.  It was actually really nice and, if anything, helped keep us limber.
The fun didn’t stop there either. When picking up the skis on Friday, my dad mentioned that a hike up Mt Si sounded fun. So, naturally we had to do it. We dropped off the rentals Monday morning and set off for a hike. The view from the top was spectacular. You could see south past Rainier and north up to Baker. The Olympics were in clear view, creating a dramatic backdrop for the Seattle skyline. Truly impressive, especially once we made it to the top of the haystack.
For whatever silly reason, we decided to trail run down. I’ve made the mistake before, but did it again. Running downhill destroyed whatever strength was left it our legs.
When we made it back to the car, I was thankful that we were parting ways, not because I didn’t want to spend more time with my dad, but because I was afraid of what bogus idea (we actually did mention trying to waterski, but just didn’t have time.) one of us would throw out next and I was seriously concerned that I was going to be the one to have to say no more.
So there you have it. A weekend with my dad, one of the most incredible men I know; spent backcountry skiing on volcanoes, biking through Seattle, and hiking up mountains. I look forward to the next weekend we can spend together and the wild adventures that we will accomplish next.

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A Solo Trip to…somewhere

August 9, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Recently, a friend was over and some of my pictures were flashing on the TV in the background. Occasionally we would stop and watch the impromptu slideshow. My friend remarked, “all of your pictures are in the snow” and it made me realize, that I have spend an absorbent amount of time in the snow this year. Yosemiteand a handful of other small trips make up the small exception. As it is now August, you may have expected me to cast aside my addiction to snowboarding to pursue slightly more typical summer activities. Well – no, I have not. I am still contemplating where my next adventure will be. My options are quickly narrowing to volcanoes and glaciers. Volcanoes are generally far away and limited in number (I would rather go somewhere I have not been to before) and I lack the knowledge/gear/experience to tackle some of the other glaciated routes (navigating crevasses doesn’t sound very fun).

I this comment made me realize that I have not been backpacking quite as much as I would like.  There is something incredibly rewarding about spending some time alone in the wilderness.  For me, disappearing into the wilderness for the weekend provides an escape from the busy world. It is always a mad rush to gather my gear, throw it in the car, and make it out of the city at a reasonable time; once I am out, the craziness is behind me. I am relaxed, alone with my thoughts and a good book. While I hike, my mind wanders to any number of things – friends, family, work, girls, what I am doing with life, what do I want to do, reflecting on what I have done, pretty much anything. As I hike, thoughts creep forward – thoughts that have been pushed back in my mind due to the chaos of life, or because I have been too afraid to confront. As I push forward on the trail, my mind does so as well. When I inevitably make it back to the car, I am exhausted but with a new clarity. Ready to return to the city.

Last weekend I had no idea where I was going. Frankly, I didn’t particularly care. I was just happy to be getting out. At the last minute, I formulated a plan to go to Sahale Arm in the North Cascades. I heard it was beautiful there and mostly snow free at this point. I wasn’t looking for a particularly challenging hike nor did I want to drive too far (Cascade Pass was still about a 3 hour drive). Deciding to put off packing until the morning, I woke up bright and early to throw everything in my car and hit the road. I needed a permit to camp in the North Cascades and I was hoping I could get lucky and get a spot at one of the handfuls of sites on the pass. Much like my experience in Yosemite, the permit gods were not in my favor (to be fair, Cascade Pass is one of the most popular areas in the park for people coming from Seattle). Thankfully, the ranger station was not very busy and the ranger was very friendly.

I explained what I was looking for (a short hike, not too far away), and wasn’t able to find anything.  I accepted that I may have to drive a bit and a couple options opened up.  The ranger pointed out a trail that led to a nice looking lake that still had a few sites available. Looking at the map, I got excited because it appeared that there was a nice little loop I could take. The ranger frowned at me and pointed out that the “loop” wasn’t a maintained trail and would more or less involve some cross-country travel. I smiled back and pointed out the last couple of trips I had taken in the North Cascades (Eldorado and Mt Hardy/snowy lakes). The ranger got really excited upon hearing this, and started plotting a new route for me involving a cross-country permit (i.e. no designated camp site, with some basic requirements for picking a site). Suddenly, my simple weekend trip was becoming a lot more complex. I think we were both feeding off of each other’s excitement, and my new plan was going to be quite an adventure.

