Everything came together for the perfect backpacking trip around Mt. Hood. The previous week was about heat and smoke from various forest fires burning in the state, but then the winds shifted to blow the smoke to the east, temperatures dropped and the stage was set for backpacking the Timberline Trail in perfect weather. Brook and I hit the trail mid morning and who do we see at the registration box,
Randy “Rebo” Berton, who I recognized from his many posts on the PCT Facebook Group.
I didn’t give much thought to the track the Timberline Trail would lead me on, but what did catch me off guard was that by starting out from the Timberline Lodge you basically hike downhill for the first day as you head to Ramona Falls.
This downhill did test my knees a bit which I never had to worry about before. Hiking below Paradise Park we had to navigate a number of fallen trees, but nothing too difficult.
We ended up camping at the clear stream just before the Sandy River crossing. The Sandy turned out to be the most challenging of the many water crossings. I wasn’t sure how Brook would navigate it so I went ahead and waded so not to influence her into walking the narrow tree bridge. Brook now makes her own decisions on how to cross streams and she decided to wade the first part of the Sandy. I was fairly impressed with her since the current was trying to sweep her under the tree and she really doesn’t like to get wet.
Next, one of the great rewards of this area, Ramona Falls. One of the most unique and beautiful cascading waterfalls I have ever seen.
At Ramona Falls you have 3 trails to choose from which all take you to where the Timberline Trail leaves the PCT. We chose the actual Timberline Trail which does add .4 miles but it was worth it. I have done the Muddy Fork route and it would be shorter but with more elevation change. Overall though, we were looking at a day of climbing which felt good on the knees but really kicked our butts. This stretch is extremely beautiful with an abundance of lush vegetation and stunning views of Mt. Hood. I was hoping to get to the Vista Ridge Trail area, but Brook and I opted for our own private view of the mountains to the north just before the McNeil Point Trail.
Here is an assortment of photos from this section of the Timberline Trail.
Tragedy did strike just after setting up our tent when I was trying to take a little nap. Brook was in the tent when she saw a chipmunk that needed her attention. I unzipped the tent door and out she ran, but pushed off from my air mattress and punctured it with her claw. A major bummer as I realized that I was going to sleep on the hard earth for the next two nights.
However, the views of Mt Adams, Rainier and St. Helens with a sunset and sunrise were stunning.
Day three would include many miles through the aftermath of the 2011 Dollar Lake fire and then past Cloud Cap on to High Point. Another tough day with many challenging water crossings, but so worth it.
The extent of the fire was large but selective offering a unique contrast of dead trees supporting a ground cover of mostly wild flowers. The big concern for this section is the Eliot Creek crossing which I admit to not researching completely. The new trail takes you down to a more stable crossing area but I did not want to add the decent and climb so I hiked far enough on the old trail to see that the old trail was far too dangerous especially for Brook. So from the Eliot Stream low point below Cloud Cap the climb to High Point near 7300 ft was daunting.
The trail options from the Cloud Cap Trailhead are exceptional. Before hitting the total exposed trail I took a break to refresh my feet in a beautiful stream. I was not sure I would make it to High Point but knew there would be water just before so I climbed light. I really enjoyed the new above tree line terrain, although Brook prefers more shade, but she did have snow to cool off on. A big help was a strong cool breeze that helped push us up to High Point. There were plenty of small snow melt streams all the way up. My goal was a protected campsite just beyond High Point. This campsite at about 7300 ft with Mt. Hood behind was perfect. Some hardy scrub trees to offer protection which turned out to be really important that evening.
The views of Mt Jefferson to the south offered a unique observation of cloud formations fed by the various forest fires.
The winds picked up and noisily shook the tent which was detrimental for sleep and scared Brook from wanting to be in the tent. However, it was strange, that it got warmer throughout the night. Going out for a break at 2:00 am was “Way Cool” with the warm wind and the a moonless star filled sky.Luckily I woke up for the sunrise. I was ready for the last 10 miles which started out by dropping from the sky to Gnarl Ridge through Mt Hood Meadows and on to the White River Canyon.
Climbing 1100 ft to Timberline Lodge was going to be tough since my body was telling me that it was spent.
This is when I pulled out my earbuds and let my music playlist get me to the end. A beer and burger at Charlie’s in Government Camp was such a great reward. Overall, I highly recommend the Timberline Trail.
I was looking for a 3 or 4 day trip when a friend living in Bend, OR, offered to provide logistical support, so I took him up on providing me a shuttle from the Lava Lake Trailhead at McKenzie Pass to the Elk Lake Trailhead south of the Sisters Wilderness. This would be an excellent 30+ mile trip which had special significance since it would be the completion of the PCT Segment E that I aborted back in 2015 due to the heat.
I hit the trail late afternoon on Thursday and made it to the top of Koosah Mountain for an evening with a fabulous view and an army of mosquitoes. Waking up to those mosquitoes did cause me to question why I had decided to venture into the Sisters Wilderness at this time.
However, I also realized that the lakes region south of the Sisters is a perfect mosquito breeding ground, so it did get better as I progressed north. I also ran into more snow as I got closer to the Sisters. Snow was not a detriment but rather refreshing. It was also a bit early for great flower presentations, however, there was plenty of color.
I camped the second night at Hinton Creek which provided a beautiful view of the Middle Sister and meadows for Brook to monitor wildlife activity. She also had a lot of fun playing in the snow around our campsite.
The next day we would hike through Obsidian Limited Entry Area where I knew I might want to soak my feet in the headwaters of the Obsidian Falls stream.
I took my time progressing through the area enjoying the scenery. I had a feeling I would camp the next night at Sawyer Bar and it turned out to be better then I had remembered it.
A perfect campsite between forest and lava, plus the mosquitoes were not a problem.
The last day offered up the climb over Olie Dilldock Pass which is a unique experience hiking over lava fields.
Always best to do this pass during the cooler portion of the day. In the heat it can be referenced more to this quote from Ted Ricks “I looked back down over the lava cinder river below us with heat rising off of it…and thought of Dante leading Aeneas out of Hell…”. The views of lava rock sculpture and the distant mountains: Washington, Three Finger Jack, Jefferson and Hood make it one of the highlights of the trip. Once over the pass it is an easy hike to the Lava Lake Trailhead passing by the Matthieu lakes. There was a nice “Trail Angel” couple celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary at the campground prepared to serve the PCT through hikers. Unfortunately very few through hikers had made it this far north yet.
