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Colchuck Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. Aasgard Pass is to the left of Dragontail Peak. Colchuck Glacier is to the right.

I slept very well in my tent and woke up refreshed and eager to get along the trail. First though: freshly brewed Peets coffee. The Sulawesi-Kalosi is my favourite.

The trail to Colchuck Lake required some backtracking about 2.3 miles to the trail junction, then another 2 miles uphill. The climb is apparently 615 feet and is very steep in places. Washington Trails Association was there in 2017 and did some great work on the trail. While they did not make the climb any less steep, they made it easy to follow, and stable, putting in many many granite boulder “steps,” for example.

These two had also camped at Stuart Lake with me. “We only have passes for the Stuart Zone,” I heard multiple times from hikers. It was true for me as well. We are headed for the valley between the two hills on the right.

Me, along the Colchuck Trail.

From this vista point, I could see the valley where Lake Stuart lies. Can you see the brown burned trees? (click the image for a larger version) Those are on the slope above my tent.

The hill above my camp shows signs of wildfire. So glad it didn’t burn down to the water’s edge…but I wish I didn’t see so much fire sign when I hike.

I climbed up, up, over roots, around boulders, across streams. I stopped to gasp periodically, while I waited for my heartbeat to slow down again to something near normal. There weren’t any meadow landscapes like the Lake Stuart trail, just climbing the granite stairs to the top.

And then… wow! The jaw-dropping blue of Colchuck Lake hit me. I describe the colour as a mixture of aqua and tuquoise, and a wholly unanticipated hue in the landscape of predictable green trees and blue skies.

This was my very first glimpse of the lake. It stopped me in my tracks and I took a photo from right there.

I must have taken two dozen photos, trying to get my camera to show you the colour I saw. This comes close, but nothing is like it was to be there.

I made a beeline for the lake and found the first of many many beautiful white smooth granite boulders that line the shores. After eating ALL the snacks I brought, and drinking a lot more water, I felt restored, and ready to explore.

Colchuck Lake is larger than Lake Stuart and I easily spent two hours following the trail on the Western shore, taking tons of detours to the beach, or to the multitudinous smooth boulders that are excellent for sitting on to relax in the sun and stare in awe at the colour of that water. This lake has many more great viewing spots than Lake Stuart, and due to its size, there are more campsites. Next year I am for sure going to try to get an overnight pass for the Colchuck Zone.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with The Enchantments in Washington, its beauty and proximity to Seattle make it a very popular place for backpackers and campers. So many people enter the wilderness that the area was getting destroyed from the many trampling human feet. There are now rules in place to control the humans. An unlimited number of people are allowed to walk through on the trails, but the number of people allowed to camp overnight is limited. The passes are disseminated via a lottery.

It was cloudy while I visited the lake, but periodically a sunbeam would burst through and light something up.

Looking south from Colchuck Lake.

I explored several beautiful beaches on my way around the lake.

Exceptionally clear water.

A tiny adjacent lake that is unnamed. Perhaps during high water it is part of Colchuck Lake.

I had heard of the famous Aasgard Pass, and I wanted to find it and hopefully spot Thor, or Odin.

No, not really. Aasgard Pass is the gateway to the Core Enchantments area from the west side. I have always entered from the east side, and never made it as far as the pass. So I just wanted to get a look at it and see how I felt about trying to climb it with a full pack one day, if I should ever have that option.

At the southernmost end of the lake is a large boulder field, and the trail crosses this, as I could tell from the cairns. I climbed across half of it, still trying to get a sense of which saddle hikers climb: the one with the glacier, or the ones to the right or the left of the glacier. I couldn’t tell by looking, and the boulders were a challenging scramble for merely trying to find a trail, just to turn around and come back. In any case, I had my answer: the boulder field was hard enough with only a day pack. I did not have any trouble this day, but there were times when I had to balance on a toe and leap to the next rock. That sort of thing is much trickier with 50 pounds on your back, messing up your center of gravity.

I found out later that Aasgard Pass was this one, directly ahead of me as I climbed over the boulders. Can you spot the cairns?

This beautiful Tamarack is along the boulder scramble to Aasgard Pass. I caught it just before the needles turned yellow for the season.

Looking north at Colchuck Lake.

