Copper Ridge-Chilliwack River Loop

  • Date: August 22-26, 2017
  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Start: Hannegan Pass Trailhead
  • Distance: 49.8 miles
  • Duration: 5 days
  • Type: Loop (with out-and-back section)
  • Map: Nat Geo Trails Illustrated: North Cascades National Park
  • References: Backpacking Washington by Douglas Lorain; Washington Trails Association

It seems that most all of our biggest and/or longest adventures this summer have taken place in Washington (Glacier Peak, Leave No Trace Master Educator Course in the San Juan Islands, Mount Rainier, and Backcountry Rise preview run). As if all that wasn’t enough, I planned our final vacation of the summer to be a five day backpacking trip in the North Cascades, a place I’d been dying to explore since looking out over the expansive mountain range from the summit of Baker the previous summer. Simply put, it did not disappoint. Five days hiking stunning ridge lines and meadows, visiting alpine lakes, climbing up and down over mountain passes, bush whacking through a river valley, and experiencing a few “firsts” (keep reading!) was the perfect way to close out the most incredible summer we’ve ever had.

P8222873
Mineral Mountain as seen from Copper Ridge

 

Day 1: Hannegan Pass Trailhead to Egg Lake, with side trip up Hannegan Peak (10.6 miles; 6 hours 45 minutes, breaks included)

By the time we started our hike, we’d run 30+ miles (Backcountry Rise run two days prior), spent three nights sleeping in the car, and hadn’t showered in two full days. We probably already smelled like we’d been in the backcountry for a couple of days. At least we were wearing different clothes now. Since we’d decided to spend the previous night sleeping at the trailhead after picking up our permits in Glacier, we had kind of a lazy start and didn’t hit the trail until 10 am. The forecast called for cool temps, but the lack of shade and unrelenting sunshine made it feel much warmer.

The climb up to Hannegan Pass (with the exception of the final half mile or so) was moderate even with our heavy packs. A cakewalk compared to our hike in for Glacier Peak! Below us flowed Ruth Creek. Nooksack Ridge and Mount Sefrit towered above it while Ruth Mountain dominated the views to the southwest. We hadn’t even reached the most scenic portions of the route and already we were blown away by the immense beauty of the area. It was 12:15 pm when we reached the pass. We dropped our packs and, after some deliberation due to our later than anticipated start, decided to do the two mile (round-trip) detour up to the summit of Hannegan Peak. We unpacked our handheld water bottles, I grabbed my camera, and we headed up the trail, keeping our fingers crossed that nobody robbed us while we left our packs unattended.

P8212718
Hannegan Pass Trail with Ruth Mountain in the distance and Ruth Creek flowing below
P8212719
Looking back towards the trailhead

We were flying up the trail without our packs weighing us down, passing through wildflower meadows and grassy slopes as the trail switchbacked higher and higher. Mountain views continued to improve as we rose above the trees. The grade steepened and the terrain became a little more technical, but by this point we were nearing the summit.

P8222723
Hiking up the side trail

P8222735

There were only two other people hanging out on the summit when we arrived. They were using a map to identify the numerous surrounding peaks, ranges, ridges, and valleys. I knew there was something I’d forgotten to bring up with us! We circled the summit area, soaking in the mountain views from every angle. I made mental notes of the peaks that caught my eye so I could try to identify them once I had my map handy. I still couldn’t believe we were only a couple of hours into our trip. After a decent amount of time, hunger pangs reminded us that it was probably time for some lunch. We slowly made our way down the steep, sketchy section then jogged the remaining switchbacks down to the pass.

P8222755
Looking west: Mount Sefrit and Nooksack Ridge
P8222762
Looking northeast: Copper Ridge below
P8222763
Looking north: Granite Mountain (high peak on the left) and the Skagit Range
P8222774
Looking south: Nooksack Tower on Mount Shuksan
P8222783
Heading back down; summit of Hannegan Peak on the right

Back at the pass there were a few hiking parties taking a break. Everybody appeared to be carrying gear for a multi-day trip. We chatted with a few folks and found out many of them were doing the same loop we were planning. Some were going the same direction (Copper Ridge then Chilliwack Valley, the most popular choice), while others intended to hike it the opposite way. Maybe we’d see some familiar faces in the coming days…

After lunch, we continued another mile to Boundary Camp where we officially entered North Cascades National Park. Just over three miles to go until Egg Lake! However, packed within those three miles was a good deal of climbing to gain the ridge line. Maybe it felt difficult because of the weight of our packs. Maybe it was because we’d run the hardest 30 miles of our lives just two days prior. For whatever reason, this uphill section through the forest was more strenuous than I’d anticipated. Our hard work paid off though once we broke out of the trees and onto the meadow covered Copper Ridge. Not only were we treated to Β fields of alpine wildflowers, but we were surrounded by a plethora of magnificent peaks, stretching as far as the eye could see. My idea of heaven on earth.

P8222786

P8222789
Mineral Mountain (center); Picket Range (left)
P8222790
Mack looking tiny on Copper Ridge

P8222797

The next mile on this glorious ridge top hike took us to the junction with Egg Lake, a somewhat hidden gem surrounded by trees within a small basin. We made our way down the short, rugged side trail and found a relatively concealed (designated) campsite at the other end of the lake. It was 4:45 pm. The sun was still shining on the basin, so we decided to make the most of it and take a brief (and I mean brief) dip into the lake. It was definitely far from the lukewarm waters of Havasupai! Nonetheless, it felt good to wash away the sweat and dirt of the day, as well as the previous two days for that matter.

P8222800
First view of Egg Lake

P8222812P8222826

Dusk seemed to arrive quickly. We enjoyed the colors of twilight reflected on the lake as we ate our dinner of instant mashed potatoes topped with nutritional yeast, a meal I’ve come to love a little too much both out in the backcountry and at home. The only downside to our entire day (though comical in retrospect) came as we were getting ready to turn in. As I mentioned in my Glacier Peak post, the zippers on our tent have been getting more and more unreliable since getting bombarded with desert sand in Havasupai. On our Glacier Peak trip, the rainfly zipper on Mack’s side finally broke and the only way we could close it was with safety pins. Mack’s mom sewed it up for us when we returned. As we sat in our tent this evening, I noticed Mack fiddling with his tent door. Uh oh. It took him 40 minutes to finally get it to close! We decided that for the remainder of the trip we would only use my door to get in and out. Ugh. It’s really time for a new tent.

P8222834
Egg Lake around sunset

P8222838

P8222843
Campsite #1
P8222845
Working on the damn zippers

 

Day 2: Egg Lake to Indian Creek (11.8 miles; 8 hours 30 minutes, breaks included)

We awoke to clear, sunny skies. What a relief since earlier forecasts called for clouds and rain! In the last year, Mack and I have made more of an effort to enjoy hot meals in the backcountry. It usually ends up happening for dinner, but not for breakfast. I wanted to change that this trip. Instead of packing up right away, we made oatmeal and topped it with huckleberries that we picked near our campsite. Lovely way to start the day. A far better alternative to the tortillas or protein/energy bars I used to eat instead. Even with the extra time spent making breakfast, we were still hiking by 8:15 am.

The surrounding peaks were absolutely radiant in the early morning sunshine, particularly Mineral Mountain, the mountain I’d been making googly eyes at since yesterday afternoon. “One day,” I told myself. “One day.” It was our last day on Copper Ridge, so I made sure to savor every moment of it. I guess I can see the appeal of hiking the loop in the opposite direction. You get to end with the most beautiful section.

P8222849

P8222852
Breakfast with a view
P8222853
Mineral Mountain (my favorite)

P8222856

Remember those “firsts” I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well the first one of the trip happened as we were climbing the switchbacks to Copper Mountain Lookout. The sun was shining directly in our eyes during certain sections. At one point, as we turned up a switchback, the sun was suddenly obscured and we weren’t being blinded. Mack stopped dead in his tracks and said calmly, but firmly, “Bear.” I peered over his shoulder and there it was just a few feet in front of us directly on the trail, its face buried in a huckleberry bush. Had this bear somehow not heard us coming? We’d been making noise (talking loudly, hitting our trekking poles together) every few minutes since we left Egg Lake. Or maybe it just didn’t care/wasn’t scared? My guess is the latter because as we spoke calmly to it and started slowly backing down the trail, it didn’t even look at us. It just kept gorging on berries.

