Maiden Voyage(s) of the Packraft

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.

Klymit Litewater Dinghy

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).

New whip
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.

The raft in its stuff sack. Boot for scale.
Unrolled
Most of the inflating is done with the bright orange bag
You finish inflating by mouth. Typically only takes a few quick breaths. And then: Tada!

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.

Cooper Lake, Nov 2016
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.

Just me and the fish
The sun made a brief appearance
Boot in a bag in a boat. It was cramped with the boot inside the boat, so I took it out occasionally for a stretch.
Exploring the north end of Cooper Lake (inaccessible by trail)
Forest above, forest below

Lemah Peaks and Chimney Rocks
Glassy
Vine maple
Cle Elum river on my way out
Jolly Mountain fire still burning

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.

 

Season Ender

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.

I started my day at the Phelps Creek trailhead. My original plan was to do this loop as part of the UP Wilderness Challenge:

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Planned route: approx 50 miles and 12,000 ft of gain

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.

Chiwawa River crossing – 12 inches deep in late September

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 a good look. 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.

 

Fall foliage

 

Maude and Seven-Fingered Jack

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.

 

Clark, as seen from Little Giant Pass
Napeequa River

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: 1.2 miles and 1400 ft of gain from where I fell, back up to Little Giant Pass. And then an unrelenting descent of 4000 ft over 5+ miles from Little Giant Pass back to the trailhead.

The climb back up to the pass was not fun. I was 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.

A hawk that stopped to say hello as I made my way back towards the trailhead
This is as close as I got to the river. If you squint, you can see a group camped along the edge of the river near the center of the frame.
Farewell Napeequa! Maybe next time!

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.

Ibuprofen never looked so good.

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.

A good example of butt-scoot terrain
A good example of terrain I could cover on foot
At least the scenery was gorgeous!
Western Pasqueflower
The trail goes through this rocky section, marked by cairns. Not quite butt-scoot terrain, but definitely very careful stepping.

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!

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Broken 😦

Goat Lake (Olympics)

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.

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Approx 11 miles and 4k of elev gain.

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.

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Smooth single-track along the Dungeness
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Big trees (foot for scale)
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First fork at approx 3.4 miles – stay right
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Second fork, almost immediately after first fork. Stay right again.
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Dungeness crossing. I took the logs but the ford looked manageable too.

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!

 

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One of your first glimpses of Goat Lake
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Crystal clear
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Goat Lake from another angle
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Impossibly blue

Mount David

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.

Road conditions:

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!

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Kit for the day
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Barricade at the road closure

Trail conditions:

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.

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View of White River from a bridge just a few feet beyond the trailhead

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.

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Brushy trail

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.

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Miles of ridgeline wandering

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.

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Views deep into the Glacier Peak Wilderness
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Your first glimpse of David – a little farther away than I thought
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Trail traversing just below the ridgeline
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The trail switchbacks up and around these rocky features. No scrambling necessary here. You can see the summit of David looming in the very back.

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Poet Ridge – the high point is Whittier Peak
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Rainier photobomb in the back right

 

 

High Divide and Goat Mountain

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!

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Planned and actual routes. (Is it possible to manually move the labels around in CalTopo? Automatic placement wasn’t great for this map.)
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Welcome to Welcome Pass
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Cruising along
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Wildflowers galore
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Mount Larrabee
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Singletrack along the top of the Divide
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Valley views
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Storm moving in

 

Goat Mountain:

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).

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Lindsay taking in Shuksan

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Cool clouds forming over Sefrit and the Ruth Creek valley
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Flying through fireweed
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Close up of Baker
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More climbing
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Mini glacier on Goat Mountain
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Views from the top of Goat
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PBJ and map time…
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…followed by nap time
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I learned a new terms: orographic lifting
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Starting our descent
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Looking up the valley towards Hannegan Pass. Fun to see Hannegan, the Pickets, and Ruth after going up Ruth with Lindsay and Jenni earlier this season.
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Enjoying the views on the descent
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Running down the ridgeline
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Mt Larrabee up front, American Border peak in the back

 

 

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Back down through the fireweed, with Mt Sefrit in our faces

 

 

 

Trout Lake family float

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!

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I took a quick run up to Copper and Malachite lakes early in the morning before meeting them at Trout Lake. 
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Trout Lake
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Uncle Eli and Rowan admiring the big tree
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This one is for the holiday cards… if only I sent out holiday cards.

