Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Power of Love

I mostly write about my love of the mountains, of pushing myself, of being out there...but sometimes the need to write about other forms of love is compelling. Today, I have a love story to tell that doesn't merely involve mountains.

In the summer of 2013 I walked, from Mexico to Canada, in two months. I walked every day without fail, over high passes and through deep valleys. I carried a pack that scarred my shoulders and wore enormous sores on my back. I was in pain often and hungry constantly.

I walked in constant amazement of my body's ability to overcome and persevere. I was in awe of the terrain and the beauty surrounding me. I slept only a few hours a night and the rest of the time I was moving forward.

The ups and downs were physical, literal, and emotional. Daily I had to block out the rational part of my brain that asked why I was even doing this. Why I wasn't quitting.

Whenever I felt at my lowest, my weakest, my absolute breaking point I would think of a man who loved me. I would remember that he was at the other end of that trail waiting for me. I would remind myself that of all the people I knew, he had the firmest faith that I could actually do what I had set out to do. That he believed in me more than I believed in myself.

I would remind myself that every step I took, brought me closer to him.

And then, I would suck it up, stop crying, and walk.

There are songs and stories and poems and legends of the things people would do to be with their lover. There are vows made to climb mountains, swim oceans, walk hundreds of miles. Unlike the authors of these over-romanticized tales I can tell you that I have, in fact, actually done so.

While I intended my trek to be a challenge and a solitary endeavor comprised of pitting me vs. miles and terrain, it unintentionally became a quest to reunite with love as well.

When I think back on those miles, hardships, and loneliness I see not only a woman proving her own strength to herself, but I also see a heart's odyssey of longing.

Moreover, I see the power that love provides.




Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Heather by any other Name...



"Why don't you sign your name to the summit registers?"

The question was simple, but the answer is more complex.

Anish was here.

Those are the words of "the Ghost." More simply they are the essence. I was there. I was in that space in a moment and that was all that mattered. Breathing, taking in everything right then and there. No reason to wax eloquently about the weather or the journey. Those are the things that matter only to me. Those are the things that make that moment what it is.

More than that, I sign Anish because it is she that was there, not Heather Anderson. For you see, Heather walked into the Georgia woods one sunny day in the late spring of 2003 and she never walked out.

She died in those rugged mountains–in the Carter Gap Shelter–as she sterilized a needle with fire and plunged it into the giant blisters beneath every toenail. As streams of fluid shot out and the excruciating pain of the last week finally lessened, Anish was born.

Over the miles, through the rocks and rain and heat and insects and pain, Anish grew. She gained strength from hardship and joy from the becoming. Out of ashes and tears a new woman formed.

And when she placed the rock she'd carried on the summit cairn of Katahdin, it was the headstone for the woman who'd started the journey 2,172 miles before.

Heather is the name on official papers and nostalgic memorabilia. She is the ghost that haunts Anish as she roams the mountains. A reminder that she will always live two lives: reality and the one that happens outside the bounds of wilderness.

Reflections

Back in the house I grew up in, where not much changes, I am reminded of the Heather that was. The young woman who so desperately wanted to be thin, pretty, accepted. I stand in front of the bathroom mirror where I spent countless hours despising my body. Today, the reflection that stares back at me is wearing size 0 jeans and has muscles in her arms and legs that tell the story of miles walked and rock faces climbed. The reflection is finally what the old me wish for so fervently.

And yet, there is no change in my feelings toward myself as I see this "perfect" reflection.

I am still uncertain. I doubt my worth, my abilities, my attractiveness. These scars will always mar any reflection of myself.

It is when I walk away from that mirror, or any mirror, that my feelings change.

It is when I stand atop a mountain peak that I struggled to obtain.
It's when I stare back at miles covered.
It's when I crawl into my tent exhausted from giving everything I have.
It's when I've run hard–so hard I can't breathe.
It's when I feel my leg muscles contract and bulge powering me upward and forward.
It's when I shove my hands and feet into a narrow crack and twist–hauling myself upward–my body the only anchor holding me to the rock.

At those times I feel strong. I feel confident. I feel beautiful. I feel purposeful.

Appearance is nothing. It is the fact that I am fearfully and wonderfully made that matters. I may never be able to fully overcome my past–but as with a reflection–I can always walk away from it and into present reality.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ultimate Direction Pack Comparison: PB Adventure Vest vs. Fastpack

This summer I have enjoyed putting two excellent Ultimate Direction Hydration packs through extensive field tests! I have utilized both the Fastpack 20 and the PB Adventure Vest. I have used them in varied situations from rock climbing to multi-day excursions and in a variety of climates from wet Washington springs to hot alpine California and into the crisp fall days.

