Womxn of the PNW: Samantha King

Samantha is an outdoor enthusiast who loves trail adventures and exploring the outdoors. Running, climbing, and backpacking are just a few of her favorite things!

How long have you resided in the PNW? What brought you here?

I was born and raised in the Portland, Oregon area and have lived here all my life! I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I feel like we have it all! Mountains, trails, beaches, deserts, you name it! 

Has the outdoors always played a significant role in your life? How were you introduced?

Growing up we camped (car camping) and hiked. I loved camping, but I hated hiking. My dad and I laugh about it now. A big part of why I didn’t like hiking was because of heights. Little known fact is I used to be very scared of heights! I am still not the biggest fan of heights and exposure, but I’ve continued to push myself into doing it more, and I’ve gotten better and better at handling it.

Where is your favorite place to adventure in the PNW?

My favorite place to adventure is a hard one, but I’d have to say the Columbia River Gorge. It’s where I first began hiking and running, and it always feels like home to me. 

What is your favorite outdoor experience/memory of all time?

My favorite outdoor memory to date is probably my first backpacking experience. I did the Timberline Trail, solo, having no backpacking experience at all. It rained torrentially the entire time and was thoroughly a sufferfest. However, I learned so much about myself and what I was capable of. I was stronger and braver than I ever could’ve imagined. And I am happy to report all of the following backpacking and fastpacking trips have been much less eventful!

You often run, hike, and backpack solo. What do you enjoy most about doing solo adventures? Any words of wisdom for others who might be interested in doing more solo adventuring?

I love solo adventures! It’s a great time to learn about myself and what I’m capable of. Some basics are to know what you’re doing, make sure you’re carrying appropriate emergency gear, and know your limits. Make a plan and leave your plan with at least one other person, but preferably two. 

I can only imagine that being a mom to two kiddos gets insanely busy. How has motherhood (and family life in general) influenced your outdoor lifestyle? How often do you do outdoor adventures as a family?

Having two kiddos definitely makes things more challenging! It’s so much coordinating and scheduling. I often get up to run at 4 or 5 am while everyone is asleep or it doesn’t happen. I have a very supportive family who helps with the kids immensely and I couldn’t do a lot of what I do without them. I try to get them out for hikes and camping as much as I can. There is often complaining about “tired” legs, but I try to push them a bit. I don’t want them to grow to not like it, but I want to show them what they are capable of. I took them on a little overnight backpacking trip and they did pretty well all things considered! I plan to do a bit more every year and hope that eventually they’ll be able to handle bigger trips with me and I’ll have built in adventure buddies.

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

My biggest goal for this year is to run from Cascade Locks to the summit of Mt. Adams and down. It will be 100 miles and my biggest challenge yet!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Sam! Is there anything else we should know about you? Fun facts, trivia, etc.?

My favorite color is pink. Dark pink to be specific! 

You can learn more about Sam and follow her adventures on Instagram: @samantha.mountain.trail


Womxn of the PNW: Cat Eckrode

Cat is an entrepreneur from Portland, Oregon, who has turned her passion for the outdoors into a business designed to get people started on their own adventures. Camera in hand and canine companion at her side, she can often be found exploring forests, mountains, and more around the Pacific Northwest.

How long have you resided in the PNW? What brought you here?

I grew up in the PNW, with most of my childhood spent in the Columbia River Gorge outside of Washougal, Washington. Although I’ve had the opportunity to travel, no where else feels like “home” and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s the perfect home base with so many incredible adventure opportunities nearby!

Has the outdoors always played a significant role in your life? How were you introduced? And what are your favorite activities?

I was lucky enough to spend most of my childhood up through my teen years in a rural area, surrounded by northwest forest; I just didn’t know I was lucky at the time and was impatient to move to a city. My family explored some of the old logging roads and mines hidden in the region not far from Washougal, and for a few summers we camped in our trailer near local rivers. Most summers saw us in Eastern Oregon for part of our vacation, and other times we would go to the coast and explore the beaches. Through my teen years and well into adulthood, I was not at all an outdoorsy person! I was out of shape and suffered from horrible allergies, telling myself I was meant to be indoors only. About seven years ago, I moved to a new home with an amazing yard that attracts all kinds of birds; I started bird watching, and started exploring nearby parks to see more. I didn’t know any other birders, so I would often go by myself. Eventually I started venturing further from home, until my hobby turned into an outright obsession with hiking and backpacking!

PC: Stacey Arnold

Where is your favorite place to adventure in the PNW?

I love exploring in the Columbia River Gorge – there is just SO much to discover, year-round. I am often found on the west end of the Oregon side. The steep elevation is such a rewarding challenge, leading past seasonally-changing waterfalls, amazing geology, both young and old growth forests, talus fields, open meadows, and often results in spectacular views. I always feel reinvigorated after an adventure in that region!