The plan was to start at the Bridge Creek trailhead, branching off and taking a not-maintained trail up to the meadow below Stiletto Peak. From there, I had options. I could go up to a lookout for camp, or to a small alpine lake. Once I was in the meadow, I could set up camp pretty much wherever I want (making sure to not disturb the vegetation as much as possible). The following day, I could head off the meadow and reconnect with the Bridge Creek trail to return to the car. I was supposed to be a nice loop with some spectacular views.

It was a beautiful weekend and incredibly hot. For the first few minutes I was happy to be under the cover of the trees, though this attitude quickly changed. I lost track of the number of blow-downs that I had to crawl over and tramp around. At several points the trail was hardly discernable (and I had not yet left the main Bridge Creek trail). I couldn’t decide which was worse, the sun or the poorly maintained trail. Either way, I was enjoying all of it.

As I continued on, the trail branched a couple of times and I thought I had successfully navigated on to the right path. A couple hours in to my journey, I wasn’t so sure that I was on the right trail. I had expected to peel off to the left and start making switchbacks up to the foot of Stiletto Peak. However, the trail never branched and I wasn’t yet ready to abandon the trail I was on. Looking up at the peak, I could discern a clear route to where I thought I should be going. I decided to keep going, thinking I just hadn’t gone far enough and the turn off was still coming up. After another half hour or so, I was convinced I had missed the turn off. I could tell, because I now sat at the base of Twisp Pass, with Stiletto peak off behind me. A little disappointed in myself, I shrugged of my failed navigation and headed up the pass. I resolved to attempt to find the path up Stiletto peak in the morning on my way back to the car. If I had enough energy I would even try to make the climb (though I doubted the added 6-7 miles and several thousand feet in elevation would really happen).

It was a weird feeling when I got to the top of the pass. I was disappointed that I wasn’t where I had intended to be, but not disappointed in the least about where I was. The view was incredible. I meandered around for a while until I found a suitable site to set up camp. I threw down my pack and proceeded to scramble up to the top of the ridge. What I was rewarded with was better than I had hoped for. I wish my friend Kevin was with me to spew off the names and facts about the numerous peaks surrounding me. I was able to figure out a couple like Twisp Peak, Stilleto, even Eldorado (I think) off in the distance. But my USGS map only provided a handful names for peaks I could see. Most extended well beyond the edges of my map.

I stayed on the ridge for a while, soaking up the view and allowing myself to just get lost in the mountains. Eventually, I decided to head back to my gear and set up camp. It had been a hot day and I was ready to relax a little and read for a while. However, when I got back to my pack, I was greeted by a swarm of mosquitoes and bees. I was veryhappy that I remembered to pick up more bug spray on the way out of town. I was too tired to look for a less-buggy site, and earnestly believed I couldn’t do much better anyways. I resorted to setting up my tent as fast as humanly possible and diving inside before I fed too many mosquitoes. The sun was still fairly high in the sky and I had naïvely picked a site that was not going to get shade for several hours. To be fair, when I picked my site, I was going for somewhere with an exceptional view and wasn’t concerned by silly things like shade. Using my sleeping bag, I erected a makeshift curtain on the side of my tent and proceeded to read/nap for a while.

When I awoke, the bugs were worse than before. It was dinnertime for both of us. I dragged myself out of my tent and cooked my pasta while not standing in one spot for too long. I am convinced that bugs have adapted and deet no longer repels bugs, but attracts them. I only left the tent once more that evening to admire the sunset (and take pictures) and get a little bit of water.

I laid awake for house, reading, thinking, and playing a new game I created which mainly involves flicking mosquitoes that landed on my tent (I know…I am easily amused). Opting not to put on my rainfly, I fell asleep with the stars filling the sky. It’s a sight that I will never get tired of. I awoke only once as the almost-full moon filled the sky with light.

In the morning, the mosquitoes were back and I was not too thrilled about that. I decided to pack up and get an early start. I would eat breakfast further down the trail where there was running water so that I could resupply. With the hot weather, I had already gone through 4l and knew I needed a lot more for the trek out.

