Trip Report: Packwood Lake

In mid-summer, we backpacked up into Goat’s Rocks Wilderness to beautiful Packwood Lake. We had a loose plan to camp the first night at Packwood lake, and then continue up to Lost Lake via Coyote trail for a two night, three day trip. We ended up changing our plans while on the trail, and it was a wonderful trip.

Originally, we had permits for Mt Margaret but opted to pick a different trip after a landslide/washout made the road inaccessible. This was a trip to celebrate Pat’s mom’s birthday, and so we looked for a trail that would be fun and provide big views. Goat’s Rocks Wilderness came to mind as it is a stunning area and not so far from us.

On a side note – we had recently sold our previous backpacking tent and were supposed to have our new tent for the trip. Unfortunately, there was a delay in production which meant we wouldn’t have it in time. This posed a the question – cowboy camp, buy a tarp, or lug our 7 lb (!) ‘car camping’ tent out? (We chose the latter and split the weight between our packs. Weight training!)

The first day, we made our way through a lush old-growth forest on a well-groomed, wide trail. The trees and small springs that dotted the trail felt so nice against the hot sun. We ate lunch in a patch of blooming bear grass. I truly love the way their flowers look — very ethereal and delicate, though the leaves are sharp and can hurt.

The trail in is pretty quick – our Garmin had it at less than 5 miles from parking lot to the lake. There was a ranger at the entrance of the lake, and we spent some time talking with him about campsites. We learned that many groups had been heading up to Lost Lake all day, to our dismay. Lost Lake is a lot smaller than Packwood and we were looking for some quiet time in nature instead of a party lake. We decided to find a campsite and see how the trip unfolded before making any plans.

I loved the views at Packwood lake. The end of the lake stretched out to Johnson Peak in the distance. The colors were absolutely stunning – the lake was an immaculate aquamarine color and very cold. I saw someone swimming all the way out to Wizard Island. There were also several people fishing. The ranger told us that this lake had its own special subspecies of rainbow trout, but that they were hard to catch since they lived in the deepest parts.

We hiked on, passing campsites that dotted the lakeshore. Our plan was to hike to where the ranger said his favorite spot was, which was a few miles away. It was very hot, making each site we passed look tempting. We investigated some of the sites along the way, since some had beautiful sandy beaches or creeks nearby.

Unfortunately, many of the campsites were disgusting because there was used toilet paper all over. I couldn’t believe it. People had used the bathroom right next to the lake. It made me feel so upset that this beautiful area was getting trashed by humans. I also felt bad for the poor ranger who had to clean up after people. We saw something similar at Snoqualmie Lake, but that lake had a backcountry toilet that people were supposed to use. It is a sad reality but popular places get ‘loved up’ during the season. So – PSA: pack out toilet paper (and any other trash). Use the bathroom 100-200 feet away from water and be sure to bury feces securely so that animals can’t dig it up.

The first part of Packwood Lake was pretty busy, with groups of hikers and families occupying most of the campsites closer to the entrance of the lake valley. As we hiked on, groups became less frequent, and the space between sites stretched out. We began to see a new view — once we swung around to the tip of the lake, we would be facing “backwards” and would be able to see Mount Rainier.

When we made it to the campsite, it felt like we had arrived in a magical place. The late afternoon light flickered off the lake and danced back in the trees, illuminating a soft, mossy forest. There was a large creek that bisected the trail, with a tiny waterfall that splashed over a downed log. We were excited to filter water from the creek – it tasted delicious. Even the ducks drank from the creek, and we got to watch them swim up from the lake to take a big drink, before returning to the open water.

From our campsite, we had a view of both Johnson Peak and Mount Rainier. Despite the cold water, I went for a dip in the icy lake. It felt amazing after sweating under my pack all day. I floated in the water for a long time, until I turned into a small prune.

I loved listening to the lake lap at the pebble beach, with the rushing creek in the background. The birds called to each other, and we even had a family of Mergansers (mom and three babies) sleep on a log nearby. It was soft, quiet, and gentle. It felt magical.

The next morning, we woke and had breakfast on the pebble beach, watching the sun arc over the hills of the valley. Something that I love about backpacking is that there are countless opportunities to change plans and adjust. We decided to spend the day exploring the valley that extended behind us and looking for wildlife tracks. In the late afternoon, we would hike out and have a birthday dinner with Pat’s dad. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was a fortuitous plan because many, many groups were hiking in and Packwood lake was about to become packed.