What is your favorite outdoor experience/memory of all time?

My favorite outdoor experience  -so far! – has been reaching the crater rim on Mount Saint Helens for the first time. I was just starting to think seriously about creating some sort of business on my own, and was going through a very personal journey at the time. I had set a goal for myself of reaching the top that summer and felt like I was out to prove something. I obtained the passes, coordinated for my little group of climbers, and trained for months (for this climb as well as other adventures). Our party had to deal with one member having food poisoning set in, and another overcoming a fear of heights, in addition to the expected challenges of the terrain. That last uphill slog through the ash field seemed like it would go on forever…and I will never forget the emotions that rushed through me as I took the last few steps. It was the most incredible view I’ve ever seen, seeming like the entire world had opened up before me; the feeling that I could do anything combined with the beauty and sense of personal accomplishment was overwhelming. It was such an amazing feeling that I walked a little further along the rim laughing until I had tears in my eyes. I don’t know if laughter is what others experience at the top of a mountain, but it was the happiest and most exhilarating thing!

PC: Jess Rembold

What inspired you to start The Outdoor Adventure Kind? How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far (milestones, challenges, etc.)?

As I took up hiking, often solo, I found the experience to be so much more rewarding than I’d ever imagined. Not only was I getting more physically fit, but I was feeling better emotionally while also discovering a new sense of empowerment and confidence. Along the way, I kept hearing from others that they would like to take up hiking or do more than the ‘easy’ hikes but that they couldn’t…and almost all of the reasons they gave were ones I’d at one time faced, too. I started unofficially coaching friends & family, encouraging them to get outdoors. I shared my stories, gave advice, and took people along on adventures with me. It was such an incredible thing to inspire & educate others, and to see people discover their own abilities and start their own adventures, or take them to new levels. I realized I wanted to keep doing that, so I made the leap from a 15-year-long career path to first-time entrepreneur. It’s been a whole new kind of adventure!

The last few months have been all about refining my goals as a small business owner, learning what exactly it means to own my own company, and developing both the structure for an online presence as well as the kinds of supporting services I want to offer to the community. The process has been slower than I initially envisioned, but I have learned so much along the way!  I wholeheartedly believe that anyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors; my goal is to be inclusive, supportive, and encouraging while opening up the definition of “adventure” to encompass pursuits as varied as the individuals who get outdoors. I also endeavor to educate others on good stewardship practices to protect and preserve our wild spaces.

How often does your dog, Bailey, join you on your adventures? What do you enjoy most about hiking with her? 

I adopted Bailey with the intent of her being my Outdoor Adventure Dog, and she’s with me as often as is reasonable when I am on the trail! She has her own gear for hiking and backpacking adventures, and gets super excited anytime she can come along. You wouldn’t know she’s not a PNW native (she’s from Hawaii), because she took to outdoor exploration like a natural. I love having her along for companionship always, as well as an extra sense of security when hiking solo. She takes her job very seriously, keeping eyes and ears alert to our surroundings. When we are in areas where she is allowed off leash, she sticks to the trails without needing to be told and stays close at hand. We’ve just recently adopted another dog into our pack; Ruby Mae is still a puppy, but Bailey’s job will soon include teaching her to be a good adventure companion, too. And for those who are wondering, we absolutely always pack out everything, and follow leash laws & regulations as posted. We do our best to be good stewards for adventure dogs and their owners!

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

I try to set a few goals each year to keep myself motivated and continuously growing, and I am super excited about some of this year’s plans: I’m going to run my first full marathon in August, I’m going to summit at least one more volcano (probably Mt. Adams), and I am going to hike the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. And while I am training for all of that, I’m also going to grow The Outdoor Adventure Kind in support of others discovering their own amazing adventures.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Cat! Is there anything else we should know about you? Fun facts, trivia, etc.?

Although a lot of my time & passion goes into my fledgling business and outdoor adventures, I am also a pretty big geek. I’m particularly a fan of fantasy & sci-fi genres; some universes/worlds include Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones (books, then show), and Kim Harrison’s The Hollows book series. I could write a much, much longer list… I also enjoy video games (mostly PC, sometimes console), comic books, graphic novels, and role playing game when I can find the time and opportunity.

I mentioned that bird watching lead to me starting to hike – it also sparked a passion for nature photography. I am still an avid birder and growing my photography skills, and dream of traveling internationally to photograph exotic new species and locations!

You can learn more about Cat and follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and at https://www.theoakind.com/.

