Trail review

Trail review

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

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Last week was our big backpacking trip for the year. 4 days and 3 nights with my two boys and a couple friends and their boys to a couple different lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It's an area north of Snoqualmie pass. I've hiked several different trails in the area and it never fails to amaze me. 

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We started out on Wednesday evening and hiked the 3.25 miles to Snow lake. Wednesday, it turns out, is a good day to go to Snow lake. More on that later. Snow lake is a good sized lake with a fair amount of good camping spots around the south east side of the lake. There are at least a couple pit toilets around that make things a bit easier as the ground isn't super easy to dig. The lake basin is filled with huckleberries and they were perfectly ripe last week. The water is clear and the deep blue of snow run off. Great for swimming... After some acclimation.  

We camped there that night, awoke to make pancakes for breakfast, broke camp and headed to Gem lake. The trail winds around Snow lake, giving you a spectacular view of the lake from all angles. 1.7 miles later you get to Gem lake. As soon as you get a peek at Gem lake, you know how it got its name. It looks like a sapphire set in the rough mountains around it. Beautiful, clear and blue. But don't stop there. The view from the east side of the lake is so much better. It would be a shame to get to the lake and not get the view from the east side. 

We swam in the lake, replenished water and did a little laundry that afternoon. The next morning my oldest son and I made the .33 mile trek to the top of Wright Mountain. The trail is about 1/3 scramble over rocks lead by cairns. The trek is steep, but well worth the trip! You can see for miles in every direction. Mostly it's more rocky peaks and glacier carved valleys as far as the eye can see. You can see Gem lake, Snow lake, upper and lower Wildcat lakes and couple other smaller lakes. 

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In an effort to make the last days trek out not as hard, we broke camp that morning and headed back to Snow lake. We had originally wanted to stay at Gem lake 2 nights. Actually I wouldn't have minded staying at Gem lake for two weeks... But the idea of a 5 mile hike out the next day with the smaller members of the group already pretty exhausted didn't seem like a good idea. So we headed back to Snow lake, enjoyed another swim there and stayed the night. 

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There are good stretches of the trail that are pretty rough. Liam made the trip with a broken arm. What a tough dude... He didn't complain about anything, but he did slow down quite a bit when he got tired. Another member of the group and I would occasionally take his pack so he could pick up the pace.

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Snow lake is amazing, well worth the trip. But I would HIGHLY recommend going during the week. Friday night there was at least one pretty loud group staying the night. Up laughing and yelling until at least 4:30 am. Not cool, guys. The next day, Saturday, we counted over 500 people on the trail going up to the lake as we hiked out. Pretty crowded... Very different from our experience on Wednesday. 

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In our down time at camp we enjoyed a few rounds of checkers on the Cabin Fever bandana. Rocks vs. Pine cones. This bandana always comes in handy, especially on a trip where you know you'll have time at camp and don't want to carry any extra weight. 

Over all the trip was amazing. Enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Washington never ceased to amaze me. Driving through Snoqualmie pass, I would never had guessed such amazing views were just a few miles off the main road. Such a blessing to live in a place like this. 

Have you backpacked in this area? What are your favorite trails to hike?

Trail review

Olympic Peninsula 50-miler

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There are few 50-milers out there as epic as the Washington coast. A local Boy Scout group I've been involved with over the years just got back from that trip. They started at Oil City and ending at Shi Shi beach, near the northern most point of the Olympic Peninsula. It was all just a walk on the beach, though. There's some seriously rugged terrain in between those two points, including a lot of bouldering and areas so steep they require ropes to ascend. Some parts of the trail have to be timed with low tides, making it very important to keep pace on those days. Overall the trip went very well. They all arrived back home tired and a bit blistered.

I've lead a Scout group on a 50-miler backpacking trip and it was amazing. It's one of the best experiences a young man can have in the outdoors. There are so many skills and experiences that can be learned on a long distance backpacking trip. It's an experience they will never forget and will always be proud that they accomplished.

I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story. 

 Colter Co. was proud to have a few bandanas make the trip.

Colter Co. was proud to have a few bandanas make the trip.

