Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mosquitoes Suck

In an exciting attempt to make another backpacking trip this month, David and I were deeply discouraged when we had to cut our trip a day short while staying out at Deep Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Why do you ask? Bugs. Those evil, blood-sucking pests known most commonly as mosquitoes.

After hearing from a friend how amazing this place called "Deep Lake" was, we decided to make that our next backpacking destination. David had borrowed "100 Hikes: Alpine Lakes Wilderness" from a friend at work, which helped us map out our hike to Deep Lake. It sounded great. About 14 miles round trip to a beautiful alpine lake, with Cathedral Rock looming over us the whole time.

We started out driving the 2 1/2 hours to Salmon La Sac, including a small river ford. It's a good thing I have a truck ;) We arrived at the Cathedral Trail No. 1345 around noon and began our journey. We were blessed with views of beautiful meadows and Cathedral Rock gleaming in the distance.

Deep Lake 001
David getting started on the trail.

The trail was nice. It was well maintained, climbing a little over 2,000 feet but never too steep.

Deep Lake 004

There were also several signs pointing us in the right direction so that we couldn't get lost. At about 2.5 miles, we reached Squaw Lake. This area seemed nice, with some campsites along the trail. This was also the point at which we started to get really annoyed with the mosquitoes. It was hard for me to stand still long enough to take this photograph...honestly.

Squaw Lake 02
David taking pictures of Squaw Lake.

We moved on, climbing further until we reached some meadows near Cathedral Pass.

Deep Lake 010

This area was quite marshy and muddy, but there were some gorgeous views of the Wenatchee Mountains if we hiked off the trail a bit. There were also some beautiful little ponds bearing reflections of the mighty Cathedral Rock.

Deep Lake 011
Little Pond #1

Wenatchee Mountains
Wenatchee Mountains.

As we hiked a little further, we reached a sign designating the Pacific Crest Trail. It is pretty incredible to think that one can take a small dirt trail all the way from one pass to the other. What a trip that must be. The trail actually goes all the way from California to Canada.

PCT Crossing

We finally reached the top of the pass, and began a long series of switchbacks down to Deep Lake. It was quite frustrating to be able to see Deep Lake below, but feel like we were never getting closer. The trail was spread wide across the slope with switchbacks far between passings. We were hot, tired, and bug-ridden. At the second switchback, we came upon the trail split to Peggy's Pond. More on that later...

Mapping it Out
David navigating the trail.

After about 18 switchbacks (yes, we counted) we reached a large meadow with a skinny path leading to Deep Lake. It seemed beautiful, but at this point we were swarmed by bugs. We trudged through the boggy grassland, crossed a river, and quickly chose an area to set up camp. David went dashing into the water in an attempt to escape the bugs, if only for a few moments. According to him "it was the kind of temperature that's so cold it takes your breath away". I quickly threw that idea out the window and just kept walking in circles with the convoy following me.

Almost to Camp

Lightening fast, we sprayed down with Jungle Juice (the 17% DEET kind) and hastily set up our tent. We didn't care if it was perfect, we just wanted to jump inside to avoid getting eaten alive. It was pretty miserable. At any point in time we could count at least ten mosquitoes resting on door opening of our tent. If we exited the tent, at least three of the little devils would end up inside. We were both starving and managed to be outside long enough to boil some water on the stove to make some freeze-dried spaghetti (which we ate inside the comfort of our tent of course). We spent the rest of the evening sipping on rum and trying to entertain ourselves. When it was finally pitch black outside, we ventured out into the night, bug spray in hand. The bugs seemed to have subsided a bit, yet a few were still hanging around. I set my camera up for some long awaited star trails shots, which turned out better than I imagined. I've never tried it before so I was very pleased with the results!

Out of the whole trip, this was definitely my favorite part. We were staring up at a magical sky filled with hundreds of thousands of stars. It was even possible to see the Milky Way. It was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.

