Man… it’s been ages since I’ve gotten my tent up onto Mt. Hood! 2023 is nearly a month old, and so far… You know what? Let’s not be harsh on ourselves here, huh? I’ve been getting by. I’ve been decompressing, getting into the flow of the year, and spending quite a bit of good time in the gym.
I’m socializing, making plans, and getting projects done… but that “getting out into the cold” itch still needs to be scratched, doesn’t it? Yeah it does! And so Thursday evening saw me packing a bag, and Friday morning found me driving the well-travelled road up toward Mount Hood. I had a good breakfast in my belly (Pine State with a friend!), and a nice and easy plan for the weekend. The weather looked good, and road conditions seemed positive. So was I, with a lovely relaxing trip on the horizon.
The universe obliged.
Hiking in, the slopes were beautifully devoid of the howling mobs. The sky was blue, clear, and crisp. The temperature was cold… but soon enough I had my sleeves rolled up and my jacket wrapped around my waist. I wasn’t quite sweating, thankfully, but the combination of the sun and exercise were definitely doing their job at keeping me warm.
I made camp, did some quick setup to make sure I had space to carve a good shelf for my tent out of the snow covered hillside, and took a walk up the ridgeline of the glacier. I enjoyed the sunset, appreciated the cold, and let myself slowly expand out of the compressed form it’d taken over the last few weeks.
As Yoda tells Luke, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” I can take that to heart… I’m realizing that I need time alone in the wild woods to let myself expand back outward. Time at work, time in the city, time in the gym… I enjoy all of them, but they shrink me down a bit in a way that only the open sky can rectify.
This trip did an amazing job of that rectification – As the sun set, and I finished carving my little campsite out of the slope, with snowshoe and ice axe, I felt good. I felt excellent!
I ate my dinner, read my book, and drifted off to sleep way earlier than I expected. Not a bad thing.
The next morning was beautiful and clear – though there were a few lenticular clouds hovering over the summit block of Mt. Hood, indicating the oncoming snow expected in the late morning.
I breakfasted, hiked around a bit, and enjoyed the last bits of cold as the day warmed up.
Packing and hiking out went quickly, and I was back at the car far earlier than I’d really expected… though the snow was definitely starting to fall in earnest. I’d put chains of the car before leaving, in case the snow was thicker than expected, and they definitely helped power over the packed snow and ice of the parking lot. But… I didn’t need them after that.
I felt a little silly, taking the chains off at the end of the parking lot… but hey. Better to have them on and not need them, versus having to battle through the snow to get them on if I had needed them, right?
Without chains, the drive home was quick. I didn’t have to stop, and I simply relaxed. I think I put some music on… but maybe not? I felt great, exceptionally thankful for an excellent evening in the snow.
Around the beginning of the year, I was chatting with a few coworkers about various hikes that we wanted to check out over the coming Summer. A few suggestions were thrown around, and I jotted down notes on most. Time went on, and conversations shifted… but the notes stayed on my phone.
September came around, and the year was coming to a close… but I still wanted to get a few good backpacking trips in. I cracked open that old list, and checked out what I hadn’t done so far. I’ve done quite a few good trips this year, was feeling strong, and Jade Lake out in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness stood out. Long, fairly significant elevation gain, gorgeous views, far away from home…
Yeah, Jade Lake was a perfect “big backpacking trip to end the season with”
I drove up on a Friday morning.
Realistically, I probably didn’t get on the road as early as I should have… all times considered, we were looking at nearly five and a half hours of driving to get to the trailhead. Then 8 miles or so in to my campsite… with the days getting shorter, and the evenings colder, an early start would have been well advised. That being said I do appreciate the quiet mornings, and I don’t appreciate rushing, so I still stand by my process of getting on the road right around 8:00am.
That timing found me starting into the trail by 2:30pm, and I made excellent time on the approach. I mentioned the full summer of backpacking and hiking; combined with the physical therapy for my knee and a renewed joy in both climbing and lifting, and I’m in quite good shape. I held a solid 2mph on the entire approach, even with the full three days worth of gear in the pack.
The miles vanished under my boots, and I gained elevation surprisingly quickly. I’d hoped to find camp somewhere between Marmot Lake and the PCT junction, but I was feeling strong when I passed the Pacific Crest Trail – There was some light left, it was early-ish in the evening, and I was strong. I didn’t want to stop, so I didn’t stop. I forged onward and upward toward Marmot Lake.
