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Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Second big hike in a row with no mountain goat sightings. Do you think it’s me?

I hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness for three days and two nights with my boyfriend. Our timing was uncanny, and we were up there during the only three rainy days in between sunny weeks either side. Though I went up into the mountains seeking profound vistas, thankfully I was able to see the beauty in front of me when the vistas were obscured by fog.

We began at the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and hiked to a bypass trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the trailhead it was pleasantly warm (in the 60s) and there was a beam or two of sunshine. I photographed a lake and crammed my mouth full of ripe huckleberries that loaded the bushes on both sides of the trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.

Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.

Candy!

Candy!

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

The trail climbed about 2000 feet to the place we chose for our campsite. The rain set in as soon as we unloaded our gear, and it gradually picked up as the night went on. Since everything was wet, we were comfortable starting a fire. We hovered over the warmth that night and during the next couple days. Temperatures cooled to near 32 at night (0 Celcius) and warmed to the middle 40s during the day.

As is my tradition, I brought the fixins for delicious meals and was so delighted to have a climbing partner to share the weight. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes! It was so light, my pack barely caught my attention. The first night we had Salmon Curry Couscous, a new meal I tried out that turned out great and was a snap to put together. We set down our dishes and within minutes a mouse arrived to investigate. The mouse left right away: not a fan of curry, I suppose.

For breakfast we had hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies. Another meal was Bacon Carbonara (with angel hair so it cooks quickly), we had Margaret’s famous baked brie in brown sugar and red wine with dried apricots, and on the final day we had burritos that I had designed as a cold meal to eat on the way out, but since we were so cold I cooked the refried beans and D toasted the tortillas. Tortillas are packed flat against the back of the pack to keep them in one piece on the trail. We enjoyed fresh avocado of course! The trick to bringing produce is to bring it unripened. The firmness protects the fruit and after a couple days it’s ready to eat!

Preparing the pasta

Preparing the pasta

Mouse finds the entrance

Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night

Campsite the first night

Bear grass was everywhere!

Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

The second day we climbed north on the PCT toward Old Snowy Mountain, which I climbed a few years ago. However, the rain and cold slowed us down and there were no views to be had. I couldn’t even tell which direction to look for Old Snowy; it was likely right above us. I was discouraged. The last time I was on this trail, the weather was much more cooperative, and no matter where I hiked or which direction I faced, the views of mountains blew me away. It was the most impressive thing about being here. So on my return trip, I sort of had it locked into my brain that unless I saw a view, I was not really at Goat Rocks. Often our visibility ranged from 20 to 100 feet, and I remained disappointed until the splendid and rare scenes in front of my face got through and slapped me around a little bit: LOOK! Look at this!

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

We wandered through meadows and found scene after scene of astonishingly beautiful wildflowers in full view despite the fog. We discovered a huge spring where water literally bubbled up like a fountain, and in other places poured out of cracks in the earth. At the trail there was no creek, but twenty feet down the hill was a creek bigger than the one on my property. That’s how much water burst from the lush green hillside.

It was fun to talk to the through hikers. Those are the ones who stay on the PCT for months, doing sections and sometimes the entire length of it. We met several of them, as August is a good time of year to travel through this section: recently cleared of snow. You could spot the through hikers because they were dirty and seemed weary. Or, maybe, not as thrilled with the wildflowers as I was, having probably seen them for a month already. They were consistently humble, the ones I met, downplaying their feat of endurance, insisting that they had “only” been on the trail six weeks, or that they were “only” hiking the Oregon and Washington sections.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

In enjoyed this phenomena very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

In enjoyed this phenomenon very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.

Here, spring water simply gushes from the hill. Fog lends an otherworldly quality to the horizon scene.

We didn’t stay out long, and were tempted to go back to camp where we could have a fire and get warm again. Upon our return, we found that other campers had vacated a great spot on the edge of a cliff. If we were there, even if the clouds only lifted for 2 minutes, I would get a little bit of a view. Hee hee. We moved our camp and had a new fire roaring in no time. Typically I try to avoid fires in the mountains in August. As you all know, wildfires are nothing to mess around with and I never want to tempt fate. But on this occasion, everything was soaked and I was supremely confident that the forest would not burn due to a flying ember.

That evening a troop of Boy Scouts came in and were considering a camp site right next to ours. We promptly and “helpfully” directed them to the campsite we had vacated the night before, which is up the hill and completely out of sight from where we were. “And it has a stream!” added my boyfriend, trying to sell it while he had the chance. They took the bait and moved on. The Scouts brought a mule named Sadie, and we spent a lot of time talking with Sadie and her elderly master, Bob, who had been hiking this mountain for 30 or 40 years. It was interesting to hear him talk about changes that had occurred. He referred to the trails by their old names, and I had to mentally scramble to keep up with which trails he was talking about.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Bob took Sadie out to the meadow next to us to let her graze, and right then the sun came out. Such a lovely gift for the evening. (Isn’t it a sign, when I can clearly remember each time the sun came out?) We went out to pat the mule and let the old man talk. He was a heck of a talker. In among the words though, he mentioned a nearby waterfall that sounded impressive. We got directions (south on the PCT, instead of north, as we had traveled that day) and decided to hike there in the morning.

The theory was (well, at least this is the Pollyanna spin I was giving myself) that a waterfall is going to be entertaining in the fog. Sparkling, loud, exciting, wet, interesting…waterfalls are always a win. So in the light morning rain we packed our day hike gear again and traveled and chatted and made our way through the fog. My boyfriend is almost obsessed with Trump news, and we enjoy sharing our theories on what in the world is going on here in the states. How does Trump come up with the crazy stuff he says? How can so many Republicans say “Yes, his comments are often out of line and intolerable, but I’m going to vote for him anyway.” D can’t stand Hillary, like much of the country, and I harbor bitter thoughts that America is misogynistic as hell, and suspect that as racist as some of us can be, even a black man is a better choice than a woman. But I don’t say that out loud.

And before we know it, there’s the waterfall! And it was just what I had hoped for: large, loud, exiting, beautiful.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

We climbed around on the rocks and talked to through hikers for a half an hour or so, and suddenly the skies opened up. I gasped out loud “Oh!” And we spent another hour there, watching the clouds lift up and sink down, revealing a different piece of paradise each time. I found myself thinking of the story of Heidi, who goes to live with her grandpa in the mountains. This was a final and perfect gift from the Wilderness, before it was time to hike back down the hill.

The headwaters of the Cispis River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

The headwaters of the Cispus River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

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The sun and Snow Creek Wall put on one last show for me by way of goodbye.

The sun and Snow Creek Wall put on one last show for me by way of goodbye.

A rock spire on the side of Snow Creek Wall is lit by the slanting rays of the sun as I descend into the canyon.

A rock spire on the side of Snow Creek Wall is lit by the slanting rays of the sun as I descend into the canyon.

I rose with as much leisure as possible, and waited for the sun to dry everything out before I packed. It was another glorious day in The Enchantments, and I was so reluctant to leave. Finally I began the 4000 foot drop back down to civilization.

Every bit of the trail was as beautiful as it was on the way up. I took lots of breaks because my bad knee was complaining. I would sit on one of the many available granite boulders, and gaze in admiration at the world around me. I passed one point in the trail where rustling leaves caught my attention. I first took a photo, then realized what was so beautiful about the spot was the sound, and not the image. So then I took a video. A couple of hikers came up while I was filming. I held up a finger for them to stay back till I finished. They got very excited and looked intently up the hill to discover what wildlife I had discovered. Then I stopped the video and disappointed them when I explained, “No wildlife, just rustling Aspen leaves.”

