Glacier Peak

  • Date: July 15-18, 2017
  • Start: Sloan Creek Campground
  • Distance: 34 miles
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Map: Nat Geo Trails Illustrated: Glacier Peak Wilderness
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; The Mountaineers

I first laid eyes on Glacier Peak during a NOLS Trip Leader Seminar back in 2015. At the time, it was only my third backpacking trip, mountaineering was still a distant dream, and I’d never even heard of Glacier Peak when we began the hike in. Once that beautiful, isolated–the most isolated of all the Cascade volcanoes–came into view on the third (maybe fourth?) day of the trip, I promised myself I would come back to climb her. Fast forward to July 2017, Mack and I had seven volcano climbs under our belts and the rope skills to cross glaciated, crevasse-ridden terrain without a guide. It was time to attempt our eighth volcano (and the fourth out of five Washington volcanoes).

 

Day 1: Sloan Creek Campground to White Pass (9.2 miles; 6 hours 30 minutes, breaks included)

After a later-than-desired departure time and unexpected traffic (at 3 am!!!), we finally pulled into the trailhead/campground parking area a little after 8 am. Perfect timing since we managed to snag the last obvious parking spot before the need to get creative. By 9 am we were on the trail, already groaning under the weight of our packs, which were definitely not within the usual 20-30 lb range. It didn’t help that I’d pulled a muscle in my shoulder the night before when I’d attempted to swing my pack onto my back to feel out the weight. For the first time ever, I had to have Mack help me get my pack on because I was in so much pain before we started hiking. Not a good way to start a long, strenuous day (especially with a 9 am late start). Our goal was to make it all the way to high camp at Glacier Gap (about 14 miles in), but I was already having doubts.

Despite pain and discomfort (on my end mostly, but probably on Mack’s as well), we enjoyed the lush forest scenery on the North Fork Sauk Trail. We did experience a couple of downed old growth trees that required some time to maneuver and climb over with our packs, but that was all near the beginning. Most of our hike to Mackinaw Shelter (5 to 5.5 miles from the TH) was smooth sailing. We stopped at the shelter to eat lunch and relieve our bodies of our burdensome packs for a short while. Being here brought back fond memories. Mackinaw Shelter was the first place we camped on my NOLS trip two years prior. It also reminded me that the hike was about to get strenuous.

Hiking through old growth forest on North Fork Sauk Trail

Mackinaw Shelter

The switchbacks up to the junction with the PCT were the most difficult part of the day. We were starting to make our way out of the forest, which meant more exposure to the hot sun while we adapted to the steeper incline. It was slow going to say the least and made me contemplate upgrading our gear (particularly our packs and tent) to more lightweight brands. Although the heat wasn’t doing much for our spirits, the transforming landscape definitely helped to reinvigorate us. Hillsides carpeted with wildflowers. Numerous mountains on almost all sides of us. It was perfect.

So heavy!
View of Sloan Peak behind me

After the junction with the PCT we continued on to White Pass about a half mile away. You can actually see it in distance because you walk along an exposed ridge line. Despite a few sketchy snow bridges we had to cross (in our regular boots), this last stretch was far easier than the three or so miles of climbing. We reached White Pass at 3:30 pm and followed the trail leading down to the campsites, traversing one more large patch of slushy snow (and snow bridges) along the way. After setting up camp, we hiked back up to the pass to take pictures, enjoy the views, and savor the feeling of walking without our packs. We hadn’t made it to our high camp (still another five or so miles away), but we both agreed it was for the best.

White Pass up ahead

Descending to campsites below White Pass
Sloan Peak
Trail leading out of campground area

We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, listening to Crimetown podcast, and “cooking” instant mashed potatoes–how have we never brought these along before???– for the first time. It was exactly what we needed after a long day of driving and hiking. As Mack began to fall asleep, I decided to step out of the tent to take in the cotton candy sunset colors highlighting the surrounding peaks before turning in myself.

Sunset at White Pass

See our tent in the lower right corner?

 

Day 2: White Pass to Glacier Gap (5.25 miles; 5 hours, breaks included)

We started our hike on the Foam Creek Trail at 10 am in a cloud. Along the way we passed several climbing parties who had attempted the summit that morning. Apparently, the forecasted clear skies and sunshine had failed to make an appearance. Many climbers turned around after getting blasted with high winds, rain, and, apparently, snow. I guess it was better that our summit bid had been pushed back a day by not making high camp the afternoon before. The weather gradually improved as we continued on the trail. After two miles or so, the trail petered out and we ascended the ridge to our left.

Heading out on Foam Creek Trail

Views along Foam Creek Trail

Climbing over that first ridge brought back memories of when my NOLS group hiked this exact section. I remember we were all kind of nervous as we carefully picked our way down the steep slope of loose rock, especially with heavy packs on. Mack and I were in a similar situation, except this time the slope was covered in snow and there was a pretty decent boot path etched into it. The carved out steps made climbing down a hell of a lot easier. The traction on our mountaineering boots–no regular boots today–helped, too. After that descent we followed the trail to the base of another steep slope a short ways ahead. At the top was a saddle that I knew would give us our first view of Glacier Peak if the clouds cleared. As we made our way up to the it, I resolved to take out my ice axe once we reached the top. I should’ve taken it out before we started traversing these ridges.

The marmot was staring him down

Once at the top, we dropped our packs and took a lunch break. It was around noon and we’d only hiked a little over two miles. My penchant for taking lots and lots of pictures tends to slow us down. Clouds still loomed overhead, so Glacier Peak had yet to make her grand appearance. As we ate, we watched a few marmots peek out from their dens or their hiding spots in the grass, eyeing us and waiting for an opportunity to snatch some of our food. Fortunately, they never got it. We reluctantly strapped on our packs again and traversed across another snow slope. Below lay the valley (or basin?) that my NOLS group had camped in on our third and fourth nights. There was no snow here in August 2015, so it looked completely different this time around! We ascended another slope (this one far less steep than the previous two) and dropped into the White Chuck Glacier basin.