The tiny lake next to Colchuck Lake.

At the tiny lake, the water is more green than aqua. And a group of Tamaracks on the slope are getting ready to turn yellow.

It was afternoon and I was ready to head back down the trail to my camp. My knees fiercly grumbled about going down granite steps and over roots for a mile, or however long it is. But as I descended, the skies cleared and the weather stayed warm and lovely. I talked to so many lovely people on the trail, who eagerly told me where they came from, where they were staying (most of the people were day hikers only, with no overnight passes), and what their plans were. Curiously, people along the trail trust each other. Perhaps beause of the shared experience.

Oh! Can I tell you the funnest human-related discovery of my whole hike?! Women! Women outnumbered the men far and away. It is the first time I have ever seen this on a backpacking trip. I must have passed around 100 people in three days, and at least 60 of them were women, though I wonder if it was closer to 70. Groups of women in their 20s, pairs of women in their 70s, solo women, women and men hiking together. I love them all for making this an activity for everyone. I want my people back home to stop freaking out whenever I say I’m going into the wilderness for a few days.

The 60-something woman camping next to me on the beach said she had hiked the previous month with her husband.

“Oh, he couldn’t make this trip?” I asked.

“I told him I wanted peace and quiet and to read my book,” she replied.

Ha ha ha!! High-five lady!

This is happy, tired me, with a bit of a sunburn. Waiting for water to boil so I can have supper.

Skies remained gorgeous all evening and I sat on the beach and watched the sun go down till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I boiled angel hair pasta (quicker than spaghetti), then mixed in a raw egg from the Hussies. Added pre-cooked bacon and carmelized onions and then dumped in grape tomatoes from my garden, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Viola! Spaghetti carbonara mountain-style. A metal mug of white wine went with it perfectly.

 

Lake Stuart from the little beach at my campsite. Mt. Stuart (9415′) is the peak in the background.

I purchased overnight camping passes for the Lake Stuart Zone in the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. It’s due east of Seattle and north of Mt. Rainier. It takes me 4 1/2 hours just to get to the trailhead, but I can’t help myself: it is so beautiful there.

Interstate 90 in Washington state, heading east of Seattle first thing in the morning Tuesday.

I’ve been through the Enchantments several times, and always from the Snow Lakes trail which approaches the Alpine Lakes from the east. It’s a long through trek, and I have never had the stamina to go all the way through to the lakes on the west side. This year I simply began on the west side!

I think it is a nice touch that the U.S. Forest Service always makes these signs asymmetrical.

At a fork in the trail, I saw signs that left me puzzled. At first glance, “foot log” and “horse ford” sounded like landmarks I had never heard of. I had no idea what trail to take until I calmed down and took the words literally. A log for foot traffic, and a place for horses to ford.

Viola! “foot log,” otherwise known as a log bridge for those traveling on human feet.

One lovely thing about the west side approach is that the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead is higher in elevation than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so I climbed the first 1000 feet (or more) in my Jeep. That was pretty sweet. Once I began hiking, much of the trail was a rather gentle slope, and a couple of steep spots a few miles in. Nothing like the grueling switchbacks at the start of the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail beside Mountaineer Creek.

Look at these scrumptious red roots. Or branches. What are they? Gorgeous, that’s what.

Autumn is the most glorious flamboyant season, don’t you think?

I saw several of these cones on the trail. I don’t think my photography captured it, but they are a deep dark purple.

I’ve said before, my hike pace could best be described as “mosey.” I’m solid on the uphill stretches. Slow, but steady, I can just keep going up, up, up. But steady includes a lot of stops to look at all the waterfalls and pretty foliage and the squirrels and interesting pine cones.

It feels good to be on a trail again. I have not hiked much the last couple of years. My theory is now that I live in the wilderness practically, I don’t have the driving need to escape people and hit a trail as much as I used to. In any case, however wild my own property may be, it’s nothing like truly being in the mountains.

While pausing in a meadow with fireweed going to seed, a gust of wind came and filled the air with flying seed pods. Look closely, and you’ll spot the faeries.

Finally! First glimpse of the mountains. These are exactly the moments I live for on the trail. I get tired, I wonder how far I’ve come, how far there is to go, whether I should stop and rest, and then…. I get a view of mountains. This inspires me.