It looks sort of pretty, but this photo does not convey the magical sound.

It looks sort of pretty, but this photo does not convey the magical sound.

Lots of people passed me on the way up, which was a mystery until I recalled that it was Friday, and guessed that Seattle people were likely getting an early start on weekend hiking. They asked me lots of questions about trail conditions, campsites, and goats. I tried to encourage them by telling them about the trail ahead in the best possible way. “You’re at least half way to the lake!”

A bracket fungus captured my attention while I was resting.

A bracket fungus captured my attention while I was resting.

At the bottom of the hill the parking lot was jammed, compared to the empty lot I had seen Tuesday morning. Yet another affirmation for hiking popular trails during the week. I dumped my dirty smelly pack into the back of the Jeep and grabbed some clean clothes to bring up front with me – for changing in the first bathroom I could find. I plugged in my phone, and it started beeping it’s little heart out as battery life and cell signal brought in all the texts and phone messages I had missed.

One key phone message was from human resources. Yes! I got a promotion. A new job, more accurately. Since it’s government, there is no such thing as promotion in that someone says “Hey Crystal, you’re doing well and we’ve decided to pay you more,” because that could be unfair. So, when a different position became available, I submitted my resume and supporting documents, went through an interview, and was selected for the position.

Pros: higher salary, completely new job within VA that I get to learn and thus will stay interested in work, good career move, good retirement move since my retirement pay will be based on my highest salary.

Cons: I have to change my schedule from compressed to five days a week, and commute to the office every day while I’m in training. Drive to work. Every day. Cuz…remember I live on Jupiter now. I’m out beyond public transportation, and I do not drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and I’ll have to pay for parking smack downtown. Bluh. ….but it’s an investment in my future, right?

I get to bury myself ever more deeply into veterans disability claims and with this new position I will be able to help them more than ever before. That makes me really happy.

I was so eager to get home that I decided to make the 4 1/2 hour drive rather than find a hotel. I texted Tech Support, who was house-sitting, and let him know I was on my way. He texted back that the chickens had been loose during the week, but all was well at the moment (Someone must have told them they could fly. I was trying to keep that a secret.) He left the heat and lights on so when I arrived in the middle of the night, the place was so welcoming. 🙂

He also left me with this memento, taken from my place while I was gone:

The starry sky from Crystal's place. Photo credit: Tech Support, friend, chicken-catcher and house-sitter.

The starry sky from Crystal’s place. Photo credit: Tech Support, friend, chicken-catcher and house-sitter.

An apple from my tree.

An apple from my tree.

My piece of land is growing on me as she changes her clothes for the season. I have decided there simply aren’t enough colours out there for a proper Autumn view, and I will plant trees with this in mind, so I can enjoy them in future years. There are a few maples turning colours though, and I have been able to capture a few photos of them. It has begun raining again, and the creek level is rising. The pond is still too low and I’ve talked to a neighbor who has a pump and generator, who may be able to lend it to me to restore my little puddle to something more pond like. I’ve harvested apples from my two apple trees and made a pie. The deer eat what I haven’t had a chance to pick up off the ground. I feel more assured when I can walk around and take stock and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. I suppose I’m becoming more of a country girl with each day.

Creek level is rising again.

Creek level is rising again.

A new creek view, available due to some heavy pruning of this big cedar that was dropping branches to the water.

A new creek view, available due to some heavy pruning of this big cedar that was dropping branches to the water.

One of the few maples painting my land red.

One of the few maples painting my land red.

A view up toward the house from down where I'm building a bonfire pile.

A view up toward the house from down where I’m building a bonfire pile.

Distracted by a spider (but you can still see the red in the background). Isn't the colouring gorgeous?

Distracted by a spider (but you can still see the red in the background). Aren’t the patterns on the abdomen gorgeous?

I can't resist red. So yummy.

I can’t resist red. So yummy.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake. At 8364 feet, it’s still one of the shorter peaks in the area.

I was much warmer my second night. Maybe it was warmer outside, maybe I chose a warmer spot (in the trees and protected), maybe I’m just getting used to the cold. I dreamed for the second night in a row about people having houses at the top of impossibly steep and treacherous driveways. Isn’t that the funniest thing?

Stars up here blow me away. There are so many stars it’s like a glistening sheet of sparkles, with a few black patches. There are so many stars that I can barely pick out the constellations. There is simply too much going on, light everywhere, the Milky Way busting through the middle of it all. I wish it wasn’t so bleeping cold out, so I could just lie on my back and fall up into the marvelous sky.

Last night there was something barking out in the dried up swamp area beside my camp (remember the cracked mud photo from the last post?). It’s a nice-sized bay, but dry because the lake is so low. Chipmunks are having their family reunions out there and it’s bustling with grassy activity. Anyway, I’m asleep in my tent and I hear a bark. And another. I’m instantly on high-alert, because, you know: wilderness. A bark out here should be high-pitched, like a coyote, but this is low-pitched and throaty, like a large domestic dog. Better yet, it sounded like a seal. And repetitive like a seal: bark, bark, bark, bark. I could not sleep. It went on for at least 20 minutes and I thought I wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night, but then it seemed to get tired of the game. I heard, “bark! bark. …. bark…. hoooo. whooo hooo.” It was an owl! All that time I was wondering what unspeakable beast was out there, and it was just a crazy owl. Interested in the reunions, I imagine.

I was *SO* fired up this morning that my coffee and sausage and eggs were old news by 8 am. I left my tent and took only a day pack with water and snacks, and was on the other side of the lake again in no time and – since I went farther than the first time – found a beautiful camp site beside a creek, only 50 feet past the spot I stopped looking the day before. Wouldn’t you know it? Ah well, too late now.

Whoah! What a sky.

Whoah! What a sky.

Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.

Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.

Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Thank goodness for no pack because today the real climbing began! I am talking scrambling straight up the side of granite boulders. That kind of climbing. Wowzers. Ok, so I do not like heights, and I do not like scramble trails, and I am scared of crossing bare-faced rock. But I was in the mood for adventure, so despite remarking aloud to myself many times, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is for real?” I went right on ahead like a trooper.

I climbed 1300 feet in elevation from that beautiful camp site to the shore of Lake Viviane. There was not always a “trail” per se, but rather rock cairns. In the beginning I loved the cairns for showing me the true path. Later, I cursed them soundly when I spotted them. “You cannot be serious! I have to climb THAT?!”

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?

The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes - despite the warning signs - the

The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes – despite the warning signs – the “trail” is this way.

Cairn says,

Cairn says, “Yes, Crystal, the trail crosses 30 feet of bare granite. Step on those bits of rebar if it makes you feel safer.”

I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can't believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can't call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can’t believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can’t call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

Finally, I was there. I was so grateful. A man and his son were eating lunch on the shore of Lake Viviane when I arrived. They told me that just up over the hill, at Leprechaun Lake, there was a billy goat resting in the shade. They had come from that direction only minutes ago.

The Core Enchantments area is known to be full of mountain goats. My pre-hike research set my expectations so high. I totally expected to see a goat. So, all full of confidence and smug satisfaction, off I marched in the direction they pointed, and was determined to get at least one shot. I didn’t care if it was out of focus, far in the distance, whatever. Be vewwwy vewwy quiet. I’m hunting goat.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their proper names.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their official names.