During the day, the valley we explored was very quiet, and we did not see any other hikers the entire day. We started out on the trail that would eventually take us up to Packwood Saddle and Elk Pass. As we felt like it, we got on animal paths, or followed the river as it coiled through the valley. It felt special to be able to wander slowly, listening to the sounds of the forest. We followed woodpeckers through the trees, found mink tracks in the sandy mud near the river, and ate lunch in a small dip surrounded by blooming yarrow, wild rose, cow parsnip, and countless tiny wildflowers.

The hike out was easy and shaded, next to a river. Instead of following the same trail that we took in, we curved off onto an old forest access road to try something new. The trail was almost completely empty and followed the river for most of the way, keeping us cool and providing some beautiful views. We could see Mount Rainier peaking through the trees along the way. We hiked quickly so that we could stop at the Mountain Goat cafe in Packwood before it closed, since it was highly recommended. We made it just in time — while we waited for our coffee, three elk wandered up the street and snacked on the trees. Overall, it was a beautiful and wonderful trip.

Day Trippin’ Mount Saint Helens

In early June, we took a day trip to Mount Saint Helens to see the wildflowers. This was also the first time we took Pat’s new Ula Circuit bag out for a ‘test spin.’ .

We hiked out of the Johnston Ridge observatory, out onto Harry’s Ridge and Devil’s Elbow. The trail had been rerouted but wasn’t updated on the map, so we had a little bit of route finding to do. Even though we arrived fairly early in the morning, the first segment of the trail quickly filled up with groups of hikers.

I always love being up in the mountains. The expansive views, the space, the feeling. I think that each mountain has a special feeling, something uniquely its own. Mount Saint Helens felt very powerful and intense. Sitting in the bush, looking up at the face of the mountain while we ate our lunch,  I enjoyed feeling the sun on my skin. There was a little jumping spider that played on me while we ate – I think I was on his rock. I am definitely not a spider person, but this little guy was pretty cute as he hopped around.

I made a short little video of our day —

 

Trip Report: Snoqualmie Lake via Taylor River

Memorial Day weekend we went on a backpacking trip with our friend up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I have been craving to get up into the mountains, and have been waiting patiently for the snow to melt since we do not have spikes or snow gear (yet). Thankfully, Snoqualmie Lake was snow-free and high on my list of places that I wanted us to go.

We spent three beautiful days in the backcountry. This trip was not without its challenges, but I think that is one of the reasons why I valued the experience beyond my inherent love of being in nature. Through struggle and discomfort can come some of the most important lessons, opportunities, and experiences.

Trip Report

Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Length: 18 miles roundtrip

Elevation net gain: 1900 ft

Permits: Northwest forest parking pass for parking lot

Starting pack weight (estimated):

  • – Pat at 20-25 lbs
  • – Hannah at ~15 lbs
  • – Nicco at 50-60 lbs

Day 1: 9 Miles

We arrived at the trailhead and it was packed. While this trail is usually pretty quiet, I didn’t factor in the holiday weekend. We almost weren’t able to find a parking space, which would’ve sent us back across a pothole-filled bridge to find parking at the Middle Fork campground. Luckily, we found a spot, packed up, and set off.

The first 6-7 miles of the trail were gentle, with some loose gravel/rocks and stream crossings the only major things to contend with. The trail gradually sloped uphill, but contained no real elevation gain — we discovered that it was saved for the last ~2 miles into the lake valley.

The crowds petered out after we got to Otter Falls, which had a few big stream crossings before it. These were doable without getting our feet too wet, but with higher water it would’ve been sketchy. I was thankful for my hiking pole throughout the trip, but especially during the crossings.

We knew there was the possibility of rain throughout the entire weekend. What we didn’t anticipate was the downpour that occurred all day (and night) as we hiked in. I also discovered that my rain jacket was no longer water resistant despite treating it with Rain X…oops!

Pat and I like to set a nice pace when we backpack. I built the trip itinerary around our pacing and how many miles I know we can do in a day. Originally, we were going to hike to Snoqualmie Lake the first night, and continue on to Bear Lake and Deer Lake the next day to set up camp, and then maybe extend it with a day hike to Dorothy Lake in the afternoon, before hiking all the way out on day 3. However, our plans quickly changed during the first day as we hiked in.

