Tag Archives: Backpacking

One does not simply walk into Mordor… 17&18-Sept-2021, walking through Mordor

Standard

Friday and Saturday, 17-Sept-2021 and 18-Sept-2021


“One does not simply walk into Mordor”, Boromir said to the council.

“The Lord of Gondor speaks truly”, said Ben, “But one can walk through it, if one is quick and keeps their wits about them”

“Ohh.”, Boromir responded.



I’m not saying that’s 100% how it happened… but that’s probably exactly how it happened.

How what happened? Ohh, how Laurel and I walked through Mordor, of course!



We’d spent the week checking the weather and debating different hikes to try. Originally we’d planned on spending three days hiking into Green Lakes, in the Sisters Wilderness, before we’d realized that permits stopped being required the next month, and not that month. Then, we looked at a few hikes in Washington… but they had rain all weekend long.

The weather out in the Pacific Northwest is fickle though, so we kept our wits about us and kept checking the forecast, ’till we finally found a spot with available permits and a clear-ish weather window: the Western edge of the Sisters Wilderness, across the ridgeline from our original goal!


We cut the trip down to two days, thanks to the rain, but aside from that we kept the plan similar – meet up early on Friday (I’d have pancakes ready and waiting, of course), and then hike into camp before sundown on Friday. Then enjoy the sound of rain on the tent Saturday morning, before hiking out as the rain started in earnest.



The plan went as… well, as planned. Chocolate Chip pancakes with Bacon, some coffee, and a relatively normal 3hr drive brought us to the trailhead. Good conversations were had both in the car and on the path, though the trail did put a bit of a damper on conversation as we got into the burnt area of the wilderness.

Did I mention that part? The online trail description mentioned that there were a few miles in the middle that had been part of a wildfire, but… as can be expected, the trail description didn’t quite convey just how burnt this was. We’re not talking “lightly singed” trees, here. We’re talking scorched earth, blackened deadwood. The forest had been regrowing over the past two years, of course, but it was still noticeably dusty and devastated… a fact which added quite a bit of solemnity to the hike.

We persevered, though.



Walking through the burn was a good meditation aid, but I’ll freely admit that I was quite thankful to get through and back to living forests. Both Laurel and I had a rough time of it; burning through our water much more quickly than expected, between us and making sure Biscuit had enough to drink… the sun was warm, and the trail was dusty, and the views seemed to sap our energy as we continued through…



Until, finally, we came through Mordor to the other side… our destination, Husband Lake



It’s interesting – I’ve hiked in the Sisters Wilderness many times before, but I’d never heard of a mountain called “The Husband” before. It’s nestled to the West of the main Three Sisters, in a parallel valley to the Green Lakes valley. There’s a series of small lakes, and the PCT even goes through the valley a little ways to the East.

It’s beautiful, barely travelled, and… I don’t quite get why it’s not as popular. As you can see, dear reader, we may have gotten some stellar views as we unpacked, set up camp, and the sun dipped down toward the horizon.


Laurel, being the MVP that she is, had insisted on carrying my inflatable kayak. We’re heading to a lake, so clearly we needed to be able to paddle it, right? Right.

I’ve used the kayak quite a few times before, but this was my first time using it on a proper backpacking trip… and let me tell you, it was absolutely amazing. Quietly sitting on the lake as the sun sent light scattering through the clouds and smoke? Gorgeous.

Laurel set up the tent while I paddled, then she paddled off while I filtered the water and started prepping dinner… it was gloriously chill, and an amazing post-hike start to the evening.

The only one unhappy with the situation was Biscuit, I’m sorry to report. He was definitely not a fan of the humans splashing into the distance where he couldn’t check on them, and so stayed as close to the kayak as he could on the shore… after swimming for a while, of course. But it was cold, and he’s a svelt pup, so we quickly dried him off and bundled the poor dear up while we cooked dinner, drank wine, and chatted on into the night…



The next morning dawned exactly as we’d expected – to the pittering sound of rain on the tent.


