The RocketDog

The RocketDog

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Choice, Chance and Change: Sky Lakes/Hanging Valley Cabinet Wilderness,Montana June 8-10, 2015




     "You've got to make the choice to take a chance if you want your life to change."  A quote I've seen recently on the 'net.  No credit, but whoever said it was speaking truth. After 11 seasons at a job in which I loved what I was doing, I left.  I had no real plan at the time, I just knew it was time for a change.  I applied at a company that is known for it's positive, amazing energy and a real work/life balance walk, not just a talk-the-talk.  That company was REI.  It was a leap of faith, and I was not disappointed.  Instead, it was as rewarding as a spring rain in an Arizona desert.  It inspires you to get outside.  Don't just exist, but live.  A match made in heaven for me. It didn't hurt that there isn't one employee there that I don't like, that isn't an inspiration in their own way, that isn't vibrant and full of knowledge about their own love of the outdoors, be it climbing, biking, kayaking, hiking. Suddenly, everything was glorious and full of life and I waited for the awakening, only to find out it was a dream.  But if it is, I'm still asleep and dreaming.  And loving every minute still.    
     It's difficult to change in many ways; it can be intimidating, daunting, exhausting, but to use another recently seen quote, life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.  Change only we can wrought.  And the reward can be so  wonderful, you wonder what in the hell took you so long.  It's like being so incredibly thirsty but not knowing how much until someone hands you a pitcher of cool, clear water.  Coincidentally, I was not the only one who made a rather significant career change.  My husband left his ladder truck, his station, and his crew that he worked with for close to (if not all of) 10 years for a new truck and crew.  He went from the biggest firetruck on the dept to the smallest, but yet he too, felt called to decide his future, instead of waiting and existing. A season of change in the Martin House, was spring.
     As difficult as change is, it inspires growth and knowledge about ourselves.  It also makes you realize how tight your shoes were when you finally get to take them off. Both Scott and I had been living under so much stress but didn't know it until it was gone.  I had been so busy listening to what people told me I 'was', I had stopped actually 'being' who I was.  Both of us are excited in these new paths. 
     In an offshoot, for the first time in almost 12 years, I had time off in June.  This spring has been the most incredibly warm, dry spring in over a decade.  (Whether this is a good thing is another post, but for human comfort, it's hard to beat.)   I was given three days off during a 90 degree spell-- the mountains practically begged for a backpacking trip, given the dismal snowfall of the winter.  Unfortunately, Scott was unable to manage the time off, so I decided Rocket and I would head over solo.  I am not afraid of those mountains; I could never be lost up there, they are like home to me.  And so, with a few phone calls to scout out trails, we decided on Hanging Valley trail #135, which is an offshoot of Sky Lakes/Flower Creek trail #137.  It is rated as "strenuous, not maintained for the average hiker".  Hmmm.  Scott was encouraging, as was the ranger.  HA.  Boy do I have them fooled.  Anyhow, we packed, we weighed, I ended up at 40.5lbs for my pack.  Now, here's the thing: lots of people can and do with less.  I like to be comfortable though, and don't even get in the way of my food.  BACK AWAY FROM MY FOOD.  One of my greatest pleasures is eating well in the backcountry.  Plus, as a soloist, I like to be prepared.  :shrug:  YMMV.  I took everything out when I got home that I didn't use, and weighed it, and it came to about 5.9 lbs.  Plus, my tent was rather heavy, at over 4lbs, but it's big enough for the dog and I to comfortably hang out and sleep.  Add in the fact that my pack itself weighs around 6lbs, and well, 40 it was.  We loaded up on a gorgeous blue sky Monday and left at noon.





     We made a few stops, and the directions to the trailhead are rather confusing, but with the help of a friendly local from Libby, a smile and a handshake, we parked and hit the trail about 4:30 Montana time.  The hike started out beautifully in the golden afternoon light.