 

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Uncle Eli taking Rowan for a cruise
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 One great thing about the LWD is the inflation system – you inflate it using the stuff sack it comes with, which might sound terribly time-consuming but only took 5-10 minutes to fully inflate. Once the LWD has been on the water for awhile, it starts to deflate (due to cooling effect of water), but it was easy to top off. 
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Mama train
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Rowan and her super lightweight packable raft
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Ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora)
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Just a few months ago this river was raging
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Fireweed on the shore of Trout Lake
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More fireweed

SheJumps Rainier climb

Last weekend I was privileged to be part of a group of awesome women who climbed Mt Rainier as a fundraiser for the SheJumps Wild Skills program. Together, we raised over $25,000, all of which will be used to help increase the participation of young women and girls in the outdoors. The climb was sponsored by Outdoor Research and International Mountain Guides. Outdoor Research offered some great fundraising incentives, and IMG provided four fantastic female guides to ensure we got up and down the mountain safely.

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So fresh and so clean – just getting started.
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Pro-tip: the outer pocket of an IMG rental pack is exactly the right size for a box of Cheez-Its (not my pack, wish it was).

I tend to spend a lot of time outside by myself, so I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d do on a guided trip with a large group of people, but it was actually really great. Being guided by Sara, Liz, Brenda and Rachel was like climbing with very experienced friends who shared their extensive mountain knowledge and made sure we didn’t do anything stupid… and also cooked breakfast and dinner for us every day.  Yes please! I learned so much from the guides, and really appreciate the time they spent answering questions, teaching us new skills, and building our overall mountain competency.

The seven other climbers were equally awesome – friendly and inclusive, yet also tough and strong. Again, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the group dynamic. We ranged from single ladies just turning 30, to moms with fully grown daughters, but we had no trouble finding common ground. We all believed in the cause. We all liked to be outside, testing our physical limits. We all loved mountain sports. We all liked to laugh and talk about poop. What else could you ask for?

The climb itself was spread over three days. Day 1 was a slow walk uphill from Paradise to Camp Muir. I think many of us were anxious about being able to keep up, but the guides made sure the pace was slow and steady, and everyone arrived at Camp Muir feeling good.

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Marmot on the way up to Muir
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Up we go
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The star of the show
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Rocking our Outdoor Research Echo t-shirts with custom SheJumps logo – thanks OR!
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On our way up to Muir we spotted this little ripper (not part of our group, but clearly a strong girafficorn in her own right)!
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Mt Adams in back, Tatoosh Range in front, as seen from Muir snowfield
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Goat Rocks in the distance
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Another shot of Mt Adams, with Sara and Liz sweeping the group up to Muir
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Rest break!
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Girafficornation
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Sassy Sonja
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Mt St Helens on the horizon
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Fun fact: Mere is a competitive jumproper, and also good at handstands
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Fun fact: Jordan is an ER Nurse, and almost sent herself to the ER while attempting this headstand. Just kidding! Kind of.
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Hanging out in the food tent while the guides make us dinner. I felt simultaneously guilty and grateful as I sat on my ass.
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Sara, the lead guide
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I indulged in one selfie
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Stephanie and her birthday shirt! Stephanie and our guide Rachel both celebrated birthdays on the mountain! Happy birthday again, ladies!
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Group shot at Muir, minus Tina
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Camp Muir

Day 2 was essentially a rest day. We spent the morning reviewing glacier travel at Camp Muir, and then took a short walk (1 mile and 1k gain) from Muir to our camp at Ingraham Flats. We ate “dinner” at 330 pm on Day 2 and then it was bedtime.

Before we went to bed, Sara, the lead guide, gave us a quick summit talk. She explained that the current route to the summit is relatively long, but not particularly technical. No ladders or leaps over gaping crevasses, no fixed lines, just a lot of walking.
Apparently another guide with a different company had described it as “boring.” Sounds great to me! If there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s walk in the snow with a heavy load for long periods of time.

Hilariously, Sara refused to tell us when we would be woken up for our summit bid. All she’d tell us is that we’d be woken “Early, when people normally go to bed. And once I wake you up, you’ll have 90 minutes to get ready.” It totally reminded me of the start to the Barkley Marathons: racers don’t know when the race will start… they just lie there in their tents, waiting for race director Laz to blow the conch, at which point racers have 60 minutes until the race officially starts.
I was convinced I would spend the “night” wide awake, finding it even more difficult to sleep because I didn’t know when I’d be woken up.  But it was actually kinda nice. My only mission was to lie in the tent and rest. I didn’t fret about whether or not I was sleeping, or how many hours I had left before go-time. I just closed my eyes, snoozed for a bit, and got up when instructed.
As I lay in the tent dozing, I realized that my mental load had been removed. My husband Tom is fantastic, but by choice and by default, I carry a lot of the mental load at home. This trip gave me a break from that. I didn’t even have to set my own alarm clock! Although I greatly value my independence and autonomy, sometimes it’s nice to let go of the reins and simply do as you’re told. Especially when you’re being told what to do by women you like and trust. And it only lasts for 3.5 days. 😉

