The Enchantments

It was just a little early in the season, but we packed up and headed out for a weekend of hiking into some altitude in The Enchantments Wildnerness Area….which is a collection of alpine lakes within the North Cascades. I had scored a a backcountry permit months before and a team of eight was formed to hike into the Stuart Lake Zone where we’d camp for two nights and make an ascent on Aasgard Pass on day 2. As the winter weather continued to grip the area like Donald Trump holding onto his Twitter phone, concern began to grow as to how the temps would look at 6000 ft.

A few days before our departure, I put a call into the Forest Ranger’s office where I was told “Aasgard Pass is avalanche conditions and Lake Stuart camping sites are snow-covered.” Upon reporting this back to the group, our crew of 8 quickly dwindled to 3.

Nevertheless, we persisted. And we were handsomely rewarded with some incredible views and challenging trail. Attempting Aasgard Pass was decidedly a no-go and we thought getting in some good hiking miles would be a better (re: safer) use of our time. While out there we did notice a fair amount of helicopter traffic and later learned that someone feel through the snowpack and disappeared while glissading down the Pass. Very sad, and as I’ve looked up historical accidents in the area it seems like there is a waterfall that has caught several people by surprise.

Anyways, photos:

Man, this weather. Seems like Old Man Winter held on for as long as he could, but finally now that we’re in May things are brightening up. All of those days spent looking out of the office window at the grey, wet, cold outside and dreaming of more pleasant hiking weather have finally passed.

So when my friend April texted me a photo of an article about a central Washington trail perfect for early season backpacking, I was all-in. What was supposed to be a 5.7 mile in-to-camp, 7 mile back-out loop with moderate altitude gain turned into a one-day 12 mile bushwhack with over 2500 feet of climbing and a race against the sun along 4 miles of rail road track.

We zigged when we should’ve zagged. Missed our trail within the first 500 meters.

A mirage. We thought we had found a place to chill and camp for the night, and possibly score a ride back to our car. As we got closer we realized the campground was on the other side of the Yakima River.

Our trail running friend who like us, was totally lost and decided to cross-country it.

Sleeping in the car was quite as restful as out on the ridge but after 12 miles and three beers it felt pretty okay.

The other morning while enjoying my coffee and trying not to pay attention to the latest news about what Trump did or did not do, I spotted an email that I had forgotten I was waiting for…

The Enchantments is a range in the middle of the Cascades that I had heard of before, but never really investigated. I was chatting with a guy who had entered the lottery for an overnight permit and because he sounded geeked up about the area, I figured “might as well do it myself.” Well lucky for me, I got drawn. And after sending out an email to some friends I thought would be able to take off for random backpacking trip, we soon had ourselves a full 8-person group.

The Stuart Zone of the Enchantments isn’t necessarily the most sought-after section, but beggars can’t be choosers as they say. And I suppose we’ll be avoiding much of the crowding that can happen on the trails in the Core Zone. The hike into camp near Lake Stuart is just around 5 miles…which is far from gnar (that should be t-shirt). However there are plenty of other miles & elevation feet to be chewed up in the surrounding area, so if we can hike in and drop our heavier bags at base camp then take off for some light and speedy work, I’m all good with that tactic.

Permit is good for this June and I’ll be lugging along the camera, so some good content should follow. I also have a few other trips sprinkled on the calendar over the course of the next few months, a good sign.

In other slightly related news, my employer is offering new wellness program that provides athletic training, and exercise testing & programming that focuses heavily on injury assessment, prevention, treatment and rehab. Since I’ve recently become aware of my own mortality and injuries have plagued my ability to get into the backcountry, I’m stoked to get started with the trainers.

Well here are, the first real foray into wilds of 2017 and I’m limping around the office after a weekend in the mountains. That’s a sign of success, I suppose. The Girl and I headed out of town for a long weekend of cabin livin’ near Cle Elum, WA. We all met up in town for a beer and dinner, then clicked in the four wheel drive (metaphorically) and headed down the rough backroads of snow and ice to the cabin. The accumulation there was a good 3-4 feet and making our way with bags of gear and armfuls of beer wasn’t particularly fun. Nor was digging out the fire pit to get a source of outdoor warmth going…but no that’s actually a lie. It was fun. It wasn’t settling into the office chair and firing up the Outlook calendar, it was bruising shins as you fell through the ice-crusted snow and getting things around the cabin ready for a night of whiskey and stories.

The next few days were spent tooling around the cabin, riding four-wheelers around snow trails, and show shoeing around forest. I suffered an injury while leading the group down the side of a mountain and will be hobbling around for the next couple of weeks which basically sucks…but the weather is pretty shitty right now so I suppose there’s no better time.

 

The winter is starting to break. That ‘s not actually true, looking at the 10-day forecast only three of those days will squeak above 40 degrees and the term “wintry mix” is too frequently seen for my liking. This is the time at which planning must take place, for if I wait until the weather is right it’s already too late. This past couple of weeks I’ve met various friends with two necessary tools: booze and calendars.

