The Vesper Peak Saga Continues

I was supposed to hike Vesper Peak weeks ago. An unfortunate chain of events happened and the climb never came to fruition. One of our team members who was supposed to climb with us came down with emergency surgery to remove his appendix. How crazy is that. That was two days before the actual climb was to take place. With one team member down, I consulted with the other member of our expedition and she stated that she was still good to go.

You won’t believe what happened next. We missed the turn off to the trailhead. We ended up parking by Barlow Pass trailhead, hiking two miles up a gated service road and ended up on the Gothic Basin trail. Twelve miles round trip of seriously rugged, tree-rooted infested, boulder hopping, switchbacks into some deep back country in the Mt Baker National Forest. The trail seemed endless. As we climbed higher and higher, the sun would play peak-a-boo with us forcing us to remove our outer shells as we continued our trek. Then the cloud cover and the wind chill would force us to put our coats back on. Dripping with sweat and rain water, we forged on.

It was a brutal hike. As we hiked around the summit block (which apparently had Foggy Lake at the top, which we didn’t know about until our descent and by passing by hikers who knew about it) we came to a dead end. The trail seemingly disappeared but a vast gully to the left would take us all the way to Weeden Lake and if we went right that would take us to Gothic Basin (which at this point we were 20 minutes passed the Basin and didn’t even know it). As we contemplated our next move, a lone hiker was fast-moving in our directions. Head down and chugging along, he seemed determined to get to his destination. I called out to him several times before he finally acknowledged us.

After a brief conversation with the lone hiker, we found out that we were three miles South of the Vesper Peak trailhead. He also informed us that the forest service road that leads to the trailhead is not very well marked. There is a stop sign with some pink flags tied to it about three miles from the Barlow Pass trailhead. According to my GPS, from what I could tell, after we passed Foggy Lake, we would enter the gully and hike our way to the base of Vesper through Headlee Pass. We were dead wrong. We missed the trailhead, that much was a fact. But if we would’ve continued on through Weeden Lake we would’ve ended up at Vesper, that much I was sure of. But that was another 3 some miles through rugged back country, and probably infested with bear.

Our climb down was torturous. The steep switchbacks that punished our legs on the way up were now beating on our knees on the way down. It was brutal. The trail was muddy, slippery and dangerous. We were soaked from the rain storm that had come through and further soaked from the wild flowers that continually bushed up against our clothing. As we reached the final mile, we had to cross the raging Sauk River once again. The ensuing rain storm that had battered the forest made the log jam very dangerous to cross back over. As I hoisted myself up on the logs, I lost my footing, came crashing down on the logs and smashed my rib cage into the rain soaked timber. It hurt. It hurt a lot but I was not injured. The upcoming weeks would prove otherwise as I was extremely sore and was forced to miss a day of work. Along with that, the log jam gave me three good sized lacerations on my left forearm. The mountain beat us today.

Vesper Peak will have to wait another day. I was amped up and ready to go the morning of but losing a team member and missing the trailhead was obviously a sign that maybe The Mountain had other plans for us. Maybe it just wasn’t our day and we would’ve been seriously hurt up there or maybe we would’ve gotten lost or attacked by wildlife. A multitude of scenarios played out in my head as to why we ended up on the trail we ended up on and not at the summit of Vesper. So the sage continues…

Granite Mountain

The one thing that I’ve learned since I started hiking and climbing all over these mountains is; understand your limitations and respect the mountain. Everyone has their own specific ability when it comes to physical endurance and mental fortitude. I’ve had to turn around on several occasions missing the summit on a mountain by mere hundreds of feet. I think this is an important instinct when learning how to hike or mountaineer.

Granite Mountain is one of those mountains where anything goes, really. It’s very much exposed so on hot, summer days it’ll quickly zap you of your energy due to the sun beating down on you all day. In the spring and fall, you’re more susceptible to exposure of rain, snow and sleet. Plus the cold temperatures. Today was no exception.

I wanted to hike this mountain yesterday, actually. But as I peered out of my window, I watched the storm clouds roll in from the west and relentlessly blast the Cascades with buckets of rain. Honestly, it’s not really fun hiking when the rain and the cold are hammering down on you. You’re vulnerable, cold, wet and it’s downright uncomfortable. I couldn’t put off the hike due to weather, though. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about living in the Pacific Northwest; you either go out and do what you want to do or sit on the couch and wait for the rain to stop. You’ll be waiting a long, long time.