The next morning, we packed up our stuff as quickly as possible. We had planned to make a break for it after eating breakfast and making coffee, but we decided on Clif Bars only in order to get out faster. We wanted to check out Peggy's Pond and see if the bugs were less barbaric at a higher altitude. Now, before I begin, I must say that the trail to Peggy's Pond was described as "primitive and nervous-making" in 100 Hikes. I blew off that comment when I originally read the trail description, but I can confirm that it's 100% correct. It is much like a billy goat trail. At some points, you have to brace yourself against the side of a rock, all the while trying not to look down at the endless piles of scree pitched at a near 90 degree angle below you. I don't even want to think about what would happen if one were to fall in that area. It would be a first class emergency situation. Moments after safely passing the sketchy part, I stepped down off of a log and part of a broken stump stabbed me in the front part of my lower leg, missing my shin by about half and inch. Ouch! (Side note: On Sunday at work, I had nearly an entire pot of fresh coffee spilled onto my left hand, which had begun to form large bulbous blisters at this point in time. A large gash in my leg was the last thing I needed. I was NOT feeling good.) David performed a bit of basic first aid, ran to get some water from the nearest stream, and off we went. We were surprisingly close to Peggy's Pond, and we arrived at a beautiful mountain haven tucked beneath Cathedral Rock. A few steps away led us to views of Mt. Daniel and Deep Lake far below. It was quite a stunning place.

Peggy's Pond 001

Peggy's Pond 002

We set up the tent, feeling pretty safe from the bugs. They were still there, but not in such large quantities...until about ten minutes later. Again, we had just enough time to boil some water to make oatmeal, and they realized our existence. It was so miserable. After killing all of the bugs that had ventured into the tent behind us, we decided that this was not our trip and packed up camp to go home. It was not worth it to stay a second night. What a disappointment :( We love camping, so for us to cut a trip short means that it was truly terrible. Sore, injured, and tired, we ambled back to the truck. Here's one last glimpse of Mt. Stuart on our way out.

Mount Stuart

Beautiful, but buggy. :( Despite the fact that this trip was a bust, I can't wait to go again. Next week I will be heading down to Mt. Hood for High Cascade Photo Workshop. Snowboarding in summer? I think I can handle that.

For more on this story, visit David's review on the Washington Trails Association site. He has quite a way with words :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Backpacking: Marmot Pass

Yet another couple days off, and another backpacking expedition. Actually I shouldn't say expedition as we only stayed for one night. David and I got together with our two good friends Ross and Ryan, and unfortunately Ross had summer school so that limited us to one night. After checking out the weather reports to several hikes Ryan had found around Washington, we threw it all out the window and just looked outside. Rain was predicted for most areas, but when we looked west, the clouds looked the lightest of all of the foreboding skies around us. Olympic Peninsula or bust!

We darted through traffic in Belltown and were on the ferry to Bainbridge Island in minutes. We set out for the Big Quilcene River trailhead. We stopped to grab some snacks in the little town of Quilcene, drove a long way down a dirt road (that seems to be the trend with backpacking) and finally reached the parking area.

Start of the Trail
photo by David Duffy

Big Quilcene River Trailhead

Our hike to the campsite was about 5.3 miles. It started out pretty mellow, weaving in and out of old growth trees next to the Quilcene River. It was very lush and green, with a jungle feel to it. It was my first trip to the Peninsula, and I could definitely tell the difference between the forests there and the forests that I'm used to in the Cascades.

Quilcene River
photo by David Duffy

The trail description on Washington Trails Association's website described a part of the trail called the "poop-out drag". It's about 2.5 miles in, and climbs pretty steadily with no remorse for two more miles. I will be the first to admit that I became pretty exhausted during parts of that, especially since I was trying to keep up with three quick-moving, long-legged (at least compared to me) dudes. David was nice enough to stay back with me during parts of it.

I'm Tired!
photo by David Duffy

It wasn't until we were pretty close to the campsite that I was rewarded with gorgeous views of the craggy peaks surrounding us. It was pretty cloudy, so the mountains were fading in and out of the cloud cover. It was eerie, but beautiful. I've never seen anything like it. I instantly fell in love with the Olympics!

