As 2015 comes to a close I wanted to take some time to look back at all the adventures we have had and pick some favorites. Here is what I have come up with. P.S. Each category is linked to a blog post written about the adventure or piece of gear, if you are interested in reading more!
This is a hard one because with the help of our BoeAlps course and beyond we managed a climb every weekend (more or less) since February and throughout most of the summer. Many of the climbs were memorable and we summited almost everything we attempted. Unicorn Peak was amazing because there is a 5.6 pitch to reach the summit block. Baker was super beautiful and our first big climb on a mountain with crevasses but Kyle got really bad altitude sickness at the top. Adams was incredible, especially with the glissade to the bottom. But I would be a fool if I didn’t say climbing Mount Rainier was not only our favorite climb but maybe one of my favorite adventures of the summer. It was both hard and full of risk but we all preformed beautifully and worked well together as a team. Physically it was a lot of work but it certainly didn’t push us over the edge. The climb itself was novel because we got to do it in three days, and spend two nights on the mountain in different camps. The summit push was spectacular, we climbed all night on the 4th of July and saw fireworks explode over the surrounding towns. And then there was the summit itself, where Kyle and I got engaged and celebrated having climbed the highest peak in Washington State and the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48. We went up, we came down, we walked over ladders spanning crevasses, and pulled ourselves up ropes anchored into the ice. It was challenging, and technical, which we were prepared for, but the beauty of it knocked me off my feet. Mount Rainier takes number one, for best climb of the year, but that probably doesn’t really come as a shock to any of you.
Favorite camping spot is a little harder to pin down. The spot we picked out in the Enchantments was nearly perfect. It was by a lake with an incredible view of Prusik Peak and goats frolicked around us all night. There was also our camping spot at the base of Del Campo on our first snow camping trip with BoeAlps, which was ringed by mountains and greeted by an incredible sunrise. But honestly, both of these pale in comparison to the spot we camped at in the North Cascades during our climb up to Snowfield Basin. We undertook the climb to help our friend Kirsten collect rock samples for her Geology exploits, but in doing so we discovered one of the most beautiful places, which is realistically probably a dime a dozen if you just wander around the North Cascades enough. To get there we had a grueling hike up a climbers trail, often times ditching our trekking poles to use our hands to pull ourselves up rock faces. The camping spot itself was right at the base of the glacier, on the shores of a little lake that has formed from the glacier melt. The lake itself was white with silt and glacier run off, and huge chunks of ice floated in it. Above us, lined by wild flowers, was a crystal clear creek that came off the cliffs above in a spray of rainbows. All around were incredible rocks, all of whose names Kirsten told us and I have since forgot. Skagit gneiss? It was a clear night and after four games of Catan we slept with the rainfly off, listening to the whistle of marmots and the creaking of the glacier. Oh, and did I mention, not a single other person was camped there?
This one is a real no brainer: the Wonderland Trail. Aside from being the longest backpacking trip we did this summer it was also full of incredible sights, ups and downs in weather and terrain, and in the company of some incredible people. Many of the park rangers, who I later worked with, will dish on the Wonderland Trail, claiming that the campsites are in the worst locations and that it is too crazy crowded. Personally, I don’t need to camp in the most beautifully epic spot, it was enough for me to walk around the Mountain every day, seeing all the different sides of it. And there were certainly other people on the trail but it wasn’t overwhelming and it didn’t feel like a highway. I loved the time spent with my brothers and that we got to meet up with my mom for a day and even my dad for a night. We crossed so many rivers, saw so many creatures, ate good food, and had good laughs. It really felt like getting away from it all, in a way a weekend trip never can. It made me yearn for thru hiking. I highly recommend it to people, you will be amazed by everything that you see.
I had to make this a separate category because even though the Wonderland Trail was breathtaking (especially the Panhandle Gap area) the Enchantments deserved their own shout out. The backpacking trip we did in the Enchantments can’t be described as the best one of the summer because we were kind of unprepared, we forgot our crocs, we didn’t bring anything to read, we ended up trapped in our tent during a surprise snowstorm with nothing to do except nap… but the views, the views! The Enchantments truly are one of the most beautiful places I have ever been too. Such a stark landscape, so much rock and snow and ice (at least when we were there). But dotting the granite are pools of pure liquid blue and scraggly green trees, looking like something out of a Dr. Sues book. Goats were everywhere, marmots and pikas abound, foxes dance across the snow. We did it very fast, and afterwards I think we both felt in a state of shock, at how much we had tried to take in, in so little time. We must go back, bottom line.
Our favorite trail run:
I just want to throw this out there because I went on a really fun trail run with a friend down Mt Tenerife. I say down because we hiked the seven miles up to the summit and then ran down. This was mostly for my benefit because I hadn’t really been running at all and I knew I couldn’t make it running up the mountain, but I love to let my legs unwind and run down. It was amazing fun. The hike up is great, eventually you get off what seems like a steep old road and onto a soft bouncy pine needle strewn trail. The trail follows a ridge up and down and suddenly you pop out above the trees and scramble to the summit. And then on the way down you just run, for seven miles, you just run down down down. It was a cloudy day when we did it and right as we got to the car it started to rain. What a lovely run.