  It was 3 miles to the junction of trails 135 and 137, and I planned to camp there for the night and head up 135 early in the morning to beat the heat.  It is supposed to gain 800+ feet in about half mile and I wanted to have plenty of time to rest too.  We made fast work of it and just under 90 minutes later, we were there.  I was dismayed to see a raging creek and some dubious-looking logs, which were blocking a rather abrupt waterfall that dropped about 15-20 ft sharply, with raging white water.  It appeared to me that there were several ravines on the other side, with no clear indication of which one to try to cross to, to pick up the trail.  I dropped my pack, poked around, decided to venture out onto one of the main logs and quickly found it was not very wide, and extremely slick.  With the side view of the waterfall making me a bit nervous, I retreated.  Ok, well it was mostly the dog.  He started to come out onto the log with me but his pack was still on and he's not the most graceful with it.  I was thirsty and realized I hadn't eaten since lunch so quickly set up the tent and ate some green olives seasoned with basil and garlic.  Seriously.  They're in these little foil pouches and OMG.  Heaven.  Set about making dinner while staring at the other side of the creek and still not seeing which way to attempt to cross.  Now, I'm not scared of animals.  I'm not scared of being alone.  But I started to get a little stressed about this crossing.  Then suddenly, I remembered I can CHANGE plans.  I decided that if, in the morning, I still couldn't find a clear path or way across, I would simply take trail 137 to Sky Lakes.  I finished a VERY disappointing dehydrated chicken, stuffing and gravy dinner (see what I get for trying to dump weight) and went to hang my bear bag.






     The first of the guilt creeped in.  I admit.  I started to feel guilty about going by myself.  Partly because Scott is not only the person I'm married to, he's my best friend, and he loves to backpack as much (or very close to it) as I do.  And partly because, well, kids.  Yeah.  They're teens.  But that doesn't mean they don't need me. And it would take me at least 4-5 hours from that spot let alone farther in to get home if something happened.  So on this trip, I brought something brand new to Scott and I, a type of GPS texting device called a Delorme InReach Explorer.  It allows limited texting and location services on a map.  I sent a pre-set text saying I'd arrived to Scott.  Then I sent another detailing my potential plan of Sky Lakes and mentioning that I felt guilty.  Nothing back, but Scott was working so I focused on listening to the birds sing themselves to sleep and soon we were too. I then received a text from him saying "Go for it and enjoy yourself".
     The next morning was gorgeous and soon we were off on the trail to Sky Lakes, after another venture out onto the log far enough to tell me I didn't want to risk it.  The other crossing logs were mostly submerged and the creek was deeper than it looked.  Typical June snowmelt. The trail started off nice and sweat-inducing, but not too bad.  A few difficult trees, but hey.  Early season. I stopped for lots of pics.





      We came to a few very big spruces down on the trail.  There is always the smaller trees down on any trail.  These were clearly new downs from either winter or this spring.  Ugh.  Some were so big I couldn't get over them, but they were so branchy I had to belly crawl under and contort myself.  Some I had to take my pack off to get over, some I had to help lift Rocket over because of his pack.  We broke out into some lovely meadows, though and all was forgiven.







 
The trail then dropped down by the creek again, and there were some more aggravating downs.  I swear to god I've never fought so many downed trees.  I was hot and sweaty and the spruce and hemlock needles were sticking everywhere, getting down between my pack and my tank.  I was getting irritated at this point.  We came across a rather interesting print of a big cat in the mud.  I saw Rocket step and I believe the smaller footbprint is his back foot.  The larger I'm pretty sure is a coug.



Then another stunning alpine meadow that looked like there was no way out.  I'd kind of forgotten about the Delorme and I could have checked my mileage to see I was less than a mile to the lake but...who thinks about technology in the face of this kind of beauty?






 
     The guide books, admittedly 20 years old, said no significant stream crossings. I decided, while packing, to leave my new stream shoes at home.  Le Sigh.  This would bite me later.  Note to self: guide books are not always right, especially given times of year.  There were two I had to cross on logs, which I've always hated doing.  Onward we went.  MORE FREAKING TREES.  I'm starting to get fatigued but don't really realize it. I swear you'd no more than get over one than BOOM. OH LOOK.  A DOWNED TREE.  I did not stop to take pictures, really, because I just wanted to get to the lake.  But I did get one or two.