Another mile along the trail and blam! This, people. This is what it’s all about. My tanks are filled and I’m gushing.

I met a bold, fat chipmunk that practically climbed onto me while begging for food.

And this was a pika that might have been shy around me on another day, but this day rather had to get an urgent message to his buddy across the rock fall.

The pika was so hilarious I watched him for a full five minutes, and listened to another one shriek back at him. He would give a series of short, sharp, shrill shrieks, then occasionally would spew a jumble of high-pitched syllables strung together. I talked to him for awhile, saying, “Hey! Do you see me? Are you not afraid?” Nope. Not afraid. He had to talk and my presence was no deterrent. As I watched him, I imagined the following conversation. Very shrill and urgent:

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” Silence. “Steve! Steve!”

From 50 yards away across the boulder pile, the reply: “Tony! Tony!”

“Yo!-I-can’t-play-tetherball-Mom-says-I-have-to-do-my-chores-but-I’ll-come-over-as-soon-as-I’m-done!”

“Tony! Tony!”

“Did-you-hear-me-I-can’t-play-now-but-wait-for-me-ok? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

Listen, when your hiking pace is “mosey,” it involves a lot of imagination.

Suddenly I spotted a sign that said “No campfires beyond this point.” And I don’t know what crazy person ever starts campfires this time of year, but to me this sign means “the lake is pretty close.” And sure enough, only a little while later, the trees parted and there it was. Only 4 1/2 miles along the trail, an elevation gain of 1665 feet, and I hit Lake Stuart.

Lake Stuart

(Can’t you just hear Anne Shirley saying, “That is not the right name. I think it should be: Lake of Shining Waters.”)

At the far end of the lake, looking back.

I love how the sun lights up those pale green grasses and horsetails in the water.

Many spots were occupied, but when I found this lovely little beach, I knew it would be my home for the next couple of nights.

Um, yep, that would be my campsite. Recurrent theme for camping in the PNW: always gorgeous campsites.

I admit, I crashed early. You know with my exceptional gastronomic tastes, I always bring a pack filled with amazing food, which means: HEAV-VY! I get so wiped out when I have a full pack.

For supper I mixed up the easiest thing on the menu, taco salad. Fresh chopped lettuce, corn chips, beans, tomatoes from the garden, green chilis, hominy, sour cream and salsa all stirred together. An obnoxious chipmunk came to raid my bowl while I left it on the beach and went to get the wine. I was impressed to see that the prize it chose was a big chunk of taco-spiced lettuce and not the chips!

Josh and I stop for a break in the neverending switchbacks at the beginning of the trail.

Slopes dressed up for Autumn.

Switchbacks and foliage.

I used to joke that the only reason I worked was to earn the money and vacation time I needed to get out and hike. I hiked much of the year, with multiple big trips. These days I am grateful to get out once a year. My annual hike is worth celebrating though. What joy to be on a trail again.

The Enchantments Area in northern Washington state is so popular that people can only get hiking permits by lottery. I did not win the lottery this year (again), so I had to purchase outside the peak season, which ends October 15th. The earliest permit available was this past week, October 24th-27th. That’s pretty late. I paid my fee and told myself that if the winter snows had not begun in earnest, I would hike. If they had, I would consider it a donation to Recreation.gov. (That’s a marvelous website, by the way. Please check it out.)

The Snow Lakes trailhead begins just outside of town on Icicle Road heading out of Leavenworth, WA. Hit the link there and just look at a couple of photos to get a sense of the town. It is totally kitschy and totally touristy but oh, so, beautiful that it’s worth every potential drawback. I reserved a room at the Leavenworth Village Inn, where I have stayed before, and was equally pleased. They offer a military discount, which I used. This lovely little Bavarian-styled town is smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So Plan B was that if the trail was snowed out, I would drink some ale. Admit it, you love my Plan B.

Prior to the trip it rained and rained and rained and then! Tuesday morning was spectacular.

Sun lights up a lingering thimbleberry leaf.