Today was the day. I grabbed my gear, gassed up the truck and set out for the trailhead. It was easy to navigate to the trail head so I was on the trail before 10am. A good start to the morning. The rain drizzled in my face as I stayed huddled in my Northface parka. I pulled the brim of my hat down tighter on my head and pressed on. The trail serpentined through dense forest and then exposed itself on the unforgiving switchbacks that took me up through the avalanche ravine. I had to cross that thing three times.

The trail was littered with tree roots, large boulders and smaller rocks. Big steps took me higher and higher up the mountain, and as I climbed higher, and higher, it got colder and colder. The rain picked up and as I clipped through the last ravine crossing, the clouds swirled and twirled spitting rain drops at me. The wild flowers on the narrow boot path were reaching out to me, and as I slipped passed them they would brush up against my pants and arms leaving my body even more damp than it already was.

Once out of the forest, the real fun began. It’s called Marmot Hill because the hillside and the meadow is littered with large boulders and wildflowers. Marmots have made this their home. Although, I didn’t see any, (probably because of the poor weather conditions) this was where the trail started to fade in and out. Route finding skills and a keen sense of direction was what got me through Marmot Hill.

Marmot Hill

As the rain picked up, it slowly started to turn into snow. Visibility started to fade, and when I looked up the mountain all I saw were clouds. I couldn’t tell how much trail I had left to climb unless I looked at my GPS but even that was having a hard time getting a signal. I knew I wasn’t going to reach the lookout but I pressed on hoping visibility would get better or a break in the weather would happen.

Hoping for the best in the Cascades on a day like this is like hoping another cashier will show up when the line you’re standing in is 25-30 people deep. The best is just not going to happen. And the best never showed it’s face. The boot path I was on quickly disappeared and I was left standing in front of a giant boulder field. The boulders were mostly exposed but around them had fresh snow. Post-holing was a real danger here and if you post-hole deep enough, you could end up with a broken ankle. Or worse. I decided to push on.

I came out of the boulder field unscathed but visibility had become so bad that I could only see a faint silhouette of a giant mountain in front of me. I had just come up a ridge and was looking at another possible mountain to climb. I was basically on a false summit.

Time wasn’t an issue. The weather conditions were making this hike all too unsafe for my blood. I had to make a decision: turn around or continue up to the summit. Since I was hiking alone, I decided to turn around. I was miserable. I was soaking wet, and the snow had started to make it’s way into my hiking boots. The snow peppered me as I turned my back on the summit. So close yet still so far away.

Granite Mountain, (among other mountains) has taught me a very valuable lesson. Understanding your guttural instincts to keep yourself safe and to not put yourself into a compromised position just because you worked so hard to reach the point where you’re at, and turning around before you reach your goal doesn’t make you any less of a climber or mountaineer. In fact, it’s just the contrary. Hikers and the outdoor community will respect you more for remaining in your boundaries and not putting yourself in a spot where you can’t get yourself out of. It’s costly, and puts more lives at risk if you do so. Just remember one thing: respect the mountain and know your limitations.

Be safe, and see you on the summit!

Beckler Peak

It’s been almost three years to the day since I last hiked Beckler Peak. Beckler Peak opened up in 2011 and was easily one of the first hikes I decided to go after in my young hiking career. It was a lung-buster to say the least, and tested my mental fortitude. I about gave up several times but I really wanted to be high up on this rock.

I started really getting into hiking after making it to the top of this mountain. I started to invest in proper footwear, hiking packs and learning how to navigate. I could probably tackle this peak in less than two hours nowadays but back then it took me all morning. I have some really good hiking shoes that I absolutely love that are nicely broke it. I think I traversed this beast in my old US Army boots.

Beckler is about eight or so miles round trip with a top out of around 5,200 ft with an elevation gain of over 2,000. So it’s really not all that bad for beginner hikers. It’ll test you, that’s for sure. And it’s comparable to Wallace Falls- which I’ve hiked nearly four times now. It’s taken me that many times to reach the top.