The boot path cut through the mountainous basin and led us to a steep slope of scree and larger rocks. Another climb of course, and on my least favorite terrain. We stopped about halfway up to refill our bladders and water bottles in a glacier-fed stream flowing over the rocks. We looked out over the basin we’d just crossed and admired a couple of the turquoise-colored (but still snow covered) tarns dotting the landscape. There’s nothing but mountains for miles and miles it seems. Absolute perfection. Once we topped out, we crossed one final snowfield and made one more steep snow climb up to the counter known as Glacier Gap. We’d finally made it to high camp. It was 3 pm.

Walking through White Chuck Glacier basin

To our relief (since I decided not to bring a snow shovel in order to keep my pack somewhat lighter), Glacier Gap was completely free of snow. Similar to Lunch Counter on Mount Adams, there are several half circle rock walls up here so you can shield your tent from the wind. We found an empty one and set up camp. The clouds still hid Glacier Peak from sight, but I decided to climb up to the ridge above Glacier Gap in order to scout our route for the following morning. It felt so nice to run up a hill without my pack on. A smile spread across my face when I got to the top. Although the summit was still obscured, the rest of the mountain was visible. First glimpse of this beautiful mountain at last! Made the long slog worth it. I was able to make out a majority of our climbing route, too.

First glimpse of Glacier Peak!
Looking down at Glacier Gap

Mountains as far as the eye can see
View of Glacier Peak from Glacier Gap when the clouds parted for a brief moment

Back at camp, we enjoyed another dinner of instant mashed potatoes, got most of our equipment packed up for the next morning, then turned in early while the sun was still out. We slept a little off and on, but at some point (after the sun had gone down) Mack noticed there was something wrong with the rainfly zipper on his side. When he tried to fix it, the teeth refused to seal again. After a few more frustrating attempts, I dug out my safety kit and we used safety pins to close the fly. Hopefully it wouldn’t rain on us! Unfortunately, we had a difficult time falling asleep after that little debacle.

Instant mashed potatoes = dinner of champions
Glacier Gap campsite

Being silly while Mack tries to rest

Trying to close the rainfly after the zipper broke…

 

Day 3: Glacier Gap to the summit and back (5.1 miles; 8 hours, breaks included); Glacier Gap to White Pass (5.25 miles; 3 hours 30 minutes, breaks included)

Our alarms were set for 2 am (with the goal of starting our climb between 3 and 3:30 am), but after a restless night, we decided to sleep in. We finally forced ourselves out of the tent just before 4 am, getting ready as quickly as possible so we could start moving and warm up. At 5 am we set off. Yesterday’s clouds were nowhere in sight and there wasn’t even a breeze. Today’s weather was going to be perfect. I could feel it. We hiked up to the ridge above Glacier Gap (where I’d been the day before while scouting) and stood in awe of the mountain before us, now completely unveiled, bathed in the light blue-purple hue of the pre-dawn sky. I don’t usually like starting this late on any climb, but I’ve got to say, it’s probably the most incredible time to see a mountain.

Looking down on Glacier Gap

From the ridge, we descended to the base of the rocky spine leading up to Disappointment Peak, a smaller sub-peak on Glacier. The sun rose behind the mountains to the east, illuminating Gerdine Glacier, which we’d soon be traversing. Two other climbers followed close behind us. We were the only four on the mountain that morning. Another perk to climbing an isolated volcano on a weekday. Once we made it to the first gendarme on the ridge, we roped up and cut to the glacier. (Note: If you want to avoid glacier travel, you can continue on the ridge and scramble up Disappointment Peak to reach the final ridge leading to the summit of Glacier)

Getting ready to cross Gerdine Glacier

We didn’t encounter any crevasses on the first part of Gerdine, but rockfall hazard was very evident. Now that the sun was up, we’d have to move quickly. At one point, Mack shouted “rock!” I was so preoccupied scanning the ground for potential crevasses, I didn’t even see it when I looked up. Apparently, it tumbled by me, just a few inches from my right leg. It wasn’t a large rock and probably wouldn’t have done any significant damage, but the fact that we were experiencing signs of rockfall now made us a little nervous about the descent. We picked up the pace until we reached a rocky outcropping high on Gerdine. We breaked here to hydrate and get some food in our stomachs before moving through the next section, which would require some crevasse navigation.

Just below the saddle bordering Cool Glacier is a heavily crevassed section on Gerdine. Snow bridges still seemed to be in tact, but the crevasses, which had probably been filled with snow a couple of weeks earlier, were now very much open. I would’ve loved to take pictures or some video as we wound our way through this section, but for safety reasons I decided against it. We needed to move quickly and taking pictures presented a potential hazard and distraction. Thankfully, this section was short and only took a few minutes to ascend. Afterwards we walked along Cool Glacier on a relatively flat path leading to the saddle above Disappointment Peak.

Crevasses!
Looking out on the Cool Glacier

Since the final climb was going to be on a pumice slope, we untied and stashed the rope for the descent. The two climbers behind us caught up as we were doing this. One of them was visiting from the Midwest and decided this was as far as he was going to go. His partner decided to continue on to the summit, charging up the slope. We stayed behind at a more leisurely pace. The slope was very moderate and didn’t present any technical challenges. It ended at a final steep snow climb up to the summit ridge, but the boot path here made it so it was just like walking up a frozen staircase (granted there is some exposure). As I neared the summit ridge, the other climber began his descent, letting me know that I was almost there. Mack followed a few yards behind. I waited for him just below the summit ridge and took the opportunity soak in the incredible mountain views, especially the one of Mount Rainier to the south.

Final ridge walk

Last bit of steep snow before the summit!

We ascended the ridge together and dropped our packs on the western side at 9 am. Just to be certain we stepped on the actual summit, we walked the entire summit ridge. I’m still not entirely sure which side is higher. We stayed up there longer than we intended (about 30 minutes), but I’m happy we did. With all the work it took to get to this point, why not savor it for awhile? Plus, the views from the summit were hands down the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced of all the volcano climbs we’ve done so far. When you’re enamored with mountains, being surrounded by them while standing on top of one is the dream. I could’ve stayed up there for hours completely content.

Mount Baker
Mount Rainier (and Adams somewhat faded on the left!)