Night fell, and I hiked through the dark. With my headlamp illuminating a circle of visibility in an otherwise darkened world, I remembered just how long it’s been since I’ve hiked in the dark. I used to backpack past dark all the time, when I was younger, but now… I don’t think I’ve hiked purely by headlamp in years.
It’s a special kind of purgatory, backpacking in the dark. I truly believe that, if purgatory does exist, this is a close approximation to it. The world is constricted down to a single small pool of light in front of my eyes. It’s quiet, with sounds and shapes sometimes creeping in from my side vision… only to vanish when the spotlight is turned on them.
Everything looks the same – the trail goes onward and upward, switch backing into the dark, and my mile counter has long-since his the distance that I should have found Marmot Lake. I’ve learned not to trust pedometers though – official distances are always shorter than what my tracker finds, so best to put it out of mine. Onward and upward, one foot in front of the other.
When I finally made it to the shores of Marmot Lake… all I saw were sheer cliffs. My headlamp shone down from the trail into infinite darkness – the lake must have been at least 50ft below me, if not further. Disappointing, since I’d been hoping to camp on the shores of the lake… but we persevere, and I kept walking onward looking for a good campsite.
After a few hundred yards the trail had turned inland, and I came across a small trail heading back toward what must have been the cliff above the lake. I took it, hoping to find a nice cliffside camp site, but instead found the lake itself! It was close by and crystal clear – so perfectly clear that it completely absorbed every photon of light from my headlamp. I had been walking along the edge of the lake the whole time, but the perfectly still evening had kept the noise at bay, and the infinitely clear water had just eaten the light!
I made camp.
I relaxed, I ate dinner, I sipped cocoa with gin, and I enjoyed an intensely quiet and cold evening.
The next morning I woke up, and went to check the time… only to find that my phone hadn’t charged overnight. The tiny little portable charger that I’ve used over so many trips seemed to have finally died… or maybe hadn’t been as fully charged as I’d thought. Either way, the distance tracking from the day before had used up enough juice that we were living in bricksville, population “my phone”.
Cest la vie, though. I made breakfast, coffee, and enjoyed a calm and quiet morning. I kept reaching to take photos, only to remember that wasn’t quite going to happen.
Fear not, dear reader, for photos would still be taken this day!
I broke my fast, packed a light pack, and headed up to Jade Lake. I got moving in the late morning, so there were quite a few other teams around as I made my way up toward the main goal of the day. I mean… not “quite a few”, like three other teams total, I think. Two of them gave me weird looks when I asked for a spare battery box / charger, but… one college group grinned and handed me a simply massive battery box they were carrying! The day was saved, and photos could be taken!
As the phone charged up, I wandered the shores of Jade Lake.
Words can’t quite describe how beautiful it was – the photos below will have to suffice. I took the time to scout various photo viewpoints, enjoy the calm air, and just… just be. I’ve been trying to “just be” more often these days. It’s not always successful, and it’s not usually easy, but… I like to think that I’m getting a little bit better, day by day and week by week. Just appreciating and enjoying, slowly moving through the world and appreciating the little things like the sun, wind in the trees, and a gloriously deep turquoise lake in front of me.
*Note: Turquoise. Not jade. Not sure who named this lake, but… they clearly didn’t know the difference*
I explored, photographed, and snacked. I walked, I climbed, and I watched the sun start heading toward the horizon.
I headed back.
The sun dipped. Dinner heated up. More cocoa, some apple cider, and stargazing. So much stargazing… I watched the milky way come out, and then burn away like fog as the moon rose. I slept peacefully, fully cocooned in a small little island of warmth in the vast mountains surrounding me.
Sunday dawned bright and beautiful – not warm, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still bright. The sun was intense enough to almost warm me up enough to take off my jacket… but not quite, at least not until I started on my way back to the trailhead.
I met a few of the teams that I’d seen the day before on the trail down, again, even leapfrogging one of them a few times as we descended. I gave away one of my backup pack-straps to someone who’s waist belt had broken, and felt good for repaying the karma I’d been given with the phone charge the day before.