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Trail review

Tyler & Becca PCT

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In April we posted about Tyler & Becca plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. And they made it! We asked them a few questions about their trip. Talking to them makes me really look forward to hiking this summer. 

CC: What did you learn about your gear? 

T&B: We learned that quality gear is worth the investment. We did our homework and found gear that was going to fit our specific needs, but that would stand up to the abuse that we put it through. If on average a person spends 15 nights a year out backpacking the gear will last a good long while and is worth the investment. We were out 136 nights, which is equivalent to about 9 years of use that we put into our gear in one 4 1/2 month period. We had to do some minor mending and patching along the way, but overall everything is in great shape...except for our shoes. They all took a trip to the trash can.

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CC: What gear was worth its weight in gold, and what was not worth having? 

Worth its weight in gold:
Becca: CALORIES!, trekking poles, sleeping quilt, leuko tape (for blisters), Nike Pro Indy bra, bug headnet, baby powder

Tyler: CALORIES!, solar panel, Sony NEX 7 camera with 16-50mm lens, Patagonia Houdini wind jacket, fishing pole

- A little more on calories: All food that you are craving is worth carrying. Avacados, an entire block of cheese, a jumbo bag of Fritos, chocolate cake, no problem!

Not worth having:

Sawyer Mini water filter - go with the full size version, sunscreen (not recommended for everyone else. We tanned up pretty quickly and never used it again), bug spray (as long as you're walking 3 mph the mosquitos can't catch you. In camp we just put on more layers).

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CC: How did you alter your gear along the way?

T&B: The alterations were mainly to get rid of redundancies or gear that we thought we'd use but didn't. I ditched extra camera batteries once I had a good system down and we ditched a tarp to use as shade in the desert that we never used. Anything else that we would potentially need, but didn't want to carry was put into a "bounce box". Basically, you address a package to yourself two or three towns ahead and put in stuff that you might need. I had a big bottle of contact solution that I could use to refill my smaller one, extra socks and underwear, ziploc bags, and even some snacks and extra meals.

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CC: What was your favorite parts of the experience?

T&B: For Becca it was the trail life with all of the social interactions. For me, it was definitely the scenery and the opportunity to see some incredible parts of the country. We both really enjoyed hiking through the Sierras and any other big mountain pass. It is a hard and discouraging climb, but once you get to the top of the pass and see all of the lakes and beautiful scenery that lies ahead of you all of the hard moments melt away.


CC: What was the hardest part of the experience?

T&B: The hardest part was definitely the repetitive nature of getting up day after day to hike 20+ miles. You go to bed exhausted and wake up in the morning slightly less exhausted. Finding that motivation in the morning would be really difficult for us if we weren't hiking with each other. I don't know how solo hikers do it. We were a good source of motivation for each other and she kept me from hitting the snooze button daily. If you can make it past the first few weeks where your body is adjusting, then the rest is mostly mental. Your body get into such incredible shape that you are a walking machine. 

CC: Did you meet any interesting people on the trail?

T&B: Oh, so many! It takes a certain kind of crazy to spend 4 to 6 months living out of a backpack. All walks of life were represented, but the coolest part was that the trail was a level playing field. It doesn't matter if you work at McDonalds or are a doctor, everyone is able to be their true selves without judgement. There were the crazy hippie types, but they tended to be occupied with alcohol and drugs. We kind of separated ourselves from that crowd just by the pace that we set for ourselves. 

We made a handful of friendships that will last a lifetime. "Ricky Bobby" from Michigan, "Raddish" from Oregon, Tami from Oregon, "Diatom" from California, and "Salamander" and "Tree Beard" from Washington were our closest friends. No topic is off limits when you sit around picking your feet and popping blisters in front of someone. You get to know people pretty quickly.

CC: Did your Colter Co. bandanas come in handy? :)

T&B: Yes! A bandana for a quick wipe of the forehead on a steep climb, or added sun protection is always handy.

CC: Did you guys get hiker nicknames?

T&B: Yes, mine was "Nomad", because I was always exploring and didn't sit still when other people were just relaxing. It was usually because I was off exploring a stream or lake.

