After 8.5 weeks without a single long day of moving through the woods/mountains, I’ve been feeling sluggish and desperate to get out. The only problem is that my ankle can still only handle a couple miles of hiking (and about 3 steps of running) before it starts to hurt. Luckily, as of this week I am officially back on the bike: not only am I riding outside, but I’m able to clip in/out of my pedals and can even stand up to climb for short periods of time!
I decided to make the most of my newfound freedom and do some exploring on my gravel grinder. My goals were to see some snow-capped mountains, pedal through the forest, and maybe even visit a few places that I usually get to on foot.
Wallace Falls State Park seemed like the perfect destination, especially since they allow bikes on many of their trails. I mapped out a route that started and ended at the Sultan Bakery (because yum), and then away I went on my bike. Wheeeeeeee! (GPX file here.)
I did the loop counterclockwise. I knew the first half of the route, or the southeastern part of the loop, would definitely go because I had run part of it a couple years ago. But I wasn’t too sure about the second half of the loop, which made the whole thing more exciting. (It doesn’t take much these days. 😉 Turns out the entire loop is perfect for a gravel bike, and more scenic and remote than you might expect from a series of active and abandoned forest service roads. I only saw two other people once I left the pavement.
A few weeks ago (coincidentally just before breaking my ankle) I finally bit the bullet and bought an Alpacka packraft. I guess I should back up. The first thing I did was borrow a Klymit LiteWater Dinghy (LWD) from a friend earlier in the summer. The LWD seemed like a great option – inexpensive, lightweight, and relatively durable. Unfortunately the LWD wasn’t quite substantial enough for some of the trips I’m considering. Based on my limited experience, it seems great if you want to take a boat to alpine lakes and float around in the summer, but I can’t imagine using it for much more than that.
After realizing that the LWD wasn’t gonna cut it, I accepted the fact that I was going to have to invest in an Alpacka. I spent about a month looking for a used one, but no luck – I think this is partly because I’m under 5’8 and need a size small. Most of the used boats out there are size medium or large.
In mid-September, I finally put in an order for a new Alpacka, bright and shiny blue, with a whitewater deck and cargo fly. I got an Astral V-8 women’s PFD, and an Aqua Bound 4-piece posi-lock Manta Ray carbon paddle (I would’ve bought a Werner because I like to support local businesses, but I was able to get a significantly better deal on the Aqua Bound).
The Alpacka arrived literally two days after breaking my ankle – the timing couldn’t have been better. At that point my ankle was as swollen and painful as it was going to get, and my morale was at an all-time low. The boat gave me a much-needed boost, with the promise of adventuring despite being unable to bike or run.
As soon as the swelling went down I took the boat out for its maiden voyage, which really just means I took it down to Lake Washington, figured out how to inflate it (youtube videos are my friend), and then took it out for a quick paddle. You inflate it using a stuff sack, which sounds tedious but is a surprisingly efficient means of inflation, and only takes about 10-15 minutes once you know what you’re doing. (Don’t ask me how long it took me the first time.) I definitely geeked out a bit on how it basically goes from a compact roll of plastic to a fully functioning watercraft in less than 15 minutes.
Paddling around Lake WA was fun, but I was craving more trees and mountains, so I decided to head out to Cooper Lake. I knew Cooper was accessible by car, and I’d witnessed a gorgeous sunrise the last time I was there.
The lighting at Cooper Lake wasn’t as spectacular as it was last November, but it was still a beautiful calm morning on the lake. I put in at the boat launch, navigating the uneven terrain down to the water very carefully and slowly, plopping myself in my raft, and then scootching into water. I paddled the length of the lake, taking my time and pics as I went. It wasn’t quite as good as a long day spent moving through the wilderness, but it should get me through the next couple weeks of boot purgatory.
As for the Alpacka, so far so good! With the whitewater deck and spray skirt I stayed warm and dry even with temps in the mid-30s at Cooper Lake, and I’ve taken it for a couple other flatwater paddles and continue to have fun. Next up: get on some moving water and see how it handles in a current.
I’ve been putting off writing this post, which I suppose isn’t surprising. No one really wants to write about the trip where they broke their ankle. But I took some pretty pictures that day, and the story is probably slightly more interesting than my usual trip reports, so here we go.