Running the John Muir Trail and Climbing Cathedral Rock

Both have their pluses and minuses and if you have a variety of interests and your endeavors are of varying lengths I recommend having both in your pack arsenal. However, below are some points of comparison that can help you choose the pack that will work the best for you if buying both is not an option.

Ready for adventure!

Capacity: 

The Fastpack has more than double the capacity of the PB Adventure Vest, yet it weighs in only at only 3 oz more! It's a no-brainer really which pack to use if you need to carry a lot of gear. I used the Fastpack on both my JMT FKT attempt as well as on a multi-day peak bagging expedition this summer.

At the start of the John Muir Trail and on Lost Peak

I've also used it for several rock climbs and technical mountain ascents where I needed to carry a helmet, crampons, rope, harness, etc. The Fastpack easily  swallowed all of it.

Rappelling on Cathedral Rock

I've found the PB Adventure Vest to be optimal for day long self-supported expeditions. I've used it on multiple 50-60 mile runs in the mountains throughout the summer as well as some less technical climbs. The capacity is ample for carrying plenty of food and water as well as extra layers and emergency overnight gear.

       
On the go hydration refill


 Summit of Black Peak


Running through the North Cascades

External Lashing:

While the Fastpack has two ice axe loops, making it more versitile for technical equipment and stashing poles (whereas the PB Adeventure Vest only has 1) it lacks the exterior bungee cord of the PB. The Fastpack does however have a large mesh pocket on the back of the main body which is an excellent place for a minimal shelter. In all, I would prefer to attach stretch cord to the outside of the Fastpack as well since I use it for strapping on things like my helmet.

Summit of Blackcap

Front Pocketing: 

Pockets are the crux for me. Seriously. I am someone who is almost continuously on the move. I want a lot of accessible pockets up front so I can eat (apply sunscreen, check my maps, take pictures...) on the move (or at least without taking my pack off). Here is where the PB clearly outshines the Fastpack in accessible storage.

The front pockets of the PB can carry 20 oz bottles, or you can stash other things in them if you're using handhelds or a hydration bladder. Each of these bottle pockets has 2 small stretch pockets on them. These are perfect places for gels, bars, or Chamois Butt'r packets, or your sunscreen, hand sanitizer, lip balm, etc. The Fastpack has the two bottle pockets, but only 1 subsidiary pocket on one of the bottle pockets

 Front Pocketing


One more note on the bottle pocket, The PB has little leashes to go around the bottle tops. This keeps them from creeping up and out as you run. I had to keep pushing the bottles back into place on the Fastpack because it doesn't have those.

Below the bottle pockets are smaller pockets. The ones on the PB are tiny. Good enough for electrolytes, a car key and some Aqua Tabs and not much else. The ones on the Fastpack are much larger, so that's a nice addition.

Moving up the shoulder strap the PB has two large zippered pockets. I have crammed my phone, baby food pouches, Trailbutter pouches, gazillions of gels and bars and who knows what else in here. It's also where I normally store my compass if it isn't around my neck. These vital storage spaces are not on the Fastpack. Despite the larger pockets below the bottle pockets, adding these to the Fastpack would be an excellent use of that otherwise blank terrain on the shoulder straps.

Shoulder Straps


One other pocketing note. The PB has a velcro closed pocket on each side between the body of the pack and the shoulder strap. I haven't used these spaces often, simply because I don't usually need them and I'm never 100% sure I trust things not to fall out. However, I have stashed some bulky, yet light food items there (baggie of Snappea crisps or Dang Coconut Chips). They have been totally secure and comfortable. I was even brave enough to throw my jacket in there the last time. There is a security loop in there that you could clip or tie a valuable to for extra security.

PB's side pouch


On the other hand, the Fastpack has large, stretch slash pocket on the sides of the body. You can put a water bottle, layers, or food in there and they hold a LOT. These make up for the missing smaller pockets, however, I don't find them as easy to access as the pockets in the front. The other thing about them is that they don't close like the pockets on the PB do and so I'm always afraid of things bouncing out, getting snagged and pulled out, or getting lost if I take a tumble.


Packing for the JMT

 
Essentials!