There’s something gloriously relaxing about waking up on a cool morning in the rain. It wasn’t quite cold, thanks to having three people in the tent… well, two people and one dog… and the sound of the rain was just inconsistent enough that it was both soothing and interesting at the same time.

I lay, drifting in and out of sleep, for quite a while… It was lovely, and absolutely what I’d been hoping for when we talked about going backpacking. But, after a little bit, I started to feel restless… and found myself outside, braving the rain to do a bit of exploring and to make a bite of breakfast.


We’d packed coffee, instant eggs, cheese, and some tortillas… nothing too fancy, mind, but enough that it was lovely and fun, and just enough work to assemble that we had something to do in the warm dryness of the tent. I’d been tempted to just push through the rain, but Laurel insisted on waiting for a bit… I wasn’t convinced that the rain would hold off, but hanging out in the tent was fun, and she’d put up with me pushing us onward the day before… so turnabout is fair play, and we spent an hour or two just relaxing and chatting in the warm dry spot in the storm.



She was right, it turned out. The rain slowed, then stopped completely.


We headed out into the world, packed up, and got ourselves underway back toward the truck. The hike out was long, and definitely wet, but also beautiful. It was easier to chat, since the trail wasn’t quite so dusty, and the fine mist helped keep us cool… cool enough that we didn’t really want to slow down much, as we made our way down the trail.

It was lovely – a major shift in climate from the day before, but an excellent ending to an excellent hike.

Specific details:

Trail map: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/oregon/foley-ridge-trail
Foley Ridge trailhead permit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/willamette/recreation/recarea/?recid=4435&actid=104

Distance (Expected) = 14.6 miles, plus 1mile to the lake
Distance (measured on FitBit) = 22+ miles

Elevation (expected) = 2,368 ft
Elevation (measured on Fitbit) = 2,520 ft

Backpacking the Twin Lakes of Mount Hood

Standard

Friday and Saturday, 16 & 17-Apr-2021


This was an interesting adventure.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to go backpacking… not quite sure why, but this weekend just felt right, you know? It felt like it was time for me to get back into the wild, and to really enjoy the snow while it was still around.

Originally I’d planned on backpacking out to Mirror Lake – I’ve hiked that trail quite a few times, and I’ve always been intrigued by the small campsite right above the lake… It’s on the main trail, but off to the side just enough to be almost secluded… and nicely tamped out into a pretty solid little campsite.

But walking into work on Monday, I found a fortune cookie script on the ground. It said “Take the path less traveled, and you will be rewarded”. It’s not often that I’m given a sign from above, but… Well, the night before I’d read that Mirror Lake is one of the most popular trails in Oregon. And a fortune telling me not to take the path well traveled kind of gives a clear message, doesn’t it?

My plans pivotted.

A few coworkers had told me about Twin Lakes – I’d never heard of it before, but it was supposedly quite a nice hike. And looking into it a bit further, it also wasn’t particularly well traveled in the winter… which seemed like a rather fortuitous circumstance, considering the previously-mentioned fortune…



I changed my plans, packed my bags, and stuffed things into the car on Friday morning. Soon enough I was cruising down the highway, out of the budding spring and into the cool snowy fortress of winter…

Almost immediately after starting into the trail – after being quite happy with the near complete lack of other cars in the parking lot – I found my first good sign – a very pretty little yellow rock. Painted, and left by the trailhead.

Pretty quickly, I found my second good sign – someone had dropped a little spinner; a little plastic toy that you twirled, and it would make interesting shapes while sparkling in the sun.


The rest of the hike to the campsite went beautifully – I walked, I enjoyed the sun, and I appreciated the bright light filtering through the trees. The snow was surprisingly dirty, but not too bad to walk on… definitely just one more sign that spring has fully sprung, and that summer is just around the corner.