The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.

The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.

The water is this clear! Look at this. I am standing on a rock far above this little guy. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s this clear! I am standing on a rock far above this little guy, who appears to be floating in air. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s a really quick trip from Viviane to Leprechaun Lake. It’s less than half a mile and hardly any elevation to speak of. Maybe 200 feet. I began looking for the goat, while simultaneously realizing that if one’s natural body colour is off-white, this would be a really awesome place to hide.

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.

Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.

At least there were no horrible cairns. Look at this trail. Wouldn't you expect it to look like this at Leprechaun Lake?

I found this trail perfectly suited for a lake named Leprechaun.

Not knowing the area, I set off immediately on the wrong trail. I was supposed to be back-tracking the path where the men saw the goat, but instead I was following a little goat path myself, around the wrong side of the lake. I walked a good half mile and never saw a goat. I never realized my mistake until I finally lost the trail and turned around in frustration and returned to the beginning. And there, it was clear as day, on the other side of the lake. By this time an hour had passed. I hurried along the trail and passed a few people. “Have you seen a goat? There is supposed to be one here.” They had not. I reached tiny Sprite Lake and took my boots off to cool my feet in the water.

A hiker came up and pulled out his fly rod and began fishing while we chatted in the warm sunshine. It was blissful, and my disappointment and frustration from the goatlessness of it all eventually faded away.

There are lots more lakes. Really close to that spot, too. But my day had been so close to perfect that I knew there was no sense in asking for more. While I talked to the fisherman, the sun dropped and shadows were getting longer. I had eaten enough dried apricots and trail mix to suit me, and I wanted real food, which was down the hill. I put on my socks and boots and back across all those rocks I went.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.

There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.

Where I grew up in Idaho, these are called Tamarack. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.

I learned to love these when I lived in Idaho. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.

Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.

Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.

Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Looking down onto Nada Lake, I see the sun has finally touched the spot where my tent was. Too late Mother Nature! I got tired of waiting for you and moved on.

Looking down onto Nada Lake, I see the sun has finally touched the spot where my tent was. Too late Mother Nature! I got tired of waiting for you and moved on.

My night was soooooo cold, even though I finally bought a new sleeping bag for this trip. I don’t have a thermometer, so I do not know the low temp. The forecast was for mid-30s, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the 20s. My old sleeping bag is rated to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but it has lost much of it’s down and warmth. It will be my summer bag now.

In the morning I unzipped the tent and little snowshowers fell as ice broke from the zipper. I hopped around shivering while I made my first cup of coffee, then carried the cup back and got into the sleeping bag to read a book while I waited for it to warm up a little. After an hour, it began raining inside the tent. It wasn’t until I packed up the tent that I saw why: my body heat had caused condensation between the rain cover and the tent itself. Then, that layer of moisture had frozen into thin strips of ice all over the top of the tent! As the day warmed, the ice was melting onto me.

The best way I could think to get warm was to start hiking again, so off I went, wet gear and all.

Luckily there were more switchbacks right away. Ha! Who would have thought I would say “luckily there were switchbacks?” Soon I was in the sunshine and high above my little peninsula. Soon after that, I could feel my feet again.

I took this picture for you: so you could see how steep the climb is between Nada Lake and the Snow Lakes.

I took this picture for you: so you could see how steep the climb is between Nada Lake and the Snow Lakes.

It was a climb of only 500 feet in less than two miles to reach my next camp site, so a super easy climb day for me on Wednesday. I had planned to go the extra mile (heh heh – literally and figuratively) to camp on the far end of Upper Snow Lake, which is as far as my permit would allow. However, once I arrived at the lake, I saw that I would not be able to access the water, and I need water in camp.

The trail reaches both the Upper and Lower Snow Lakes at the same time, as it comes out between them. I passed between the two lakes by walking on a stone wall built by the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. There is an aqueduct that runs underground from Upper Snow Lake into Nada Lake, and this is opened as needed. The water is used to keep the valley streams flushed with cold water in the hot summer months to keep the salmon population healthy, and is also used on crops by farmers. I have never seen a mountain lake drained in this way, and it’s disconcerting to see. It is far too low for a human to attempt getting close enough to touch the water in Upper Snow Lake. I am curious as to whether the lake refills to the top each season, or if what I saw is the result of drought.

Upper Snow Lake - drastically diminished due to feeding the crops and salmon in the valley.

McClellan Peak rises above Upper Snow Lake. The water level is drastically diminished due to feeding the crops and salmon in the valley.

Lower Snow Lake is at normal levels, since it is not part of the Fish Hatchery system.

Lower Snow Lake is at normal levels, since it is not part of the Fish Hatchery system.

The dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes doubles as part of the trail.

The dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes doubles as part of the trail.

Ice beside the stone wall shows that it was still cold even after I reached the Snow Lakes.

Ice beside the stone dam shows that it was still cold at the Snow Lakes.

Lower Snow Lake had plenty of water, so I stopped between the two. I happily dumped my heavy pack in the shade (to keep the perishable food cold). Not quite ready to decide my campsite, I set up the tent so that the sunshine would melt the remaining ice and dry it out. Then I grabbed my camera and followed the trail to the end of the lake, looking for a campsite closer to the trail that would lead up to the higher lakes.

I walked to the other side of the lake (references say it is either 1 mile or 1 1/2 miles to the end of the lake, so that gives you a sense), but found no campsites with water access. I did, however, find other things that amused me. I had been passing multiple signs stating “toilet” with an arrow, and this struck me as highly unusual that someone would take the trouble to construct a toilet at 5500 feet in the mountains. I followed one of the trails and found one.

A mountain toilet. You lift the lid, and sure enough there it is! I find this hilarious... though probably necessary in this very popular wilderness area that fills with inexperienced hikers every summer.

A mountain toilet. You lift the lid, and sure enough there it is! I find this hilarious… though probably necessary in this very popular wilderness area that fills with inexperienced hikers every summer.

I also was delighted to see a few pikas and what is likely the first ptarmigan I have ever seen. Dogs were banned from this trail in 1982 in an attempt to bring back ptarmigan populations.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

I took a dozen photos of this lovely bird. However, the light was very low and it would not hold still, so most are too blurry to use.

I took a dozen photos of this lovely bird. However, the light was very low and it would not hold still, so most are too blurry to use.

A fascinating fungus.

A fascinating fungus.

Bleached white log beside the aqua-coloured water that was continually captivating to me.

Bleached white log beside the aqua-coloured water that was continually captivating to me.

The view from the far end of the lake, back toward the stone dam, near where my tent is pitched.

The view from the far end of the lake, back toward the stone dam, near where my tent is pitched.

Once I decided I would have to camp back at the other end of the lake, I turned around and made the trek back to camp. I organized my gear, read more in my book, climbed around rocks and beaches, and generally enjoyed myself. The chipmunks and whiskey jacks were distinctly interested in me, and like all the other misbehaving outdoor adventurers they had met before: I shared a few peanuts with them. Yes, do not follow my example folks. Feeding the wildlife: very bad behavior.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

An area that would be underwater if Upper Snow Lake were properly full. The cracked mud makes interesting patterns.

An area that would be underwater if Upper Snow Lake were properly full. The cracked mud makes interesting patterns.

Another pika. Cuteness.

Another pika. Cuteness.

A woodpecker pecks only on the shaded side of the tree - specifically to thwart my photography efforts.

A woodpecker pecks only on the shaded side of the tree – specifically to thwart my photography efforts.

