Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Highway 20 Spectacles

Heather-Maple Pass Loop is a trail that has been on my Hike List for at least two years. Every time someone posts a trip report for it on the Washington Trails website there are absurdly gorgeous, jaw dropping photos attached. The only excuse I have, and it's a paltry one by any adventurer's standards, is that its a 3 hour drive from my front door.

Despite missing out for way too long on this glorious bounty of mountain passes and ridgelines galore, I actually do enjoy long drives-especially when I leave at dawn to beat the crowds and traffic, which I did this time. I think back a couple years to when my fucked up back injury was still ruling my every day life, making activities like this feel permanently impossible. I couldn't stand to be stuck in the same position in a car for an hour, let alone be active after.... I can't believe how lucky and blessed I am to be on the other side of all those harrowing and utterly depressing feelings. I am so damn thankful.

Heather-Maple Loop can be done counter clockwise or clockwise, with both options sharing the Rainy Lake trailhead. Besides being able to pick and chose your starting side for the pass, offshoot trails break away throughout, allowing you to hit up Rainy Lake, Rainy Pass, and the lake bed of Lake Ann.

I had so much fun hiking this loop. I was a bit nervous after my last hiking trip in the Enchantments, where I was just feeling out of shape and unable to maximize my trail time. I felt way more capable this go around which was fantastic and super reassuring.

I'm getting back into my groove again with hiking and thus all other things. Feeling simultaneously more motivated and yet more at peace. Genuinely appreciative of what I have right here, right now. Still seeking and analyzing and daydreaming... yet finding that with practice and heightened awareness I am able to cultivate a NowNowNow mentality that lasts longer than it ever used to. Becoming sober over the last couple of months has been a powerful addition to my personal quest and is contributing to my perspective shift. I feel like I am undressing layers of learned ideas about myself and the world, peeling back personality and habituation,  slowly revealing my sheltered core self: unique and beautiful yet very interconnected. I'm dusting off what I thought I knew and ushering in an unforced, updated idea of living without limits. I'm feeling very little fear. I feel...sincerely, supremely good.

"How wild it was, to let it be." -Cheryl Strayed

A few of the other epic and infamous trails that remain untouched from my list are: Chain Lakes Loop, Cape Alava on the Olympic Peninsula, Lake Blanca, and Ingalls Lake. Help me out, hold me accountable, and demand documentation from these soon!!

First sight of Lake Ann

Sub Alpine Meadow as the climb continues

Outstanding views of the surrounding Cascade peaks

Oh and saw my first marmot! No pictures of that little dude though.

Looking back on the trail traveled so far

Rounding the ridgeline counter clockwise above Lake Ann

Hard to beat this trail...

Diablo Lake
Had to make a pit stop at Diablo while driving right past it. One of my absolute favorite places to reflect!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Enchantments

Early risers get the best camp spots.

Eightmile Lake, aka Utah, Washington

 Finally, the day arrived! Last Sunday my dear friend Jasmine (literally one of my longest standing friends, I ADORE HER) and I headed to Wenatchee to hang and wake up ass-early for our hike into The Enchantments.

If you don't know what The Enchantments are, please Google them. This isn't pure laziness on my part; There is just no way to verbally explain what they are to strangers. You need to see the photos to understand their legendary, captivating beauty. Here in Washington, they are considered the top tier of hiking. The Enchantments, Mt. Rainier, and the Pacific Crest Trail are probably the top three challenge destinations out here. Camping in the protected Alpine Wilderness-which is necessary unless you trek the full Enchantments loop in one day- is restricted May through October by a lottery system for highly coveted permits. I think every year 10k+ people apply for these limited spaces and the number keeps growing.

Rewinding: Last year I applied and was granted a permit for the very first weekend of seasonal camping. A week before our scheduled trip, I fell on wet rocks while crossing a creek bed (hiking solo, without phone service) and dislocated my knee cap, simultaneously ripping a ligament and my quad. Needless to say I was on crutches for weeks, lucky to escape surgery, and nowhere near capable of hiking this 18.5 mile through trail..

In hindsight, Jasmine and I agreed this was a blessing and nothing to cry over. We weren't really prepared to hike the Enchantments at that time, let alone in the very beginning of the season, when weather conditions are drastic and sometimes call for ice picks just to reach the higher elevation peaks. We're not rock climbers and we don't have the experience or confidence needed to take on back country ice-picking, so instead we rented an Air B'n'B in Budd Inlett for the weekend and got drunk on a row boat. It was NOT a bad time!

This year, a group of us applied for Enchantments permits and were super disappointed that none of our names were pulled. However, there is one single day in April where the Rangers office opens up leftover dates that people who won permits did not pay for in time. Jasmine hopped online at 6am that day and scored a leftover permit for the Eightmile Lake/Lake Caroline zone! 

She gathered a group of six people including the two of us to make the trek in. We sort of failed at planning in advance and probably would have had a tad more success at the whole process if we had met up sooner than the Friday before leaving, heh, which is when we first realized that our zone was the only permit camping that is not specifically on the Enchantments loop.