Because it was so late in the season, and also because I don’t have my mountain legs anymore (spending most of my life decomposing in front of a computer screen all day long), I invited a friend along. As you may recall, this is not my usual approach as I really do prefer hiking alone. However, I am also smart! And hiking in the mountains potentially in snow, for days on end, alone… Well, let’s just say I was relieved when Josh said, “Sure, I’ll go.” (of course, I am stubborn enough that I would have gone on alone anyway if he was not interested…but that’s a psychology session for another day)

Sunrise hits the peaks over Nada Lake.

The trail begins with a shameful number of brutal switchbacks. Up, up, up. I am a good hiker when it comes to “up.” I complain, but my trusty little legs just keep going. Josh (big tough guy) was feeling strong that morning and teasing that we should do the whole 18-mile loop in a day, then do it again the second day. It was his first backpacking trip ever. So I just smiled and kept plodding along. After 1000 feet or so, he was humbled. I offered to let him go ahead and set the pace. Gasping on breaks he insisted that I had to be in front of him for motivation. “I can’t let you beat me at this!”

Trail descriptions really downplay this part of the trail, recommending to start at the other end because there isn’t much to look at on this side. I beg to differ. It’s truly magnificent, and especially so in October, where yellow trees pour down mountain valleys like molten gold. The air was crisp and hinting at afternoon warmth. The sky blue as only October blue can be.

Morning sun on Nada Lake.

The sun drops early in the evening these days, but we made it to the first lake before it got dark and set up the tent while it was still light. It got really cold, really quick, and soon we escaped into the tent for shelter.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and I was energized as I boiled up water for coffee and made breakfast. It was the debut of my new MSR Whisperlite stove. My old whisperlite had been a solid and reliable companion ever since I bought it in 2000. This last camping trip, when I watched the eclipse, it stopped working. I suspected the lines were clogged. Prior to this trip then, I took my little stove out on the deck and pulled it into all its pieces and began cleaning the fuel line. I went into the house to grab some steel wool for scrubbing the soot, and when I came back out I saw that a gust of wind had come up and the teeniest little stove piece had bounced away, off the deck, and likely through a crack and into the weeds underneath. I hunted on my hands and knees under the deck with the slugs and spiders that day for approximately 4 hours (remember how I said I am stubborn?). And then I went on Amazon and bought a new stove. Whatever I paid for that last one, 17 years is a good run and I did not feel bitter about the purchase of a replacement. The brand new stove worked great (of course I had tested it before we left).

Here I am resting during the hike up from Nada Lake, where we camped the first night. Look at that slope! Wicked steep.

Then we loaded everything up and went uphill again. This was a short hike, only a few miles and 1000 more feet. It wasn’t as pleasant as the first day because we were tired, but also because the clouds rolled in while it was still morning, and a light rain began to fall. It rained all day long, but luckily just a light rain that frizzed my hair but didn’t soak through anything. We found a spot to camp at Upper Snow Lake at about 5400′ elevation. As we were looking for a place to camp, we met two hikers that had just descended from the next lake up. They said to be sure and use our ice cleats and snowshoes because of all the ice and snow on the trail. Well, we didn’t have either. Most of my hike life I’ve been a fair-weather backpacker and only recently learned that camping is fun when it’s cold, too. But I won’t go so far as to invest in snow hiking gear. I’m not crazy.

Enormous granite boulders were strewn about, making us feel small in comparison.

You know I love to eat good food in the mountains!

We spent the remains of the day running around in the forest and climbing on rocks. You can act like you’re 10 years old when you camp in the mountains. In fact, it’s pretty much expected.

It rained harder in the evening, and rained during the night. Thursday, to my delight, it dawned spectacularly clear again. It was the warmest day so far and after the fog burned off, not a cloud to be seen. We were still chilled from the wet night and took a long time to get moving. I was trying to decide whether to do a day hike up to Lake Viviane without snow climbing gear. It must have been noon before we were finally packed up. Didn’t even try to dry the tent out. Everything was just going to have to be wet. I was tired and after a tentative query to Josh, who didn’t really warm up to the idea of a few more thousand feet, I committed to heading back down the mountain.

Morning on the shady side of the lake. Still trying to thaw out so I can pack up my gear.

A mountain called The Temple rises above a little peninsula in Upper Snow Lake.

Sand formations in Upper Snow Lake, which is also a reservoir, as you may have guessed, as part of the water district for the city below.

I was intrigued by the patterns and shadows in the sand.