 
     Trust me, they're bigger than they look.  Anyhow, finally, there's one that is so thick with branches I really wonder how we're going to get over.  I take my pack off and manage to heave it over (luckily on the uphill side of the slope, good thinking Aimee) and wrangle through but Rocket lands directly on a sharp staub and starts to yelp.  I lift my 85lb dog up by his pack handle, I'm so freaked out and still he's stuck.  I think he is impaled and going to bleed out right there in front of me.  I yank and he is free and turns around on the other side.  I scramble back over and feel him and he is ok.  I go BACK over again, retrieve my pack, throw it over again, and for the 4th time squeeze through the tree and sit down with the dog, exhausted.  I get the Delorme out and send a text to Scott, saying I don't think we're going to make it over that one, it's too branchy for the dog and we're going to have to turn around and hike back out.  He texts back "You're almost there!  You're literally right around the bend.  You're like 3/10ths of a mile!"  I drink some water, eat a pro-bar and rest.  I feel no shame in admitting it was nice to see encouraging words and he was right:  I paired the Delorme with the map app on my phone and I was sooooo close.   I decide he's right, we're fucking going through that fucking tree and I get up and go attack the branches with the strength of anger.  I break a couple key ones and we're through.  WHEW.  It's muddy and slippery and we're both exhausted.  The last bit is of course steep and overgrown and terribly slick, but we soon see the basin cradling the lake.  The trail leads us to the outlet, swollen from snowmelt and I see.....water about mid-thigh high, with a bottom covered in slick logs.  Now, some of you might be brave enough to go barefoot over logs like that in icy cold snowmelt at 6300'.  But I wasn't.  The thing is, by yourself, you have to make decisions based on what will keep you on two feet, able to hike out number 1, and number 2, what will compromise the trip, even if it's just soaking everything in your pack because you submerged it being an idiot?  I knew the dog could swim over and it looked like there might be some logs (DAMNED LOGS) I could cross.  But as I started over, intending to call him from the trail across, where he could swim, he broke his stay and started up the log.  The crossing would've required a jump to a submerged log which I didn't think he would handle well with his full pack, and I hadn't taken it off.  I yelled 'BACK' and leapt off and decided I would look around on the north side of the lake.  We climbed a bench and found a nice campsite that would work, and rested. I then pitched the tent and got my chair and ate a jalepeno cheddar bagel with cream cheese for lunch, simply glad to rest.

Little bit of snow of course the dog would find:



OMFG.  I think we've made it!

 Logs in outlet:


 Yeah, I know it looks benign.  Trust me.  It was much deeper and swifter than it looks, and I know how slippery those logs are on bare feet. Part of success is making good decisions.  Had I not been alone, it would've been different. Had I brought those damn new expensive water shoes, with the grippy sole and the drains.....which weighed like an OUNCE each....  Le Sigh Deux. 


 


      The dog was clearly tired too, so we took a nap in the shade of the tent. Afterward, I made a cup of coffee and then we went exploring. Some very nice pictures to be had.







     After checking out the basin, looking for a supposed Englemann Spruce reputed to be over 5 ft in diameter (and that was 20+ years ago), we gave up and went back to some delicious grown-up mac n cheese.  Dinner with a view:



     So, as the afternoon wore into evening, my guilt returned.  It grew heavier and I couldn't figure out why, but discovered that I had cell service on that bench!  The first time ever, in any trip, I've had it.  I felt it was meant to be.  I texted Scott and told him while I was ok being by myself, frankly---- it was kind of boring without my 'other' best friend.  I know I can do this alone, but honestly, I like doing it with him more.  I felt selfish to leave him behind.  It's hard to explain but it felt wrong.   He of course did not feel that way, but I guess it's a version of 'mommy guilt'.   Or is it just female guilt in general?   Anyhow, Rocket was too tired to accompany me (THANKS, GERMAN SHEPHERD) but I got our bear bag set up  (he at least had the courtesy to watch from his vantage point) and all the while the thought of all those trees was in the back of my mind for tomorrow's return trip.  We settled into the tent for the night, to a perfectly calm, still night.  I lay there, listening again to the birds and the sounds of the forest quieting, the feeling of guilt preventing me from sleeping easily.  After I finally drifted off, I remembered again why I hated this tent, because of the condensation issues-- when Rocket dripped water onto my face.  Also, my Thermarest really DID have a leak, it wasn't just elevation the prior night.  Twice I had to blow it back up in the middle of the night.  Dawn came and we ate a quick breakfast and packed up.  I was determined to haul ass out so I could spend at least the afternoon with Scott and the kids before work the next day.  I got to the first big tree, and decided to count.  SEVENTEEN FUCKING TREES, 5 in the last half mile to the lake, 12 total in the last two  or miles approaching the lake, 15 in the last three (I'm going backwards here) and I'd forgotten about the big one before camp the first night.  Call me a wimp, but I didn't count the small trees, or even the trees you could go around or hop over.  So, inadvertently, I set myself up for one of the most fatiguing hikes I've done.  Only six miles in, roughly 3700+ feet of gain, about 13 miles round trip.  Not the longest, not the most elevation change, but it was tough in spots and those trees kicked my ass.
     I had a lot of time to reflect on the choices, challenges and changes I've made in the last few months.  To say I'm happy that I set myself upon that path, even though it was uncertain, chancy, totally out of my comfort zone is an understatement.  The hike had some challenges while solo a bit out of my comfort zone too, but they got handled.  I did feel slightly validated when the dog looked with some angst at his pack the morning we left; it was as if he, too, were dreading the trees.
     It's easy for us to stay in familiar surroundings, that may even seem comfortable even though they are not where we should be, nor developing us to our full potential.  It's difficult to break out of that comfort.  After all, the known is better than the unknown, right?  Except it's not always.  Making sound decisions out by yourself in the backcountry keeps you safe and gets you back out.  But making the decision to go out by yourself keeps you alive in an entirely different but no less important way.  Challenge yourself to choose to chance change.  Do more than just exist.  Thrive.  Learn.  Live. 

