Exploring the Big Sky Country of Glacier National Park

Day 1Siyeh Pass Loop

My first hike in the park was completing the Siyeh loop, starting at Siyeh bend and finishing at Sunrift gorge (going the reverse route tacks on roughly 2k more feet of climbing). The Gaia app tracked this at 10.2 miles and 2,236 feet of elevation.

Entering Preston Park

The hike starts climbing gradually through the forest and continues to do so for about 1.1 miles before hitting the junction with Piegan Pass. Head off to the right and after another 1.8 miles enter Preston Park. Now I don’t know who Preston is, but his or her park is beautiful. Abundant wildflowers and dramatic mountain views are what you behold while walking through this magical alpine valley.

Once through the park you start the switchback climb to Siyeh Pass. At about 700 feet, the climb itself isn’t too aggressive, just enough to get the heart rate high. From this point till the end of the hike you’re in sun exposed terrain so lots of water and sunscreen are a must on a hot, sunny day. Once at the top, views of Matahpi Peak, Mount Siyeh and Goat Mountain command your attention. Continuing on one of the highest maintained trails in Glacier NP, you reach amazing views of Baring Creek Valley, Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and Sexton Glacier. It’s tough to watch where you’re walking when waterfalls, colorful rock formations and scenic vista’s hold your attention.

The Krummholz

Once you’ve switch backed your way towards relatively flat land, you will come across a forest of stunted trees known as krummholz. The last remnants of the hike skirt Baring creek until you reach your final destination at Sunrift gorge trailhead.

Day 2Avalanche Lake & Lake McDonald Kayak

Parking around GNP tends to fill up very early so I kicked off at 6:30am from the Trail of the Cedars. The path through Trail of the Cedar’s is along an ADA friendly boardwalk with information posted about the local flora. Close to where the Avalanche lake trail branches off there is a fantastic view of vibrant Avalanche gorge, worthy of a momentary stop for sure.

The Avalanche trail is 4 miles and Trail of the Cedars 1/2 mile per hikinginglacier.com (I forgot to track via my Gaia app). The trail is a gradual climb through the woods for most of the hike, passing some pretty, moderate sized waterfalls in the beginning. After that it’s fairly straightforward with little to see along the way (IMO).

However, the lake itself does not disappoint. Three dramatic waterfalls originating from the unseen Sperry Glacier flow down from Little Matterhorn to feed the lake. A hiker I met along the shoreline said he felt like he was in a scene from Jurassic Park. I followed the shoreline until the trail closure (due to bear activity) and found a quiet spot to sit on a rock and enjoy the views of the lake. It’s a short, relatively easy hike with a good payoff, as long as you start early!

Avalanche Lake

After the hike, I got my kayak inspected and launched on Lake McDonald from Sprague Creek Camp. If one is looking for solitude, this is where it’s found. I practically had the lake to myself short of a couple other kayakers’ way off in the distance. After about 1.5 hours the wind quickly picked up and forced me to dig my paddles in and grind it out back to shore. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented from Apgar village if you’re interested and don’t have your own watercraft.  That is if chilling in complete solitude on a pristine lake surrounded by mountains is your thing.

View of Lake McDonald from Kayak
View of Lake McDonald from Kayak

Day 3 – Highline Trail

This hike is rated #1 in the park and for good reason! The trail starts from Logan’s Pass and has you following high above Going to the Sun road for about 2.5 miles before turning to climb up to Haystack pass.

Going to the Sun Road & Logan's Pass
Going to the Sun Road & Logan’s Pass

If you and heights don’t get along than this is likely not the hike for you, if you dig views for days, than this is your jam! The beginning of the hike is known for the cables used for skirting the edge. But to be honest many other parts of the trail are narrower with no safety cables.

Once the trail turns from the pass you begin to hike under the Garden wall on a pretty flat plain. Most of the hike is exposed and there are a couple talus crossings and forested canopies (don’t forget to say hey bear, whistle, sing loudly or otherwise make noise when approaching the forested areas or blind corners).

At 6.9 miles, you come to the junction for the Grinnell glacier overlook (the word overlook is a stretch as you are really just on the knife edge of the Continental Divide). At 0.6 miles and 900 feet of elevation, this spur trail will leave your thighs burning. There’s no mixing words, it’s an uphill slog the whole way. But the views of Grinnell Glacier and The Salamander, totally worth it! The effect of the glacial sediment coloring Grinnell Lake looks like something out of a Bob Ross painting. The day I hiked up, sunny skies quickly turned into a rainstorm which perfectly timed its arrival with mine at the mountaintop. The hike back down isn’t forgiving on the knees or the mindset when wet and slippery.

Grinnell Glacier & The Salamander
Grinnell Glacier and The Salamander

Once back on the Highline trail, its 0.8 miles to the Granite Park Chalet. This makes for a great hiker pit stop before heading back to the pass or down to the loop trailhead. I had fortunately made friends with some hikers and was able to complete the loop with them vs. hiking back the way I came. In total, the Highline from the pass to the loop trailhead with the Grinnel Glacier side trip was 13.7 miles and 2,014 feet of elevation according to my GPS.

 Day 4 – Bowman Lake

 I headed out to Bowman Lake intending to hike the Numa Ridge lookout trail. I stopped off in Polebridge for the famous Huckleberry bear claws and I can attest that they are worth the hype and the extra ass fat. The road to Bowman Lake is roughly 30 miles from Apgar Village and isn’t paved after the first 10 miles. It’s mostly well grated dirt roads except for the first mile after Polebridge and the last 7 to the lake. Once at the trailhead there were the typical grizzly warning signs as well as a caution to not hike alone or at night…well shit!

I walked along the Bowman lake trail…alone…for about an 8th of a mile before hitting the Numa Ridge trail split off. After giving myself a five minute pep talk, I headed up the trail. As I was hiking, I clanked my poles and kept clearing my throat to alert any potential wildlife of my presence. About a mile into walking through the dense forest, I still hadn’t seen any other humans and kept thinking to myself how stupid this was.

Bowman Lake

I was so freaked out about bears, hiking alone, and knowing that not a single soul knew where I was, that I wasn’t even enjoying the hike. Deciding I didn’t want to be a cautionary tale, I turned around and went back down to hang out by the lake. I found a little quiet spot to journal, reflect on my trip thus far, and just enjoy the beauty around me. Maybe I would’ve been fine, perhaps I wouldn’t have seen any wildlife whatsoever. But it wasn’t a chance I was willing to take for a few mountaintop pics.

Day 5 – Gunsight Lake

After backing out of the previous days hike, I was determined to get into the woods. First I drove out to the Wild Goose lookout because it’s a cool spot, the most photographed part of the park, and it’s the opening shot of the movie, the Shining. After that my hike of the day was to Gunsight Lake which my GPS recorded at 12.3 miles and 1,529 feet of elevation.