This route had been on my list for awhile and I’d heard it was incredibly scenic. I didn’t want to miss any of the views, and I also knew I wasn’t fast enough to complete the entire route in daylight (12 hours). Therefore I planned to split it up over two days, approx 25-30 miles per day, with a brief overnight somewhere near Miner’s Creek. In addition, the weather forecast was iffy, with snow predicted at higher elevations, so I packed a fairly beefy overnight kit (for me) including sleeping pad, quilt, goretex bivy, and even a stove. Some might argue it’s a good thing I had this gear – what if I’d gotten injured even further into the backcountry? However, I can’t help but wonder if carrying a heavier load is part of what contributed to the fall – and I know a heavier pack was definitely more painful to carry after the injury. And so the pros and cons of “fast and light” are rehashed yet again.
The first 5 miles of the day were an easy road walk from the Phelps Creek trailhead to the Little Giant Pass trailhead. I made good time, and reached the Chiwawa River crossing in good spirits. So far, the weather was incredible and I was super excited to see a new corner of the wilderness.
The Chiwawa River crossing, which is only 25 ft beyond the Lil Giant trailhead, was barely 12 inches deep and a non-issue. I forded barefoot because I’m a princess and I like to keep my shoes dry.
Then I began the climb up to Little Giant Pass. Several times during the climb I thought how glad I was that I’d be doing a loop and wouldn’t have to come back down the same way. The trail is that winning combination of long, steep and dusty that I wasn’t excited about revisiting.
As I made my way up, I ran into two older guys who stopped to chat. As soon as they saw me, they had lots of questions, starting with the somewhat off-putting “Are you all by yourself?” (When you come across a woman on the trail, immediately asking if she’s alone is rarely a good idea. Depending on the tone of your voice, it comes across as either creepy or incredulous, neither of which are great. These guys were more incredulous than creepy.)
They also wanted to know where I was going. When I explained my route one of them literally stared at me for a good 5 seconds. Count that out in your head – it’s a long time to stare at a stranger on a trail! I finally broke the silence by asking him if he was familiar with the route. He said he was, and then looked me up and down and said “I guess you must be tough” in a tone that suggested he didn’t think so at all. He then glanced at his watch doubtfully and began listing off all the places I could emergency bivy and/or exit the wilderness early if I didn’t make it to camp on time.
He was still calling out bail-out points as I walked away. “I’m good!” I shouted back at him, not hiding my annoyance. “Thanks for your concern.” I was right on pace for making 25-30 miles the first day. I knew I could complete the loop in 2 days without issue. (Not to mention that is a relatively slow pace for some of the folks who’ve done this route!) I silently thanked the guy for providing me with a little extra motivation. I imagined that when I got home, I would start my trip report off with an ode to the old guys, because their doubt just added fuel to my fire.
Leaving the doubters behind, I continued up towards Little Giant Pass. The views in the last mile before you reach the pass are stunning. The foliage was already starting to show fall colors, and I could see Maude, Seven-Fingered Jack, and others.
Of course, the best was yet to come: once you actually get to the pass, there’s the coveted view down into the Napeequa Valley. I’d seen many photos, but it’s even better in person. Clark loomed sharp and glaciated, Glacier Peak hid in clouds down-valley, and the Napeequa River meandered and looped upon itself far below. I started my descent.
The descent from Little Giant Pass down to the Napeequa is known for being steep, narrow, and exposed in places. Previous trip reports have warned that two horses died falling off the trail here, and reportedly tumbled many hundreds of feet before coming to rest. I found the trail to be steep and loose, but it was still just a hike and not a scramble. Not so bad after all, I thought.
I rounded a switchback and ran into another couple. This interaction was totally different than my run-in with the old guys. This was a man and woman heading home after a weekend of backpacking, and the woman happened to recognize me from some of my trip reports – and even claimed to have enjoyed some of those TRs! It’s always cool to learn that people (other than my dad – hi dad!) actually read this blog. All my frustration at the old guys melted away. The woman was such a morale-booster that I jokingly asked if someone had paid her to show up on the trail as a cheering squad. She laughed and we all went on our way. (Candy, if you’re reading this – great to run into you!)
I continued my descent. It was a good day! The scenery was breathtaking. I was ahead of schedule. The trail wasn’t that bad. And hey, someone actually reads my blog!
