Wonderland Trail: A Failed Attempt

The beginning of the trail from Sunrise.  I didn't take a lot of pictures on this trip.  The weather just didn't cooperate.

The beginning of the trail from Sunrise.  I didn't take a lot of pictures on this trip.  The weather just didn't cooperate.

This was a really difficult post to write.  I've been sitting on this trail report for a while.  At the time I originally wrote this post, it had taken me a couple of weeks to process the entire experience so I am going to try to share what I can at the risk of putting myself out there for criticism and being labeled a "wimp" by some. So, here goes.

I have wanted to do the Wonderland Trail for the past two years and found a hiking partner from one of the local hiking forums. We put in for permits for the end of September thinking the past couple of years the weather has been super nice and figured our odds of getting permits would be better if we waited until after Labor Day. We got our permits and promptly continued with our preparations. For me, I was working on getting miles in and getting my kit dialed in. My hiking partner was also doing the same.

We left Portland on the morning of September 21st, 2013 with the plan to arrive at Longmire to pick up our permit, then head to Sunrise where we would park the car and hike in to our first campsite 1.3 miles down the trail at the Sunrise Camp.

Longmire Ranger Station

Longmire Ranger Station

On arrival at Longmire we were told by the park rangers to expect three days of bad weather (rain and definitely snow in the higher elevations) and then things should start looking up. This was before the typhoon weather-front had hit the coast, which as we now know, changed the weather drastically in a short period of time.  This is the same weather that foiled more than a few PCT thru-hiker plans. I figured I could handle a few days of wet weather if it meant the rest was going to be okay. We arrived at Sunrise in the early afternoon and it was socked in. Not a view of anything but a lot of low lying clouds and a few tourists trying to make the best of the situation. We geared up and walked the 1.3 miles to the Sunrise Camp, elevation 6245'. We set up camp and soon after it started raining. I was dead tired from having gotten very little sleep at home the night before so I took a nap in my hammock. It felt good to listen to the rain hitting my tarp while I snoozed. I woke up feeling refreshed and made dinner under my hammock/tarp while it was still raining. Since it was late fall, night came quickly so after dinner and a quick outhouse stop (which by the way, smelled horrible!), I was back in the cocoon of my hammock and fell asleep with no problems.

Crossing the river just past the White River Campground.  Notice the view.  Yeah, there was none.

Crossing the river just past the White River Campground.  Notice the view.  Yeah, there was none.

The morning of the 22nd we woke to more rain and remnants of snow from the night before. It was cold and wet, which I'll admit are not exactly motivating factors for me. We made breakfast, packed up and headed out. The first 3.5 miles were all downhill to the White River Campground where we took an extended snack break and used flushing toilets for the last time. We spoke with more rangers who gave us the same weather information and we were also monitoring the barometric pressure on my hiking partner's High Gear Weatherport. We continued on a fairly level part of the trail for another 2.5 miles before the trail started to gradually go up. At this point it really started to rain. This is where I made some bad choices which I would later regret. I had taken my rain pants off (I rarely even bring them but for some reason I did on this trip) at lunch because I was getting hot and my soft shell pants usually do a good job of repelling water. I also had decided to use my trekking poles instead of my umbrella. Another error I would make that would cause issues later on. After lunch we continued heading up towards Summerland, coming across a few other hikers who told us they had seen a black bear on the switchbacks across the stream up the trail. I wasn't worried because I have the worst wildlife mojo of anyone and knew we wouldn't see the little fella since they already had. (I was right...aside from bushy tailed woodrats at the Summerland Shelter, we saw no other interesting wildlife)

As we continued to climb up the switchbacks, I started getting more and more soaked. The rain was coming down pretty hard with no end in sight. My rain jacket was doing a decent job but I think I was sweating so much I was soaking myself from the inside out. I had an Icebreaker mid-weight wool layer on underneath and it was completely soaked by the time we got to camp, as was the synthetic t-shirt I was wearing under that. My feet were soaked as well. My soft shell pants were rather damp too. Do you see where I am going with this?

