It’s not a contest

It’s not about the number of miles I’ve hiked, the number of peaks I’ve bagged, or about getting the perfect “Gram” shot. For me, it’s about the journey.

We only get one shot at this thing called life. We owe it to ourselves to try and make the most of it. When it all goes to shit, whether that be tomorrow or 20 years from now, I want to look back with no regrets.

At the young age of 64, my Uncle Steve took his last breath. Moments before doing so, he told me he had no regrets, that he and my aunt had taken every trip that they wanted, had visited every place they dreamt of seeing. While it broke me inside to watch a man that I considered to be like a 2nd father to me live the last moments of his life, I was so flipping proud of him for having lived a life that he was content with leaving.

And while he lived a good life, it came at a cost. He served in a war he didn’t volunteer to be in, which changed the course of his life. He married the woman who would forever remain the love of his life; however, his days ended having been the caregiver to her after she had a paralyzing stroke. Through it all, he found a way to be grateful, and to view his life as one to be satisfied with.

Ever since that moment in the hospital saying goodbye to my Uncle Steve, I vowed to live my life. I vowed to take the trips I wanted to take, climb those fucking mountains even though they make my ass pucker the whole way up and down, to hug hard and vocalize my love to those around me even if it makes them uncomfortable. And with every bucket list trip I’ve completed, with every dollar I’ve put towards travel instead of security, as frivolous as it may sound, I can now say….if it all goes to shit…I have no regrets. 

Thank you Uncle Steve and Aunt Robbie for showing me that things weigh us down, that experience frees us, and that living our lives being true to ourselves, no matter how it looks to those outside, is what truly matters most.

And thanks to my bestie, Sophie, for showing me how to enjoy…every…single…moment, no matter how big or how small.

Patagonia – Cagliero Glacier Trek

  • “I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find the perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary”. –Anthony Bourdain

My second hike in Patagonia was with a tour group, Fitz Roy Expeditions, to hike, rock climb and do a little glacier trekking. I’ll start off by saying that I’m generally not a fan of group tours but will make exceptions when I believe it’s the best way to learn the history of a particular place, if it provides access that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, or if I’m about to do something that might be stupid or unsafe to do alone. This hike fell into the latter two categories.

The morning of the hike I’m in the hotel lobby waiting to be picked up and of course wanting to shit my pants as I think of every possible bad scenario that could happen. Being the hike was listed as strenuous, I figured for sure it would be a van full of dudes and super fit chicks all experienced at scaling mountains…and then me. The night before, my period decided it would be a good time to show up so now I’m also worried about having to stop and do personal trail maintenance during the hike. How does one ask a group to stop for a tampon time out? And oh my word, what if I have to shit in the middle of scaling these walls. Yep, this is what I think about while waiting for a group tour to start. I’m not worried about falling off a mountain or into a crevasse, but if I’ll shit my pants. I’m clearly more confident in my climbing skills than I am in regulating my bodily functions.

As I’m working myself into a self-induced panic attack my guide walks into the hotel, this cute upbeat hiker chick. I follow her to the van and other than the male driver there is only one other woman. The hike was going to be me, the other woman who I came to know as Carina, and the female guide. Well this is kinda badass…three chicks going to climb a mountain and hike on a glacier! I feel like the universe was for sure working with me that day. Not that I would’ve minded guys on the trip, I was just happy the group size was small and that it wasn’t full of super serious outdoor junkies levels above me in ability. 

Now onto the hike! It took about 45 minute to the trail via a not so smooth road. We stopped off at a Mirador viewpoint because there was a perfectly placed rainbow shining in front of a mountain. Once at the trailhead, it was a roughly 4 mile hike till we started the climbing portion.

The hike was along a very well maintained trail, mostly shaded in a canopy of lenga, and for much of the route followed the Diablo River. The trek is through the Los Huemules Reserve which is private, protected land and thus requiring a small fee to enter. Being the trail is farther outside of town it gets much less attention than those within walking distance. We only came across two other groups of hikers the entire day as compared to the hundreds that hike to Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Torre.

Lenga forest

There really was no wildlife to speak of during the hike. There are huemul, the south Andean deer that is Chile’s national animal and considered an endangered species, but we didn’t see any. The guide said Puma’s can be spotted now and again, but it is apparently very rare.

The elevation gain from the start of the trail to the first set of domes (where we were to pick up our climbing gear), was roughly 1000 ft. Once we picked up our gear we hiked alongside Laguna Diablo until we reached the Via Ferrata, the rock climbing section, which was about another quarter mile out. This was a non-technical climb using harnesses and clipping into steel wires while using a mix of steel steps and rock face.

The climb itself was a little over one kilometer…but as I learned from my previous day’s hike…one km can really kick your ass! The first half was mostly horizontal, scaling the side of the rock face over the Laguna. There were two vertical climbs, one about mid-way through and the other at the end. The first vertical climb was about two hundred feet and generally easy to navigate, with the exception of one spot where my legs weren’t quite long enough to get from one foot hold to the other, so some serious arm work was at play.

The second vertical climb was about 800 feet of straight up fun. I was having such a good time the guide let me go ahead lead the three of us. At the top, we hiked along a rocky ridge before the path eventually drops down towards the second set of geodesic domes and the glacier itself. In all it’s about 2 miles from the start of the ferrata to the glacier.

Cagliero Glacier

From the top of the mountain all the way towards the glacier, I was getting blown backwards by the legendary Patagonian winds. I felt like Jim Cantore reporting the news from a beach in the middle of a hurricane.

We didn’t spend too much time on the glacier because the weather was about to turn and the guide of course wanted to get us back safely. It was a pretty surreal experience and I really wanted to trek further up the ice. There weren’t many crevasses and the one’s I saw were fairly small and easy to maneuver over. I sat down to take it all in and it looked like I was sitting in between waves of ice.

After about 30 minutes on the glacier, it was time to head back up the ridge and down the rock face. It started to rain so that added an extra layer of fun trying to grab foothold on wet rocks, ya know the kind of fun that also scares the shit out of you. Heading back to the trailhead, the three of us hiked our own hike. While we stayed within eyesight distance, I could tell we were all ready to finish the experience in our own heads, taking it in, and finishing it our own way.

After my post hike beers, I was planning to head back to the hotel. The band that had been playing at the bar was finishing up and people kept telling them to play more. So the band left the bar, headed into the street and started playing again. So what happens when a band leaves a bar in El Chaltén….well, the bar leaves and follows the band! I was super tired from a long day of hiking and yet, when the hell would I ever get the chance again to follow a band and dance down the street in a small city in Argentina? So for the next two hours I danced in the streets of El Chaltén with fellow hikers and locals.

Dancing in the streets of El Chalten

It was the most perfectly unscripted way to end such an epic hike and epic day. A moment like that could never have been planned, and more than likely won’t be repeated in any of my future travels.

Patagonia – hiking to Laguna de Los Tres

My hiking adventure in Patagonia started out in the quaint little town of El Chalten. This hiker’s paradise is the equivalent of a typical ski resort…like Park City or Whistler. Most of the hikes are a short walk from town, and post hike, it’s a given to find yourself at a watering hole enjoying your après hiking beverage of choice…swapping stories with other hikers.