I’m really glad that I was able to get out and enjoy the snow again before the weather steams it all away – even with the light snow levels and strews leaves it’s gorgeous. And the smell of the snow was still beautifully in the air, following me around on the cool breezes that ruffled my shirt every once in a while.



I hiked onward and upward until I finally made Upper Twin Lake.

I’d stopped at Lower Twin for a quick snack and a reading break, of course, but my main goal of the evening was to forge upwards and get to spend as much time relaxing at my little camp as I could. I’d brought a good book, had some cocoa and extra snacks, and was aiming for a lovely relaxing time on the snow.

And with one rather frustrating exceptions, that’s exactly what happened. I rested, watched the sun set across the lake, and enjoyed the alpine glow on Mt. Hood.


What was that one exception, you ask?

Well… my fuel bottle.

Fuel is pretty important to backpacking, unsurprisingly. It’s also a pretty major risk point too though – it’s flammable, it melts plastic (and thus my nylon gear), it’s poisonous, and it’s wet. None of those things are good, especially when you’re far from the car… and I’m always extra paranoid about where I store my fuel, after reading a story about a team traversing Greenland who spilled their white gas into their food supply, and had to make the choice between starving quickly, or dying of toxic ingestion slightly less quickly.


Because of that paranoia, I always keep my fuel and my food well separated, and always store my fuel bottle on the outside of my pack.

I stand by that practice, but today it came with a new challenge – my fuel bottle had frozen shut.



Not… quite something I’d expected, and I’ll freely admit that I spent a bit of time stressing out and trying to brute-force the bottle open. Unfortunately it didn’t work, and I realized that I was more likely to hurt myself, or my tent, with my continued flailing at the stubborn bottle.

It wasn’t obvious that it was frozen… and to be honest, I don’t even know if it definitely was iced over. If it was just on too tight… well, the solution to both problems was the same, thankfully. Warm the bottle up, and let thermal energy do the work for me.

After a bit of time holding some handwarmers against the neck, and breathing onto the cap, it did finally come free… and after I breathed a nice sigh of relief, I set about heating up some dinner and enjoying the solitude of the lake and the quiet of the snow…

The next morning dawned bright and lovely, with not a single cloud in the sky and a whole flock of Grey Jay’s coming by to visit with me.

Even this far from the mountain itself, the birdies know to come find backpackers, it seems… and I made sure not to disappoint them, sharing some of my breakfast as they flittered around and visited with me. I did keep my food pouch well protected though, after that last incident where one of them tried to take a quick bird bath in my breakfast skillet…


I rested, woke up slowly, and enjoyed some coffee as I watched the sun rise over the lake.

After a bit of reading I stretched out, packed up my gear, and started the trek back to the car…

As I walked, I enjoyed the sun. It was a bit cooler today than it had been the day before… but maybe that was because it was earlier in the day? Either way, it was a nice shift in pace, and I very much appreciated the chance to experience just a bit more cool weather as I hiked out.

I stopped again at Lower Twin lake to relax some more, do some reading, and even did a little bit of yoga out on the frozen lake, a little ways from shore in the bright sunlight.

I finished sunning myself, turned back toward my pack, and fell through the ice.


A moment of panic.

Desperately clawing forward, trying to catch myself as the water rushed over my boots and through my clothes


It’s in every winter movie – falling through the ice, and getting trapped in a cold, blue landscape. Thankfully, I didn’t have anything even remotely as cinematic as that happen to me… I was close to shore, and so the water was at most two feet deep where I was.

I quickly scrambled onto firmer footing, and made my way back to my backpack.

Anyone who hikes in the winter, especially backpacking, knows what to do when you get wet – pull off the wet layers, and warm yourself up. Ideally, put on dry layers if you can, but most importantly get as much water away from your body as quickly as possible.

