Enchantments Backpacking – 8/23-26/17

I flew back to Portland from Colorado on Monday night, then spent Tuesday shopping for backpacking food / gear and Tuesday evening we drove to Ellensburg, WA to stay in a cheap motel before taking off for a 4 day/3 night backpacking trip on Wednesday morning. I love piggy-backing adventures, but it was a whirlwind week, for sure!

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We started Wednesday morning at IHOP, fueling up before the next few days of consuming dehydrated meals and trail mix. We had to make a quick pit stop in Leavenworth because *someone* forgot their down jacket and had to purchase a new one! I won’t name names…

We arrived at the Snow Lakes Trailhead of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and after a final pack weigh-in (mine was ~33 lbs), last minute candy bar snack, and hearty sunscreen application, we were ready to get going. It was already a gazillion degrees and our destination was up.

Let me take a step back and introduce our backpacking party: Jesse & me, our good friends from Idaho, Lindsey & John, their lovely neighbor, Anna, and Lindsey & John’s 9-month old daughter, who I’ll call kid-O.

Photo by John

Taking another step back, let me explain the trip a bit more. We were backpacking The Enchantments, which the Washington Trails Association describes as: “an alpine paradise of granite worn smooth by glaciers, larches manicured by wind and cold, and crystal blue lakes strung together by a creek that tumbles and thunders between them. Seemingly everywhere, herds of mountain goats calmly wander by.” That is quite accurate, I’d say. Camping in The Enchantments is by permit only, and a lottery to boot. Camping in the “core zone” is an even harder lottery to win, but after years of trying, Lindsey & John’s names were finally drawn and they invited us to join the adventure (with the caveat that they would have kid-O along). No doubt, we’d be joining.

Back to the hiking. In all honesty, kid-O had more backpacking experience than I had (she’d been once that summer already and I had been exactly 0 times before in my life), but I was keen to keep up with the party. The trail was as beautiful as the pictures led me to believe. Unfortunately, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest were particularly bad this summer. Evening/night number one smelled of smoke and we could see it in the distance. Luckily it cleared up over the next few days, but hikers and campers with permits in the week after us weren’t so lucky. They had to be evacuated and lost the chance to use their permits due to the fires. We were fortunate.

The core zone was just out of reach for day 1, as hunger for everyone set in and we wanted to avoid setting up camp / having dinner in the dark. We called it a day at Nada Lake (~7.5 miles; 3,500 feet of gain). After dinner, Jesse & John strung up the food sacks, we stuck our feet in the cool alpine water, and then headed to bed.

Photo by Lindsey

The next day we had breakfast and took off again. After a few miles, we relaxed on the shores of Snow Lakes, saw our first mountain goat, had lunch and refilled water bladders in a gorgeous shady spot by Snow Creek, and eventually made it to the core zone. We had dinner / spent our second night in a rock shelter next to Lake Viviane and Prusik Peak.

Photo by Lindsey

Photo: Lindsey

Here is where the real adventure began. It was windy and much colder than our first night. I had on a merino bra, merino t-shirt, two merino long-sleeved tops, my down jacket, and my rain jacket. I had on a hat and gloves, merino leggings, and my hiking pants. I was freezing and desperate to crawl into my sleeping bag. The bigger problem, however, was that we had set up our camp in what was seemingly a mountain goat’s lair. We had 3 goats, and 1 particularly menacing one, circling us for about an hour. Jesse, John, & Anna bravely threw rocks, yelled, “sword”-fought with trekking poles, and other various methods of getting the goats to retreat, while Lindsey, kid-O, and I tried to keep warm and calm. Eventually it was too dark to continue fending off the goats and we all resigned ourselves to bed. We were pretty sure the goats just wanted to sniff around and find some of our salty snacks, but they were quite intimidating nonetheless.

The next morning, we all had a leisurely breakfast, were annoyed by another mountain goat (though this one was much more patient as we packed up camp), had a good little photoshoot, and took off back down the trail toward “home”.

“Look that way, kid-O!” Photo: Lindsey

After a day of downhill hiking, we ended up back at Nada Lake for our final night. We were there early enough that we could set up camp and hang out a bit, rather than just eating and calling it a night. Jesse & John decided to take a swim in the lake – by swim I mean a 3-4 second dunk accompanied with shrieks of shock and pain. That water was cold! I could only go in to my shins for about 30 seconds before I couldn’t take it anymore, so they were especially brave! But it was nice to freshen up and “wash” some clothes.