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The route up and over Cathedral Gap, from Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats
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Synchronized self-arrest
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Don’t forget to “GRRRRRRRRRRR!”
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One of the SheJumps rope teams traveling across the Cowlitz Glacier towards Cathedral Gap, with tents at Camp Muir visible in the distance
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Rachel, Stephanie and Jordan heading up Cathedral Gap
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Approaching Ingraham Flats, with Disappointment Cleaver in the back
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Little Tahoma from the Flats
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Dinner with a side of crevasse
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The IMG set-up at Ingraham Flats
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Cadaver Gap
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Food tent with a view
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Celebrating Rachel and Stephanie’s birthdays with candy
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I got up to pee in the “middle of the night” (8 pm) and was treated to this view of Little Tahoma literally overshadowed by big Tahoma

After being woken at 10 pm, we ate a quick “breakfast” and then roped up and hit the trail. And at this time of year, the route to the top is basically just that: a trail. Although Rainier is a big mountain with real dangers, the Disappointment Cleaver route isn’t particularly remote or wild. There is a trail – shoveled and maintained by guides in some parts! – right up to the summit.  Not to mention we were climbing on one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Which brings up another reason to be grateful for the IMG guides: they knew it was going to be an insanely busy weekend on the mountain, and they made sure we were near the front of the congo line. Although we weren’t the first to the summit that morning, there were definitely far more people behind us than in front of us. Climbing Rainier isn’t a race, of course – but getting stuck in bottlenecks on the mountain carries its own set of dangers, and it was nice to avoid that.

Reaching the summit was fantastic. Although I felt relatively confident that I’d make it to the top, you never know what will happen on any given day. Again, our guides couldn’t have timed it more perfectly – we reached the summit approximately 5 minutes before sunrise, and got to watch the sun peek over the horizon as we stood on the very top. We took dozens of photos, had a dance party, and then headed off to sign the summit register.

Soon enough, it was time to begin our descent. One “fun” thing about the current DC route is that there is a downhill section on the way to the top… which of course means that you have to climb back up it during your descent. I was actually grateful for the change of grade. Climbing up the Emmons Glacier in the middle of our descent confirmed for me that given the choice, if I’m on a steep snowy slope I much prefer going uphill vs. downhill. (Hopefully this will change after a couple winters focused on skiing!)

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Most of our summit approach was in the dark, so I didn’t take any photos until we reached the crater rim.
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Summit shot!
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Our awesome guides
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Starting our descent
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But first, a quick stop to sign the summit register
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Enjoying sunrise
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Steam vents and penitentes on the summit
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Close-up of the penitentes
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One last glance back
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On our way down

Finally we reached Camp Muir. And who was there to greet us but Christy Pelland, the National Director of Wild Skills! If you know Christy, you know she has what seems like endless energy. She came bounding over the hill as we walked into camp, cheering loudly for us. And then she said the sweetest words ever: “I’ll be carrying down the backpack of the woman who raised the most money!” And then she pointed at me. I literally threw my hands in the air and screamed with joy. And then I handed her my pack without any hesitation. Thanks again Christy, and a huge thank you to all my friends and family who made such generous contributions!

The descent from Muir to Paradise wasn’t that bad (says the woman who had her pack carried by someone else). Although the snow was soft and sticky, we were still able to get in a few long glissades. And before we knew it, we were on pavement approaching the Paradise parking lot, where the IMG van was waiting for us with a cooler full of cold soda and potato chips. Heaven.

I’m pretty sure that this Rainier climb will become an annual thing,  and if you haven’t already guessed, I highly recommend the experience! It sounds like there was a long wait list this year, so make sure you get and/or stay involved with SheJumps, so you’re in the loop when they start accepting applications for the 2018 climb! Last but not least, although the climb is complete, we are still happily accepting donations: https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/5663/rainier2017/roster/3519/jessica-kelley

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Regan’s daughter and Christy met us at Camp Muir!
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Best rope team (I might be biased): Liz, Mere and me
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The entire crew, including eight climbers, four guides, plus two “porters” (Christy carried my pack down from Muir as a fundraising reward, and Regan’s daughter carried Regan’s pack down because she is a sweet person.)