Wilmington Weekend

A wedding on Whiteface Mountain brought us to the Adirondack High Peaks region this weekend, and the weather was perfect for spending every minute outside. We drove over from Vermont Friday afternoon and set up camp at Wilmington Notch Campground. If you haven’t stayed there, make a reservation, and be sure to check out its gorgeous waterfall!


Since we didn’t have to be anywhere until lunchtime, we got up early and caught the sunrise from Cobble Lookout before going into Lake Placid for breakfast. It’s a short, fairly easy hike with an up-close view of Whiteface Mountain, so it’s worth the effort and great for beginners and kids.

I’ll save our Whiteface adventure for a post of its own, but I’ll say it was so beautiful that we were in no rush to head right home after. We spent the evening debating what to do on Sunday, realizing the weather could range from perfect to socked-in summits. After scrolling Instagram and seeing a video of the insane number of cars parked along Adirondack Loj Road, we debated if it was even worth trying to head down that way. With the increasing number of hikers in the high peaks, we hate to contribute to the crowding, but I also realize it’s difficult to provide information and guidance as an Adirondack 46er correspondent if I don’t get out there and maintain some knowledge of the state of things. We haven’t visited the MacIntyre Range in a few years, so we decided to set out early and check out the alpine plants on Algonquin. We met a New Hampshire hiker along the trail and chatted our way up to the junction, where he and Ted started up Wright while I headed to Algonquin.  As views started opening up behind me, I stopped frequently and turned around to take it in, realizing how much I’ve missed hiking regularly in the Adirondacks. We’ve spent a lot of time in the Whites lately, but there’s really no place like home. I continued up slowly, trying to maximize the amount of time I had all to myself in the silence and stillness of the morning. I fully expected to find others on the summit, perhaps those seeking the sunrise, or at the very least, the summit steward.

I walked up to the summit marker and looked around, and to my surprise, I was completely alone. The summit of New York State’s second tallest peak, all to myself, with an undercast in one direction and thin clouds dancing around me, obscuring the view and opening up again. Mount Marcy rose up out of the clouds and made her appearance before the next wave of clouds blew in again. I sat beside a cluster of closed gentians and waited for Ted to join me on the summit. Behind Ted came the summit steward for the day and then Adam, the hiker he had gone to Wright with, and then a couple solo hikers who sat quietly, appreciating nature with the rest of us. In that moment, it seemed hard to believe there are so many overuse, littering, and crowding issues, because this felt just as it did a decade or more ago.

It gave me some hope, that even though social media sometimes makes it sound and look like conditions are pretty bad out there, perhaps things aren’t degrading as quickly as it seems, and there are plenty of hikers out there doing their part to leave no trace and preserve these special places.

Volcan 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. 

Two Weeks in Washington - Part 2

It’s great being on east coast time in the Pacific Northwest. Again we’re up at 4:30am, driving up to Picture Lake to take the classic photo of the sunrise over Mount Shuksan. With weather moving in and clouds around, we weren’t sure if we’d even be able to see the mountain, but figured it was worth driving up there early just in case. We hit the perfect weather window, which allowed us calm water and a beautiful reflection of Mount Shuksan, followed by a glimpse of Mount Baker in the morning light during a revisit to Artist Point just before the clouds rolled in and shrouded it again. We wandered on the snowfield, where Ted made coffee with the Jetboil, and we headed back down to camp as the sky got darker.

Given our limited time here and our desire to see as much as we could, we headed out of the stormy weather and down toward the coast, stopping in Maple Falls for breakfast sandwiches and to top off the camera and laptop batteries.  We arrived at the ferry at 11:45am, but had to wait until 2pm to sail. Ted is much more patient than I am, and I was pretty frustrated about wasting so much time sitting in a hot car in the sun for two hours. We parked in line and made the best of it by wandering around by the shore, where Ted caught tiny crabs and a jellyfish without tentacles and handed them to me. Eventually, it was time to drive onto the ferry and enjoy the cool breeze from the front of the boat. Now under a sunny, blue sky, it’s hard to believe just a few hours ago we were driving through dark clouds and rain.