Now that the sun was high in the sky and temps were warming up, we moved quickly down the mountain. Getting over the crevassed terrain on Gerdine wasn’t too nerve-racking this time around, but when we reached the bowling alley (i.e. the rockfall area below Disappointment Peak), my heart began to pound faster and faster. Before we started through it, I told Mack we needed to keep an ear out for falling rock. Literally, as soon as I said this, huge chunks of rock came crashing down, rolling over a giant swath of the snowfield we needed to cross. As soon as everything came to a halt, we started running–well, more like power walking/jogging since we were in crampons and roped up. We didn’t stop until we were walking alongside the rocky ridge we’d ascended that morning. After catching our breath, happy to be out of danger, we continued the descent. We were a few yards away from where we could untie and get back on the ridge when Mack said nervously, “Uhhhh, Teddy?” I turned around. “One of my crampons is missing.” Crap.

“Any ideas where you lost it?” I responded.

“I’m not sure.”

I was livid, especially since we’d just come through the most dangerous part of the route and there was a good chance it had fallen off while we were running through it. Mack untied and decided he’d walk back up as far as it was safe to to see if he could find it. I plopped down in the snow, anxiously awaiting his return and listening intently for rockfall. Minutes seemed to drag on and I became more nervous. I couldn’t see Mack in the distance anymore and worse case scenarios were plaguing my mind. After 30 minutes, he crested the slope above me, waving the missing crampon triumphantly in his hand.

Since we were close to the ridge, we decided to untie and pack up our crevasse rescue gear for the remainder of the descent. Our hope of getting back to camp by noon was definitely not happening after the crampon mishap. And I pushed us back even more when my bowels informed me that they needed to be relieved. We finally stumbled into camp at 1 pm.

Getting back on Gerdine
He found his crampon!

We rested at camp before packing up and didn’t start out until 3 pm. Getting back to the car was still a possibility, but we agreed to play it by ear once we reached White Pass. Since our hike out was mostly downhill, we figured we’d be moving pretty quickly. I was wrong. Due to the afternoon heat, the snow was no longer packed down and firm. Descending steep snow slopes with our loaded packs was incredibly sketchy. Going down the scree slopes was even more terrifying! Mack was moving surprisingly fast through a lot of these sections, but I was less comfortable and picked my way down super cautiously. Getting back to the ridge above Foam Creek Trail took way longer than anticipated. We compensated by hiking as fast as we could once we were back on Foam Creek Trail. We reached White Pass at 6:30 pm (still an hour and a half faster than when we hiked in the day before). Getting back to the car would mean hiking in the dark for the last hour or two, so we decided to stay another night at White Pass and hike out early the next morning.

Leaving the basin; final view of Glacier
Back on Foam Creek!

Lovely spot near our campsite at White Pass

 

Day 4: White Pass to Sloan Creek Campground (9.2 miles; 5 hours 30 minutes, breaks included)

We awoke to another morning of nice weather and started out at 7:40 am. As we were switchbacking down the North Fork Sauk Trail, two literally earth-shaking ‘BOOM!’s went off within a few minutes of each other. What the hell? Mack and I exchanged confused (but nervous) glances. “I think it was a gun,” said Mack, probably trying to reassure me and himself. It sounded like a war zone. We put the situation in the back of our minds and continued on to Mackinaw Shelter. We arrived at 9:40 am and walked down to the river to soak our hot, tired feet and eat a snack. We were pretty ecstatic that we only had 5 or 5.5 miles to go.

Back on North Fork Sauk for the final 8 miles or so
Munching on M&Ms at Mackinaw

After Mackinaw, the trail was mostly flat and gradual downhill, so we moved quickly. Less than a mile out from the trailhead though, I slipped on a loose rock and rolled my right ankle, the one that I’ve injured nearly four times this year. So much for moving fast now, but at least we were almost finished. Then, when we were only a half mile from the car, we ran into a USFS trail crew. Now we knew who was responsible for the massive ‘BOOM!’s we’d heard earlier that morning. They were using explosives to clear the trail of the larger down trees that couldn’t be taken care of with a crosscut saw. Funny how you can’t bring machinery (like a chainsaw) into Wilderness, but explosives are okay. We had to walk back with them almost a quarter of a mile because they were about to blow up another obstacle just ahead of us. We were so close!

Although we were pretty bummed that we wouldn’t be able to get back to the car for another half hour or so, knowing we were close to the blast zone was kind of exciting. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard “Fire in the hole!” come through one of the crew member’s radios, but the ensuing sound is one I will never forget (and one I’d prefer not to experience again). The earth and trees violently trembled, and the shock waves created visible movement in the air. I couldn’t hear anything for a second or two after, and the forest went eerily silent for several moments, as if to recover from the disturbance. We thanked the trail crew for their hard work on the way out, staring in awe at the blast zones we walked through. What a way to end an already epic trip.

Back at the car, we packed up and changed into clean clothes. The gear we’d set aside to climb Mount Baker (part of our original plan if we finished Glacier Peak quickly) stared up longingly at us, and I was tempted to still give it a go the following morning. The pain in my ankle quickly reminded me that it would probably be a terrible idea, and both of us were incredibly exhausted from the three and a half day climb we’d just completed. We still needed to get home and pack up for another backpacking trip that we were leaving for two days later! We called it good and headed home, stopping only for our usual post-backpacking/climbing Red Robin food and milkshakes.

Results of the explosion

Tumalo Falls

  • Date: January 21, 2017
  • Location: Central Oregon (Bend)
  • Start: Skyliner Sno Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Duration: 3 hours (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Outdoor Project

Although only a day trip, Tumalo Falls was our first of two adventures during a weekend in Central Oregon. Our original plan was actually to backpack past Tumalo Falls along Tumalo Creek and snow camp somewhere in/near Happy Valley. However, after coming down with a cold a few days prior and realizing we’d be in for two straight days of heavy snow according to the forecast, we decided to turn it into a day hike, then camp at Tumalo State Park before heading to Smith Rock (which will be covered in a separate post) the following day. I was a little bummed at first, but, ultimately, it ended up being a far better idea since we got to explore more of Central Oregon.