Whisky Jack says,

Whiskey Jack (aka Grey Jay )says, “Yo! Toss me something good to eat, lady!” When I didn’t, he hopped all around me as I sat on a rock, eyeing my clothing for crumbs.

The chipmunks and whiskey jacks mounted a joint attack force and my resistance was futile. I shared my peanuts to their great appreciation.

The chipmunks and whiskey jacks mounted a joint attack force and my resistance was futile. I shared my peanuts to their great appreciation.

Though marijuana use is now legal in both Oregon and Washington... this is the high I'm after.

Though marijuana use is now legal in both Oregon and Washington… this is the high I’m after.

Before I left, I told my neighbors I would be gone all week, and by way of explanation I said, “The reason I work is so that I can hike.” It’s only a small exaggeration. Aside from taking care of Tara, and having a house to call home base, the reason I have a job is so that I can save up vacation days and then pay for my play time. Two things top the list titled Play Time: 1) travel, 2) backpacking.

I reluctantly left my comfortable-as-a-cloud hotel mattress behind me in Leavenworth, Washington, ate breakfast at Kristall’s (with a name like that, I had to), and found the trailhead in 15 minutes. I was on the trail by 8:20 am and in no time I had left civilization well behind me.

Looking from the first set of switchbacks toward the western edge of the town of Leavenworth, and the road to the trail head.

Looking from the first set of switchbacks toward the western edge of the town of Leavenworth, and the road to the trail head.

I climbed 3500 feet in elevation in about 5 1/2 miles to Nada Lake – the one you see pictured at the top. There were so many switchbacks climbing up and up and up. On this trip, unlike last year’s, my spirits were soaring, the weather was amazing, and the sights along the trail were constantly photo-worthy. Yes, it was a rough climb, and I was tired, but not discouraged at all.

This is called the Snow Creek Wall, and is popular with rock climbers. On my way up, and back down, I looked carefully, but did not see any climbers on the wall itself, though I did see climbers making their way through the valley back to the trail.

This is called the Snow Creek Wall, and is popular with rock climbers. On my way up, and back down, I looked carefully, but did not see any climbers on the wall itself, though I did see climbers making their way through the valley back to the trail.

Funny thing about the higher elevations: Spring comes so late that Fall overtakes her. Here fireweed continues to bloom, while Autumn turns the leaves orange.

Funny thing about the higher elevations: Spring comes so late that Fall overtakes her. Here fireweed continues to bloom, while Autumn turns the leaves orange.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

What month is it? It's the month for oranges and reds and yellows!

What month is it? It’s the month for oranges and reds and yellows!

Cedar trees reach their fingers out to soak up a bit of Snow Creek.

Cedar trees reach their fingers out to soak up a bit of Snow Creek.

I gave myself a break and stayed the first night at Nada Lake. I have not been able to hike all year, and I also have not been exercising regularly. I wanted to be smart about this and save some reserves for the days ahead, since pushing too hard out of day-one-excitement can lead to injuries.

For my campsite I chose a cute little peninsula that I assume is usually below water, based on the signs of lake level around the shores. It’s the end of the season, which means water levels are at their lowest.

As soon as I spotted this peninsula jutting into Nada Lake, I knew I wanted to camp there. Look at the incredible aqua blue of this lake - isn't it remarkable?

As soon as I spotted this peninsula jutting into Nada Lake, I knew I wanted to camp there. Look at the incredible aqua blue of this lake – isn’t it remarkable?

While searching for a way to get to the peninsula, I took off my pack and gazed up at the far end of Nada Lake. Look at my pack there, on her back with her legs curled above her like a dead beetle.

While searching for a way to get to the peninsula, I took off my pack and gazed up at the far end of Nada Lake. Look at my pack there, on her back with her legs curled above her like a dead beetle.

Home Sweet Home. It was as splendid as I imagined it. Who needs a designated camp site?

Home Sweet Home. It was as splendid as I imagined it. Who needs a designated camp site?

I had loads of late afternoon sunshine, so I took my time and cooked up a nice meal for an early supper. I’ve mentioned before that I eat well when I’m camping. The down side is that my food weight is higher than most reasonable back packers. The up side is that… well… I eat really well! And, I always carry wine with me, because one must celebrate her accomplishments, and I like to celebrate with wine.

My supplies for my first supper: Thai curry with chicken, fresh broccoli and mushrooms.

My supplies for my first supper: Thai curry (yes, I used coconut milk) with chicken, fresh broccoli and mushrooms. There are apricots in the photo too, but I did not use them.

Finished product! It hit the spot. Once I cleaned my plate and everything settled, I filled the plate and ate this much again! ha ha

Finished product! It hit the spot. Once I cleaned my plate and everything settled, I filled the plate and ate this much again! ha ha

Wednesday night I had pasta with alfredo sauce, sausage, and sundried tomatoes. I did not bring milk for the alfredo, but with powdered milk, real butter and pre-grated parmesan, that sauce was mouth-watering despite being made with lake water. I use a lot of water camping, and I just boil all the nasties out of it, so it’s safe. In 15 years of back packing, I have not yet been sick from the water, so I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right. I had originally intended to make the alfredo and pasta with chicken, but I was not in the mood for chicken on a second night and opted for sausage instead.

Thursday night I had burritos with rice, refried beans, pre-sauteed onions, cheese, salsa and fresh avocado. There are no photos because I got back to camp late and ate in the dark. I discovered that chipmunks love avocado, when I accidentally left one half of the shell outside by the camp stove overnight, and in the morning found it spotlessly clean with teensy tinsy teeth marks all over it. The avocado trick I learned from back packing mentor M, who took me on my very first trip ever, in 2000. M showed me that if you pick a rock-hard avocado in the store, and carry it for a few days in your pack, it’s perfect!

Before I left I baked cookies packed with things from the pantry: chocolate chips, dried cranberries, oatmeal and walnuts. I also boiled eggs. So several breakfasts were hardboiled eggs and cookies and coffee. I always bring Peets coffee (my fave brand). One morning I had sausage and scrambled eggs from real eggs that I carried. Unfortunately the container I chose to store the eggs were not leakproof, and for the rest of the trip I had a bit of raw egg on the packaging of my other food items. Ah well. I typically melt the Tillamook cheese over the eggs, but it was 34 degrees that morning and the heat would not have been maintained long enough to melt the cheese. I had to scarf it down while the eggs were still warm.

A word on dishes. The blue plate came along not simply because the cobalt blue enamel is lovely and makes my food taste better. The plate is perfectly sized as a lid for both the deeper pot, and the shallower pan that I brought. The pot is for boiling water mainly, but having multiple dishes allows me to store one cooked item while cooking the second item. You can see my entire dish selection below: one pot, one pan, one plate, one cup, one fork, one spoon. I also bring one sharp knife that can be used for food as well as for cutting rope or branches as needed.

Cleaning dishes in the mountains is an endeavor. First of all I try to avoid using soap if at all possible. It is good for killing bacteria and thus is not good for the environment. Scoop a little stream or lake water into your dish, and add a handful of sand. Use your hands to scour, then dump the dirty water well away from the shore. Since it was so bitterly cold in the evenings and mornings on this trip, I was forced to heat the water to make that process effective. Using sand is amazingly effective. You won’t believe it till you try it. The two meals with sausage, I had to use Dr. Bronner’s soap because of all the fat left behind. You want to use the mildest, most quickly biodegradable soap you can bring, and always dump the water well away from the shore, and not onto plants.

