mountains

Volcan Iztaccihuatl

WE SUMMITED IZTACCIHUATL!!!! :)

I think when we booked our trip to climb Mount Rainier, some part of us thought it would likely be the first and only mountaineering trip of its kind. We knew we wanted to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and try something new, to take on a roped up, crevassed glacier adventure. With so many unknowns going into the trip, not knowing what to expect, I think we half expected to be terrified by the steep terrain and exposure, the deep crevasses with ladder crossings, and the elevated risks that come with such an endeavor. I remember trying not to look around too much in the dark on the way up, focusing on every step and breath, anxious about what the sunrise would reveal about my surroundings – but when the sun finally did come up, I was mesmerized and in complete awe of what I saw. The glacier was so beautiful and so grand, and I was so, so small. It was like being on another planet, and rather than feeling fear, I felt excited, amazed, and addicted. WE. MUST. DO. THIS. AGAIN.

So we booked another trip with RMI, this time to climb Orizaba and Iztaccihuatl, Mexico’s 1st and 3rd highest peaks, and spent the year in between training and learning Spanish. The inspiration for this trip came from the Banff Mountain Film Festival film, “55 Hours in Mexico,” which informed us of Orizaba’s existence, and depicted it as something we might be able to do. We read that the glacier was less crevassed and technical than Rainier, but with an altitude over 18k feet, we’d be climbing to new heights.

We flew into Mexico City from essentially sea level, and the next day, started our acclimatization on La Malinche. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy trip right from the start, as I found myself getting tired, lightheaded, and even heaving at times before we reached 13k feet. We slept at 10k feet that night, and the next day drove to Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park. We walked the dirt road to the Altzomoni Hut at 13k feet and prepped for the climb ahead. The mountains were in the clouds when we arrived, and while setting up for the night, checking our tents, and packing for high camp, the clouds cleared and we could finally see both Iztaccihuatl and Popcatepetl. That evening, Popocatepetl even let off some steam for us, and it was amazing to watch the sunset while that massive volcano puffed out smoke.

Morning always comes way too soon on mountaineering trips, but we woke up to a hot scrambled egg breakfast that was easier to eat at altitude than the usual oatmeal. We didn’t have a lot of elevation gain to do to get to high camp, but with carrying estimated 50+ pound packs, we knew we wouldn’t be fast. Thankfully, our porters shuttled a few jugs of water to high camp so we could save ourselves a few pounds. The trail was a mix of gradual and steeper terrain, and higher up was steep, loose dirt and rocky.

We reached high camp at 15k feet around mid-afternoon, set up our tents, and then spent a little time relaxing in them. Dinner consisted of Ramen, which I’d never eaten before, and thankfully I tried Ted’s before putting the spice packet in mine. Way too salty, I ended up just eating the plain noodles. We reviewed the gear list for summit day, topped off water and packed up, took some acetazolamide and went to bed before sunset. I woke up around 8:30pm, insanely frustrated that I had to pee and had to get out of my sleeping bag, but immediately forgot I had to go upon stepping out of the tent and seeing the view. A sky of stars, a few distant clouds with lightning flashes, and surrounded by the bright lights of the huge cities way down below, it was incredible. After staring in awe for way too long, I remembered I’d stepped out here for a reason, and needed to get back to sleep. Our wake-up call was at 1am, which consisted of layering up, forcing as much oatmeal and hot chocolate down as possible without throwing it up, and being ready to hit the trail by 2am. 

Izta is a very steep and rocky mountain, with everything from scrambling to steep, loose stuff, to sad glacier crossings. Apparently this year is very different than most years, as it’s been extremely dry and hasn’t snowed, so what is typically snow-covered was mostly just bare rock/dirt. This was not at all what I expected, as I do very well on the snow and glaciated terrain, and I’m not so fond of steep, loose rocks/dirt. There were only two relatively short sections where crampons were necessary, but otherwise it was bare ground the whole way.  We roped up for a good portion of it, not so much because we really need to, but more for the comfort of knowing we wouldn’t go far if we did fall. From 2am til sunrise, we hiked, often in silence outside structured breaks, focusing hard on each step and pressure breath. If I got out of rhythm, it was obvious, as I’d immediately get the lightheaded and nauseous feeling, heaving here and there, feeling like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen (because I wasn’t). Then I’d push out a few good pressure breaths and work back into a rhythm.