Translation: Our camp spot, where we were required to sleep every night of our permit dates, was not connected via trails to any other part of the Enchantments. Therefore, in order to access the core loop, we had to hike our from our site (about 3.8 miles from where we camped) to its trail head, drive or walk to the other trail heads, hike what we wanted, then return hike back into our zone before nightfall. 

This was a doozy. First of all, this was the very first Backpacking any of us had ever done. Secondly, it was pretty damn hot and sunstroke was a real concern. Thirdly, there are only so many hours of daylight...

We made it to our campsite at Eightmile and some made it to Lake Caroline nearby the next day. All of us hiked out and then into Colchuck Lake, which is definitely the most scenic lake of the Enchantments outside the the inner core. Colchuck is a 8.2 mile, 2500 ft e.g. hike in and of itself, and I honestly found it very challenging after hiking out from Eightmile with my pack on. The heatttt! The smokeeee (from nearby wildfires)! It was a rough but rewarding day.

Long story short, we did not permeate the inner core of the Enchantments due to our assigned campsite and physical restrictions. Still, the trip was absolutely gorgeous, challenging, and a very good Rough Draft to the Enchantments experience. We learned a great deal about the process that we would not have been able to foresee without experiencing it first hand. Next year, we will have a way better handle on the process and will hopefully be just as lucky with the permits. We will also apply specifically for a camping zone that sits on the Enchantments loop so we can more easily access the core basin! Or, we will actually train in advance and simply through hike the entire thing in a day.

Despite all of this, I want to note that I really loved Eightmile Lake. Visually it was a strange, scenic hybrid of Washington and Utah. There were giant red-rock boulders that I have never seen anywhere else in the Cascades. I googled all over trying to figure out the story behind these rock formations, unique to this lake bed. As you can see in the photos below, it was also a wonderfully peculiar trail hiking in. A bad wildfire ravaged through this zone about 6 years ago, leaving miles of burnt alder trees. In the midst of their decay, tons of tall fire weed and other wild flowers have proliferated the area. Black, burnt trees that look like large snakes shedding their skin paired with bright pink and red fire weed was a strange but  magical partnership. In comparison, you can see from the Colchuck photos I included that the gray boulder gardens and granite mountainsides of the Enchantments rim were vastly different from Eightmile.

An extremely smokey, hazy first sighting of the lake

Jasmine in the Eightmile Boulder Garden

First Sunset at Eightmile

The following photos are from the hike out and then into Colchuck Lake:

Colchuck Boulder Garden. Drastically different rock color and size from Eightmile

Crossings like this making me nervous since knee-dislocation '16

Plethora of impressive, man made water crossings on the Colchuck Trail

5700 Feet Up; Finally some smoke relief!

Honesty Hour.
I had to confront and contend with some deep seated issues in my feelings about this trip. I jumped through some last minute emotional and financial hurdles the week before we left in order to make the trip happen as planned, which only heightened my expectations. It was already a long time coming and very built up goal in my mind because of what happened the year before. Because of this, and my longstanding personal problem with expectations in general (see previous post for more on that), I suffered from some delusional disappointment over the zone situation and our limited access to the core. I was extremely attached to my expectation of seeing the inner core, even if it took a few days. I didn't logically understand until the end that this wasn't going to be a possibility given our camp zone and physical limitations. Not to mention my own lack of preparedness! Before leaving, I told myself I would make it happen one way or the other, period.

Well, I didn't. And that shit was hard. I was itching to see Aasgard Pass at the very least. The morning I left camp and hiked into Colchuck, I told myself I was absolutely going to beast mode the day and make it to Asgaard and back. For reference, this would have been 12.5 miles and 4500 feet of e.g. after hiking  roughly 4 miles out of Eightmile with an elevation loss of 1300ft and my backpack on. When I finally made it to Colchuck, I wanted to cry. I felt like a baby. I was already exhausted and the hike took me much longer than it has in the past. Air quality from the smoke? Heat exhaustion? Tired from three nights in a row of bad sleep? Who knows. But I honestly felt like a failure while I sat staring at this perfect Alpine Lake. I knew I was going to be lucky if I just made it back to the car before it got dark.

This "failure" so to speak has been really revealing to me. Within about a day of getting home, I realized how much I had actually achieved, rather than obsessing over my unmet and ultimately unrealistic expectation for myself. I waded through emotional hell the week before going and almost wasn't able to make it, yet somehow I did! I hiked 13 beautiful miles in a day, a year after suffering from a serious knee injury! I successfully backpacked! I camped next to a glorious alpine lake and went skinny dipping with one of my best friends! Why the hell did this not feel good enough to me at first?

My self worth is always riding on my ability to bag a peak. I have a deep need to be successful, and to GET THE JOB DONE. I literally can't stand starting things that I don't know if I will finish. Even if I'm reading a book that peters out half way through, it's incredibly hard for me to go against my inherent need to finish what I have started. I can only think of maybe 3 hikes that I have turned around on without completing (usually because of weather conditions obstructing safety or the trail itself).

I'm realizing that through fear I have shamed myself into focusing on success rather than the action of DOING. I construct parts of my life from the point of view of what I can do well and succeed at, rather than what I want to try. 