Once again, although it's hard to believe, there are yet pictures that did not make this post.  Full photostream Here

    

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Search for Peace




   Today was a hard day.  Not even as hard for me as so many others.  After an emotionally exhausting morning, I sought out the solace and peace of the woods. There, I reflected, as always.  Things began to sort themselves out in my mind-- slightly, as grief is such a complex emotion it can't ever be compartmentalized--and a few things seemed clear.  When someone is placed upon a path of grief, it is always a solo trail.  There isn't anyone that will be on that trail alongside you.  They have their own-- and each trail is completely unique.  That is one of the cruelest burdens of grief. You are forced to continue, to navigate alone.  There may likely be absolutely no sign of the path most of the time.  The duration, the conditions, each belong to a single individual.  That said, there are some observations to be made.

     I've read about The Circle Theory in relation to a medical event, and it fits perfectly within the world of the grieving:  Basically, Comfort in, Dump out.  If you draw a small circle on paper, then surround that circle with concentric rings, larger and larger, you have the Circle.  The Inner circle gets to say and do whatever they want.  They may permit passage of information out of the inner circle or they may choose that it remain private.  The surrounding circles absorb as needed, but the flow of stress is definitely one way:  Out.  The larger circles are only allowed to offer comfort and support in the direction of the Inner Circle. People outside of the Inner Circle are only allowed to dump their grief and stress and coping mechanisms to people in larger circles than themselves, not towards the Inner Circle. Don't fight battles that aren't yours, unless the Inner Circle has asked you to.  While your grief is yours, and valid, and genuine, you are in an Outer Circle.  Your needs rank below the needs of the Inner Circle.  You may not--please-- make this about you.  You are allowed to participate in the Circle, but you may not cause grief to flow inward.  You may not agree with the Inner Circle's wishes, decisions, but understand: you are not in the Inner Circle, therefore you do not get to make the decisions.

     Don't offer more than you are capable of.  Genuine concern is always appreciated.  The rings of the Outer Circles protect the Inner.  It's very easy and obvious to the Inner Circle to see who actually walks the walk vs just talking the talk.  Don't add to the burden by hurting the Inner Circle with your empty promises.  If you're trying to make yourself look good by offering support, just don't.  Really don't.  You don't look good and you cause more tension and disappointment.  If you jump on the wagon, do it because you're there to truly help, not because everyone else is.  When the wagon starts to empty, it's a whole other hurt that perpetuates the process.  Your presence is comfort-- you don't have to grandstand.  Again, this isn't about you.   Be there for the rough ride, the small moments, the large moments.  Clearly, you may grow weary and need a break from the constant ache of riding the wagon.  But don't leave the wagon: walk beside it, until you can take your place again.  The driver of the wagon can't change places with you; this goes back to the path of grief being an individual journey no one can make for someone.  But riding or walking along the wagon will help protect the wagon.

     Don't assume you know how you would feel, or what you would do or wish if you were the driver of the wagon. You must respect the driver of the wagon, even if you can't comprehend their requests, their wishes, their feelings.  If they ask you to get off the wagon, do it.  Walk beside.  Remember the Inner Circle.  They are the only ones allowed to request something of the whole Circle.  If you are not the driver, you are in an Outer Circle.  If you can't figure out where you fall in the Circles, chances are you're not in as small of a one as you might think.

     Parents of children and teens: discuss with your children.  Ask them why they feel the way they do.  Help them navigate their grief.  Help them to understand different perspectives, illustrate to them the Circles.  This visual often opens them in a way words can not.  They are affected by grief too, and genuinely are not equipped with even the most basic tools to deal with it.


     Please, do not spread venom and hate.  I can't believe I even need to say this.   Before you repeat something, ask yourself: How will this affect the Inner Circle?  Will this encourage the flow of love, comfort and support?  Or will this spread negativity, keep the wounds festering, cause them to falter and break down on their journey towards peace?  Your Mother was right.  If it won't help the Inner Circle, keep your damn mouth shut. And send your wishes for that wagon to someday ride on smooth, soft grass, full of light and love.