McClellan Peak commands the view of Upper Snow Lake.

This was the hare’s turn to shine. After the stolid and steadfast tortoise was a clear victor in going uphill, the hare practically caught the trail on fire going back down. We went down all 4000 feet in just a few hours – a record for me. He was very patient at first, because we found a couple of places awash in sunshine and I wanted to do nothing but lounge. I wet and re-braided my ratty hair. I climbed up and down hills and boulders and over logs with my camera. I snacked. I smiled. Josh laid on a rock in the sun and didn’t say a word. But when I finally gave the green light and we hefted our packs and buckled in….whoosh! He was gone.

The rest of the day I barely saw my traveling companion.

Sunshine and blue skies make a paradise at Lower Snow Lake.

And hiking alone is my comfort zone, so it was no big deal. But I did get very tired. And my feet were aching. And then my knees started to hurt, and still I had not caught up. Sometimes he would spot me from hundreds of feet below and holler up, “Everything ok? You taking a nap up there or what?” I would signal a thumbs up and voom, off he’d go again.

At one point as I was about to step over a pile of bark from a tree that had fallen over the trail, I noticed that some of the pieces of bark had been shaped into an arc. Only the curve was sideways, making it look like the letter “C.” And I laughed out loud. Yes, that is something he would do: leave me a message to let me know I was not forgotten. What a sweet gesture. It kept me going for another 15 minutes and then I was just about to despair in pain again, but I came across more bark that was indisputably an “R.” And that time I really laughed! That crazy guy was going to spell my whole name! Sure enough, 20 minutes later I found a “Y.” And it wasn’t until “S” that I finally had the sense to take a photo.

T in red needles was my fave.

Camera hanging around my neck and still I didn’t take a photo until I got to the S.

After T and then A, I spotted him waiting for me at a great place beside Snow Creek where we had stopped to eat something on the way up two days before. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I want my L!” I told him I was in pain and was about to suggest a longer break, but he took off my pack and proceeded to transfer about 15 pounds from my pack to his. Well, he did need a little slowing down, so I let him. I am proud and stubborn, but…

It didn’t slow him down at all. Zoom! Gone again. I found my L. And you would not believe this, but he did my last name too.

Berries hanging over the trail were begging for a photo.

Don’t you just love the fire colours of the season?

The lovely day and the lovely foliage did as much to cheer me as the letters on the trail. I kept plodding along, but tortoises apparently are not made for rapid down hill trekking with no breaks and no meals – just snacks on the go. My feet were killing me and I had to stop a lot to sit down and get the weight off my soles. Josh hit the parking lot, ditched his pack, ran back up the hill to where I was, teased me for napping, then took my pack and went back down again. It was still daylight when I finally hit bottom. Well, you know, “finally” as in finally caught up to Josh. But in terms of backpacking down a mountainside, we really smoked.

I’m glad I took the chance on the late season pass. Everything worked out perfectly. It didn’t snow too much before last week, and the weather was splendid for two of the three days. On the trail is where I find my bliss.

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.

Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.

Candy!

Candy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing the pasta

Preparing the pasta

Mouse finds the entrance

Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night

Campsite the first night

Bear grass was everywhere!

Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

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

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

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

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

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.

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

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

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

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

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

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

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

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

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

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

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

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

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

You can spot D heading down the trail.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

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

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

My favourite camping partner.

My favourite camping partner.

Our traditional Mother’s Day is not likely similar to yours. Nonetheless, aren’t traditions sometimes the whole reason we look forward to a holiday? For Tara and me, it’s camping.

It all started because I am the outdoorsy one and Tara less so. And when the kid was little, I just laid down the law and said, “I’m the parent and I say we are going camping.” When Tara got to be a teenager and had a mobile phone, and friends, and a bedroom where a teen could close the door and avoid interaction all weekend long rather than go trudging into the woods…well…there was resistance.

One year I got a little desperate and pulled the Mom card on Mother’s Day. “I don’t want a gift, or for you to make me breakfast, or anything else. Your gift to me on Mother’s Day is that you are going camping with me.” Surprise! Tara seemed relieved to know what I wanted, and happy to give it. Maybe they were grateful to have the excuse for friends, “I’d love to cosplay at the park with you, but Mom is making me go camping.” Whatever their reason, I had my kiddo with me in the forest.