Izta isn’t your typical climb to the top and go back down kind of deal. She is a ridge with many summits, which was immensely taxing, both physically and in terms of morale. But then, the sun comes up, and it's all worth it. We were treated to a gorgeous sunrise, complete with an undercast, and Popocatepetl continuing to puff out smoke pretty consistently. It was PERFECT. 

After a good, long break in the sunshine, we started the descent. There seemed to be more breaks on the way down than on the way up, and it felt like it was taking forever going over all the bumps along the Ridge of the Sun. On Rainier, my emotional moment was upon seeing the sunrise and the top at the same time, knowing I was going to summit. This time, my emotional moment came when I finally crested a hill and could see high camp again, knowing I was going to make it out of there! As usual, Ted and I had our tent down and stuff packed in no time, and we hung out for quite a while waiting for everyone else to be packed up. My calf started to cramp a few times, so I used that time to stretch and hydrate. Our porters surprised us by meeting us at high camp and helping with not only taking down tents, but also by carrying the tents down for us. Ted was excited because everything finally fit in his 65L backpack (it was tight with half the tent in it on the way up). At this point, my feet were starting to hurt in my mountaineering boots, so my pace slowed a bit more, at least until there was lightning! Ted said when someone asked our local guide if lightning might be a problem, he said, “Only in July.” First there was graupel, then some snow, then bigger graupel, followed by a few loud clashes of thunder. I think that motivated everyone to not want to be 14k feet up anymore, so we didn’t take any breaks heading down from high camp. We were met at the trailhead by the local staff who provided sandwiches, beer, and sodas for us to enjoy while loading up the van. We now have a down day in the city to rest and explore Puebla, before heading to Tlachichuca and up to Orizaba high camp. 

A New Kind of Adventure

I've hiked to the summit of Cascade Mountain too many times to count, and started avoiding hiking it in recent years as hiker traffic there has increased so drastically. What do you do when the trails are too crowded? Find a less crowded route. 

In order to keep expanding your comfort zone, and perhaps to prevent boredom, you have to keep pushing your limits and challenging yourself. Keep trying new things, harder things. So this month, I somehow allowed Ted and Joe to talk me into my first multi-pitch climb, and an ice/mixed/slide climb at that! I haven't climbed ice in two years, and I'm kind of terrible at rock climbing. I haven't been on a rope since a harness fiasco at the rock gym a while back, and a winter day with a single-digit high was less than appealing. But! The weather was otherwise sunny, no snow moving in, the roads were clear, and the nighttime temperatures well below zero in the Adirondacks would keep other climbers from getting an early start, allowing us time to take our time. Ted once said I shouldn't be afraid of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden because he felt it was well within my comfort zone, and he turned out to be right that I'd find it "a delightful playground of rocks." So when he insisted I'd enjoy this climb, I decided to give it a shot. 

One thing you learn about ice climbing as a party of three is that it's not fast ascent. Not in the way hiking or trail running is. The concept is straightforward; lead the first pitch, build your anchor, belay everyone up, repeat.  The reality is not as clean. It takes a good chunk of time to get your gear sorted out and your equipment on.  Ropes drag, get stuck or frozen, anchor building can get interesting, communication isn't always easy, plus there's the fact that everything just seems to move more slowly in the winter. The result is that much of your time is spent waiting.  Unlike summer rock climbing, during the winter, you feel every minute when you're not moving if you're not properly dressed. Early on, I made the mistake of looking down at Ted at the base of the falls, and in that moment, I realized how high I'd climbed already. I decided then that if I was going to make it up, I'd need to focus on what was right in front of me, and avoid looking up or down. It's way too easy to psych yourself out when you're hanging from a rope on an ice cliff. With the encouragement of my fearless leaders and an unexpected friend, Andy, who climbed up behind me with another group, I muscled up the technical part of the climb. 

Above the waterfall, we stowed one of the ropes and roped together to simul-climb a couple shorter, easier ice obstacles interspersed with hiking.  Even this was slow-going, as the terrain was uneven, filled with buried rocks, ledges, downed trees, and often deep snow. 