Our friend Nicco hurt his leg and so our pace changed to work around the situation. It was late enough in the day that hiking out would’ve been difficult — everything was soaking wet, and I felt nervous about doing stream crossings in the dark. As a team, we decided to push on to Snoqualmie Lake since we were under 2 miles away, in the last big gain of elevation. At this point, we had slowed to almost a mile in a little over an hour because of the injury. Our muscles were tightening up during the frequent stops, but beyond that we were getting cold from the constant rain and wind. An added concern was getting a campsite since it was a holiday weekend. Around 5:30 PM some hikers we passed told us there was just one spot left at the mouth of the valley. This presented us with a problem because if there wasn’t a site we would have to turn back until we reached one of the spots we passed earlier in the day, which was straight down the slick valley we were climbing out of.

The number one rule in the outdoors is that no one gets left behind. You stick together, no matter what. While I firmly hold this rule in my heart, I realized that sometimes rules have to be bent. As a team, we decided our top priority was to secure a campsite so that we could get warm, fed, and rest Nicco’s leg. We estimated that there was another 45 minutes to an hour climbing up the valley wall at the pace we were going, and so someone needed to be sent ahead to get the last site. I volunteered to go, since Pat had the most experience to handle anything that could’ve happened. It wasn’t ideal, but sometimes situations arise that force you to adapt. I hiked ahead, leaving Pat and Nicco to follow up behind me.

Type 2 fun forever

I hiked as fast as I could over the slippery ground, jogging when possible. I had the lightest pack out of everyone and I was on a mission. At times the trail went straight up a stream, with cairns dotting the stream in the distance as guidance. Sheer rock walls rose to my left, with mist and rain swirling around, and wildflowers nodded in the wind. It made me smile — despite the challenges we were facing there was so much beauty around us. The challenges almost seemed to intensify it. Wading up the stream, I remembered reading somewhere that the ‘only way out is through.’

I felt relief when, rounding the corner next to the river bellowing over rocks and downed logs, I saw the empty campsite and then the lake peeking through the trees. Shortly afterwards, a group that was soaked left their larger site to hike out, and I snagged it.

That night we focused on getting warm and dry. Pat and Nicco started a fire and we fed damp twigs and punky wood into it. I realized how much I missed sitting in front of a fire; the last few summers were relatively free from fires because of burn bans.

After a long, cold and wet day, it was easy to imagine hiking out the next morning, especially since we weren’t sure how Nicco’s leg would be. What if it rained like this all weekend? How long would it take to hike out? What if we went back to town and just hung out and went to our favorite cidery? That would be fun and we could come back out the next weekend instead. I felt torn – I didn’t want to leave but I could feel my resolve weakening. We decided to see how we felt in the morning and what the weather would be like.

Day 2: 0 day

Rest day! Our second day dawned clear and cold. We ate breakfast and I experimented with making bullet coffee with a Starbucks Via and some coconut oil and ghee that I had packed in. I’m still working on it.

After breakfast we made the decision to stay through the morning and see what the weather did. I am so glad we made this decision because the rest of the day was wonderful. We explored the lake, hiking out around the eastern end and investigating the lakeshore. We also moved camp, down from the windy cliff to a spot right on the lake with a giant rock that we spent the majority of the day on. I called it our lizard rock.

The sun peeked out from behind clouds throughout the day, and we loved it up, stretched out on the rock. It felt so good to sunbathe and dry out. I took the opportunity to dry out my socks, gators, and shoes (which smelled atrocious, sorry guys) in the warm sun.

It was an interesting experience to take a rest day at the lake. As we sat on the rock, enjoying the sun, I started thinking about the rarity of doing absolutely nothing. When was the last time I did nothing? I couldn’t think of it. In my free time I am usually up to something, and even in periods of rest I like to read, knit, cook things, stare vacantly into my phone, etc. While I could’ve been doing something ‘productive’ like gathering firewood or filtering water, it felt really good to just be at total rest. Nothing to do but lay in the sun and watch it sparkle and dance on the lake’s waves. Nowhere to go, nothing to be.

Day 3: 9 miles

It was so hard to leave the lake. The good weather held all day and night, and the morning was clear and beautiful. We had heard that there might be thunderstorms during the day, so we wanted to get on the trail early.

After filtering water and getting packed up, we spent a little more time on the rock, admiring the sun climbing over the valley walls and spreading across the lake. Then, a major treasure happened — we saw a loon! It was so beautiful. Pat has a pair of ultralight binoculars, and it was a real treat to watch the loon through them.