It’s our sixth year and Tara confessed to looking forward to it. “When you called and said, ‘Mother’s Day is coming up,’ I got excited because I knew it meant camping.”

Tara set up the tent while I got the fire started.

Tara set up the tent while I got the fire started.

View from our camp across the river.

View from our camp across the river.

I was delighted by this God's Eye woven by a previous camper and tucked into a tree beside the tent.

I was delighted by this God’s Eye woven by a previous camper and tucked into a tree beside the tent.

My Jeep Dragon-Wagon is a great camp car.

My Jeep Dragon-Wagon is a great camp car.

Tara is at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. It’s about 3 1/2 hours’ drive from home. It made more sense to find a place to camp closer to the university, so I wouldn’t have to do so much driving. I found a place we had camped at before, and I blogged about it for Mother’s Day 2014. I went onto campus Friday evening and picked up the kid.

There was no cell phone service and so we had nothing to do but be together and talk and explore. Tara told me about their classes, the food, possible changes in majors. Right now they are most excited about the History of American Film classes, so we talked about those most often.

Tara's still having fun with hair colour. This year it has been the Cruella de Vil look.

Tara’s still having fun with hair colour. This year it has been the Cruella de Vil look.

Tara brushing their teeth at the creek Saturday morning.

Tara brushing their teeth at the creek Saturday morning.

The place is called House Rock Campground. Across the river is an enormous slab of rock that seems to lean against the ridge, forming a large protected space beneath. From the outside it’s hard to tell, but beneath it there is room for 20 or 30 people. You can stand up under there! The rock is along an old wagon road, and got a reputation as a good place to stop for shelter. Thus it was named “House Rock.”

Look carefully and you can see the long horizontal mouth of House Rock above the ferns.

Look carefully and you can see the long horizontal mouth of House Rock above the ferns.

That's me, inside the huge space.

That’s me, inside the huge space.

Trail between House Rock and House Rock Falls.

Trail between House Rock and House Rock Falls.

Saturday we walked across the wooden foot bridge to the trails on the other side of the South Santiam River (pronounced like “Auntie Em” – Santi Am). I was captivated by everything, as usual: the beautiful trail, the jungle plants, the bugs, the birds. I can’t help myself. We played under House Rock for awhile, then hiked up to the falls, which is simply gorgeous. From that trail, we could connect to the old wagon road, and hike a loop on that. Isn’t it exciting to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors? I love that it was a wagon road originally.

Information board out on the highway.

Information board out on the highway. Click to enlarge.

Footbridge from the campground to the trails. If you click the link to my 2014 post, you'll see the original ballet pose. We decided to recreate it.

Footbridge from the campground to the trails. If you click the link to my 2014 post, you’ll see the original ballet pose. We decided to recreate it.

Jungly plant with jungly flower

Jungly plant with jungly flower

slug

slug

milipede

milipede

Harlequin Ducks along the river

Harlequin Ducks on the river

South Santiam River

South Santiam River

At House Rock Falls. Tara said, "Pose!" So I did.

At House Rock Falls. Tara said, “Pose!” So I did.

less of a pose, but a better smile.

less of a pose, but a better smile.

On a rock ledge down by the water.

Rock ledge down by the water.

Sunday morning it was time to head out. I packed up the tent still soaked with dew, said goodbye to the families on either side of our camp. On both sides of us were young parents with small, active, vocal children who discovered each other immediately. Since our camp was in the middle, it became something of a connecting route, to the chagrin of the frequently apologizing parents. Luckily they were decent children, not being hoodlums, and I was able to easily forgive their shrieks and their bikes because they were doing exactly what I think kids should do: run around in forests and climb trees and get dirty and fall in the river and get wet.

I drove out of the Willamette National Forest early Sunday morning, intending to get home with enough time to get a few chores done before my 4:30 am alarm Monday morning. It seems like weekends just get shorter and shorter, and my enthusiasm for waking up at that obscene hour is fading over the years. I look forward to retirement and being free to go camping whenever, and for as long as, I choose.

A covered bridge near the campground.

A covered bridge near the campground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoah! What a sky.

Whoah! What a sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cairn says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pika holds still and poses for me.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

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

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

A fascinating fungus.