Alright, that’s my public service message for the day. Tune in next time for the rest of the trip!

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

The final meal. The pasta has a dark colour because I boiled it in the same pan in which I cooked the sausage. That made the water brown, but oh so flavourful.

The final meal. The pasta has a dark colour because I boiled it in the same pan in which I cooked the sausage. That made the water brown, but oh so flavourful.

Roughing it? Says who? I do breakfasts too. Here you see the remainder of the sausage, scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and coffee (in the coffee/wine/alfredo all-purpose tin cup).

Roughing it? Says who? I do breakfasts too. Here you see the remainder of the sausage, scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and coffee (in the coffee/wine/alfredo all-purpose tin cup).

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

When I broke camp I had only a few miles left to go, but also the most difficult part of the trail ahead of me. Since I’m out of shape compared to previous years, I intentionally chose an easy trail. However, the last 2 1/2 miles climb nearly 2000 feet to Grizzly Meadows.

Steep elevation climbs bring the views and the waterfalls that make it all worth the trouble. In no time I was marveling at Thompson Peak holding court at 9000 feet among the shorter, but just as spectacular, peaks nearby. Glaciers on the north face are each noted to be 2 miles across, but the map needs some updating because the snow fields are now tiny. I could only identify one glacier, so perhaps the second is gone forever.

Two fabulously gorgeous and athletic hikers refilled their water bottles at China Creek with me. I contemplated the unfairness of it all: gay men can be some of the most attractive humans on the planet, and they get to hook up with each other. D’oh! They were planning to summit Thompson Peak the next day, and planned to camp at the Meadows with me that night.

Falls on Grizzly Creek

Falls on Grizzly Creek. What do you see at the bottom? That’s right: swimming pool!

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

“Somewhere between the upper and lower meadow, one of the most incredible mountain vistas I’ve ever witnessed comes into view.” ~Art Bernstein, in Best Hikes of the Trinity Alps

Bernstein was not kidding. This place is amazing.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views. Grizzly Meadows in the foreground is surrounded by a shelf holding Grizzly Lake. Thompson Peak rises above it all. To see the falls, click this image for a larger version.

Pool beside my camp.

Pool beside my camp.

I found a place to set up camp beside a pool on Grizzly Creek at the base of the falls. My original intent had been to hit the scramble trail next, following cairns up the cliff. It would be another 1000 feet in one mile. At that point I was exhausted and simply didn’t have the heart for it. I had achieved 18 miles with no injuries, but I was wiped out. I imagined that a good night’s rest could give me the inspiration I needed, and spent the rest of the day playing in the meadow. I dropped my nalgene of wine into the creek to chill.

A doe lingered on the edges of my camp all afternoon. She was even skinnier than the other deer I had seen so far. I hope it means only that it’s early in the season, and not that she is starving.

After a good soaking in the pool beside my tent, in which I even unraveled my braids and let the water run through my hair, I felt good enough to climb over boulders and investigate the woodpeckers and snakes and other delights. In three days I had only one pestering blister, and I had to be grateful that I can still do this kind of thing, when many of my friends suffer with knee and shoulder and spine injuries that are forcing them to slow down in life.

In the evening I sat on a big rock in the center of the creek and let a refreshing breeze blow through my hair. I ate smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps and had a cup of wine. The chilled wine was so good I had a second cup. I had been planning to share the last of the smoked salmon with the gay men, who had camped at the lower meadows, but my hunger finally kicked in and I finished every last bit of the fish, down to licking my fingers.

The falls from Grizzly Lake

The falls from Grizzly Lake

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

This is the last mile of trail. Bernstein writes, "The trail's slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots." Ha, ha.

This is the 19th mile of trail. Bernstein writes, “The trail’s slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots.” Ha, ha.

I looked at the cliff in front of me and… felt dismay. I could not summon the spirit to climb. Though I would be able to leave the pack at the bottom, I still didn’t have the heart to go on. I suspected I wouldn’t feel any different in the morning. I was so tired. It was so hot. And I was alone. I yearned for the enthusiasm of a friend to bust out with a smile and say, “Come on, Crystal, let’s go! You can do it!” But the deer was only interested in my leftovers, and the couple were conserving their energy for the next day’s climb. It had been nice to relax for hours, and I went to sleep feeling good, despite my misgivings.

The next morning the only thing on my mind was going home. I watched the orange sunrise light up the peaks and then drip down the steep slopes. I put my leftover oatmeal on a rock for the doe. I wished the guys a good climb as I passed their camp (btw, gay men are still gorgeous, even when you catch them brushing their teeth in a creek). Before the sun even touched the meadow I was on my way out. I took more photos.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

Gray squirrel looks at me

Gray squirrel looks at me

Ponderosa pine cones

Huge Ponderosa pine cones

The remarkable bark of a Madrone tree.

Remarkable bark of a Madrone

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

It took me two days to get back to the trailhead. I was disappointed to have been so close to the lake and then let it slip away. But by then I had other things to be excited about, because once I got out of the mountains I would be heading to the coast to pick up my kid from her dad’s house. Instead of thinking of my missed opportunity, I thought about how great it would be to see Tara again.

Let me tell you, on day five this sight was aaaaalllmost as awesome as Grizzly Meadows:

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Yes, I’m a nature girl, and yes I love the modern world. I’m a woman of complexity, what can I say? The Jeep seemed the epitome of luxury, with cushioned seats, AC, and satellite radio. I admit the stereo was blaring The Prodigy as I wound my way back out of the Alps, grinning.

 

A butterfly examines my glasses while I splash in a creek.

A comma butterfly examines my glasses while I splash in a creek.

My destination at the end of the trail was 18 miles from the trail head, so I spent most of my vacation hiking. Lucky for me, when I have a camera in my hand, there is never a dull moment. My journey began in my last post. Day two I woke beside the North Fork of the Trinity River, and continued my trek. I was deep in the forest at this point and had no panoramic views. Instead I got personal with the world beside the trail.

One thing I love about heading in to the higher elevations during the summer is that as one climbs, the season goes back in time. In other words, I walked into Spring in the mountains, when it was the middle of Summer in the valleys. The farther I walked, the more I was surrounded by wildflowers and insects very excited about the wildflowers.

I also found bushes loaded with berries – ripe near the beginning of the trail, but still green or not yet formed at the end of the trail. What a plethora of berries this time out. Gooseberries, thimbleberries, dewberries, and Oregon grape (didn’t eat those!) all tempting me along the trail.

Fat and succulent gooseberries, looking so much like a pie-to-be.

Fat and succulent gooseberries, looking so much like a pie-to-be.

With my experience in backpacking, I could safely estimate that my pack weighed close to 6.8 thousand pounds, so I was looking for excuses to stop walking. I found that wildflowers provide a legitimate reason to stop. I also incorporated some good stretching and balance exercises, when I’d crouch down for a better angle or place one toe on a rock, or lean down a slope, or climb up a slope…. because all of these activities are required for photography. 🙂 Every movement is more of a challenge when you’re loaded down with weight.

thimbleberry

thimbleberry

dewberries

dewberries

The heat continued, day after day, and all during the nights. It was too hot to eat, and thus prevented me from relieving the weight from my pack as I intended. Typically, all the hard work of a hike makes me ravenous, but not this time. I removed every factory-sealed airtight container of food and cached it along the trail under a pile of rocks {it was still there when I came back out, and I carried it all home with me!}.

butterfly

Arizona sister

moth

I couldn’t identify this one, can you?