Fabric: 

The fabric of the Fastpack seems more durable than that of the PB. The stretch mesh used on both packs is tougher than that I've had on some of my backpacking packs and I appreciate that when I'm bushwhacking!  I like the feel of the PB against my body more than that of the Fastpack.

Lookout Mountain

Weight: 

As I said before, the Fastpack only weighs a few ounzes more than the PB and has much more capacity.

Comfort: 

The comfort of both these packs is top notch. I've had them both maxed out and run double digit mileages in them. There's no ride up or awkward swaying. The PB seems to wick better and when not stuffed to the gills is practically unnoticeable. The Fastpack, since it is larger, covers more of your back and doesn't seem to wick as well which can be pretty slimy and sticky when it's hot and humid. That could also be due to the built in padding in the back of the Fastpack. The only time I've had any discomfort  in it was when I had 4 days worth of food, several liters of water, and full backpacking gear inside. My shoulders were achy by the end of the day. However, that's a pretty extreme load for a running pack.

Running the JMT

Friday, September 26, 2014

From Trails to Mountain Tops...and Beyond

Ever since my feet first took tentative steps along the sandy Bright Angel Trail I have been defined by trails. I have plotted grand loops through wilderness and linear objectives measuring by the thousands. I have spent entire summers walking winding paths from end to end never questioning, never leaving their tread, never skipping a single foot of their distance. I have highlighted maps and checked off lists. In the winters I have run them, up and down and along and always for the miles.



In my fervent desire to be surrounded with mountain bliss I have taken the only path I knew–the trail. Some are well-worn freeways of the back-country. Others are forgotten, abandoned bushwhacks that have sliced me to ribbons and drenched me in dew. Always they have taken me deep into the heart of where I want to be and left me staring up at the austere and glorious peaks that create the majesty I long to immerse myself in.


But,

One can only soar amidst the peaks for just so long before the urge to alight atop the summit is too strong to ignore.




This summer I have left the trail behind. 
I have flown.


I have soared.

I have inched my way up rock and snow. 



I have pulled my body over and through courses I'd never imagined. 







I've learned new vocabulary, new skills, a new passion.

I have pushed into new terrain and in the process unearthed abilities I didn't know I possessed.




I have always called the mountains home, but I have gained a new sense of that. 



My skill-set is growing. I feel more and more as though there is no terrain I cannot cross. That my journeys into the wild can become seamless adventures. Where trail is utilized, but not all-controlling. Where neither rock, nor snow, nor brushy terrain can keep me from finding my way. It may be slower, but it is fuller.



My focus has been the top 100 peaks of Washington as listed on the Bulger List, but I have gone to many other summits as well. I can stand atop a peak and survey a landscape with new satisfaction.



My feet may be anchored firmly to the talus, but my heart has spread its wings and launched into the wild blue.




All photos courtesy Adam Walker

Saturday, August 30, 2014

UPWC 2014: Alpine Lakes Grand Tour or "That Time I Tried to Run from Leavenworth to Snoqualmie Pass"

So let's get one thing straight: I hate goats.

Ok, so hate is probably the wrong word. They are excellent dramatic features clinging to sheer rock walls and impressive examples of adaptation. More correctly, habituated goats freak me out. So when a guy enthusiastically informed me that "very friendly" goats were just ahead I had to force a smile and then duck to grab rocks as soon as he turned away. I booked it for Asgard Pass, zipping past the "friendly goat" as fast as I could.
Views from Asgard Pass

That's sort of how the day started as well. I left the Snow Lakes TH at 6:13 am and bounced up the trail...Snoqualmie bound. Far, far below Nada Lake, while I was still on the switchbacks, I looked up to see a nanny and two kids. I stood and yelled, but she just stared at me with beady black eyes, probably trying to decide of I were in need of a pee.



In exasperation I hopped up the talus, over and around them.

I cruised through the Enchantments realizing why I don't do this run often. It's an awful lot of work for a few miles of lakes. And I hate lakes. Well, I don't hate them, per se. I'd just rather look at them from a ridge or summit than actually go to one.




The Enchantments might strike out when it comes to "Things Anish Likes," but, as usual, it was a lovely stretch of trail and I really enjoyed it. Although I think I enjoyed bombing down Asgard Pass more...

Heading for Colchuck Lake


Goats and fancifully named  lakes behind me I zipped up past 8 mile Lake and Lake Caroline toward Windy Pass. The climb was gorgeous and I couldn't help but think it would be a much better place to reintroduce the grizzly than the currently studied North Cascades NP.

