Tuesday, December 4, 2012

pinching the pinchot

Well, it’s officially the shoulder season.  I pinched the Pinchot goodbye for a few months to focus on writing and keeping in shape with lowland and Central Washington trails.  It’s hard to believe that winter will arrive in less that three weeks. Those meadows where I spent my hours playing this summer are now covered in a decent base of snow and the marmots and bears have likely settled in for their winter naps.  I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t jealous of that lifestyle- eat all summer, sleep all winter. Probably not a care in the world about bingo wings, cankles, saddlebags or muffin tops. Tell me, who is the more intelligent species?  

I’m still cruising away at writing my new Day Hiking guide for the Goat Rocks and Mount Adams area.  When my brain is “on” words flow like waterfalls out of my head into my fingertips and it’s hard to get up from my desk.  Other times, I sit comatose, mouth hanging open, starring intently at the blank slate in front of me.  When that happens, there is only one solution...head for the hills and hike it off.  There is no better cure for writers block than fresh, delicious mountain air and hearing your own rhythmic breathing .  My brain loves this pampering as much as my body.  The weather is completely irrelevant. I go out in blazing, cold rain, dark drizzly or overcast chill. I always say that if you don’t exercise in bad weather in the northwest, you don’t exercise. Not that it’s easy to get motivated, but I know that a warm shower and happy endorphins await on the other side. Plus, eggnog is now on the dairy shelf aisle and it reaches for me with long Ebenezer fingers as I walk by (I am the ghost of sugar-future)....

With the weather turning, I’ve noticed less people on the lowland trails. Seasonally, folks seem to get amped up for the “next” sports.  In early spring, everyone is itchin’ to get out hiking and backpacking, while this time of year all the powder junkies are waxing and jonesin’ to hit the slopes.  The shoulder seasons are those of anticipation.  Whatever it is that makes you happy this time of year (eggnog, hiking, waxing, etc.), I hope you enjoy it.  See you out there, friends.  Happy Holidays!

Monday, October 8, 2012


This weekend, I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Shriner Peak in Mount Rainier National Park.  The colors were popping and the views spectacular of the surrounding peaks.  Winter didn't even hint of being around the corner.  Of course, the tower at the top, as always, brought excitement and curiosity.

Fire towers have long been a source interest; especially as I write guide books and climb up high to vistas where they once stood.  To learn more, I contacted Ray Kresek and purchased his book Fire Lookouts of the Northwest.  I'm having a hard time putting it down- oh the stories!

Most were built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the '30's, in the era when the 'green army' of Roosevelt's backcountry carpenters set out to learn skills and gain employment by improving upon public lands.  Originally, the fire towers were used to keep an eye out for storms, and report lightening strikes and fires by landline telephones.  After World War II, they became vistas for enemy surveillance.

Washington State originally had 639 fire look towers.  Due to destruction, less than 200 remain.
Many of these firetowers have been hit by lightening at least once, sometimes twice in one summer. Did you know that all of these towers had a solid copper lightening rod at the top, connected to wire that extended from the peak, down all four corners and downhill to dissipate the zap?  Staffers of the towers would hunker down on "hot seats" or "fire stools" which were small seats whose bottom feet were insulated by old-fashioned telephone insulators.  During a storm, the staffer would stand on the stool, sometimes for hours, especially when they needed to use the a landline phone or radio.  Bravely, they stood as thunder shook the landscape, hail pounded the structure and lightening struck tree lines all around the windows.

These old towers inspire such joy to so many people who hike to heights to see them, and the views that they share.  Each one is a piece of history and a glimpse into our past.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

who i've become

The sunny days just keep on coming, one after the next.  It's “Summer Overtime”, as I like to call it.  Thinking back to my childhood, there are only a few times I can remember Septembers and Octobers being so bright, warm and wonderful in the Northwest.  Even the trees are slow to turn this year, as if they too, are refusing to let go of the season.  It’s been fantastic and has helped me get very close to reaching my hiking goals for my new book.  Despite the warm weather, the elk bulls are out bugling down the trails, hollering for mates and chasing elk cows around backcountry meadows.  Rivers which usually are roaring are just trickles, dew clings to the fall foliage until the warmth of the day dries the leaves and sunsets burst with brilliant colors concocted from smoky air mixed with low-sun hues.