Certainly I ate when I could, and I gobbled the berries. Gotta keep the energy up! I’ve mentioned my taste for good food on the trail, and that is part of the reason why I had so much weight. I refuse to bring freeze-dried packets of food products. I had oranges, broccoli, and onions, and an avacado. Peets coffee, hard boiled eggs, and homemade cookies for breakfasts. Curry, soup, pasta and rice for meals. And wine for my evenings.

Nine miles from the trailhead I came across the Jorstad Cabin. The place takes one back in time, to look at it. Click here for more photos and some information behind Willard Ormand Jorstad’s cabin. He built it by hand in the 1930s and apparently lived here till the 1980s mining for gold. He also constructed a huge stone oven on the property, that now has a large campfire pit in front of it and is obviously used often by hikers when campfires are legal in this wilderness.

Cabin built by Willard Ormand Jorstad out of Douglas Fir.

Cabin built by Willard Ormand Jorstad out of Douglas Fir.

I can't tell you how deeply this image pulls at my heart. The canning jars and rusted pots out in a ramshackle shed because the house is too small, are a mirror of my childhood in north Idaho with my mom.

I can’t tell you how deeply this image pulls at my heart. The canning jars and rusted pots out in a ramshackle shed because the house is too small, are a mirror of my childhood in north Idaho with my mom.

This handsome buck in velvet enjoys some grass at Pfeiffer Flat behind the cabin. In the West we call this a 2-point. I learned in the East he is called a 4-point.

This handsome buck in velvet enjoys some grass at Pfeiffer Flat behind the cabin. In the West we call him a 2-point. In the East he is called a 4-point.

This area used to be filled with gold miners. Their work is clearly evident in piles of tailings and overburden as tall as me and 100 yards long, left behind from years of placer mining. The workers created a network of steep, narrow channels to divert creeks and thus do the work of separating the gold. These channels remain gashed into the mountain beside the trail. I assume the miners used sluice boxes, which are long trays with small ridges or mesh across the bottom. As the rushing water carries rocks and minerals through the box, the heaviest particles drop out – ideally the gold – and get caught in the riffles. As I hiked, I saw that rusted pipes and rare pieces of machinery still lay strewn about beneath the brambles.

That’s all I did that day: walked and thought and looked at stuff. Oh, and I played in the water a LOT! Carrying a 6.8 thousand-pound pack when it’s Hotter than Hades and dozens of creek crossings with delicious clear pools filled with Brook Trout has only one possible conclusion: swimming.

Many creeks and photographs later, I found a shady spot beside an unnamed creek that dropped into Grizzly Creek, and set up camp for my second night. Many hours earlier and first thing that morning, two young guys who were scouting deer in preparation for hunting season came by as I drank my morning coffee. I had not seen another human being the rest of the day.

goldenrod in the sun

goldenrod in the sun

tiger lily

tiger lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

A skink sunbathes on my overturned water shoes.

A skink sunbathes on my overturned water shoes.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

Seems like I subconsciously invite adventure into my life. Sure I plan things to do, but so often mishaps along the way turn into side stories and discoveries I would have never anticipated. Such is life with Crystal.

For starters, I planned an ambitious foray into the Trinity Alps Wilderness to coincide with picking up Tara from her dad’s house in McKinleyville, California. The Alps are in northern California between Mt. Shasta and the ocean. I packed the Dragon Wagon 2 (My Saturn Dragon Wagon recently deceased as I mentioned in my last post) and got a late start Saturday (also mentioned in my last post). Heading south on I-5 and just outside of Portland I got stuck in traffic. A fire truck was making its way across the four lanes into the fast lane and as I slowed to allow it to pull in front of me the lights came on. Finally, people began moving out of the way like they’re supposed to do on the Interstate. If only I had rotating lights on the Jeep…

So I’m keeping my distance, but gosh traveling behind a fire truck with its lights on goes smoothly. About 10 more miles down the highway, traffic was getting really really jammed and only then did the light bulb go off over my head. Bumper to bumper in a four lane highway in the middle of a Saturday, fire truck with lights, “Oh! An accident!” Rather than be trapped on I-5 for who knows how long, I pulled off at the next exit and moved over to Highway 99 to parallel the Interstate for awhile and come back later.

Following signs to Hwy 99, I suddenly found myself on the second surprise ferry I’ve stumbled upon along the Willamette River! Finding these tiny vessels incorporated into the Oregon highway system is such a delight to me. I rode the Canby Ferry among families playing in the river on the very hot day, and though I knew I was losing precious travel time, the discovery was worth it.

Next I was tooling through the darling town of Aurora, thinking it looks like a New England village, with its oddly-shaped central square surrounded by ancient houses converted into antique shops. I made a mental note to come back and investigate the place for a future hometown. Funny how being reminded of New England tugged at my heartstrings. I never realize how deeply I’m attached to something till it’s gone.

I stopped for the night in Medford, and as I unpacked I noticed I had left my hiking boots at home! My memory is so unreliable sometimes! I was too far to turn back and without boots there would be no hike, so I decided to buy new boots. I pulled this same stunt last year, and it would be my third pair of hiking boots. {don’t mind that sound, it’s just me slapping my forehead with my palm.}  Medford had an REI that opened at 11am, but I was chomping at the bit by 7:30am, already breakfasted and pacing, worrying how I would salvage my trip since there were no more cities ahead, in this very rural part of the country. I couldn’t stand waiting and got back onto I-5, changing my route to go through Redding, CA. I crossed my fingers it was big enough to have an outdoor store.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

I had to stop in Weed because, of course, my friends were teasing me about heading eventually into Humboldt County, a land famous for marijuana production, and on the way passing through the town of Weed. I marveled at the show-stopping Mt. Shasta, then felt a pang of worry and regret as I saw that there is hardly any snow left on its slopes, so early in the season. People (and ecosystems) who live in high deserts depend so profoundly on deep winter snows to carry them through the summer.

In Redding at 11am, I took the highway exit for “Tourist Information,” and followed signs to a parking lot. I asked the first person I saw if there was an REI in town. Nope. Looking around myself, I realized I was in some sort of a celebration. There were families everywhere, a farmer’s market in the middle of the parking lot, laughter all around me. I followed the general flow of people down a path, through some trees, and viola! This striking, sparkling, white and blue glass walking bridge opened up before me. I was standing in a gorgeous plaza with a tall and stunning museum/Peets coffee shop/Tourist Info station. This center of art and architecture and public access was having a 10-year anniversary celebration, and people had thronged there to experience it. And not just any coffee: my favourite coffee! How lucky am I?

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

There was a Big 5 Sporting Goods just a couple blocks away (so close! I lead a charmed life), and the tourist info guy swore they would have a selection of hiking boots. And they had some on sale for $19.99, which is crazy cheap but I thought if they really are cheap and wear out in a week, then that’s all I needed anyway. While I was there I asked if they had any water shoes, which they did of course, on sale for $9. And after 20 minutes I was heading due West on Hwy 299, into the mountains, and counting my blessings.

I turned off 299 and my excitement grew as my Jeep climbed higher into the mountains on a twisty one-lane dirt road to the trailhead. A couple of deer grazed near me as I loaded up my backpack, and with a thrill and heart pounding with happiness, I hit the trail.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I'll spill some food.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I’ll spill some food.