We got to the shelter at Summerland, elevation 6000', and had planned to set up our sleep systems in it but found two other backpackers who had permits for the shelter, which we thought was odd since the rangers had told us we could camp there if we needed to. They agreed to share the shelter with us and I got out of my wet layers, put my thermal bottoms on with my rain pants over them and put my down puffy on plus dry socks/shoes to try and get warm. I left all my wet stuff hanging in the shelter in the hopes it might get dry (yeah right!) or at the very least, less wet. It took me a while to get my brain to work properly since I was shivering and having trouble putting my thoughts into words. With the help of one of the guys at the shelter, I was able to get my tarp and hammock set up outside the shelter area and I went in it as soon as possible to try to get warm (my hand warmers helped a little bit). I took a nap for about 2 hours, gaining some warmth but still feeling chilled to the core. I knew eating and getting hot beverages inside me would help, so I made dinner and from that, I was able to get a little bit warmer. It became dark quick and after finishing my meal and cleaning up, I went back to my hammock to try to sleep and continue my quest to get warm. Everyone else had vacated the shelter due to the presence of some really adorable (and probably hungry) bushy tailed woodrats. My hiking partner had set her tent up outside of the shelter and the other two guys had set up at a site up the hill near the composting toilet.

The next morning, September 23rd, we woke to more snow (not really sticking but it was there) and what looked like minimal visibility to Panhandle Gap a mere 800' further in elevation from where we were camped. One of the guys we shared our campsite with had gotten lost up there the day before and had to use his GPS to find his way and I was getting worried. I had two concerns. One, that we would have issues finding our way due to visibility and two, if we continued and I got even more wet, I would get hypothermic and we would be far, far away from any kind of help. To be honest, my gut was also telling me not to continue. I had a really bad feeling I couldn't put into words, but there was something about continuing that seemed like a bad idea.

I wrapped my feet in plastic from a cheap, "Dollar Tree" dropcloth I had brought to put underneath my hammock. I cut out out 2, 2X2' pieces and wrapped each foot like a burrito before putting my wet wool socks back on (wool really does retain it's warming properties when wet!) and then put those back into my wet hiking shoes (Keen Dry SUCKS!). I put my still wet Smartwool mid-weight layer back on, then my softshell pants, rain pants and gaiters to complete the ensemble. Trekking poles went in the pack, umbrella came out and we headed back to Sunrise. I had more clothes in the car I could add to my pack and we could get a revised weather forecast as the barometer was starting to drop again. We went back down the trail to the road and were fortunate to hitch a ride with a guy out for a drive. We arrived at Sunrise to find the lot mostly empty, with a few cars here and there.

We hopped in the car, turned on the heater and I started shedding wet layers and added some warm, dry clothes from my stash in the car. We headed back towards Longmire, stopping at White River, but the Ranger Station was closed. We continued to Longmire and found out the weather forecast had changed. They were predicting several more days of rain. Hmmm. At this point I was ready to call it, but my hiking partner wanted to continue. So I compromised and offered to pay for a hotel for the night to dry out, regroup, and then set out the next morning. We decided to alter our itinerary so we would start at Narada Falls the following day, and figure out a way to get from Sunrise to our car later. (I put the word out on NWHikers FB page and a generous hiker agreed to help us out. I love the hiking community!).

We went back to Ashford and got a room at the Whittaker Bunk House for a reasonable price. I went over to Whittaker Mountaineering and got a few things to keep me warmer on the trail (btw, they have a great selection of gear at reasonable prices!). We had a delicious burger at a dive bar in Elbe, then back to the hotel to crash for the night.

Narada Falls

Narada Falls

The next morning, we drove to Narada Falls, set out for Paradise River and set up camp for the night. The weather held and it didn't start raining until almost after dinner. Yay! We had a group of Road Scholars stop at our campsite for lunch and I chatted them up a bit (continuing to earn my trail name of Chatterbox), asking them questions about their trip, answering questions they had about mine, and deflecting the ire of the group leader who clearly thought we were stupid to be on the Wonderland Trail this late in the season.