Womxn of the PNW: Stacey Arnold

Stacey is an aspiring Adventureprenuer and adventure-obsessed woman that lives just outside of Portland, Oregon. No matter what kind of adventure she’s on, she always carries her 5lb camera and is well known amongst outdoorsy friends for stopping mid-strike to say “look at that mushroom!” She’s also obsessed with learning about local wildflowers, wild edibles, and picking up way too many rocks at the beach!

Successful summit of Helens with Cat Eckrode (August 5, 2018)

How long have you resided in the PNW? What brought you here?

I’ve been in Oregon since just before I turned three. My parents grew up in the Portland/Tigard/Beaverton area and after they met they ended up moving to Hawaii, getting married, and living there for 10 years. My brother and I were born there, but my parents moved us back here just before I turned three so we could go to better public schools than on the island.

Has the outdoors always played a significant role in your life? How were you introduced?

Oh man yes! When we lived in Hawaii we lived on several acres in the rainforest and there are pictures of me stark nekkid enjoying the warm breeze! When we moved back to the mainland my parents found a small farm on 8 acres and my brother and I grew up playing in the dirt, mowing the lawn, catching crayfish in the creek and all around being filthy little demons as often as we could be. Mom and her best friend would take us camping all the time in the summer to Eastern Oregon and we’d get dirty in the desert dust and then dunk ourselves in the Prineville Reservoir, chase lizards and go “snipe hunting” and try to catch bats by tossing mini marshmallows up.

Hiking Lava Canyon with my good friend, Carla Wakins (Summer 2018)

Where is your favorite place to adventure in the PNW? 

That is so hard to choose! Like choosing a favorite kid. I love all the places for different reasons. The Gorge is incredible because of the incredible history of the Missoula Flood that carved it. The North Cascades for how rough and wild they are. The area around Mt. Hood for how accessible it is to me, especially for a snow fix in the winter. Eastern Oregon for childhood memories with family and because it’s so different than the green trees near home. The Oregon Coast and Olympic Coast for the sea stacks, tide pools, and rockhounding that is available. Mt. St. Helens because that mountain is personal for me.

What is your favorite outdoor experience/memory of all time?

Two years ago I set out for a solo hiking/photography weekend near Mt. St. Helens. Even though it was July I was dealing with some seasonal depression-like symptoms from not spending very much time outdoors soaking up vitamin D. I had planned on getting up soon after midnight and driving up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in time for sunrise, but when my alarm went off I felt mentally and emotionally lethargic and drained. Normally I would have stayed in bed, but something got me up and going. I felt really conspicuous walking around the observatory in the super dim light before dawn but finally found a spot I would wait for sunrise from. I fiddled with some timelapse settings while I waited for the conditions I wanted, and as I was waiting I heard what I thought was another photographer coming down the path. I felt SUPER self-conscious and looked around as I sat on my jacket in the middle of the trail over my tripod. No one was there, and when I looked forward there was a deer popping over the hill in front of me. My camera settings were all wrong for a moving subject and I fired off a ton of shots hoping to get a good one. That picture ended up being my favorite one I’ve ever taken. I was so excited about it that after I sent it over to my phone to give a quick edit I was showing everyone I met. On the other side of the mountain that night, a woman from the Mt St. Helens Institute asked if I was climbing the next morning and offered for me to join them. She had no idea but I was absolutely shocked – she asked me so matter-of-fact as if she had no idea that was something that I couldn’t do. I knew I couldn’t climb a volcano!

A couple of months later I did something else completely out of character and went to a Facebook group’s first meetup, though I didn’t know it was the first. I drove 3 hours up to Olallie State Park in Washington and I shook slightly as I got out of the car and fiddled with stuff in the back to calm my hands down. Soon after actually joining everyone I felt right at home, and I hated to leave. Since then most of those people have become close as family to me and the memories I make with them every month or so are so dear to me! Since then, I have done all sorts of crazy things like be on the podcasts of people I’ve admired for years, talk about a “Cluster-Bleep” of a first solo backpacking trip in front of a couple hundred people during a LIVE podcast event in downtown Portland, and gone to many meetups and met and hiked with tons of new people. As a (mostly former) introvert I hardly recognize my life anymore!

(Side note: The photo Stacey refers to in the above response can be seen below)

The picture and morning that changed my life

You mentioned that Mount St. Helens is “personal” for you. Would you be comfortable elaborating on this?