We walked back down to the switchback below, watching the bear above us. Now that we’d put some distance between us, I was actually enjoying the experience. How often do you get to spend ten minutes watching a bear go about its business seemingly unaffected by human presence? Of course, it was still on the trail, so we couldn’t continue on. Suddenly, we heard movement coming from the switchback below us. The trees covered the trail so we couldn’t see who/what it was. Oh god. What if it was another bear and we ended up getting caught between two of them? Fortunately, it was two other hikers who were totally unfazed when we told them there was a bear up ahead. We hiked together past the bear, who was now a few feet off the trail. For the first time since the encounter, it looked up at us with curiosity and I finally got to see its face before we were out of sight from each other. Our first ever encounter may have been a little close for comfort, but it was memorable experience nonetheless. We wouldn’t see another one for the remainder of our trip.

P8222859
View of the bear while we stood below it
P8222862
View of the bear while we passed

Following our exhilarating bear sighting, the second highlight of the day came when we reached Copper Mountain Lookout, the highest point of the Copper Ridge-Chilliwack River loop. Although we’d only hiked two miles since Egg Lake (and spent a good deal of time trying to navigate around the bear), the incredible mountain views (literally the best of the entire trip) warranted a long break here. Just outside of the lookout was a small lock box containing a summit register, as well as a booklet detailing the native flora in the area and photos of the surrounding peaks labeled with their names! We used the booklet to identify as many of the peaks as we could, including Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, Ruth Mountain, Icy Peak, Mineral Mountain, Whatcom Peak, Bear Mountain, Glacier Peak, Mount Redoubt. I could’ve sat there for hours ooohing and ahhhing, but we still had plenty of miles to hike before we could call it a day.

P8222878
Looking out on Copper Ridge
P8222880
Views to the southwest
P8222881
The lookout

P8222886

Just over a mile later, we arrived at Copper Lake. Another long break (this time for lunch) ensued. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to get in one final alpine lake swim, especially with the sun to warm us after, but we still had over eight miles to cover to get to our next campsite. I stared longingly at the tropical blue waters. It was our final stop on Copper Ridge. Trading mountain views and alpine lakes for forest and river views honestly didn’t sound quite as appealing. At least I could look forward to climbing out of the valley again the following day for our side trip to Whatcom Pass.

P8222900

P8222907
Copper Lake

P8222916

P8232917
Beginning the descent into the Chilliwack River Valley

As we entered the forest to begin the neverending switchbacks down to the river, we were greeted by a large downed tree. It was one of those trees that’s too fat to get your legs over but also too low to the ground to walk or crawl underneath. I don’t remember what we ended up doing but the ordeal meant I was not looking forward to the remainder of this section. A moment later two female hikers came hiking up from the opposite direction, heading toward Copper Ridge. We mentioned the downed tree we’d just dealt with. To our dismay, one of the ladies informed us that we could look forward to at least 30 more before we reached the river.

The minutes dragged on into hours as we hiked down switchback after switchback and walked over (or under) the large number of downed trees. We actually kept track of the number so we knew when we were getting closer to the river! Once at the river, we realized this wasn’t a bridged crossing (not sure how I missed this detail in the trip description). I groaned as I sat down to unlace my boots. I just wanted to be at camp already! Mack crossed first and walked ahead a short ways to scout. There was still another crossing we had to do, so we kept our sandals on. Before we reached the crossing though, Mack stopped and peered into a shallow, slow moving section of water near the trail. “What is that?” A bright orange fish swam in place beneath the surface. A Koi fish in the Chilliwack? “I think it might be salmon,” said Mack. I decided to try out the underwater features on my camera for the first time to get a better look. Sure enough, we’d come across a salmon! After snapping a few photos, we continued to the crossing, thinking that that would be the only one we’d see. To our surprise, there was an entire group of them spawning in the shallow parts of the river! Another incredible “first” to add to our list. The river valley was finally becoming more enjoyable.

P8232920
Crossing the Chilliwack
P8232925
Sockeye salmon!

P8232928P8232932P8232940

After the excitement of seeing so many salmon, our next thought was “Where are all the bears?” We put our boots back on and hurried along, not wanting to find out the answer to that question. We arrived at camp shortly after and welcomed two other couples who arrived a couple of hours later. As much as I enjoy solitude, I definitely felt a little safer having camp neighbors in bear country. They were fun to talk to as well. When you’re miles and miles away from the nearest trailhead, the only people you tend to run into are the ones who also enjoy hauling their bare necessities around on their backs while walking in the wilderness. Being able to swap tales from the trails with people who don’t think you’re crazy is a beautiful thing. A great conclusion to a long second day.

P8232942
Campsite #2

P8232951P8232965

 

Day 3: Indian Creek to Whatcom Camp, with side trip to Tapto Lakes (10.1 miles; 8 hours 20 minutes, breaks included)

The weather didn’t look promising when we awoke the next morning. Skies were grey and heavily clouded. The rainfly was soaked from a little rain the night before. Would it be worth making the day long side trip up to Whatcom Pass/Camp? The junction with Brush Creek Trail wasn’t for another 2.7 miles, so we could decide then. We packed up and left at 8 am. After a surprisingly bouncy suspension bridge crossing to start off the morning, the rest of the time was spent bushwhacking through damp, overgrown vegetation, climbing over more downed trees, and clacking our trekking poles whenever we came across bear scat (which was quite often).

Once at the Brush Creek junction, we still hadn’t fully committed to a decision. It wasn’t raining, but the trees blocked our view of the sky. Were those ominous storm clouds still lingering? We agreed to push on to Graybeal Camp, just over two miles into the Brush Creek Trail. If weather started to deteriorate, we could always turn around and hike to U.S. Cabin Camp (which we had listed on our permit since Whatcom Camp, our intended destination, is first come-first serve). The trek to Graybeal was relatively flat. We arrived quickly and stopped for an early lunch. A little bit of sunlight was streaming through the trees, but we still couldn’t see the sky. A few hikers came down the trail while we lunched, so we inquired about the weather. Everyone remarked that it hadn’t been great the afternoon and evening before but that it was starting to clear up when they’d departed from Whatcom Camp. A glimmer of hope! We finished our meal and pressed on.

P8232966
Indian Creek
P8232970
Crossing the creek on a very wobbly suspension bridge

P8232979

Although we were hiking mostly uphill again, the sight of blue skies, as well as Easy Ridge and Easy Peak towering above Brush Creek, put a spring in my step. Huckleberries and wild blueberries had a similar effect on Mack. Despite lingering clouds, the sun was definitely forcing its way through. Thank goodness we’d decided not to back out! We arrived at Whatcom Camp at 1:10 pm. Plenty of time left to explore above the pass. We set up our tent and munched on a few more snacks before getting back on the trail.

P8242990
Hiking up Brush Creek Trail

P8243002

The hike up to the pass took maybe ten minutes from the campsites. There are several paths you can take once you’re up there. Little Beaver Trail descends southwest from the pass. To the south is a side trail that climbs to the base of Whatcom Glacier, and to the north there’s another less obvious path that takes you up to Tapto Lakes. We took the Tapto Lakes option. It was steep, rugged, and sometimes rocky, requiring careful coordination as we made our way up. Eventually, it opened onto a beautiful wildflower meadow with absolutely stunning views of Whatcom Peak and Challenger Glacier to the south.

P8243017
Hiking up to Whatcom Pass from Whatcom Camp
P8243034
Little bit of scrambling involved after the pass
P8243045
Whatcom Peak and Challenger Glacier

The trail, though not nearly as steep as the section prior to the meadow, continued to climb until we reached an overlook of the Tapto Lakes Basin situated below Red Face Mountain. Although the skies were still blue, the temps were anything but warm and the wind was starting to pick up. Guess we wouldn’t be swimming this time around. Instead we sat down and relaxed on a rocky perch looking out on the lake, enjoying the peace and quiet while filling up on yet more snacks. Once the chill started to get to us, we headed back down to enjoy a warm meal and a House of Cards episode while we curled up in our sleeping bags.