On the morning of the 25th, we got started again, heading to Longmire to pick up our cache and check the weather report. At this point, I felt like I had given a good effort on this trail, but my heart was not in it. I told my hiking partner that if the weather forecast was showing three or four more days of rain, I wasn't interested in continuing and putting myself (and her) at risk. We were supposed to go past Indian Henry Hunting Ground and from what I could tell, there was going to be minimal visibility. I had proper gear on this stretch, but spending four days or more with soggy feet with no way to get anything dry was not something I was not looking forward to, not to mention the fact I still had not seen the mountain. She agreed that we would call the trip if this was the case. We lucked out and had no rain the entire walk to Longmire. On arrival, I checked out the weather forecast and with the exception of possible sunshine the next day, it was rain, rain, rain, oh and more rain plus snow in the higher elevations. We called it.

I tried to hitch from Longmire and had no luck so we started back to our vehicle at Narada Falls. Eventually, we came to another trailhead and we were able to hitch a ride with a couple of friends out sightseeing. We made it back to Portland by late afternoon.

This was probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, coupled with the fact I made some big errors in what I brought with me for clothing. My sleep system (Hennessy Hyperlite Hammock with 20F quilts) and tarp (OES MacCat Deluxe) were perfect. My stove (MSR Micro Rocket) and cook kit were perfect. My food was just the right amount. My water filter system (Sawyer Squeeze) was perfect. My pack (Gossamer Gear Mariposa) performed flawlessly. I'll be honest, even though I am from the PNW and used to hiking and backpacking in the rain, the weather around Mt. Rainier got me good. I don't know if changing my clothing at the beginning would have changed the outcome much. The forecast and eventual weather from the typhoon brought continual precipitation the following week. Coupled with the fact the government shut down would have started the day we were to come off the trail, this helped me come to term with the decision to stop was right. I am not sure how we would have gotten off the trail at Sunrise and back to our car at Narada Falls (even with our arranged ride). At the time I was doubting myself, but in the end, after a little perspective, I know I made the right decision, as painful as it was.  And besides, Mount Rainier will still be there next year, and I can try again.  I'd rather be safe and live to hike another day, than stubborn and die being stupid.

Have you ever experienced something similar?  Did you have regrets?  Were you comforted by your decision afterwards?

Funding My Travels: January 2014 Update

This month's update is pretty simple.  I worked some overtime and some holidays towards the end of December that showed up on my January paychecks, which led to me meeting my goal of saving a minimum of $500 this month.  I had three paychecks this month so I have exceeded my goal by quite a bit this month.  That's okay.  It'll all balance out eventually.

 

Long Term Travel Account Activity

Previous Long Term Travel Account Balance (December 2013):  $910.91

Current Long Term Travel Account Balance (January 2014):  $1,671.18

Total Deposit Towards Goal: $760.27 (WOW!  This is awesome.)

 

Short Term Travel Account Activity

I had mentioned in my previous post I had a trip to Chicago planned for January 2014.  I deducted $600 from my checking account for this trip.  This covered most of my expenses for the trip since I had already paid for my plane ticket back in 2013.  I am getting my tax refund soon, which will boost this account back up.  The next big trip I have planned is to Nepal in October 2014, so most of the money I will be saving in this account will be to fund this trip.  I am also looking at a short trip to Bozeman, MT in March or April 2014, and a trip to Southern California in May/Jun 2014 and money for those trips will come out of this fund.

Previous Short Term Travel Account Balance (December 2013): $1116.61

Current Short Term Travel Account Balance (January 2014): $516.61

Total Deduction: $600.00 (trip to Chicago)

Overall, I am really proud of where I am at with my savings.  I have some housesitting gigs coming up this month which will go towards my short term travel.  I am also hoping to get some CPR classes in the coming months.  I start my new side job teaching social media literacy this month and any money I make from there will be going into my long term travel account.  Thanks for checking this out.

Are you saving for a goal? What are you saving for?  What kinds of tips do you have to share about your saving strategy?

 

Giving Back: Volunteering With Big City Mountaineers

I have spent the last 3 1/2 years submersing myself into the outdoor life.   I've hiked and backpacked over a thousand miles (not a lot compared to some, but I'm proud of it).  I've spent countless nights out in the woods, sleeping in tents and most recently, hammocks.  I've experienced the wonders of Montana, British Columbia, and Washington in addition to exploring my home state of Oregon.  I've trekked through Spain and Portugal, walking two routes of the Camino de Santiago.  Through all of this, the one thing constantly running through my mind is: how can I give back?  How can I share my love of the outdoors with others?