After yesterday’s attempt, I was nervous but knew I needed to get out and face my fears. The night before, I read some stat that roughly 200 people have actually been attacked by bears within the park, so with as many people that visit, I figured my odds were good. There was heavy overgrowth on both sides of the trail, many parts being up to my waist or higher…prime places for bears to be. So onward and upward while whistling, which I discovered I am not good at, and talking loudly to myself. I figured a crazy looking, out of tune, disheveled hiker was likely to scare any prey away…and definitely any potential suitors should any have been on the trail.

Mirror Pond & Mount Jackson
Mirror Pond & Mount Jackson

About 3 miles into the hike, a very short opening in the forest reveals a look at mirror pond with Mount Jackson looming high above. Outside of that, there are little views to be had for about the first 4.5 miles of the hike. It’s pretty much soft bushwhacking and talking to oneself. Once the views do open up you get a fantastic view of Mt. Logan, Mt. Jackson, and Blackfoot and Jackson Glaciers. This remains the view until just a little less than a mile before the lake, which you don’t see until your right at it.

Impressive views of Gunsight Mountain open up and the last 0.7 mile is hiking through a very tall meadow of wildflowers with views of Mt Jackson, Gunsight Mountain, Fusillade Mountain and Jackson Glacier. While the first half of the hike doesn’t offer much in the way of views, you get your payoff in the end. Yet another impressive alpine lake fed by multiple waterfalls cascading down from various parts of the mountain.

Day 6Piegan’s Pass

As the first 1.1 miles of the trail is shared with the Siyeh pass trail that I had previously hiked, I moved pretty quickly to the Piegan Pass junction. Once at the junction I took a left and continued to climb through what looked much like Preston Park, respite with wildflowers and picturesque high alpine meadows.

After about 3 miles, the hike makes its way across the talus slopes of Mount Siyeh and affords great views of Piegan Glacier. From this point forward the trail is completely exposed and in late Aug only one minor snow field existed, which was easy to navigate.

Once at the pass, keep walking a couple hundred feet and the views open up to Angel Wing, Bishops Cap and Mount Gould along with sweeping views of Many Glacier valley. Even in summer, pack a jacket as the winds kicks up significantly and temperatures drop about 15 degrees at the top. As with every other hike in GNP, it did not disappoint.

Amazing hikes, ever changing mountain scenery, waterfalls, alpine lakes and meadows, sunsets at lake McDonald, and no Grizzly encounters made for a pretty solid six days at GNP. More pictures from my hikes within GNP can be found by going to my photography site.

Sunset at Lake McDonald
Sunset at Lake McDonald

Knee deep in a peat bog in Patagonia

Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence – Hermann Buhl

My last full day in Patagonia, I set my sights on hiking to Esmiralda Lake. It was (on paper) supposed to be a relatively easy hike at 5 miles and minimal elevation. I got to the trailhead confident in my ability and excited for my last hike. About five feet into the trail, I hit mud. And not just a little mud but more like a couple of inches of mud at minimum! And the mud masked the very large tree roots that made up the trail, until you stepped on them and then slid forward or backward. So it was basically a perfect test of your core strength, surefootedness and overall level of clumsiness.

Now I’m not opposed to some mud, rain, adverse conditions and a little unpleasantness while hiking. But hiking over a mile in thick ass mud is not a whole lot of fun. After the mud pit slip in slide, I came to a section with boards. As I walked over the boards they started to sink into what I thought was mud. I then realized this was going to be my first experience with a peat bog.

The start of the peat bogs
The very start of my Peat Bog experience

See I had read about peat bogs in the days leading up to this hike. Horses and other wild Argentinean animals having learned the hard way, will flat out refuse to move forward and will turn back. This is because their weight causes them to sink immediately, invoking panic which causes them to sink further until submerged too far to get them out. The worst part is that the ground looks deceptively stable and you cannot tell how deep it is until it’s too late.

So as I’m walking over the boards, I start to think about animals sinking to their death over the very thing I’m walking on…happy thoughts Tara, happy thoughts. The second section of boards was almost submerged, so I looked for an alternative path. I watch this family go around the boards to what looked to be a stable area, until one of the kids foot goes straight into the peat and he loses his shoe. They finally found a stable path and I wisely followed that same path.

Beautiful river with waterfall flowing beside the trail.
The prettiest place I’ve taken an open air bath:)

Pass the bog, the trail briefly follows this beautiful river scene, seducing one into forgetting what they just hiked through. At this point the trail stays dry for about a half mile which was a nice reprieve. Unfortunately that didn’t last long and I came upon a second peat bog. A couple of groups attempted the boards and turned around when they started sinking too much. It became a free for all of people trying to find ways around the bog.

I tried following the boards as closely as I could but they were sinking further in the farther out I got. There was a section close to the boards that appeared stable and with the first couple of steps it was. That was until my left leg went knee deep (literally) into the bog. Thankfully my right leg was stable on a board and I thought best not to move from this position.

I lifted my leg up multiple times and it wouldn’t budge in the slightest. It was a delicate balance of keeping my right leg stable while pulling my left one up with all I had. I was getting nowhere. Finally a fellow hiker came to my aid. He tried pulling my leg out with both hands and still no movement. He adjusted his position and one of his legs fell in but was able to get himself out pretty quickly.

I had him grab hold of me so I could plunge my arms into the bog and grab my shoe, which is when I realized my foot was lodged under a branch. After twisting my foot slightly and using both hands, I was able to pull my leg up and out of the bog. I followed the guy backwards until we were both on solid ground. He told me to continue to follow him and his father as they forged their way around the rest of the bog. By this point I was thoroughly freaked the “f” out. I thanked him profusely but said I’d be turning around. He asked a couple more times but I was pissed, scared, and wanted out of this bog. I carefully made my way back to the trail and was never so happy to see “just” a couple inches of mud!

Back at the river, I found a shallow spot to wash the mud caked lower half of my body. I basically took a half bath in a beautiful stream in the middle of nowhere at the southernmost point of Argentina. This moment somewhat made up for what had just happened. After my bath, I took my time heading back, trying to find some sort of enjoyment from this hike.

It’s hard to stay mad when you look up and see this beautiful scenery

Rarely do I feel this way, but I was so relieved once back at the trailhead. As with any difficult encounter, I tried to learn from the experience.

1. Popular trails in the US are often maintained and closed if safety becomes an issue, this is not always the case in other countries.

2. Research the environment you will be hiking through so you’re aware of the potential dangers and have a hiking strategy. I had read about this trail being caked in mud, full of tree roots to the point of obnoxious and had recently read of peat bogs, but no amount of reading could’ve prepared me for just how bad it really was.