Once I arrived in El Chalten I checked the weather (something you must frequently do in Patagonia), and it appeared the next day would be the most optimal for hiking during my four day stay, so I went straight for the golden ticket hike, Laguna de Los Tres. My Gaia app has this trek at 12.5 miles and 2,647 ft. of elevation gain/loss. Not a bad first day hike was my thought.

I got my hiker booty up early and out by 7am to try and avoid the crowds. Before heading out, I stopped to double check the hiking conditions and weather with the concierge. He advised of potential rain in the afternoon and stated that the trail splits about two miles in, one way towards Laguna Capri and the other towards the Fitz Roy Mirador viewpoint, eventually merging back together. He told me to take the Mirador route on the way out for the best views of the spires.

Perfect view of Fitz Roy from the Mirador viewpoint.

The hike started out with a nice little ass burner, taking me from about 1500 ft. of elevation to roughly 2600 ft. in a little over a mile, through a moderately forested area with a few perfectly spaced viewpoints to take in some water and momentarily rest. Then the trail flattens out for an enjoyable walk…until the last kilometer, but more about that later. I was beyond grateful for the Mirador viewpoint advice because I arrived to get a perfect, sunny, rain free, clear view of Fitz Roy, it was hiker’s gold!

From this point the hike was relatively flat, going through beautiful lenga forests and open valleys with amazing views of the surrounding mountains, it was a rugged remote beauty that is very different from the hiking i’ve done in Washington. Because I left early, I encountered very few hikers on the way out to the Laguna and enjoyed the much needed solitude.

Sign warning of the difficulty of the last kilometer of the hike.

Upon reaching the last kilometer, I came across a sign that said to allow one hour for the remainder of the hike. I looked at the distance, did some quick math, and something wasn’t adding up. I mean, how could it take an hour to go one kilometer…which is a little over a half mile? The sign also said that the last kilometer was 400 meters of elevation. But you see, I chose not to do the math on that piece of data. FYI…400 meters of elevation in 1 kilometer = 1313 feet of elevation in 0.62 of a mile.

What the sign also failed to tell you was that you would be hiking for about a 10th of that 0.62 mile on a relatively flat surface before you turned a corner and saw the trail go very abruptly straight up a rock field.

Well shit, guess it’s as good a time as any to start sweating off all that steak and Malbec I consumed in Buenos Aires. And so up I went. At this point I was still cocky and thought there was no way this rock wall would take me an hour. This was the first of many times Patagonia would straighten my ignorant ass out.

So exactly about an hour later…after climbing over 1000 feet in a half mile, I reached Laguna de Los Tres. I was tired, spent, pissed that the sign was right and I was wrong, and utterly amazed at the view. As I was hiking up the wall of rocks I questioned whether a lake could be worth all this effort….and it totally was! Even with the spires already shrouded in fog, it was stunning.

At the Laguna I promptly devoured my lunch, likely resembling a trash panda tearing apart a squirrel. There was a roughly 500 ft. descent to the lake but I was too spent to go explore any further. I wanted to walk the shores of the lake and knew the photo opp’s would be great, but the problem was I didn’t know if I had it in me to climb back up!

While I was eating, the temperature dropped and it began to rain. Sudden, drastic shifts in weather are pretty normal in Patagonia from what I read, and I was going to have the luxury of experiencing it first-hand. I broke out my rain gear and spent a bit more time enjoying the Laguna. Throughout the hike I had gone from wearing my R1 fleece (yep, wearing my Patagonia in Patagonia…mind blown), to wearing just a tank top, to wearing a long sleeve shirt, donning my rain gear and back to my fleece.

On my way back down the rock wall, there was an entire ant hill of people making their way up. With the cold, rain and wind, I was happy to be making my descent, and also able to take my time traversing the now wet rocks.

As with all hikes I fall in love with, I took my time heading back. I wanted to savor every last bit of the trail and that feeling you get, the sense of accomplishment, the awe, the beauty, the reset. On the way back I followed the path to check out Laguna Capri and even though it was raining, I stopped to take some pictures, sit at the lake shore and just “be”.

After some reflection, and frankly, stillness of the mind, I finished my hike. I was ready for some carbs and a post hike beer, or two! It was the perfect Patagonia day, filled with amazing views, unpredictable weather, epic hiking, and it left me thirsty for more!

The beauty that is hiking Laguna de Los Tres

Stay tuned: next I’ll be posting about my non-technical climb and hike on Glacier Cagliero

It ain’t just about the good parts

Cape Flattery at sunset
Sunsets feed my soul

I don’t want my writing to be focused only on amazing trips and adventures that went according to plan, that’s not being real. Our real lives are messy, filled with moments of pure, unexpected joy and equally shitty moments that we would rather forget. Many of my greatest moments have come after dark nights, two parts alcohol shaken with one part heartbreak and swirled together in a fancy glass.

“Then let’s raise our cups and drink together, pour one heartache into another” – Tran Huyen Tran

My posts thus far have been about my awesome experience hiking the Wonderland trail and my very real fear of shitting myself #diaperlife! But life ain’t always about the good parts, and neither is my blog. Yes, I plan to share what I do on my mostly fun, and sometimes idiotic, adventures. But I also intend to be real, be myself, and share the not so fun topics of life that impact me, or dear friends, or family.

One of those real topics is about depression. I’ve suffered with bouts of depression throughout various stages in my life. I don’t say this to seek sympathy for I know I’ve led a very charmed life. But we all have shit (hopefully not running down our leg though), baggage that we’re working through. And depression doesn’t discriminate against the haves and the have not’s.

Living in Seattle during the winter probably doesn’t help, especially after moving from a place whose license plate reads…The Sunshine State! With little sun and rain set like clockwork, seasonal depression is a real thing out here in the PNW!

You might think that people who suffer from depression are weak. But I believe those who’ve been so unfortunate to feel the grip of depression are the strong ones, the strongest you might know. Why? Because they struggle every damn day, and every day they hide it. Every day they smile, comfort others, try and make those around them laugh, all the while struggling their damnedest to get out of bed and show up. Oftentimes when you see them, they are crumbling on the inside, wanting nothing more than to close themselves off from this life.

There’s a lot of debate about how to treat depression, and I won’t pretend to know the answer. But I do know that for me it starts with connection to others, and not social media connection, but real, true connection with people I know and trust to call upon. Sometimes all we need is a little kindness, a friendly smile, the feeling that someone hears us. These are not outlandish requests. This is basic human need.

Where I come back to myself

Getting outside has also become my medicine. I find solace, connection, challenge, beauty, and oftentimes happiness when I’m walking in the woods. Sure there are days when I can’t let go of the frustration or anger. Just like there are days when I go to yoga and unsuccessfully try and breath my way into gratitude, which sounds something like this…”I have gratitude, no really I’m grateful, damn it I’m f’ing grateful…shit #failing at yoga”.