I finally made it to Image Lake and boy was it worth it. On my Spider Gap Loop trip in 2015 we tried to get to Image Lake but had to turn back. After climbing the last 1400 ft from Miner’s Ridge on this trip I would say we made the right decision to backoff back in 2015. But I needed to get to Image Lake partly for fulfillment and partly to push the body into backpacking shape since this was my last weekend in the North Cascades before retirement the following friday. The trip is 32 miles with 4800 vertical with most of the vertical, 3300 ft, from the river trail. I planned on 3 days but I was not sure how it would play out.
The hike into the Canyon Creek campground was a possible first night destination, however, all campsites were taken thanks to a fairly large PCTA work crew. So I hit the PCT going North and saw that there would be a few campsites before the Image Lake Trail.
Shortly after Canyon Creek Brook and I were attacked by “Max” a combination Shepherd and Wolf. All I heard was “No Max” and around the bend comes Max in full charge. Brook got between my legs and held her ground but Max was only about attack. A serious fight broke out at my feet and I believe Brook realized she was not going to win. I heard a dog cry and then Brook took off running for her life with Max in pursuit. I think Brook chomped on some part of Max’s body which freed her for the get-away. Well Max’s owner chased after Max and I followed calling for Brook. Running with a full pack at my age is not what I should have been doing, but my dog was in trouble. After about a quarter mile Max was contained and I headed up the trail looking for Brook. I found her to be safe and injury free. Wow, I did not really say anything to Max’s owner because he knew how bad this was. He said that it was good that Max was tired. I was thinking it was good Brook is so fast. Overall, this was probably a good learning experience for Brook, to know that anything can happen and it is best to stay close to the Human you want to protect. Brook’s trail etiquette is almost perfect, but people don’t always understand how Aussies want to check them out.
Back to the trail with the temperatures rising to about 80 which was taking a toll on my body. I would have loved to have been able to climb to Image Lake for the overnight view, but I was beat. Luckily there was a sweet campsite just before the trail to Image Lake. I decided to camp there and go to Image Lake the next day with my new lightweight day pack that I just bought at REI. This was the first time in a while that I have camped in a forest setting with lodgepole type trees with not a lot of distracting sound such as you would get from a rushing stream. The evening turned out to be wonderful listening to the wildlife and watching Brook try to stalk all of the local chipmunks. The sun setting between the trees was a whole different kind of beautiful sunset. I even took a selfie.
But I was tired and thanks to splurging by bringing my Therm-a-rest air mattress, I slept like a log. I did not use my fly which did offer some star gazing. Brook started out in the tent but she knew she needed to be outside to properly protect us. I did not try to influence her otherwise even though it was pitch black out.
Sunday morning and it is time to climb to Image Lake.
I knocked off about 2000 ft to Miner’s Ridge as the temperature was again pushing 80.
The last 1300 ft nearly did me in, but I saved enough energy to properly explore not only Image Lake but the Miner’s Ridge Lookout Tower at 6210 ft. I was the only human up there and it was an amazingly beautiful day. This is why we backpack. The view of Glacier Peak is the highlight, the pan at the top gives you the full perspective.
There was only snow at the top and Brook was loving it. Here Brook wants to go after a marmot on the other side of the lake.
The rest of the photos will speak for themselves.
Descending back to my campsite nearly did me in, thank goodness it was downhill. But on this second night I was really beat, no appetite either, but a serious thirst that I needed to quench. I put the fly on earlier and decided to leave it which allowed me to just sleep on top of my bag all night. Brook woke me at 5:00 am and I felt good so we hit the trail by 6:30 am. The hike back was uneventful but I continued to realize that my body was benefitting from this extreme exercise. I am writing this post because I am too tired to do anything else. I am going to sleep good tonight. I think I am ready for retirement.
I retire on June 30th, but the term “retire” doesn’t really fit. I’ve tried to label this end of my one year contract to serve as the Interim CIO at Western Washington University as my official retirement. But what is retirement? I think I’m OK with just transitioning into my next job which happens to be the more serious pursuit of or the return to nature. And backpacking is my enabler for doing that.
The common question of what will I be doing next is answered with “I’m going backpacking”, but few have any clue what that really means. And of course going backpacking could be equated to varying definitions. Many ask if that means I will backpack the PCT or the Appalachian Trails. So I try to explain that I just want to be more serious and deliberate about backpacking to wherever opportunities takes me. If the conversation progresses it typically ends with some dismay that I actually will be doing this alone with my dog. And I have to admit that I’m not sure how to explain why I want to do this. However, I just read a blog post by Cam Honan, author of “The Hiking Life” entitled “A Natural Progression“ which is the best description I have ever read about why I am drawn to the wilderness. He breaks it down to “From Stanger to Guest to Family Member”. This paragraph from his post sums up why retirement will allow me to return to my “Family”.
From an intangible perspective, feelings of separation have disappeared, replaced instead by a sense of union with your surroundings. You have come home, and in so doing realised that your spirit never really left. Our connection with the natural world is innate, so while it may seem like Mother Nature is teaching, I’ve long suspected she is simply reminding. Providing the key so that we ourselves can unlock a part of us that has always been there. And I can’t think of too many gifts that are greater than that.
I thank Cam for putting into to words what I feel. The opportunity to be a part of this wilderness family is as good as it gets. Tomorrow I will reclimb Goat Mountain to get my own gauge on the snowpack in the North Cascades. The Adventure Continues
April 15-16, 2017, camped at Canyon Creek.
Finally a fairly nice weekend in 2017 for a backpacking trip with my Australian Shepard, Brook. She is about 17 months old with some backpacking experience, however, this would be her first with the responsibility to carry her own pack. All of this is in preparation for more extended trips as soon as I retire again at the end of June. I decided to take on the Suiattle River Trail because of the relatively low elevation which I assumed would bode well for snow level. Turns out there was no snow all the way to PCT mile mark 2540. The trail was actually fairy dry and the stream crossings were all easy.