3. Never underestimate a trail, even when the distance is short and elevation minimal.

4. Always take your hiking poles! I wish I’d taken them because I could’ve used them to gauge the depth of the bog prior to stepping in.

This hike instilled fear in me for a while after. The first couple of times I went solo hiking after this, my mind created excuses not to go. I knew it was because of what happened and I forced myself to go hiking anyway. I wouldn’t let this stop me from doing a thing I love. What I needed to do was learn from my mistakes and become a smarter solo hiker.

That hike was what I needed to knock the cockiness out of me. I need a reality check now and again, and one that leaves me stuck knee deep in a peat bog will certainly do the trick.

Day trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier

My final day in El Chalten was spent hiking the Cerro Torre route to Laguna and Glacier Torre. It was a relatively easy hike compared to my last two, to Laguna de Los Tres and Cagliero Glacier. This hike is roughly 11 miles in total with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, which is mostly at the beginning of the hike, leaving the back half a flat, easy stroll through forests of Lenga.

The sun was behind the clouds most of the day, as were the spires. About halfway to the laguna, the glacier comes into view and at the lake, what looked like intentionally carved icebergs floated about. After the hike, I hopped on a bus for a 3 hour trip to El Calafate. I loved my time in El Chalten and wasn’t’ really ready to leave, but I had a date with a glacier that I didn’t want to miss.

My time in El Calafate was short and the only reason I was going was to day hike on the Perito Moreno Glacier. The Perito Moreno glacier is well known as one of the only glaciers continuing to expand its overall size due to accumulating mass at a greater rate than its loss. The glacier is also the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world.  

The next morning a big ole bus came to pick me up at my hotel…this tour wasn’t going to be intimate! The tour was led by Hielo & Aventura and is the only way to gain access to hike on the glacier. The company offers several different options for experiencing the glacier and I chose the mac daddy of them all, the Big Ice option. This allows one to see the glacier from the park viewpoints, then by boat and finally via 3.5 hours of hiking on the glacier itself.

Perito Moreno glacier from the deck of the park viewpoint.

The bus ride is about an hour long and during that time the bi-lingual guide gives an abundance of history on the glacier and surrounding mountains. At the park viewpoint we had about 30 minutes to walk around the various levels and take in this massive land of ice from above. You could hear continuous mini ruptures breaking away from the glacier and I was fortunate to see a couple in action.

From the boat, you come close to the walls of the glacier, spanning over 200 feet out of the water. The sheer magnitude took my breath away. It’s a strange sort of beautiful and I was fortunate to see it under clear, super sunny skies. Once we reached the shore, it’s about a 2 mile hike over a rocky trail to the point at which we put crampons on and stepped onto the glacier. Before the hike, the group was first split by language and then again into groups of 10, with two guides for each group.

View of Perito Moreno glacier from the start of the trek and just past the boat dock.
View of Perito Moreno glacier from the start of the trek and just past the boat dock.

Once on the glacier, we hiked for roughly three hours. It was a surreal experience. Every shade of blue in the Crayola crayon box was on display. I trekked over mini lakes trapped under thick sheets of ice. Spires of sparkling ice floated up all around us and every turn revealed little streams, ice caves, and natural formations that no artist could replicate. We ate lunch next to a crevasse, because why not!

At one point, we had to cross a crevasse that was about three feet wide and who only knows how deep. This is where we got real technical ya’ll, jumping across while the guides grabbed at our arms. While likely not the safest approach, we all made it. It was definitely one of those moments you realize could be a total shit show ending in the loss of your life, or a fantastic memory to write about in your blog, thankfully this time it was the latter.

We peered into one huge crevasse and I asked the guide if they were allowed to rappel down them and he said yes, but why would I want to. I said because it looks like fun…he looked at me like I was crazy. I told him I wanted to camp on the glacier so I could wake up in the morning to the sun rising over the ice…he again looked at me like I was crazy.

Sippin on Argentinian whiskey cooled with glacial ice.

I have no idea how far we hiked along the ice because you lose all time and space on a glacier. On the boat ride back, the guides broke out some Argentinian whiskey and ice they had chipped from the glacier. It was the perfect drink, and way, to end what felt like a badass day hiking on one of the larger glaciers in the southern hemisphere.

“I’ve accepted where I am in my life, I’m happy and I’m excited for the future. I’ve cried enough tears, and now it’s time to enjoy it.” Lindsey Vonn

It’s not a contest

It’s not about the number of miles I’ve hiked, the number of peaks I’ve bagged, or about getting the perfect “Gram” shot. For me, it’s about the journey.

We only get one shot at this thing called life. We owe it to ourselves to try and make the most of it. When it all goes to shit, whether that be tomorrow or 20 years from now, I want to look back with no regrets.

At the young age of 64, my Uncle Steve took his last breath. Moments before doing so, he told me he had no regrets, that he and my aunt had taken every trip that they wanted, had visited every place they dreamt of seeing. While it broke me inside to watch a man that I considered to be like a 2nd father to me live the last moments of his life, I was so flipping proud of him for having lived a life that he was content with leaving.

And while he lived a good life, it came at a cost. He served in a war he didn’t volunteer to be in, which changed the course of his life. He married the woman who would forever remain the love of his life; however, his days ended having been the caregiver to her after she had a paralyzing stroke. Through it all, he found a way to be grateful, and to view his life as one to be satisfied with.

Ever since that moment in the hospital saying goodbye to my Uncle Steve, I vowed to live my life. I vowed to take the trips I wanted to take, climb those fucking mountains even though they make my ass pucker the whole way up and down, to hug hard and vocalize my love to those around me even if it makes them uncomfortable. And with every bucket list trip I’ve completed, with every dollar I’ve put towards travel instead of security, as frivolous as it may sound, I can now say….if it all goes to shit…I have no regrets. 

Thank you Uncle Steve and Aunt Robbie for showing me that things weigh us down, that experience frees us, and that living our lives being true to ourselves, no matter how it looks to those outside, is what truly matters most.

And thanks to my bestie, Sophie, for showing me how to enjoy…every…single…moment, no matter how big or how small.

Climbing the Via Ferrata & trek to Cagliero Glacier

  • “I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find the perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary”. –Anthony Bourdain

My second hike in Patagonia was with a tour group, Fitz Roy Expeditions, to hike, rock climb and do a little glacier trekking. I’ll start off by saying that I’m generally not a fan of group tours but will make exceptions when I believe it’s the best way to learn the history of a particular place, if it provides access that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, or if I’m about to do something that might be stupid or unsafe to do alone. This hike fell into the latter two categories.