A fascinating fungus.

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

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

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

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

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

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

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

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

Another pika. Cuteness.

Another pika. Cuteness.

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

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

Whisky Jack says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

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

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

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

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

Mt. Hood radiates the evening sun

Mt. Hood radiates the evening sun

Ok, so we were a night too early for the actual super moon of 2014, but it was still a pretty cool moon.

Tara had a break of enough hours between ballet rehearsals Saturday and Sunday that we were able to fit in a quick overnight camping trip. Portland has had a break from the heat, but was climbing toward 90 again. That made me think of a waterfall hike in the Columbia River Gorge, so I had the idea to camp in the Gorge and hike the cool waterfall glades…

While she was at ballet, I gathered camping gear. All the car-camping stuff this time, which is *so* much easier than packing for backpacking. For car camping, you just cram everything in, and if you bring too much… eh, no big deal. We were in the car and driving toward the Gorge by 2:30 pm.

The first campsite was full. But more than that, the whole area was swarming with people. Cars were parked everywhere it was even mildly safe to park. The heat must have been pulling everyone to the shady forests. The next campsite: totally full. I slowed down as we approached the camp Host, so I could hop out and get some intel. As I slowed, I saw a man waiting patiently behind another man, who was already talking to the camp Host. Good gravy. That was too much; we moved on. Next campground, closed. We started brainstorming, and Tara asked, “Isn’t there a place where we can just drive into the woods and put up our tent?”

Well, we could do that in a National Forest. The closest was Mt. Hood National Forest, and to get there involved some backtracking to get onto a different highway, no longer in the Gorge. No waterfalls, but maybe we would still get to camp. We went to a primitive area we’ve camped before and it was full, and the campground nearby was full. I could think of one more place, which was an absolutely beautiful campsite on this cliff above the Sandy River, with a wide-open view of Mt. Hood. We were hot, and discouraged, and it was 5:30 pm. I had been driving three hours and so far no luck.

Though we passed people camping in the woods every 50 yards along the entire road, and though the trailhead parking lot we parked in was jammed full…no one was camping in the beautiful campsite. It was a miracle.

Yes, that's my silhouette snapping a view of the campsite. Mt. Hood in front, Sandy river down below and to the left.

Yes, that’s my silhouette snapping a view of the campsite. Mt. Hood ahead, Sandy river down below and to the left.

Mossy bank with trail leading to the campsite.

Mossy bank with trail leading to the campsite.

Another Mt. Hood sunset shot.

Another Mt. Hood sunset shot.

The volcano soars above the Sandy River while the evening light lingers.

The volcano soars above the Sandy River while the evening light lingers.

How cool is this with all the orange spark trails!

How cool is this with all the orange spark trails!

As an extra bonus, it was almost the night of the supermoon. Because of the trajectory of the moon’s orbit, this will be the brightest and largest full moon of the year. Whee! The full moon is actually the following night on the 10th, so we saw an almost-full moon. I did not bring my tripod, so I held very still as I took the shots. I’m amazed I got anything out of that experiment.

Moon sparkles across the mountain and makes the river glow.

Moonlight sparkles across the mountain and makes the river glow.

I counted, and the exposure was nearly 5 seconds! I was holding the camera in my hands, so it may be a little blurry, but I think this is a great shot, considering.

Tara in the moonlight. I counted, and the exposure was nearly 5 seconds! I was holding the camera in my hands, so it may be a little blurry, but I think this is a great shot, considering.

Tara dismantles one of the multiple fire pits. (I agree with her. Three fire pits in the same spot is a bad idea.)

The next morning, Tara dismantled one of the multiple fire pits. (I agree with her. Three fire pits in the same spot is a bad idea.)

Keeping my coffee warm in the percolator.

Keeping my coffee warm in the percolator.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Falls on Grizzly Creek

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

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

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

Bernstein was not kidding. This place is amazing.

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

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

Pool beside my camp.

Pool beside my camp.

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

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

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

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

The falls from Grizzly Lake

The falls from Grizzly Lake

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gray squirrel looks at me

Gray squirrel looks at me

Ponderosa pine cones

Huge Ponderosa pine cones

The remarkable bark of a Madrone tree.

Remarkable bark of a Madrone

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

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

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

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

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

 

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