As we reached the bottom of the slide, it was becoming clear that we weren’t hiking out in daylight, and that this would end up being one of the most physically challenging ascents of my life.  In the summer, the slide is a steep, gritty, and often wet, rock slab with numerous loose rocks.  In the winter, it is about 400-450 feet of glorious low-angle ice with a good rest ledge near the middle.  Despite the good shape it was in, it still took nearly the last bit of my strength to get up it, with my calves borderline cramping with every step, my arms exhausted from swinging those axes. 

There was no real time for celebration though, the sun was setting fast and we still had a solid bushwhack to reach the summit. Only one other group followed this route all the way to the summit, as most people just rappel after the technical ice. It appeared that their group must have split up at some point, as the tracks in the snow diverged. Joe took what ended up being the easier, faster route to the summit, and of course, Ted and I chose the more convoluted path. When we finally reached the top, it was just dark enough to dig out the headlamps, and the wind was picking up, giving me brain freeze as it hit the side of my head. We hurried down off the rocks and into the trees on the hard-packed, maintained trail for a quick snack before half jogging our way back to the trailhead. A two hour drive home, and our adventure was complete. 

Calendar Feature!

Lake George from Black Mountain.

Taking photos from mountain summits and backcountry locations is never easy. It often involves early mornings or late nights, heavy backpacks, steep terrain, multiple miles, lots of sweat, and of course, the ever-changing weather. There's the frustration from poor trail conditions, and Ted's "It's right around the corner, you're almost there!" encouragement on repeat when we're nowhere near the top.  Sometimes, we work hard to reach the viewpoint, and there is no view. That was almost the case on this winter ascent of Black Mountain, near Whitehall, NY. 

It was mid-December, right after a big snowfall, and apparently before anyone had really snowshoed or snowmobiled into the area that season. Four of us set out to do what we thought would be a quick, 5-mile half day hike, but we faced issues right from the gate. There was between 2 and 3 feet of freshly fallen snow blanketing everything, weighing the trees and branches down so much they leaned over the trail, making it difficult to find and follow. With every step, we were sinking to our knees or more -- with snowshoes on. I don't know why we kept going, if we thought maybe there'd be less snow later on or what, but it never got better. If "Tough Terrain Ted" weren't there breaking trail, the girls most certainly would have turned around and ventured off to find some hot cocoa instead. On we pressed, for hours, flattening the snow beneath us, creating a packed trail that would make the hike out less work later. At one point, I sunk waist deep and struggled to get out.

Eventually though, we made it! In the time we thought it'd take to do the round trip hike, we were just barely reaching the summit. A bit disheartening, a look around presented nothing but shades of white and gray, and clouds swirled around the summit. All that work, and no view?! It happens, more than you'd think, which makes the summits with views that much more appreciated. Exhausted and in no hurry to head back down, we hung out for a bit, and waited out the clouds. Sometimes, they never clear, and sometimes, they open up the perfect window that makes it all worth the effort, and hopefully the camera is ready. Slowly, the sun tried to shine down through the clouds. As the clouds lifted slowly and swirled around us, we got short glimpses of the big, blue lake below. Realizing this trend, I got the camera out and ready. 

Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)'s 2018 calendar is now available at  www.ADK.org .

Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)'s 2018 calendar is now available at www.ADK.org.

The above photo was featured in a hiking piece in Adirondac magazine last year, and I'm excited to announce that it's now the December image in the Adirondack Mountain Club's 2018 wall calendar! In addition, an image of three-toothed cinquefoil from the Cascade summit is also included in the calendar's sub-theme on alpine vegetation. Sales from these calendars help support ADK's mission and programs, which aim to protect and preserve wild lands and waters throughout New York State. ADK builds and maintains trails, educates the public, and works to keep views like this accessible to the public. Pick one up today at ADK.org!

20 Hours of Adventure

Most people I know usually spend their long weekends, vacations, and time off relaxing, catching up around the house, or lounging around a boat, beach or campsite. For us, our down time is the long car ride to whatever adventure we've planned, which often consists of cramming as many things into our time there as possible. For Memorial Day weekend, we decided to do some exploring in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and I got super lucky to find a campground with an available campsite at the last minute. I was hired as a Contributor on Assignment for Outdoor Project this summer as part of their effort to expand to the east coast, and several of the hikes they were interested in publishing happened to be both in the Lakes Region and already on our to-do list. 

