Hi hi hello from two hermit crabs. On week 4 of quarantine we ventured outside for the first time, to a place far away from anything or anyone to breathe the air, wade in the cold clear river and stand silent in the sun.

As an intensely-inward person I have not struggled with staying in our home during the quarantine. I like being in our hermit crab home with all of our things around me. However, I have really missed being in nature. The weather is turning nicer each day, and I wish to be outside.

We left the car at a divet off the road, marked with a pile of bleached elk bones. A clamber through bush and saplings delivered us to the river. We followed no real trail, just a walk through the cottonwoods and grass, always on the lookout for animal track and sign.

We saw –

  • teeny tiny red fox tracks
  • wandering coyote tracks
  • ruffed grouse tracks
  • a crow, dancing in the dirt and then wing brush where it took off
  • possum tracks with their alien-like dropped thumb
  • a snake (!) track, my first time seeing one
  • an adult eagle and juvenile eagle, and their nest

It is hard to describe how heady and intense the air smelled to me, after so many days indoors. The cottonwoods are budding out, and the entire place was thick with the fragrant, resiny smell of the trees and the marshy mud smell of the river bank. The wind was whipping over the river but the sun warmed me through-and-through.

We explored the banks of the river and the shoals, wading through the cold waters over slippery river rocks. I left my shoes on and let them fill with the water, squishing it between my toes. I think in today’s world, where there is a feeling of being far removed from nature, there are few times where you feel truly alive in all of your senses. Standing in the river with the sun beating down and the wind running by, it was easy to feel connected to all things. To see myself in everything, and everything in me.

As the sun began to set, the swallows came out to swoop and dip over the river as they fed. I picked cottonwood buds until my fingers were sticky with resin, packing them away carefully to make cottonwood salve for the future. And then, magic — dozens of swallows filled the air, coming together and then apart en masse, in a feeding swarm, in a ever-deepening blue sky. I stood and watched, bearing witness, without the need to try to record it or capture it, instead just holding it in my heart. A few minutes later, they were done.

I hope you know that in this strange crumbling time the world is still blooming.

Marmot Lake and Tuck Lake

Back in August I went on a backpack trip with my mom up to Marmot Lake and Tuck lake. This was the first time I had backpacked with her since I was a kid.

I had the good fortune to be raised in an adventurous ‘outdoor’ family, with weekend hikes, cross-country skiing all winter and canoe camping as the family vacation. However, like most people (I suspect), my rebellious teenage years were spent eschewing anything outdoors and active. I went through a prolonged moody art phase and spent most of my time indoors (and probably rolling my eyes). Luckily, I made it through and by my early twenties I fell deeply in love with being outdoors.

In the past, my (and Pat’s) summers were spent teaching for an outdoor school. This was the first year that I had vacation days available to go on a trip — perfect timing for me and my mom to go for a backpack.

Living in Washington has the big benefit of being close to so much beauty. Pat and I can get to three different national parks within a few hours of driving, and countless other trails and backcountry areas. It was pretty difficult to pick a trail for a three day, two night trip since there were so many possibilities. Originally, we were going to head up to Royal Basin but the backcountry permits were reserved and I didn’t want to gamble on a day-of permit since I was pretty wiped out from a work trip earlier that week. I wanted something that would be easy to plan and have spectacular views. Alpine Lakes Wilderness was the perfect area to look, and Marmot lake caught my eye.

The trail to Marmot lake is 28 miles, round trip. Originally, we planned to stay two nights at Marmot and do some day trips up to Jade lake and the surrounding area, but once we were there we decided to change up the plans. Both my mom and I like to explore and wanted to see some of the other lakes in the area.

We arrived in the late afternoon and got on the trail around 3:30 PM. The forest road out was not easy in a prius and even included a crossing a stream. But, it was spectacular with views of Cathedral peak and Hyas lake along the way.

The hike to Marmot Lake took about 6 hours, and we rolled in while it was getting dark. About an hour before we made it to the lake, we climbed up into a big valley bowl and were convinced we were close -oops! We still had a whole lot of hiking left. The entire trail was just stunning. Parts of it really kicked my a** …but it was worth it.

The next day, I woke up early and spent some time next to the lake while the sun came up. It was very quiet, with just a few tents at the lake besides us. After breakfast, we packed up and decided to backtrack down to the junction to head up to Tuck lake. The day before, we had passed some groups who were coming down from the lake and said it was beautiful. The map and gps showed that it wasn’t very far, but that it would be a ton of elevation.

The elevation gain was no joke. Once we were past the trail junction, it basically went straight up. It was one of the hardest trails I have experienced so far – but the views were incredible. Lynch Glacier was directly opposite us for the whole climb, and more of it came into view the higher we went. It was beautiful and hard and hot, with the sun beating down on the cliff. I was very happy to arrive at Tuck lake.

Tuck lake is pretty tiny, with only a few viable camping spots. The lake was also a lot busier than Marmot – perhaps because it is closer to the deception pass trailhead. We ended up sharing a campsite with a nice guy who was on a 10 day backpack all the way through Thunder mountain. His stove had been broken since day 2 so he had been eating his food cold soaked – we made an arrangement to let him use one of our stoves and we had the far end of his campsite, which was a large rock/dirt area right next to the lake.

The next day, we hiked out and ate lunch next to Hyas lake. On the way back into Cle Elum, we stopped and swam in the river which was so cold and  felt so nice after sweating it out on the trail. It was a great trip and I am excited to explore other lakes in the area.


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