We started out from Portland somewhere between 6:30 and 7 am. It usually takes about 3 hours to drive to Bend, but winter road conditions on Hwy 22 slowed us down immensely. We didn’t reach Skyliner Sno Park until 11:30 am. Snow was already falling pretty heavily and the breeze kept blowing it into our faces. We didn’t have our goggles. Of course, the one time we needed them we forgot to pack them. We used our hoods and Buffs to cover up as much as we could and started out.

From Skyliner Sno Park you have two options for getting to the falls: you can continue about 0.4 miles down Skyliner Road to Tumalo Falls Road, which you’ll follow 2.5 miles to the Tumalo Falls Day Use Area, or you can follow the less crowded Tumalo Creek Trail, which begins at the sno park. Usually, we opt for the less crowded trail, but since we were starting much later than anticipated (and the trail option was a little longer), we decided to continue to Tumalo Falls Road.

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The hike to Tumalo Falls was, in all honesty, nothing special. Don’t get me wrong, it looked beautiful! In the end though, it still felt like a plain road walk. Maybe I was just grumpy from the long drive. Or maybe it was because the snowy, cloudy weather was basically obscuring the surrounding landscape save the trees on either side of the road. The 2.5 miles were turning into somewhat of a slog. And, unless you’ve got special running snowshoes, it’s kind of difficult to move very fast. I kept wondering if we should’ve just taken the trail instead. At least Cassie seemed to be enjoying herself. Seeing her face light up and her tongue hang out as she charged and plowed through the snow made seemingly dull moments so much more fun.

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The snow covered footbridge crossing Tumalo Creek indicated that we were just around the corner from the iconic viewpoint of Tumalo Falls. Despite my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about Tumalo Falls Road, I was completely entranced by the dark blue water of the creek flowing through marshamallowy mounds of snow. A perfect prelude to the viewing of the majestic falls just ahead.

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Although we’d seen tons of people along the way, there wasn’t a single person at the viewpoint when we got there! For a few short minutes, we had a magical view of Tumalo Falls all to ourselves. It definitely made the semi-boring walk much more worthwhile.

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We continued a short ways uphill to reach the viewing platform at the top of the falls. It wasn’t nearly as spectacular as actually seeing the falls, but it did offer more space to relax, sit down, and (if I hadn’t been snapping pictures the entire time) enjoy a snack or lunch. It was still snowing though and Cassie started to shiver after a few minutes, so we didn’t break long before we headed back down. Tumalo Creek Trail continues up past this point though, and Mack and I are already making plans to come back after the snow melts to get in some long trail running miles while exploring the numerous other waterfalls along the creek!

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After getting dinner and snacks at a nearby Market of Choice, we drove back out to Tumalo State Park to set up camp. Our plans to backpack in the snow may have fallen through, but we did get to do a less strenuous form of snow camping at the park campground! The spot was already dug out for us, so all we had to do was set up the tent and make sure everything was staked down firmly in the snow. At least we didn’t have to bust out the shovels. We capped off our evening with a mini boysenberry pie from MOC and a steaming cup of cocoa.

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Trillium Lake Loop

  • Date: December 31, 2016 – January 1, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: Trillium Lake Sno Park
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Loop
  • References: Outdoor Project

After snowshoeing for the first time a few weeks back, Mack and I made it a goal to try our hand at winter backpacking this season. And what better time to give it a shot than the first of the year? After splurging on some new four season sleeping bags (with some much needed help from a Columbia Sportswear employee pass) and a winter coat for Cassie, we made plans to drive out to Bend, snowshoe to Tumalo Falls and continue along Tumalo Creek, then set up camp in Happy Valley. As per usual, we scrambled to get stuff together the night before and, with lots of packing still to do in the morning, decided to adjust our trip to something shorter and closer: Trillium Lake on Mount Hood.

First family selfie of the year!

 

Day 1: Trillium Lake Sno Park to south end of Trillium Lake (2.8 miles; 1 hour 50 minutes, all breaks included)

After altering our original trip at 10 pm the previous night, we got a pretty late start in the morning, arriving at the sno park just in time to snag one of the last parking spots in the lot. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, so naturally the crowds were comparable to a summer weekend at Disneyland. I can’t remember the last time we saw so many people (and dogs!) on the trail. Fortunately, the road was wide enough to accommodate everyone that showed up to enjoy a wintry New Year’s Eve. The snow was packed down enough from heavy usage that snowshoes weren’t even necessary for the most part, but we kept them on to avoid adding extra weight to our packs.

We got our first clear view of Hood about a mile or so into the hike at Summit Meadows. Aside from a couple of freshly made tracks crisscrossing the meadows, much of the snow here was untouched. To get away from the crowds (and to get a nicer shot of the mountain, which would be the last until reaching the lake), I blazed my own trail through the deep powder. Finally made use of the snowshoes!

Mount Hood from Summit Meadows

After the meadows, we were back in the forest, passing by several cozy looking rental cabins along the way. We’d put some distance between us and some of the bigger groups (who stopped to enjoy the meadows) at this point and got to enjoy some short lived solitude.

The lake seemed to appear suddenly as we rounded the bend out of the forest. Skies were still completely clear and Mount Hood could be seen once again in all her grandeur. Of course, in addition to the incredible view was the inevitable crowd. There were people lounging in the deep snow on the shore, traversing the frozen lake, and there was even one guy ice fishing. Before doing any further exploring of our own, we decided it would be best to set up the tent.

We found a nice little spot on the shore with a fantastic view of the lake and the mountain. Yes! Now to dig and smooth out a platform. Easier said than done. Because of the relatively fresh powder, we had to dig pretty deep before we were able to stamp out a firm, stable platform. By the time we got the tent up, it had been nearly an hour. Even with her jacket on, Cassie was shivering like crazy, so I wrapped her in a towel while we finished carving out boot boxes. Clouds started to move in as well, and I kicked myself for not getting a picture of the landscape while it had been completely clear. I pulled out my camera for a few quick shots.