I took off down the trail making good time. I never did find the damn trail up to Stiletto peak. I am convinced that it does not exist (despite the signs I had followed that were directing me towards it). This made me feel slightly better, since I was convinced that I had simply missed the turn on the way up. However, I soon became confused on the hike out. The trail seemed much more maintained than on the way in, notably with a number of blow-downs which had been cut out. I was baffled by this, but not complaining since it was making my journey much more enjoyable. I kept following the trail, only getting concerned once I hit the road. I was at the highway, but not where I had parked my car. I was very confused. My map made no mention of the trail I had apparently followed, and to think that this mysterious trail was better maintained than the marked trail absolutely baffled me. Not wanting to hike along the highway (considering I wasn’t sure how far I was from my trailhead), I elected to backtrack and find the turn I missed. Seriously, I have never had a problem missing turns before and according to my map, this trail wasn’t even supposed to exist. I was confused and frustrated. I backtracked nearly a mile. I even turned off the trail a couple times following what may have been incredibly poorly marked turns (they weren’t). Eventually, I decided that the only place I could have missed the turn was nearly another mile back, I decided it wasn’t worth it. After all, this trail was well maintained and took me back to the road. I figured I could find out how far it was to the trailhead fairly easy and either quickly make the embarrassing hike along the side of the highway with cars whizzing by at 60mph, or if need be, hitchhike. I blame the book I am reading, On the Road, for the latter idea.

Thankfully, there was a sign about 50 yards down the highway that conveniently informed me that the Bridge Creek Trailhead was only .1 mile down the road. Perfect. I could practically run that distance and spare myself too much embarrassment. Well, about 15 minutes later, I decided that the ‘.’ was a lie and the trailhead was actually a full mile down the road. I may be a poor judge of distance (and apparently terrible at navigation) but I can crawl .1 mile in less than 10 minutes.

I made it back to the car, another adventure completed (whether or not it was successful is debatable).  I will just blame the heat. When I opened my car, a couple of things caught my eye. An old McDonalds cup had completely melted in my cup holder.  It was hot in there. When I went to pick up my national parks’ pass, I grabbed the corner and the plastic card drooped down in my hand.

The trip was spectacular. I am still baffled at how I missed so many turns, but mosquito bites aside, I had an awesome time and I came back to the city feeling refreshed, my mind having followed a similar journey to my feet. I never felt like I was lost, but I never really felt like I knew where I was, and that made for an exciting journey.

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Exploring the North Cascades

May 16, 2012 | Posted in Snowboarding | By

Disclaimer: This is going to be a long post. But, I think the highs and the lows of this trip warrant delving into the full details of what transpired.

I haven’t spent much time in the North Cascades. In fact, until recently I had never even been on highway 20. I knew I was missing out on something spectacular, but I wasn’t sure just how much. I simply hadn’t had an opportunity to explore any of the abundant mountains that the North Cascades have to offer. So, when I received an email from someone from Turns-All-Year who wanted to plan a trip up hwy 20 once the road was cleared, I immediately said yes.

Over the next week or so, we anxiously watched as the road was cleared, and hammered out the details of the trip. Our plan was to head up Washington Pass, and ski around Snowy Lakes and Golden Horn. The plan was to leave Friday afternoon and skin in as far as we could in the evening. Saturday we would be able to set up camp near the lakes and take laps on the horn. We would stay until Sunday, when we would pack up camp and make the trek back to the car.

That was the plan. The weather was in full cooperation, without a cloud in the sky and hwy 20 opened, as expected, the day before our trip. The funny thing about planning trips with people from an online forum – it can be a gamble. Everyone has different ability levels, experiences, and expectations. So far I have been lucky. I have had the opportunity to ride with some awesome people. This weekend, well, you can’t win them all. We were going into the trip with the attitude of nobody is in a hurry and it is okay if you are a little slow. I was starting to grasp what that meant when we met up in Sedro Woolley. That being said, I still had an amazing weekend and got to camp in one of the most spectacular locations of my life.

We started our hike in around 5:30 from a pullout at Swamp Creek. After a couple hundred feet of climbing, we were well in the thick of the woods, winding up and down, zigzagging between trees wherever we could find a clearing (and sometimes just squeezing through when we couldn’t). It was slow going. Not particularly difficult though, well at least for two of us. We were still making fairly good time. We made it across Swamp Creek and had a decision to make. We could either stop for the evening and set up camp, or we could climb up to the ridge between Mount Hardy and Knoll before the Snowy Lakes and Tower Mountain. It was a little past 7 in the evening and we were feeling pretty good. So far the tour had been pretty mellow and we felt confident in our ability to press on. There was a slight miscommunication about how much elevation was left between us and the saddle (yes, 1800ft is considerably more that 1000ft), and one individual who, I was beginning to realize, had a bad habit of not knowing her own limitations.