The 23 mile drive in on FR 26 turned out to be uneventful as well. There are enough potholes on the second half gravel portion to force you to keep your speed down, but overall the road was in good shape. Only a couple of cars at the trailhead and I only saw 10 people all weekend. River trails tend to be fairly level with occasional views of the river but rarely any scenic vistas. That would hold true for this Trail, however, the lush green vegetation with many beautiful stream crossings offers its own unique charm.
The real goal for this trip was to test Brook’s interest and ability to be my backpacking buddy. I put a full 32 oz Nalgene in each side of her Ruffwear Palisades Pack. She was not thrilled by this requirement to carry her own pack, but she was committed to pleasing me. She figured out what her cadence would be and soon she was in total work mode never straying more than a few feet from my heels. Actually, I am very proud of how she handled this. You don’t train an Aussie as much as you provide opportunities for them to learn. She totally understands the purpose of the backpack now and I believe is honored to have the responsibility.
The hike into Canyon Creek was relatively easy, which I am extremely grateful for considering I am still just a (old) weekend warrior right now. Considering 7 miles in and then an extra 3 miles up the PCT and 7 miles out on Sunday, my slightly sore muscles are not bad at all. The stream crossings we both beautiful and relatively easy.
The campsite was primo with an excellent fire pit, unfortunately, I did not plan for a fire and failed in trying to start one with only a bit of toilet paper and a few matches. Brook managed the campsite with great dedication and thankfully did not find anything with sweet dog aroma to roll in. Temps got down to about 35 but Brook did not get cold and I love my new REI Magma 10 sleeping bag. Brook did enjoy snuggling next to me but was very well behaved inside the tent. It was a great weekend trip on a very beautiful wilderness trail. I am all the more motivated for retirement now.
I have reached the fourth quarter of life and I am ready for a strong finish. Quarters are 20 years long and I am hopeful for a long overtime period. So far the game has progressed as I might have expected. The first quarter I grew up,
the second I explored what I wanted to do,
the third I paid my dues
and now on to the fourth I hope to realize my dreams.
It sounds pretty straight forward but along the way you are alerted to those who lose their way or don’t get to finish. It is now as I enter the fourth quarter that I find the greatest reward which is knowing what I want to do. Sounds simple, we work all these years so that you can retire to pursue our life’s passion. The problem though is that many forget to discover what that passion is and even then many don’t ever truly pursue it.
It could be that I have oversimplified the game plan, yes it is a long and hard and the coach is really important. I have been blessed with a great team with a loving wife of 40 years and 3 great children. Many think they know the outcome by the fourth quarter and just accept it, our tired bodies might agree but there is plenty of inspiration to draw from. Your team needs you, pushing a little harder brings incredible rewards, victory is in your grasp. So how will I finish the game.
At the end of the third quarter I quit my job and prepared for the final quarter.
A year of serious backpacking and career diversification has set me up for a strong finish. My body is aging but it still has a lot of great plays left in it. Again, what I cherish the most is that I know what I want to do. I want to score as many points as I can. I want more memories to draw from on my future sick-bed. For many this metaphor translates to chasing financial security. Sure, I have worried about that but I think all is well. I am not worried about money because I know that I can live within my means. No debt, enough retirement income, but the peace comes from the wisdom gained in realizing that your quality of life is not tied to materials.
In six months I will walk away from a fairly lucrative employment situation and as I contemplate extending those opportunities, I think about the value of rewards that await. The opportunity to experience the wilderness beauty of our shrinking earth is my ultimate reward. Dreams of exploring the Rockies, the Sierras. the Cascades, Canada and Alaska excite my soul. Maybe even Scandinavia, the Alps or the mountains of Peru will be attainable. You cannot earn that reward, you must live it. I am so looking forward to a Strong Finish.
I had planned to backpack Ptarmigan Ridge about a month ago but my dog, Brook, chewed off my waist strap on my backpack the day before so we day hiked Chain Lakes and then Table Mtn.
Well last weekend we did Ptarmigan Ridge and I am glad we waited. The weather was acceptable but not perfect which helps you appreciate it all the more. Plus the crowds were not out in force, maybe 4 other campsites in the Camp Kiser area.
The hike itself is pretty well documented, seems like every mile is a milestone where one can justify turning around, but I think going all the way to the Portals makes it truly the Ptarmigan Ridge hike. This hike is about being exposed and above the tree line, especially in the Camp Kiser area. Mt. Baker loves to hide behind the clouds but will show his face occasionally. I was surprised to see single mountain goats in two places and of course a large herd in the valley below.
I camped on the NW side of Camp Kiser by an outcropping overlooking the valley, (48.81546, -121.76105).
The view of Mt Baker to the South and the Bar Stream Valley below with Skyline Divide on the other side was awesome.
Video of Brook and I taking in the View
Brook and I had a perfect evening taking in the view complete with a unique sunset. However, the night brought higher winds and colder temperatures which I think Brook began to question as to why were we there.
The morning was cold but clear with a short glimpse of Mt. Baker. The hike back to Artist Point parking lot was just beautiful.
Overall an extremely enjoyable trip with no bugs, good trail but winter’s chill did say hello by morning light.
I entered into the planning for this year’s backpacking trip with friends with some trepidation. They wanted to do a coastal trip and we have always talked about venturing into the Olympic peninsula so why not put together a 5 day trip along the coast. This area has been referred to as the “Wilderness Trail“. Of course in the last year I have had a fabulous experience on the West Coast Trail and a harrowing experience on the Lost Coast Trail, so I was not in need of another coastal trip.
Plus the planning and logistics tend to be my responsibility so I knew dealing with permitting through a National Park and coordinating transportation to this part of the northwest could be a real pain. But the rewards of coastal backpacking are worth the effort.
My other worry related to the unexpected difficulty in hiking on the coast. You will have extreme obstacles, you will navigate low tide passages and you will slip and fall. My greatest worry did relate to the slip and fall and thankfully we did not have a trip altering mishap, however, there may be some surgery required to repair some body damage.