So what’s the point of all of this? To show the real side of me, and not just the fun bits. To show that not only is it ok but it’s imperative that we be open about what we struggle with, how we deal with it, and how we’ve stumbled along the way. To let those who silently struggle know they’re not alone. To write about what’s worked for me and hopefully inspire others to seek out healthy ways to cope when those moments of darkness come creeping in.

My mantra lately has been to lead with love, which for me means to show up and be present, speak kindly and be an advocate for others, no matter if’s it’s a little vulnerable or awkward (it’s me so it’s definitively awkward). I’ve committed to showing up, trying to be my best self to me and to those around me, to be that connection, to Stay Smiling like my boy Tee Williams!

Whatever gives you that clarity, that contentment, eases the onslaught of depressed feelings, find a way to make time for it. Find a way to fit that into your life. Otherwise you’re compromising on the most important person…which is you!

 “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  “- Helen Keller

Wonderland Trail – Life in a Bob Ross Painting

Bear grass off the trial heading to Indian Bar

Hiking keeps me tough but consistently humbles me by showing me where I have yet to go, all that I have yet to learn.

What have I taken away from hiking the Wonderland trail? I’ve learned that the hiking community is filled with an inspiring, friendly, and all around great group of people. It taught me the mental benefits of being silent for long periods of time. While challenging, I became stronger having to navigate my way through river beds, around washouts and over rushing rivers on small logs…by myself.

I’m grateful that my body carried me successfully and with relative ease through this journey. Contentment came when my mind finally shut off and the racetrack of thoughts ceased to exist. I have such a profound appreciation for this park, and for the beauty that I couldn’t have otherwise seen without this hike.

Heading towards Summerland
Heading back towards Summerland from Indian Bar

I knew that nothing in my life would change significantly the less than two weeks I was on the trail, but my perspective did shift. I hope in moments of chaos, that I can look back on this experience and reset, remembering the feeling I carried with me off the trail.

It’s crazy to me to think that when I moved to Washington in 2016, I was scared to hike Hurricane Ridge…and now I’ve hiked most of Wonderland Trail, and solo! In all, I hiked roughly 87 miles (counting the round trip from Frying Pan Creek to Indian bar and back) and missed roughly 13 miles (the section between Sunrise to Indian bar and from Frying Pan creek to Box Canyon). I know I will go back and hike those sections, if not the entire trail again.

A few nights in the wilderness didn’t provide any ah ha moments of clarity on life or love. What it did do was remind me to hike my own hike, live my life the way I need to, and face each moment as it arrives. It taught me to be a little more like Elsa and let some shit go and enjoy the moments as they present themselves. And when I can’t enjoy those moments, well then just keep on trudging along until something shows up that reminds me to smile, like a hover fly named Dave. Most of all it taught me to be honest, raw and real with those around me, whether or not it makes someone else uncomfortable…to be authentically me, without apology.

My short list of nonsense:

  • If you happen upon a solo hiker, don’t assume they want trail company, as they may not. And if you’re itching to hike with them, ask if it’s ok to hike for a bit and then gauge the group temperament as you go.
  • If you’re a dude reading this and you come across a solo female hiker, I would recommend not asking her the following as both have the potential to make her feel uncomfortable.
    • If she’s alone
    • Where she’s camping for the night
  • Ladies, in the words of My favorite murder podcast hosts…fuck politeness. If your intuition leaves you uncomfortable, don’t feel like you need to be nice just to make someone else’s hike better. Slap on that RBF and hike your ass away!

The Well Pickled Wonderland Gear List

  • Gregory Diva 60 pack
  • Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Comfortable and easy to inflate/deflate but its super loud if you’re a roller.
  • MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Stove – No issues and was happy with it
  • MSR Titan Kettle
  • Snow Peak Titanium Spork
  • Snow Peak Titanium Single 450 Cup
  • Underwear: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs – Ugly as shit but supremely comfortable all day long! Patagonia Barely Bikini Underwear – not comfortable and only used to sleep in, I wouldn’t hike in them nor buy them again.
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent – Super easy to setup and break down. More than I needed but appreciated the extra space.
  • Women’s REI joule sleeping bag – Great bag, kept me warm, but lost more feathers than I would expect and not sure it would hold up great for a long endurance PCT type hike.
  • Patagonia R1 Full-Zip Hoodie – Bought on a recommendation from a friend and I can’t live without this now. I take it almost everywhere I go.
  • The North Face Bones Beanie
  • The North Face Etip Gloves
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket – Packs up into its pocket and I used it as a pillow. Super light and surprisingly warm, I would purchase again for sure.
  • Arc’teryx Zeta SL Rain jacket & pants – Kept me dry during almost three days of rain…enough said.
  • Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir – 2.5 Liters – Filled it up at night and most days it was enough water to get me through the whole day.
  • Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle – 32 fl. – Kept empty during the day and mostly used to filter water into at night for cooking so I didn’t deplete my bladder. Also had as a backup in case anything happened to the reservoir.
  • Katadyn hiker pro filter – Bulky but you can filter water from almost any water source.
  • My essentials bag (first aid, fire starter, headlamp and batteries, duct tape, rope, Mylar blanket, Swiss army knife)
  • Camera
  • Pee rag and a few wipes, tiny towel and a couple of zip lock bags
  • Roll-on Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a few bug repellent lotion packets
  • Seattle chocolates
  • Journal
  • I used Sea to Summit dry sacks for my essentials bag, clothes bag and food bag
  • Clothes: I had what I wore during the day and then Patagonia long johns at night, no additional clothing carried other than the layers and rain gear mentioned above.
  • Smartwool socks – 3 pairs (one to wear during the day, one pair for at night and one spare pair).

Navigation:

  • Green Trails Map – Mount Rainier Wonderland
  • Guthook App  – Map of the park, up to date info on water sources and tracking of location on trail as a back up to compass
  • Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite – mainly for emergency purposes only and good for weather updates.
  • Compass

Research (did not take with me):

  • Hiking the Wonderland Trail – Tami Asars

Wonderland Trail – Have you ever seen the rain?

  • Day 7 – Mystic Camp to Sunrise Camp
  • 8.9 miles: 2400 Gain, 1900 Loss

Last night, the temperature dropped quite a bit and rain persisted throughout the night. There was no break in the weather this morning which meant packing up camp in the rain. And this wasn’t the typical Seattle drizzle, this was full on rain. No matter how good you are at packing up your site, some of your shit is gonna get wet! I put on my rain gear for the second day and headed out towards Sunrise Camp.

There isn’t much to write about from this hike other than a day spent hiking in the rain and fog. I ate lunch basically hugging a tree, trying to get any sort of shelter I could while I ate. I came upon Berkeley Park which from what I could see through the fog and rain looked to be a stunningly beautiful meadow, or rather would be in nicer weather. Julie Andrews wasn’t running out and singing today. High above the park I did get my first look at an adult and baby mountain goat which was pretty cool.