Ted's been talking about wanting to climb Chocorua for a long time, and the Appalachian Mountain Club was leading a hike to it on Saturday, so we tried to sign up for that first. The trip filled up quickly so we were wait-listed, but decided to still do it anyway on our own. Saturday morning, we drove up early to ensure a parking space at the trailhead, and headed up the Liberty Trail. Mosquitos were an issue at the trailhead, but as we got moving they seemed to lessen. I was happy to have my gaiters as the lower section of the trail was pretty wet with lots of rock hopping. Higher up, the trail became steeper and ledgy, requiring us to use our hands a little bit here and there to maintain balance. The views got increasingly better, until we had an open 360-degree view from the open, rocky summit. Looking down from the summit, we could see hikers traversing a long section of open rock below, and we wanted to check it out. After consulting the map, we decided to descend that direction for more time above the trees, and then return via the "bad weather" route to make a small loop around the top. 

Ted got a new pair of binoculars as a PhD graduation gift recently, so he's been enjoying stopping at wildlife viewing areas to look for birds on our drives. While heading to Moultonborough, I commented about how the surrounding landscape looked like moose country just before we passed a brown binoculars sign. Ted hit the brakes, and pulled over at the Thompson Sanctuary, and we quietly made our way along the boardwalk to view the wetland. Expecting to see nothing more than the usual red-winged blackbird, to our surprise, there was a moose feeding in the water, and in the other direction, a bull watching from the tree line! 

At the campsite an hour later, we pitched the tent and wondered what to do now. It was too early for dinner, and we aren't good at sitting around when we're not completely exhausted or hanging out with friends. So, back to the map we went, and off to nearby Red Hill to check out the view from the fire tower! On the drive over, a large black bear darted across the road in front of us, which was a treat! We found an array of different wildflowers, including patches of red columbine along the trail. We saw lots of blue columbine living in Colorado, but this was the first time I'd seen any on the east coast. Red Hill doesn't have much of a view from its wooded summit, but head up a few flights of stairs, and the tower reveals endless beauty in every direction. Looking out around and beyond Squam Lake and Lake Winnipesaukee, we could see the familiar peaks of Mount Cardigan, Mount Major, Mount Moosilauke, and the Kinsmans. We could even see Mount Chocorua, where we stood a few hours earlier. 

Back at the campground, Ted jumped into the unheated pool to cool off before we took showers and made dinner. We watched as a thin crescent moon moved behind the trees and the sun set, finally feeling like we might be tired enough to lay down. Before heading into the tent, Ted took his phone off airplane mode just long enough to do his usual geomagnetic storm checks, and next thing I know he's driving into the darkness while I look for possible north-facing views on the map.

The northern lights aren't often noticed in the northeast, since they're typically so faint they're impossible to see with any light pollution. Photographers capture their color using long exposures and being in the right place at the right time. We've  caught the aurora in photos only 3 times before, and once was by accident while taking star shots in the Badlands. But this night was a rare treat, as the green glow was visible to the naked eye, with the curtains shining like beams of light moving across the sky. If the clouds didn't move in, we could have stayed there all night, but we'd been up for 20 hours and if we wanted to hike again tomorrow, we had to sleep sometime. 

Sunday morning, we returned to the Thompson Sanctuary again to see if any other wildlife might be out feeding in the early hours. Sure enough, a beaver was swimming back to its hut and a deer was barely visible over some tall grass. We sipped coffee in the fog, listening to frogs and woodpeckers, and a heron flew over our heads. Then we drove over to Squam Lake and wandered up to the viewpoint on West Rattlesnake Mountain, before facing the crowds on Mount Major. As if that wasn't enough, we hiked the waterfall loop to Falls of Song in the Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area before returning to the campsite for the night. We didn't plan much for Monday other than driving back since the forecast called for rain, but since the rain held off until midday, we stopped to explore Sculptured Rocks on the way. Hot showers and a comfy couch were welcomed luxuries at this point, so the afternoon was spent relaxing and uploading photos. For anyone interested in checking out any of the places we visited, stay tuned for descriptions of each adventure on Outdoor Project in the near future! 

A Presidential President's Day (Ted's Account)

The forecast as we pulled into the trailhead.