P8243051
Tapto Lakes beneath Red Face Mountain

P8243072P8243090

P8243094
Stepping stones leading to campsites

P8243103

P8243110
Campsite #3

 

Day 4: Whatcom Camp to Boundary Camp (12.3 miles; 7 hours 10 minutes, breaks included)

Despite knowing this would be our biggest day in terms of mileage, we had a relaxing start and even enjoyed another hot breakfast. It was going to be our last FULL day in the park, so why not make it last? We were still able to start hiking by 8:30 am. The previous day’s clouds had disappeared and we had far clearer views as we descended Brush Creek Trail. Those five or so miles passed quickly. Before we knew it, we had reached the junction with the trail leading up to the cable car.

P8243121

P8243136
Mack ‘the berry glutton’ Robertson
P8243139
Unclouded views of Easy Ridge this time around

P8243141P8243150

Herein lies the final “first” of our trip: pulling ourselves via cable car across a river. I was actually surprised how high above the water it sat! I only thought it would be a few feet, not several yards! Mack and I took turns pulling our little car across. It also required more effort than either of us had anticipated (as indicated by Mack’s facial expression). Nonetheless, it was a fun, exciting experience. Not at all terrifying. In fact, the scariest part of the whole thing was climbing down the sketchy wooden ladder once we reached the elevated platform on the other side.

P8243155
Cable car!
P8243158
Working hard

P8243162P8243168P8243173

The rest of the morning (and some of the afternoon) was more or less a gradual ascent out of the river valley. So many ups and downs over the past few days! My knees were feeling it even with a lighter pack. We stopped for a couple of short breaks to eat lunch and refill our water bladders. Otherwise we kept moving. The “gradual” turned to “strenuous” following our break at Copper Creek, but at least it was somewhat brief. Our destination was only about two miles away from the creek. Once we left the forest and entered an expansive meadow I knew we’d made it. I remembered the exact spot from the first day of the trip. It was starting to feel like the beginning of the end. The end of a grand adventure and the end of an incredible summer.

P8253174

P8253185
Filling up at Copper Creek
P8253189
Game changer for backpacking trips (and long adventure runs!)
P8253197
Big ole tadpoles in Copper Creek
P8253215
Meadow leading into Boundary Camp

Despite being our highest mileage day, we finished by 3:40 pm, the earliest we’d finished all week. This left plenty of time to laze around, read some of the book I’d brought (my first time opening the entire trip!), and eat as much of our remaining food as possible. We talked about where we would go to get “real” food on the way back home (I’d been craving fish tacos since we started the trip) and looked at photos of Cassie on Mack’s phone. Not being able to take her on many adventures this summer was difficult. Although we were both sad to be leaving the backcountry, we were incredibly excited to see our beloved Cass dog again. I fell asleep to the lovely thought of puppy snuggles in the near future.

P8253220
Campsite #4
P8253231
The last supper

P8253234P8253237

 

Day 5: Boundary Camp to Hannegan Pass Trailhead (5 miles; 2 hours 30 minutes, breaks included)

Knowing how short our hike out would be, I wasn’t very motivated to get up. The alarm on my stop watch went off and I ignored it. I wasn’t craving more sleep. I was just so content wrapped up in my smelly sleeping bag, watching the sunlight start to wash over our dew-covered tent. How could this be the last day already? We dragged ourselves out eventually and started the short journey back at 9 am. I spent most of the hike looking behind me at the magical place I was leaving. The seemingly infinite layers of rugged peaks were no longer visible at this point, but I kept picturing them tucked away beyond the forested slopes.

The sudden influx of day hikers and backpackers about two miles from the trailhead quickly reminded us that it was a Saturday. It made me all the more grateful that we had started our trip on a Tuesday. We arrived at a jam packed parking area. Cars were literally lined up an additional quarter mile down the road leading out of the lot! It was 11:30 am and the backcountry solitude of the previous four days was officially over. At least we left the trailhead filled with so many incredible memories. I still couldn’t believe all we’d seen and experienced as I skimmed through the photos on my camera when we stopped for lunch. Mack and I both agree that this trip was by far (even over the Eagle Cap Wilderness!) the best backpacking adventure we’ve ever done. North Cascades, we’ll be back soon and often.

P8253242

P8253249
Back at Hannegan Pass
P8253250
One final look at Ruth Mountain and Ruth Creek

P8253256

 

Mount Rainier

Being a Washingtonian who grew up less than an hour and a half from Mount Rainier National Park, you’d think Rainier would’ve represented something significant in my life. Oddly enough, it didn’t, for many, many years. Mount St Helens was the only volcano that dominated the skyline of my hometown as a child, and it’s the only mountain my parents took us to see when we had out-of-town relatives and friends come to visit. According to my mom, we did make one visit out to Rainier, but I was probably too young to remember it. Last year, at 25 years old, I had the opportunity to hike up to Camp Muir with a few ladies from Cascadia Women’s Mountain Group. It was my first (memorable) visit to the park. As I drove to Paradise, winding my way up the last few miles after entering the park boundary, Rainier suddenly burst through the trees, taking me so much by surprise that I actually considered pulling over just so I could gaze upon her. In that moment, even before I’d reached Paradise (where I’d finally see Rainier in all her glory), I felt this instant connection to, and sense of longing and heartache for, the mountain I’d never known.

I never in my wildest dreams thought Mack and I would be ready for Rainier with only a single climbing season under our belts, but after going over the climbs we’d completed, recalling all of the skills courses we’d undergone over the past year, and realizing that we were truly in the best shape of our lives after this year’s non-stop ultramarathon training, my doubts began to transform into determination. At the end of July, I submitted a Camp Muir reservation request for the week of my birthday. As luck would have it, we were approved to camp on August 9th and make our summit bid on August 10th, my 27th birthday. It was really happening.

P8092501

 

Day 1: Paradise to Camp Muir (4.5 miles; 4 hours 45 minutes, breaks included)

Returning from our five day Leave No Trace Master Educator course with NOLS late Monday night meant we only had Tuesday to unpack, repack, prep, and rest up for our Rainier climb. Not the ideal for the biggest climb of our lives to date, but we rolled with it to the best of our ability. My body was buzzing with excitement as we walked into the information center to pick up our permit. The ranger took some time to go over the current route conditions and weather forecast. He warned us that the route had been altered due to ice fall and crevasse danger above Disappointment Cleaver. Now, after climbing up the DC, instead of continuing straight up, we would have to traverse climber’s right onto the Emmons Glacier and merge with the Emmons-Winthrop route for the remainder of the ascent.Β More distance to cover and more elevation gain! Guess we’d be starting our summit bid real early.

My previous visit to Mount Rainier was in early June of last year, so all of the trails starting from Paradise were still under deep snow. Not this time though. This time, I was treated to carpets of wildflowers filling the lush, green meadows along Skyline Trail. In addition to being mesmerized by nature’s incredible color palette, there was Rainier, completely unobscured now, standing powerful and majestic as the reigning peak in all of the state. Not even the hazy, smoke-filled sky could taint the beautiful landscape around us. Mack sure was getting lucky on his very first visit to the park!

P8082442
View of Rainier from the Skyline Trail
P8082443
Tatoosh Range to the south

P8082446

After 2.3 miles hiking up the Skyline Trail, we crossed Pebble Creek and reached the base of the Muir Snowfield. Although it was only 10:30 am (and we’d only been hiking since 8:55 am), we decided to refuel with our PBJ sandwich lunch. Our plan was to be ready for bed at 4:30 pm, which meant dinner at 3:30 or 4 pm. Yeah, a 10:30 lunch actually made sense with this in mind.