The trail out went more quickly than the trail in, it seemed… though I expect a lot of that was from not hiking in the dark this time. And I’d been reading “Stardust” on the trip, since I’d felt a bit lonely and needed a good fantasy love story, so the whole idea of being deep in the woods just felt a little more… magical… than it had on the hike in.
I was reminded of when I’d hiked the Abel Tasman trail in New Zealand while reading The Hobbit: I love reading, and it always shapes my perceptions… reading The Hobbit while doing a 5-day hike in New Zealand just felt right. So too did hiking in the Washington wilderness while reading about a couple exploring a new and magical world together.
I got back to the car. I packed up, changed into clean clothes, and made my way to the small town of Roslyn.
I ate a gloriously good burger (though, frankly, not quite as good as the last time I was in town), and got on the road just before sundown.
I gawked at Snoqualmie Pass in the sunset.
I enjoyed the cold air as the Mustang thundered its way down I5, with the top down, back toward Wilsonville.
I felt accomplished and free. I enjoyed a comfortable and warm bed.
It’s been a while since I’ve had an adventure like this, hasn’t it? One big adventure with a few different blog posts dedicated to it? Well… Here we go! Adventure to Seattle, solo-style!
A while back, I was granted citizenship to Austria, through an update to the Austrian Constitution allowing repatriation for descendants of those displaced by war. I compiled paperwork over six months, sent it all in, and then waited almost nine months. Then, out of the blue, I get a package in the mail – a very official package with my “Bescheid” included – my new citizenship!
Now that I have it, though, I need a passport… and the closest consulate is in Seattle. I haven’t been for a few years, and I’ve never had an opportunity to either explore the city on my own or to go backpacking in the Olympic National Forest… which happens to be right across Puget Sound from Seattle…
When I told my Manager at work that I’d be taking some time off, I got a very unexpected reply. My manager, since I don’t think I’ve discussed him before, is an older gentleman. He’s small, and fairly frail. With absolutely no offence intended, he’s not someone I’d expect to be out in the woods.
But when I mentioned that I was planning on backpacking the Olympics, his face lit up in a way that I hadn’t really seen before. He started rattling off hikes that he recommended, and our conversation ended up meandering all the way from the Olympic National Forest to his ascent of Mt. Rainier.
It’s always amazing, to me, to learn the subtle details of someone’s life that you never would have learned otherwise. The people we see, day to day, tend to become one-dimensional caricatures… “Ohh, Bob is just a guy who works in the shop, and eats PB&J every day”. It’s… unfortunate… that we tend to loose out on the rich tapestry that everyones lives actually are.
I learned that he, as a younger man, had been an accomplished outdoorsman – and mountaineer, in his own right. He regaled me with stories of glaciers and hikes… nothing too crazy, mind you, but stories that, simply put, mirrored my own surprisingly closely.
From all this, I got a target – Flapjack Lakes, from the Staircase trailhead.
I looked up the details, and planned my ascent. The trail was a normal length for me, and the elevation gain wasn’t outside my comfort range. It was high, don’t get me wrong, but it felt doable – especially with all the Physical Therapy that I’d been doing recently.
I’d planned the adventure well – I’d leave Seattle on Sunday, taking the ferry across Puget Sound, and then drive to the trailhead. It wasn’t the fastest route, by a good margin, but it was the best adventure… and you know what? That was the whole goal here – I enjoy taking the scenic route, and a ferry absolutely meets that criteria.
The ferry ride went beautifully. I had time to not only enjoy the pastries that I’d picked up from the Panama Hotel tea house, but I even had time to call my Dad and StepDad to wish them a happy fathers day! What – you expected that I should forget such an auspicious day? Never! Well… I did forget to call my friends who have kids, but… yeah. I felt bad about that, when I realized.
Anyways! To the hike!
It… Uhh… It was a hike.
You know how I usually skip the details of the hike, because it’s effectively just me stepping one foot in front of the other for seven hours?
Yeah… this was like that. But beautiful!!! I mean, I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for seven years now (yeah, I can barely believe it myself), but I’m always awestruck at the sheer volume of vegetation that surrounds me when I step into the woods. Don’t get me wrong – West Virginia puts up a good fight, but… Well, The Olympic National Forest is a rainforest. And Rainforests have a very high biomass concentration.