The morning of the hike I’m in the hotel lobby waiting to be picked up and of course wanting to shit my pants as I think of every possible bad scenario that could happen. Being the hike was listed as strenuous, I figured for sure it would be a van full of dudes and super fit chicks all experienced at scaling mountains…and then me. The night before, my period decided it would be a good time to show up so now I’m also worried about having to stop and do personal trail maintenance during the hike. How does one ask a group to stop for a tampon time out? And oh my word, what if I have to shit in the middle of scaling these walls. Yep, this is what I think about while waiting for a group tour to start. I’m not worried about falling off a mountain or into a crevasse, but if I’ll shit my pants. I’m clearly more confident in my climbing skills than I am in regulating my bodily functions.

As I’m working myself into a self-induced panic attack my guide walks into the hotel, this cute upbeat hiker chick. I follow her to the van and other than the male driver there is only one other woman. The hike was going to be me, the other woman who I came to know as Carina, and the female guide. Well this is kinda badass…three chicks going to climb a mountain and hike on a glacier! I feel like the universe was for sure working with me that day. Not that I would’ve minded guys on the trip, I was just happy the group size was small and that it wasn’t full of super serious outdoor junkies levels above me in ability. 

Now onto the hike! It took about 45 minute to the trail via a not so smooth road. We stopped off at a Mirador viewpoint because there was a perfectly placed rainbow shining in front of a mountain. Once at the trailhead, it was a roughly 4 mile hike till we started the climbing portion.

The hike was along a very well maintained trail, mostly shaded in a canopy of lenga, and for much of the route followed the Diablo River. The trek is through the Los Huemules Reserve which is private, protected land and thus requiring a small fee to enter. Being the trail is farther outside of town it gets much less attention than those within walking distance. We only came across two other groups of hikers the entire day as compared to the hundreds that hike to Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Torre.

Lenga forest

There really was no wildlife to speak of during the hike. There are huemul, the south Andean deer that is Chile’s national animal and considered an endangered species, but we didn’t see any. The guide said Puma’s can be spotted now and again, but it is apparently very rare.

The elevation gain from the start of the trail to the first set of domes (where we were to pick up our climbing gear), was roughly 1000 ft. Once we picked up our gear we hiked alongside Laguna Diablo until we reached the Via Ferrata, the rock climbing section, which was about another quarter mile out. This was a non-technical climb using harnesses and clipping into steel wires while using a mix of steel steps and rock face.

The climb itself was a little over one kilometer…but as I learned from my previous day’s hike…one km can really kick your ass! The first half was mostly horizontal, scaling the side of the rock face over the Laguna. There were two vertical climbs, one about mid-way through and the other at the end. The first vertical climb was about two hundred feet and generally easy to navigate, with the exception of one spot where my legs weren’t quite long enough to get from one foot hold to the other, so some serious arm work was at play.

The second vertical climb was about 800 feet of straight up fun. I was having such a good time the guide let me go ahead and lead the three of us. At the top, we hiked along a rocky ridge before the path eventually drops down towards the second set of geodesic domes and the glacier itself. In all it’s about 2 miles from the start of the ferrata to the glacier.

Cagliero Glacier

From the top of the mountain all the way towards the glacier, I was getting blown backwards by the legendary Patagonian winds. I felt like Jim Cantore reporting the news from a beach in the middle of a hurricane.

We didn’t spend too much time on the glacier because the weather was about to turn and the guide of course wanted to get us back safely. It was a pretty surreal experience and I really wanted to trek further up the ice. There weren’t many crevasses and the one’s I saw were fairly small and easy to maneuver over. I sat down to take it all in and it looked like I was sitting in between waves of ice.

After about 30 minutes on the glacier, it was time to head back up the ridge and down the rock face. It started to rain so that added an extra layer of fun trying to grab foothold on wet rocks, ya know the kind of fun that also scares the shit out of you. Heading back to the trailhead, the three of us hiked our own hike. While we stayed within eyesight distance, I could tell we were all ready to finish the experience in our own heads, taking it in, and finishing it our own way.

After my post hike beers, I was planning to head back to the hotel. The band that had been playing at the bar was finishing up and people kept telling them to play more. So the band left the bar, headed into the street and started playing again. So what happens when a band leaves a bar in El Chaltén….well, the bar leaves and follows the band! I was super tired from a long day of hiking and yet, when the hell would I ever get the chance again to follow a band and dance down the street in a small city in Argentina? So for the next two hours I danced in the streets of El Chaltén with fellow hikers and locals.

Dancing in the streets of El Chalten

It was the most perfectly unscripted way to end such an epic hike and epic day. A moment like that could never have been planned, and more than likely won’t be repeated in any of my future travels.

Epic hiking to Laguna de Los Tres & Fitz Roy

My hiking adventure in Patagonia started out in the quaint little town of El Chalten. This hiker’s paradise is the equivalent of a typical ski resort…like Park City or Whistler. Most of the hikes are a short walk from town, and post hike, it’s a given to find yourself at a watering hole enjoying your après hiking beverage of choice…swapping stories with other hikers.

Once I arrived in El Chalten I checked the weather (something you must frequently do in Patagonia), and it appeared the next day would be the most optimal for hiking during my four day stay, so I went straight for the golden ticket hike, Laguna de Los Tres. My Gaia app has this trek at 12.5 miles and 2,647 ft. of elevation gain/loss. Not a bad first day hike was my thought.

I got my hiker booty up early and out by 7am to try and avoid the crowds. Before heading out, I stopped to double check the hiking conditions and weather with the concierge. He advised of potential rain in the afternoon and stated that the trail splits about two miles in, one way towards Laguna Capri and the other towards the Fitz Roy Mirador viewpoint, eventually merging back together. He told me to take the Mirador route on the way out for the best views of the spires.

Perfect view of Fitz Roy from the Mirador viewpoint.

The hike started out with a nice little ass burner, taking me from about 1500 ft. of elevation to roughly 2600 ft. in a little over a mile, through a moderately forested area with a few perfectly spaced viewpoints to take in some water and momentarily rest. Then the trail flattens out for an enjoyable walk…until the last kilometer, but more about that later. I was beyond grateful for the Mirador viewpoint advice because I arrived to get a perfect, sunny, rain free, clear view of Fitz Roy, it was hiker’s gold!

From this point the hike was relatively flat, going through beautiful lenga forests and open valleys with amazing views of the surrounding mountains, it was a rugged remote beauty that is very different from the hiking i’ve done in Washington. Because I left early, I encountered very few hikers on the way out to the Laguna and enjoyed the much needed solitude.

Sign warning of the difficulty of the last kilometer of the hike.