Like I mentioned about one of my favorite outdoor memories – I was asked to join a group heading up the next morning on a climb, and the woman thought nothing of asking me, like it was a given that I could – or would even be interested in – climbing Mt. St. Helens.  I’d never even thought of it before, and I made my excuses about not having a permit, as well as recovering a toe from a car accident. I wrote her asking me off at the time, but later on when I saw a post from the Mt. St. Helens Institute announcing when permit sales would be, something poked me in the brain and I found myself sitting on a pallet in the stockroom at work furiously trying for permits during the Great 2018 Permit Sale Catastrophe. I promised my employee I’d give up as many breaks in the coming days or weeks as it took for me to get permits. I miraculously ended up getting 4 of them for 1 year to the day from the day I took the picture that ended up changing my life. I started training my out-of-shape self for the climb, and convinced a co-worker to climb with me.  A couple of other friends were going to go, but had to bail, and it ended up being just the two of us. I gave Heather, my co-worker turned climbing partner, her trail name – Belch while we climbed up. The night before we climbed we were good girls and went to bed early. It poured so hard we couldn’t sleep part of the night. Heather is a sleep-flailer and I was on the receiving end of a couple of flying elbows and a spooning leg, to which I informed her I was not her husband and to kindly get off me, lol. Then at one point when I woke up it was an hour later than when my alarm was supposed to go off and we scrambled to get out of camp as soon as possible.

We finally started hiking up, and once we got to the boulder field I pulled the gloves I’d bought the previous day and stuffed in my pack. I had two left gloves! It was awkward but it worked. The snow obscured the first few poles showing the way, and we ended up scrambling up a very ashy/slidy area that made me super nervous having not been on a scramble like this before. Once we gained the ridge it was a little better, but I continued to feel slightly panicky, and it only got worse as we climbed up. I wasn’t eating properly on the way up because the foods I normally enjoyed were grossing me out! 2/3 of the way up I began to have a very quiet meltdown with silent, very pathetic looking tears. I’d looked ahead and everyone was scaling this wall of stone that went from about 30 degrees to what appeared to be 60 degrees, and I just could not see myself getting up it safely, let alone down!  I found myself irrationally irritated at the chipmunks cavorting around me showing absolutely no fear at the height they were at. Over the course of the next half hour I inched up further, before finally giving up. I was so damned embarrassed telling everyone coming up that we hadn’t made it when they asked how the top had been. I was embarrassed ahead of time to tell friends, family, and coworkers that I’d failed to due an anxiety attack doing something I loved.

Later that week I wrote about the failure as a way to get closure. I thought it was something I’d never try to do again – the idea was terrifying and I just knew I couldn’t do it. Then I got a  message from a woman who had read my story. I’d never met her, and never interacted with her online before. But my story resonated with her – she’d also had a screwy first ascent, and she had an opening in a group that she wanted me to have – one month after my failed attempt. Her group ended up cancelling, but she gave me two permits so I  could find someone to go with. This meant telling someone I was going to go, which I wasn’t going to do until the day of. I reached out to a couple of friends, but they couldn’t make it, so I posted in Toward the Mountaintop and a woman named Cat Eckrode said she would go. I ended up meeting her at the trailhead and realized I’d been interacting with her in a coaching group Anastasia Allison was hosting weekly. Cat had climbed it two weeks prior to my second attempt, and lead me up. When we got to the “Wall” as I thought of it – the part I’d freaked on the month before I saw zigzags of dust on the rock that had been washed off in the rain the month before. Switchbacks! You don’t have to go straight up the mountain! I laughed hard, and we kept climbing. At one point when we stopped for an hourly snack I got this beautiful, clear feeling and knew I would make it to the top that day. Once we got to the ash field I began to panic again but at that point there was no effing way I was going to turn around, even if I had to crawl the rest of the way up. And at times I did crawl, feeling like I would tip right off the mountain. One other climber asked if I was ok at one point, flat to the mountain. I told her I thought Helens and I both needed a hug.

When I got to the top, I laughed, and choked, and cried all at the same time. I had made it.

Now I dream of climbing all the Northwest volcanoes, and I am going to do it.

You eventually became an ambassador for the Facebook group you mentioned in one of your previous responses! What inspired you to become an ambassador for Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch? What do you do as an ambassador for TTMTIBI? How has this group influenced you? 

Many of the core people in the group are like family, and have allowed me to change and grow in ways that I never, ever would have guessed would happen to me. Instead of feeling like a dud because no one wanted to hang out with me, especially outdoors, I now have the opposite problem and end up wringing my hands trying to figure out how to make more time to spend with these wonderful people. I have become so much more than I was before I met them, and I thought it would be a great way to show them my gratitude and my love. As an ambassador to the group I reach out to members that have questions, lead hikes and meetups, and try to let new people feel the same incredibly warm hug of a welcome that I got during that first meetup just before my 30th birthday.

The first group of strangers I felt totally comfortable around that have become my community and family. First ever meetup for Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch

You’ve described yourself as an “aspiring Adventurepreneur.” For those who are unfamiliar, can you provide your personal definition of an adventurepreneur and describe your aspirations?