    
    
    

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cairns, Company and Caught in the Storm: The (dis?)Enchantments




 The Enchantments: the name speaks for itself.  A magical place, with names like "Gnome Tarn", "Rune Lake",  "Valkryie Lakes"  (the original names).  Land of high alpine larch, mineral infested blue waters, glacial boulders. Mountain goats bound like unicorns all over.  So tempting, that to preserve it, the FS only grants overnight access by lottery in the dark of winter.  Of course I had to go.  We won -- if you use the term loosely-- a permit for the Snow Lakes zone, which, while not the Core zone I wanted, was acceptable.  All spring and summer my dreams were filled with golden larch against blue skies.

core zone old map here

     As things go, this was a summer of both extremes: perfect backpacking weather, and imperfect fitness.  I just couldn't get ahead on my arthritis and for the first time in 6 years, I voluntarily took 6 weeks off of everything.  From my backpack at the beginning of July until around the 10th of August, I rested.  Unfortunately, this didn't help at all.  Knowing a challenging hike was looming, I restarted with running and weight lifting.  The weather held.  We made plans, splurged on some new daypacks, daydreamed.  My health improved. I felt strong again.

     Two weeks out, Scott developed a bad bout of diverticulitis.  Two antibiotics three times a day and he could barely walk.  The First Sign.  Then, the forecast started to tank.  Gorgeous, clear and dry until the day we would hike in.  The Second Sign.  But everyone knows weather changes at the last minute.  Then Gabe came down with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease on Wednesday.  BABY DISEASE!  In high school! The Third Sign.  The day before we left, Caitlyn came down with a sore throat (the beginning of HFM disease).  The Fourth Sign.  She wasn't feeling bad other than that though, so I ignored them all, and focused on the trip I'd built up in my mind all summer.  Then I received news that a very important court date for a friend was scheduled at 9am the morning of the 25th-- in the midst of the trip.  The Fifth sign. I was dense.

     We drove to Wenatchee Monday afternoon to spend the night.  It was so odd to me to head West to go backpacking instead of East.  Wrong, somehow.  After we arrived, we became concerned our packs were too heavy, so we went through and lightened Scott's.  I was worried he'd have an attack up there. We trimmed some of his and added a little from mine, as they weighed the same.  This burned me a little, even though I was in better shape than he was.  His ended up around 42lbs with water and mine around 40lbs.  He was thinking about the long climb up Aasgard Pass.  Speaking of....there's two main ways into the 'Chants.  One , the 'traditional' way, is up Snow Lakes trail.  This TH starts somewhere around 1300' and gains about 6000' by the time it enters the Core zone (lower Enchantments), and it's 10 miles.  The Stuart lake TH is higher by a couple thousand, and is only 1700' over about 5 miles to Colchuck Lake.  However, you then have to cross a boulder field to round the lake to make it to the bottom of Aasgard Pass: a vertical mile that gains about 2300'.  It is both risky, dangerous and yet young children do it, dayhikers do it, 75 year olds do it.  It's an anomaly.  I thought it would be easier overall if we got a Core permit to go in that way.

     Bright and early, Tuesday the 23rd we hit the ranger station in Leavenworth.  Scott's cousin graciously met us there to give us a ride to the Stuart Lake TH if we scored a permit.  We were the only ones there; the Ranger said it was the first time she could remember not having to do a drawing for the core permit.  Score!  The thought did cross my mind that the weather might have something to do with it, but it didn't look that bad.  A small storm that night, and rain... well, we had rain gear.  Onward.




     Boy, we look optimistic.  We made short work of the first few miles, even with numerous stops to adjust this and that (and dial in my new boots).  We decided to go ahead and put our rain covers on our packs, as it kept drizzling on and off.  I'm glad we did.  The trail was easy until the last mile, and then, while not 'hard', it's definitely grunt-worthy with full packs on.  We met several people on the trail.  I thought this would be an issue for me-- the first group of men we met were aghast that we were going up Aasgard that same day.  Only one of the men, the older one, said 'Ah, you can do it.  Just be slow and careful'.  Not that encouraging for Scott.  He is the caution to my impetuousness.  Then we met a couple, probably ten years or so older than us, and they were far more upbeat.  They reassured us we were going in the 'preferable' way and they'd done it the other way before.  They said to reassess after the boulder field, which we thought was reasonable.  Due to the rain, I didn't take much for pictures.