Mount Hood from the shores of Trillium Lake

View from my side of the tent

We set up Cassie in the tent first. Mack wrapped her in his puffy down jacket so she could warm up faster. We’ll definitely need to work on setting up more quickly in the future so our poor pup doesn’t freeze to death! We unfurled our sleeping pads and new bags first, then piled in with all the rest of our gear. It didn’t feel that cold outside (especially since we’d been moving for the last hour and a half setting up camp), but it sure felt nice to remove my snow covered boots and curl up in a comfy bag. Mack went straight to work boiling water for hot toddies. Surprisingly, this was the first time we’d carried an alcoholic beverage into the backcountry. It definitely needs to happen more often.

Now that it was after 3 pm and the clouds had completely obscured Hood, we were finally getting our much awaited solitude. Of course, the temperature had dropped a bit (or at least it felt like it now that we were all warm and snugly in the tent) with the sun gone/hidden. Neither of us felt like getting up to put on our boots, gaiters, and snowshoes to walk around the lake. Cassie was already sound asleep, too! Aside from a couple reluctant bathroom breaks, we stayed in the tent the remainder of the afternoon.

Our New Year’s Eve consisted of more hot toddies, munching on cheese puffs, tortillas, and jelly beans, watching Gilmore Girls on Mack’s phone, saying “hello” and “happy new year” to the occasional skiers that passed by, hitting snow (that was now falling pretty heavily) off the tent fly, and nearly jumping out of our skins when the fireworks went off at Timberline Lodge. All in all, I’d say it was a damn perfect way to close out 2016.

Enjoying a hot toddy
Our campsite

 

Day 2: Trillium Lake to Trillium Lake Sno Park loop completion (2 miles; 1 hour, all breaks included)

I opened my tent door the next morning to find my boot box, which had been nearly a foot and a half deep the day before, almost completely filled with new snow. And snow was still falling. Mack and I decided we should take turns packing up so one of us could keep Cassie warm. I offered to go first. After rolling up my sleeping bag and pad, I shoved everything into my pack,  pulled on my rain pants, gaiters, and boots, then stepped out into waist deep powder, wading through several yards until I reached the trail, where the snow was far less deep. So much effort for a morning bathroom break. The lake was deserted save for one hiker and his small dog making their way down the forest road leading back to the sno park. A cold, yet serene, start to 2017.

While Mack packed up his things inside the tent, I made myself useful by scooping massive amounts of snow off the fly and breaking trail around Mack’s entrance so he wouldn’t have to swim through the snow like I’d practically had to. Thankfully, aside from having to dig out the stakes and parts of the fly, taking down the tent was much easier than setting it up. We were done in minutes and Cassie had yet to begin shivering!

Before we dug it out

Since we didn’t make the time or effort the day before to walk out on the lake, we made sure to do just that before we headed back up the road. The new snow had completely covered all the tracks from the day before, so we got to lay down some fresh ones.

Walking on the frozen lake

The trek back to the car was pretty uneventful. Both of us were feeling a little dazed and dehydrated, so we were eager to get back. Despite the weather, we passed by quite a few people heading out to visit the lake. Most of them commented on how cute Cassie looked in her jacket and Pawz dog boots and gasped in amazement when they found out we’d camped in the snow the night before. The half mile slog up the final (and only) hill felt like forever. When we finally made it up, we couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. As expected, my car needed to be dug out, defrosted, and armed with AutoSocks. As Cassie lay comfortably inside, Mack and I slaved away shoveling snow. Setting up the tent and digging out the car are officially the most tedious aspects of winter backpacking. After an hour, we hit the road and rewarded ourselves with not one, but TWO trips to Dairy Queen for fries and, ironically, an Oreo blizzard. First winter backpacking trip completed and in the books! Bring on the next one!

Mount Adams

  • Date: August 20-21, 2016
  • Start: Cold Springs Campground
  • Distance: 12.4 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Washington Trails Association

This summer has been a busy one for outdoor adventures. Back in June, we participated in a week-long mountaineering course, successfully summiting Mount Baker during that time. In July, we climbed Mount Hood and backpacked Goat Rocks Wilderness. And at the beginning of August, we backpacked Garibaldi Provincial Park. Time in between was generally spent planning for the next upcoming trip. After our time in British Columbia, we decided that maybe it would be best to take a break, especially since we have one last backpacking trip coming up Labor Day weekend. Then, as I began writing about our Garibaldi adventure, as well as looking back on all we’d already accomplished since the end of June, the idea of “taking a break” seemed ridiculous. If we have the opportunity to get outside, why not take it? So, just one week after returning from British Columbia, we decided to tackle our third Cascade volcano for the summer.

 

Day 1: Cold Springs Campground to Lunch Counter (3.7 miles; 3 hours 8 minutes, breaks not included)

We decided to do a two-day climb of the mountain by base camping at Lunch Counter. Although there are climbers that complete the entire route from Cold Springs Campground without overnighting somewhere on the mountain, I think many choose the former in order to acclimate before the summit push.

The South Climb Trail #183 starts out in a burn zone, so from the get-go we were exposed to the sun. It was a warm day with temps somewhere in the 80s and we were hiking up in our mountaineering boots. Not the most comfortable idea, but it seemed better than carrying the heavy boots on our backs. The trail becomes less obvious, less stable (i.e. lots of loose rock), and steeper after Morrison Creek. Since we’d started relatively early, there were only a couple of other people on this section. By the afternoon, traffic is heavier and there’s usually a line of people leading up to the ridgeline and the edge of the snowfield. I hiked up to Lunch Counter last summer in these exact conditions. It was not pleasant. Thankfully, we were able to avoid this. It made the going much faster and less miserable. The final leg on the snowfield leading to Lunch Counter was a welcome change after traversing over loose rock the last hour.

Looking out at Mount Hood during a snack break

Final stretch to Lunch Counter!

We reached Lunch Counter in the early afternoon. At this point, the majority of Friday-Saturday climbers were making their way back to the trailhead, so we had our pick of sites. In retrospect, we probably could’ve chosen a site closer to the south slope, but we were anxious to set up and get out of the sun for awhile, so we pitched our tent in the first decent spot we came across. While Mack rested in the tent, I walked around Lunch Counter and scoped out the route for the next morning. I reminisced about the short time I’d spent here last summer while dayhiking with a group of women. Climbing the Cascade volcanoes was still a distant dream then, and that realization made me appreciate even more the fact that we were getting ready to climb our fourth the next morning. It’s incredible the things that can change in a year.