Upon reaching the last kilometer, I came across a sign that said to allow one hour for the remainder of the hike. I looked at the distance, did some quick math, and something wasn’t adding up. I mean, how could it take an hour to go one kilometer…which is a little over a half mile? The sign also said that the last kilometer was 400 meters of elevation. But you see, I chose not to do the math on that piece of data. FYI…400 meters of elevation in 1 kilometer = 1313 feet of elevation in 0.62 of a mile.

What the sign also failed to tell you was that you would be hiking for about a 10th of that 0.62 mile on a relatively flat surface before you turned a corner and saw the trail go very abruptly straight up a rock field.

Well shit, guess it’s as good a time as any to start sweating off all that steak and Malbec I consumed in Buenos Aires. And so up I went. At this point I was still cocky and thought there was no way this rock wall would take me an hour. This was the first of many times Patagonia would straighten my ignorant ass out.

So exactly about an hour later…after climbing over 1000 feet in a half mile, I reached Laguna de Los Tres. I was tired, spent, pissed that the sign was right and I was wrong, and utterly amazed at the view. As I was hiking up the wall of rocks I questioned whether a lake could be worth all this effort….and it totally was! Even with the spires already shrouded in fog, it was stunning.

At the Laguna I promptly devoured my lunch, likely resembling a trash panda tearing apart a squirrel. There was a roughly 500 ft. descent to the lake but I was too spent to go explore any further. I wanted to walk the shores of the lake and knew the photo opp’s would be great, but the problem was I didn’t know if I had it in me to climb back up!

While I was eating, the temperature dropped and it began to rain. Sudden, drastic shifts in weather are pretty normal in Patagonia from what I read, and I was going to have the luxury of experiencing it first-hand. I broke out my rain gear and spent a bit more time enjoying the Laguna. Throughout the hike I had gone from wearing my R1 fleece (yep, wearing my Patagonia in Patagonia…mind blown), to wearing just a tank top, to wearing a long sleeve shirt, donning my rain gear and back to my fleece.

On my way back down the rock wall, there was an entire ant hill of people making their way up. With the cold, rain and wind, I was happy to be making my descent, and also able to take my time traversing the now wet rocks.

As with all hikes I fall in love with, I took my time heading back. I wanted to savor every last bit of the trail and that feeling you get, the sense of accomplishment, the awe, the beauty, the reset. On the way back I followed the path to check out Laguna Capri and even though it was raining, I stopped to take some pictures, sit at the lake shore and just “be”.

After some reflection, and frankly, stillness of the mind, I finished my hike. I was ready for some carbs and a post hike beer, or two! It was the perfect Patagonia day, filled with amazing views, unpredictable weather, epic hiking, and it left me thirsty for more!

The beauty that is hiking Laguna de Los Tres

Stay tuned: next I’ll be posting about my non-technical climb and hike on Glacier Cagliero

It ain’t just about the good parts

Cape Flattery at sunset
Sunsets feed my soul

I don’t want my writing to be focused only on amazing trips and adventures that went according to plan, that’s not being real. Our real lives are messy, filled with moments of pure, unexpected joy and equally shitty moments that we would rather forget. Many of my greatest moments have come after dark nights, two parts alcohol shaken with one part heartbreak and swirled together in a fancy glass.

“Then let’s raise our cups and drink together, pour one heartache into another” – Tran Huyen Tran

My posts thus far have been about my awesome experience hiking the Wonderland trail and my very real fear of shitting myself #diaperlife! But life ain’t always about the good parts, and neither is my blog. Yes, I plan to share what I do on my mostly fun, and sometimes idiotic, adventures. But I also intend to be real, be myself, and share the not so fun topics of life that impact me, or dear friends, or family.

One of those real topics is about depression. I’ve suffered with bouts of depression throughout various stages in my life. I don’t say this to seek sympathy for I know I’ve led a very charmed life. But we all have shit (hopefully not running down our leg though), baggage that we’re working through. And depression doesn’t discriminate against the haves and the have not’s.

Living in Seattle during the winter probably doesn’t help, especially after moving from a place whose license plate reads…The Sunshine State! With little sun and rain set like clockwork, seasonal depression is a real thing out here in the PNW!

You might think that people who suffer from depression are weak. But I believe those who’ve been so unfortunate to feel the grip of depression are the strong ones, the strongest you might know. Why? Because they struggle every damn day, and every day they hide it. Every day they smile, comfort others, try and make those around them laugh, all the while struggling their damnedest to get out of bed and show up. Oftentimes when you see them, they are crumbling on the inside, wanting nothing more than to close themselves off from this life.

There’s a lot of debate about how to treat depression, and I won’t pretend to know the answer. But I do know that for me it starts with connection to others, and not social media connection, but real, true connection with people I know and trust to call upon. Sometimes all we need is a little kindness, a friendly smile, the feeling that someone hears us. These are not outlandish requests. This is basic human need.

Where I come back to myself

Getting outside has also become my medicine. I find solace, connection, challenge, beauty, and oftentimes happiness when I’m walking in the woods. Sure there are days when I can’t let go of the frustration or anger. Just like there are days when I go to yoga and unsuccessfully try and breath my way into gratitude, which sounds something like this…”I have gratitude, no really I’m grateful, damn it I’m f’ing grateful…shit #failing at yoga”.

So what’s the point of all of this? To show the real side of me, and not just the fun bits. To show that not only is it ok but it’s imperative that we be open about what we struggle with, how we deal with it, and how we’ve stumbled along the way. To let those who silently struggle know they’re not alone. To write about what’s worked for me and hopefully inspire others to seek out healthy ways to cope when those moments of darkness come creeping in.

My mantra lately has been to lead with love, which for me means to show up and be present, speak kindly and be an advocate for others, no matter if’s it’s a little vulnerable or awkward (it’s me so it’s definitively awkward). I’ve committed to showing up, trying to be my best self to me and to those around me, to be that connection, to Stay Smiling like my boy Tee Williams!

Whatever gives you that clarity, that contentment, eases the onslaught of depressed feelings, find a way to make time for it. Find a way to fit that into your life. Otherwise you’re compromising on the most important person…which is you!

 “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  “- Helen Keller

Wonderland Trail – Life in a Bob Ross Painting

Bear grass off the trial heading to Indian Bar

Hiking keeps me tough but consistently humbles me by showing me where I have yet to go, all that I have yet to learn.

What have I taken away from hiking the Wonderland trail? I’ve learned that the hiking community is filled with an inspiring, friendly, and all around great group of people. It taught me the mental benefits of being silent for long periods of time. While challenging, I became stronger having to navigate my way through river beds, around washouts and over rushing rivers on small logs…by myself.

I’m grateful that my body carried me successfully and with relative ease through this journey. Contentment came when my mind finally shut off and the racetrack of thoughts ceased to exist. I have such a profound appreciation for this park, and for the beauty that I couldn’t have otherwise seen without this hike.