We entered Olympic National Park and decided to camp at Heart O The Hills. After choosing the perfect site and putting up hammocks, we drove up to Hurricane Ridge, hoping for a mountain goat sighting. Well, we got more than we bargained for. There were deer on the sidewalks and in the parking lot, close enough to us as we tried to walk through that it made us a little uneasy. In the final stretch to Sunrise Point, we came across two mountain goats on the side of the trail, a mother and baby. They continued eating and didn’t seem to pay any mind to tourists, but it upset me to see a family with young children scarily close to the goats, with no guard for giving wildlife space. We continue up a few steps past the pair, and Ted found himself face to face with another mountain goat, standing at the top as if to guard the viewpoint. He didn’t back down or run away, instead, he started walking slowly down the trail straight at us. The ridge had a steep drop on both sides, so we couldn’t move off the trail to let him pass. The mountain goat got closer and closer and we tried to give him space, laughing nervously, and at the same time, trying to get a photo. If I’ve learned one thing about wildlife, especially when you’re close to them, they really don’t like the sound a dSLR makes when you take a photo. At least this is the case for moose and mountain goats. After a few photos, I let him pass in peace, the mountain goat walking along the steep slope a few mere feet away from us on the trail. Finally, a clear path to the top! We head up the trail, adrenaline still rushing from two close encounters, and just as we round the last corner to the viewpoint, another mountain goat pops his head up from the vegetation, scaring us, and looks straight at us. We jumped back, wondering if we’d ever get to stand at that point. We waited him out, and the goat made his way down the hillside. On the way back down to the visitor center, we encountered several more mountain goats at a safer distance, and ran into countless deer, including one buck that was too close for comfort and we walked quickly by.

At the visitor center, we set up the Jetboil and made pita pizzas for dinner, enjoying the view of mountains all around. At one point while cooking, Ted laughed, “Don’t look behind you,” which of course prompted me to immediately turn around, and startle a deer that had walked up pretty close. As we ate, we saw herds of deer move down the hillside behind us. Bucks, does, fawns, they seemed to be multiplying as we watched. 

The next morning we headed further out on the peninsula, stopping at Crescent Lake to hike along the way. Marymere falls wasn’t running very high, but I enjoyed the large trees along the trail, and then we headed up to Storm King. There’s a nice trail most of the way, but the maintained portion stops below the true summit, which is where we hoped to make it to. Unfortunately, there was a steep sandy and rocky section, where we could even see a rope hanging higher up, and as I started up it, Ted felt uneasy about it. A fall would be bad, and when I leaned over part of the ridge and saw the drop on that side, I agreed I was okay with turning around. A solo hiker in sandals met us at this point, and she decided she wanted to continue up. We watched her ascend, thinking if she was able to navigate up that section, we would be more enticed to do it ourselves. She made it further than I did, but also turned around. We climbed up a bit to spot her coming down and give her a hand if she needed it. Thankfully, there are views without reaching the true summit, so we still got a great hike and views overlooking the lake anyway.

We continued on to Mora Campground, where we got the last campsite in the entire area. After setting up, we hiked on Rialto Beach out to Hole in the Wall to check out the tide pools. We watched the tide come in and sunset before settling in for the night.

Sunday morning we got up early to check out Second Beach at low tide, just after sunrise. There were countless starfish and sea anemones! I dreamed of seeing these and finally, here they were! Next stop was the Hoh Rainforest, where we hiked a few trails as the sun started to come out, and then a walk on Ruby Beach in sunshine. The beaches had been mostly cloudy or foggy the whole time, so luckily we got blue sky for our last beach walk before turning back toward the mountains.

We spent Sunday night camping at Falls Creek Campground in Quinault, where Ted swam in the lake while I read Backpacker Magazine in an Eno hammock. We hiked a nearby rain forest trail and planned Monday’s itinerary. We started Monday morning at the world’s largest Sitka Spruce. This 1,000 year old tree stands at 191 feet tall and has almost 59 feet circumference! It was a short walk to it, and definitely the largest tree I’ve seen to date. We visited Merriman Falls and drove into the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station, where we met David Philips, a ranger who started his career at SUNY ESF in upstate NY, where he was one of Dr. Ed Ketchledge’s students. He shared stories about how he spent summers as a camper and counselor in the Lake George region, and how Ketch had a huge impact on his life.  He recalled Ketch was an intelligent and inspirational man, he hiked and talked fast, and taught things you couldn’t find in a textbook. He had not known about Ketch’s passing, but was excited to hear about his contributions to preserving the alpine ecosystems in the Adirondacks and the Summit Steward Program.