The hike out went well. Nicco’s leg was much better after the rest day, and we distributed some of his pack weight between the three of us. I told Pat that I was weight training for our future longer hikes.

I still hope to come back and complete the four lake circuit. I value the experiences we had during this trip, and especially the gift of the rest day and also the chance to lean into discomfort and come out the other side.

Enchanted Valley via East Fork Quinault

A few weeks ago we went on our first backpack of the season. Blessed as the Pacific Northwest is with spectacular mountain ranges, it is a little tricky to find an early season route that isn’t impacted greatly by snow -unless you look towards the coast or further south. However, Enchanted Valley is one of those special, just-low-enough elevation hikes that wanders through lush old growth and a stunning river valley ringed by peaks and waterfalls, without the need for microspikes and postholing.

Early season backpacks have a wild feeling – the valley and trails don’t show heavy use that comes during the summer, as the land gets loved up by visitors. While we passed some hikers and trail runners and shared the valley with a few other groups, we experienced long, wonderful stretches of solitude.

Enchanted Valley is definitely a special place. Glacial melt tumbles over sheer cliffs where we spotted several mountain goats clipped on to the rocks, feeding. Bears were common, and we had around 10 sightings, including a few that came near while eating grass. We love bears and it felt like a magical experience to see them up close.

Trip Report

Location: Olympic Peninsula/ Quinault

Length: 30 miles roundtrip (+ whatever gained exploring the valley)

  • just to note: the total mileage on trail sites is usually listed between 26-32. According to the ranger we talked with in the valley, because of trail reroutes it is 30 miles roundtrip from the trailhead to the valley per their GPS

Elevation net gain: 1700 ft

Permits: Backcountry permit $8/per adult per night + $6 processing fee. Register at the Quinault ranger station or online.

Starting pack weight (estimated):

  • – Pat at 25-30 lbs (he carried the world’s heaviest bear can at 3 lbs & our tent at 3.5 lbs)
  • – Hannah at 15-18 lbs

Day 1: 11 Miles

Hiked in a bit after 12 PM with the idea that we’d camp at O’Neil creek. We were making good time and it was still fairly early in the afternoon, so we decided to press on. The ranger team we passed said that Pyrites had some fantastic camp spots after crossing the river.

We got in to Pyrites around 5 PM, ready to set up camp. The ranger we had seen intermittently throughout the afternoon came back into camp while we were setting up to let us know a bear was nearby that seemed pretty habituated to humans. Sure enough, while we cooked dinner the beautiful big bear seemed to inch closer and closer. He (or she) was definitely intrigued by the smell of Idahoan mash… eventually the bear wandered off (Pat clapped and used a strong voice to dissuade the bear) but it felt like a real treat to be able to observe a bear up close. We have taught wildlife safety for many years and felt comfortable with the bear nearby. Even so, it was a good reminder that we were in the home of wildlife, and needed to be respectful.

After eating and cleaning up, I was pretty beat. Nothing like being pretty sedentary all winter and then hitting the trail to really give yourself a nice fun surprise. I think we went to bed around 7 PM. Best bedtime ever!

Day 2: 4.9 miles (+ whatever accrued while exploring the valley)

We woke to a beautiful, chilly morning next to the river. Packing up didn’t take too long, and we opted to eat bars for breakfast so we could get onto the trail. We knew we had a small mileage day and were antsy to explore.

Throughout the entire trail I felt suffused in awe. The trees! The river! The wildlife! Mountains! The feeling of the land! Everything! However, when we passed the small sign for Enchanted Valley and glimpsed the mountains trailing off into the distance, and far-reaching river valley, this feeling of awe blossomed into something more. I cherish the time we spent exploring this area.

When we arrived and picked our spot, we were hungry and chilled from our sweat/wind combo. We had ‘brunch’ (all of our oatmeal – 6 packets- …tasted amazing and think of the weight savings) sitting on a pad with full view of the mountains and Anderson glacier in the distance. What a wonderful life.

Our neighbor was Big Bear, a very intrepid bear who liked to eat grass and take poops near the chalet. His nemesis was the ranger. I loved watching Big Bear. We also saw a mom and her yearling on the other side of the valley. One of my favorite moments was watching them sit together under a cedar and fir tree when it was raining/icing.

Some weather rolled in during the afternoon and we were ‘iced’ on. At first it looked like thousands of tiny white blossoms, but it was ice blown down into the valley from much higher up. It was beautiful, all swirling around and dancing through the trees, above the river.