Five friends set out to tackle the highest summit in the northeast, home of the “world’s worst weather” in the dead of winter. The forecast called for clearing skies; but upon departure, the winds at the summit were howling at hurricane force with temperatures in the lower single digits and zero visibility. A little while later, hunkered down just above the tree line, the frigid winds ripped in from the west and the blowing fog and snow made it difficult to distinguish up from down. Alone and fighting the cold, the group faced the decision of whether press on, or retreat back down the mountain to warmer climes.

Prologue:

A winter ascent of Mt. Washington has been on my radar for quite a while, but it’s a long drive, life gets busy, and my car is, well, not all that reliable. However, a recent move has substantially shortened the drive to the Whites. Things came together once I spotted a good weather forecast for the long weekend (good by Mt. Washington in February standards), and we called up some friends in NY who were eager to make the trip. Originally, we planned to climb via the classic Lions Head route, but while hiking the Osceolas on Saturday I chatted with another hiker who recommended going up from the west via the Ammonoosuc Ravine. After reading a bit more about Ammonoosuc, I settled on this. Game on.

The Approach:

We arrived at the cog base station trailhead around 7am under mostly cloudy skies and intermittent flurries. We suited up in the parking lot and talked briefly with a few other hikers and skiers heading up for the day. After a few minutes we started out in snowshoes, following a well-packed trench through the woods. The trail was probably hard packed enough to lose the snowshoes, but occasional knee (waist!?) deep post holes on the periphery seemed a good reminder to stick with the floatation. We came to a small pool labeled on the map as Gem Pool, the trail climbed steeply above this. In no time, we left the hardwoods below us and continued into a mix of firs and scrub. The higher we climbed, the deeper and more impressive the snow became. Near the tree line we ran into a solo hiker on his way down, having turned back due to poor visibility.  He joined us in hopes that he’d have better luck with a group, and shared stories of his climbs up Denali and Aconcagua. We continued up in snowshoes until just above tree line where a flow of thick glare ice warranted a switch to crampons. During this time we took stock of the weather. It was not good. The visibility was limited to maybe 100 feet, and without trees or rocks to stand out, the ground and sky merged into one. Another group coming up behind us reached tree line and abruptly made the decision to turn back, and the solo hiker who joined us earlier turned with them. Yelling back and forth to each other over the wind, we strongly considered following suit. I mean, the mountaineer who’s climbed Denali just turned around. Would we be stupid to try to continue?

Then, for a very brief moment, the fog thinned enough to see that ahead maybe 200 yards was the Lakes the Clouds Hut, covered with rime and tucked into the snow, offering us a break from the wind to collect our thoughts and weigh our options. Then, as soon as it appeared, the view was gone, but now we knew the direction, so we headed up. We got into the lee of the hut where it was calm and rested, sipping hot chocolate.

The Climb:

Hiking/climbing is a constant struggle to find the line between fear that’s just in your head, and legitimate danger. Today was one of those days where we had to bring all of our focus to ensure we stayed on the right side of that line. At the hut we tried to acclimate to let the initial fear of the poor conditions subside and consider the situation. The visibility was BAD. It wasn’t that the fog itself was terribly thick, it’s that the ground was completely white with snow and rime. This fact made the ground the same color as the sky, which reduced visibility from what may have been a couple hundred feet to less than fifty. Walk 100 feet away from the hut, and it would be invisible. With the signs and cairns all rimed over, they would provide little help. All that said, by objective metrics, the weather wasn’t THAT bad. It was cold, though not too cold (10 degrees), and while the wind was strong, it wasn’t knocking us off balance. I put it at a stout 35mph with occasional gusts to near 50mph. This was much better than this morning’s higher summits forecast suggested we might encounter. Add that to the fact that it was early and the weather was forecast to improve throughout the day, and I wasn’t quite ready to call it. After a few minutes and some coaxing, I convinced our group to head the 0.4 miles over to Monroe and see how that went. We developed a plan in which we would try to cairn hop up the slope using each other as visual markers to make sure we didn’t get lost along the way. I planted a snowshoe within visual range of the hut to make it easier to find our way back, and off we went. We started off towards Monroe, keenly aware of how easily we could get disoriented and wander off into the abyss. The cairn hopping kind of worked for a bit, but we pretty rapidly lost the cairns. No matter, as long as we were still going up, we were going the right way. But it wasn’t finding our way up I was concerned about, it was finding our way back down. Even with compass bearings and good route finding, it was pretty disorienting. It is abundantly clear how people routinely get lost up there in the fog. However, on the way up, I came up with a plan to chisel out rocks from the ice, providing a black marker to stick out against white backdrop. This actually worked pretty well, and I was confident we’d be able to use these breadcrumbs to help find our back to the hut.