Wonderland Trail
Berkeley Park…still beautiful when covered in fog

I reached Sunrise camp and all of the campsites were flooded, as were parts of the trail. There is an old Ranger shelter but it was boarded up and there was no overhang from the roof to create a dry spot to setup a tent. The weather report on my InReach showed rainfall to be steady throughout the night and following day.

I decided to walk to the Sunrise Visitor center a little less than a mile up from the campsite to see what options I might have of camping up there, or getting a ride back to my car. I didn’t want to walk off the trail, I really didn’t. Even though my rain gear was amazing and kept me dry underneath, I didn’t want to spend a third night in the rain, and yet another full day of hiking in the rain tomorrow. I cried on the way to the visitor’s center because I knew if I could find a ride I was going to take it, and I felt like such a quitter for even thinking about breaking my thru hike.

I got to the visitor’s center and came across a couple of other thru hikers facing the same decision as me. As we were drying our jackets, shoes, backpack covers, and tents by the huge fire in the visitor’s center, we started going over our options (camping at the visitor center was not allowable):

  1. Go back to Sunrise Camp and try to put my tent as close to the old Ranger station and hope it somewhat shelters me from the rain…and doesn’t flood.
  2. Continue to hike another 3.4 miles to the White River front country camp, pay the fee for a campsite and pitch the tent on top of a picnic table to keep it off the flooded tent pads. This site also allowed fires so it would be possible to stay warm…assuming I was actually able to get the fire started.
  3. Race it to the campsite and call dibs on sleeping in the enclosed privy (yes, it was actually discussed sleeping next to a wilderness toilet.
    1. Pro: I wouldn’t have had to worry about shitting my pants or getting wet to go potty.
    1. Con: Contracting giardia or some other ungodly parasite because you spent the night wrapped around a toilet in the woods…but hey, I would’ve been dry.
  4. Try and hitch a ride back to my car from someone at the visitor’s center.

After going over each choice numerous times and checking the weather via my InReach and with the Rangers, I decided to hitch it back to my car and abandon my thru hike of the Wonderland trail.

Yes, I could have continued and yes, I would have dealt with the rain. But my logic was that I would be spending yet another night and next full day in heavy rain which afforded absolutely no views of one of the most beautiful sections of the trail. So I would be hiking it just to say I did it.

So I went home with the plan to skip that night at Sunrise and the next night at Summerland, coming back to hike in and camp my final permit night at Indian Bar if the weather was clear.

I could not end this post without expressing my sincere gratitude to the Rainier National Park Rangers that let us hikers take over an entire area of the visitor’s center to dry our gear and rest. They were trying to provide every option available to us and were truly a gift to some cold, wet and tired hikers. And the biggest thank you of all to the trail angel who went out of his way to take me back to my car so I could sleep in a warm bed, instead of a cold tent over a water logged campsite or on top of a picnic table!

  • Day 8/9 – Frying pan creek to Indian Bar loop
  • 8.8 miles each way: 2900 Gain 1800 Loss

The storm finally cleared out and I was back on the trail, kicking off my hike from the Fryinpan Creek trailhead about 9am. The day was absolutely beautiful, despite fog rolling in and covering most of the mountain and surrounding hillside by noon. Even without complete views of Rainier, the landscape was amazing. It also helped my mood having had gone home and showered, cleaned my gear, and had pizza and a couple of beers (a huge improvement after seven days of dehydrated trail food).

Going through Panhandle gap with up close views of glaciers mixed with the desert like terrain was stunning, and nothing like I’d seen before. Once I crossed through Panhandle Gap I entered Ohanapecosh Park, this mega meadow filled with plant species such as lupine, American bistort, pasqueflower, paintbrush, mountain daisy, gray’s lovage, glacier lily, and avalanche lily. Views of distant mountains and evergreen trees complete the Bob Ross real life landscape painting. If I didn’t know better I’d swear Walt Disney himself came out and landscaped the trail. It’s crazy to me that each year this meadow goes through the cycle of seasons, the plants dying and then grow back into this beautiful landscape without human intervention. I image Berkeley Park must look similar to this and I vow to go back and see it someday when it’s not pouring down raining.

After crossing the park, the trail starts descending rapidly. I look down the trail and see this very tiny structure and realize it’s the group site at Indian Bar campground. I consult my trusty Green Trails map and deduce that there is only one mile to go before camp, and that mile is all vertical! At least I got lovely views while shredding my knees.

I got to camp and ran into my trail friends from the Sierra club as they were drying out their tents. They confirmed that it did in fact rain all throughout the night I walked off the trail and all the following day. We chatted for a good while about our trail experiences and what we planned to do next. I then settled into campsite #4, which wasn’t as great as the coveted #2 site, but it did have a path which led to a comfy little rock with solid and solitary views of the mountain, a great makeshift trail patio to enjoy dinner and my morning coffee.

Looking back towards Indian Bar on my way to Summerland

The next morning I took my time savoring my coffee while soaking up the scenery, my last day on the Wonderland trail. I had such a hard time removing my ass from that comfy little rock, from my lovely little camp patio…I wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to face what was out there, beyond the woods, beyond these mountains.  Reluctantly, I packed up and headed back towards my car at Fryingpan creek, with the sun shining all day and the mountain out for my entire hike…a sign, I don’t know what kind, but a sign. On that 8.8 miles back to my car, I was finally able to hike my own hike, to keep my pace slow enough to enjoy every last bit of the trail.

Wonderland Trail Day 5 & 6

Disclaimer: The Well Pickled Wonderland trail journal is more about my experience on the trail vs. descriptions of the trail itself. If you are looking for specific details on the actual trail, terrain, etc. I recommend picking up the book – Hiking the Wonderland Trail, written by Tami Asars. Listed mileage and elevation were sourced from the aforementioned book.

  • Day 5 – Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
  • 9.5 miles: 2329 Gain, 2300 Loss

Queue Ice Cube’s song, Today was a good day. I kicked off at my normal late hiking hour of 9am (turns out I’m just as lazy in the morning while backpacking as I am at home). I barely saw anyone all day and the few I did were thru hikers. I scared the shit out of two guys who thought I was a bear as I was coming down a switchback hidden by thick brush, making it possible to hear but not see me. They said they were about ready to trigger the bear spray…which would’ve made for a supremely bad day on the trail!

Today provided me with the solitude I was looking for and very much needed after the day before. It was another one of those day’s where my mind mostly shut off, which is a good thing! When solo hiking my mind has a tendency to try and wander to places it shouldn’t go…reminiscing about bad decisions, former lovers, paths I should’ve taken and warnings I should’ve listened to.

Thankfully Dave came along to occupy me today and keep my mind from wandering where it shouldn’t. Now this isn’t the same Dave that I met while getting my pass, this was Dave the hover fly, which looks a lot like a bee but without a stinger. You see, there was a man named Dave Zigler who was a close family friend of ours and he was well known to crack a corny joke about every five minutes. He had the most infectious smile and was just an all-around great guy. One day my dad was telling the story of how he got stung by a bunch of bees at work and Dave said casually, well ya know Howe, it just bees that way sometimes. I have no idea why, but that corny ass joke has always stuck with me. So when this bee wannabe started following me not long after I kicked off, I affectionately named him Dave and he became my hiking buddy for the day, popping up in front of my face every now and again to remind me he was there. It may sound weird but I took it as a reminder that while I was alone I wasn’t truly alone.