Kaleetan Peak takes the cake for the best scramble we did this summer. It was so much fun! We started early, made great time, and were all alone up on the mountain, despite the Denny Creek Trail being crazy. The exciting thing about the scramble on Kaleetan is that from far away it looks impossible, like you are going to need trad gear and ropes. But you get right up too it and suddenly it looks totally easy. The summit itself is super exposed and the views of the surrounding Cascades are amazing. On the way back down we ran part of the trail. It was just a freeing day, and it is always nice to escape the crowds by heading up a tiny climbers trail that many of them wont ever think to look for.
No questions about this one: El Dorado peak. Even though time has softened the pain I felt during the climb I still know, from having written it down, that this was an incredibly painful experience. If I really take myself back there I remember it, I remember the bugs and the oppressive heat, as if we were climbing in a jungle, the vast desert that was the boulder field, running out of water multiple times, the sun radiating off of the glacier. I remember starting at three in the morning, shirtless, and climbing for 14 hours. I remember heavy packs and the pain of wearing my mountaineering boots on all sorts of different terrain. I remember it all. But time has certainly given it that sheen of nostalgia. I am not sure if I would do it again, but as of now I have fond memories of the sufferfest that was El Dorado.
If you know us you know one of our favorite things about an adventure (especially a sufferfest) is treating ourselves afterwards. Well in the case of our climb in the North Cascades with our friend Kirsten it wasn’t just the meal afterwards, it was everything that happened after we got back to our cars. I have already said that Snowfield Basin was our favorite camping spot, but what I haven’t mentioned is that the hike out was miserable. It was extremely hot, the trail was very steep for a long time and our packs were unbelievably heavy (heavier than on the way in because we were carrying rocks on the way out). It rivaled El Dorado, but didn’t go quite that far. By the time we got off the climbers trail we still had another two miles to the car, and those two miles seemed to last foooooreeeever (Sandlot style). But there is something you should know about me, as much as it sucks to suffer I relish it because that moment when you go from suffering to doing something incredibly satisfying… that is a moment that I live for with all of my heart. For example, the moment you get to take your boots off and slip your feet into your crocs, that is pure bliss. On this day I was looking forward to that bliss more than ever, so much so that when we finally got to the cars I wouldn’t let Kyle turn the air conditioning on because I wanted to feel completely miserable right up until the moment when we jumped into the Skagit River. And when we finally got down to the river and ran (actually, more like hobbled) into its icy cold embrace… that was one of the most amazing moments. We all enjoyed a lukewarm beer from Kirsten’s car while we soaked our feet in the river and began to dream of food. Once all our limbs were so cold they hurt we got back in our cars and headed into Marble Mount to get some BBQ. I love BBQ, and I don’t remember exactly if this BBQ was better than any other BBQ I have ever had but we ate it in clean clothes, fresh from the river, in the shade with a nice breeze blowing and it felt more amazing than any other BBQ I have ever eaten. Then we went and got ice cream. Best post climb bliss ever.
This is a hard one, we got a lot of new gear this summer. We got gear for climbing and for backpacking. I am going to have to say though that currently my favorite piece of new gear that we got iss our sleeping pads (Zpacks double sleeping bag is a close second). Our new sleeping pads are Exped and having never slept on an inflatable sleeping pad before, I didn’t really realize what I was missing out on… they are SO comfortable. And lighter than our Therm-a-rest ones. That’s a win win if you ask me.
Another difficult one to pin down. I know that both Kyle and I found pairs of soft shell pants that we really like. His are Arc’teryx and mine are Mammut. They both look better than any outdoor pants we have ever owned and they are beyond comfortable. However, I am going to personally say that my favorite new piece of clothing are my La Sportiva Nepal GTX boots. I love them. They are comfortable (after I broke them in), waterproof, and they kept me warm and comfortable on all of my climbs. I love these boots. Sometimes I secretly want to wear them hiking.
Surprisingly not on a piece of gear, I would say our best money spent was to take the BoeAlps course that we took last spring. It was opened up a whole new world of adventuring for us. It filled up all our weekends with amazing trips and activities, introduced us to a bunch of awesome badass people, some of who are new friends for life, helped me conquer my fears and got us on top of some incredible mountains. Looking back now I would have paid twice what we paid for the experience and knowledge we got out of the class.
Kyle took a lot of amazing pictures this spring and summer but this picture that he took at Panhandle gap on the Wonderland Trail really takes the cake for me (and I think for him too). The mountain is stunning from this angle, an angle very few people ever see it from. Little Tahoma is in the forefront and bellow it are three different colored lakes, orange, yellow, and farthest away, green. This area was SO stunning in real life that I thought, “No way is any picture ever going to do it justice”, but this picture captures how other worldly and epic the view really was. It really looked like this people. It was amazing.
Kyle and I are looking forward to this next year with bated breath (what does that even mean) but it is hard not to look back and sigh with delight at the year we have just had. It was full of adventure, full of fun, full of challenge, and I know I grew a whole heck of a lot! So goodbye 2015 and hello 2016, the year of the PCT.