After a little wandering around the summit ridge we did eventually find the true summit, then headed back down following our markers and compass bearing until we reached the base of the mountain where the trail splits off in multiple directions. Looking around, we noted that the only thing visible in the “distance” was a small red snow shoe sticking out of the snow, confirming the way to go. Soon we were back at the hut, only now there were a number of hikers there all taking shelter deciding whether to keep climbing or turn around. A few headed off toward Monroe, a few others remained at the hut, and others simply headed back down the mountain. From what we gathered from the folks at the hut, no one could remember seeing anyone head off toward Washington, perhaps one group of two? So here we were, and now we had to decide whether to forge on and give Washington a shot, or quit while we were ahead.

After about 15 minutes of contemplation and rest, we decided to go for Washington. At this point, the visibility had improved slightly (or maybe I was seeing things), and I was still holding out hope that it would clear up. We got a couple of skeptical looks from people at the hut … and at least one lecture, before heading off, but shortly after heading towards Washington we were joined first by a solo skier, and then another hiker, who didn’t want to make the trek alone. Shortly after leaving the hut we came across a sign encased in snow and ice. I used my ice axe to knock off the ice and snow, and the sign was the infamous “STOP: world’s worst weather…” sign… an ominous sign in the swirling fog and snow.

As we made our way up, following a compass bearing (and cairns when we could find them), we chiseled out rocks and cairns from the ice to help us find the way back if the visibility didn’t clear. But as we climbed, we first started to get short breaks in the clouds, then some patches of blue sky, and finally a little direct sun. As we climbed higher, the visibility continued to gradually improve, and soon we could see the broad slopes of the summit cone looming ahead. As we made the final approach to the summit, the skies cleared, and the few remaining clouds broke around and below us. We continued to chip the occasional cairn out of the ice just in case, but route finding was easy now. Then we were on top. We walked over and hid out in the lee of the wind with a couple of other groups who came up from Lions Head and dropped pack. We wandered around the summit for a little while taking pictures, eating, drinking, etc. The winds were quite strong and it was quite cold, but with the improved visibility and sun in and out, we didn’t care. We ran all over the summit, taking in the views, ducking in and out of the wind, and snapping photos.

Then it was time to pack up and head back down the mountain. With any remaining clouds above the summit and with gravity on our side, we made our way back to the Lakes of the Clouds hut pretty quickly. The ridge was amazingly white, nothing penetrated through the snow and rime, no rocks, no signs, only the trail of black dots that we chipped out of the ice to lead us back. We snacked at the hut and then proceeded back down the mountain, butt sliding and laughing all the way back to the car.

Epilogue:

Given its notoriety, I was happy to have to work for a winter ascent of this peak, and I feel as though it would have been a disappointment had it been a straightforward and mellow ascent. And I’m not exaggerating about the visibility, I’ve seen it bad on Marcy and Algonquin, but here I felt swallowed up like I never have before. At times I started to get paranoid and I would wonder if my compass was telling me the right direction, or if there was iron in the rocks messing with the needle. I’ve hiked the ridge between Washington and Monroe probably half a dozen or more, and in that fog I could barely tell up from down.  All in all, a great and challenging experience, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

Two Weeks in Washington - Part 3

Ah, civilization. First shower in a week, clean laundry, hot restaurant food, and a real bed for a night. A resupply of food and reorganized car in Tumwater, and we’re back on the road, headed for Alder Lake Park. It’s July 19th, a calm, cloudy rest day. After pitching the tent and preparing some PBJ sandwiches, we walked down to the dam and beach, contemplating what to do with the rest of the day. We were feeling anxious and curious about the Rainier climb coming up, and decided to drive into Ashford to see the town and scope out where we need to meet the guides for orientation in a couple days. It was still early enough and Ashford is REALLY small, plus the weather was getting nicer, so we decided to head into Mount Rainier National Park and drive up to Paradise.