My pack was heavy, and the temperature was in the 90s, so my happiness was a bit dampened pretty early on. Barely a mile or two on the trail, and I came to a wide river crossing and got to use my new water shoes. Perfect! I waded across the North Fork of the Trinity River and my spirits soared. What a beautiful, beautiful country. How spoiled I am to live luxuriously enough to leave everything behind me (poor kitty, I hope you have enough food) and walk into the woods for days, just for fun.

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

Five days on the trail is the longest I’ve ever spent backpacking, but as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t such a thing as too long in the wilderness. There are things a girl can do to make the most of her trail time, however. Mainly, she can pack better than I did. I carried too much weight and it made me slow on the trail, and made me feel discouraged in the raging heat.

To overcome the challenges to my joy, I splashed in streams every chance I got. Despite drought conditions in California, this section of the Trinity Alps is loaded with water, cool and refreshing and invigorating.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

I climbed higher and had some nice views of the mountains, all showing evidence of a huge fire that burned through here years previous. Blackened tree trunks were so prolific along certain sections that I could still smell the charred remains.

The sun dropped in the sky, but it remained in the 80s and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I kept going for awhile. Every time I stopped for a rest I would pull out my trail map and do calculations for how long it would take me to get to my destination: Grizzly Meadows, 18 miles from the trailhead. The trail was in great shape, and the few trees fallen across the trail had luckily landed in ways that allowed me to easily climb around or over. I didn’t meet a soul on the trail, which was part of my plan for hiking during weekdays. I’m a person who tends to think intense thoughts and I often don’t have the patience for it. So I push the thoughts away by keeping activity and sound around me. In the woods there are not enough distractions to avoid my thoughts, and so I get to be healthy and engaged with life, and I have the time to process ideas.

Eventually fatigue won out and I pitched the tent, rubbed my sore shoulders, took a quick dip in the river, and turned in for the night.

My shadow in the setting sun.

My shadow in the setting sun.

Me, gazing at the rolling waves of clouds breaking over the ridge of Mt. Jefferson.

Me, gazing at the rolling waves of clouds breaking over the ridge of Mt. Jefferson. In case you were wondering, yes, this is yet another fabulous Oregon volcano!

{Read my post from Day One here.}

Arno hung a thermometer in the tent and when we checked it in the morning, it read 30 degrees. Below freezing inside the tent.

The morning was cloudy and windy, which made us reluctant to get moving. But my knight left me snug in my down sleeping bag, and got up to make coffee. I had been mostly warm during the night. In our rush to pack, we had accidentally brought the summer tent, made primarily of mesh to encourage a brisk airflow. Though I had the extra-luxurious air mattress, it was not enough to block the freezing temperature of the snow from chilling any part of me touching the ground. One nice thing was that I had thought to bring my wet jacket into the bag with me and by morning it was dry. Voila!

We drank the first press pot (yes, coffee snobs must use a French press even while backpacking) and ate breakfast in our bags. While Arno was making the second pot, I finally emerged from the tent to see that the clouds were burning off and the sun was out! What a difference the sun makes when it’s so cold.

To our surprise, another backpacker came through camp around 9am on snowshoes. He had camped at Russell Lake, and was now exploring. Our plan for the day was to go exploring up toward Russell Lake. For the rest of the day, we saw his snow shoe tracks all over the place and I was glad we had met him, so I knew who to imagine when I spotted the wandering tracks.

Arno breaks trail where the snow shoes had only scuffed the surface.

Arno breaks trail where the snow shoes had only scuffed the surface.

We returned to the Pacific Crest Trail, and soon left behind the footprints of Saturday’s day hikers. For much of the day, we were breaking new trail, watching for the little triangle brand mounted on trees to mark the PCT.  I liked the idea that we might be helping a future hiker, so we tried to stay on the trail. Breaking the trail was hard work, but welcome effort, because it kept us warm. We took turns being in front, since the one following had an easier time of it.

Our earlier hiking was easier because the snow was more frozen and we didn’t sink in very far. As the day warmed the snow, we sunk deeper and deeper.  We passed lots of lakes. So many that they aren’t all named. Some frozen over, and the larger ones liquid and sparkling in the sunshine.

Around mid-day we found a snow-free zone beneath some trees, and we stopped for lunch. We had to carry our down coats and thickest gloves and hats for the stops, so that we didn’t freeze when we stopped plowing the snow. I was grateful that Arno thought of this ahead of time, and that way I stayed warm all day.

Arno pumping water at a tiny lake beneath Mt. Jefferson

Arno pumping water at a tiny lake beneath Mt. Jefferson

After lunch we punched a hole in a lake and pumped some water to fill our bladders and a spare Nalgene bottle, then went back to camp. Not quite ready to stop for the day, we continued past camp and circled around Scout Lake to the other side, and discovered some truly stunning views of the mountain across the lake.

Looking back across Scout Lake toward our camp, and the volcano behind.

Looking back across Scout Lake toward our camp, and the volcano behind.

The sun had dried some duff on the north side of the lake, and we went to the place to sit and rest in the failing daylight. It was obviously a campsite, cleared of nearly all human traces. Except for one sandwich-sized ziplock bag of a thick brown substance. “Looks like a bag of poo!” I said, in my delicate ladylike way. Now why would someone leave this? WHAT is this? Eew. I could just imagine the conversation of the people leaving camp.

One says to the other, “Don’t forget the bag of poo. I’m not carrying it.”

“I don’t want to carry the poo! Let’s bury it.”

“You can’t bury that, it’s plastic! Why did you put poo in the bag in the first place?”

Fall colours still visible in the snow

Fall colours reaching  up through the snow

DSC_0117 -1

We found a spot to sit and read the map, eat some trail mix, and talk about stuff. Arno and I can talk a blue streak. I complain sometimes that he talks too much, but I’m a total jabberbox too. We talked and stretched and took photos and laughed in the sun till there was almost no more sun. The moment the sunbeams left us, it got cold quick. It was time to go back.

But… there was still something that had to be dealt with. Arno shook the last of the trailmix into his mouth. “Hand me that bag,” I said. “I’ll put the poo in here.” And I did. And I carried it out. Bleh. People.

We spotted our trail down the steep hill from our camp to the lake

On the way back we spotted our trail down the steep hill from our camp to the lake

The hike back went pretty quickly and it was still early evening when we unloaded our gear at camp. We crawled into our bags in the tent and played a game of Yahtzee. Then ate sausage jambalaya for dinner. Yummy and filling.

Evening sun sets on Park Butte, where we had been sitting for the past couple hours.

Evening sun sets on Park Butte. The far shore is near where we had been sitting for the past couple of hours.

DSC_0178 -1Monday morning dawned brilliantly! Clear blue skies and sun, sun, sun. Diamonds sparkled across the snow and in the branches of the trees. We had our coffee outside, and ate orange cranberry muffins. We finally caved to the begging Whiskey Jacks and shared our crumbs. They were obviously used to people and came very close to us. One even hopped onto Arno’s boot, so we got out the camera and took a bunch of bird photos.

Look at this bold little guy

Look at this bold little guy

I'm sitting with the birds. (Look! It's so warm I'm not even wearing gloves!)

I’m sitting with the birds. (Look! It’s so warm I’m not even wearing gloves!)

The hike out was amazingly beautiful. So warm I took off my snow pants and just hiked in leggings. We counted people heading up and passed 16 of them! Only two had full packs, so the rest were just day hikers. I was doubly glad we had stomped the trail for them.