Planning out trip details such as location, activity, etc. are not important at this stage. Right now, it’s all about blocking off dates. “I’m busy that weekend” is the uttering of a couch-sitting non-planner. By setting specific dates this early on in the year, before anything else (life) creeps in and whittles away at your precious weekends, one is taking away the opportunity to make excuses. There are only 52 weekends in each year, two of those are scratched for Thanksgiving and Christmas, one a month is (should be) set aside for doing whatever the life partner wants to do (which is typically not getting lost in a Utah slot canyon), and you can figure that another dozen or so will be eaten up by work, chores, weddings, or football. That right there is half of the years’ weekends, gone. Pre-consumed.

Yet here I am, on a Sunday morning sipping coffee on the couch looking out at the snow and whatever this shit is that’s falling the from the sky and thinking, “man I wish I were out there.”

As of this writing, my calendar has ten weekends tagged for outdoor exploits. A few have specific titles such as Sun Mountain 25k, Mt. Adams Summit, and Wallowas BP Trip. Most of the others are more vague, for example, Sat. March 4 through Mon. March 6: Freezing My Balls Off With Alex. The war I’m waging isn’t with spontaneity it is with listlessness. There’s an ideology, probably regurgitated upon me by the likes of Tim Ferris, that having a trip set and planned gives one a sense of pleasure, producing serotonin which does all sorts of good things to your brain. And in this day and age under the leadership of an orange jackass, I think that we could all use a little more serotonin in our noggins.

Knowing that I have some physically demanding trips into the wilds ahead of me, any of which could quickly become disastrous epics if I’m not prepared, also serves as a great motivator when I’m powering through a gym session while looking outside at the wintry mix.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the great Ed Abbey, which has served to galvanize many a trip planning session for me in the past:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

Flipping Off 2016

General consensus says that 2016 sucked major ass. In my personal universe, things weren’t necessarily awful. Assuredly, 2016 won’t rank in my top 5 worst years of life (fortunately, unfortunately?) but it wasn’t particularly rad. I spent a lot of time sitting on my ass working for The Man, there weren’t many major achievements checked off of the proverbial bucket list, and I didn’t achieve any spiritual nexus. The best thing that could be said for 2016, was that I set myself up for a pretty solid 2017.

Professionally, the job situation is poised for a significant change/upgrade from the horrendous 60-hour weeks I pulled all of this past year. Fitness-wise, I’m sitting at 220 pounds and so have teed up the opportunity for a weight loss (re: fitness) renaissance. The calendar is in the process of being populated with weekend trips into wilds unknown and with any luck, there will be no shortage of content for this here blog.

For now, on this frigid New Year’s Eve, I sit with the girl working on a pack of hard ciders chatting about goals and dreams. The overall theme of 2017: Make this year stand out…in any way possible.

Part of my reasoning for starting this personal project of documenting epics (and non-epics, as it were) was to set forth the very general goal of “getting outside and doing shit.” It’s not that I’ve been generally lazy, but rather time-constrained. Currently, I work about 70 hours a week. I wont bore you with specifics but it does hinder my ability to make time for adventure. Within the next few months my situation will change for the better which should allow me to populate this blog more frequently with eye candy of mountains and tales of discomfort.

As I now sit working on a coffee, watching the rain come down outside my window with Jack (the boxer) snoring away on my office sofa, I recognize the small part of my brain that is constantly dedicated to dreaming of the future landscape I hope to find myself in. There are several hundred megabytes of Evernote space-holding PDFs and maps and photos and scribbled notes of places to go that must be taken advantage of.

Many of my friends, co-workers, and internet peers are at the very least up in arms and at the very worst unconsolably devastated at this election bullshit. There are a lot of words being pounded out onto the web and though much of the writing seems rather superficial and reactionary, there are very real feels behind it. Trump is a scary motherfucker; not because he’s some diabolical genius…but rather because he’s a divisive buffoon who seemingly brings out the worst in people. Opinions are set and there is no need for me post mine here, at least any more than I’ve already stated.

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The point is, be good to yourselves and eachother. The best way to mitigate much of this gap between “them and us” is to be stoic yet understanding. And the best way to beat the haters is to do better than them; disregard their verbal spew, make yourself a better person and support those you care about. Laugh, smile, enjoy your life and pay no attention to the enemy…that pisses them off more than anything.

Put Yer Feet Up

The past couple of weekends have been relatively chill. A little work, some time with the dogs, a little more time with The Girl, some time drawing public attention to the dams that have stifled the once highly-biotic Snake River. Anyhow, the batteries have recharged and the gear has dried out. More trip plans are in the works but for now, I’m sippin’ on a cold one.

I’ll leave you with a few images from last weekend’s Free The Snake flotilla:

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Hayduke lives!

Destination: 48.5197, -120.8035 (WGS84)
Total miles: 16 (approx)
Beers at altitude: Two Beers Evo IPA

 

The plans for this weekend had been in the works for months. And by plans I mean a vague conception of what we were doing and where we were going to do it. This was a surprise trip for The Girl and I put much more forethought into planning for her escape than I put into the trip itself, but we both took the time and ended up seeing some rad things.