Me, looking like a hobbit for some reason (I swear I was standing upright!)




   Looking back the way we came:




First view of the lake and Aasgard Pass:


West end of the lake, as we went past:
 





The boulder field sucked.  The gal had said to me: "At the beach at Colchuck, you can decide whether you'll want to continue up.  You'll have already done something hard".  She was right.  It wouldn't be hard with a day pack on, but with a full backpack, in the rain, it's a bitch.  We met a group of about 6 people, 4 guys and two gals, that cheered us on and mentioned Inspiration Lake as a place to camp.  We hit the beach, chatted with a couple of women there and went a little ways up to sit and eat a bar and drink. We felt good, we felt ok, even looking up at the pass.  It didn't look so bad.




We headed up.  Time: 2:27pm




Surprisingly, it wasn't too bad.  Grunt work for sure.  You just follow cairns and more cairns.  "Stay left", everyone said.


View of Dragontail about halfway up:


Looking back at Colchuck:



A few shots of the views:




     Fatigue started with about the last quarter to go.  We met a group of three guys, they also mentioned Inspiration Lake as more protected.  We trudged on, and hit some large granite slabs that were slick from the rain.  At this point, for a shorty like me, it's basically heaving yourself and your giant pack up.  I was getting irritated and tired, and the cairns were few and far between.  (I now wonder if we didn't go far enough 'right' at this point.  I know there are several routes up and I think we got off track a little bit)  A young couple appeared above us, on the way down, and when I gratefully acknowledged the human interaction and said "We've got to be close, right?"  I was slightly crushed when he replied "Well, you're 85% of the way!"  The fuck you say.   The wind had started to pick up but we figured it was just the elevation.  We finally drag ourselves up over the top, and the wind is blowing like crazy.  By now, it's about 4:40pm.  It's grey, grey and more grey, and the rain is hitting hard.  We're chilled now with the sweat and the rain and wind and Scott insists we change shirts, so we try to get behind a big boulder and brrrrrrrrrrrr-- naked in the wind and rain while we frantically change into dry shirts, throw our down sweaters on and our rain shells.  Ahhh.  Much better.  I snap a couple quick pics.










I am struck by the moonscape around me.  It is so dreary and drizzly though, and bitingly cold with the intense wind that it's hard to stand and take pictures.  Not to mention I don't want to ruin my wimpy iPhone.

     So the thing is: I knew the 'Chants were the Land of the Traveled.  I figured the trail would be, well, a trail.  Notsomuch.  It's cairns.  Cairns and only cairns.  The thing is, which cairns?  There are cairns marking the way to this tarn, and that tarn, and this lake, and that lake.  It was difficult in the growing weather to make sense of which way to go.  I refer to the map and we trudge along, and am mostly able to make out where we are.  The wind intensifies, as does the rain.  We see three tents along the northern end of Isolation Lake, and they are blowing and battening down in the storm.  STORM.  DUH.  This isn't just 'wind up high', the storm is here.  The wind is a steady strong 30mph+.   It's almost knocking me off my feet.  We see an overlook and the lake is far below.  Mistakenly, we think it might be Inspiration (it wasn't, it was Crystal) but it served its purpose: we know there is no way we're going to make it down that night.  We start scouting for a tent spot and it's pouring rain now, except it's sideways with the wind.  I see a grassy spot but Scott overrules it by pointing at the way the larch trees are bent sideways.  We walk a bit further and boom -- he points to a perfect, small, sandy obvious tent spot encircled by larch not bent in a wind tunnel and it's decided.  We throw our packs under the trees on the bit of grass and start to work.  Our gloves were so soaked we had to ditch them.  We'd used our leather ones to work up Aasgard, so this was our spare pair.  No more gloves. At the last minute, I decide to keep them on just a little longer. 