I take my definition of Adventureprenuer from Anastasia Allison. She has made a living doing outdoor-inspired things that most people would (and often do) say are nuts to think you’d be able to make money doing! My own brand of this is a company called Inclined to Adventure. I spent so much time when I was a kid climbing trees and walking the dry creek bed and all sorts of outdoor things that as an adult when I realized I was more and more depressed if I didn’t spend time outdoors. I currently work retail and have a super limited adventure budget. I want to be able to lead guided trips, photography classes, foraging classes, geology classes, orienteering, and a ton more on a sliding scale for those that need an extra boost to be able to get out there. I realize that the way my brain works to collect info that is interesting to me and not be overwhelmed by it is kind of unusual by the posts I see on PNWOW, WHC and other forums and I want to be able to make information more accessible to folks that don’t have what I do. I eventually even want to have a goat/llama/alpaca rental service on a sliding scale for those that have mobility issues. I already teach 1-on-1 photo classes now, and I have a plan in place to free up more time to go further down the Adventureprenuer path!

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

My adventure list!

    • Climb Helens in the snow
    • Climb a 2nd volcano – Adams likely
    • Circumnavigate 2 volcanoes
    • Walk/run the entire ~30 mile Wildwood Trail in one day
    • Swim in Colchuk Lake (in Allison Tapert’s wetsuit that she will be hucking up and down to said lake. This is her hairbrained way of getting me over my fear of swimming in open water)
    • Learn to surf (also Allison’s hairbrain!)
    • Start learning to climb
    • Run/Walk a 5k (and maybe a 10k?)
    • Go on a 5-night backpacking trip
    • Finally visit the Wallowas!
    • Spend at least 15 nights in a tent this year
    • Hike 300+ miles
    • Sell my house and…..? The 2nd half is a secret for now! But it will be very, very cool!
Snowshoeing at Packwood Lake with Kellie Dawson (February 2018)

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Stacey! Is there anything else we should know about you? Fun facts, trivia, etc.?

I used to be afraid of garbage trucks! I’ve built birthing tubs with my dad for maternity wards. I rebuilt and drove a 1970 Ford Falcon when I was 14-16, and then I drove it for 13 years. I still have it, and I’m hoping to be able to fix the issue currently keeping it in storage soon! That little car was a beast on logging roads heading to trailheads! I’m obsessed with finding and identifying mushrooms, wildflowers, and wild edibles, and I am an info-holic!

Snow backpacking with Anastasia Allison, Allison Tapert, and Brenda Ullinski at Mt. Rainier (March 2019)

You can learn more about Stacey and follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and at www.inclinedtoadventure.com.

Oregon Butte and Mount Misery Trail

  • Date: June 25, 2017
  • Location: Blue Mountains
  • Start: Teepee Trailhead
  • Distance: 14 miles (according to Mack’s Garmin)
  • Duration: 3 hours 24 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Washington Trails Association

Our first official summer adventure took place in an unlikely, unexpected place in the PNW: the Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington. It’s rare that we venture this far out (six hour drive from Portland) unless it’s to climb a mountain/mountains or do a multi-day backpacking trip. However, we were attending a wedding in Walla Walla on Saturday evening and figured it would be worth it to explore some place nearby on Sunday before heading home. We decided a trail run would make the most sense since we still needed to train for the upcoming Mt Hood 50K in July. After multiple preceding ideas (including the Wallowas and Hells Canyon), we settled on running up to the highest point in the Blue Mountains of Washington, Oregon Butte (at 6,387 feet), as well as exploring the surrounding area in a 17-mile loop.

On Saturday, we spent a few hours at our friends’ wedding before hitting the road again at 9:15 pm. Teepee Trailhead is two hours away from Walla Walla and the final hour/25-ish miles is on a dusty gravel road that climbs up to the trailhead (which, we found out in the morning, is also a fantastic overlook). After a busy day of packing, driving, wedding mingling, and more driving, we crashed instantly. We woke up around 7 am to sunshine, blue skies, warm temps (already nearing 70 degrees), and a gorgeous view of the Blue Mountains. We took our time getting ready, making sure to pack plenty of water for the 85-90 degree weather we expected later that morning/afternoon, and by 8 am were running up Mount Misery Trail.

It’s hard to cram all ten essentials in a running pack

Oregon Butte is only three miles into the route, so we looked forward to being rewarded for this uphill stretch fairly quickly. After a mile or so we came to our first junction. The left trail stays lower while the right one traverses over West Butte, another high point in the Blue Mountains. We opted for the West Butte traverse because it meant views as we ran. We were actually able to see the lookout tower on Oregon Butte as we ran across West Butte Ridge!

After reconnecting with the trail below the ridge, we continued past a spring-fed log watering trough and took a spur trail on the right leading up to Oregon Butte and the lookout tower. We enjoyed views of the Blue Mountains on both sides of the ridge as we ran through a carpet of wildflowers on the final traverse. What a way to start our adventure run!