The only ass pucker moment of today was crossing South Mowich River. When I picked up my cache at Longmire, the ranger warned me that the log crossing over the river had a good chance of being washed away as the river was flowing at its mightiest by this point in the year. The ranger gave me some tips on crossing at other points if need be and told me to unbuckle my pack at the crossing, that way if I fell in my pack wouldn’t get stuck and pull me under. Apparently there was a point not far down the river where it narrows enough that I’d be able to retrieve my pack. Now I was grateful for this sound logic; however, it didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy, especially when I saw how high the river was and how fast it was flowing! Thankfully the bridge was still there, or I might have turned straight around as there was no way in hell I was fording that body of water.

The raging Mowich River

Decision Point: Walk across the log like the super confident hiker I am, or booty scoot across like the safe and responsible person I should be? I had briefly chatted with another group that day and they told me that half of them walked and the other half booty scooted. Well, being the super confident dumb-ass that I am, I told myself that my legs, and not my ass, would be getting me across that log. Well, thankfully they did, but I ain’t gonna lie, it was damn scary and I knew there was no one anywhere near me to help if shit hit the fan…or in this case if well pickled’s ass fell into the raging river. I did follow the ranger’s advice and unbuckled my pack just in case…thank you Rangers for all of your guidance!

Mowich Lake

I got to Mowich Lake and ran into Tamara and Bear. We chatted for a bit while they were drying off after a swim in the lake. I was planning to take a dip myself, but with my clothes on. Bear jokingly lectured me to stop being so damn modest and stop caring that there were people around. So I went for it, stripped down to my underroos and took a dip. I wondered why the hell it took me 40 long years not to care…thanks for the encouragement Bear…you rock my friend! It’s an alpine lake so of course it was cold as hell, even in summer, but felt damn great after five days of no shower!

You really learn to appreciate the little things when you’ve spent five days in the woods.

  • Toilets – being able to sit and potty is a luxury…trust me on this one
  • Trash cans – the joy of a trash can to a hiker, it’s real
  • Day campers/hikers who share things like paper towels with you

I ran into Brenden and his girlfriend, a couple in line with me the day I got my pass, and they setup camp right across from me. They live in the bay area and work at REI. We shared a picnic table (yet another luxury) while having dinner and talked about our experiences on the trail thus far. It’s cool to share this experience with relative strangers and yet they feel like friends in a way. The hiking community is pretty amazing!

Just after dinner, storm clouds roll in and it quickly starts to thunder and lightning strikes all around us. While this doesn’t sound like a big deal, we rarely ever get lightning in the Seattle area so it truly is unique. And it’s a little scary since we’re up at 4.4k feet and surrounded by very large trees. Everyone retires to their tents quickly as the rain starts to really come down. I check my Garmin InReach and the weather report shows some massive storms rolling in for the entire night…well, this should be interesting.

I haven’t been in a storm like this since living in Florida and never experienced one from the inside of a tent! The one benefit is that the storm curtailed anyone from partying so that means I should get a decent night’s sleep, assuming I don’t get struck by lightning, or get crushed by a fallen tree that was just struck by lightning.

  • Day 6 – Mowich Lake to Mystic Camp
  • 13.5 miles: 3771 Gain, 3000 Loss

If you read the previous post than you won’t be surprised that today started out wet! The rain storm last night properly socked us all. I woke up in the middle of the night to what felt like sleeping on a waterbed, which is great if it’s 1982 and you intend to wake up on a waterbed, but a tad disconcerting when waking up in a tent. The pad my tent was on had flooded, but thankfully my tent held and all the water remained outside! I crawled out at who knows what time and moved the tent to the one slightly less flooded spot and hoped for the best.

The Wall of Fog

Come morning I was still dry on the inside and there was a break in the storm, we all seemed to know the rain was coming back soon so it was a mad dash to pack up to try and get ahead of it. I was off with all my rain gear on and carrying my heaviest pack yet, carrying five days’ worth of food as there were no more caches for me. I made it up to Ipsut pass and had to laugh. My friend had shown me a pic of him at the pass a couple weeks earlier with this gorgeous view of the meadows lining the descent, mine was a lovely view of fog.

I descended pretty quickly and since there weren’t many views to be had I decided to hike at a faster pace today. Even though the weather wasn’t great, I decided I was going to make the best of it and be thankful for being out here and for seeing the mountain in a different way. It’s all about perspective right? Just wait till the next post…spoiler alert…perspective is a fickle friend.  I made it across yet another dry riverbed guided by cairns and as became my tradition, said a couple of thank you’s to no one in particular once across. Stupid as it may sound to some, I always feel a bit of trail magic when I’m able to cross a stretch that isn’t clearly defined (at least to me).

I started my next climb and was awarded with great views of Carbon Glacier, which is massive. I wasn’t expecting it but I realized I actually feel better when I climb vs descend. If your pack fits correctly, it becomes a part of you and you don’t feel it when climbing. I made it to my next camp, Dick Creek, by 1:45 and made the decision to keep climbing to Mystic Camp. I was having such a great climbing day and wasn’t ready to stop! I knew I shouldn’t break my permit but I also knew Tamara and Bear would be camping at Mystic and figured if the sites were full that maybe they’d let me crash on their site. I do not encourage doing this and only broke permit because I knew people that would be camping at the next site.

I was getting stronger each day and found that I was managing the hike much better than anticipated when I planned my route. Of course I had trained all summer, hiking as much as my schedule would allow. But I didn’t believe I would be able to hike the distances I was covering and feel so good throughout. It was a damn good feeling!

The hike up to Mystic Camp was pretty steep but thankfully there were a few well situated short straight spots to break it up. The hike was a mix of moss covered forest and rocky crags. The climb was solitary and uneventful until I reached about a half mile to camp. I came upon a meadow and there was a momma bear and her cub up ahead on the trail. I got my whistle out but that didn’t startle momma bear at all. I clanked my hiking poles and finally momma bear looked up at me, and then went back to eating. I decided to stay back and wait them out a bit, last thing I want to do is provoke a momma with her cub! About ten minutes later they started to move towards the forest and once she and her cub were a comfortable distance I started back down the trail. Second bear encounter was a success!

Momma bear & her cub

Once I got to Mystic Camp I spoke to the Ranger about my plan to camp with friends if a site wasn’t available (the Ranger schooled me for this…as he should have and as I deserved). I also took the opportunity to rearrange my permit since I was a day ahead of schedule. I kept the same amount of nights but added a stay at the coveted Summerland camp! I was so stoked to get a night at both Summerland and Indian bar, supposedly the two best camps on the circuit.

I ended up crashing on Tamara and Bear’s site even though a couple of the sites ended up empty. I really hope I didn’t impose on you Tamara and Bear and I’m so very thankful you allowed me to stay with you! I truly did feel bad but I had been having such a great hiking day, I didn’t want to cut it short. We didn’t chat long after dinner because the rain picked up quite a bit and the temperature started to drop considerably.