Working with the Olympic National Park permitting process did have me concerned, but I was pleasantly surprised to connect with caring parks service employees who helped me put together a successful itinerary that started at the Makah Shi Shi trailhead with an exit at Rialto Beach. 33 miles in 5 days is not a backpacking challenge anywhere except along a rugged wilderness coastline. Getting past low tide required points did not prove to be a real problem although it does dictate your schedule. Climbing up and over inland passages via the help of ropes was fairly cool. Taking in the breathtaking views justifies everything.
Normally we like to travel to our trailhead the night before and have a serious meal with beverages, wake up to a hearty breakfast and then hit the trail. Of course that is because we would always do a backpacking loop. This trip was a point to point which requires dealing with a shuttle. My buddies borrowed bear canisters at the Quinault Forest Ranger Station which was sort of on the way to the Rialto Beach car drop. Parking at Rialto is all part of the Olympic National Park services, parking at Shi Shi requires a nightly fee paid to one of the local private parking options.
And then there is the 2 hour drive between the trailheads. So on Monday, August 1st, all worked out to get us on the trail in time to knock off about 4 miles and set up camp at the south end of Shi Shi beach.
This week brought us the lowest and highest tides of the season but unfortunately the low tide for Tuesday was at 6:06 and we needed to get past a number of difficult passages beginning with Point of the Arches. Based on the map and information from other trip reports I concluded that Tuesday was going to be our most difficult, and it was.
The combination of rocky low tide only passages, rope climbing to get to inland passages and dangerous boulder hopping, we all agreed that this stretch from Point of the Arches to North of the Ozette River was the most challenging.
Wednesday morning we were again forced to get on the trail early to wade across the Ozette River and pass a number of low tide points as we round Cape Alava.
Wednesday was a sunny day with more easy beach walking then boulder hopping which we utilized to recharge our tired bodies. Our campsite on the Sand Point beach allowed for a serious beach campfire to watch the sun fall into the ocean. We actually had cellular access at the point although very limited.
The next day took us past Yellow Banks and Norwegian Memorial to camp at Cedar Creek. Another beautiful day of hiking with plenty of amazing scenery, but plenty of difficult footing. It was also a day of fog rolling in out of nowhere and then burning off. The Cedar Creek campsite turned out to be very nice with the added uniqueness of a fully exposed Privy with an ocean view.
By now on our trip we had sustained some injuries, one in our party did injure his shoulder on a fall but nothing serious enough to hold us up. But I would like to emphasize that coastal hiking is not all perfect beaches. Here are some photos showing some of the hazards.
The final night’s campsite between Chilean Memorial and Hole-In-The-Wall was again awesome sleeping on the sandy beach. We never really had any great sunsets but we had plenty of sun silhouettes. Plus we typically had amazing tidepools (see slide show) to explore every night. The Sea Anemone in the rock was particularly unique.
The final hike out took us past Hole-In-The-Wall and Split Rock.
Overall the trip was another Epic adventure for old guy backpackers. I wish that it was more remote, but it is good that day hikers do have access. If you want a great coastal backpacking experience the Olympic Coast is a great option, but the ultimate coastal trip would still be the West Coast Trail.
A nine month old puppy does get bored and when your backpack is on the floor the waist belt buckle can appear like a puppy chew toy. Dang, I didn’t expect to come home to this. So instead of backpacking last weekend we went on day hikes to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Artist’s Point area which is only 60 miles from home. Saturday we hiked the Chain Lakes Loop with mostly overcast and some fog, but actually good hiking conditions.
Sunday was the perfect clear sunny day so we went back to see what we missed and climbed Table Mountain for the ultimate experience. I found out on the way down that dogs were not allowed and I understand why, but Brook sure did enjoy breaking the law.
The original plan was to backpack through the Chain Lakes area to Ptarmigan Ridge but it was more snowed in then I would have expected, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing Ptarmigan Ridge in the future. The Chain Lakes loop was a nice 7 mile hike.
Iceberg Lake was full of ice cubes, plenty of snow for the pup to play on and enough visibility to make for the motivation to come back the next day.
Back the next day to beautiful clear sunny mountains and OMG it was gorgeous. Luckily I arrived at the Artist’s Point parking lot before the masses totally engulfed the lot.
I headed up Table Mountain (the fortress looking rock in photo above) without doing any research which would have told me that dogs were not allowed.
And that is probably a good rule seeing how the switchback path up the side of the mountain was only a couple of feet wide in many places.
As we climbed to the top the views just seemed to explode for us. Once you climb the table leg the rest of the mountain opens to an expansive table top mostly snow covered. Would have loved to have taken a seat for a relaxing break but the black-flies were waking up. Brook and I hiked all over it taking in the 360 views of the Mt Baker Wilderness. Here are some of those views.
OK, now I need to deal with getting my backpack repaired, will probably use Rainy Pass out of Seattle. Next week I take on the Olympic Coast with friends from Shi Shi to Rialto Beach with my old backpack or maybe a new smaller sized pack.
FYI – I got the backpack repaired at Rainy Pass for $24. But I did go ahead and buy a new ACT Lite 50+10 Deuter Pack that I used on the Olympic Coast trip but wanted for a smaller weekend pack.
Puppy Brook is growing up and I took her on her first backpacking trip this week. She did great and I’ll share some of that in a bit. But any baby growing into adulthood is an incredible experience. Sure it is a lot of work but also a rewarding experience. Brook is our 3rd Australian Shepherd so it is interesting to compare but also helpful to know what the breed tends toward. An Aussie is primarily interested in serving her master which historically has meant herding their flocks of animals. So raising an Aussie does mean that you break them of that herding instinct especially with the neighborhood kids. Aussies will learn whatever you want them to, but their independence is also very important. Right now I am tempering Brook’s need to be the protector with the social requirement for her to be friendly. This is the critical artistry of parenting a pet.