The final 2.2 miles to Muir is brutal, especially beneath a hot afternoon sun. The mileage may be small, but you gain nearly 3,000 feet while dealing with altitude (between 7,000 and 10,000 feet). Finding a pace that worked for both of us was impossible. Power hiking up hills at a brisk pace is something I feel pretty confident about, even at higher altitudes. Mack is typically faster than me at running and hiking, but once he’s above 7,000 feet, the altitude begins to take its toll. Our hike up to Muir was a lot of me getting impatient and pushing on, and Mack getting frustrated and disheartened by my pace, as well as the ever increasing gap between us. Achieving a balanced pace and/or work-rest strategy is still something we’re improving Β on as we climb. We were relieved when we finally topped out at Muir, situated at 10,100 feet. It was 1:40 pm.

P8082461
Epic lunchtime views

P8082462

P8082463
The beginning of the Muir Snowfield
P8092473
On the last stretch of the snowfield

Camp Muir was bustling with the activity of day hikers, climbers, guides, and rangers, but, to my amazement, there were hardly any tents set up on the snow. Weekday camping for the win! We found a relatively flat spot that only needed a little bit of smoothing out with the snow shovel. The mild weather made setting up our tent a quick and painless process. Before we knew it, our sleep systems were all unpacked and inside the tent, and we were melting snow for our early dinner. A climbing ranger came by to greet us/check on us while we sat around the Jetboil and suggested that we tie our guylines to some of the heavier rocks lying around. A few tents had already been blown into crevasses earlier that day.

P8092475
Camp Muir

P8092476P8092477P8092480

As we ate, we discussed potential start times for the climb. On the way up the Muir Snowfield, I’d spoken with several descending climbers to find out when they’d started and how long it took them to reach the summit. The average answer was somewhere between 11 pm and midnight, and six to seven hours to reach the summit. (I wonder how long it usually takes when the route is more direct?) We decided to aim for leaving at 11 pm. I definitely wanted to get back to camp early in order to rest before the sufferfest that is Camp Muir back down to Paradise. After finishing up our meal and enjoying some cocoa, we melted more water to add to our hydration bladders and Nalgenes, packed up a few things for the climb later that night, and crawled into our sleeping bags at 4:30 pm. It was too early, and we were a little too excited, to fall asleep right away, but eventually we drifted off to the sounds of people singing and conversing at the other campsites.

P8092482

P8092483
Bootpath leading up through Cathedral Gap

P8092484

 

Day 2: Camp Muir to the summit, then back (8 miles; 12 hours 30 minutes, breaks included); Camp Muir to Paradise (4.5 miles; 3 hours 20 minutes, breaks included)

I don’t remember what time my alarm went off, but it definitely hadn’t been dark for very long. Both of us were still groggy. Waking up at a time that we’d usually be falling asleep by was disorienting to say the least. A large guided group of at least 20 people (divided into multiple rope teams of course) led by RMI Expeditions was already gathered on the bootpath when we arrived roped up and ready to go. A couple of their rope teams had already started, so, to be courteous and respectful, we decided to wait until the last of their teams headed out before starting ourselves. At least we’d get to follow a professionally led group! Our official start time was 11:25 pm.

After a relatively short traverse of the Cowlitz Glacier, we climbed up and over Cathedral Rocks, one of the sections on the climb where short-roping is imperative to avoid rockfall caused by rope drag. We walked and hopped over a few crevasses on the Ingraham Glacier. We couldn’t yet see the gaping mouths that these seemingly small cracks fed into because it was still dark. I did make out a few tents on Ingraham Flats, another popular (but more solitary) place to set up base camp. Following the traverse of Ingraham came my least favorite part of the entire climb (on both the ascent and descent): Disappointment Cleaver. The cleaver is a massive rocky ridge between the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers. The route ascends the cleaver in order to gain Emmons. Although there’s no crevasse risk (unless you tumble off the ridge), the chance of rockfall is high, especially when there’s a large number of people on the route at once (i.e. our current situation). In addition, walking on loose, rocky terrain with crampons never feels very stable. We moved quickly up the cleaver behind the other rope teams and stopped for a break once we were back on the snow.

The remainder of our climb was on snow, traversing both the Emmons Glacier and Winthrop Glacier. We crossed several crevasses through this section. Most we just stepped over and moved quickly. One we had to leap over–it was probably four feet wide–and another had a long, 10-12 foot ladder stretched across it! After descending a little more, we began a long series of switchbacks up Emmons to eventually gain Winthrop for the final 600-800 feet of climbing. The groups in front of us took a break somewhere up these switchbacks and allowed us to pass, so we were able to move a little faster heading onto Winthrop. Hints of dawn started to show as the darkness of night began to lift. Aside from a gnarly crevasse (maybe a bergschrund?) crossing (pictured below), the final climb up Winthrop to the crater rim was straightforward. We crested the rim just as the sun was coming up.

P8092485
Taking a break after completing Disappointment Cleaver
P8092488
You bet we used that rope!
P8092490
Walking through a field of penitentes

P8092496

Another guided group who’d summited a few minutes earlier was making their way back along the rim as we headed toward Columbia Crest, the highest point on the mountain. We exchanged “Good morning”s and “Congratulations!” before we continued. By the time we reached Columbia Crest at 6:05 am, the group had descended from the rim and we were the only two people on the summit. No wind. No biting cold. Not a single cloud in sight. Just a golden sunrise while standing atop the highest point in my home state with my best friend by my side. Doesn’t get more magical than that. I can’t imagine I’ll ever experience a more perfect birthday.

With the sun now warming our cold faces and extremities, we decided to drop our packs and bask in our achievement a little while longer. I wanted to savor the summit as long as I could while the conditions were optimal. Plus, we were both pretty famished at this point. However, before I could finish pulling out my food bag, Mack quickly whipped out a surprise he’d carried up to the summit for me. “Happy Birthday, Teddy.” He handed me a miniature berry cheesecake. Nothing like a delicious birthday treat to complement the best birthday gift ever. We sat for awhile longer, enjoying the cheesecake together, then began our descent at 6:45 am. It was difficult to leave it all behind, but with the sunrise comes increasingly warmer temps and increasingly less stable terrain conditions. Making the summit is only half the journey.

P8092508
Taking in the sunrise from Columbia Crest

P8092510P8092513

P8092520
Say cheese(cake)!

P8092523

P8092524
The guided group behind us made it up

P8092525

If we didn’t remember that Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 before this trip, we definitely realized it on the way back down now that our surroundings weren’t shrouded in darkness. It was like walking through a different world. Even though Rainier isn’t nearly as remote as other mountains (Glacier Peak, for example), its vastness makes you feel otherwise. Crevasse-ridden fields stretched for miles it seemed, and we finally got to peer inside some of the larger ones along the bootpath! Spiky ice formations known as penitentes armored the glistening white and glacier-blue slopes. Little Tahoma, a sub-peak on Rainier at 11,138 feet, was finally visible, too. It’s jagged rocky spire appeared to rise directly from the glacier(s) at its base, somehow adding to the breathtaking, yet alien and hostile, nature of the landscape.

P8092528

P8092532
Little Tahoma
P8092533
One of the RMI guided groups

P8092534P8092535

The traverse and climb back to the DC wasn’t nearly as strenuous as I thought it would be. We were still within the morning hours, so the heat was completely stifling yet. We made our way over the same crevasses we’d crossed just a few hours prior. The one we’d originally leapt across now had a ladder in place to our relief. We pushed on until we reached the top of the cleaver then stopped for one final break. Although I’d been leading the entire time up to this point, I asked Mack to lead us down the cleaver. He’s always been far more calm, confident, and sure-footed on loose, rocky terrain, so I knew he’d find the safest spots to step. Similar to our climb up the cleaver, we moved as quickly as we could (while still being cautious about our footing) in order to avoid being right below the guided group that was also descending.

Once back on the Ingraham Glacier, I could relax a little bit because we were off the loose rock. Of course, I was all nerves again once we ascended Cathedral Gap and had to descend more rocky terrain to reach the Cowlitz Glacier. At least we could see our tent now. After a short, easy traverse across the Cowlitz, we were finally standing in front of our tent at 11:55 am. Managed to make it back before the official start of the afternoon! We removed our packs, undid all of our glacier gear, and collapsed inside the tent. I fell fast asleep within seconds.