My feet have never looked so bad, my backpack has never been so dirty and my legs have never felt so strong.  There were times when I doubted this goal was obtainable, then complete joy when I realized it was.  There were times when I felt lonely (up with a twist of isolation) mile after quiet mile.  
There were times, deep in the forest, when my shoe’s laces broke, when a crown popped out of my mouth, when I struggled to find the trail through brambles of berries which cut up my legs, and when my inner peace was disturbed with the shot of adrenaline caused by flapping birds.  Then, there were the times where I sat in subalpine scenery listening to ravens clack and call above me, watching mountain goats  graze in green meadows below, with views all the way to the heavens. Or when I questioned my ability to put into words the serenity of sitting completely alone, in perfect stillness, by an alpine lake surrounded by jagged snow capped mountains.

This has been a journey of seasons, of inner strength, of education, of gumption, and stamina. It’s solidified my choice of freelance writing; a perfect career move.  I’ve reached out and embraced fall, while still stuck in the wispy-cloud moments of summer.  This experience has stuck to my soul like sap on a trekking pole.  As it comes to a close, I’ve come to realize, it’s simply, who I’ve become.

the beautiful shores of Little Cougar Lake
brilliant leaves
goodnight Mt. Rainier, goodnight creatures
who are blessed to live under your powerful shoulders
I knew there would be cows.  Yes, I knew, but I went anyway.
I'd been down this road before.
And met this cowboy, who was rounding them up.  Suddenly I wasn't afraid.
Tex had my back. Mama's DO let your babies....
They were, however, standing on the trail. But these weren't vindictive
and did not give me stink-eye.
They starred at me from Conrad Meadows.  Curious.
I left the cattle and wandered into Goat Rocks where I met this guy.
The very low Rimrock Lake
I bamboozled a hiker friend to join me on the Three Peaks Trail.
Having a pulse within shouting range was oh...so refreshing.
To eat or not to eat?  There's only one way you know if
you've eaten a bad mushroom. 

Packwood Lake
the "lady of the flies"
Big bull in the fading light. Long lens, big tree

Saturday, September 22, 2012

just a stop along the way

I’m home for a brief cameo which gives me an opportunity to write a few words, share a few photos and kick it old-school with all the comforts of home.  This past month on the trail has been a mixture of nearly every adjective you can conjure up!  There have been moments of complete frustration, blissful joy, scary rutting elk, dead elk, laugh-out-loud feet fumbles, exciting presentations for my current book, happy evenings shared with salt-of-the-earth people and sketchy shale-trail ramblings.  Someday I hope to elaborate with short stories of each experience, because they all, are worthy in their own right.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Writing this guidebook deserves a companion book of ‘how it’s done’ shenanigans.  In the meantime, here are a few highlights of this past month:

* Appearing as a guest on the Bob River’s Radio Show
* Locking my keys in my truck, 11 miles out on a 4x4 dirt road in the middle of nowhere and having to activate my SPOT messenger which informed my husband that his Friday night was about to get exciting
* Book signings, presentations and banquets
* Watching a mother mountain goat, head-butt her baby in the rear to get it to keep up with the pack, while it protested.
* Walking on sketchy shale and scree near Mt. Aix
* Driving hours only to find trails and roads closed due to wildfires
* Getting kicked off trails due to thunder and lightening storms
* Meeting a group of 25 backcountry fire fighters, dousing a 3-acre wildfire near Mt. Adams.
* Passing two guys and a horse carrying out a huge elk carcass- head, antlers and all
* Having my eyes,throat and lungs burn from spending time in poor air quality
* Watching the sunset in layers over the Cascades
* Hiking to the soundtrack of bugling elk, then looking them in their wild eyes
* Sipping chocolate milk on the top of Tumac Mountain in the middle of bright fall colors
* Discussing forest politics with a sooty grouse hen
* Tripping on a rock and flying hiney-over-tea-kettle into a clump of blueberry bushes (nothing to see here folks)
* Finding a very strange clump of clothing and the remains of a campsite and reporting it to the forest service. (Trust me, I didn’t investigate too closely).
* Watching summer hand her torch to fall
* Learning that this universe, is so much larger than I ever expected and being grateful I am a part.

