A New Path
I have always considered life to be an adventure. I believe we are given about 80 years to live life to the fullest, in a world that offers us most anything our hearts desire. As I approached retirement, I needed to define what it would represent for me. Now, I’ve always compared life to a basketball game: first quarter we grow up; second quarter we seek our passions; third quarter we pay our dues, so that in the fourth quarter we can return to our passions. My passion was to experience the natural beauty that our earth makes available to us. For me this translates to finding this beauty by backpacking into America’s remote wilderness.
My life has followed my game plan. I grew up in a happy home in the Midwest. I did find my passion in my second quarter thanks to living a decade in Colorado. And I did pay my dues through various professional roles. As I approached my 4th quarter, I had to choose between two paths: did I want work longer to save more money and over time buy things to help me remember my passion; or did I want to experience it firsthand? Had I paid enough dues to justify retirement? Yes, there was enough financial security to live on, although not extravagantly. More importantly, my physical health was strong and secure enough to live out my passion firsthand. My decision was made: I wanted to get out there now and accumulate memories first-hand. And so I headed out to follow my passion. My life has been a great adventure with far too many stories to put down here. This book is about sharing what I have experienced in the first year of my fourth quarter: the magnificent beauty of our country’s outdoors.
I had backpacked enough throughout my life to feel competent in the wilderness. But to test this I started putting together 5+ day trips with friends. The first was a loop from Lava Lake Trailhead in the Oregon Sisters Wilderness, cutting between South and Middle Sister mountains. We had a great view of Husband Peak to the west as we progressed down below the Chamberlain Lakes. Our campsite at Reese Lake provided a nice view of the South Sister. We woke to a Sister with a cloud hat on it.
The next group trip was to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon.
I think being alone dipping my feet into Glacier Lake under Eagle Cap confirmed my passion. It doesn’t get any better then this.
Goat Rocks Wilderness in Central Washington was the next awesome trip that I put together with friends. Mount Rainier, Cispus Pass and Mount Adams.
The campsite below Goat Lake was fabulous complete with this waterfall.
The Fourth Quarter: I was about to turn 61 when I had to deal with an employment situation. Working in Missouri I was faced with an integrity concern about my employer which motivated my resignation.
Of course this also presented an opportunity. My wife did get a job back in Oregon and told me that if I didn’t pursue my dream now, maybe I never would. All of this happened rather quickly creating excitement and anxiety. My goal over the next backpacking season would be to cover as much of the Pacific Crest Trail, PCT, in Oregon and Washington as possible.
Driving back to Oregon in June allowed me to phase into hiking through Colorado. Research of optimal routes for my first trip at the end of June pointed to the Oregon PCT 80 mile segment from Willamette Pass to McKenzie Pass.
Excitement was high as I headed up that trail. My first campsite as a solo backpacker overlooking Rosary Lakes was inspirational. However, conditions were going to change. I was on schedule for my wife to pick me up at McKenzie Pass in 9 days. My first lesson learned; don’t commit to dates and destinations.
The terrain was challenging, mosquitoes were annoying and the temperature was rising. The 4th day on trail with the temperature in the 90s, I was knocked down by the effects of heat stroke. Losing a day to recover and with no relief from the heat I had to abort at Elk Lake. Hitch hiking into Bend, OR, and arranging for transportation back to Portland taught me to be resourceful.
Backpacking is about planning and selection of a destination during optimal conditions. The ideal trip requires accessible water, flowers that are peaking and mosquitoes that are scarce.
My next trip would be from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood to Cascade Locks on the Columbia River.
Sunday morning I had just passed Devil’s Pulpit and Preachers Peak so I was in the mood for a wilderness church setting. About 10:00 am I noticed a side trail which led to Buck Peak. The trail was OK but narrow and overgrown enough to mean that I was going to get wet from condensation on the vegetation. But I sensed its call and a half mile up I was rewarded with His majestic throne’s view of Mount Hood and Lost Lake. The church service was inspirational.
Ramona Falls to the west of Mount Hood near the Sandy River on PCT trail is always a treat. And yes the flowers were awesome. The Indian paintbrush was unusually colorful.
The Eagle Creek Trail portion is loaded with amazing waterfalls. Tunnel Falls below is the most famous; the trail actually goes behind the falls. Unfortunately much of this area was burned in a 2017 fire.
The trip was almost perfect.
However, when I reached cell service I received the news that Abby, my 12 year old Australian Shepherd had died the night before. I needed the last 2 miles to grieve about not being there for her.
The North Cascades in Washington offer some of the most dramatic mountain ranges in America. It was time for my annual backpacking trip with friends and the Spider Gap Loop was perfect. Climbing the glacier to Spider Gap brings you to the Lyman Lakes valley. On the Buck Creek side you run into Fortress Mountain. The view of Glacier Peak was impressive.
Buck Ridge the next day after a night of rain made for a wet and fresh hike out.