P8092537
Ladder wasn’t there earlier!

P8092544

P8092547
Breaking for Twizzlers
P8092549
Back on the cleaver

I slept longer than I’d anticipated and awoke to a throbbing pain in my knees. Mack, who ended up not really napping because it was too hot in the tent, was already mostly packed. The hold up was all on me. Mack melted more snow for water while I moved at a snail’s pace getting my things meticulously packed and put away. We finally started the hike down at 3:10 pm. Hoping to quicken our pace, we decided to try glissading down the steeper sections of the Muir Snowfield sitting on garbage bags to protect our softshell pants from abrasion. We looked absolutely ridiculous and received more than a few eye rolls and laughs from other hikers and climbers we passed. My butt was almost completely numb by the time we reached the base of the snowfield.

The remainder of the hike down Skyline was slow and painful, particularly due to the trail’s staircase-like formation. Thankfully, the brightly colored meadows provided a welcome distraction from the soreness in our feet and limbs. Lupine, Indian paintbrush, white pasqueflower, asters, and other blooms were even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun. At 6:30 pm, we descended the final staircase to the parking area and slumped down on some nearby benches. Our adventure was officially over. On the drive back down Paradise Valley Rd, I thought back again on my first drive up, when the thought of climbing Rainier had yet to cross my mind. One year and two months later that non-existent thought became reality.

P8102551
Indian paintbrush and Rainier
P8102555
Looking down at Paradise
P8102558
Skyline Trail

Elkhorn Crest Trail

  • Date: July 21-23, 2017
  • Location: Blue Mountains (Eastern Oregon)
  • Start: Marble Pass Trailhead
  • Distance: 27.6 (not including hike up to trailhead)
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • References: Backpacking Oregon by Douglas Lorain; Outdoor Project

Since Mack and I began backpacking together over two years ago, it’s always been just the two of us. Hell, even a majority of our day trips (hiking and trail running) are done alone without the company of other friends. At the end of last summer, we and a couple of friends, Kaylyn and Evan, threw around the idea of doing a trip together in the future. By January of this year, we’d figured out dates, picked a location, and solidified the route!

Two weeks before our adventure was to begin, we found out that Gothic Basin (near the North Cascades), our intended destination, was still under quite a bit of snow. Neither of us wanted to haul snow gear up to camp nor deal with sketchy trail conditions/navigation for this particular trip, so I frantically searched for another option. Just like two years ago when Mack and I were turned down for the Wonderland Trail and looking for another option, Douglas Lorain’sΒ Backpacking Oregon saved the day. The Elkhorn Crest Trail, a point-to-point route along the Elkhorn Mountains (a subrange of the Blue Mountains) in Eastern Oregon, presented itself as the perfect alternative.

P7222203

 

Day 1: Marble Pass Trailhead to Twin Lakes (4.8 miles, plus additional 3-4 miles hiking up to the trailhead; 4 hours 18 minutes, breaks included)

On Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours since returning from Glacier Peak, Mack, Cassie, and I made the long drive out to Anthony Lake. Our trip didn’t officially start until the following morning, but getting a few hours of sleep in the car sounded far more appealing than driving out at 2 or 3 am in order to make an 8 am shuttle pick-up. Kaylyn and Evan opted to do the early morning drive and at 8 am we all piled into the shuttle that would take us to Marble Pass.

It probably sounds a little ridiculous that we decided to hire a shuttle, especially since we had two cars to work with. However, the forest road leading up to the trailhead is notoriously rough and steep. Neither of our cars seemed suitable and we didn’t want to take the chance of bottoming out on the way up or back down this road. Ironically enough, our shuttle ended up breaking down just as we were starting up this section! We ended up with a few extra miles tacked onto our low mileage day, so it wasn’t too bad for us. Unfortunately, our poor driver (with no food or water, low battery on his phone, and no other coworkers to come get him) had to hike back down in search of a ride to get back to work! (We found out after the trip that he didn’t have to hike too long before getting a ride)

After just over an hour and a half of hiking, we finally reached Marble Pass TH around 11 am and took shelter from the sun below some trees to enjoy a short lunch. Less than five miles until our destination for the day!

P7201883
An unexpected part of the day’s route: the road to Marble Pass

P7201887

Although walking along this completely open ridgeline meant full exposure to the hot sun, it also meant stellar views as we hiked. Since the trail stays primarily on the west side of the Elkhorn Crest, the most prominent views for the day were of the Sumpter Valley and Phillips Lake to the southwest. We continued at a leisurely pace, watching our footing on the loose volcanic rock comprising much of the trail surface. A few patches of snow served as a small reminder of the long, harsh winter that had hit this area earlier in the year. Cassie, being the snow-loving dog that she is, seized every opportunity to roll around in them to cool herself off.

The four-ish miles to the junction with Twin Lakes Trail went by fairly quickly (most likely due to the lack of elevation change). The cool, sparkling waters of the lakes in the basin below beckoned to us after hours in the sun. At the junction, we also got our first taste of the high mountain goat population in the area! Just as we were approaching the junction, Evan spotted one a few yards in front of us. Fortunately, these goats appear to be less habituated to people (unlike those in the Enchantments) and it quickly scampered off when it saw us. We made our way down the switchbacks of Twin Lakes Trail, eager to make camp and check out the lakes.

P7201889
Looking back at Marble Pass

P7211891

P7211897
It was a little toasty outside
P7211899
First view of Twin Lakes (with Rock Creek Butte towering in the background)

P7211914

It was just before 1:45 pm when we finally made it down and finished our hiking for the day. We set up our camp within a small grove of trees then walked down to Lower Twin Lake, the larger and more accessible of the two lakes. We saw at least three mountain goats on the opposite side of the lake. One stood/sat perched on a rocky overlook as if to oversee the goings-on of the lake below. Another two or three walked along the edge of the lake, grazing here and there along the way. I don’t recall ever seeing this much wildlife on any of our trips so it was pretty exciting to experience!

P7211917

P7211919
Guardian of Lower Twin Lake (can you spot it?)
P7211930
Lower Twin Lake

P7211931P7211941P7211946

After getting some relaxation time down at the lake, we returned to camp for dinner. Mack and I went about our semi-lazy routine of heating water in the Jetboil to throw on our instant mashed potatoes. Kaylyn and Evan actually made an effort and brought along a delicious mixed vegetable chili that they cooked/reheated in a pot! They were kind enough to share some of the chili with us. It tasted fantastic mixed in with our mashed potatoes. As much as I hate cooking (both in the outdoors and in everyday life), that chili had me reconsidering my “cooking takes too much effort” stance.

P7211951
Always sleeping

P7211958

P7211962
Camp vibes
P7211968
Goat hair!

P7211969

Mack, Cassie, and I decided to go for an evening stroll around the lakes area. Although we hadn’t seen too many goats since being down at Lower Twin Lake earlier, we did see the same goat several times throughout the afternoon wandering through the campsite areas. This time, it was grazing along the shore as we walked. Surprisingly, Cassie did not seem too bothered. After reaching the far end of Lower Twin, we decided to walk back up and see the more hidden Upper Twin Lake. The rocky cliffs above Upper Twin blocked out the sun, making the area more cool, shaded, and moodier compared to Lower Twin. All the visitors to the basin stayed down near Lower Twin, so Upper Twin remained calm and quiet, completely void of people with the exception of me and Mack.

P7211970
Getting some dinner along Lower Twin Lake
P7211990
Upper Twin Lake

P7211992

Back at camp, our curious goat friend returned again and again, sometimes sneaking up on us while we were lost in conversation. Despite its persistence, it always ran away when we shouted at it or tossed some stones in its general direction. I did take advantage of the fact that it kept returning and snapped a few photos (from a good distance away I should add, zooming in with my camera). Not sure when I’ll get to see these magnificent creatures up close again! We turned in for the night and kept our fingers crossed that our food bags would still be in tact when we woke up.