And then WHAM. I suddenly found myself flat on my stomach, 5-10 ft below the trail, hanging onto a piece of slide alder to prevent myself from dropping any further. I had somehow fallen off the trail, and tumbled down the steep slope. In the space of one second, I went from feeling like hot shit to feeling like total shit. I’m still not exactly sure what happened. From what I can tell the trail simply crumbled away beneath me. You know how you occasionally pass trail washouts and think, Boy, I’m glad I wasn’t there when that happened? Well, this time I was there.
Once I crawled back onto the trail, I tentatively tried to walk but could tell immediately that my trip was over. (God DAMN it. I really wanted to prove those old guys wrong.) I’ve sprained my left ankle several times, but this felt different. I kept waiting for the pain to fade, as it usually does with a sprain, but it never did. And when I stepped on my foot the wrong way, the pain instantly took over everything.
I stopped, sat down on my pack, and sent an InReach message explaining why I was turning around. I’d told a few people where I was going and my planned route. I didn’t want anyone to look at my InReach track and worry about why I had changed direction and was suddenly moving so slowly. I definitely did not want anyone to call SAR. Although I had a hunch my ankle was broken (later confirmed by x-ray), it wasn’t bad enough that I needed a medevac. I figured it was just going to be a long, slow hobble back to the trailhead. And indeed it was. When I finally downloaded my GPS track back at home, I learned that it took me a whopping 11 hours to cover 6.5 miles.
The climb back up to the pass was not fun. I was a little dizzy from a combination of pain, heat and hunger. I stopped frequently to rest, eat, drink, and even take a few pictures. Hey, if you’re going to be stuck crawling and limping along at 0.5 mph, Little Giant Pass is not a bad place to be.
When I realized just how slowly I was moving, I messaged Tom and asked him to meet me at the Little Giant trailhead. This would save me a 5-mile road walk back up to the Phelps Creek trailhead, where I had parked my car. Originally I was thinking that I’d just tough it out and walk or hitchhike up the road. It didn’t seem right to ask Tom to drive all the way out to the trailhead (2.5 hrs one way), just to give me a ride 5 miles up the road. But once I saw how slow I was moving, I realized that getting a ride from Tom would save me 10 painful hours of road walking on a broken ankle, so I swallowed my pride and asked him to meet me.
Finally I reached the damn pass (again), and started to descend. With my first step down the steep trail, the pain went from sharp to blinding. I sat down in the dirt and had myself a good cry. I’d been hoping that I could just sort of, I don’t know, roll down the hill to my car. Of course I didn’t really think it’d be that easy, but I’d told myself that once I got back to the top of the pass, all I had to do was “cruise” a few miles downhill back to my vehicle. I’d let gravity do the work. Unfortunately, when you’re walking on a broken bone, gravity is definitely not working to your advantage.
I rummaged through my first aid kit and popped 4 Ibuprofen, before taking a deep breath and starting to butt-scoot my way down the first 20 feet of trail. Butt-scooting was impossibly slow and demoralizing, but descending on my feet was unbearably painful. Hiking out was starting to feel impossible. I put my head in my hands and had another cry. Then I took out my Inreach and texted Tom: “Honey, I’m not sure how I’m going to do this. Going downhill is excruciating.” I was seriously considering asking him to call SAR. The uphill was painful but doable. The downhill was something else.
Tom texted back “I can help you. You rest if you need it.” That was exactly what I needed to hear.
Even though I knew Tom was on his way, I didn’t want to just plop down in the middle of trail and give up. I soon realized that although steep downhills required the tedious butt-scooting move, moderate downhills were manageable on my feet. Not pain-free, but at least doable. I figured out how to shuffle along in a way that never fully weighted my injured ankle. It was slow. So very slow. But I was making forward progress, and that’s all I really cared about.
Tom finally reached me at about 730 pm. I’d fallen and broken my ankle at 130 pm. In the 6 hours since then, I’d covered approx 3 miles. I was so glad to see him. Instantly I felt better, partly because I love him and just seeing him makes me happy, and partly because the first thing he did was take my backpack off my shoulders.
We then started our slow procession down the trail. I was in the lead with Tom behind me. We laughed and made jokes about the desperate measures I took to get him to go hiking with me. Then I complained some more. Then I cheered up because I only had a couple more miles to go. Then I wailed because my ankle fucking hurt and it was going to take us hours to cover those last couple miles. And then I’d fall silent and we’d trudge/limp along in the quiet night, almost – I said almost – enjoying our impromptu date night hike.