One of many stream crossings last summer in the Olympic National Park.

One of many stream crossings last summer in the Olympic National Park.

For the past two summers (and planning to volunteer this summer!), I have donated a week of my vacation time to serve as an adult mentor with Big City Mountaineers (BCM).  According to their website:

Big City Mountaineers transforms the lives of under-served urban youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions that instill critical life skills. We partner with community-based youth organizations and caring adult volunteers who act as mentors in the field to help young people realize their potential. Our curriculum improves integrity, self- esteem, responsibility, decision-making abilities and communication skills in close to 1,000 youth annually. BCM has a proven track record of improving young peoples’ lives with:
• Increased likeliness to stay in school
• Reduction in violence
• Reduction in drug use
— www.bigcitymountaineers.org/about

That's pretty exciting to me!  There are two things I appreciate about BCM and their program.  One, each group is small and has a one-to-one ratio of adults to youth.  In other words, if there are five adults, there are five youth.  This gives you a chance to really connect with the youth in a meaningful way, while also providing ample opportunities to teach and model various outdoor skills like Leave No Trace, how to build a fire, putting a tent up, packing your backpack properly, and most importantly, how to poop in the woods! 

Our fearless leader, Jenny showing one of the youth how to read a map.

Our fearless leader, Jenny showing one of the youth how to read a map.

The second thing I appreciate about BCM is each trip is same gender.  They do all female trips and they do all male trips.  I think it is really important for the young women, especially, to have this time to spend together.  They don't have to worry about impressing the boys and it gives them a chance to see that they can do things on their own in a supportive environment.

Our last night in the backcountry. 

Our last night in the backcountry. 

BCM is currently recruiting volunteers within 200 miles of any of the following cities: Denver, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, or Madison.  The reason they ask this of the volunteers is to improve the quality of the experience for the teens they serve by giving them easier access to volunteers who have more direct training and who can participate in local events and activities more frequently.  If you live near any of these places and are interested in working with young people, please consider applying to volunteer.  If working with kids is not your cup of tea, then consider participating in Summit for Someone, a climbing fundraiser that raises money for program costs.  All information can be found at their website: www.bigcitymountaineers.org.

Group photo from last summer.

Group photo from last summer.

Book Review: A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz

I will be completely honest.  I've walked the Camino de Santiago twice (Frances & Portuguese Routes) and served as a hospitalera once.  I'm a bit of a Camino addict.  However, I have only read a handful of books about the Camino.  I think I can count on less than two hands the number of Camino non-fiction books I have read.  I have a stack on my bookshelf I still need to read. There are at least 50 first-person narrative books out there on the Camino and more and more are being written every day as the Camino continues to grown in popularity after hundreds of years of obscurity.

Kurt Koontz walked the Camino just over a year ago.  Ironically, he finished his Camino just as I was in the middle of my second Camino.  We missed each other by only a few days.  His Camino was so inspiring he decided to sit down and put his thoughts on paper to share with the world.  This book is an account of his experience of walking the Camino.

As a first-person narrative, Kurt does a great job of sharing basic Camino history, as well as orienting the reader to the day to day life of being a pilgrim.  He incorporates this history and information into his daily reflections, which I found slightly distracting.  For an aspiring pilgrim, I can see how this information would be useful.  For a veteran pilgrim, I found myself skimming over these parts to get to the meat of the text.

The book is divided into chapters for each day of walking.  Like many pilgrims before him, his walk includes a cast of characters that make appearances throughout the book.  I can recall certain pilgrims I met on my Caminos who were important to me for various reasons.  One never knows how an interaction is going to influence you along the way and Kurt is great at sharing the importance of each individual he met who meant something to him and why.

I only have one complaint and it's a silly one.  There were several obvious spelling errors in the book.  Moreno wool socks?  And Cheryl Crow?  Someone's copy editor should have known better.

This book is great if you want to experience another pilgrim's Camino.  He shares the good and the bad of the Camino, although Kurt was blessed with more good than many pilgrims, having very few difficulties along the way.

If you would like to buy a copy of Kurt's book, you can do so here.  It's also available on Kindle.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author to review.  For those of you who know me, I am not shy when sharing my opinions about something so you can be confident this is an honest review.  I was planning to buy the book anyways.  It just so happens Kurt and I were exchanging emails about doing a feature on my website: www.caminodesantiagopress.com and he offered to send one to me.  This book is a quick read.  I finished it in two days.