Campsite at Lunch Counter

Mack taking a well deserved nap

We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, snacking, and melting bag after quart-size bag of snow since we couldn’t find a decent water source. We decided on a 3 am alpine start and turned-in early. Unfortunately, my afternoon snooze had left me well rested and I was no longer sleepy. I stuck my head out of the tent to enjoy the sunset and gaze out at the majestic silhouettes of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in the distance. I thought back on sunsets on Mount Baker, as well as sunrises on Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, all of them breathtaking. How fortunate I am to be making these kinds of memories.

Scooping snow to melt for water

Melting snow
Mount Hood at sunset
Mount St Helens at sunset

 

Day 2: Lunch Counter to Mount Adams summit, then back (5 miles; 5 hours 57 minutes, breaks not included); Lunch Counter to Cold Springs Campground (3.7 miles; 3 hours 18 minutes, breaks not included)

We were ready to go just before 3 am, but when we unzipped our tent and scanned for signs of life, we didn’t spot a single headlamp. We opted for a few more minutes of shut-eye and ended up departing around 3:45 am instead. We made our way across the rocky plateau and donned our crampons once we reached the slope. The snow was firm and easy to walk on with the crampon spikes biting into it. The trek to Piker’s Peak from Lunch Counter gains a brutal 2000 ft (although I still prefer it to the dusty, rock ridden approach to Lunch Counter). We took it slowly, setting goals of 50 to 100 steps at a time. Every time I looked back and saw the tents dotting the plateau becoming tinier and tinier, I pushed a little bit harder, knowing that the false summit (and, therefore, the true summit) was close at hand. We reached Piker’s Peak just after 6 am. The sun had just risen and we could see the final boot path leading up to the summit. Although we hadn’t felt the forecasted 30 to 40 mph winds on the way up the slope, we definitely felt it at Piker’s Peak and took cover behind a rock wall in an attempt to stay warm while we ate a few snacks and hydrated. Neither of us could feel our fingers after a few minutes, so we packed up and hit the trail for the final stretch. Just 800 ft of gain to go!

Quick break at Piker’s Peak
Boot path heading towards the true summit

The last portion was a cakewalk compared to the push to Piker’s Peak. One saddle, one ridgeline, one last snowfield, and you’re there! Less than an hour after reaching the false summit, we were standing on the true summit, looking out towards Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson. At 12, 276 ft, Mack and I were standing on the highest point either of us has ever reached by foot. The sun was shining, skies were blue, the wind was merely a breeze at this point, and there were only three other people on the summit. It was a peacefully exciting moment and the perfect end to our very first climbing season.

Old lookout building

Mount Rainier

Another empty, peaceful summit

Mount Hood
Descending to Lunch Counter while most people are just heading up

Garibaldi Provincial Park

  • Date: August 7-10, 2016
  • Start: Diamond Head Trailhead (for Elfin Lakes); Rubble Creek Trailhead (for Garibaldi Lake)
  • Distance: 64.6 km
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Type: Out-and-back (for both)
  • Map: Clark Geomatics: Garibaldi Park
  • References: The Outbound (Elfin Lakes); The Outbound (Garibaldi Lake)

Mack and I have wanted to take an international trip together for some time now, and since getting into backpacking last year, my goal has been to combine the two. Some of the initial places I looked into were Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Fiordland in New Zealand, the Dolomites in Italy, and the Alps in Switzerland. Quite ambitious (at least logistically and financially) for a first international backpacking trip. I soon gave up on these ideas after realizing it would require too much of us (i.e. time and money) for the time being. Now, I’m not sure why or when, but I somehow ended up researching parks in Canada (probably after seeing some pictures in Backpacker Magazine or a similar online source). After looking into several different options (including Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park), I settled on Garibaldi Provincial Park. It’s conveniently located an hour and a half north of Vancouver, B.C. and would give Mack and me a chance to do some international travel without the stress of flying with all of our gear. Plus, the area is drop-dead gorgeous!

Our trip took us through two of the most stunning places in the entire park: Elfin Lakes and Garibaldi Lake. The latter we used as a base camp to explore other nearby areas, too. Alpine lakes and wildflower meadows, as well as breathtaking mountain scenery, encompassed each day on the trail. Although we ended up getting stuck in a string of less-than-ideal weather days, we were still able to experience so much of the incredible natural beauty that Garibaldi has to offer. We can’t wait to return to explore more of British Columbia and other parks in the Great White North.

Looking out on Garibaldi Lake

 

Day 1: Diamond Head Trailhead to Elfin Lakes (11.1 km; 2 hours 27 minutes, breaks not included)

Giant, splotchy raindrops pounded the windshield as we drove the Sea to Sky Highway (BC-99) to the Diamond Head parking lot. They would cease, then start again, cease, than start again. The weather was not looking too optimistic and I anticipated a potentially wet, miserable hike up. Fortunately, the rain subsided altogether once we reached the trailhead, although the skies remained grey and overcast. We’d had time the day before and that morning to organize our gear at the hostel in Vancouver, so everything was ready to go once we parked the car. There was only one thing left to do: practice drawing the Counter Assault from the holster on my pack strap. For the first time ever, Mack and I were taking bear spray on a backpacking trip. Although we weren’t likely to see one, British Columbia is home to a high population of black bears. Better safe than sorry. After several repetitions, as well as readjustments to increase the speed of my draw, I re-secured the spray and we set off up the trail.

The first 5.1 km stretch was entirely uphill—mostly gradual, but steep in some sections—on a forest service road. Once we reached Red Heather Shelter, the remaining 6 km to Elfin Lakes was on soft surface trail (at least for the most part). We were high enough in elevation at this point that we were walking through alpine meadows instead of forest. We would’ve had incredible views of the surrounding mountains, too, if it hadn’t been for the cloudy weather. Ugh. Not a single ray of sunshine! At least it wasn’t raining. We saw a lot of people in the last 3 or so km on Paul Ridge, probably heading back after a weekend at the lakes. The descent into the Elfin Lakes basin, though not as breathtaking as I’d imagined since the clouds obscured the mountainous backdrop, was still quite a sight. In fact, the overcast weather lent a mystical quality to the lakes that I don’t think would’ve occurred had the skies been clear and sunny.

