Mt. St. Helens – 6/24/17

Me: **calls sister**
Me: “Wanna climb Mt. St Helens this summer?”
Her: “Sure, why not?”

My favorite adventure partners can be described in one word: keen.

This was back in January. Permits for Mt. St. Helens go on sale in mid-February and we roped our mom in as well. We picked our weekend (just before my mom’s birthday) and I was on the website the minute permits were available. Three secured. Let the training begin.

The months flew by and I admired (though not without monitoring, judging, and offering “helpful” tips) my mom & sister’s training from afar. They both live on the flat prairie in Idaho, so getting in any sort of hill training / proper hiking called for creativity.

After months of preparation and scheming, the weekend arrived and we spent the day making snack packs, gathering gear, planning, and not sleeping. Typical pre-adventure prep.

“Are we seriously leaving at 2 AM?” the newbies asked.
“Yes, seriously. Set your alarm.”

We weren’t too far behind schedule. I wanted to start the easy hiking section with headlamps to get up above the tree line before the heat of the day (it was going to be upwards of 85 F that day). We had headlamps at the parking lot but by the time we signed in, refilled pack bladders, and emptied human bladders, it was light enough to forgo them. We were starting once again from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park (i.e. the winter route) as Climber’s Bivouac was still closed from the harsh winter.

The initial forested section was beautiful as always. We helped a random guy with an inhaler, were swarmed by mosquitoes, completed a small water crossing, and finally had a view of Mt. Hood in the distance.

We were all in such good spirits and were taking it pretty casually, enjoying the adventure and the views – Mt. Adams to the east and Mt. Hood to the south, per usual.

We reached the snow and put on our YakTrax / MicroSpikes. To save weight, we left the crampons behind and I’m glad we did. They would have been a bit overkill (though we did see other hikers with them and they did have a slight advantage). The steep became steeper and the going got slower. We ended up behind ‘Dolly and friends’ and had to do some passing maneuvers. I even gave up one of my hiking poles to a guy without any, as he was struggling a bit. “I’ll just get it at the top” I told him and we carried on past.

“Okay, we’re going to pop up to the false summit and Mt. Rainier will surprise you. Take a photo, but don’t linger because we’re going to carry on”, I ordered my team. Luckily, they obliged without arguing and we traversed over toward the true summit, away from the crowds. We had a gorgeous spot with a view of Rainier, plus the crater and Spirit Lake, (which aren’t visible from the false summit) to ourselves. We enjoyed our lunch here for about an hour.

We made the traverse back over, I collected my pole and gave a brief lesson about glissading, and we started our descent. My mom went first and her giggles could be heard the entire way. It’s funny how easily childhood rushes back when you’re sliding on your butt! My sister went second and I followed. The glissading conditions were perfect – it makes for such a quick descent.

My winter-y St. Helens hike earlier this year ended with horrible sunburn so I did extensive research on the market’s best sunscreen and made the shameful Walmart run to buy some. I was devastated to learn that I lost my bottle during my glissade! I had been diligent in everyone applying every hour on the hour, too! Fortunately my mom had some as well, but now I’d have to make the dreaded return to Walmart to replace the bottle for the rest of the summer. *sigh*

Eventually, the glissading came to an end and we were back on our feet. The dust and rocks were slick going downhill and it was tricky to find stable footing. There were only 2 mishaps, but in our crew, we don’t fall and tell so you’ll have to just guess who took them!

In the last mile and a half or so, my eyes started to become quite irritated. I wear contacts (as do my mom and sister) and they were smart enough to bring drops. I put some in and we continued down, hoping the intense eye watering would clean out whatever was bothering them. It wasn’t immediate, but we carried on.

Back through the water, back through the woods. We hit the parking lot, pulled off our shoes, signed in, and hit the road. I was looking forward to my dad’s cast iron cooking back at home!

About 5 miles up the road, my eyes were in so much pain I pulled over and asked my mom to drive us home. I ripped my contacts from my eyes, tears streaming. I threw them out and the world went blurry (seriously, I have terrible eyes). I wrapped a shirt around my head to shield the light, hoping that would help. After we hit Vancouver, my sister offered her glasses to me and somehow we have remarkably similar, if not identical, prescriptions. I was impressed.

It was hot back in Portland. We sat on the patio with my dad and Jesse and had dinner, ice cream bars, and a daily recap. I am so incredibly proud of my family for their summit. They worked hard and it was a perfect day.

Maybe Mt. Adams will be next?