Heading up to West Butte

Running toward the lookout

On such a clear, bluebird day, the views were phenomenal. I’ll admit, when we first decided to hit up this area, I hadn’t had very high hopes. My heart had been set on either exploring the Wallowas again or running around Hells Canyon. The Blue Mountains ended up being a last minute fallback when the other ideas didn’t work out. Now that I was up here soaking it all in, these mountains were definitely starting to grow on me. From Oregon Butte, you can look across to the snow-covered peaks of the Wallowa range, as well as the Seven Devils range in Idaho.

Wallowa Mountains

The highlight of our route was now over, but we descended to Mount Misery Trail and continued north to the Panjab Trail junction (another few miles away). The ridgeline we continued across had an unexpected amount of elevation gain. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be level, but the amount of climbing still took me by surprise. The heat was also starting to get to me, so even the smallest hills felt challenging. The wildflowers along the way were a beautiful distraction though.

The trail continues through a burn area where, due to exposure, the vegetation was wildly overgrown and made for a little bushwhacking experience. Views were plentiful along this route since we stayed up high and sections of forest were rather sparse. However, now that we were further away from the “popular” part of the hike (i.e. Oregon Butte), we became more wary of black bears, which we had read were pretty common in this area. In fact, many of the trip reports I’d read concerning this trail mentioned black bear sightings (but, fortunately, no dangerous encounters)! Mack and I remained on the lookout and made plenty of noise as we ran to avoid any surprise encounters.

The final section before the junction is through a colorful wildflower meadow. Blue, purple, green, and yellow blooms blanket this vast plateau. The junction is about halfway through this section. Despite the lack of signage, it was pretty clear when we reached it. The Mount Misery Trail continues off to the right, straight ahead (continuing through the meadow) is the Rattlesnake Trail, and off to the left, descending back into the forest, is the Panjab Trail.

Our original plan was to turn down the Panjab Trail then take the Turkey Creek Trail back to the trailhead. However, we’d already spent a couple of hours running, as well as stopping a lot more than intended to take pictures. With a long drive still awaiting us, we decided it would be best to just turn around here and do an out-and-back instead. Although I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to explore this area further, I was also relieved. The heat was draining me of energy and motivation. Air conditioning sounded so good.

Entering the meadow section

Nearing the turnaround point

The miles back to the trailhead were slow going on my part. Mack runs very strong in hot weather, but I don’t fare well at all. I was walking even the smallest hills that we came across. I swear we’d encountered more uphill sections while running toward the Panjab Trail junction, so where was all the downhill on the way back? We stopped at the watering trough on the way back to cool off. The spring water was delightfully cold and felt good splashed across our faces. Just what we needed to finish strong. I finally got to stretch my legs and run once we reached the West Butte junction. A whole mile of downhill at last!

Cooling off at the log water trough

Final descent

We arrived at the trailhead dusty, sweaty, and a little sunburnt. Despite not having completed the larger loop, we still got in a decent amount of miles (although I’m pretty sure the mileage according to my map was actually 12.6 or something like that). Before heading out for good, we took a few extra moments to savor one final look at these incredible mountains. Until next time Eastern Washington. We’ll definitely be back to explore even more. Wenaha River Trail thru-run maybe?

View from the trailhead



Mount Shasta

  • Date: May 29, 2017
  • Start: Bunny Flat Trailhead
  • Duration: 17 hours 5 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Mount Shasta Avalanche Center

After months of anticipation, Mack and I stood atop our fifth Cascade volcano this past Memorial Day! Although our adventure wasn’t without mishaps (I mean, what adventure is?) and moments (more like hours) of absolute misery, we managed to push through and ended up having one of the most memorable Memorial Day weekends ever.

As it goes, the mishaps started early on. We planned to leave early Saturday morning (like 1 or 2 am type early), but after a busy week, neither of us were packed by Friday night. Mack became stressed, then I stressed out about his stress, we argued, we calmed down, and by the time everything was resolved, it was almost 11 pm. I suggested we get some sleep, drive down Saturday afternoon, and push for a one-day climb as opposed to our original two-day itinerary (so we could still fit in a potential trail run on Monday in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument before heading home). We packed later in the morning and headed out around 2 pm, stopping only for gas and a short dinner in Ashland.

We arrived at Bunny Flat just as the last light of day was fading into the oncoming darkness. As planned, we gathered our gear, straightened out our packs, purchased the necessary summit passes and wilderness permits, then hit the trail around 10. Of course, since we’d arrived with practically no light left, I hadn’t gotten a chance to see where the clearest boot path was. We followed some tracks in the general direction of the mountain, hoping to reach Avalanche Gulch in the next couple of miles.