Perfect Lighting


I couldn't help but look back and marvel at the formidable gray towers of the Enchantments from my current position on mellow green slopes bathed in golden light. There was no doubt which landscapes I prefer. I danced up the trail wishing I had enough time to climb Cashmere, but secretly glad I didn't so I'd have an excuse to come back.

Ascending toward Windy Pass and Looking back at the Enchantments


Cashmere


I popped over the crest of the pass and stopped in my tracks. "Oh. My. God."

The light, the silhouette of the Stone Kingdom, the rolling intermittent ridges, the clear blue sky freckled with white...it was the everything moment: the one where it all comes together and literally makes your jaw drop.

Windy Pass

I plopped into the dirt by the cairn and rifled through my pack eating pretty much anything I could find. I was vaguely worried about whether I had enough food to reach my destination. Those towering summits near Snoqualmie looked very far away.

I drank in the views for a few more moments and then headed down the trail. It quickly became obvious that this side was not well traveled or maintained. Tread vanished in meadowy areas, it was eroded, and the trail was indistinguishable from the forest floor. The switchbacks near the bottom had me pausing with regularity to determine where exactly to head next. I hopped from rock to rock across a small creek and in an instant I found myself bear hugging a boulder with my butt on the rock I'd been standing on, both legs dangling in the water. I laughed as I hauled myself up and carried on...sloshing through the pine needles. I soon found myself wading through bushes before arriving at another creek crossing. Feet already wet I splashed across and promptly found the junction with the Trout Creek Trail.

Feeling the Stoke


I fast hiked toward the lake, really a flooded meadow, and consumed a gel. I hit the Jack Ridge Trail and immediately knew I had to get over it before dark. I had thought the descent from Windy Pass was vague, but now I realized that it looked like the yellow brick road compared to this trail segment.

I powered up the climb and at the top blew through the sticks that blocked off the obvious trail ahead. As I ran past it I felt an uneasy niggle in the back of my mind. That part of me that has traveled so many miles and usually alerts me to a blunder. I glanced below and saw no trail dropping down the side so I continued along the ridge. The trail was well defined, but I felt rising anxiety: "This doesn't match the map. You're supposed to cross the ridge and wrap back below the point."

Stoked...before Jack Ridge


About .2 down the ridge I decided that I should listen to that voice and go back. I sped back along the ridge and was surprised to see two faded trails coming from the direction I had ascended. I stood for a second, unsure of which one I'd actually come up. Then it all snapped into place with the lines on the map and I went sprinting down the ridge in the correct direction.

I hit my first switchback and nearly slid on pine needles. The trail on this side was possibly even worse than the other. I hustled to descend the switchbacks as quickly as possible. The sun was fading fast. Huckleberry bushes slapped at my legs and I guessed at the location of the trail as I descended. I heard a large animal crashing through the underbrush, but I was more concerned with getting myself to the bottom before full dark. My ever-present hope was that the Jack Creek Trail was better maintained.

Deep dusk reigned as I popped into a clearing. A well used horse camp sprawled between me and the river. I spied a weathered sign nailed to a tree and dashed to it, squinting in the low light to read. Jack Creek Trail.

I shrugged off my pack and pulled out my headlamp and ate some more food. I retied my shoes and put my shirt back on. Sunglasses and visor stashed. I saw with relief that the trail was wide and well used. I shouldered my pack and trotted off.

I listened carefully in the darkness as the creek drew close and then moved away. I knew that as soon as it drew close again I would have to cross. I had a suspicion that the Meadow Creek Trail might be unmarked so I watched for evidence of a crossing with hawk like intensity.

It was fully dark, well after 9pm, when I entered a meadow. The creek was loudly splashing alongside again and I saw another sprawling camp...sure sign of a trail junction. Sure enough a trail led through the camp to the water. I plunged into the mid-calf water and waded across. On the other side a large ax blaze was carved into a tree. I followed the trail past a cut log and into thick brush. I clambered over a fallen tree and then...

The next two hours I bushwhacked through thick undergrowth, climbing over fallen trees, seeking out obscured trail tread and old blazes, the occasional cut log. I pieced a route half a mile or less from the river crossing that matched the map, yet there was virtually nothing on the ground. I followed game trails, zigged and zagged and scoured. I used every technique I've ever used to follow missing trail. I recrossed the creek twice more. I ran a half a mile upstream and then down; seeking a missed junction. I looked for a sign on the trees at the horse camp. In the end it was all in vain.