Red Heather Shelter

Hiking along Paul Ridge
Elfin Lakes
First lake (bigger of the two)

For being a backcountry site, it sure felt a lot like “glamping” (or at least our version of it). All tent sites are on raised, wooden platforms to protect the fragile meadow from too much impact. There is a pit toilet with rolls of toilet paper. There are outdoor picnic tables, a day/cooking shelter, and bear cache hangers for storing food at night. Wow! The bear canisters we brought were probably not necessary. We ultimately hoisted them up anyways (in trash bags) so we could also throw in other scented items that didn’t fit in the canister. The weather continued to become worse as the afternoon wore on. Eventually you couldn’t even see the lakes or the meadows. We were lucky we arrived early enough to get a glimpse. By evening it was pouring down rain. Thank goodness for that cooking shelter! We were able to take our time making dinner in a dry, comfortable environment rather than outside in the cold and wet—such “fond” memories of the Hoh River Trail. I hoped that the next day would bring better weather.

Day/cooking shelter and bear cache hangers
Second lake
Campsite at Elfin Lakes

View from our platform

Elfin Lakes Shelter
Another view of the second lake
Cooking pasta

 

Day 2: Elfin Lakes to Diamond Head Trailhead (11.1 km; 2 hours 22 minutes, breaks not included); Rubble Creek Trailhead to Garibaldi Lake (8.7 km; 2 hours 36 minutes, breaks not included)

When I awoke around 5 am and opened my tent door, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the skies had cleared up a little bit and the mountains were more visible than they had been the day before. We packed up quickly and left camp around 6 am. Our plan was to get to the Rubble Creek Trailhead by or before 10 am to ensure we’d be able to park in the lot (which, according to the BC parks website, usually fills by 8 am). On our way down, the sun shone through the clouds and the mountains that we’d missed the day before were actually peeking through. At least we didn’t miss out completely! We got back to the car just before 9 am and headed out to the next trailhead, less than an hour away.

Bear cache hangers; my bag is the black trash bag on the far right
Final view of the lakes (with improved views of the surrounding mountains)

Looking back on Paul Ridge

Although very crowded, there were still a number of parking spots available when we arrived at Rubble Creek Trailhead. Maybe it only fills up crazy fast on weekends? We came on a Monday. We threw on our packs and joined the throngs of other hikers heading up. Now, I’m not sure if the elevation gain was really that strenuous (800 m in 8.7 km) or we were just really tired from already having hiked 11.1 km that morning, but the trek up to Garibaldi Lake was an ass-kicker, physically and mentally. Although the trail never got ridiculously steep, the seemingly endless switchbacks and consistent incline wore us down fast. After 6 km the trail finally leveled out in some sections and we were rewarded with views of Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake, openers to the main attraction. The final 2 km seemed to go on forever, but when the lake finally came into view, all that exhaustion seemed to melt away.

The clear, turquoise water had us mesmerized and we dropped our packs at nearby picnic tables to take in the glorious sight before us. After catching our breath and taking in the views, we explored the campground, which, at 50 tent sites compared to Elfin Lakes’ 14 sites, is pretty big. We arrived early enough that most of the sites were empty. We found one we liked, set up our tent, then headed over to the nearest day/cooking shelter—just like the ones at Elfin Lakes—to enjoy a late lunch. Mack rescued a little bird inside that was trying to break its way through the plexiglass windows. Poor thing!

There were several bear warnings posted, asking campers not to cook or eat at their campsite and to keep all food/trash/scented items in the shelters. I found out a little later that a young black bear had to be killed the day before we arrived because people were eating and cooking in their campsites; storing food in their tents; leaving trash everywhere and it wandered into them. Not to get off course from our time at Garibaldi, but I found this blog post (specifically about the bear that was killed) to hit home on the severity of our actions when it comes to bear safety: https://happiestoutdoors.ca/you-killed-a-bear/. It’s so important to remember that we are only visitors in these wild places.

Barrier Lake
First view of Garibaldi Lake

Enjoying hot cocoa by the lake
Campsite at Garibaldi Lake Campground

Following our late lunch it started to rain, so we retreated to the tent for a few hours. When we emerged for dinner in the evening, the weather had improved, so we decided to go for a short jaunt along the lake after we ate. I’m so glad we did! Although it was still misting, the sky had cleared tremendously and we could finally take in the surroundings that had been obscured by clouds when we arrived earlier. We explored the Battleship Islands (lava outcrops which have been connected to the shore via man-made stone causeways) and enjoyed views of Mount Price and Clinker Peak, Sphinx Glacier, and Black Tusk. A perfect end to a hard day.

View of the mountains in the evening
Mount Price and Clinker Peak
Mack hanging out on one of the Battleship Islands

Looking out at Sphinx Glacier

More of the islands
Selfie taken on one of the islands
View of Black Tusk to the north

 

Day 3: Garibaldi Lake to Black Tusk, then back (11 km round-trip; 3 hours 36 minutes, breaks not included)

Our initial goal for the day was to hike to both Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge so we could get back to Vancouver in the early afternoon the next day. It was awfully cloudy when we started off at 8:30 am, so we decided to begin with Black Tusk—Panorama Ridge was the hike I was most looking forward to, so I wanted to give the weather a fighting chance. The initial switchbacks uphill through the forest changed quickly into the wildflowers of Black Tusk Meadows. We were the only ones on the trail and the morning mist blanketing the meadows made it an eerily peaceful hike. The trail took us over a few creeks (Parnasus and Mimulus Creeks respectively), a snowfield, and finally to the scorched black rocks comprising the steep slope leading up to Black Tusk. According to our map, the peak is a remnant of a large volcano that has mostly eroded away. The native people of the area knew it as nq’il’qtens ku skenknap or “seat of thunder,” the home of the mythological thunderbird. The clouds were heavy at the top, making it impossible to see how far we were supposed to ascend. The rock formation was nowhere in sight and all I kept thinking was, “Is this scree climb even worth it?” After 20 or so minutes, we concluded it wasn’t and headed back down. Sigh. Another viewpoint squandered by crappy weather. Panorama Ridge was definitely going to have to wait until the next day.