     Since our tent is mesh and the storm was so bad, Scott decided to put up the fly first.  As we're working on it, his fingers are already so frozen that the fly slips out and it's a good thing I had a freaking death grip on it.  He'd already mentioned that to me-- that if we lost that fly, we'd be in the storm alright.  A freaking shit storm, so I was holding on to it for dear life.  Good thing I'd kept my gloves on just a bit longer.  We get it up and we put the tent up underneath, so it stays relatively dry.  By now, it's dark and I have to get out the headlamps.  These are the times I'm grateful for Scott -- he never ever loses his cool.  He kept calm and steady and when I stood there, chattering, he knew I was close to a moment and he said "Aimee.  Get going".   I start on blowing up the thermarests and getting the bags out and Scott starts to guy the tent...except there's no guy lines.  For some reason, they're missing. Scott has to get cord and make them.  Everything is covered in wet granite sand.  About the time I get the beds ready, Scott's done with his makeshift guys.  We don't have time to get the gear shed up because we're both soaking wet and chattering, he can't feel his fingers and I can barely talk.  We pull the packs into the miniscule vestibules on either side, take off our boots and wet socks and change into dry clothes.  Our down sweaters are soaked: the rain has driven into the necks of our shells and up our sleeves, I guess.  We crawl into our bags, too tired to even eat, although somewhere in my brain I think we need the calories and I briefly think of making hot tea.  But my fingers are too frozen.  I rethink my decision to leave the MSR stove behind and bring my SnowPeak GigiPower canister, as it probably would take too long to boil.  We slowly get warm as the storm intensifies.

     The original forecast for the Enchantments, off the NOAA site, had said wind gusts up to 21mph.  Scott and I spent the night blasted by gusts up to 70mph, with wind at least 45mph steady, and he swears there were gusts higher.  All I know is after a few checks to make sure my shell wasn't blowing away and my boots were under the fly, I drew the cord of my bag around my face and tried to sleep. I realized I had only had about 1 liter of water and my mouth was insanely dry.  We had about 1 liter left, and I forced myself to drink some.  My breath blew clouds around me. Brrr.  I was toasty warm, though, and there was a brief time I thought the storm was abating.  The thing that kept going around in my mind though, was the forecast; it had read pretty much the same for the three days we were scheduled to be in there.  We'd waited too long to tent up and things had gotten too wet. The other thing that I'd made a mistake in, besides the stove, was in leaving the GPS at home.  In an effort to drop weight, Scott had suggested I leave it, as it's so traveled, so many people, not brushy and easy to find our way.  Well, ok.  Except....weather.  Weather forecasts.  Nothing to do now though. I think, it's easier to imagine worst case scenarios when it's just you, or just two of you.  Everything goes through your head that could go wrong.

     At 6:30 am, we both talked about waiting it out vs hiking out.  We decided to see if it died down, and frankly, I'd barely slept all night, which is odd for me, as I usually love storms in tents, and I was warm.  I set the alarm for 8:45am and we'd decide then.  When it went off, the storm hadn't died down in the least-- it was still going strong, so we decided to head out.  Scott wanted to just eat bars but I felt we needed some hot food, so he went out to get water and we forced ourselves to eat some beef stew with mashed potatoes.  My Scottish friend had made the 'mince', as she calls it, for her husband and son and their 50mile hike through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in August and it was delicious...other than that my SnowPeak, while working, took forever to boil and we didn't have 25 minutes to wait for it to fully rehydrate.  Still, it was a wise decision.

    Scott snapped a few pictures as we headed out.  The peaks around were all in clouds, and frankly, I was concerned about our late start and the 13.5 miles we had ahead of us to get out. The rain had turned to hard sleet, pelting us in the face.




   In retrospect, I wish I'd taken more pictures, but I just didn't want to risk the phone.  I was already pissed I couldn't see the views, and the trail was a bit hard to discern, mostly because we were on a time frame now and had gotten off track a bit. With the weather the way it was, we just wanted to get out. It was strikingly beautiful though, and I could only imagine what it was like in better weather.  Not even necessarily sun, but if only the damn wind or rain would stop. Both at once are the kickers. I was pleased with my shell though today and am still not sure how the down sweater got wet.  I must've not had the wrists tight enough and the neck, well, win some, lose some.

     We work our way to Inspiration Lake and realize it's a climb down.  Everyone always talks about how flat the core is, but it's most definitely not.  Well, there's two levels anyway.  It's a bit challenging in the weather and again, I'm glad that we did not attempt it in the dark and storm of last night.  I don't think good things would've come of it.


My favorite picture I think of the whole trip: be still, my beating heart.  Look at that golden larch (you didn't think I was talking about Scott, did you? winkwink)  I regret not stopping on Aasgard Pass in a little grove of golden larch and taking pictures.



     We meet another group of guys, who had camped at Snow Lake the night before, and they asked us about how our tent held up.  Fine, we say.  They look at each other and mention that a tent blew over in the storm down there, and if ours held up, up there, we were ahead of the game.  We looked at each other and thought someone doesn't know how to stake a tent out (HA. But the winds were that bad, really).   Anyhow, I mention I'm glad it's all downhill and one of the guys says, "Well, yes, but you'll work for it.  Trust me".  Me and my big mouth. And he was right.