All in all it was a good day of solitude, safe hiking, a couple of decent views, another bear encounter, and a place to lay my head. It was also my biggest mileage/elevation day with my heaviest pack, and each day forward my pack will get lighter. Even with the storm, rain and cold, I’m still so glad I did this…no regrets!

Mossy Wonderland
Mossy Wonderland

Wonderland Trail Day 3 & 4

Disclaimer: The Well Pickled Wonderland trail journal is more about my experience on the trail vs. descriptions of the trail itself. If you are looking for specific details on the actual trail, terrain, etc. I recommend picking up the book – Hiking the Wonderland Trail, written by Tami Asars. Listed mileage and elevation were sourced from the aforementioned book.

  • Day 3 – Devils Dream to Klapatche Park
  • 11.2 miles; 3420 Gain, 2980 Loss
Indian Henry's Hunting Ground

This section was epic! The climb out of Devils Dream was relatively short and I soon found myself strolling across Indian Henry’s hunting ground. As the picture shows, it’s pretty clear why Indian Henry built his cabin where he did. It was a fairly flat section until after the bridge.

Tahoma Creek Suspension bridge

Next up was the Tahoma Creek Suspension bridge which sits over 200ft above Tahoma Creek. I had been looking forward to walking across this bridge and will admit it was a little scarier than I anticipated it being, as it bounces right along with every step you take. But it was pretty fun too!

After a nice healthy climb out of the forest, the hike transitions into this crazy mix of forest and desert like scenery, somewhat like the Yakama Valley if you’ve ever been there. And there she is front and center, Mt Rainier and great views of Tahoma glacier. This was the first time I got such an unobstructed view of the mountain and this was a side you absolutely cannot see unless you walk this section of the trail. She (yes, Rainier is a she) looked a little decrepit from this angle, but was still so beautiful to look at.

Once you get around the glacier you start to climb into a meadow straight out of the Sound of Music. I swear I was expecting Julie Andrews to come running out and singing. It’s unbelievably stunning to have these beautiful meadows and mountain vistas on one side and Mt Rainier with Tahoma glacier on the other. I was sitting there eating lunch, had been alone for hours, and had these views on either side of me.  It was insane and epic and I sat in awe at seeing this with my own eyes.

Once I passed through the meadow, the trail starts to descend and I incorrectly assumed it would be an easy peasy path back down into the woods. Mother Nature laughed at me. First I came across a section that had been washed out, with a 1ft wide path remaining and beyond that a very severe drop-off. For about 10 steps it was imperative that my feet stayed within the narrow path granted to me or else tumble quickly to my probable and prolonged death down the side of a washed out mountain. Did I mention I’m hiking solo and had not seen anyone for hours!

As the washout transitioned back into a trail I quickly discovered it was loose rocks on dry soil. If the soil is wet, rocks mostly stick in the ground, but dry ground and loose rocks on a descent means you have this fun slip and slide hiking action going on. Except its’ not so fun when your hiking down a ridge line and there is a steep drop off on one side and a tree lined slope on the other. My money was on falling left towards the tree lined slope if need be, at least my backpack might get hung up on a tree trunk or at the very least it would slow my roll so I could enjoy a leisurely descent to death.

After a couple of questionable switchbacks I cleared the ridge line and was back into the forest. Now let me paint a brief picture of this forest I entered. If you’ve ever seen the movie Narnia, I entered it. All around me were huge boulders and logs covered in bright green moss. The light was filtering through the trees creating this vivid green wonderland. I was looking forward to walking through this real life version of Narnia and getting some shade, until I realized the loose stone slip and slide fun continued. See, if you spend your time looking at Narnia, you will inevitably slide onto your ass and get a perfectly sized stone lodged up your bum (this did not happen to me, but oh the trail tried its mightiest). So you spend your time looking down at the very thing causing you to roll your ankles, testing your core strength, and with every other step flailing you backwards. If your me, or like me, you end up having a curse filled conversation with said stones.

I made it to the forest floor without busting my ass in Narnia land (I may have thrown my poles once or twice but we won’t talk about that)! I celebrated my success by dunking my shirt into this beautifully pristine river and taking a break. Soon after, I crossed the brackish S. Puyallup river and it was back to climbing into a mix of forest and mountainside.

About 2.5 miles to camp I was back on a ridge line walking through the sound of music again. I had one more mountainside trail crossing that left little room for error. It’s not a good day if the trail doesn’t make your ass pucker once or twice, and it didn’t help that I was starting to get a little tired. There was one final meadow walk filled with flowers and butterfly’s and then onto to Saint Andrews Lake for a water stop before hitting camp (I’m not lying…the pics prove just how beautiful this section is).

The scenery on this day was truly nothing short of epic (I know I’ve used that word a lot). I knew this was going to be a long day and while I was mentally prepared, I was definitely ready to hit camp. After setting up camp, I chatted awhile with Tamara and Bear, who had made it there a bit before me. We ended up being the only ones at Klapatche and were treated to an amazing sunset over Mt Rainier and the surrounding mountains.

  • Day 4 – Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes
  • 7.8 miles: 1500 Gain, 2100 Loss

I got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in such a long time! So much so that I slept way longer than I expected to. But clearly my body needed it after yesterday’s hike. Not long after I got up it started to rain so I went back to sleep in hopes to wait it out a bit. I had a short hike today so I knew I could get a late start.

The trail started off with a pretty good descent and was quite muddy, so I was happy to have the luxury of taking my time. I came across a nice little stream to wash all my rags in and get some water. It feels so refreshing to have a clean snot rag, pee rag, and cloth to wash up with (in case that wasn’t clear it’s 3 separate rags and not the same rag for all 3 functions). Four days out in the woods really makes you appreciate the little things!

N. Puyallup River

I got to N. Puyallup camp and stopped to have lunch per a friend’s advice who had hiked the trail recently, and he didn’t let me down. There was a great view of the mountain with the Puyallup River crashing down into a waterfall right in front of me. This is when I met Luke, who popped out of the woods while I was enjoying my tuna fish and crackers. We chatted for a bit and then he went off hiking.

I stayed at the site to finish my lunch and take some pictures of the mountain. Not long after, I came upon Luke hanging out at a stream. We chatted again briefly and I went back to hiking. I knew what was coming next and likely so do you. As I figured, Luke caught up to me and made no effort to pass or continue at a pace faster than me. I would slow down and he would slow down. I was trying to be nice but short with my words (e.g. bringing out the RBF) and he still didn’t get it! Finally I said I was going to stay back and catch my breath and he went on.

I hit the ridge line not long after and he was sitting in the meadow, off the trail eating berries. One, it pissed me off running into him again and two, it pissed me off that he was off trail on protected land not meant for us hikers to be. I acknowledged him and kept walking. I got through the ridge line and into yet another magnificent meadow and was looking for a rock or spot to stop and eat a snack when a very large ball of fur caught my eye.