Beckler Peak 2017

As you can see in the photo above, the brim of my hat is completely soaked with sweat. At one point, during the final push to the summit, I had beads of sweat rolling off the brim of my hat. It was crazy how much I was sweating, and how much the mountain was pushing my limits. It always feels good to summit. Even getting to the top on these small elevation hikes, it feels like such an accomplishment. And as I become more, and more experienced my hikes will increase elevation little by little.

When I reached the top, I was completely gassed. I remember finding a nice open spot on the summit as onlookers and other climbers greeted me and asked me how the hike was. As I was catching my breath, I was able to nod and mutter how great I felt. But I didn’t feel that great. My quads were burning, my chest was huffing and puffing, and I was asking myself what I had gotten myself into. I love the outdoors, and in the moment I just wanted to be home. There’s also the fact that there’s more work to do- getting down. When I finally sat down, I took my hat off, wiped my brow and took a long gasping sigh of relief. I had made it. I said something to the effect of, “wow, what a brutal hike.”

The other climbers stared at me for a moment before resuming their conversation- not even really acknowledging my comment. Or so I thought. “So anyway…” one of them said. “Yeah, so when we get to the Himalayas..” and that’s all I needed to hear to realize what kind of company I was with on the summit of Beckler Peak. These were obviously older, more experienced climbers if they were setting out to hike in the Himalayan mountain range. I had to chuckle to myself. These people thought I was out of my league or down right pathetic if I let a mountain like Beckler kick my butt.

I think back on those days of Beckler, (which isn’t too far off) and realize how far I’ve come with my abilities, my mental fortitude, my stamina and my endurance. My confidence levels are beyond reproach and I understand and listen to my body during hikes. I don’t push myself beyond my own limitations, I bring my ten essentials and I respect the land. The mountain can easily do away with you if you let it. If you disrespect the mountain you may not make it back home. These are things that I’ve grown to understand and it’s what defines me as a climber. I’ve had to turn around on several occasions because of various reasons and I’m not too prideful to not. Remember that.

“We don’t live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means, and that is what life is for.” 
― George Lee Mallory

Be safe out there and see you on the summit.

Hidden Lake Lookout

I’ve hiked Hidden Lake Lookout twice now. The first time I failed to reach the summit due to my inability to prepare myself. Hidden Lake Lookout was the first hike that really tested my abilities both mentally and physically and also taught me a valuable lesson. I hiked this trail before I invested in hiking pants, and that was part of my problem. This is why it’s important to invest in the proper gear when out in the back country. Hiking pants, believe it or not, really allow your body to breathe and self-cool while hiking in hot weather. I was wearing denim which was restrictive, didn’t allow my body to sweat properly which caused massive over-heating which led to severe leg cramps and heat exhaustion.

Throughout the hike, I just couldn’t drink enough water. I supplied my body with two bananas to help get rid of the cramping I was enduring early in the hike. I rested and stretched every quarter mile but there was no real shade to rest in on this hike. To the actual lookout it’s about 4-5 miles. It’s a long, arduous trek through tight bunny trail-like switchbacks, through green meadows and a rock fall or two. Once I came up on the first snow field I knew I’d be turning back. The snow fields will really test your endurance and leg strength as they are not easy to pass through. I climbed through maybe fifty yards of snow before my leg cramps became so severe I could barely stand it anymore.

I had a lot of thoughts running through my head. I thought I’d be stranded at nearly 5,800 feet with no one around. I was alone, and I could barely walk. I tried several times to stretch out my legs but every time I tried to stretch the cramping just got worse. I tried to sit down on some rocks to get off my feet and that helped somewhat but as I sat, my hip flexors started to cramp up. I was on my feet then off my feet and back on my feet trying to alleviate some of this cramping. Nothing seemed to work. I was out of food and running out of daylight. The last thing I wanted was to be caught on this mountain at sunset. I started to panic internally, fighting back tears and gripping my pants in pain. I just wanted the pain to stop.

The sun was relentless. With no shade to escape to, I had to keep moving. I wanted to close my eyes, and just be at my vehicle at the trail head. At this moment, to avoid my situation from getting worse, I had to compose myself. I was in real danger. I was vulnerable and any wrong move could put me in a position I wasn’t prepare to get out of. I took some deep breaths, calmed myself down and started to get moving. Every step was agonizing but every step meant getting down the mountain that much sooner. The rock fall was brutal. Stepping down as I descended just increased the work I had to do which caused my cramping to flair up again. I couldn’t stop, though.