P7212026
A frequent visitor

P7212027P7212035

 

Day 2: Twin Lakes to Summit Lake (12.8 miles; 7 hours 15 minutes, breaks included)

Despite knowing that our second day would be our longest, we decided to take our time in the morning. Why rush? We had all day to get to camp afterall. We didn’t start the hike out of the basin until 9:15 am. Just like the day before, the sun was shining and the sky was clear. Another fortunate bluebird day on the trail!

P7212042P7212078

Prior to the trip, we’d discussed the idea of scrambling up Rock Creek Butte (the highest point in the Elkhorn Range at 9,106 feet), but with the late start we decided against it. It was difficult to pass it by and not give it a go though. Maybe next time! A little over five miles into our hike we arrived at the junction with the Pole Creek Ridge Trail. It was 11:45 am and this junction would be the only one until the junction with Summit Lake Trail (still another 6.6 miles away). We settled down here for a few minutes to eat some lunch and take in the view of the Blue Mountains stretched out before us.

P7212083
Rock Creek Butte

P7212091

P7212098
Pole Creek Ridge Trail junction

P7222102

After our lunch break, Mack and I noticed Cassie becoming more and more lethargic. We’d been giving her water and snacks regularly, but Cassie is picky sometimes. She really only likes to drink water from streams, creeks, puddles, and ponds,–basically anything that’s not her water bowl–so sometimes when we tried to give her water, she refused to drink. Her energy level continued to drop dramatically and she was breathing heavily. Any time we walked through an ounce of shade, she would plop down, sprawl herself out on the ground, and refuse to budge. Concerned that these were the first signs of doggy heat stroke, we removed her pack, allowed her several minutes of rest each time we reached a shady spot, doused her in water to cool her down, and even carried her in our arms when she didn’t want to walk. Although Cassie has dealt with heat before and completed far more strenuous hikes, climbs, and trail runs, this was the first route we’d done with her that lacked water sources. Thankfully, after we’d made it through (very slowly I might add) a majority of the 6.6-mile stretch, we came across an ice cold spring. Cassie immediately sat down in the water, drank to her heart’s content, and stayed there the entire time we filled up our water bladders and bottles.

P7222107
So many wildflowers!
P7222110
She was so hot 😦
P7222111
Hitching a ride with Mack
P7222117
A well deserved dunk in the spring

The next section of the trail was one of my favorites. Although volcanic rock still made an occasional appearance, granite was now far more prevalent. We were also walking beneath more trees, and through more grasslands and sections bursting with wildflowers. It also felt like we had traveled deeper into the mountains. The valley and farmland below that we were able to see earlier was no longer in sight. Now it was just green, forested mountains. Cassie’s spirits seemed to be lifted after that dunk in the spring, so we were able to move at a quicker pace then we had been. Before we knew it, we’d reached the junction with the Summit Lake Trail.

P7222123P7222124

P7222127
I’m carrying Cassie’s pack so she didn’t have to wear it

P7222133

We walked beneath granite cliffs, then descended into the cool shade of the forest. I’m quite certain this was the first time we’d entered a legitimate forest since beginning the trip! In addition to the relief it provided from the sun, we were also rewarded with a couple more water sources. We exited the forest shortly after and looked down below on Little Summit Lake, initially thinking it was Summit Lake (which would’ve been disappointing considering this lake looked more like a bog). A quick map check reassured us that Summit Lake would be on the other side of the trail and above us (not below us). As if by the power of our collective wishful thinking, we found ourselves gazing out over the true Summit Lake just a minute or two after the map check.

Not only was the lake itself enchanting, but the basin that holds it, surrounded by unnamed, 8,000+ feet granite peaks, stopped me in my tracks multiple times while we sought out a campsite. As soon as we found a site large enough to accommodate both of our tents, we dropped our packs and walked out to the water via a rocky peninsula jutting out from the camp area. The granite peaks at the southern end of the lake were perfectly reflected in the calm, still water. It was 4:30 already, so enjoying a swim in the lake now made more sense than setting up right away. Cassie, on the other hand, had no interest in getting in the water. She stayed nearby and curled up beneath a tree, falling fast asleep within seconds.

P7222135
Granite cliffs
P7222141
Summit Lake

P7222154P7222191

The rest of the evening passed quickly since we arrived later in the day. We spent much of it around the fire ring talking, eating, chasing away pesky ground squirrels. I hadn’t experienced such a socially involved backcountry trip since my NOLS course two years ago, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until now. Before this trip, Mack, Kaylyn, Evan, and I hadn’t spent much time together outside of infrequent social gatherings, and yet here we were getting to know one another in a far more vulnerable setting. I was actually pretty amazed at how well it was all going!

We continued to enjoy solitude as the afternoon melded into the evening. Although I did see one or two other people at the southern end of the lake, not a single person came out to the northern tip where we were camped. We had the place entirely to ourselves on a beautiful summer night. A perfect ending to our final full day in the Elkhorns.

P7222241P7222249

P7222255
Summit Lake at sunset

 

Day 3: Summit Lake to Elkhorn Crest Trailhead at Anthony Lake (10 miles; 5 hours, breaks included)

In an effort to make it out by noon and avoid hiking in the heat of the day, we departed Summit Lake at 7 am, stocking up on water at the creeks we’d passed in the forest the afternoon prior. Despite experiencing slight confusion at a four-way junction near Columbia Hill (after getting back on the Elkhorn Crest Trail), the rest of the way was straightforward and easy to navigate. We skirted the west side of Mount Ruth, another stunning, pyramid-shaped granite peak, and dropped down to Lost Lake Saddle, where we enjoyed mountains views, as well as a view of Lost Lake down below. We ended up seeing quite a few lakes on our final day!

P7222258P7222262P7222267

Following the junction with Lost Lake Trail we continued along the west side of the crest, still gaining elevation and wondering when we’d finally get to the downhill section. After Cunningham Saddle, the terrain to the west of us transformed from mountains to spacious meadow. It looked so clean cut I thought we’d stumbled upon a golf course in the middle of Wilderness. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t think to take a picture here.

At Dutch Flat Saddle/Dutch Flat Lake Trail junction, with only 3.5 miles remaining, we took a break in the shade to load up on whatever snacks we had left. As soon as we started walking again, we ran into several people and three or four dogs coming down from the saddle near Angell Peak (our final climb of the day we found out!). It was the most people we’d seen since hiking to Twin Lakes two days earlier and reminded us that we were basically back in the frontcountry. Solitude was officially over. Thankfully, the final trek down from the saddle was one of the most beautiful sections of the entire hike that day. Fields of granite boulders, forested mountain slopes, and the prominent Van Patten Butte rising high above the slightly hidden Black Lake comprised the picturesque landscape before us. After reentering the forest area adjacent to Black and Anthony Lakes, we were back at the car in 20 minutes or less. It was exactly 12 pm when we stepped into the parking area.

We treated ourselves to pizza and beer at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort (which is where we ran into our shuttle driver from Friday) before making the drive back to Portland. Although we didn’t discuss it, I can definitely see all of us plotting out more backcountry adventures together in the future. As much as Mack and I love adventuring alone, going with friends brought even more joy to the experience than I thought it would. A pleasant surprise that I hope we can make happen again.

P7222272P7222274P7222287P7222292

 

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 SeminarΒ 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

Havasupai

  • Date: March 27-29, 2017
  • Start: Hilltop parking lot
  • Distance: 42 miles
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Bearfoot Theory

For the first time ever I’m writing about a trip that didn’t take place in the good ol’ Pacific Northwest! So what led us to try an adventure well outside of our home base? Well, for starters, after last year’s mild fiasco on the Hoh River Trail, we decided it might be nice to explore an area that was likely to be dry and free of snow. This past winter has been rough on many of the trails in the PNW, so we were ready for a change. Secondly, Google “Havasupai waterfalls” (or, better yet, keep reading this post) and you’ll see why we were so drawn to this particular place.

Due to the extensive amount of driving needed to get to and from the trailhead, we only spent two days exploring Havasupai (with the third day being our hike back to the car). There’s even a good chance we spent roughly the same amount of time driving as we did hiking/running/camping! Nonetheless, we managed to see so much within our limited time frame, and, despite the insufferable amount of time spent in the car (granted we did drive through some amazing scenery), we never once questioned whether or not it was all worth it. The answer, of course, would’ve easily been, “Yes.”