Sure enough, it was a big ole bear standing right off the trail eating berries. I knocked my hiking poles a couple of times and he just looked at me and went back to eating (I assume it was a he by the size). I stopped to take some pictures, because that seemed the sensible thing to do when faced with a bear. Soon after, no surprise, Luke came up behind. I pointed out the bear and he proceeded to climb into the meadow and get what I would consider to be unreasonably close to this bear. What a jackass this dude is. Not only for trampling on protected land but getting close to a BEAR.

The bear wandered over to the first set of trees closest to the trail and I took it as my opportunity to get past both the bear and Luke. As I was walking past the bear, I saw him look at me as I was looking at him. We both acknowledged each other’s presence, kept a healthy distance, and it was a successful bear encounter!

But of course Luke caught up to me again and every time I hiked faster, he did too and when I would stop to take mushroom pictures (I became enthralled with the various mushrooms along the trail), he would wait up ahead. I finally reached Golden Lakes camp and he went to one side of the lake to filter water and I went to the other. I waited until I saw him hike on before I setup camp.

Look, Luke seemed nice, but as I’ve said in my previous post, I came out here to purposefully hike SOLO! If this post teaches anyone anything, it’s that many solo hikers are out there alone because they want to be, even solo female hikers! And if you don’t want to hike alone than don’t go out alone! At the very least, please ask if the person wants company before just assuming so.

You might be asking me, why didn’t you just tell him you wanted to hike alone? Well good question. Much of the day was spent hiking up to and on a ridge line and then through a steep sloped forest. If this dude where crazy, or off balance, and got offended by me saying I didn’t want to hike with him, he could have easily pushed me down the mountain! As much as I wanted to fuck politeness (Thank you Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark from the Stay Sexy and Don’t get murdered podcast for that term) I also wanted to keep my bones intact. I wasn’t truly scared he’d push me down a mountain, but I didn’t want to be mean either. I have such a backbone in other areas of my life, I don’t know why it escaped me here.

At this point in my hike I was trying not to let things get to me, but ended up frustrated much of the day due to my unexpected trail friend…and not the bear! Once I got settled into camp and had a moment to relax, I was able to let most of the frustration go and grateful that overall I’ve experienced much more solitude than noise. Tomorrow I’m camping at another front country camp, Mowich Lake, which means I’ll have a chance to dump my trash and use a real bathroom (these are singular so I won’t have the Cougar Rock Bathroom experience thankfully).

Wonderland Trail – Day 1 & 2

Disclaimer: The Well Pickled Wonderland trail journal is more about my experience on the trail vs. descriptions of the trail itself. If you are looking for specific details on the actual trail, terrain, etc. I recommend picking up the book – Hiking the Wonderland Trail, written by Tami Asars. Listed mileage and elevation were sourced from the aforementioned book.

  • Day 1 – Box Canyon Trailhead to Cougar Rock Campground
  • 10.7 miles: 2254 Gain, 2180 Loss

Today was a day of contrasts. On one hand I’m flippin ecstatic to be on the trail, but I’m also shit your pants nervous too. I’m thankful for many of the people I came across, and yet extremely annoyed at others.

I pull into the trailhead about 9am and see Dave. Who’s Dave, well he was in line behind me at the Longmire ranger station, another tired soul waiting at the crack of dawn to try and secure a walk up permit to hike the trail. We talked while waiting for the ranger station to open, going over our planned itineraries and chatting about what called us out to hike this beast of a trail. Back at the trailhead, we say hello and bid each other good luck. There’s a group of roughly 10 (who I would later learn are a great bunch of people from the Sierra club) kicking off, and so I start walking just before to try and get ahead of them. Why do I do this you ask, because I’m out here for solitude, not to start my hike with a group!

Looking down on Reflection Lakes

With the exception of going a bit too fast every so often, a bad habit I contend with throughout the hike, it was a fairly flat, quiet and relatively easy section of the trail. All is good until I get near Lake Louise and Reflection lakes which is where I encounter day hikers. No offense to those people I ran across but when you are carrying a full pack and trying to get into a solitary state of mind, the last things you want to get asked are: How far till I get to the lake, where does the trail go, is there a waterfall? I wanted to reply with…I don’t know, I’m not a damn ranger and do your own research. But mostly I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

I kept moving until I reached Paradise River Camp, which was a good spot to take a break and filter water for the night and next day. I learned quickly to make the most of my stops. As soon as I start hiking again, I see four guys up ahead and they don’t look like you’re typical day hikers. Yes, I’m about to stereotype. The group didn’t have packs, were wearing jeans, wife beaters (err tank tops), and in one case…the dreaded shirtless man who in my opinion should not have been shirtless. I got that intuitive weird feeling and slowed my walk considerably so I wouldn’t be in view. You’re probably thinking…stop being a baby Tara. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s never to ignore that gut feeling that something might be off. Had I known if other hikers were close by I would’ve kept on at my normal pace, but as it were I had been alone for quite some time. Eventually they veered off on another trail and I went back to walking my normal pace.

It pissed me off momentarily that I let the situation bother me, that I felt fear in a place I had not expected to. I went back and forth on whether to include my feelings on this portion of the hike, as I believe the Wonderland trail to be as safe as any other trail in WA, if not more so. But I also believe that an element of caution is warranted for solo female hikers when a trail comes close to a road, neighborhood, populated area, etc. Thankfully throughout the remaining days, I came across many other groups of men hiking, none of which gave me that gut feeling to stay back.

The thru hiker camp section of Cougar Rock was a bit off the trail but I found it easily, thanks to directions from a couple of thru hikers I met earlier in the day. Midway setting up camp I met three ladies, one from Portland and two from Oklahoma City as well as some of the Sierra club hikers that kicked off the same time as me. It was great to hear other’s stories from the trail and what they experienced thus far, it got me excited for the days ahead!

Reflection Lake

I noticed by the end of the first day the different types of thru hikers I would meet. There are those that want to share where they’ve been and pass on helpful information, those seeking information from you on what they might encounter, and those that stay silent and only nod when you say hello. I respected the silent greetings but didn’t come to fully understand it until later in my trail journey.

Despite the trail tourists, it was a good first day and I felt better than I expected to feel. In hindsight, it was beneficial to complete this section first for a couple of reasons. 

  • You get one of the most populated sections out of the way on day 1
  • It’s a great section to work out the kinks, figure out your rhythm and make any pack adjustments as it’s probably the flattest, easiest section of the entire trail
  • Day 2 – Cougar Rock Campground to Devil’s Dream
  • 7.3 miles: 2506 Gain, 520 Loss

So to set the stage, I’m not a morning person. My pleasant demeanor doesn’t develop until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee (some would argue that I don’t have a pleasant demeanor even after coffee but different topic for a different day). And the campground I stayed at is a front country campground, meaning it is accessible by car. There was an area just for thru hikers, but it was still close to the regular camp sites.