2013: A Year in Review, in Pictures

Everyone else is doing a year in review blog post, so I figured I might as well too.  I know I have been kind of absent here this year.  I hope to rectify that in 2014. 

Highlights this year include:

  • 297 miles hiked/backpacked
  • 30 nights out in the woods
  • 53,300 ft in total elevation gain
  • 1 new state visited (Arizona)
  • Concerts attended: Mary Lambert, Brandi Carlile, Chris Pureka, The Lone Bellow, Erin McKeown, Lucy Wainright Roche, Black Prairie, Blitzen Trapper, Denver, Shovels and Rope, and a few I am forgetting. 
  • Volunteered at: World Domination Summit, Help Portrait, Big City Mountaineers
  • Gave tours of Portland with Vayable.
  • Taught CPR classes
  • Enjoyed life to the fullest and made serious plans for the future.

In the meantime, here's a few pictures of some of my favorite trips I went on this past year.  Photos may or may not be featured in numerical order.  Don't judge!

New Year's Day 2013 on Mt. Hood.  We woke at the crack of dawn, and watched the sun rise on the new year.

New Year's Day 2013 on Mt. Hood.  We woke at the crack of dawn, and watched the sun rise on the new year.

In February, I had a particularly stressful week at work and needed to get out of town.  Where did I go?  Mt. Hood, of course!  I did a solo backpacking trip in the snow to Upper Twin Lake.  It was a quick trip and probably one of my most memorable ones this year.  You'll read the story later.  Promise!

In February, I had a particularly stressful week at work and needed to get out of town.  Where did I go?  Mt. Hood, of course!  I did a solo backpacking trip in the snow to Upper Twin Lake.  It was a quick trip and probably one of my most memorable ones this year.  You'll read the story later.  Promise!

January also led me to Phoenix, Arizona where I attended my second Gay Christian Network Conference.  It was my first time in Arizona and I tried to make the best of it.  I was able to stick around for a whole week, and gave a talk at the Valley of the Sun American Pilgrims on the Camino Chapter about my walk on the Camino Portuguese.  I also spent some time exploring in Tucson, and visited two friends.  

January also led me to Phoenix, Arizona where I attended my second Gay Christian Network Conference.  It was my first time in Arizona and I tried to make the best of it.  I was able to stick around for a whole week, and gave a talk at the Valley of the Sun American Pilgrims on the Camino Chapter about my walk on the Camino Portuguese.  I also spent some time exploring in Tucson, and visited two friends.
 

In March, I made a visit to Southern California for some personal business.  I hadn't been to California since my grandmother died in 2007.  I revisited some old haunts from childhood visits, including Monte Carlo's Pinocchio Restaurant for lunch with a Portland friend who was also in town.  I enjoyed catching up with family and friends, including a special visit to my grandparent's graves.  It was an emotional trip but one I am happy I took.  My friend Daniel provided amazing hospitality to me and for that I am very grateful.

In March, I made a visit to Southern California for some personal business.  I hadn't been to California since my grandmother died in 2007.  I revisited some old haunts from childhood visits, including Monte Carlo's Pinocchio Restaurant for lunch with a Portland friend who was also in town.  I enjoyed catching up with family and friends, including a special visit to my grandparent's graves.  It was an emotional trip but one I am happy I took.  My friend Daniel provided amazing hospitality to me and for that I am very grateful.

2013 saw me falling more and more in love with hammock camping.  I'm still tweaking my kit but so far I love my Hennessy Hyperlite Hammock!

2013 saw me falling more and more in love with hammock camping.  I'm still tweaking my kit but so far I love my Hennessy Hyperlite Hammock!

As a lifelong Oregonian, there are still places I have never seen in my home state.  I spent a long weekend exploring around the Painted Hills National Monument with some of my friends.  I can't wait to go back. 

As a lifelong Oregonian, there are still places I have never seen in my home state.  I spent a long weekend exploring around the Painted Hills National Monument with some of my friends.  I can't wait to go back. 