My plan was to hike north on the PCT to Canada, however, a forest fire had blocked the trail just north of here so I spent a night with a friend near Seattle to adjust my plans to reroute from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. This would be 71 miles and over rugged terrain which turned out to be a perfect choice, except for the increased number of forest fires across the region spewing plenty of smoke over the Washington Cascades.
Just a few of the 700 lakes that dot the “Alpine Lakes Wilderness” stretch of the PCT south from Stevens Pass. This area is also excellent for wild blueberries. The trail includes 18,000 feet of climbing and descending which finally got me in shape. You end with an amazing view of Mount Rainier as you approach Snoqualmie Pass.
I was planning on continuing south on the PCT, however, the fires in the region were only getting worse so why hike in smoke. The new option, The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. I only knew about this trail because my wife found it listed as a top backpacking destination in the world. What the heck, I’m living my dream! So off I went via ferry to Victoria, BC. I grabbed a Shuttle to Pachena Bay Trailhead and got the last walk on permit available.
This is an infamously dangerous trail known for mud, ladders, difficult river crossings and bears. But luck was with me. The weather was perfect. Mud and slippery footing were at a minimum, and no bears were encountered.
The scenery along the WCT is stunning. Campsites on the beach with a fire have no equal.
It was common to hike on that coastal shelf.
Toward the end of the trip I grew impatient waiting for the tide to go out at Owens Point and paid the price trying to navigate it.
Slipping into the ocean I protected my backpack but my lower body got soaked. This made for a very difficult final hike to Thrashers Cove having to bound over 2 km of beach boulders in wet boots.
Knowing how many are injured this way on the WCT I later questioned why I was not more careful.
I’m so glad I was able to squeeze in a trip to Jefferson Park in late September. This would be the last chance to hit this popular area before the Forest Service implemented a permit access only requirement. With a great campsite I relaxed under Mount Jefferson for many hours enjoying God’s gift.
A nice sunset put me to bed and on the way out the next day I got a classic photo of Mount Jefferson.
I was fortunate to be able to do an overnight at Paradise Park on Mount Hood in October. The western views were extraordinary and wildlife was friendly.
How many more trips could I squeeze in this year? Temperature was about 20 degrees by morning as I was greeted by glowing clouds above Mount Hood. Winter still had not begun but trips in the Cascades were soon to end.
In November I was able to spend a night on top of Elk Mountain in the Tillamook State Forest with views of the lights of Portland to the waves of the Pacific ocean.
I still wanted one more trip before this magical year ended. I figured I would have to go south and probably toward the coast so the obvious option was the Lost Coast Trail on the northern coast of California. This looked to be easy except for a couple of 4 mile stretches that had to be crossed during low tide. And I knew a storm was coming in, but I could handle some rain. The plan was to hike from Mattole Trailhead to Shelter Cove and return.
First night at the historical Punta Gorda lighthouse was complete with seals on the beach and free range cattle roaming around.
This was a glorious evening but you could sense the storm was forming out in the pacific. I was ready to get an early start to make it through the low tide risk area the next morning. All would have been fine except that I did not interpret my data correctly. It happened to be the highest low tide of the year so I was at a 3 foot disadvantage from the get go. This would eliminate my option to get to Shelter Cove. And of course there was a typhoon coming.
I did not make it past the last low tide point without taking a swim.
After the second morning of weathering the storm the wind blew away my campsite and my only option was to climb Spanish Ridge about 3 miles to seek shelter. The wind actually pushed me up the hill! But it picked up so much strength as it climbed the ridge that towards the top I couldn’t remain standing. I was totally exposed at this point, so I laid face down next to a small rock that gave my head a little relief. I was pinned down about 45 minutes with the wind occasionally lifting me when it hit me between my body and backpack. So here I am face down trying not to be blown off the mountain.
And worse yet, I’m getting cold—hypothermic cold. I faced the real possibility of death. I knew I had to do something. My current situation was hopeless, and my conversation with God became urgent. Thankfully, the human spirit doesn’t just give up. I managed to crawl and then walk with my back to the wind, using my trekking poles as braces against the gale. There were a few sections where the wind was at my back so I used it to essentially fly up the mountain, however, coming to a stop was never pretty. I did make it to the trees and finally warmed up around midnight.
The next day brought sunshine and a long difficult hike out where I lost some gear crossing a swollen stream but the steak dinner I had at the Victorian Inn in Ferndale, CA, that night was awesome.
It was early December and my first backpacking season was over, but what an exciting trip to end it on. I do believe that God called in that favor I asked of Him on that stormy ridge by opening a door for me to get involved with Swedemom Center of Giving when I returned home.
It is important to note: “Safe and successful backpacking in the mountains requires training, research, and excellent planning. Before you attempt any kind of trip, be sure you are completely prepared; I made these trips after years of experience backpacking in simpler terrain and understanding the limitations of my 60+ year old body. Resources that I have benefitted from include regional backpacking forums such as Oregon Hikers, and the Washington Trails Association.”
This book is also available as a Kindle Book: “A New Path: Finding My Passion in America’s Wilderness“