 

Day 1: Hilltop parking lot to Havasupai campground (10 miles; 4 hours 30 minutes, breaks not included); additional exploration (6 miles)

Our day began before the sun came up, with the alarm blaring around 5 am. We’d arrived at the Hilltop parking lot the previous night after two days of road tripping through Oregon, California, Nevada, and, finally, Arizona. Outside in the dark, we could already make out bustling activity as other hikers prepared their gear for the long hike into the campground. Although we were slow getting ready, we still hit the trail before 6:30 am, just as the sky was beginning to lighten, unveiling the breathtaking canyon landscape before us.Β We were stopped dead in our tracks numerous times by the beauty surrounding us, and this was only the trek to the main attraction(s)!

Hilltop parking lot just before dawn
View from the trailhead

Looking out over the vast desert landscape as we made our way down the initial switchbacks made me feel so small, like a mere speck of color on a mural. I can recall feeling similarly when we hiked through the Hoh Rainforest surrounded by ancient trees that blocked out the sky, or when we explored the Eagle Cap Wilderness with the numerous peaks of the Wallowa Mountains towering above us. There’s a negative connotation attached to the word ‘insignificance,’ but in the context of human beings standing in the presence of timeless natural beauty, that humbling feeling is a necessary step to truly appreciating and respecting these wild spaces.

Heading into the canyon
View to the east

After completing the switchbacks, a majority of the hike took place on the canyon floor. It was still early in the morning, so the air was cool and the sun had yet to reach us. I’ve read about people calling this long stretch to the Supai village monotonous and dull, but Mack and I were genuinely fascinated the entire way! Everything was foreign to us in this southwestern desert ecosystem.

Despite the growing crowd in the parking lot when we set off, we enjoyed a fairly solitary and peaceful walk, save for the pack horses and mules that trotted by every once in awhile . We only started to see more people (people who were exiting the canyon) once we were within a mile or so of the village. As we got nearer, the canyon walls seemed to open up. Sunlight filled the floor and we finished the hike into the village alongside the tropical colored waters of Havasu Creek, shaded by lush, green trees (which had not been a common sight in the previous miles).

Pack horses

We checked in at the visitor center to receive our wristbands (to be worn for the entirety of the trip), a permit to attach to our tent, and a packet containing general info, rules, and a map. The campground is located another two miles from the visitor center, so our hike was not done yet. In accordance with the rules (and, even if there were no rules, out of respect for the privacy of the community), I didn’t take any photos of the town. It was an eye-opening experience though to walk through such a remote place (so remote that mail is carried in and out of the canyon using mules and horses).

Less than a mile before the campground, the first group of stunning waterfalls (Upper & Lower Navajo Falls) came into view. We really wanted to set up camp as soon as possible, so we reluctantly kept moving, promising to return later in the day. The final descent into the campground took us by the iconic Havasu Falls, which drops about 100 feet into blue-green plunge pools below. This one we did stop to photograph before moving along. Excited to start exploring, we set up camp at a site across from the water spigot, oblivious to the fact that some of the nicer (and more shaded) sites were just a little bit further down the trail.

Crossing Havasu Creek right before the campground area
First look at Havasu Falls

After getting everything squared away at our campsite, we strapped on our running packs and hit the trail. Our first destination was Mooney Falls, less than a mile away. Although you can get a fantastic view of the falls from the ledge above, the real excitement comes from braving the somewhat precarious climb down to the base of the falls. Without hesitation, Mack and I ducked into the tunnel that leads to the sketchiest part of the descent. Supported only by chain railings and slippery wooden ladders, we carefully scrambled down the slick, rocky cliffside and breathed a sigh of relief once our feet touched the ground.

Mooney Falls

Beginning the descent to the base of Mooney

Sketchy descent

A group of ladies that had waited patiently for us to finish our descent began to make their way back up, leaving us to enjoy this spot all by ourselves. After taking in the view, Mack spotted something strange across the way. Lo and behold, there was a picnic table set up IN THE WATER! We tromped through the creek just for the sake of sitting at this humorously placed table and basking in the view of the falls from a different angle.

Mooney Falls
Looking back up at what we just descended

Our initial plan after exploring Mooney Falls was to run back up towards the village to see the waterfalls we had passed on the way in. However, as we were running through the campground, I spied a vacant campsite with an incredible view of the creek rushing through the campground. It was also far more shaded than our current site. After mulling over the idea with Mack, I finally concluded that I really wanted to switch, despite the fact that we’d have to pack everything up and move nearly a half mile to this new site. In my defense, we had no plans to make another trip out here anytime soon, so why not make the most of it the first time around?

Campground
Our campsite

After setting up camp for the second time that day, we took off for another run. Leaving the campground meant exposing ourselves to the hot, afternoon sun while running uphill to Upper and Lower Navajo Falls. I can’t imagine it was more than 72 degrees or so, but with the sun beating down on us (and the fact that we hadn’t run in temps above 55 degrees since last Summer/Fall), it felt scorching hot. Also, my right ankle (the one I sprained in late February) was pretty sore after I’d rolled it on the hike in (literally two minutes into our hike no less). I was feeling pretty grumpy not being able to keep up with Mack, but once we reached the waterfalls, all that negativity just melted away.

There were already several people swimming at the pool above Lower Navajo Falls, so we continued to follow the trail further back to Upper Navajo Falls, which was completely void of people. Although not nearly as dramatic as Havasu or Mooney, it’s nonetheless a beautiful sight, and it was the perfect place to escape the crowds. Mack enjoyed a brief dip here, exploring a smaller cascade a little to the left of the larger ones. Not being much of a water person, I stayed on dry land and took photos instead.

Lower Navajo Falls/Rock Falls
Upper Navajo Falls

To cap off our short trail run, we headed down to the pools at Havasu Falls. It was late in the afternoon at this point, so there weren’t as many people occupying them. Interestingly enough, we ended up meeting a couple of Territory Run Co. team members (from Colorado!) who introduced themselves when they spotted us sporting some of the Territory head gear. What a small world. I wish I could say we ended up doing some sort of awesome adventure run together, but we didn’t. Mack did suggest that we extend an invitation since we were planning to run to the Colorado River confluence the next day, but I was growing ever nervous about the pain in my ankle and felt anxious about potentially not being able to keep up with other people. He understood, and we decided that we’d see how my ankle was doing in the morning before setting off.

Standing in the pools at Havasu Falls

Back at camp, we endured a little bit of wind (which blew tons of sand into the tent…ugghh) and light rainfall while we ate dinner. Thankfully, that hour or so was the worst weather we experienced the entire trip, and it only resulted in having to shake out our sleeping bags. Not too bad! Unfortunately, once I finally removed my shoes and socks for the day, I got a good look at my ankle. It was swollen (even more so than when I’d initially sprained it) and parts of it were turning purple. I popped an Advil and crossed my fingers that the swelling would subside by the time we woke up. Although we weren’t entirely sure if we were going to end up doing the run all the way to the Colorado, we decided to set our alarm early just in case.

 

Day 2: Havasupai campground to Havasu Creek/Colorado River confluence out-and-back (16 miles; 5 hours 51 minutes, breaks not included)

It was still dark outside when the alarm went off, so we decided to hold off getting ready until it was lighter. My ankle was feeling stiff, but when I pulled it out of my sleeping bag I noticed that the swelling had gone down quite a bit. That was enough reassurance that I’d at least be capable of doing the bare minimum (getting to Beaver Falls) of our planned route. After lazing around in the tent awhile longer we prepared our running packs, got a quick bite to eat, and set off for Mooney Falls.

The second time climbing down was less nerve-racking now that we knew what to expect. Once we reached the bottom, we stayed on the western shore and continued downstream along Havasu Creek. The trail took us through grassy fields, rocky scrambles, and up and down several ladders. Sometimes the trail would cut off at the water’s edge and we’d have to wade across to pick it up on the opposite side. This happened numerous times. The route felt more like an obstacle course than a trail run at times, but these aspects definitely made it more memorable and exciting.