Day 3: 15 miles

My first 15 mile day!

It froze during the night and our tent was icy/heavy. It was a cold quick morning getting ready to go – I boiled some water for tea and we put bars in our pockets so we could leave quickly. Our goal was to get on the trail at 8 AM as we had estimated 6-7 hours to the trailhead. It was definitely hard for me to leave the valley…especially watching the sun break over the valley walls.

A herd of elk was flushed and thundered across the trail in front of us. They are so magnificent and huge. I loved watching them effortlessly run uphill.

We must have hauled on the way out because we ended up completing 15 miles in 5.5 hours. The longest (feeling) leg was O’Neil Camp to Fire Creek. What a wonderful, incredible trip. The perfect start to the season. I am infinitely grateful.

A few things I would’ve changed:

  • Water Carries: there was so much water available we didn’t need to each carry 2 liters. The rangers we passed all carried a 1L with their sawyer mini on top. On our way out we did this as well.
  • Pack less…..I was cursing my over-packing tendencies every time we gained elevation. We are actively working on converting our gear to ultralite but some of our stuff is still heavy. I am also still working on my clothing system.
  • Bear Can – we rented a bear can from the Quinault ranger station (required to carry if going to the valley) but it was SO huge and SO heavy. A lightweight bear can is on our list for future gear.

Spring Comes to Skookumchuck

Spring is perhaps my favorite time of year. I love this transitional space between the long cold days of winter and warm, full golden days of summer. Spring with its rains and storms, with its winds and feeling. Ever-changing spring. I always love to be outside, but it is during this season I start to get an itch, a feeling of needing to go out and about.

We have such beauty around us. About an hour southeast lies the beautiful Skookumchuck river and premier elk hunting grounds in Washington state. So far, we have visited a few times and I look forward to more exploration.

The steelhead were running the first time we visited, so we had plenty of company with people fishing off the banks and rocky peninsulas. We followed the river for quite a ways, and saw plenty of elk and beaver sign. We also had the pleasure of watching a dipper pair bobbing and dipping in the river. They also flew back to their nest, which was cleverly concealed in the end of a downed log. I very much enjoy dipper birds! While I wasn’t able to get any photos of them, this video demonstrates their dip.

The next time we went, we decided to head upland – away from the river – to investigate some prime bear and elk country.

To get back in to the forest, we started up an old logging road that eventually dead-ended in a lush forest. This is the type of forest that I know and love – lots of conifers and cedar with thick underbrush of fern, salal, Oregon grape, trillium, cleavers, herb Robert, youth-on-age, etc.

I love these old logging roads because there is always plentiful sign. Animals repurpose old roads for their own use. We saw lots of side trails running off through the trees, and lots of old coyote scat. I thought for sure we would see bear sign but we found none in the area.

It is clear that the elk are happy here. The day was full of elk sign! Back in the forest, we got on and off elk trails, some of them massive. I wonder if they live in one big super-herd or if there are smaller communities of them. I also am curious how the hunting season affects their behavior.

huge elk highway that we followed

Already I can’t wait to go back!

Start Where You Are

 

When I first started tracking, I didn’t know how to see the signs around me or read the landscape. I didn’t know how many toes in the front versus back a rat had, or a rabbit. Gaits, or an animal’s locomotion, were a complete mystery. Pat would show me the tracks, sign and trails that he found, but I struggled to ‘see’ them when on my own.

More than anything, I wanted to have a connection to the land – one where I could understand the ebb and flow of life all around me, where I saw the rhythm and swirl of Nature. Tracking, to me, is engaging in conversation with the landscape. It is the combination of a naturalist understanding (‘this animal makes this track’, or ‘this plant is here because..’) with total engagement of the senses. Of dissolving into complete awareness. 

One of our Cyber Tracker evaluators told us that tracking is simply a ‘conversation between you and the ground.’ I liked this phrase very much; it symbolized how we can get caught up in our minds so easily with doubts, fears, fantasies. Especially at a time when you are learning and developing. But tracking is simply you taking notice. You and the ground. Everything extraneous falls away.

I realized that to be a wildlife tracker, or any type of naturalist, I had to just start. To begin where I was, with my level (or lack of) knowledge and experience. To practice, build, learn, grow….accept my mistakes and failures, and begin again. And again.

It seems to me that most of life is like this. You have to get comfortable with the process of resurrecting. Of rebirthing yourself into new roles, new ideas, new skills. To start where you are, and proceed.