The past few years, I have missed out on Portland Pride.  This year, I had out of town guests from Canada and Washington, along with my dear friend,  Aiden James , who was booked to perform on the music stage.  I love showing people around my hometown and had a blast with my friends.  The Jupiter Hotel was handing out free condoms and I couldn't resist a rainbow photo.  :)

The past few years, I have missed out on Portland Pride.  This year, I had out of town guests from Canada and Washington, along with my dear friend, Aiden James, who was booked to perform on the music stage.  I love showing people around my hometown and had a blast with my friends.  The Jupiter Hotel was handing out free condoms and I couldn't resist a rainbow photo.  :)

In July, a road trip was in order.  Myself, along with two friends drove to Colorado to see Ms. Brandi Carlile perform at the Red Rocks Amphitheater.  We experienced weather unlike any I have ever experienced!  Thunder, lightning, and a torrential downpour of epic proportions.  And it was worth every drop!

In July, a road trip was in order.  Myself, along with two friends drove to Colorado to see Ms. Brandi Carlile perform at the Red Rocks Amphitheater.  We experienced weather unlike any I have ever experienced!  Thunder, lightning, and a torrential downpour of epic proportions.  And it was worth every drop!

One of my favorite organizations to give my time and money is  Big City Mountaineers .  This was my second summer volunteering for a week with at-risk youth.  We took a group of four teens into the Olympic National Park for five days/four nights and shared our wilderness experience with them.  This trip was not without challenges, but the reward of seeing kids learn about themselves and see what their potential is makes it all worth it.  This photo was from our first day.  This is the Quinault River.

One of my favorite organizations to give my time and money is Big City Mountaineers.  This was my second summer volunteering for a week with at-risk youth.  We took a group of four teens into the Olympic National Park for five days/four nights and shared our wilderness experience with them.  This trip was not without challenges, but the reward of seeing kids learn about themselves and see what their potential is makes it all worth it.  This photo was from our first day.  This is the Quinault River.

Glacier National Park is one my favorite places in the world.  This past summer I had the opportunity to travel with two dear friends for a week-long backpack trip on the Bowman-Kintla Trail.  I like to use Vibram Five Fingers for camp shoes.  This photo was taken at Boulder Pass on our second to last night out.  Pure bliss!

Glacier National Park is one my favorite places in the world.  This past summer I had the opportunity to travel with two dear friends for a week-long backpack trip on the Bowman-Kintla Trail.  I like to use Vibram Five Fingers for camp shoes.  This photo was taken at Boulder Pass on our second to last night out.  Pure bliss!

The Timberline Trail has been on my list for a while.  My friend Angie and I completed the trail over three nights/four days at the end of August.  This cheesy picture is me at the beginning/end of the trail.  Mount Hood was in a constant veil of clouds for pretty much the whole trip.  It was still an amazing trail, and I hope to do it again.  

The Timberline Trail has been on my list for a while.  My friend Angie and I completed the trail over three nights/four days at the end of August.  This cheesy picture is me at the beginning/end of the trail.  Mount Hood was in a constant veil of clouds for pretty much the whole trip.  It was still an amazing trail, and I hope to do it again.
 

I would be remiss in not mentioning the many concerts I attended as well.  Live music is a huge part of my life.  This photo is from my first Shovels & Rope concert.  To say I was blown away is an understatement.  If they are in your town, please, go see them.  Their live show is one of the best I've seen all year.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the many concerts I attended as well.  Live music is a huge part of my life.  This photo is from my first Shovels & Rope concert.  To say I was blown away is an understatement.  If they are in your town, please, go see them.  Their live show is one of the best I've seen all year.

I learned about an amazing place called Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  I spent a couple days up there exploring.  This photo is from Ruby Beach.  I can't wait to get back there.

I learned about an amazing place called Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  I spent a couple days up there exploring.  This photo is from Ruby Beach.  I can't wait to get back there.

December slowed me down a bit.  But I was still able to take in a Portland tradition, Tuba Christmas.  Only in Portland will 300 tuba players come together to play Christmas Carols as the crowd in Pioneer Square sings along.

December slowed me down a bit.  But I was still able to take in a Portland tradition, Tuba Christmas.  Only in Portland will 300 tuba players come together to play Christmas Carols as the crowd in Pioneer Square sings along.