Descending Mooney yet again
Trail beyond Mooney
First crossing of Havasu Creek

About 3.5 miles in, we arrived at the viewpoint for Beaver Falls. We were the only people around at the time, so we decided it would be worth it to take a short break now and enjoy the falls before they became crowded later in the day.

Beaver Falls
Descending to Beaver Falls viewpoint

The falls are tiered, so we made our way upstream to what appeared to be the tallest one. We waded into the pool to get a better view. One thing I’ve neglected to mention thus far is how perfect the water temperature was each time we stepped in. After the initial experience the previous day, I never once feared that I would get cold (unlike when I cross creeks and rivers in the PNW). Plus, it was sunny and warm enough that we always dried out pretty quickly.

Mack swam into the deeper end of the pool to reach the ledge on the opposite side. He’d noticed a rope dangling down and wanted to see if it could be used to climb up the side of the falls. I observed from a distance this time around, but we came back to explore more later in the day.

Beaver Falls
Mack climbing up the side of Beaver Falls
Rinsing all the sand and stones out of my shoes

Once we were back on the trail, we passed the three or so groups of hikers that were in front of us. We didn’t run into anyone else until we were within a mile of the confluence. I thought 7:45 am had been a late start, but we still got to experience some solitude. The terrain felt about the same as it had been, although I think the trail stays low next to the creek for a majority of this portion. Before Beaver Falls, the trail kind of alternates between rising above the creek and dropping down beside the creek.

Despite being technical, we still managed to do some actual running.Β The scrambling and wading was by far the best part of the day’s adventure, but it was nice to really stretch our legs and take off when the trail surface became less rocky, as well as less overgrown with prickly plants that scraped up our shins and calves.

Now that the sun was high in the sky, it was really beginning to warm up, but running alongside the creek, knowing we could dip into that cool water anytime we felt, made the heat far more bearable. Plus, I loved watching the light illuminate the canyon walls and reflect the turquoise waters flowing next to us. The morning was transitioning into a beautiful afternoon.

After spending quite some time alone on the trail, we ran into a group of three who were part of a pack rafting trip on the Colorado River. They told us they’d just come from the confluence. We were only a few minutes away! A little ways ahead, we waded across the creek one last time and scrambled up the side of the canyon wall. There were now at least ten people hanging around this area, all members of the pack rafting group that had stopped at the confluence for an exploratory break.

High above the creek (which now had fish swimming in it!), we ran through this narrow canyon until it opened out onto the brown murky waters of the Colorado. Perched on an overhanging ledge, we looked out to see the meeting of these two distinctly colored waterways.

We relaxed here for a short while, taking in the scenery and discussing how cool it would be to try pack rafting at some point. I reviewed some of the photos we’d taken on the run in and realized there were hardly any of Mack (and maybe a few too many of me)! I aimed to fix that on the way back.

Confluence of the Colorado River and Havasu Creek
Looking down the Colorado

The run back to Beaver Falls seemed to go by a lot faster. We didn’t stop as much for photos (save for the few I took of Mack below) and the terrain started to feel familiar. However, we didn’t cross the creek at the same points that we had on the way in. We still remained on the trail heading upstream, but there were definitely sections that seemed totally new to us. It could’ve just been because we were heading in the opposite direction, but it could’ve also been that we were running on opposite sides of the creek that we hadn’t run on going to the confluence. Either way, it led to a slightly terrifying situation right before we reached Beaver Falls.

Mack admiring the canyon walls

Although we thought we’d stayed on trail, we somehow ended up too low when we arrived at the downstream end of Beaver Falls. The trail was at least 20 vertical feet above us (which we figured out because we could hear people), and since we were on a somewhat precarious ledge, backtracking to find the part of the trail that should’ve led up didn’t sound appealing. It did seem like our only option at the time, but then Mack spotted lengths of thick webbing tied together leading up the rock face. He put his weight on it (still balanced on the ledge of course!) to check its security. It seemed legit, but both of us were hesitant since we couldn’t see the anchor above. It’s not like we had a harness and biners to clip into this thing either! Mack decided to go first while I spotted him. He made it up several feet to another ledge, rested for a moment, then pulled himself up the final stretch. Once at the top, he reassured me the anchor was secure (locking biner on a bolted hanger).

I grabbed ahold of the webbing and started to push myself up with my feet. They weren’t gaining much traction on this smoother rock and I kept sliding down, which scared the crap out of me since I was only depending on my hands not letting go of the webbing. After a couple more tries and some high knees to get my feet onto better foot holds, I finally made it up to the first ledge. My legs were wobbly, but I still had a bit more to go. The second section felt easier since there were more spots to place your feet, and Mack helped pull me up over the last overhang so I’d feel a little safer. We stood there for a few minutes to shake out the nerves before continuing on.

Looking toward Beaver Falls

To regain our composure, we headed down to Beaver Falls again. There were several groups here now, but we decided to hang around anyways and do some exploring.

Hanging out at Beaver Falls

Mack insisted we climb above the falls (which he’d looked into when we first stopped by earlier in the day). This involved wading into the deeper section of the plunge pool. For Mack, the water came up to his chest. For me, at just under five feet tall and standing on my tip toes, it came up to my chin. It only lasted for a few strides though. Using the rope that Mack had tried out earlier, we pulled ourselves up to the top of the falls. We got a beautiful view of the tiered pools leading down into the creek. From here, we didn’t have to climb back down to get to the trail, too. We just walked through the water until reaching the shore. The trail continued from here.

Climbing to get above the falls
View from above

Neither of us had been very hungry over the course of the run, so we’d just been staying hydrated with water and Tailwind. However, by the time we reached Mooney Falls, both of us were starting to bonk. Climbing back up to the top of Mooney took extra focus and care since we were both a little out of it by this point. I munched on a few Clif Bar Shot Bloks once we reached the top. We jogged back to camp and collapsed at our picnic table sometime between 2 and 3 pm.

Bonking hard at the top of Mooney

The rest of the day was spent taking it easy, getting ready for the hike out, and, of course, eating. I was so happy we ended up completing the Mooney Falls to Colorado River out-and-back despite being uncertain about it the day before and even that morning! I was even more happy that we decided to run (well, run/hike) it, especially since the groups that we passed on the way in didn’t roll back into camp until early evening (maybe three hours after we’d gotten back). We went to sleep that night with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we were sad to be leaving this incredible place, but on the other hand, we missed Cassie immensely.

Journaling back at the campsite

 

Day 3: Havasupai campground to Hilltop parking lot (10 miles; 4 hours 2 minutes, breaks not included)

Leaving the beautiful places we backpack to/through is always bittersweet. Havasupai was no different. However, the one thing that motivated us to get up and out as fast as we could was the fact that we had a 20+ hour drive home. After a little resistance, we pulled ourselves out of our sleeping bags, got everything packed up, and hit the trail just before 7 am. It was quiet as we walked out of the campground. Most everyone was still sleeping or just beginning to wake up. At least we’d get to enjoy another peaceful hike.

Saying ‘goodbye’ to Havasu Falls

Although the hike out gains more elevation since we’re exiting the canyon, we were actually making better time than when we hiked in. I guess the idea of hitting the road as soon as we could and covering as many of the 2400+ miles as possible before stopping for the night was pretty appealing. In fact, instead of slowing down when we arrived at the more serious uphill section (i.e. the mile or so of switchbacks leading up to the parking lot), we started hiking faster, even turning it into a friendly competition (just amongst ourselves) to get to the top before the group of pack horses behind us (which we ultimately succeeded at). Just as it had been on Monday morning, the trailhead was bustling with activity. On a small ledge away from the crowds, Mack and I snuck away for one last glimpse into the canyon down below. Exhausted, but happy, we dragged our feet back to the car, threw everything in, changed into clean socks and shoes, and began the long drive home.

Almost there!

*Note: We ended up doing the 20+ hour drive home in a single push rather than stopping to camp somewhere. We wouldn’t recommend it…