Becca's was "Rattles", because she is chatty and as some of our close friends said, "you tend to rattle on and on". 

Trail names have to be given to you by people that you're around, not self-appointed. Most of the time it comes from a personality trait or something quirky that you do. 

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Trail review

The Enchantments

My friend Ryan Meline has been good enough to share his experience hiking the Enchantments here in Washington State. Thank you, Ryan. 

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It started with a lottery.  If you’re lucky enough to score a permit, they grant you passage into some of the most amazing terrain in Washington. 

We decided we were not that lucky, so we put two names in the hat. 

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"Congratulations! You were successful in securing a reservation for a wilderness permit in the Core Enchantment Zone of the ENCHANTMENT PERMIT AREA LOTTERY.” This is the email we received for one of our entries, which lets you bring up to 7 buddies with you. Also the poorly named "core enchantment permit area" lets you camp anywhere within the different enchantment zones, not just the core, so I recommend applying for that one. If you’re a gambler, you can try your luck at the ranger station the day of and see if there are any unclaimed permits available. They have to limit the number of people per day camping there, because I think they are trying to keep it a secret. I would. Names like Aasgard pass, Argonaut Peak and Dragon tail, really set the stage, and there will be many moments during the trip you swear you are wandering through Tolkien’s imagination. It’s that beautiful. 

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Five of us, loaded our 40 - 50 lb packs up and headed for four days into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Central Cascades. We decided to start at the lower enchantments and work our way up to the upper Enchantments. I highly recommend this route, leaving through Aasgard Pass, rather than the other way around. Its much more climactic this route and Asgard is not for the feint of heart climbing 2,000 feet in 3/4 a mile. This was also my first time hiking with a heavier pack so I thought it better to ease into the workout. We split up some of the weight of the tents and cooking equipment (there are no open fires allowed in the Enchantments) but it’s still a good amount of weight to carry for 4 days. 

The first part of the hike is the tamest with many switchbacks, some of them through the charred remains of a forrest fire. But soon you are nestled between two ridges with a stream as your guide. We camped the first night at the Snow Lakes, it was Labor Day weekend so we had incredible weather and would be swimming in these chilly, but invigorating lakes and streams throughout our adventure.  The following day we shared some of our breakfast with some Camp Robbers / Gray Jays, went for a morning swim, and hit the trail.

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For this next leg we basically followed the cascading waterfalls most of the day, so there were countless spots where we stopped, to take a dip, and even try out a waterfall jacuzzi. Its good to take your time here, as there will be relentless climbing during this trip. These cliff faces are as beautiful as they are high. 

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We camped at inspiration lake the next night, but could have gone a little more slowly, as we were pretty close to our final campsite in the upper enchantments. We purposefully wanted to spend one night up top so we could take some spur trails and hang around the meandering pools with the goats all day.

We camped at inspiration lake the next night, but could have gone a little more slowly, as we were pretty close to our final campsite in the upper enchantments. We purposefully wanted to spend one night up top so we could take some spur trails and hang around the meandering pools with the goats all day.  PastedGraphic-6.tiff  The highlight of a trip full of highlights was the short hike/scramble up to the peak of little Annapurna. We watched the sunset from up here and could see every mountain peak within a few hundred miles. I won’t try to describe how amazing this experience was, you’ll just have do it yourself.    PastedGraphic-10.tiff  By the time we were finished we had gone from the trailhead at 1300 ft, to the summit at 8440ft. And over 22 miles of hiking. It was such an amazing trip between the terrain, the perfect weather, and the friends. I’m definitely going back.

The highlight of a trip full of highlights was the short hike/scramble up to the peak of little Annapurna. We watched the sunset from up here and could see every mountain peak within a few hundred miles. I won’t try to describe how amazing this experience was, you’ll just have do it yourself. 

By the time we were finished we had gone from the trailhead at 1300 ft, to the summit at 8440ft. And over 22 miles of hiking. It was such an amazing trip between the terrain, the perfect weather, and the friends. I’m definitely going back. 

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