I turned on my phone to take a video as we drove up the road. With the exception of the view of Rainier from the airplane flying into Seattle, we haven’t been able to see the mountain since we’ve been here because of clouds. Watching my iPhone screen, we round a bend and Rainier comes into view. “It doesn’t look that big in a video.” With nervous laughter, Ted replies, “Yeah, it never looked big in pictures either. Maybe that’s why I thought this was a good idea..”  We parked at Paradise, picked up some chocolate covered expresso beans and huckleberry cordials from the visitor center, wand hike up to Myrtle Falls to stretch our legs before going back to Alder Lake for the night. 

Two Weeks in Washington - Part 1

As we neared Seattle and descended toward the cloud deck, I could see the very top of a snow-covered mountain peeking up through the clouds, and for a moment felt disappointed it wasn’t as dramatic as I expected it to look. I tapped Ted’s shoulder to show him the distant white speck, just as I got a glimpse of the real deal under the wing of the plane. We were flying over Mount Rainier, and that distant peak was Mount Adams. Standing tall above the clouds, Rainier looked like a bigger endeavor than I expected, and I felt some combination of excitement and fear and a million other things. What had I signed up for? You can really climb that in only two days? But it looks sooo BIG…

That was the only view of Mount Rainier we had until we entered Mount Rainier National Park a week later. We would be spending the next 8 days driving over 1000 miles touring the North Cascades and the Olympic peninsula, dazzled by the scenery and anxiously waiting to put ourselves to the test on Rainier.

 After picking up the rental car, our first stop was at REI in Seattle to pick up JetBoil fuel, where we attempted to squeeze the rental car into four spaces before we found one we were comfortable parking in. The rental car had sensors that let you know if you get too close to something or if there’s anything in your blind spot – and in that parking garage it wouldn’t stop beeping faster and faster as Ted tried to pull into those tiny spaces. I couldn’t wait to get out of the city.  A few hours of driving later, we set up camp at the Douglas Fir Campground, took a walk along the bright green river, and settled into our sleeping bags before dark.

Waking up at 4:30am isn’t hard when you’re used to a time zone 3 hours ahead – and when you know you’re about to hike in an incredible place. The road up to the Skyline Divide Trailhead was a rough dirt road, loaded with potholes. Swerving back and forth in an attempt to straddle or miss them, Ted remarked, “This is what driving on the moon is like.”

The Skyline Divide Trail is amazing. We had it mostly to ourselves in the early light and watched the clouds swirl around the distant peaks, while crepuscular rays poked through. As soon as we hit the ridge, there was snow, and I was getting increasingly excited to see Mount Baker rise up over us. Rather than taking the trail, Ted insisted we venture up some snowfields “for practice,” which he ended up trying to glissade down on the way back. I’m not a summer person, so playing on snow and looking around at snow in JULY – I was the happiest person ever.

Mount Baker was surrounded by clouds for most of the hike. We hit a perfect window where the clouds cleared out, and I snapped as many photos as I could. When we reached the end of the ridge, where we would have had the best close-up, the clouds had filled in again. We hung out there a while, since it was still pretty early in the day, hoping for a glimpse. It didn’t look like anyone got much of a view of the peak the rest of the day. As we hiked down, other groups asked if the mountain was out, so much so that it made me wonder if it’s shrouded more than it’s not.

What do you do when you’re up so early that you’re back from your hike by noon despite taking your time? You go on another hike, of course! We drove up into North Cascades National Park for the afternoon, hiked to Huntoon Point, did the Fire and Ice Trail, took pictures at Picture Lake, and stopped at Nooksack Falls on our way back to camp. We made a quick dinner and got into the tent just as some showers started passing through. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes..