Mt. Adams in a haze of smoke
The brave firefighters in the backcountry 
Jug Lake
Mt. Aix
Nelson Ridge
Shellrock Lake
Twin Sisters Lakes
Big Twin (Sisters) Lakes 

Autumn has arrived!


Uncontrolled fire SW of Goat Peak

Bright red sunset in smoky haze

Marine layer from above

Tucking in Mt Rainier

Saturday, August 25, 2012

i've been everywhere, man

Johnny Cash sang loudly as I drove down yet another dusty, potholed forest service road on my never ending quest of the grand grail of goals. "He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand..." My daydreaming was cut off by the lyrics and I was sucked into the song.  It was so spot-on appropriate in that moment, that I turned it up even louder and sang. "I've breathed the mountain air, man..."

Yes, I felt like I had been everywhere.  I'd crossed swift rivers on teetering logs, encountered strange mountain men, twisted and cranked ankles in troughs of motorcycle tracks, been blown away by mountain grandeur, smelled more wildflowers than most florists, smelled more horse poop than most farmers, and played chicken with fear.  This day was yet another great day, filled with who-knows-what on a trail in who-knows-where.  I'd learned that just because it existed proudly on a map as a solid green line, did not mean that it existed in reality or that anyone but wildlife used it.

This day, there was a nip in the air and I could tell that fall was seeping in, much to my chagrin. I had so much to accomplish and strongly disapproved of the weather changes and the fact that I'd added extra layers including gloves to my backpack.  "More weight to haul around," I'd mumbled as I shoved them into the black hole of pack paraphernalia.  In my head I calculated how long until the snow arrived back up on these peaks and winter engulfed my beautiful green, subalpine meadows.  I told myself to relax and went back to focusing on the immense pot holes in front of me- swerving and zigzagging as I'd learned to do.  It would all get done.  "Of travel, I've had my share man, I've been everywhere..."I belted.

You came along, just when I needed you most
This photo cost me 6 mosquito bites, but was worth the memories!
(Sand Lake near White Pass)
I'm stumped! Guessing a northern flicker? 
Just another fabulous moment of looking at mountains
Nannie Ridge Trail near Sheep Lake 
This week I was lucky enough to be joined on Fife's Ridge by 17 friends (one is taking the picture).
The oldest in the group is 83 and faithfully hikes each week.  They are
simply a charming bunch, full of laughs and stories.

Near Tipsoo Lake the flowers took my breath away.
Sheep Lake, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

this weeks shenanigins

Never a dull moment!  Years ago I used to hear Brian Adams bellow the vocals of "the Summer of 69"  and wondered what that must have been like.  In my teenage-head I'd had several fun summers, but none that were as memorable as getting my first real 6 string, or standing on my mama's porsche.  Wait, that's porch isn't it?  Whatever. You get the point, nothing stood out as much as Brian's beloved summer of 69.  The summer of 2012 might change things.  There have been so many good and bad moments of this odd summer that at this point (settle in for a hiker joke) "I can't see the forest for the trees" (ba-dump-bump).  When it's all over, it may just inspire me to get a 6 string and compose lyrics.  Or a banjo, which would be much more fitting.  Take, for example, my run-in this week on Snipes Mountain.

First, off, I need to point out that V thinks it's weak of me to be afraid of cows, but I admit it!  I find cows scarier than pink meatloaf at a potluck.  Let's face it, cows are huge- I mean really huge. Add the fact they are conniving and it packs quite a fright.  Although, I learned this week that they are about as coordinated as a cross-eyes squirrel when they need to move quickly.  There I was, walking amongst burned trees, up on Snipes Mountain enjoying the lupine and fireweed, when I spied something large through blackened bark.  All I saw was part of a tan-colored mass.  My first thought was that I'd seen an elk.  A few more steps and I realized I was being eyeballed by several cows- just starring and chewing and glaring.  What in the sam hill were cows doing on a hiking trail?  Before long, I was surrounded by them.  One decided that it didn't like me and tried to run away, which sent the whole herd stampeding down hill- cow bells ringing, dust flying, all the while mooing while clambering and tripping over downed burned logs. What the heck? Do cows not know how to lift their legs?  Someone should invent cow-hurdles, just as a fun sport to watch.  I'd buy tickets. 