Turnaround point on Black Tusk

On our way down, the morning mist was dissipating and we had even more expansive views of the gorgeous meadows we’d passed through on the way up. We were even fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Garibaldi Lake down below before the clouds rolled back in a moment later. It was already close to noon, so we ran into many people heading up to either Black Tusk or Helm Lake. We met a father-daughter duo who informed us of black bear cubs in the area, with no sign of the mama bear. They looked a bit spooked when they told us. Needless to say, Mack and I made tons of noise and hiked with an extra pep in our step as we continued our descent. We figured we were safe when we ran into a couple of other groups. To be safe, we shared the info about the cubs with them before continuing on. Upon returning to the lake, we enjoyed a cooked lunch—nothing fancy, just ramen—and hot chocolate at the picnic tables.

View of Garibaldi Lake on the descent

Wildflowers make Mack happy

Black Tusk Meadows

The rest of the day was spent napping in the tent, journaling out by the lake [me], reading Terry Pratchett [Mack], and playing cards. At dinner, we ate down by the lake since the shelters were full. A couple of rangers passed by, rifles slung over their shoulders, and warned us about bears (emphasis on the plural) in the area. They requested that we come straight to them if we happened to see any. We didn’t end up seeing any (thankfully), but neither of us walked around the campground alone after that.

Journaling (i.e. preparing for the blog) by the lake
Being silly in the tent; note the Buff/bandana hairdo I’m sporting

 

Day 4: Garibaldi Lake to Panorama Ridge, then back (14 km round-trip; 3 hours 46 minutes, breaks not included); Garibaldi Lake to Rubble Creek Trailhead (8.7 km; 2 hours, breaks not included)

The weather wasn’t looking too promising when we woke up on our last day. Although there was no chance of precipitation, the weather forecast, which Mack had checked the day before, read partly cloudy. At 6 am though, the entire sky above Garibaldi Lake was shrouded in clouds, engulfing the upper parts of the surrounding peaks as well (including Panorama Ridge at the north end of the lake). We figured it was still too early to base the day’s weather on the current conditions, so instead of heading out early like we had the day before, we waited. At 9:30 am, the clouds were clearing pretty well at the eastern and southern ends of the lake,—you could see blue sky, and the sun was shining through!—but conditions hadn’t improved at the northern end. My spirits were starting to sink, but at 10:15 am, we set off anyways.

Bear scat found near the day/cooking shelter!

Cute little cairn island

I was frustrated with the weather, especially with it being our final day (and my birthday!), and hiked at a brisk pace to release some of that frustration. We followed the same route as Black Tusk until we reached the junction about 2.5 km in. Instead of taking the left towards Black Tusk, we continued straight, heading through more beautiful wildflower meadows, and passing Mimulus Lake, which was completely hidden by clouds. However, once we reached the junction with Helm Lake, the weather seemed to be taking a turn for the better. There were less clouds, more blue sky, and we could actually see the sun! It was all uphill from there (literally and figuratively).

The signage in the park is awesome
Wildflowers on the way to Panorama Ridge
Awesome rock bridge/retaining wall
There’s a lake down there in the mist (Mimulus Lake I believe)
Helm Lake

Black Tusk Lake

As it continued up, the trail went from soft surface to talus and, at times, snow. Since the path is not so clearly defined up here, there are wooden posts at various intervals to keep you on track. These were especially helpful in the clouds. Eventually we were able to make out the ridge we were heading towards. We could still see bright blue sky whenever the clouds parted, so I kept my hopes up. The slope continued to get steeper as we made the final push to the primary viewpoint. There were several people already up there, waiting for the coveted view of Garibaldi Lake. We decided to continue along the ridge to the highest point instead.

Heading into the clouds

View of the ridge
Traversing to Panorama Peak via Panorama Ridge

Although the view to the south had not improved by the time we reached Panorama Peak, the view to the north, which encompasses Black Tusk, Black Tusk Lake, Helm Lake, other smaller lakes, and the vibrant green meadows contrasting with the higher elevation rock and snow, was spectacular. What a fantastic way to cap off one year and start the next one. We hung out on the peak for a good 20 minutes (maybe more) before deciding to head back over to the more popular viewpoint. On the way over, the clouds lifted ever so slightly that I was able to glimpse (and quickly snap a picture of) Garibaldi Lake just seconds before the clouds obscured it again.

View from Panorama Peak

Some kind of summit cairn?
Hikers waiting patiently for the clouds to disappear

Black Tusk behind the clouds
The only view I was able to get of the lake due to clouds

When we reached the other viewpoint, we gauged from the people waiting there that Garibaldi had yet to make an appearance. Desperate for a view, I asked Mack if we could wait as well. The minutes passed, but nothing improved. There were a few moments where the clouds started to shift due to the wind, but it was never enough to fully uncover the lake. I did get some nice glimpses of Mount Garibaldi, the Table, and the Tantalus Range though! After 40 minutes or so, we called it quits and headed back down. I was happy that I got to see anything at all! The cloud situation only seemed to worsen as we descended. Our timing had been just right. It was 3:45 pm when we returned to camp. Knowing we had at least a 2-hour hike ahead of us, we quickly packed up and were back on the trail by 4:30 pm.

Mount Garibaldi

Tantalus Range
Heading back down
One last look

The descent back to the parking lot seemed to go by quickly. We were so excited to eat “real” food that we practically ran parts of the hike. The final kilometer was the only time I stopped to admire and take pictures of the beautiful effect the sunlight had shining through the trees. At the parking lot, we shed our packs, removed our boots, and aired our aching feet. We packed up the car, cleaned up a little with some bathing wipes, and headed out to Squamish for a well deserved meal. Down at lower elevation, the weather was a lot nicer and we got the most incredible views of the entire trip (at least of the mountains) while driving the Sea to Sky Highway. British Columbia, you did not disappoint.

Hiking the final kilometer back to the car!

Tantalus Range from a viewpoint off of BC-99