We spent the evening tying climbing knots, eating, doing dishes, and just lazing around. Kid-O played with her balloon, a cup, some rocks…and was having a genuinely happy time. With each night, Lindsey & John would apologize for kid-O being loud but I honestly hadn’t heard a peep out of her once. Granted, I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper but I was truly impressed with how easy-going she had been all trip. Oblivious to the work her parents put in to make the adventure a success for everyone, she played with her pinecones, tent stakes, and sticks without a care in the world. I, and every other hiker we passed those 4 days, was impressed.

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Lindsey

Morning came, we all donned clean clothes, no longer rationed our food supplies, and we made our way back to the trailhead. Six friends, 4 days, 3 nights, ~20 miles, and nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain, we were back at the car. My final pack weight came in around 25 pounds (the lightest of all of us..!).

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Lindsey

Photo by Google Earth / Lindsey

We headed to Leavenworth for some real food, beers all around, ice cream, and bittersweet good-byes. It was funny how after just a few days of being disconnected in the wilderness, I was annoyed by the amount of vehicle and foot traffic once we were back in town. I didn’t want to turn my phone on, fearing what world news I had missed. While I looked forward to running water and my own bed, I gave into the cliché of feeling like I could survive on less.

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Mailbox Peak – 6/3/17

I love this photo. Everything about it is my favorite. Laughter. Girlfriends. The moody Pacific Northwest. Novelty. Precariousness. Pink. Adventure.

I heard about Mailbox Peak from a woman at the Green Monster Duathlon a few months ago. She told us she uses the hike as a training route and I knew I had to visit it. My favorite Washington ladies and I had been planning this hike ever since and the day finally arrived. I added one of my best Portland friends to the mission and at a very dark 4 AM, we made our way up to the trailhead some 3 hours away.

We took up the last of the parking spots at the trailhead and started up the Old Trail. “Non-trivial” is going to be my description: 2.5 miles and 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

The actual trail wasn’t always obvious and we took turns being the trailblazer, not wanting to claim responsibility for getting the group lost in the woods! It was foggy and cool and I wasn’t complaining. It was steep and root-y. I was amazed at how different this forest in northern Washington looked from other nearby hikes I’d been on. I enjoyed every grueling second of our ascent.

After passing the intersection of the Old and New trail (and teasing the man with the enviably luscious locks), we hit the rock scramble and I scoffed. “These are basically stairs!” we all thought. The path was clear as day and easy to navigate. The trip reports warned of it being a bit technical, so I was surprised at how basic it seemed.

Eventually, the boulders turned to rocks and then turned to stones and then pebbles, and indeed the hiking guides were right. It was a short but vertical climb to the summit.

As the photos show, we were socked in all day. Our views should have been of Seattle, Rainier, and various other mountain ranges all around. Just a few hundred yards from the summit we stopped to see just the tip of Rainier peeking out. Within about a minute it was gone and never popped out again.

We reached the top, elbowed our way through the crowd to the mailbox, wrote our letters to Santa, took a few photos, then plopped down to eat some snacks. I was thankful I put on some bug spray at the car, as we were swatting mosquitoes away.

The mailbox’s contents are ever-changing. This particular day there was a Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, a hiker’s log, stuffed animals, some foreign currency, a water jug, and many other random items. It is such a unique destination and a fun way to leave behind a piece of yourself at the summit.

On the descent, we took the New trail, which was much less rough, but twice as long and had relentless switchbacks. It was a beautifully maintained trail and I was wishing I could run (or sprint) all the way down.

At some point, I had to pee so badly I couldn’t stand it. The new trail was relatively busy, so I hussed up the side of the trail behind a tree, telling my buddies to keep watch. No sooner had I dropped my pants, did a fellow (male) hiker come walking up and then sat down on a tree stump directly in front of me, just feet away from my “watchwomen”! Mortified, I aborted my mission and jogged down the hill. “You people had ONE job!” I teased. Laughing, they were distracted by a bag of candy. I think the male hiker was more embarrassed than I was. “I didn’t see anything, I promise!” he assured me. I conceded I’d have to wait until we were out of the woods (no pun intended).

It was such a lovely adventure and after reaching the cars and changing clothes and shoes, we picked a nearby brewery to convene for lunch. Over a few homemade chicken strips and french fries, we planned our next ladies hike. I can’t wait!