We continued on a seemingly dependable boot path up through the forest for what seemed like forever. Shouldn’t we have entered a clearing by now if our route was to ascend through a gulch? We snaked our way around trees and tree wells until we popped out onto an open ridge. Yeah, something definitely didn’t feel right now. We turned off our headlamps to better see the silhouette of the landscape around us. Sure enough, there was the gulch (and headlamps from other climbers) down on our left. The idea of down climbing the ridge we were on, in the dark, with only one ice axe a piece, didn’t seem very smart. On top of that, Mack was having trouble adjusting to the altitude. The situation was looking dismal and we were coming to the realization that our summit attempt was not going to happen. Not tonight at least. We made the difficult decision to turn around.

On our way down the ridge, we ran into another group of climbers heading up to where we’d just been. I asked them what route we’d been on. Apparently, it was the Green Butte Ridge route. We scurried back down through the forest, plunging through the deep snow until we came upon two climbers who were apparently headed to Avalanche Gulch. They said they’d just started a mere 10 minutes earlier, so we were basically back at the beginning again. We hiked with them for a short while to make sure we were in fact on the right track, then, reluctantly (at least on my end) turned around and headed back to the car. At 2 am, exhausted and defeated, we rolled out our sleeping bags in the front seats of the car and fell fast asleep.

I awoke at 8 am to the sound of bustling activity in the parking lot. The Memorial Day weekend crowds were starting to arrive. Wanting to get a better look at our route in broad daylight, I threw on some shoes and walked out to the kiosk/bathroom hut. The very defined, packed down boot path literally started right behind it. Ugh. I felt stupid that we hadn’t even thought about looking for the path there to begin with! At least we knew where it was now. Still, I looked toward Shasta and envied the climbers that were probably close to summiting (or already summited) by this point.

View of Shasta from Bunny Flat

Here’s the correct boot path!

The hours passed painfully slow. We’d brought nothing to entertain ourselves with! After sleeping in a little while longer, we laced up our boots and hit the climbing trail to do some further recon before the sunset. We only hiked in for about 10 or 15 minutes. The narrow path quickly turned into a wide ski trail, which clearly continued toward the base of the gulch.

Back at the car, we suffered through the heat of the day with doors open and/or windows rolled down. Eating, staying hydrated, reading the route description, and short cat naps (mostly out of sheer boredom) comprised much of the afternoon. The crowds began to diminish in the early evening though, leaving only the climbers. After some Netflix streaming and dinner, we attempted to pass out for another couple of hours until our 10 pm wake-up.

Day before Memorial Day parking situation


Ramen, the dinner of champions

Getting ready for our second attempt felt like déjà vu from the night before. At least this time our packs were more organized since we’d had all afternoon to situate everything. We headed out an hour later (at 11 pm) than we had the night before, but we were still the only climbers leaving the parking lot. At least we knew the way this time.

The beginning section of the route is actually pretty easy. It stays relatively flat (for maybe a mile), then starts to climb as you near Horse Camp (which we didn’t actually see with our own eyes because it was buried under several feet of snow). The route becomes much steeper once you enter Avalanche Gulch though. In the dark it was difficult to distinguish any sign of plateaus that would potentially break up this long stretch of uphill. As far as I remember, we didn’t hit a single one. Once we’d made it through the various curves of most of the gulch though, the climb felt less steep and we could make out our surroundings (Casaval Ridge, Red Banks, Thumb Rock, and Sargents Ridge). Headlamps dotted the landscape before us as climbers began the final march from their base camps to the summit.

Although it seemed like we were close, we still had some elevation to gain before reaching Helen Lake at 10,443 feet. Mack had been doing pretty well with the altitude change so far (especially since he was able to acclimate a little the night before on our first attempt), but it definitely started to take it’s toll in that final stretch to Helen Lake. We still had 2-2.5 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of climbing to do to reach the summit! The most daunting section (Helen Lake to just above Red Banks, which hovers around 13,200 feet) lay before us now, too.

I wish I could remember the time we started from Helen Lake and the time we reached the top of Red Banks because it felt like forever. At first, the climb didn’t seem so bad. We practiced our flat-foot crampon technique to avoid tiring out our calves and straining our Achilles tendons. For awhile, I thought we were making good headway until the light of day revealed the reality to us. We weren’t even close to the top. Not by a long shot.

Looking down at Helen Lake and the tiny, faraway tents

We continued the long slog up, taking fewer steps each time so Mack could catch his breath and try to adjust to the ever increasing altitude. Unfortunately, each break meant sacrificing heat that I was trying to conserve by staying in motion. I continued to push on and tried to wait for Mack as long as possible whenever there seemed to be too much distance between us. Even though we were moving closer to the top with every step, Red Banks continued to feel so far away until the very end.