That was pretty easy – and since all of my gear is synthetic or wool, it was actually quite easy to wring out almost all of the water that had soaked in. My boots… well, they were a lost cause, unfortunately. But similar to my socks, they’re designed to stay warm even if they get wet… and since they were waterproof already, only a bit of water had rushed in around my ankle when my feet went under the ice.



It… wasn’t that bad, thankfully.

I rested and caught my breath for a bit, put some hand warmers onto my ankles just in case, and after fully wringing out my socks… I started back onto the trail. My footfalls a little squishier than I was planning, but… you know, all in all I wasn’t much worse for wear.

The day was still bright and early, warm and cloudless.

It was still a good day.

Backpacking up the White River Glacier in the snow

Standard

Friday and Saturday, 19 & 20-Feb-2021



Sometimes, I go on an adventure to get somewhere or to accomplish a specific goal.

More often though, I go to feel something or to experience something. You know, the whole “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” sort of thing? I enjoy that – the sense of exploration and experience, being able to be in the moment. Instead of chasing after a specific goal or location, chasing a feeling or an experience!

The goal of this adventure was to feel like an alpinist. An explorer from a bygone era, someone forging into the arctic unknown, battling the elements in the hope of being the first person to explore a new land.

Let me tell you, I found that feeling. The cold, the solitude, and the savage wilderness. Untouched snow, piled high for me to forge my way through… not that the trail was unwelcoming, more that it was testing me, to make sure that I really knew what it had in store for me.

See, this is what happens when I have a great time. I get poetic and junk.

It was beautiful, is the short version.




I drove up on Friday, in the late morning.

I didn’t rush my departure – the roads were in pretty good condition, but the longer that I let them bake in the sun, the less chance I’d need to stop on the side of the road to put the chains on the Mustang. I’d also get to sleep in a bit more, which is always a bonus too… so I combined the two and felt quite secure when I left the house around 11:30 or so.

The drive went smoothly, and my delayed departure paid off when I made it all the way to the far end of the parking lot without any concern about traction. I parked, coordinated my gear, chatted with the Boy Scout troop setting up camp next to me, and then forged forward on the trail.

The first mile or so was gloriously easy – the trail had been packed down beautifully by all the sledders, and I made quite good time. My crampons crunched, my poles poked, and the snow drifted lazily around me… just a simple and crisp walk in the woods.

As a side note – that’s one of the biggest things I’ve missed in the last few years. The crisp air; I think it’s the smell of ice, and possibly snow, that you smell when you walk outside for the first time on a cold morning. I hadn’t been snow camping in years, and now that I’m on my own I’ve been more times this winter than in the last four years… and I’ve finally rediscovered that beautiful smell of fresh snow and crisp air.

Anyways, I tramped onward, up the trail toward the Timberline trail.

Soon enough, the packed snow faltered and vanished as I walked past the last good sledding hill. There were a few cross country ski tracks, but trying to follow them was actually more challenging than just forging my own path – when I walked in their tracks, my feet would hold for a moment before breaking through the snow layer… which basically meant that I was doing step-ups the whole time, and then wading through the snow.

Instead, I opted to just wade through the knee-high snow straight away. Slow, plodding steps took me another mile and a half, give or take, before I called it a night. I needed time to set up camp, and trust be told I was exhausted. The powdery snow of the Cascades is definitely easier to push through than the concrete snow of some other mountains, but… it’s still tiring, man.

Once I found a suitable campsite, nicely sheltered in the lee of a small tree, I marked out a nice 10ft x 15ft pad, and then spent 30min or so trampling it down into a nice packed campsite. I had little walls around me to shelter the tent, and I even made a cute little cooking nook to plop the stove on. It was lovely, and I quickly set about pitching my tent and cooking up a nice dinner.

The rest of the evening was glorious – quietly watching the sunset, and then watching the lights from the nearby ski resort wink into brightness. Resting in the tent, then reading… all while nice and warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the snow fall on the tent before the wind scattered it back away.

I slept really well, to the surprise of absolutely no one.