Heading towards Summerland
Heading back towards Summerland from Indian Bar

I knew that nothing in my life would change significantly the less than two weeks I was on the trail, but my perspective did shift. I hope in moments of chaos, that I can look back on this experience and reset, remembering the feeling I carried with me off the trail.

It’s crazy to me to think that when I moved to Washington in 2016, I was scared to hike Hurricane Ridge…and now I’ve hiked most of Wonderland Trail, and solo! In all, I hiked roughly 87 miles (counting the round trip from Frying Pan Creek to Indian bar and back) and missed roughly 13 miles (the section between Sunrise to Indian bar and from Frying Pan creek to Box Canyon). I know I will go back and hike those sections, if not the entire trail again.

A few nights in the wilderness didn’t provide any ah ha moments of clarity on life or love. What it did do was remind me to hike my own hike, live my life the way I need to, and face each moment as it arrives. It taught me to be a little more like Elsa and let some shit go and enjoy the moments as they present themselves. And when I can’t enjoy those moments, well then just keep on trudging along until something shows up that reminds me to smile, like a hover fly named Dave. Most of all it taught me to be honest, raw and real with those around me, whether or not it makes someone else uncomfortable…to be authentically me, without apology.

My short list of nonsense:

  • If you happen upon a solo hiker, don’t assume they want trail company, as they may not. And if you’re itching to hike with them, ask if it’s ok to hike for a bit and then gauge the group temperament as you go.
  • If you’re a dude reading this and you come across a solo female hiker, I would recommend not asking her the following as both have the potential to make her feel uncomfortable.
    • If she’s alone
    • Where she’s camping for the night
  • Ladies, in the words of My favorite murder podcast hosts…fuck politeness. If your intuition leaves you uncomfortable, don’t feel like you need to be nice just to make someone else’s hike better. Slap on that RBF and hike your ass away!

The Well Pickled Wonderland Gear List

  • Gregory Diva 60 pack
  • Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Comfortable and easy to inflate/deflate but its super loud if you’re a roller.
  • MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Stove – No issues and was happy with it
  • MSR Titan Kettle
  • Snow Peak Titanium Spork
  • Snow Peak Titanium Single 450 Cup
  • Underwear: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs – Ugly as shit but supremely comfortable all day long! Patagonia Barely Bikini Underwear – not comfortable and only used to sleep in, I wouldn’t hike in them nor buy them again.
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent – Super easy to setup and break down. More than I needed but appreciated the extra space.
  • Women’s REI joule sleeping bag – Great bag, kept me warm, but lost more feathers than I would expect and not sure it would hold up great for a long endurance PCT type hike.
  • Patagonia R1 Full-Zip Hoodie – Bought on a recommendation from a friend and I can’t live without this now. I take it almost everywhere I go.
  • The North Face Bones Beanie
  • The North Face Etip Gloves
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket – Packs up into its pocket and I used it as a pillow. Super light and surprisingly warm, I would purchase again for sure.
  • Arc’teryx Zeta SL Rain jacket & pants – Kept me dry during almost three days of rain…enough said.
  • Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir – 2.5 Liters – Filled it up at night and most days it was enough water to get me through the whole day.
  • Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle – 32 fl. – Kept empty during the day and mostly used to filter water into at night for cooking so I didn’t deplete my bladder. Also had as a backup in case anything happened to the reservoir.
  • Katadyn hiker pro filter – Bulky but you can filter water from almost any water source.
  • My essentials bag (first aid, fire starter, headlamp and batteries, duct tape, rope, Mylar blanket, Swiss army knife)
  • Camera
  • Pee rag and a few wipes, tiny towel and a couple of zip lock bags
  • Roll-on Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a few bug repellent lotion packets
  • Seattle chocolates
  • Journal
  • I used Sea to Summit dry sacks for my essentials bag, clothes bag and food bag
  • Clothes: I had what I wore during the day and then Patagonia long johns at night, no additional clothing carried other than the layers and rain gear mentioned above.
  • Smartwool socks – 3 pairs (one to wear during the day, one pair for at night and one spare pair).

Navigation:

  • Green Trails Map – Mount Rainier Wonderland
  • Guthook App  – Map of the park, up to date info on water sources and tracking of location on trail as a back up to compass
  • Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite – mainly for emergency purposes only and good for weather updates.
  • Compass

Research (did not take with me):

  • Hiking the Wonderland Trail – Tami Asars

Wonderland Trail – Have you ever seen the rain?

  • Day 7 – Mystic Camp to Sunrise Camp
  • 8.9 miles: 2400 Gain, 1900 Loss

Last night, the temperature dropped quite a bit and rain persisted throughout the night. There was no break in the weather this morning which meant packing up camp in the rain. And this wasn’t the typical Seattle drizzle, this was full on rain. No matter how good you are at packing up your site, some of your shit is gonna get wet! I put on my rain gear for the second day and headed out towards Sunrise Camp.

There isn’t much to write about from this hike other than a day spent hiking in the rain and fog. I ate lunch basically hugging a tree, trying to get any sort of shelter I could while I ate. I came upon Berkeley Park which from what I could see through the fog and rain looked to be a stunningly beautiful meadow, or rather would be in nicer weather. Julie Andrews wasn’t running out and singing today. High above the park I did get my first look at an adult and baby mountain goat which was pretty cool.

Wonderland Trail
Berkeley Park…still beautiful when covered in fog

I reached Sunrise camp and all of the campsites were flooded, as were parts of the trail. There is an old Ranger shelter but it was boarded up and there was no overhang from the roof to create a dry spot to setup a tent. The weather report on my InReach showed rainfall to be steady throughout the night and following day.

I decided to walk to the Sunrise Visitor center a little less than a mile up from the campsite to see what options I might have of camping up there, or getting a ride back to my car. I didn’t want to walk off the trail, I really didn’t. Even though my rain gear was amazing and kept me dry underneath, I didn’t want to spend a third night in the rain, and yet another full day of hiking in the rain tomorrow. I cried on the way to the visitor’s center because I knew if I could find a ride I was going to take it, and I felt like such a quitter for even thinking about breaking my thru hike.