Then I saw him.  He was pure evil and was giving me the stink-eye as we stood in the woods.  He was a bull, a big bull with sharp horns, angry as a wet hornet and not about to run or back down.  I had no choice but to find a tree to hide behind and wait it out.  A song came to mind and the only lyrics I knew to it got embedded in my head like a broken record that I had absolutely no control to stop.."Yippie yi yay Cow Patty...she rolled in to town to find the man that killed her daddy, yippie yi yay....cow patty."  Fitting, but annoying all the same.  "Who sings that stupid song?"...I wondered out loud as over and over my brain belted out "Yippie yi yay...Cow Patty". The standoff ended when the mosquitos found me and I had to logically choose between being eaten alive by hemoglobin hunters or facing the enemy.  I kept thinking how ridiculous it was to stand there behind a tree, scared of a cow!  I mean for crying out loud, cowboys ride those things.  What a pansy! 

So, I walked out, strongly (completely freaked out), with my head high (walking gingerly), in a tough (yet cowardly) posture, bear spray, cap-off drawn like a sharp shooter in the old-west (Yippee yi yay...Cow Patty).  Luckily, I didn't bring bear spray to a horn fight and there were no issues. But, adrenaline was flowing and I learned that, yes, I'm totally afraid of cows.  If that makes me weak, so be it.

highlights and low-lights: 

* Foolishly took the car out roaming (instead of the truck), thinking that “all-wheel drive” meant it could go anywhere. Found out this wasn’t the case and had to do a visual & physical inspection of it’s underbelly after trying to drive up a defunct forest service road, that was more like a washed out riverbed.  I might add, I know little about cars except that leaking oil or transmission fluid is baaaaaddddd.  Thankfully all was well, and I learned my lesson the hard way, as I often do.
* Saw three bears near Hamilton Buttes.  Count ‘em, three!  One is odd enough, but three?  They weren’t together either.  Saw two cross the charming forest service road (as described above) on the way to the trailhead and one on the actual trail.  He looked at me, then lumbered off.  I have that effect on most folks.
* Huffed and puffed up a peak only to find an unopened Miller Genuine Draft sitting by the benchmark, with nary a human in sight.  It was purposefully placed and piqued my curiosity.  During some exploring, I located a plague in honor of a man who died in 2009 and calculated that someone must have left him a beer.  Thoughtful!  Although, it might be frowned upon to drink in the afterlife.
* I discovered two ground bees nests on a rarely used trail and learned that they stay away from bug spray on skin (good to know).
* Met a couple nice equestrian folks in the beautiful meadow on Stagman Ridge.  The whole scene as they made their way towards me looked like a movie set.
* V came down for the weekend and we did some mountain biking in addition to hiking.  It was nice to give my feet a break and roll on wheels!
* We caught the Perseid Meteor shower over Mount Adams one evening.  We sat on the truck’s tailgate in a field and watched as they shot across the dark sky, breaking into flaming pieces.  A night I'll never forget.
Pictures like this are becoming so familiar...

Probably my favorite wildflower.  It's called Elephant's Head
creatively named by someone who looked close!

It gets lonely walking for miles alone.  Sometimes, I get reminded
I'm never that far away. 
Hooray for wild strawberry season! 
Dang cows.  They ran all the way from the trail to the road.
I had to drive around them because they wouldn't move.  See
the look?  

Always an adventure.  Luckily I was with Mr. Fix-it.
Old boy made it on a 9.5 mile hike, but wanted
to rest a lot (preferably on top of fragile wildflowers).
I'm guessing this is why dogs are not allowed in National Parks.

Hamilton Buttes

Straight out of Hollywood 
Looking Glass Lake

frozen in time

Fireweed brings life to a dead forest