Finally, at midnight, we got back to the trailhead. I’ve never been so glad to see a vehicle! A huge thank you to Tom for meeting me on the trail, and to Angela and Mark, who let Rowan sleep at their house while Tom and I were out wandering around in the woods. And to all of my friends who offered to help in whatever way they could. It’s fun to pretend that I do these adventures “solo,” but when push comes to shove, I was so grateful to have a community supporting me.
Epilogue: The next day, back in Seattle, I went to urgent care, where they determined I had a broken fibula and referred me to an orthopedist. The orthopedist confirmed that it was broken, and told me he couldn’t rule out surgery just yet. I go back tomorrow (!) for another visit, during which he’ll take another x-ray, and determine whether or not I’m going under the knife. Fingers crossed for good news!
A couple weeks ago, when the Cascades were filled with smoke, I hopped a ferry and headed to Goat Lake in the Olympics. As I was hiking up the steep single track I decided it would be a great training hike for a couple of women I coach who are planning to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim in October. I was about to email them a Google doc with photos and directions, but decided to just post it here instead. Easier to share with them, and with anyone else who is interested in checking out this beautiful alpine lake!
I’ve read a few trip reports that suggest this is a “secret” hike, but there’s a bootpath/trail the entire way, and the route is clearly shown on Caltopo’s MapBuilder layer: https://caltopo.com/m/P717.
Start at the Upper Dungeness trailhead (directions to the trailhead are at the bottom of this page) and enjoy an easy cruise along the riverside trail for several miles. At 3.4 miles, you will reach an unsigned fork in the trail, pictured below. Go right. Shortly thereafter, you’ll reach another unsigned fork. Go right again. The trail will lead you down to a crossing of the Dungeness. This time of year, you can either ford the river or cross on a few trees that have fallen across the river. I chose the trees because I wanted dry feet and was too lazy to take off my shoes, but the ford looked very manageable.
Once you get across the Dungeness, you’ll be faced with heavy brush. Look for an obvious hole that tunnels through the brush – this is a short (100 feet?) trail that will deposit you in a pretty little meadow currently covered in dry, golden grass. Several paths criss-cross the meadow. With your back to the river, choose the path on the left that leads you into the forest. Continue following this path up, and up, and up, until you reach the lovely Goat Lake. Leave time for a dip – the water is crystal clear and there is a long pebble beach that provides easy lake access!
The first time I ever heard of Mt David was approx 5 years ago, when Tom and Rowan and I were in the area for a family hike. Our original destination was Indian Creek, but for some reason I can no longer remember, we ended up taking the Mt David trail instead (Indian Creek and Mt David both depart from the same trailhead). The Mt David trail was – and still is – super brushy, so Tom and I were shouting the occasional “Hey Bear” to keep from surprising any furry friends. Rowan was young, and at that stage where she’d repeat everything we said without knowing what it meant. Somewhere on an old thumbdrive we have adorable video of Rowan in her kid carrier, yelling out in her tiny little voice “Hey Bear! Heeeeey Bear!” as we pushed through the brush on Mt David.
What I wouldn’t give to find that video now! Oh well. (Let this be a warning to all you whippersnappers: organize those digital pics and movies now.)
Anyway, we didn’t make it very far up the Mt David trail that day, but when we got home I did a little research and ultimately added Mt David to the to-do list. Last week, years after our family hike, I finally decided to give it a go.
According to WTA, the road is closed 4 miles from the trailhead, which actually made this trail slightly more alluring to me: I was hoping the mandatory road walk would keep the crowds away. I needn’t have worried – even though there were a handful of cars parked at the road closure barricade, I did not see another human being from start to finish.
I brought my gravel bike to avoid the 8 miles of road trotting. However, they must have recently moved the road closure, because now the road is closed only 2 miles from the trailhead, just after Grasshopper Meadows campground, adding only 4 miles round trip. I was still glad I brought my bike – when it comes to closed roads, I’d rather ride than run!
The first 1+ mile of trail, from the trailhead to the turnoff for White River Falls viewing point, is in good condition. Brush and blow-downs are a non-issue. That said, there is a fair amount of detritus on the trail, probably due to lack of use.
The trail starts to climb around miles 1.5 – 2, but not before crossing a creek one last time. This time of year, this is your last chance at water until you reach snowfields at the top, so fill up here.