I got to the visitor’s center and came across a couple of other thru hikers facing the same decision as me. As we were drying our jackets, shoes, backpack covers, and tents by the huge fire in the visitor’s center, we started going over our options (camping at the visitor center was not allowable):

  1. Go back to Sunrise Camp and try to put my tent as close to the old Ranger station and hope it somewhat shelters me from the rain…and doesn’t flood.
  2. Continue to hike another 3.4 miles to the White River front country camp, pay the fee for a campsite and pitch the tent on top of a picnic table to keep it off the flooded tent pads. This site also allowed fires so it would be possible to stay warm…assuming I was actually able to get the fire started.
  3. Race it to the campsite and call dibs on sleeping in the enclosed privy (yes, it was actually discussed sleeping next to a wilderness toilet.
    1. Pro: I wouldn’t have had to worry about shitting my pants or getting wet to go potty.
    1. Con: Contracting giardia or some other ungodly parasite because you spent the night wrapped around a toilet in the woods…but hey, I would’ve been dry.
  4. Try and hitch a ride back to my car from someone at the visitor’s center.

After going over each choice numerous times and checking the weather via my InReach and with the Rangers, I decided to hitch it back to my car and abandon my thru hike of the Wonderland trail.

Yes, I could have continued and yes, I would have dealt with the rain. But my logic was that I would be spending yet another night and next full day in heavy rain which afforded absolutely no views of one of the most beautiful sections of the trail. So I would be hiking it just to say I did it.

So I went home with the plan to skip that night at Sunrise and the next night at Summerland, coming back to hike in and camp my final permit night at Indian Bar if the weather was clear.

I could not end this post without expressing my sincere gratitude to the Rainier National Park Rangers that let us hikers take over an entire area of the visitor’s center to dry our gear and rest. They were trying to provide every option available to us and were truly a gift to some cold, wet and tired hikers. And the biggest thank you of all to the trail angel who went out of his way to take me back to my car so I could sleep in a warm bed, instead of a cold tent over a water logged campsite or on top of a picnic table!

  • Day 8/9 – Frying pan creek to Indian Bar loop
  • 8.8 miles each way: 2900 Gain 1800 Loss

The storm finally cleared out and I was back on the trail, kicking off my hike from the Fryinpan Creek trailhead about 9am. The day was absolutely beautiful, despite fog rolling in and covering most of the mountain and surrounding hillside by noon. Even without complete views of Rainier, the landscape was amazing. It also helped my mood having had gone home and showered, cleaned my gear, and had pizza and a couple of beers (a huge improvement after seven days of dehydrated trail food).

Going through Panhandle gap with up close views of glaciers mixed with the desert like terrain was stunning, and nothing like I’d seen before. Once I crossed through Panhandle Gap I entered Ohanapecosh Park, this mega meadow filled with plant species such as lupine, American bistort, pasqueflower, paintbrush, mountain daisy, gray’s lovage, glacier lily, and avalanche lily. Views of distant mountains and evergreen trees complete the Bob Ross real life landscape painting. If I didn’t know better I’d swear Walt Disney himself came out and landscaped the trail. It’s crazy to me that each year this meadow goes through the cycle of seasons, the plants dying and then grow back into this beautiful landscape without human intervention. I image Berkeley Park must look similar to this and I vow to go back and see it someday when it’s not pouring down raining.

After crossing the park, the trail starts descending rapidly. I look down the trail and see this very tiny structure and realize it’s the group site at Indian Bar campground. I consult my trusty Green Trails map and deduce that there is only one mile to go before camp, and that mile is all vertical! At least I got lovely views while shredding my knees.

I got to camp and ran into my trail friends from the Sierra club as they were drying out their tents. They confirmed that it did in fact rain all throughout the night I walked off the trail and all the following day. We chatted for a good while about our trail experiences and what we planned to do next. I then settled into campsite #4, which wasn’t as great as the coveted #2 site, but it did have a path which led to a comfy little rock with solid and solitary views of the mountain, a great makeshift trail patio to enjoy dinner and my morning coffee.

Looking back towards Indian Bar on my way to Summerland

The next morning I took my time savoring my coffee while soaking up the scenery, my last day on the Wonderland trail. I had such a hard time removing my ass from that comfy little rock, from my lovely little camp patio…I wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to face what was out there, beyond the woods, beyond these mountains.  Reluctantly, I packed up and headed back towards my car at Fryingpan creek, with the sun shining all day and the mountain out for my entire hike…a sign, I don’t know what kind, but a sign. On that 8.8 miles back to my car, I was finally able to hike my own hike, to keep my pace slow enough to enjoy every last bit of the trail.

Wonderland Trail Day 5 & 6

Disclaimer: The Well Pickled Wonderland trail journal is more about my experience on the trail vs. descriptions of the trail itself. If you are looking for specific details on the actual trail, terrain, etc. I recommend picking up the book – Hiking the Wonderland Trail, written by Tami Asars. Listed mileage and elevation were sourced from the aforementioned book.

  • Day 5 – Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
  • 9.5 miles: 2329 Gain, 2300 Loss

Queue Ice Cube’s song, Today was a good day. I kicked off at my normal late hiking hour of 9am (turns out I’m just as lazy in the morning while backpacking as I am at home). I barely saw anyone all day and the few I did were thru hikers. I scared the shit out of two guys who thought I was a bear as I was coming down a switchback hidden by thick brush, making it possible to hear but not see me. They said they were about ready to trigger the bear spray…which would’ve made for a supremely bad day on the trail!

Today provided me with the solitude I was looking for and very much needed after the day before. It was another one of those day’s where my mind mostly shut off, which is a good thing! When solo hiking my mind has a tendency to try and wander to places it shouldn’t go…reminiscing about bad decisions, former lovers, paths I should’ve taken and warnings I should’ve listened to.

Thankfully Dave came along to occupy me today and keep my mind from wandering where it shouldn’t. Now this isn’t the same Dave that I met while getting my pass, this was Dave the hover fly, which looks a lot like a bee but without a stinger. You see, there was a man named Dave Zigler who was a close family friend of ours and he was well known to crack a corny joke about every five minutes. He had the most infectious smile and was just an all-around great guy. One day my dad was telling the story of how he got stung by a bunch of bees at work and Dave said casually, well ya know Howe, it just bees that way sometimes. I have no idea why, but that corny ass joke has always stuck with me. So when this bee wannabe started following me not long after I kicked off, I affectionately named him Dave and he became my hiking buddy for the day, popping up in front of my face every now and again to remind me he was there. It may sound weird but I took it as a reminder that while I was alone I wasn’t truly alone.

The only ass pucker moment of today was crossing South Mowich River. When I picked up my cache at Longmire, the ranger warned me that the log crossing over the river had a good chance of being washed away as the river was flowing at its mightiest by this point in the year. The ranger gave me some tips on crossing at other points if need be and told me to unbuckle my pack at the crossing, that way if I fell in my pack wouldn’t get stuck and pull me under. Apparently there was a point not far down the river where it narrows enough that I’d be able to retrieve my pack. Now I was grateful for this sound logic; however, it didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy, especially when I saw how high the river was and how fast it was flowing! Thankfully the bridge was still there, or I might have turned straight around as there was no way in hell I was fording that body of water.