Once I reached the bunny trails I knew I was a couple miles out from the trail head. The switch backs weren’t as bad as they were going up but it still hurt. I tripped on rocks, tripped on tree roots stumbling my way to the trail head. I finally reached the dense shady protection of the forest and as I turned through the windy trail, I finally saw the trail head. I was relieved. I could cry happy tears. I was in such bad shape as I limped to my vehicle.

The Hidden Lake Lookout hike took me through dense forest, tight bunny trails, rock falls and snow fields. It taught me some valuable lessons and prepared me for my next adventure. I was determined to summit and get to that lookout. Weeks later, after a few extra gym sessions, I took to the trail again. This time I made it to the top without any problems. It was late August/early September and I hit the trail head way before the sun came over the ridge. Once at the top, I didn’t want to leave. It’s hard to leave any summit, really. It takes a lot of work and determination to make it to the top of some peaks, and all I wanted to do was enjoy the fruits of my labor on this one. Alas, I slowly made my way down and headed home. What a hike.

Stay safe and see you on the summit!

The Ten Essentials

The Ten Essentials to hiking in the back country is, well, essential. That is, if you care to survive. Even on day hikes it is always best to be prepared for the worst. Things can easily happen while hiking which can cause you to be put in a compromised position where you’ll wish you had something more than a bottle of water.

Clothing

Clothing is probably most important when tromping through the woods. Always, always dress for the weather but most importantly, dress for the worst kind of weather. With today’s technology you can easily check the forecast for the day and decide what you should take. I bought a very nice pair of hiking pants which are breathable, flexible and very comfortable. Shorts are no good for me because they do not protect my legs from bug bites, thorny brush and the suns harmful rays. Long sleeved shirts are also a good idea unless you bring plenty of sunblock on hot, sunny days. Hats and sunglasses are perfect for hot days because you want to keep as much UV rays off of you as possible. You can only carry so much water. If you plan to make hiking a routine thing in your life, I would advise that you invest in some good hiking boots or shoes. Quarter tops are good for ankle protection. Do not go cheap on shoes. And always bring an extra pair of socks.

Water System

This is probably the most important thing you’ll need while out playing Bear Grylls. I use a Camelbak with a drinking straw with a water bladder that holds two liters. I usually come home with extra water. It’s important to hydrate the night before and bring extra water if you can. There’s never too much water. If you hit high elevation hikes early in the spring, you might have an opportunity to refill your water system at glacial runoffs or fast moving streams. Just be cautious of where the water source is coming from. You don’t want to be down stream from anyone or any animal that has decided to use the stream as a toilet.

First Aid

I’ve seen many people hiking with nothing more than the shirt on their backs. If that works for them, so be it. If you’re doing some serious hiking in areas which lack cell phone signal, or you’re by yourself- always bring a first aid kit. It doesn’t have to be some elaborate back pack with an AED, tourniquets and trauma blankets but it should cover the basics. My first aid kit carries a emergency blanket, a poncho, a signal whistle, water proof matches, ointment (for cuts and scrapes), a mirror, compass and extra batteries. Believe it or not, these small items could save your life if you get turned around or encounter a nasty fall.

Everything Else

I’ve come close to being stranded by myself on top of a mountain a few times. That’s why I’ve taken my hiking game to the next level and decided to invest in some of these things. Yes, it’s added weight, it becomes a hassle to prepare and pack for what would be considered a “day hike” on an “out and back” trail and since most hikes I’ve done I usually run into a person or two, I really feel safe. But you never know. I always carry a hunting knife with me, a pocket knife and a firearm. You never know what you’re going to encounter on the trail. I also carry two lighters, extra batteries, a flash light, my micro spikes (to be used in snow, ice and other slippery surfaces), a handheld GPS, ace bandage wrap, sunglasses and extra clothing. I also bring a map just in case. And lastly, always hike with the buddy system. If you can’t find a willing participate to bring with you then always let someone know where you’re going and when you think you’ll be back. Be specific with your instructions to call the local authorities if you aren’t back within a certain time frame. These are all safety protocols that you can put into place to save your life in case things go south while you’re out playing survivor man. Know your limitations and respect the mountain.

Stay safe and see you on the summit!