Looking up toward Red Banks


Mack and I literally collapsed once we finally topped out above Red Banks. Hard to believe we still had Misery Hill and the climb up the summit block to contend with. We rested for a short while, slathered on some sunscreen, donned our glacier glasses, and began the final trudge. Since we didn’t ascend through one of the chimneys on Red Banks, we had to traverse the bergschrund first. Looking down into a crevasse as you quickly scurry across a snow bridge is always a little nerve-racking. Thankfully, the gap we crossed was short and we continued above Red Banks to Misery Hill. The hill, though not nearly as long or as steep as the climb between Helen Lake and Red Banks, was still a tiring challenge on legs that had been climbing for several hours now. It felt so good to reach the top and finally get our first glimpse of the summit block just across the plateau.

Made it up to Red Banks

Misery Hill behind me

Looking out at Thumb Rock

The winds had picked up on this exposed plateau, blasting our faces and numbing our cheeks. There’s much to look out on and photograph along this stretch, but I, for one, basically had tunnel vision at this point, focused solely on reaching the summit block and making the final ascent. I’m practically running in the first picture below! A clearly etched boot path marked the final stretch up to the summit. It was nothing strenuous, but it was exposed. I kept my eyes on Mack through this part, checking in consistently to make sure he was aware of his surroundings and thinking clearly. He was looking pretty dazed, as if he was sleep walking and not fully conscious. The winds became even fiercer as we walked the rocky knife edge to the summit. Although I was ecstatic to finally be at the top, my mind and body were thrashed. At 9:45 am, we shared the summit with a few other people (a group being led by professional guides I think) and waited patiently to get a picture together.

I really wish I’d been in a better mindset to fully take in what we’d just accomplished and savor it. In all honesty, all I really wanted to do in that moment was get the hell off the mountain. The worst part of the climb is almost always the descent. After getting our obligatory summit picture, we booked it off the summit block and back onto the plateau. The wind was whipping even harder now and I had to catch myself a few times to avoid being completely knocked over. Mack and I had completely switched places at this point. Now I was the one struggling to stay upright and keep up with him as we descended Misery Hill. Once we’d crossed the bergschrund and were next to Thumb Rock again, I dropped my pack, curled up onto the snow (using my pack as a pillow), and closed my eyes. Lack of sleep had finally caught up to me.

Summit block!


After 15 or 20 minutes of shut eye (on my part), we finally started the dreaded descent to Helen Lake. Less than a quarter of the way down, Mack decided he wanted to try glissading because it would mean finishing sooner rather than later. I was hesitant but said I would follow and meet him at the bottom of the hill. I watched as Mack slid down with ease, leaving me far behind on this god forsaken snow slope. I packed away my crampons, slid into my hardshell pants, then settled into a packed down glissade path.

As I started to pick up speed, I found it difficult to brake with my axe because of how icy my path was. After a couple more attempts and getting thoroughly freaked when I had to self arrest each time, I decided it wasn’t for me. I wasted even more time getting my crampons back on so I could finish the descent on foot. As I got up, I realized I was literally the only person left on the slope, and when I looked below me, Mack was nowhere in sight. How far had he gone??? I stumbled down as fast as I could, feeling more panicky and anxious every time I looked up and still couldn’t see Mack.

In retrospect, if I’d been in a better state of mind, I probably wouldn’t have reacted so emotionally, but I was a dehydrated, sleep deprived mess and my mind had warped the situation into something worse than it actually was. After what felt like an agonizing amount of time, Mack finally came into view around the curve of the snow slope. No wonder I hadn’t been able to see him. He was walking uphill towards me. When I reached him, I collapsed in a heap on the snow and just started blubbering like a toddler. Not my proudest moment, but that’s just where I was mentally at that point. Mack had also started to worry when I hadn’t shown up for nearly a half hour after he’d finished glissading, which is why he’d started back uphill. Naturally, we kept each other in eyesight for the remainder of the descent.

After I’d calmed down and stopped crying, Mack was able to convince me to continue glissading down the remainder of the gulch. I felt safer and more comfortable trying it knowing he’d be waiting for me at the end of each path. I ended up having a blast once I got the hang of it, too! Mack even carved out a path for me through the rest of the gulch so I could keep practicing. Once we returned to flatter terrain and the snow was too deep and soft to glissade on, we reluctantly post-holed the rest of the way back to the car. We didn’t reach Bunny Flat until 4:05 pm, and our car was one of the only ones remaining. Needless to say, the drive back to Portland following our 17-hour car-to-car was brutal. Was it all worth it though? Without a doubt.

Glissading down from Red Banks