The tour took an interesting turn once we start the climb up to the saddle. We had to cross a number of big slide paths, the kind that only rip out every 20 years or so, taking everything down with them. That meant navigating through a bunch of new-growth forest. The fun thing about new-growth is that everything is packed together to the point that navigating through was incredibly slow going. We had started up the slope, so along with tight trees, we were actually gaining elevation fairly quickly. Once dusk hit we began to regret our decision to push on. However, we were now committed and all we could do was make the best of it. The one upside was dusk brought shade and cooler weather. The snow started to harden to the point that we decided to switch to a bootpack. We were still about 1200ft from the saddle and it was starting to get dark. The one upshot was the view of Porcupine Peak and Cutthroat Pass at sunset was something I won’t soon forget.

I did however have to put the view out of my mind for the immediate future so that we could focus on making it to the top. Around 9:30, we stopped to pull out headlamps and grab a quick bite to eat. It was around this point when it hit me. We had crossed over the line from adventure to fuck, this is sketchy. To clarify, I wasn’t particularly worried about myself. Sure it was dark and we were booting up a steep face, but I know my abilities and I was comfortable with my ability to make it to the top. It was the girl who I was keeping a foot in front of me, watching every step she took to make sure it was in the bootpack, preparing to catch her if she accidentally stepped wrong or shifted her weight too far back. It is by no means an ideal situation.

To everyone’s credit, we made it up to the saddle. At 10:40pm no less. We got to work setting up camp under the stars. Once our tents were set up and we had settled in, I took the opportunity to take in where we were. We were camping at 6600ft in the heart of the North Cascades. Was it worth it? I like to think so, though I would not make the same decision again.

Everything is so spectacular on such a grand scale. No picture or video will do it’s majestic beauty justice. I don’t know if I can come up with words to describe the sheer beauty of where we were. All I know is that when I was standing on that ridge, gazing out at the surrounding mountains illuminated purely by the thousands of stars that filled the clear night sky, I had a burning desire to be able to share that moment with someone special. I have no idea how long I stood out there, but I will hold on to that timeless moment for as long as I can. 

I finally retreated to our tent (Sharing tents with strangers is fun!). When I woke up in the morning, the sun was out and I had a peaceful morning looking around and taking in the spectacular views. Eventually we boiled some water, ate breakfast and got ready for what I imagined was going to be a spectacular day of riding. Golden Horn, our original destination was up over this little 500ft knoll, and a bit of a tour out along a ridge, skirting past Snowy Lakes. I was fresh and ready to go. I broke trail up the knoll, not really looking back or stopping to take a break. The Knoll was perfectly situated in the mountains such that it offered a breathtaking panoramic view. Thankfully I had about a half hour to sit and take pictures while I waited for the rest of our crew to finish the hike (I ended up hiking down to them and then back up, setting in a bootpack up the last 50 feet). Here’s a couple of pictures from the knoll, that hopefully give a sense of the view.

Once we were all at the top, it was decision time. Looking out at the Horn, it was still a decent tour and would make for a long day for some of us. The girl in our group decided it was in her best interest to ski back down the knoll to our camp, and then the two of us could continue on. Unfortunately, as soon as she left, I remembered that she had on my goggles, due to losing her sunglasses on the hike in the day before. I was not about to ride the horn without my goggles. The other guy wasn’t in a hurry and did not object when I asked if I could ride down and grab them from her (I made in back in a half hour). It was actually a blessing in disguise. The snow on the knoll was fantastic, and while 500ft isn’t much, it was worth it. So I grabbed my goggles and headed back up. 
When I got to the top (again) we decided to alter the plan. Matt was feeling pretty tired and not particularly inclined to make the trek out to the horn. Also, we decided it was in our best interest to call the trip a day early. We still had to navigate down the face we had booted up the night before and none of us wanted to do it in the morning when it was going to be hard as ice. New Plan.

Matt would chill on the knoll, while I hiked up Mount Hardy. There was a fun looking line right off of the ridge that was easily viewable from our camp and the knoll, and we both felt comfortable in me hiking it alone. The snow was feeling stable and I would be in view the whole time. So, I took off down the knoll again (another fantastic run) and began the tour up Mount Hardy. I am not going to lie, it was a little further away than I was expecting. The lure of the wide-open face and fresh snow was enough to drive me on. 