Our backpacking trip was a simple overnight on the Opal Creek Trail near the north fork of the Santiam River east of Salem, OR. This is an easy hike highlighted with typical Oregon majesty. Brook’s trail etiquette continued to be outstanding, but that is really built from her Aussie traits. I was really wondering about canine backpacking issues like staying on the trail, crossing narrow tree truck bridges and ignoring forest wildlife. And of course the critical test for how she would handle sleeping in the forest. An additional test of how she would handle a thunderstorm greeted us first as we barely got the tent setup before the storm hit. I was not real happy with how I had to rush the setup of the tent, but it provided shelter in the nick of time. Brook immediately had to decide whether going into this tent was acceptable but quickly realized it was fairly cool hanging out with her master in such a confined space. This may have turned out to be the most valuable lesson most of us dog owners deal with. How does your dog deal with thunderstorms. Most of my previous dogs have gone berserk during a storm. However, during this storm Brook was so happy hanging out with me in the tent that she had no reason to fear the loud thunder. I may finally have a dog that can deal with thunderstorms. Awe yes, but then there will be the fireworks test someday soon.
The overall backpacking experience was perfect. Brook initially did not want to cross narrow log bridges. She was nervous about all bridges but if they had rails on both sides she could handle it. She does seem a bit reluctant to explore streams, I kept telling Brook that the best drink is from those babbling brooks. She did want to sleep in the tent but that worked out OK since she did not get overly dirty or wet. She would go out into the night for a drink and things but she did not waste much time staying away from the tent. In the morning she did get a bit spooked by all the birds serenading us, but that was quickly forgotten when she discovered how much fun it was to run up and down all the little trails around the campsite.
The major problem Brook is still dealing with is riding in a car. She does not prefer to do this, however, she does not have a choice in this matter. This trip was extremely valuable lesson for her, even with the throwing up in the car. She will be able to handle car travel, but I don’t think she will ever desire it.
April 30 I will be backpacking the Wild Rogue Loop in southern Oregon. Unfortunately Brook will not be accompanying me due to the presence of poison oak and ticks in the area.
I headed into my Lost Coast Trail backpacking trip confident that I would accomplish my goal to hike from Mattole Trailhead to Shelter Cove and return. I knew it was going to rain a couple of days, but the forecast called for 10 mph winds. I also knew I had some bad timing for when the low tides occurred during the first part of the week. But I did not dig deep enough into this data to be properly prepared for what was ahead.
The drive down to northern California through the Redwoods was great, my car loves roads like the Redwood Highway. I visited the BLM office in Arcata first thing Monday morning to get my waterproof map, so with that map also on my iPhone equipped to use GPS, I was well prepared for navigation.
The low tide on Monday was not going to allow me to get past the first high tide hazard stretch so I had a leisurely hike past a herd of cattle to end up camping next to the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. It was a beautiful evening as I overlooked a beach full of seals.
Low tide on Tuesday was at 9:33 am at 3.2 feet, so I entered the beginning of this 4 mile stretch before 9:00 am. Based on most reports I had read this stretch was not going to be a problem even if you were a few hours on either side of low tide. Unfortunately, I did not consider the actual height of the low tide. The trek through this segment was tough even without navigating the dangerous rock points of which there are about 5 that are really challenging. Some you can climb up and over, but the rocks were really slippery probably due to the higher then normal waves preceding the approaching storm. So I worked my butt off hiking over the beds of football size boulders. As I neared the last few hazard spots it seemed like it was far more dangerous then it should have been.
Then the last point before Spanish Flat nearly did me in. It was a point where you had to go between a large rock as the waves were crashing, however, it was all under water. As I tried to see around the corner to determine what I was up against I caught a full face on wave that nearly pulled me into the ocean. At that point I couldn’t worry about waiting for the best wave timing so I jumped into waist deep water and made it around. I was soaked but relieved to have survived.
I stopped at Spanish Flat, put on dry clothes and checked the tide tables to discover that the low tides that I was experiencing were the highest low tides of the year. That explained things, but now I was concerned about the next day’s stretch of tide hazardous coast with another 3.2 foot low tide, not to mention my concern about coming back.
So I opted to camp at a nice beach fortress just below Spanish Ridge. The winds were gaining strength which was good for drying out but it was also a bit foreboding knowing that rain was on the way. Yep, the rain started at sundown and the wind just kept getting stronger.
I decided to stay put through Wednesday with plans to hike up the Spanish Ridge Trail over to the Cooksie Spur Trail on Thursday.
I was up before sunrise Thursday morning with my backpack ready to go, just needed to take down the tent. I was so happy that it had not been raining for a few hours and the tent was dry. Unfortunately all hell broke loose at sunrise. The rain and the wind hit what I would call typhoon force. My line holding my tent fly broke, my tent stakes were being uprooted, water was rushing in so I had to go. Taking down a tent in gale force winds is challenging but I captured everything, but somehow lost my reading glasses. Of course I was instantly soaked but my Marmot Gore-Tex jacket was taking care of me.
I decided to go straight up the side of Spanish Ridge and intersect with the trail which worked out fine thanks to the map I had with GPS location on my iPhone. The wind was blowing from the south so it was mostly going to be at my back.
My goal was to climb the 2400 foot Spanish Ridge Trail and then take the Cooksie Spur Trail over to Cooksie Creek since I would need water. Well half way up the climb (see blue dot on map) I was realizing that this wind was a real problem. As it whipped up the slopes it must have gained even more power, so much so that I was barely able to stand up. Then I really got hit, actually blown off my feet, and I was a 240 lb object. I was totally expose at this point, no trees or large rocks to shelter behind, 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. Oh yes, and the rain was as hard as you could imagine. So here I am face down trying not to be blown off the mountain and I’m getting cold. The night before I had listened to a chapter in Lawton Grinter’s book “I Hike” about his experience with hypothermia, so I knew that the shivering, loss of feeling in my hands and feet and the desire to burrow were typical of hypothermia. What was a bit fascinating from being in this predicament was getting a taste of what it may be like to face the real possibility of death so my conversation with God was with great urgency.
Of course the human spirit doesn’t just give up, I had to do something because my current situation was hopeless. I fought to stand which was really hard because my legs were not working as I would have liked. Something told me that I needed to climb out of this, however, I had no way of knowing what was ahead, but my GPS map at least assured me that I was on track. I walked with my back to the wind using my trekking poles as braces to counter the force and I made it to an area where a small cornice offered some relief from the heavy wind. At this point I knew I had to warm up so I pulled out a wool shirt to add a layer under my rain jacket. Buttoning that shirt with my cold fingers was far more challenging than I could have imagined. This seemed to give me new motivation to press on at all costs. And pressing on was brutal. 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. Then my backpack cover blew loose but was still attached to my backpack creating a spinnaker type sail that dragged me for 20 feet. In between my attempts to move forward I spent more time on my face trying to regroup. Overall it took me about 3 hours to travel about a mile through the really bad section of the ridge.