     After we get down to Inspiration and Perfection, the trail is defined and we snap a few pictures.  The wind is far less intense down here and we relax a bit.







I think, according to the map, that Prusik Peak is here on the left, but it's covered in clouds.  Effer.






     Then we began the climb down from the Core to upper Snow Lake and it is definitely a climb. Wet slick rocks don't make it that fun. Again, it's mostly cairns and more cairns.  There are some slightly exposed granite spots that make for nerves.


     It became "Do you see the cairns?"  All we did was look for cairns.







Looking back up a spot that was particularly fun:





We met several people on the way down, that were venturing up to the core as dayhikers from camps at Snow Lakes.  They caught up to us later, having not gone very far due to the weather.  That was a bit gratifying in a way.  It also helped us with route finding.  I was amazed that I was so grateful for the sight of people.  Maybe there's hope for me after all, heh.  We hiked the last quarter mile to Snow Lake with a gentleman a bit older than us, he assured us that the remaining 6.5 miles would go by fast.  Really, he was just lying because it would've been rude to say "Better get your asses going, you have a Bataan Death March ahead".  We hit the dam between the lakes at 3:50pm.  There were more talus slopes and boulder fields to come, but the first 1.5 miles down to Nada went by fast.  We stopped to view the spillway from little Snow Lake.







     I swear, the trail guides fuck with you, just for the sake of it. The mileage from Lake Viviane to Snow is only supposed to be 1.5-- but that is the longest 1.5 ever, especially compared to the 1.5 miles from the dam  down to Nada. That was the fastest part of the trip, other than the first 3 miles from the Stuart Lake TH.  The 5 miles after that was a damn death march.  It just went on and on and on.  We should've stopped and rested and refueled better, but we just wanted to make the car before it was pitch black.  The temperature was warming considerably, and although I was only wearing an ultralight smartwool shirt, I was hot and getting hotter.  Combined with my under-fueling and under-hydrating, I started to feel sick and feverish.  Scott asked if I wanted to stop, but I grabbed a bar and managed to eat half of it without throwing up and drank a little water while walking.  The last two miles they say, are switchbacks, so every time we started down some we thought fuck yeah, this is the end.  But soon they would end up in a long downhill and we just kept going on........... I even wondered aloud at one point if we'd possibly ended up on a wrong trail.  That should've told me I needed more calories, water, and a rest break.  As if a peace offering, Mother Nature suddenly broke the clouds and this appeared:




     But finally, we spot a .....ROAD.  Civilization!  Soon, the TH appears, although you're 25 minutes away.  We did have to break out the headlamps for the last 15 minutes or so.  Too dark.  And we somehow managed to turn right after the irrigation canal bridge, and ended up walking down the fucking road to the TH parking lot, but oh, the sight of the old silver 'burb never looked so good.

     In retrospect, I wished I'd listened to the signs.  I followed the cairns, but not my gut.  A much better trip in that weather, if one had to go, would've been a night a Colchuck, followed by a night in the core, then a night at Nada, then a hike out.  A perfect trip in good weather could handle an entry into the core the first night, then another camp or even two farther on down the core, if one started the descent earlier than 11am, or at least wasn't bound by dark and weather.  Hiking in darkness doesn't bother me; but hiking fatigued, in bad weather, downclimbing talus and boulders in the dark with only headlamps and cairns isn't my first choice and is often the first bad decision in what ends up a dangerous spot.  I learned the presence of people isn't always a curse, rather, it's comforting and energizing.  I was reminded again not to press on in bad weather, even just a little farther.  It wasn't my best backpack but every experience teaches you something.  Win some, lose some.  I'm slightly irritated that I didn't get to spend more time enjoying it, and when  people tell me "You can always go back", well....there's a whole damn world out there to see that I'll never even get to once, let alone twice.  Maybe. 

     As far as dayhiking, now that I know the route, and if I had a very light pack and good weather, I might be tempted to explore from one side or the other, but I doubt I'll ever attempt it as a single, 20 mile dayhike.  I stand aside for those that do.  Maybe it was the unfamiliarity, maybe because Montana is where my heart is, mostly likely the damn storm, but I was reminded in the 'Chants that I am nothing to Mother Nature.  And I didn't even get to drink the whiskey.



*EPILOGUE*
For an amazing photo experience of The Enchantments, check out THIS  Flickr stream, taken by an amazing photographer.  It's everything I was hoping for and more-- and while I didn't get it, it's that good that it might even make me go back some day.