Again, the view from the top was spectacular (surprised?). I didn’t stay long to enjoy it though because we were now on a schedule and none of us wanted to have to pull out our headlamps again on the way out. So, I strapped on my board and proceeded to have the single best run on my life out in the backcountry. The snow was a nice spring corn that is a blast to turn on. The entire face was open and completely smooth. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. 

By the time I made it back to camp, the others had started to pack up. I was a little sad to be leaving so soon, but at the same time grateful to be getting back. We still had one last adventure we had to deal with. The ride out was by no means straightforward. The face we climbed the night before was littered with tight trees and was fairly steep. On top of that, we still had a couple miles of skinning back to the car after that. I don’t need to get in to the details here, but it was a long process getting out. One that involved pulling others out of numerous tree wells and more or less teaching someone how to ski wet snow with a pack on (they still need lots of practice). We were all thrilled when we finally made it to the car. 

This trip was amazing. Sure it had its ups and downs, but that is part of the adventure. It was definitely a learning experience but totally worth it. 

The best part is, thanks to getting back a day early, I was able to go on another tour Sunday…

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The Start of Backpacking Season

May 10, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Backpacking, in May? You might think I am crazy to think about going backpacking this early in the year, especially considering the fantastic snowpack that doesn’t look like it will be melting out anytime soon. Well, my typical online resources for planning trips seem to agree that it is indeed too early to start backpacking, unless of course you are looking to hike in the snow.

Well, my friend just quit her job, sparking an unplanned but highly welcomed, two-week vacation and somehow the stars lined up right and I found myself with a week of very little grad school responsibilities and virtually no class. Therefore, we opted to make the best of our time off and planned a very last minute trip.

When I say last minute, I mean we met Monday afternoon, picked a hike and left to start packing so that we would be ready to leave the following morning. We hadn’t really looked into the hike at all and I still needed new hiking boots (a rat decided my old boot was a fantastic place to make a nest and the tongue, when shredded, makes excellent bedding). So around midnight, I finally decided to look up info about the hike we were planning on doing in the morning and was sorely disappointed to discover that the area, while known for its abundance of wildflowers, was more suited for offroading than hiking, and was also a giant wind farm. I decided to call an audible and find somewhere else.

I think it was a good decision. We ended up heading out to Lena Lake, a well established camping area a mere three miles from the trailhead in the Olympic National Forest. Perfect, because the lake is situated at about 3000 ft, just shy of the current snow level. On top of that, there was another lake, Upper Lena Lake that was another 4 miles in, though the trail was reported as snowy. So, it was an easy hike in, with the potential for a fun day hike past the camp site.

As it turns out, Lena Lake is an incredibly popular hike, and for good reason. Lena is a pretty lake, nestled in the Olympics and is on the way to the basecamp for the Brothers (a couple of peaks that apparently are visible from the U-District on a nice day). While we only saw a couple of day hikers on our trip, making May an ideal time to do this quick trip if you are looking for solitude, the remnants of the crowds were still present. There was trash and broken glass littered throughout the camp sites, which was a little disappointing, but it wasn’t bad enough to detract from the beauty of the location.

We made an earnest attempt at hiking to Upper Lena Lake. But our attempt was doomed from the start. As is expected when camping in the Olympics, we woke up to a nice rain, making neither of us want to get out of our tents. After a late breakfast, we headed off — only to find ourselves right back at our camp site after 15 minutes of hiking. It turns out there were two trailheads for Upper Lena and one poorly labeled intersection. Needless to say, we picked wrong. Attempt two was a little better, though we started hitting snow about a mile in. We kept trudging along for a while, but post-holing every step started to get a little old and the trail was getting harder to follow.  Eventually, we hit the toe of a slide path, couldn’t easily discern where the trail went, and decided to turn back. It would have been nice to reach the second lake, but we weren’t really feeling up to the challenge and were content with enjoying the nice break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Part of the allure of Lena Lake is the established campsites (they have bathrooms! Both a men’s and women’s room!). But also the diversity of the scenery. Surrounding the lake is a handful of waterfalls, mountains, and some cliffs that look fun to jump off of. All in all, a fun area, and way better than hiking through a wind-farm on a jeep road looking at flowers. Here’s a couple more pics for your viewing pleasure.

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