Of course I did finally make it to the top and when I got off the Spanish Ridge Trail and onto the much calmer Cooksie Spur Trail I was singing praise to God for allowing me to live. From the looks of the map I knew that the Cooksie Trail was also going to present an exposed ridgeline so I opted for the best tree sheltered spot to pitch my tent with the goal to get into my sleeping bag and warm up. That evening was not great but it was so much better than what I had just experienced. I was very content to make it through the night with just 13 ounces of water. I had dry clothes, mostly wool, so I did eventually warm up.
The forecast for Friday was sunshine which held true, so I set out with the need to get to Cooksie Creek for water. I also decided that I had had enough of the Lost Coast and I really wanted to hike back to my car with dreams of a good meal and warm bed. But the hike out Friday turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected. Thank God for my GPS map locator since finding the trail to the creek was rather confusing. For some reason I thought that the trail was going to follow the creek back to the coast, but as I kept examining my map I realized I must cross the creek and then climb 650 feet and another 2 miles just to get back to the coast.
Well of course the creek was swollen from all the rain so crossing it created some anxiety. Unfortunately I lost my backpack rain cover as I was crawling over a log for part of the crossing. I was really bummed about the simple climb because my legs were dead tired, but the weather was great and the motivation to end this trip lifted my effort. This was a typical view as I returned to the coast.The first beach segment on this final coastal leg required navigating a few difficult points but it was at the (high) low tide. Surprisingly I ran into a single woman just entering this difficult stretch and it was an hour after low tide. I warned her that she might want to reconsider trying to make it to Spanish Flat, and I’m not sure what she decided. The rest of the hike out was not dangerous but it was exhausting.
Walking on loose sand with tired legs was tough, but the motivation was strong and the sunset was beautiful.
When I finally got to my car at sundown (long day) I was met with yet another disappointment. I noticed that my gas cover was ripped open and then I noticed that all of my windshield wiper blades had been stolen. This was just so rude. Luckily I intentionally had less than half a tank which probably meant they didn’t get any gas. However, if it had been raining that would have been one dangerous drive back to Ferndale. I did get to Ferndale and I had possibly the greatest NY Strip Steak ever and a much needed warm bed.
I am so grateful that I live near an ocean which provides the type of climate buffering conducive for backpacking. The “Lost Coast Trail” in the King Range National Conservation Area is just 8 hours to the south and offers an excellent challenge for a December trip. The Lost Coast Trail, LCT, North Section in the King Range offers the best beach access and is typically accomplished as a point to point with use 2 cars or a shuttle.
I won’t be hiking the South section which is in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. My plan is to do a loop where I hike from Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove and then return with various inland trail options.
The use of GPS with the PDF-Maps App will be extremely helpful. The app’s search routine is flakey but if you search for BLM you will see the North and South Lost Coast Trail Maps that are free for download. This tool was very helpful when I used it for the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.
I am really looking forward to this trip partly because I just need to get back to the wilderness and partly because the trip plan offers so many options. The option to regroup in Shelter Cove if the weather has been brutal. And the choices for inland trails are numerous which could also be dictated by weather conditions. Elevations approach 4000 ft so I suppose snow could be in the equation at least for a short period of time. This trip also justified my purchase of a BearVault which is required for the LCT. I opted for the BV500 in anticipation for its use on the John Muir Trail in the future. Plus I like the fact that it will serve as a nice camp seat, unfortunately it adds weight.
I’m actually looking forward to the high possibility of rain, I feel like I have unfairly dodged the rain element and I think it would be a good test to have to deal with inclement weather. All part of the adventure. I also like the idea of doing this trail in the low tourist and bug season. Anyways, I am pumped. I will drive down on November 30th and hit the trail on the 1st of December.
I have been reflecting about my last 3 months of backpacking. What stands out the most for me is that I actually did it, I fulfilled a dream.
The incredible adventure of it all accentuated by my adopted carefree approach filled in any remaining confidence gaps that I may have had. Backpacking, especially on the Pacific Crest Trail can be extremely difficult. You do ask yourself, why am I doing this, but then you find yourself in some of the most amazingly beautiful secluded places on earth and realize how fortunate you are. That realization is highlighted a bit more when you are 61 years old with 2 artificial hips. Overall, I backpacked over 280 miles with over 50K of vertical. The trip reports for the various segments are presented in my blog: http://higheredtechtalk.org which I now refer to as Higher Elevation Tech Talk.
My transition from being a Chief Information Officer, CIO, at major STEM research university in the middle of America played out quickly and a bit unexpectedly. Contributing factors included my frustration with university system leadership and policy, loosening of family regional ties due to the passing of parents and a desire to return to the stronger ties that still existed in the Northwest. Many of my friends and peers must have wondered how could I walk away from such a solid job before heading off into the unknown. The fact I had no reservations about the move surprised me the most. My wife, getting a job in Oregon, definitely helped ease the worry; but I resigned before she started looking for a job. We have never shied away from adventure, in fact this was move 25 in our 38 years of marriage. I look at this adventure as an investment in myself with the backpacking experiences as an investment in memories for retirement. As my wife told me, if you don’t pursue this dream now, maybe later you won’t be able to.
I am now back to work as a consultant tackling the typical technology challenges I used to deal with as a CIO. I have no idea where the path now leads, however, there are plenty of options for someone who can get things done. I mentioned filling in some confidence gaps, I’m not exactly sure what those gaps were, but I do know what I accomplished during this backpacking adventure has provided a sense of ultimate completion.
When I was at Missouri S&T my employees referred to me as the snowplow, meaning I cleared the way for them to be successful. I guess I did a bit of plowing to make this backpacking adventure turn out as well as it did. First, I had to “Just Do It” which was easy for me. I didn’t have all the answers but I knew that I could quickly figure it out, like adapting to a flexible trail schedule, optimizing my equipment and understanding my body’s physical limits. Then I was able to optimize the experience for maximum enjoyment return. So when a trail is closed choose another, or if conditions are deteriorating then change your plan. This is the same in business, you react to the available data, but you have to react. At the management level, choosing a trip with no forest fire closure is a fairly easy choice, but on the trail, implementing decisions based on path, distance and weather minimizes risk. Success comes from your efficiency in making the best decision at the right time.