Mystic Crags
photo by David Duffy

Olympic Beauty
photo by David Duffy

The Dead Tree
photo by David Duffy

Almost there...
photo by David Duffy

Pretty soon, we passed another couple who told us the campsite was just around the corner. Of course, I had fallen behind, so the guys thought it would be funny to tell me that we had two more miles to go. I thought "NO WAY!" and I can't even tell you how frustrated that made me. Little did I know, I was only about 50 steps away from our destination and I was utterly delighted to see little rushing springs located conveniently next to clearings with fire pits as we rounded the last corner.

The Campsite

We set up in our tents in a cozy little clearing in the woods right in between two streams. I had gotten pretty hungry on the hike so I used our little stove to whip up some salmon pesto pasta, our staple for backpacking!

Camp Kitchen
photo by David Duffy

Salmon Pesto Pasta
photo by David Duffy

We spent the rest of the night catching up, reminiscing, and telling stories. I love camping with just the two of us, but stuff like this is always more fun with friends.

The Men

On a side note, I also just wanted to mention that Ross is quite the beast when it comes to camping. I know Ross from when I was the feature twirler at UW, and he was the drum major. He never gives up at anything, whether it's perfecting a trick, beating me in a toss competition, or...chopping wood. See example A:

Legendary Firewood
photo by David Duffy

That was a massive log. The next day, we wanted to hike the rest of the way up to the top of Marmot Pass. We passed through a meadow and then hiked further and further up until we reached a huge overlook and the top of the pass where the trail split.

The Big Decision

None of us were satisfied, seeing that there were many peaks around us still to climb. We decided to take a hard left and follow the trail along a ridge line. It was a little slippery, but that's probably David and I were hiking in skate shoes and not boots. I think Ross was the only one that had footwear that was truly appropriate for hiking. Oh well, I ordered one of the least ugly pair of Keen shoes that I could find (and afford) so that next hike I will avoid the whole traction problem. The theme of the trip seemed to be "hard climb rewarded with astonishing views," and this short jaunt was no exception.

Hiking above the Clouds

We were above the clouds, taking in sweeping views of peaks and meadows below us.
I decided to set up a group shot, using a rock as a tripod.

The Group

We really should have camped up there. Not only were there gorgeous views, there were little wildflowers everywhere. Purple, orange, and...fuzzy? Seriously, straight out of Dr. Seuss.

Fuzzy Flowers

Mountain Flowers

After taking in the fresh mountain air, it was time to pack up camp and head home. We stopped and got some much deserved pizza in Quilcene, and hopped in the car, us passengers dozing off the whole way back to Bainbridge. When we got on the ferry and saw the city again we were all exhausted, but what a great adventure it was.

View from the Ferry
photo by David Duffy

I'll leave you with that gorgeous shot that David took when we neared the city. I hope you enjoy my stories and photographs. As always, I have a few more on Flickr. Please check them out!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Backpacking to Spider Meadow

When winter ends, there is only one thing ski and snowboard addicts can do -- find a new outdoor activity to entertain yourself until the snow falls again. I used to like mountain biking more than I do, but after slicing my ankle open and watching my boyfriend get the gash in his forearm stitched up, I've decided I would rather stay grounded. The consequences due to failure in such an activity are much greater than what I'm comfortable with. If you fall, you will undoubtedly get hurt.

After picking up a copy of Backpacker at the airport on my trip to Florida, I came across an article outlining a trip to a place called Spider Meadow. The photograph was beautiful, and the trip seemed doable for our first real backpacking trek. Only 14.1 miles, and we had three days to do it. After getting my shift covered last minute, we headed out around lunchtime last Monday. Two and a half hours out of the city, we turned on a dirt road that wove along the Chiwawa River. We spent 22 miles on that rough road, and finally reached the trailhead. Phelps Creek Trail. We had about five miles to go before we hit our first campsite. It turned out fine, but we were definitely doubting ourselves as the sun slipped behind one of the surrounding peaks. The trail crossed several creeks, some of them proving to be much trickier than others. After hiking a little over five miles, we reached the first series of campsites around dusk...right at the edge of a meadow surrounded by thundering peaks. It was gorgeous, even as night was falling. I couldn't wait to see it in the sunlight. We set up camp, ate some freeze-dried spaghetti (that stuff actually tastes pretty great!) and enjoyed the evening together next to the fire under the star-studded sky.