When I delve into something new or decide to try on a new hobby, I want to be good at it immediately. If I'm not, I usually give up really quickly. I walk away from challenging things because I fear that I will never be good enough for them to matter. My mind gets caught up in the story of my perceived failure or more specifically, wasted time. Rather than trusting myself to get better at something or to believe in the process of practice, I react with the habit of abandoning ship when I seemingly suck at something. Perfectionist problems, much...

I have to stop running away from things that are hard and things that I suck at. I have to cultivate a belief in the purpose and process of practice. Ironically, hiking is usually one of the only things that I stick with...in fact, I think its the only hobby I have ever held onto for this long. The thing is, I'm really strategic about it. I pick trails that I know I am capable of doing, or that are just outside my proven physical ability. Then I commit to finishing them, no matter what. The comfort of that peak topped and the feeling of success that comes with it is probably what has kept me coming back, over and over again. Yet in order to get better, and to be able to do something like through hiking the Enchantments, I'm going to have to set my sights outside of what I already know I'm capable of. I'm going to have to actually commit to the process of trying and the reality of FAILING from time to time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Hole In Our Hearts

“...for my greatest skill has been to want but little.”-Thoreau

I think a lot about a concept I call 'the hole in our hearts.' I think of this aching absence as one of the inviolable truths that make the human experience what it is, categorically unique from other life forms and intelligent beings. We are undeniably insatiable creatures. There is always more to be wanted and achieved. Happiness is painfully transient, especially in the world we find ourselves in today. The hole only seems to grow deeper and more treacherous as technology progresses and our basic needs are so easily met. My grandma would say something here about too much free time and idle hands being the devil's playground.

Life is a constant pendulum swing between valleys and peaks, grief and joy, beginnings and endings.
Each of us has an innermost hole that shows itself through our thoughts, feelings, and actions over time. We crave and use different things to fill or plug the hole temporarily. Relationships, attention seeking behavior, numbing agents like drugs and alcohol, food, seeking monetary or professional success, adrenaline, spiritual quests, religion itself...

In my generation, I see a recurring theme of people wanting to abandon their lives in totality- sell all of their shit and escape on adventure to an island or far off land where everything will definitely, suddenly make sense to them. Where they will find a permanent fix to this hole inside themselves. Yet, despite the glorification of travel or adventure as the key to happiness, the inner longing never goes away indefinitely...

I'm not judging the sentiment of seeking escape. I can't tell you how often I have felt painfully unfulfilled in my life; how many times I've used gratitude practices to try and remind myself of all the beautiful things I have achieved, the progress I've made, the love I've experienced. Even in the midst of good things happening, sometimes we feel a quiet voice inside asking is this enough? Is this really all that there is?

Besides relationships, I think I have used hiking and outdoor adventure as a usually-satisfying, temporary fix over the last couple of years. It's the only hobby I have ever held onto for this long without losing all interest. My friend Mark wrote a great blog about craving adventure recently, and he used the phrase "the rat that gnaws inside", which I love as a synonym for the hole in our hearts.

Throughout our time here on the third planet from the sun, we are blessed with experiences that fill us with extreme joy and satisfaction, and moments (if not months) that charge our energy and make us feel vibrantly alive. Falling in love is a perfect representation of this, as well as the inevitable nature of change and the pendulum swing that life goes through. Not all love ends, but it often changes drastically and sometimes gets set aside in the pursuit of something, or someone....else? different? More.

I recently started delving back into a past interest in Buddhism that (like most things) has waxed and waned for me. Something that really resonates with me though is the concept of the Four Noble Truths. The idea of insatiable desire as suffering makes sense to me in many ways. I'm going to share the basic tenants below.

[Disclaimer: There are monks who spend a lifetime disseminating these four ideas and the eight-fold path. What follows is very much a light summary.]

The Four Noble Truths:

1. Life is "Suffering" -Dukkha- Happiness is transitory. Psychological suffering is especially prominent in our human life. Ultimately life is fleeting.

2. The cause of Suffering -Samudaya- is desire, craving, attachment, and holding on to things and  experiences that are impermanent

3. The cessation of suffering -Nirhodha- through relinquishment of desires and cravings

4. The method, or path, to end Suffering-Magga

There is a lot of modern discussion about the context and translation of the first Noble Truth. I certainly don't mean to argue that all of life is constant pain. More that absolutely everything-good and bad-is impermanent, and this is a harsh fact that takes so much time (lifetimeS?) to accept. Transitions and endings are inescapable. As with most difficult truths, I think it's a three step forward, two steps back quest to acceptance. You can think you've made peace with this until a job, or friendship, or even a life abruptly and unjustly comes to an end.

Honestly the fucking best we can do, little by little, is to aim for less attachment and expectation. It just happens to be one of those things that is easier said than done. Still...the human will is so powerful, and If I didn't believe that the long, slow road of improvement was possible, I would have no reason to seek the highest version of myself.

"The student eventually finds there is no way at all to not desire. Even desiring not to desire is desiring. Even trying to accept oneself is a way of trying to escape from oneself because one hopes psycho-therapeutically that by accepting yourself you will get rid of your nasty symptoms. So you are not accepting them." -Alan Watts