I think back to the end of my recently completed 75K backpacking segment, the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC. My plan was to camp on the beach near Owen Point to setup for the next morning passage at low tide below 6 feet. Well I never found a place to camp and ended up at Owen Point late in the afternoon. I had a small window of opportunity to get through, low tide was only 5.2 feet at 4:40 pm.
This was a critical decision point, I had already hiked 14K and my body was tired, continuing on committed me to the navigation of two kilometers of a beach piled high with massive boulders to get to Thrasher Cove. Also, I had heard that a storm was coming so I did want to make sure I could end the trip the following day. My decision was to get past Owen Point then and deal with the boulders. Getting past Owen Point even at low tide was difficult and I slipped into the ocean soaking my boots but I saved my backpack. Now the boulders in wet boots. That 2K stretch of beach turned out to be one of the most physically strenuous efforts I have ever put myself through. I loved it, the adrenaline kicked in with my focus entirely on the goal of reaching Thrasher Cove which I accomplished in time to secure a campsite that I correctly calculated to be on ground above high tide.
Accomplishment is a powerful reward, but it only comes from your willingness to tackle a challenge. It is the same in your professional career, and what I have always sought out. I’m sure I will take on a few more professional challenges but I will also continue to balance life with wilderness challenges to ensure the fulfillment of more dreams.
The Adventure Continues
I finished off my 2 month backpacking adventure by choosing to leave the hot, dry, smokey Pacific Crest Trail to take on the infamous West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC.
This was totally a spur of the moment decision to go for this unique backpacking destination. I only knew about this trail because my wife found it listed in a top backpacking destinations of the world listing in response to my frustrations with the PCT conditions. Most who take on this trip will get their permits early in the year and plan for months. I had a day to replace my REI tent and schedule a few important things like ferry and bus reservations. I actually got the date wrong for the ferry but all worked out without a hitch, I even stayed at the Ocean Island backpackers hostel in Victoria, BC, the night before. On August 21st I road the 5+ hour bumpy bus ride to Pachena Bay Trailhead and got the last walk on permit available. This was just meant to happen with the added bonus of perfect weather.
After a required orientation session put on by the Canadian Parks Service I set out via the beach trailhead for a 12K destination of the Michigan Creek Campsite.
You are provided an excellent waterproof trail map which I quickly realized steered you to designated camping areas which typically had a bear vault for food and a composting outhouse. I went along with this option the first night but there after I tried to camp by myself on the beach whenever possible. I wasn’t being anti-social, I just am not used to that type of control. The West Coast Trail is much more geared to groups which is really important for the motivation and teamwork needed to complete the trail successfully. I did get to know many, typically Canadians and Europeans who were on the same trail schedule as I was. The West Coast Trail is considered an accomplishment of a lifetime for the many casual backpackers who attempt it. As a solo older hiker I was a bit of an anomaly.
The first day’s 12K segment was relatively easy in comparison to the previous PCT segments I had been on. But it was a different kind of difficult in that the trail presented so many situations of risk. I slipped, stumbled and fell far more times on this trail then all of my miles on mountain trails.
Fear Of Heights was Not an Option
You had to overcome any fear of heights that you might have, ladders, log bridges, pulley cable cars and boulder hopping.
I did have to use my first aid kit a few times. I mentioned slippery, mud is a big part of the trail, however, I again benefitted from the period of dry weather, so I believe the typical muddy root infested climbs were tame compared to how they might have been in a normal wet environment. I never had to use my gaiters.
Wild life on the trail consisted mostly of sea life. There were a couple a great Sea Lion viewing sites and you saw whales every day. Also lots of sea gulls and on the trail a fair number of small snakes. I was a bit disappointed that I did not get to experience a bear sighting, I intentionally hiked on the trail as quietly as possible, however, many of the hikers had bells on their packs.
If you have ever enjoyed coastal beauty you can relate to what became the norm for me on the this trail. Hundreds of photo worthy views of spectacular coastline. This would have been the trip for a better camera, however, you would probably break it in one of your falls.
Typical Coastline Views
My second night I searched for a private beach campsite which I found just past the Klanawa River.
You are advised not to camp outside of the designated camp areas, but the chance to camp on a secluded beach with a fire was worth ignoring the advice. I did hang my food from a tree not so much for fear of bears but in case I was questioned about camping alone on the beach.
I think that night alone on a wilderness beach with the fire, sunset and moon was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.
The third day required a long stretch of trail to just get to the next campsite option. Since I camped a few kilometers prior to the popular Tsusiat Falls, my day was even longer.
The reward though was a fish or crab lunch at the Nitinat Narrows. The native Indians provide a ferry service which conveniently takes you to their outdoor cafe on the water for a selection of Halibut, Salmon or Crab. Oh yes, and beer.
I opted for the Salmon but only had one beer since I still had 10K to hike to the Cribs Creek campsites. Thankfully that 10K stretch included a lot of boardwalk which you came to highly appreciate.
I was halfway done with the trail but you are fore warned that the northern segment is easier then the southern which was still ahead of me.
The trail did provide a nice feature of Kilometer markers. Typically you could do 3K per hour on good trail but only 1K on the difficult sections.
There were not many flowers on the trail, however, they would have been absorbed by the overabundance of vegetation. There were some interesting mushrooms though.
The following day presented another cafe option known as Chez Monique’, a burger tent on the beach. This was too good to be true, a great burger with beer. Well since I put in such a long day prior and I was not on a strict schedule I decided to camp nearby and take the afternoon off with a burger and a number of tallboy brews. My photo shows that I also tempered the beer with some Pepsi. It was a fascinating day of conversations. The guy in the photo with the red shirt was giving a presentation in Vancouver on the Functional programming language GHCJS Haskell. And Monique was an assembly language programmer back in the fifties.
I was able to stumble back to my tent for a really good night’s sleep.