So shortly before going to bed last night, a group of young girls came into camp and thought it would be a good idea to sit around with a strobe light. At about 11pm I kindly asked them to turn it off as it was ruining the wilderness camping vibe I was trying to achieve, and it was f’ing annoying. That would be the least of my problems because there was a very large group in the regular camping area partying till who knows when in the night, which meant I got very little sleep and made for a very ornery Tara in the morning.

I went straight for my coffee injection and then headed over to the camp bathroom to wash up while I still had the opportunity to use running water. I was super fortunate to get stuck in the bathroom for the second time with someone who I can only gather had spent the last 12 hours giving birth to the most massive shit ever. I will be nice and skip describing the disturbing sounds that came from that stall. I still question whether what was next to me was human.

Needless to say, I couldn’t get out of Cougar Rock campground fast enough. If the thru hike experience has taught me nothing else, I have learned:

  1. To avoid front country campgrounds on your route if at all possible
  2. That shitting in the woods can be much more pleasant than the shared front country camp bathroom experience (now, if you are on an exposed ridge line with a bunch of other hikers than this does not apply)

Once back on the trail, life got quiet again and it was an easy, flat stroll to Longmire. I needed that time to mentally get back into trail mode and let go of the frustrations of last night and this morning. Once at Longmire, it was time to pick up my food cache and get moving again. I will admit I underestimated how much weight three days’ worth of food would add to a pack containing a full day’s worth of water. The crazy thing is that after a short period of time I didn’t even recognize the weight anymore, my pack just became an extension of me.

From Longmire, I had a roughly 5.5 mile uphill slog until my first backcountry camp, Devils Dream. From this point on, I rarely encountered anyone on the trail and those I did were thru hikers, which was AMAZING! It was the first time I was able to get into this sort of automatic mode where the chatter in your mind stops and you’re moving purposefully, contently.

There’s a very basic way of life in thru hiking, but by that I don’t mean easy. You have a goal, you have to get from point A to point B. If your anal retentive like me, you study the map at night and again in the morning to understand what terrain you will go through to reach point B, what water sources might be viable, what potential obstacles you will face. You pack and unpack strategically, based on what you think you will need throughout the day and on what the weather looks like. You continually assess your supplies to understand what you are using more or less of. You do this so you know what supplies you may need to look for in the free bins at the cache locations, or what you might donate to drop unnecessary pack weight.

First view of Mt Rainier

There was one spectacular view of Rainier but beyond that most of the hike was uphill through forested areas. There was one washout to cross and well as my first dry riverbed crossing around Katz creek. It was pretty easy to follow the cairns and they were obvious as long as I remembered to slow down and look ahead, to study where I needed to go next vs. just plowing along. I didn’t know it at the time but I would have many more of those dry riverbeds to cross.

I reached Fisherman’s Hornpipe creek and knowing this would be my last good water source till camp, I went about completing my daily water chores. While filling up I came across two women who I would later learn are the mother/daughter duo Tamara and Bear. They were hiking together while Tamara’s husband and son were overseas on a boy’s trip.

We ended up camping next to each other and they so kindly invited me over to have dinner with them! As we were talking about planning for our respective hikes, they mentioned researching which camps had the best views and I thought oh no, they’re gonna take my good camps. And then I thought…so what, stop being so petty Tara! How stupid would I be to rush to a campsite to sit and do nothing just to get the good campsite, and what does that even mean?! So what if everyone makes it before me. As long as I have a place to camp and don’t get stuck on the trail in the dark, I’m good. It was the reminder I needed to just enjoy the dang hike, the experience, and not get caught up in details that don’t matter.

Dry riverbed crossing

Finding myself on the Wonderland Trail

When she laughed she was beautiful, when she cried she was beautiful, but when she was determined…she was sexy as hell. – Matt Baker

On the summit of Mt St. Helen's

I moved to Washington in October of 2016 and spent the first two summer’s on my road bike, training for and completing rides from Seattle to Portland and Seattle to Vancouver. During this time I had completed a handful of hikes, reaching the summit of Mt St Helen’s with my brother as my biggest hiking achievement yet.

Early in 2019 when I was thinking about what I wanted to challenge myself with next, I knew I was ready to hang up the bike and spend more time exploring the mountains. And to be totally real, I had just been hurt by someone I thought cared about me and was aching to wander, to get lost, to get away and sort through the unhealthy relationship patterns I continue to involve myself in…basically to try and figure my shit out!  So in the spring of 2019, I started to plan my solo thru hike on the Wonderland trail, the roller coaster hike that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier with roughly 22k feet of elevation gains/losses and roughly 93 miles in length. That seemed like a reasonable challenge, a good place to figure my shit out, or at least die trying:).

Growing up in Michigan, I had camped a decent amount in my high school days, but it was all car camping and I never had to carry anything more than a day pack on my back, let alone everything I would need for nine days! Crazy as it may seem it sounded like a lot of fun!

Sophie ready to hike

Me and Sophie started our training hikes in May and did our first overnight the first week in July. During that time I got my pack dialed in and gave half my bank account to REI. The pass to hike may be free…but the gear sure isn’t!

Fast forward to the day after Labor Day and I was walking on the Wonderland trail thinking to myself…holy shit, I’m doing this…and then immediately…holy shit, what have I gotten myself into. What proceeded was the most intense, cathartic, crazy, amazing, mentally and physically tough, yet rewarding week and a half of my year! In some ways you could say my life up until that point.

Mowich Lake

I now know what it means to hike your own hike, what it feels like to be consumed in a walking meditation. I know how liberating it feels to strip down to your skivvy’s and jump in a lake because your hot and it feels good, because you no longer care what people sitting near will think of you, and because at that moment you are exhausted, and raw and the most real, the best possible version of yourself that you can offer.

Solo thru hiking taught me that you are never truly alone. You’re surrounded by a community of individuals, most of whom are searching for the same things as you. It’s a breeding ground for true connection, from sharing trail stories at camp, sharing tips and tidbits along the trail, sharing food and resources, sharing fears with strangers without thinking twice. Where else do people connect so easily, willingly and without hesitation?

That trail changed me, it showed me what I was capable of, it showed me the benefits of slowing down, of observing, of being patient, of trusting in yourself and what is before you. It taught me to be a little more like Elsa and let some shit go. Disclaimer: I’m still working on this which is why I said some and not all, but hey, we’re all a work in progress!

Me at Summerland Bar

What I have come to learn is that when life becomes heavy… go take a walk in the woods, or take your dog to the park, or simply walk around your neighborhood. Sit in silence for a minute, look up at the moon (and observe how many other people look up just to see what you’re looking at, people can’t help it…it’s the whole FOMO thing), stare at a duck swimming in a lake, whatever it is, take just five minutes if that’s all you have to do something that calms your mind. Doing this has helped me gain perspective, to realize that I have so much to be grateful for, to realize the insignificance of my problems in the larger picture, and it usually ends up overpowering the negative, minuscule shit that creeps into my head many times.

Next up: I’ll be posting daily recaps from my Wonderland trail journey so make sure you’re signed up, that way you’ll get notified when new content arrives! In the meantime, head over to my photo gallery to check out pictures from my hike…my other adventures too, or just to look at pictures of Sophie!