Spider Meadow 001

Spider Meadow 002

It was kind of a rough night of sleep. The wind was howling, and pine needles were pelting the sides of our tent. As always, I had that slightly dormant fear of large game sneaking around our campsite, but we had hung our bag of food a great distance away from the campsite so I wasn't that worried. Even still, the wind kept me up for most of the night and I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it was morning.

Spider Meadow 003

Now, I knew that the view in daylight of the valley would be incredible, but I had no idea how incredible.

Spider Meadow 004

I was in awe. After freezing through most of the night, we decided to pack up camp and head out to find a better campsite, hopefully sheltered from the relentless wind. We set off hiking through the meadow.

Spider Meadow 006

The meadow was beautiful, but it seemed that an avalanche in late season winter had ripped through part of the bowl, tearing down most of the trees and creating large piles of debris, and now melting snow.

Spider Meadow 007

After hiking about a mile across the meadow, we reached another small group of campsites. One of them was very small, but seemed just big enough for us to pitch a tent and make a fire in the pre-established fire pit. As we were exploring, we saw what we thought was a beaver sunning itself on a rock.

Spider Meadow 009

Turns out it was a marmot, which is a large ground squirrel. We saw a few others along the trail, and they make really loud whistling sounds. You would never guess those sounds come from large rodents.

We pressed on, planning to set up camp later, and tried to hike to Spider Glacier. The glacier was spread across one of the large towering peaks that are so common to Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Spider Meadow 016

The trail description told us that we would be hiking through some forests, cross Phelps Creek, and then climb sharply up the mountain to the glacier where the melting waters would rush right to our feet. It turns out that early season backpacking can be deterred due to large amounts of snow still covering the trail. After hiking around a snow field for about half an hour staring longingly at the glacier above, we decided it would be better to just turn around. The trail was completely covered in snow, and so was the creek. There was no way to determine where it would be safe to cross. I suppose it would be best to go back later in the summer if we wanted to camp up near the glacier. Both of us were frustrated.

Spider Meadow 012

We hiked back to our original campsite and packed everything up in order to move to our new site. After setting up, we realized we made a great decision. We were at the edge of the meadow, overlooking the entire valley, set up right next to a creek.

Spider Meadow 013

It had gotten pretty warm outside and we were able to sit out on a rock right next to the creek where we ended up cooking dinner.

Spider Meadow 024

All around, we could see waterfalls cascading from the bases of the melting snowpack. It was quite a site, and more waterfalls than I've ever seen in one area.

Spider Meadow 017

We enjoyed a dinner of salmon pesto pasta (I took my love of cooking into the backcountry) and went to bed satisfied. We woke up the next morning to another beautiful sunny day, although it was bitter cold. It had dropped below freezing during the night and we woke up to a layer of frost slowly beginning to melt off.

Spider Meadow 020

Once the sun started coming out though, we were able to thaw out and start packing up camp for the six mile hike back to the truck. I was sad to leave the meadow, but I was excited to take a shower again.

The hike back left nothing to be desired. We had spent most of the hike to the meadow racing the setting sun. This time we had plenty of time to explore. There was a waterfall that we could see about a hundred yards upstream from one of the creek crossings. We hiked up and found quite a beautiful site in front of us. It would be a perfect spot to stop for lunch on a day hike here.

Spider Meadow 022

As we neared the parking lot, we came across this incredible view.

Spider Meadow 023

Backpacking is something that really puts me in place as far as my size compared to the rest of the world. There are so many peaks to climb, valleys to explore, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and forests, that I have never heard of or may never get a chance to see in my lifetime. Being out in nature really gives me time to forget about the real world and all of its annoyances. I can't wait to go on my next trip.