By 11:30pm I realized that not only had I not eaten in almost 3 hours, but also that I was very far behind my schedule. I definitely did not have enough food to camp and try in the morning, nor to attempt a protracted bushwhack. I crossed the creek for the last time and headed back. It was going to take many hours and a lot of concentration to retrace my steps over Jack Ridge and up to Windy Pass. I would be lucky to arrive there by 8am.

A few minutes down the trail I stopped to put on my jacket. I pulled out my maps to shuffle the old maps to the front again. The words "Jack Creek Trail" lept out at me from the bottom of the route description page. I read it, then read it again to make sure I wasn't imagining things. Then I sat down and laid out all my maps aligned and read the description of option two yet again, tracing it with my finger.

"From Rock Island Campground on the Icicle Creek Road follow Jack Creek Trail South to Meadow Creek Trail..."

I gathered my maps and tucked them into my pocket. If I was reading this right the Jack Creek Trail would take me to Icicle Creek Road. I estimated it would be less than 7 miles. I reached the Jack Ridge junction and deliberated for a second. If I was wrong I could get lost...or at least waste several hours. But, if I was right...

Artifacts at the Jack Ridge Jct.

I continued down the Jack Creek Trail. I found my running legs on the good tread and felt my confidence rise with every stride. I switch-backed down and eventually crossed a large metal horse bridge. My heart soared...they don't build those very far into the wilderness!

I reached an abandoned trailhead parking lot at 1:50 in the morning. I ran out to the road and turned right. Something seemed off though. The more traveled roadbed seemed to be the the left. I turned around and saw a sign that said "Trail head" facing the other way. Lights shone through the forest.

I decided that the Icicle Creek Road must switchback or something and I started running west. Soon the road looped around and I was at the Rock Island Campground. To my surprise I saw someone walking around in the lights I had seen.

I walked into the campsite and was greeted with stares. Two men sat at the picnic table, one played with a large knife. I could smell alcohol from several yards away.

"Hi, I'm a little lost...is that the Icicle Creek Road out there?"

Man 1: "Lost?! Do you know what time it is?"

"Uh, yes."

Man with Knife: "Yes, that's Icicle Creek."

"Ok, great. Um, how far to the Snow Lakes Trail head."

MwK: "Where is that?"

Oh boy...

M1: "Is that where your car is?"

"No, it's at Snoqualmie. How far to Leavenworth?"

M1: "You're trying to get to Snoqualmie on FOOT?!"

MwK: "We're 16 miles from Leavenworth."

"Ok, thank you." I hastily exited despite the other questions being incredulously asked. Man 1 simply kept repeating "Snoqualmie on FOOT!"

I reached the road and started running. I glanced back a few times, nervous that they might follow. Soon though I was lost in the beauty of night running and the bliss of being able to run in an even rhythm for the first time all day.



I ran down the middle of the road. I heard animals crash in the brush. Noisy creeks collided with Icicle...constantly reminding me that I was out of water. On principle I never drink close to a road, but I was sorely tempted.

5 miles in I stopped and clicked off the headlamp. I spun in circles in the middle of a dead end forest road with my face tilted up to the sky. Stars spun in my vision; the Pleiades, Milky Way, Andromeda...the pure overwhelming vastness of the cosmos filled my soul. I thought of my ascent of Pinchot Pass 2 months ago and the similar moment. This time however, I was alert, my body not in duress, and I was able to simply revel in the splendor.

I clicked on my light and continued on.

At 4am I reached Snow Lakes Trail head. I texted a few people I thought might be able to "rescue" me and get me back to my car. Then I pulled on my rain jacket and a pair of tights and crawled into the bushes. I draped my emergency blanket over me and fell fitfully asleep for the next two hours.

Nap Time!

I woke and got water from acquaintances that just happened to roll into the trailhead as I was leaving. I clipped on my pack and trotted down the road the last 4.5 miles to hwy 2. I stopped for coffee and Trailbutter along the way...laughing as I ran alongside pastures drenched in mellow morning light and into the town that was just waking up.



I did eventually reach my car after hitchhiking with a Frenchman and hanging out at the Monroe Safeway for 4 hours. All in all I was awake for 40 hours. My bed felt AWESOME that night!

Recovery...Safeway Style :)