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Mt. Defiance – Starvation Loop Hike – 6/11/17

The Oregon Hiker’s Field Guide gives these details about this hike:

  • Start point: Starvation Creek Trailhead
  • End point: Mount Defiance
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4940 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult (and that’s only because we don’t have anything harder)
  • Seasons: June-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

“And that’s only because we don’t have anything harder.” Apparently this is the “hardest” hike in the Gorge. I hadn’t heard about it until about 2 weeks prior. In an effort to keep up my hill training, I slapped it on the calendar, rounded up my best adventure buddies, and off to Defiance we went.

There are 2 things I have PTSD about: sunburns and poison oak. I have become terrified of both and will go to great lengths to avoid them. This hike was sure to bring both and I was prepared: long pants and SPF 70. The downside to this? It was freaking hot, which make both a terrible idea.

The first section of the hike was exposed, steep, and noisy, due to the freeway. We just came off the flat and paved path, enjoying a quick waterfall before starting up the trail, so I was spoiled from the gate. The struggle in the heat was real and I told the boys to go on ahead so the pressure was off to keep up.

Eventually we hit the woods and felt the nice relief of a breeze. There were a few pockets with a view and took the opportunity to rest and enjoy them.

After cooling down (and slowing down slightly), the hike seemed less daunting. I received a text message from Jesse that he made it to the summit and warned us of the “fork in the road”. When we came upon it, the choice was obvious: ‘more difficult’.

We hit some snow and eventually the summit (it was tempting to cut up the gravel road to the radio towers, but my inner hiker stuck to the singletrack). Our view was a bit clouded and there were a few other groups up there, but we sat and enjoyed our lunch, mapping out the route down. We looped back around the ‘easiest’ way, just to mix things up, and decided to descend on Starvation Ridge, rather than just back down the way we came.

Quick pit stop at Warren Lake

This was easily the best part of the hike. It was a steep descent (after a bit my left knee started to argue with me about the decision we’d made), but it was quite a cool ridge in the middle of the trees.

Our group of 4 was all hiking together at this point and we spent the bulk of the time trying to figure out which plants were poison oak. We came across one hiker who shared his “wisdom”, but as we continued on, we still weren’t convinced.

The switchbacks down to the car were unrelenting, but we had such a good mix of terrain throughout the day I was happy to enjoy it all.

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It was an all day excursion and I was glad to check it off the “to-hike” list. Also, no one suffered any poison oak outbreaks…win-win!

Tom Dick & Harry Mountain – 1/7/17

More fun in the snow. More adventures with friends. More crazy weather. One particularly questionable day, we were invited on a snowshoe adventure with a friend and a others up Tom Dick & Harry Mountain. It’s an easy enough trail and we opted to bring RileyDog with us this time, too.

In the winter, the main trailhead is blocked by the massive snowbank the plows create along the highway, so hikers must park at the ski hill and walk along the road nearly a mile. Riley insisted on relieving himself several times before we even began the roadside walk, so several trips back to the car were in order, but finally, we could take off.

We strapped on our snowshoes at the trailhead and entered the woods. The trail features a couple of wooden bridges and then climbs up the mountain with plenty of switchbacks. We reached Mirror Lake in no time and decided to keep heading up to the summit.

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After traversing an exposed part of the mountain through the wind and blinding snow, Jesse and two others decided to trudge on ahead to the summit, while I and another turned back toward the lake, knowing they wouldn’t make it too much farther anyway. Here’s where the adventure began: my group got lost. With the wind and snow, our tracks were quickly covered, even in the forest. We knew where the lake was, and where the intersection of the loop trail was, but we didn’t know where exactly we were. So we went left. Then went back and went right. Then went back and went down the hill. Then turned around and went straight. And finally, the literal sign we had been searching for! Also, a few run-ins with other dogs and a lost bootie (Riley’s, not mine) added to the stress of the day.

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We stood at the intersection, chatting away, after 20 minutes or so, the others showed up. We headed back down the hill, working up the courage to trudge up the highway to the car; the thought of pizza motivating our quick descent.

Poor RileyDog struggled on the last mile. His poor paws (well, 3 of the 4) became ice packed and he was desperate to lie down on the trail to gnaw at them. It took some coaxing to finish the trek and once he was in the car, he was neither seen nor heard from again. There’s “dog park” tired and then there’s “hiking” tired. Dogs are on their best behavior after the latter.

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I hope to return to this trail in the summer for the lake views and a proper summit adventure. Until then, I’ll enjoy this frosty selfie:

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Mt. St. Helens – 06/27/16

A few years ago Jesse climbed Mt. St. Helens (as a winter ascent) with some friends and while we looked through the incredibly beautiful photos, I began cultivating an interest in mountaineering myself. The summer hike of St. Helens seemed like a good place to start and I added it to my to-do list. The problem with the summer route is that everyone and their dog wants to do it and because it’s by permit only over 4,800′, it’s hard to do.