Miles 2 and 3 are a steady uphill through brush and blowdowns. Everything is passable, but it definitely slows you down and gets a little annoying.
At around mile 3, you get out of the woods and onto trail that is in pretty good shape, especially considering it’s unmaintained. At mile 4.5, you finally reach the ridgeline, and the views start – but the climbing doesn’t stop. At this point you’ve gained about 3,000 ft of vert, but still have another 2,500+ ft to go. The trail along the ridgeline is gorgeous, although it’s washed out in places with some exposure. Even so, it is a trail, no hands required. Views from the ridgeline are fantastic – your reward for climbing all those switchbacks, as well as a good distraction from the climbing you still have ahead of you.
At approx mile 7.5, just a few hundred feet below the summit, I encountered a couple lingering snowfields. I avoided the first one by simply scrambling upslope and going around it. Immediately after that, the trail fades away in a washout. Going high to get around the washout requires scrambling a short cliffy section. Going low meant traversing a steep snowfield. I was alone, with no axe and no traction, and had already set off a couple minor slides and sloughs. After much waffling, I decided to call it a day at that point. I was confident in my ability to get up the cliffs, but uncertain about the downclimb.
It bothered me a little to turn around just shy of the tippy top, which surprised me since I’m not much of a peak bagger. As I descended, I realized I’d never turned around quite so close to a summit. I guess I’m either getting older, smarter, or less bold… or some combination of the three.
High Divide: Welcome Pass to Excelsior Pass with a bike shuttle
Last week I drove up to Highway 542 (Mt Baker Hwy) with the hopes of completing a traverse of the High Divide. The original plan was to ride my bike from Damfino Lakes trailhead to the Welcome Pass trailhead, and then finish the loop by traveling on foot from Welcome Pass trailhead up and across the High Divide, ending up back at Damfino Lakes. That would’ve been good for approx 30 miles of biking and approx 8 miles on foot, which sounded perfect to me – I’ve been neglecting my bike and this seemed like a great excuse to get some time in the saddle. Unfortunately, the road to Damfino Lakes is closed. I knew it was closed, it’s signed as closed, but for some reason I thought the closure was after the Damfino Lakes trailhead. It is not. Neither the Damfino Lakes nor the Canyon Creek trailhead is currently accessible.
Luckily, there was an easy and obvious back-up plan. Instead of starting at Damfino Lakes, I parked at the Excelsior Pass trailhead, rode my bike to the Welcome Pass trailhead (approx 5 miles), and then finished the loop on foot (approx 12 miles). Even though it wasn’t quite the route I’d hoped for, it was still very scenic. It was also one of the first days that the skies were smoke-free again, after nearly two weeks of haze from BC wildfires in early August. So really, I was just glad to see the mountains again!
After finishing the High Divide loop, I headed to Hannegan Pass trailhead to meet Lindsay. She and I both camped in our vehicles that night, and the next morning woke up early-ish to check out Goat Mountain. Maps show a trail only 3.5 miles up Goat, but beyond that there is still a very well-established boot path all the way to the false summit. Reaching the actual summit involves crossing a tiny glacier and then doing some Class 3ish scrambling. Lindsay and I were both perfectly content on the false summit. We ate PBJs, looked at maps, and then took pictures (me) and a nap (Lindsay).
Last week my brother Eli was in town for what has become his annual August visit. Two years ago we went backpacking, last year we went boating on Ross Lake, and this year we hiked up to Trout Lake to test out a packraft. It was a hot day, and the air was thick with smoke from the British Columbia wildfires, so a mellow hike to a cool lake turned out to be just the right activity.
The raft we tested was the Klymit Lightweight Dinghy (LWD), which worked very well for us on that day: floating around a calm alpine lake, not trying to stay dry, not trying to get anywhere in particular, not trying to carry gear. Unfortunately, I realized that it’s not the most functional boat for backcountry travel. I don’t plan to run any serious whitewater, but I’d like to feel confident my gear will stay dry and the boat will handle reasonably well on a Class I-II river. I’m probably just going to have to bite the bullet and buy an Alpacka, AIRE Bakraft, or Supai raft. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience with these boats!
Although the LWD isn’t what I’m looking for in terms of a packraft, it was perfect for our family float, and it was another great day in the mountains with Uncle Eli and Team Kelley!