The summit of Black Peak in the North Cascades was our destination goal. We started at the trailhead at around 9:30 am on Saturday. A morning coffee and “cinnamon twisp” in Twisp, WA was necessary. This was vacation, after all. Geared up with with our most certainly overweight backpacks, we hit the trail.

More significantly, I’m wearing boots. A very nice pair of appropriately-sized Asolo’s mind you, but boots. This is significant only because I’m a Chacos guy. I live in the things and have done so for the past 15 years ever since I first tried a pair owned by an insistent climbing buddy who proselytized about their comfort and utility. Over the years I’ve hiked more miles in Chacos than most people had hiked, period.

Back in 2005 my friend Rhino and I had our car broken into in our Flagstaff, AZ motel parking lot the night before a big Grand Canyon backpacking excursion. Luckily our packs were with us in our rooms, but we lots iPods, trekking poles, cameras, and my hiking shoes. No problem, I had Chacos on my feet and hiked the 30+ miles down and up the canyon in them, no problem.

But now I’m wearing off-trail and peak-scrambling appropriate boots and probably worse yet, a pair of old hiking socks that I un-thoughtfully grabbed out of my sock drawer that had a less-than soft interior. Somewhere around mile three I recognized that hot spot feeling on my heels…but we only had two miles left of the approach hike to basecamp. There I would address the issue.

About three miles and 2000 ft of elevation gain later, I knew we had missed a turn. Backtracking (and descending) to our climber’s trail we finally were on point and facing the last few miles of primarily cross-country boulder hopping upwards another 3000 feet. At this point, my heel blisters were full-blown flappers and the pain was intense. Fucking intense. Every step was awful at now not only were my heels on fire, but there was something not right with my left big toe.

Finally, after some struggle and cursing, we made it to Wing Lake at base of Black Peak. The view was awesome in the true sense of the word. There wouldn’t be a summit this weekend due to lack of time and injury, but it was well worth it.

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As one declines in age (inclines?) the bod starts to act a little more quirky. This past weekend, as I was prepping for a couple of upcoming backpacking trips, I set up all four of my tents in the front yard as an inventory of poles, stakes, rainflies, zipper health, etc. Everything checked out and after letting the shelters air out, a couple of which hadn’t been slept in for the greater part of a decade, I began to systematically roll each one up like a tight nylon doobie and place back into the Rubbermaid Tote o’ Tents. As I slightly bent over to drop in tent number two, a three-pound Sierra Designs Flashlight 2, a sharp ting hit me in the lower back. Recognizing this pain from before I instinctively paused, but I didn’t immediately collapse to the ground in pain so I eased myself upright and decided it was time for the sofa, a heating pad, a handful of Advil and a pale ale.

The girl and I had a couple of soirées to attend that night so like a tough guy I powered through several hours of standing, sitting, drinking and small talk. Sure my back hurt, but it didn’t seem to be nearly as bad as the previous two back spasms I’d suffered over the past several years. The next morning, however, was a much different story. The girl had to help me stand up out of bed. She did her best to get me situated with everything I might need for a day on the sofa: laptop, water bottle, phone, Kindle. She left early that morning to coach a rowing camp in Seattle for the next ten days.

All was good until I needed to piss.

After rolling off of the sofa and onto the floor, I slowly and painfully managed to get myself to stand up. The slow stumble towards the kitchen en route to the bathroom was sketchy and painful, and the danger of me actually pissing myself was code yellow. As I got into the kitchen I looked at the sink. I’m 6’3″ and then and there made the tactical design to utilize the drain in front of me. Not a proud moment, I assure you. On my way back to the main room I found myself stuck, leaning against a chair, unable to bring myself to get into the sofa. Twenty minutes I stood there, occasionally trying, swearing a storm, gritting my teeth, and subsequently trying to calm the dogs down.

The phone was about five feet away from me, well out of reach on the coffee table. “Hey Siri, call Keith on speaker phone” I yelled. And the miracle of technology swiftly went into action. Within ten minutes my boy Keith was over helping lower me into my leather home-hospital bed. Several hours later after another failed attempt to visit the bathroom (mind you, I wasn’t drinking or eating ANYTHING as to mitigate the inevitable need to relieve myself) I called upon another buddy to come get me and take me to the ER.

So now here I am, loaded up with prescribed amounts of Valium and Hydrocodone (I’m referring to such cocktail as The Limbaugh”) and I’m doing better. The pain is most definitely here but just enough of the edge has been taken off that I’m ambulatory within the main floor of my house.

Needless to say, this upcoming weekends’ backpacking trip through the Olympics has been scratched. This is not the gnar I was hoping to fill the blog with stories of, but it’s where I’m at and I’d might as well tell a story about something. Those of you who have suffered back pain can sympathize, and I with you. It’s incredible that no matter how tough of a guy you are, a injury like this can turn you into a crawling, whimpering baby.

With that, I’ll leave you with a few images from last weekend’s time spent at a cabin with friends off Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho.

 

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This will be like last year but more and better.

INWCXS 2017

MIMCdATC

Let there be cake

One for the weekend.

Rolling resistence.

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