I spent the next night at Walbran Creek with about 40 others. I decided to be social and it was good. I did help a young lady with a foot blister problem understand that moleskin is intended to replace or cover your skin. She was putting it on at night and taking it off to hike??? Walbran did offer the nicest swimming hole but it had accumulated a bit too much seagull droppings for me.
The next day’s trail along the beach offered some of the most beautiful views yet.
My goal for the next day was to seek out another private beach campsite and I had hopes for an option before I got to Owen Point which requires a very low tide to navigate through the caves. Low tide was early in the morning so I hoped to be close to hit it the next day.
Well I entered the beach trail a few kilometers before Owen Pt. but could not find a suitable campsite.
So I ended up at Owen Point around 4:30 pm which was close to low tide, plus there were others who had been waiting there for the tide to recede. At this point I had to get past the caves but that meant I would have to navigate the dreaded boulder field for the next 3K to get to the Thrasher Campsite. I made it around Owen Point but not without partially falling into the ocean and getting my boots soaked.
I did save my backpack by giving up some skin off my elbows.
I mentioned the boulder field, Wow, navigating this section of beach over massive boulders at the end of a tiring day may be one of my most impressive physical accomplishments. I actually traversed them rather quickly, maybe I was just amazed that I was doing such a crazy thing. All I remember is that when in doubt about the path take the high road. Sometimes you ended up climbing over trees and boulders 2 stories high. Jumping down to boulders with a backpack did take a toll on my thighs, but I recovered quickly.
Once I got to Thrasher beach campsite I was faced with a crowded selection of real estate.
Prime locations were on high ground since we were expecting a higher than normal tide to hit around 11:00 pm. I chose a spot on on a level that did present some risk, but I had large trees that would protect me from waves. As it turned out most everyone stayed up to make sure that we did not get washed away. All part of the adventure.
The next morning brought a beautiful sunrise and less dew then typical so all was set for the final hike out to Port Renfrew. The last section was only 5K but it was a tough go with many root climbs, ladders and mud. I was excited to complete the trail but also sad for it to be over. The entire week I was blessed with perfect weather. Those starting the trail that day, August 27th, were in for many days of heavy rain.
I opted for a quick shower at the campground before going into Port Renfrew where I had halibut fish and chips. Excellent.
The bus got me back to Victoria by 8:00 pm, I got a hotel, then enjoyed some sight seeing in Victoria the next morning with a lunch of Dungeness Crab at Fisherman’s Wharf before catching the ferry back to the U.S.
What an amazing couple of months of backpacking and what a fantastic finish with the West Coast Trail, Hike of a Lifetime.
I backpacked the Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, PCT Washington Segment J from Aug. 8-16, 2015. It is 71 miles and over 18,000 vertical. This trip on the heals of my Spider Gap Buck Creek loop was challenging in many ways, most of which was related to heat, lack of water, lots of vertical and smokey conditions. Overall though it is a very dramatic PCT segment complete with very rugged and beautiful terrain.
Starting off at the Stevens Pass Ski area was kind of cool thinking about how I might ski those runs that I was hiking. I was also treated to an abundance of huckleberry and blueberries for the first couple of days.
My second day I had my sights set for a campsite on top of a mountain but along the way I passed many lakes of which I think the most beautiful was Mig Lake.
At my mountain top campsite at PCT 2450 which was after a typical 3000 ft vertical climb day I had Trap Lake behind me and a beautiful sunset waiting ahead of me. One of the best campsites I have chosen.
The following day I planned on camping at Deception Lake, however,
I was not that impressed with the options and I knew it would end up being crowed with the many through hikers now hitting this part of Washington. I pressed on and found a great campsite just south of Deception Creek at PCT 2442. The photo showing the jet exhaust trail represents the many jets that you hear flying over this area out of Seattle. You never see the military jets which fly lower and louder.
The next day I climbed past the Cathedral Rock area but overall I took it easy and ended up at Deep Lake which offered a great site for a swim. Deep Lake still had water flow but it was low and the lake was warming up.
I knew that I had a tough high vertical day coming up so I also took it a bit easy the following day in preparation to climb over Escondido Pass. I knew that water was going to be an issue and when I realized that my Camelbak bladder had leaked I was a bit concerned.
I did find a trickle of a stream where I filled up a Nalgene liter but I would need more. This was a long and exposed segment that turned out to be on one of the hottest days along with a lot of smoke sneaking into the area from the Washington forest fires.
There are a couple of dead lakes on top but who wants to drink warm water. It turned out that I did not have enough water or energy which made for a very difficult day. Boy was I happy when I finally got to a cool stream over near Lemah Meadows. I setup camp as it was getting dark and I collapsed for a night’s sleep to recharge. I did experience an interesting event that night as I believe a large buck must have been startled by my tent which was fairly near the trail. This was at 1:30 am and this buck sounded like he raised up and pounded his hooves 3 times right next to my tent. Nothing I could do but just lay there. Or maybe it was just a very real dream.
I took it easy the next day in preparation for more climbing.
My plan was to camp near the Park Lakes area which turned out to be as far as I could get before the rain set in.
In all of my backpacking I have been extremely fortunate with respect to weather, rarely have I endured a serious rain. Well that all changed with a night of wind and rain which was sorely needed by the draught stricken mountains. I did choose a good campsite next to a lake on top of ground shrubs which made for good drainage for the night long rain. The video gives you an idea of how pleasant the night long rain was.
The following day turned out to be a lot tougher then I expected, lots of up and downs, but the misty weather made for excellent hiking conditions.
This is very scenic terrain and doing it in the clouds made for a unique day. Again my day stretched to the end of my energy just in time to make camp at Ridge Lake, just before it started raining again.
Not so bad, just persistent. But this was my last night on the PCT since Snoqualmie Pass was over the next pass. Of course the sun came out just as I got on the trail. It would have been nice to have had the sun to dry some things out before heading out.
However, the rain brought crystal clear air for some of the most beautiful terrain left on the segment. This is a very popular day hike segment for the Seattle folks so I passed hundreds of them as I headed down to Snoqualmie Pass.
Then you see Mt. Rainier and you can get cell service. This all translated into a wonderful finish to this PCT segment. After getting my resupply at the Chevron Station and showering I enjoyed a few craft beers from the Dru Bru Brewery.