For 2016 though, I had it dialed in. I had a calendar reminder set in February to get a permit on the day it opened before they sold out (it only takes a few hours before they’re gone). Still, by the time I logged on, the weekends were all taken. So we picked the Monday after Jesse’s birthday, hit “add to cart” and called it good.

The months ticked by and Jesse’s birthday arrived (we were incredibly busy: a few concerts, a pavlova, dinner, a waffle date, bouldering..!) and then Mt. St. Helens day was here already! Crap!

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We dropped off the dog at his friend’s place, drove to Climber’s Bivouac, and were on the trail by 7:15 AM. Along with the other 100 permit holders.

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It was a beautiful, clear day. Blue sky, a light breeze, a good temperature. Up and up we climbed; the boulders relentless, Monitor Ridge unforgiving on the quads. Mt. Hood stood tall behind us and Mt. Jefferson just beyond that. Mt. Adams to the right, wearing a cloud as a toupée all day. After a few hours, we reached the top and Rainier was there to greet us.

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We traversed over some snow and ice to a less crowded spot where we could see into the crater. It was steaming a bit and we enjoyed our lunch overlooking Spirit Lake. We met an interesting ecologist who filled us in on the mountain goat population in the region and then began our descent.

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“Aren’t you going to play in the snow with me?” Jesse asked, sitting down, ice axe at the ready. With several onlookers encouraging the glissade, I caved and down we went. On our butts we slid, laughing all the way!

By “all the way” I mean only a few hundred meters. We didn’t make it very far – the snow was wet and heavy; not ideal. Not wanting to risk ending up in the wrong valley, we returned to the trail for more boulder scrambling.

We chatted with other hikers as our paths crossed and I was surprised at the number of people who were sad-faced about the day. Many said they’d never do it again and that the view wasn’t worth it. It’s a difficult, all-day adventure to be sure, but I hope after they got home, showered, reminisced about surviving, and posted all of their photos on social media that they changed their minds. I am proud of all of them for summiting that mountain!

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We ended our own adventure around 3:45 PM. My boots were shed immediately (small toes still intact, but just barely) and headed for home. Monday peak bagging: done.

A Tour of the Pacific Northwest – Nov 2015

The day that Jesse returned from Germany was also the day his sister, Hanna flew in to Portland to visit us. She lives on the South Island of New Zealand and we were excited to show her a bit more of Portland and the greatness of the Pacific Northwest (she visited us before, many moons ago now it seems).

Jesse and Hanna spent the first weekend of her visit in Vancouver, BC…sadly I had to stay behind this time. The following weekend we all traveled up to Seattle to take in some Space Needle / Pike Place Market / Great Wheel and other Seattle-y goodness. Unfortunately for Hanna, she missed out on the wonder of the Gum Wall – it had been cleaned off just days before for the first time in 20 years!

Later they joined some friends for a tour of the Boeing factory and I ran a Thanksgiving themed 10k event at Green Lake on a whim (my running buddy for this one was a 4 year old; but he was in the 250m dash! Look at him go!)

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Finishing time – 55:54

We concluded the weekend with a hike up Mt. Si with our friends and respective canine family members.

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My first hike up Mt. Si was was with Jesse on one of our first dates. I remember it being snowy and I was hurting. I put on my bravest face and tried not to be sad about it, but I remember struggling to find footing on the ice and to keep up with Jesse; my leg muscles screaming all the way to the [false] summit. After many slow hours, we reached the turn around point, built a tiny snowman and headed back for the descent. This time? It felt like an easy walk right up to the top, with a sweet rock scramble to the true summit (I had even run a 10k earlier that morning!). I took a moment to reflect on how far I’ve come with my fitness and how much more enjoyable these adventures are when I’m not frustrated with the limits of my body. I felt proud just then.

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We watched as the sky turned from blue to pink to black as the sun went down over Mt. Rainier and Seattle in the distance. The three of us shivered through some selfies (while our friends stayed behind with the dogs) and began our downclimb. We then hiked back with headlamps and flashlights, embracing the downhill. It was a fantastic afternoon – I know Jesse was excited to share his beloved Mt. Si with Hanna.

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img_1237 A few days later, Hanna and I enjoyed a Trailblazers game (although they lost to the Bulls). My parents arrived to spend Thanksgiving weekend with us and on Black Friday Hanna caught her plane back to NZ.

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It seems like so long ago now, but it was a very busy and exciting November!