Sun through leaves near the trailhead

Sun through leaves near the trailhead

Mt. Jefferson in snow-capped loveliness

Mt. Jefferson in snow-capped loveliness, as we hiked out on Monday.

After the Goat Rocks hike, Arno asked me to pick a future weekend to squeeze in one last hike. My schedule is often full, and the first date that looked promising was Columbus Day weekend, which would be three days off due to the federal holiday. I planned not to work overtime, to give us three days in a row to play in the mountains.

Since then the government shut down, and though I had to continue working, the mandatory overtime policy was temporarily canceled. Shut downs don’t allow a holiday off, so we were all furloughed for one day on Monday. Ha, ha, the stuff the government comes up with in order to conform to its own silly structure. In any case, the weekend arrived with all three days still available.

We picked Jefferson Park as our destination, because Internet photos showed it to be beautiful, and because neither of us had been there. Jefferson Park includes the area surrounding a group of lakes at the base of Mt. Jefferson, Oregon. The hike from the trailhead is an easy climb – only 1800 feet – in 5.2 miles.

I assumed the weather would be cold.  The forecast was for a chance of rain/snow showers Saturday, then dry the next two days. With Arno’s help I have collected a decent amount of cold weather gear. He brought his super-duper winter sleepingbag for me. I indulged and brought the thick, full-length sleeping pad which is heavy & bulky for backpacking, but I expected it would be worth it to get myself off the cold ground.

Maybe I haven’t told you, but I am a fair-weather camper. I like hiking in shorts and a tank top. I like jumping into snowmelt lakes for a refreshing swim. However, to get fabulous fall foliage views, I was prepared to be be cold for a few days. As long as I was warm at night, I could take it. With a fire to warm my hands in the evening, even better!

This is the trail we followed to Scout Lake.

This is the trail we followed to Scout Lake. Click the image for the source.

Information boards and no available permits at the Whitewater Trailhead

Information boards and no available permits at the rainy Whitewater Trailhead

DSC_0199 -1It was raining when we arrived at the Whitewater Trailhead. I went to fill out a mandatory camping permit, but all the blank permits had been used and were jammed into the box for collection. I went to use the outhouse and there was no toilet paper. Seasoned traveler that I am, I noticed this the moment I stepped in the door, and went back to the truck for paper. Coming back to the outhouse, I noticed the sign on the door, which explained the source of the problems.

We reasoned that if Rangers had been furloughed, then no Ranger would be on the trails checking to see if we had a permit. After gearing up in the rain, we headed up the trail.

The trail was in good shape because it wound across mostly rocky areas and wasn’t muddy from the rain. In a short while, the rain switched to snain, and then full-on snow. We had one creek crossing that wasn’t too much trouble. I was not concerned about the snow falling. What caught my attention was that as we climbed higher, there was an increasing amount of snow already on the ground, from the previous week of heavy precipitation. Arno had hiked Mt. Hood the week before, and saw that snow level remained above 6000 feet, and we guessed that it would be the same here. We had guessed wrong.

Snow starts to come down hard as I realize our destination is a much higher elevation.

Snow starts to come down hard as I realize our destination is a much higher elevation.

We passed three women and an older couple coming out of the park after day hikes. They confirmed for us that there was a lot of snow around the lakes. The man said he sank up to his knees. It was still a little hard to imagine the depth of the snow they were describing, since I had my mind set on fall colours. Luckily we were well-dressed and stayed warm as we climbed higher.

Soon our trail merged with the Pacific Crest Trail, and we followed that famous border-to-border trail for the rest of our hike.

The first lake we spotted was Scout Lake. It was beautiful and inviting and I pressed Arno to leave the trail and investigate for signs of a place to camp. I was still sort of hoping for a clear patch, but gave up hope rather quickly.

The trail we made from the PCT to get to our camp.

The trail we made from the PCT to get to our camp.

We were the first people to leave the packed down PCT since the snow had fallen. It was about two feet deep at the point where we left the trail. Arno suggests 1 1/2 feet deep. Either way, it’s a lot to break trail through.

We found a beautiful spot on a hill above Scout Lake, with Park Butte to the north and Mt. Jefferson to our south. There was an area large enough for a tent, and Arno showed me how to tromp down the snow into a hard-packed surface so that we could pitch our tent on top of it. I have never camped ON snow before. I recalled hunting camp as a kid, when sometimes we’d wake in the morning to a couple fresh inches of snow on the tent. But this was an entirely new experience and I had some anxiety. I am finding that Arno pushes me outside my comfort zone on a pretty regular basis, but so far I’ve come away better each time, so it’s ok.

The snow had stopped, and as the darkness fell, the setting sun dropped below a cloud deck and struck beams out across the water for us to marvel at. (In case you’re wondering, the sunny photos from this post are from Monday, when we hiked out, since the first photos I took on grey, foggy, snowy Saturday are not as nice.)

Tent on snow. Brrr!

Tent on snow. Brrr! That is Scout Lake, and you can barely see Park Butte.

Arno began making dinner and I tromped through the snow gathering firewood. It was hard to find anything dry, since the previous week had been so very wet. I gathered the sticks with the most potential, and made a heap on top of the snow. I am the pyro of the family, and my record has been so far unblemished. But this time my skills failed me. The wood was sopping wet and I had nothing dry to start with. Even the lichen, that I typically use to get everything going, was soaking wet. I had brought a new box of matches, and thought to myself I will sacrifice the whole box of matches for the cause. The matches were dry wood, after all. I thought if I could hold a match flame up to a stick for a long enough time, it would have to dry it out enough to burn it. One after another match burned till I used the entire box, successfully burning the branches I aimed for, but nothing else. Then realized I now had a dry paper box to burn! I borrowed Arno’s lighter, carefully placed the cardboard matches box and pressed tiny branches all around it and burned the box to no avail. Every so often, I could eek out a couple minutes of flames, which would heat the nearby branches and burn them up, and set my hopes soaring. Like the effect of slot machines, those tiny near-victories kept me coming back. My competitive nature, my pyromania, my pride, kept me at it for 30 minutes. I just KNEW if only I could get a decent burst of flame, I could get it all going properly. But fuel…. I needed paper!

Before we left home, Arno had photocopied the big map to get just our trail onto one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet that I could carry while he had the big map. It was paper. But a little voice in my head squeaked Isn’t burning your map kind of crazy? I asked Arno, “Can I burn the map now?” He looked dubious, but agreed. We had found our destination, after all, and we had a second map. Again I carefully prepped it all, placed the driest lichen, the best tiny branches, and the paper charred and smoked and sparked a little, and burned up without doing me a bit of good. Then the lighter ran out of fluid. It had to be a sign. I quit for good. To help me resist the temptation to go after the last book of matches (Look, I’m not stupid enough to use up ALL our flame, ha ha), I carried away all the dry branches I had gathered and scattered them in the heaps of snow away from camp.

By this time, dinner was nearly ready. We were cold and the bacon carbonara with sun dried tomatoes was warm and delicious. Whiskey Jacks (grey jays) showed up to see if we had any food to share yet. We got to talking about the ingredients for mulled wine and got the idea to heat our evening’s wine on the stove. Brilliant! Hot wine in the snow: one more “first” to add to my list.

Before we went to sleep, the moon became visible in the clearing sky. I had not brought a tripod, so I leaned against a tree to get a few night shots of the mountain above us.

{Read my post for Day Two and Day Three here.}

The moon waxing over Mt. Jefferson, as viewed from camp.

The moon waxing over Mt. Jefferson, as viewed from camp.

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