The raging Mowich River

Decision Point: Walk across the log like the super confident hiker I am, or booty scoot across like the safe and responsible person I should be? I had briefly chatted with another group that day and they told me that half of them walked and the other half booty scooted. Well, being the super confident dumb-ass that I am, I told myself that my legs, and not my ass, would be getting me across that log. Well, thankfully they did, but I ain’t gonna lie, it was damn scary and I knew there was no one anywhere near me to help if shit hit the fan…or in this case if well pickled’s ass fell into the raging river. I did follow the ranger’s advice and unbuckled my pack just in case…thank you Rangers for all of your guidance!

Mowich Lake

I got to Mowich Lake and ran into Tamara and Bear. We chatted for a bit while they were drying off after a swim in the lake. I was planning to take a dip myself, but with my clothes on. Bear jokingly lectured me to stop being so damn modest and stop caring that there were people around. So I went for it, stripped down to my underroos and took a dip. I wondered why the hell it took me 40 long years not to care…thanks for the encouragement Bear…you rock my friend! It’s an alpine lake so of course it was cold as hell, even in summer, but felt damn great after five days of no shower!

You really learn to appreciate the little things when you’ve spent five days in the woods.

  • Toilets – being able to sit and potty is a luxury…trust me on this one
  • Trash cans – the joy of a trash can to a hiker, it’s real
  • Day campers/hikers who share things like paper towels with you

I ran into Brenden and his girlfriend, a couple in line with me the day I got my pass, and they setup camp right across from me. They live in the bay area and work at REI. We shared a picnic table (yet another luxury) while having dinner and talked about our experiences on the trail thus far. It’s cool to share this experience with relative strangers and yet they feel like friends in a way. The hiking community is pretty amazing!

Just after dinner, storm clouds roll in and it quickly starts to thunder and lightning strikes all around us. While this doesn’t sound like a big deal, we rarely ever get lightning in the Seattle area so it truly is unique. And it’s a little scary since we’re up at 4.4k feet and surrounded by very large trees. Everyone retires to their tents quickly as the rain starts to really come down. I check my Garmin InReach and the weather report shows some massive storms rolling in for the entire night…well, this should be interesting.

I haven’t been in a storm like this since living in Florida and never experienced one from the inside of a tent! The one benefit is that the storm curtailed anyone from partying so that means I should get a decent night’s sleep, assuming I don’t get struck by lightning, or get crushed by a fallen tree that was just struck by lightning.

  • Day 6 – Mowich Lake to Mystic Camp
  • 13.5 miles: 3771 Gain, 3000 Loss

If you read the previous post than you won’t be surprised that today started out wet! The rain storm last night properly socked us all. I woke up in the middle of the night to what felt like sleeping on a waterbed, which is great if it’s 1982 and you intend to wake up on a waterbed, but a tad disconcerting when waking up in a tent. The pad my tent was on had flooded, but thankfully my tent held and all the water remained outside! I crawled out at who knows what time and moved the tent to the one slightly less flooded spot and hoped for the best.

The Wall of Fog

Come morning I was still dry on the inside and there was a break in the storm, we all seemed to know the rain was coming back soon so it was a mad dash to pack up to try and get ahead of it. I was off with all my rain gear on and carrying my heaviest pack yet, carrying five days’ worth of food as there were no more caches for me. I made it up to Ipsut pass and had to laugh. My friend had shown me a pic of him at the pass a couple weeks earlier with this gorgeous view of the meadows lining the descent, mine was a lovely view of fog.

I descended pretty quickly and since there weren’t many views to be had I decided to hike at a faster pace today. Even though the weather wasn’t great, I decided I was going to make the best of it and be thankful for being out here and for seeing the mountain in a different way. It’s all about perspective right? Just wait till the next post…spoiler alert…perspective is a fickle friend.  I made it across yet another dry riverbed guided by cairns and as became my tradition, said a couple of thank you’s to no one in particular once across. Stupid as it may sound to some, I always feel a bit of trail magic when I’m able to cross a stretch that isn’t clearly defined (at least to me).

I started my next climb and was awarded with great views of Carbon Glacier, which is massive. I wasn’t expecting it but I realized I actually feel better when I climb vs descend. If your pack fits correctly, it becomes a part of you and you don’t feel it when climbing. I made it to my next camp, Dick Creek, by 1:45 and made the decision to keep climbing to Mystic Camp. I was having such a great climbing day and wasn’t ready to stop! I knew I shouldn’t break my permit but I also knew Tamara and Bear would be camping at Mystic and figured if the sites were full that maybe they’d let me crash on their site. I do not encourage doing this and only broke permit because I knew people that would be camping at the next site.

I was getting stronger each day and found that I was managing the hike much better than anticipated when I planned my route. Of course I had trained all summer, hiking as much as my schedule would allow. But I didn’t believe I would be able to hike the distances I was covering and feel so good throughout. It was a damn good feeling!

The hike up to Mystic Camp was pretty steep but thankfully there were a few well situated short straight spots to break it up. The hike was a mix of moss covered forest and rocky crags. The climb was solitary and uneventful until I reached about a half mile to camp. I came upon a meadow and there was a momma bear and her cub up ahead on the trail. I got my whistle out but that didn’t startle momma bear at all. I clanked my hiking poles and finally momma bear looked up at me, and then went back to eating. I decided to stay back and wait them out a bit, last thing I want to do is provoke a momma with her cub! About ten minutes later they started to move towards the forest and once she and her cub were a comfortable distance I started back down the trail. Second bear encounter was a success!

Momma bear & her cub

Once I got to Mystic Camp I spoke to the Ranger about my plan to camp with friends if a site wasn’t available (the Ranger schooled me for this…as he should have and as I deserved). I also took the opportunity to rearrange my permit since I was a day ahead of schedule. I kept the same amount of nights but added a stay at the coveted Summerland camp! I was so stoked to get a night at both Summerland and Indian bar, supposedly the two best camps on the circuit.

I ended up crashing on Tamara and Bear’s site even though a couple of the sites ended up empty. I really hope I didn’t impose on you Tamara and Bear and I’m so very thankful you allowed me to stay with you! I truly did feel bad but I had been having such a great hiking day, I didn’t want to cut it short. We didn’t chat long after dinner because the rain picked up quite a bit and the temperature started to drop considerably.

All in all it was a good day of solitude, safe hiking, a couple of decent views, another bear encounter, and a place to lay my head. It was also my biggest mileage/elevation day with my heaviest pack, and each day forward my pack will get lighter. Even with the storm, rain and cold, I’m still so glad I did this…no regrets!

Mossy Wonderland
Mossy Wonderland