Drip….Drip…. ice cold raindrops landing right between my eyes. Not the time we wanted to learn there were holes in the tent. Too tired and lazy to patch them in the rain, Ted draped a tarp between the tent and the rain fly to avoid getting out of the tent. Fix it later. It’s time to sleep. Once again, in bed before dark because tomorrow’s another big exciting day of exploring the Pacific Northwest. 

wilderness wedding

The best part about moving back to the northeast is being closer to the people we love and reconnecting with old friends. In late August, I received a message from a college outdoor club friend who asked for my assistance in planning her wedding. Now I am definitely a planner, but don’t know much about wedding planning, and her hope was to get married barely over three weeks later. I've never been a huge fan of big, fancy, expensive weddings, so thankfully, rather than doing the traditional and expected thing, she wanted to do something crazy, different, unique, and memorable. It had been years since she had been in hiking in the Adirondack Mountains, and she wanted to reacquaint herself by bringing her wedding guests on a hike for a super small, mountaintop ceremony.  She believes it is important to challenge yourself in order to grow as a person, and by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to accomplish a goal with others can bring a group closer together. I absolutely agree and was honored to have the opportunity to help make their special day perfect. Not only did she trust me to help choose the mountain, plan the logistics of the day, and decorate.. she also asked me to be her PHOTOGRAPHER!

I made her a list of possible shorter hikes to choose from, though short in mileage doesn’t necessarily mean easy when her criteria requires making it to the top of a mountain, as her family quickly found out. The ceremony took place at a semi-private overlook on top of Crane Mountain in the late afternoon, which while being only 2.8 miles round trip, it has sections of steep terrain and even ladders up rock faces. Fall color was near peak and the day was sunny and warm. The morning of the ceremony, Ted and I hiked up early to shuttle a few things to the top, including a bear can of muddy buddies and popcorn halfway to encourage people to take a break and have a snack. I also hoped it would be a morale boost since by that point, I knew the non-hiker guests would probably not be thrilled. Ted then hiked back to the trailhead, where he greeted the group to ensure everyone had arrived and was prepared, while I waited just below the top to take pictures as people approached the big ladder. Once everyone had arrived on top and after a quick change into the wedding attire carried up, a dear friend of the groom married them in front of a breath-taking view of Crane Mountain Pond and endless little mountains. We took pictures before the setting sun, and witnessed teamwork on the hike down in the dark. 

While some were unhappy at times during the strenuous physical activity and described the hike as one of the hardest things they’d ever done, I don’t believe a single person regretted attending when they saw the view from the top. Perhaps the real happiness came when they saw their cars waiting for them in the moonlight and they knew they were going to live (haha). I believe Allison’s goal was accomplished; this adventure challenged people, brought them closer together, and everyone was proud of themselves and each other for what they overcame together. I think it may have even inspired new appreciation for nature and for hiking, which they now know is not as easy a sport as one might think. This was by far the most beautiful wedding I’ve been to, and I didn’t even have to buy a dress or do my hair to go. 

And now.. compiling the countless images to help the happy couple remember their special day, and having them ready before the big reception in a few weeks.. 

solo vacation

Have you ever seen someone get off an airport shuttle alone at a campground with nothing but a backpack and suitcase? I found myself with some time off at the end of this summer and since Ted was going away for a conference, I decided to take a trip as well. I flew out to Colorado to visit friends and spend time in the mountains I’ve grown to love as much as the ADKs. Thankfully the campground host took me to my site on the golf cart so I didn’t have to be the weirdo walking across the grounds dragging a suitcase; no car, no company. The biggest challenge of my solo vacation came next: putting the tent up. Now I’ve had this tent for many years, but this was my first time setting it up without any assistance since I generally don’t camp alone. It seemed to be a beautiful, warm, calm day as I laid the footprint across the ground, until a sudden breeze started to pick up. I tried to put rocks on each corner to hold it down briefly while I got the poles ready, and it seemed they weren’t heavy enough, as before I knew it, the tent was flying away. I chased the tent down twice before finally deciding to wait out the wind and try another approach. As I struggled with this task, I looked up the hill and realized what a show I must be putting on for the people sitting on the overlooking bench.

The next day I met up with a photographer friend (who is working on building his portfolio and practicing different types of shots) for an educational and interesting morning at Gem Lake. Prior to this, I had no experience with setting up professional photography equipment and I’m sure hikers thought it odd when they passed by the umbrella flash and walked through our set between shots. While he surely got some decent shots from this, the better photos came from another shoot later in the week in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only did I have the chance to be a model for a day, I also learned more about light sources and how to get different effects into images. I was lucky enough to sit down with him after the shoot for a mini lesson in processing images, for which I am incredibly grateful. Eliott Foust has some incredible photos and you can view more of them at http://wefoustphoto.com/

A sample of photos from my week of adventures in Colorado and Wyoming can be viewed in the gallery and on the GRPF Facebook page