Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Diamond Peak Loop

My dog fears fireworks. Her pacing, panting, crying, and inability to be calmed is difficult to witness and often throws me over the edge too. Because of this, each fourth of July we go to the mountains and celebrate the way of the natural world. We wake with the sun, walk with the clouds, sleep with the stars. My heart is the only thing exploding out there as it bursts with the simple joy of knowing everything I need for the next few days is on my back. Or by my side. We will have a fine Independence Day, Wisdom and I, on the high, snowy grounds of Diamond Peak Wilderness.

I'm blaming it on being the first backpacking trip of the season and me being out of practice, but it took a few false leads and wrong turns before I finally found the trail we wanted, the one to Yoran Lake. As we walked along, I tried not to think how in four miles we'd be leaving the trail all together and relying strictly on map and compass for awhile. Having a good sense of direction isn't a strength of mine - I once got lost five feet from the trail for over an hour - but I did review my map and compass book before leaving home and knew I'd have to face the challenge of traveling cross country if I wanted to complete this loop. But that was still four miles and a couple hours away. At the moment, we were climbing gradually through the forest and the pre-hike jitters I always get when preparing for a solo, multi-day trip in the wilderness were slipping away. With each step, each tree, I felt more connected to the world around me. I was on the trail again, traveling, walking home.  

Three alpine lakes and Wisdom swam in all of them,

but soon it was time to bid the comforts of the trail farewell and break out the map and compass. I estimated where on the map we were, where we wanted to go, and took a bearing. Not to mention a deep breath! Then we stepped off the trail into this.

And this

And this

 Somewhere out there lay the Pacific Crest Trail and I hoped we'd find it. 

Forty five minutes and a few moments of, "It all looks the same!" later, Wiz and I spilled out onto the PCT, my old friend. It was a time for jubilation, hydration, and salutation to be sure! 

In 2016, my cousin and I hiked the Oregon section of the PCT and it felt good to be on familiar ground. Although really, this was new trail under my feet. There are many alternate routes along the Pacific Crest Trail that hikers take for different reasons, and my cousin and I took two of them. One was the Eagle Creek Alternate through the Columbia River Gorge that almost everyone takes for the waterfalls and gorgeous scenery. The other was the Oregon Skyline Trail Alternate (OST) at Windigo Pass for resupply purposes. The OST alternate was a tough decision because it meant we would not hike the long contour across the view-packed meadows and rocky slopes of Diamond Peak, a "very special section" of the PCT as one thru-hiker told us in 2016. Ultimately, my cousin and I chose the OST alternate because it fit our needs and goals, but here I was about to hike that "very special section" we missed. And I really didn't put it together until that moment! 

As Wisdom and I walked along, I wished my cousin were with me. And then I found she was, as I relived our hike and memories from that long, wonderful month on the trail. They were all right there- our campsites and funny mishaps, our long lunch breaks and silly conversations that helped pass the miles, our fellow hikers and all their trail names - they were all right there, walking along the Pacific Crest Trail with me once again. I guess these things are as much a part of the mountains and time as the trail itself, and when you know this, you know you need never be alone. 

Later that night at Divide Lake, we found the mosquitos and the mosquitos found us. I guess they liked us, too, because they never left us alone for the next three days! 

Divide Lake

My new look! 
I didn't know it yet, but I would be living in this thing. 

The next morning we returned to the Pacific Crest Trail and continued south. This was my favorite part of the trip as the trail stretched across the east shoulder of Diamond Peak. It was very scenic and very high. Snowfields covered the trail in places and streams just coming out of hibernation trickled downhill. Wildflowers bloomed and early thru-hikers, who began their hike in Mexico, were already halfway through Oregon. Diamond Peak was waking up and Wiz and I could feel it. We were waking up too. I saw it in Wisdom and sensed it in myself- this reawakening to a wildness and a freedom that is almost forgotten in modern day life. And through it all, Diamond Peak, with its stretched out ridge and jumbled mass of peaks and plugs, dominated the scene and that was just fine with me. 

Camping that night at Marie Lake, the mosquitos forced Wisdom into the tent at 630 and I wasn't far behind at 7. They sounded like rain pelting the sides of the tent and we didn't come out from the safety of those four walls until morning. However, as ferocious as those bloodsucking parasites were, I was excited for the day. Hopefully, it was going to yield the main reason we were in this mosquito mecca - the reflected view of Diamond Peak in Mountain View Lake. You can only get the reflection this time of year when the water level is high and the mountain still has snow. Later in the summer when the bugs are gone, unfortunately, so is the view. 
Donning bug repellent and headgear, we trudged uphill for a few miles to Mountain View Lake. And guess what? We soon came to a mountain, a view, and a lake. Trifecta! However, the wind was blowing causing ripples across the water's surface. Not ideal for reflections. Would I really have to wait another year for this?!? I decided to break out the whiskey and toast the trip and Diamond Peak anyway. I said the simple prayer I say everyday on the trail and ended it the way I always end it, with the words Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever. Then I pulled out some crackers for a snack and as I was giving one to Wisdom, I felt the wind subside. I looked up and smiled in some combination of belief and disbelief. There it was - the reason we braved the mosquitos, the reason we hiked an already 18 miles, including some without even a trail, the reason we were there at exactly that moment. 

There are many beautiful places in the world; I'm lucky I can walk to some of them.

The mosquitos at Mountain View Lake are especially hellacious, so camping is not recommended. And if "especially hellacious" means anything more than what we'd already experienced, we were definitely taking that advice. Diamond View Lake lay a few more miles down the trail, so on we went. 

We arrived around 130, and found a great camp hidden from the trail, but still with a partial view of the lake and Diamond Peak. Yet something felt absent. And more relaxing. The mosquitos! They were gone. Time to rejoice and throw my headnet to the wind! After three days of eating, drinking, and brushing my teeth in that thing, it was nothing short of liberation to finally shed it. 


Wisdom had some luck too. A bowl was left on the trail near the lake. With no one around to claim it, I brought it back to camp and boom! Just like that Wisdom was glamping- with separate bowls for food and water!  

We spent two glorious, relatively mosquito-free nights at Diamond View Lake hanging out and listening to the song of the wild. Our hike ended at Shelter Cove after five days in the wilderness. My cousin and I, in 2016, stopped at Shelter Cove to resupply, shower, and do laundry. We signed the guest book with our trail names. This trip, the only thing I did was stop at the hiker box and drop off two meals in honor of Bee Keeper and Sky Shadow, two spirits who still walk the Pacific Crest Trail together.

For food and hike logistics, read on:

In 2013, I began dehydrating most of my meals for my hikes. I found I felt better with my own food, likely because I cut out all the processed stuff and loaded each meal with fruits and vegetables. 

On this trip, of the 11 meals I ate on the trail, 8 were ones I dehydrated and assembled myself. Highlights included Dungeness crab with eggs, polenta, and veggies (my new favorite trail breakfast!), Curry chicken and rice with veggies, Chili, and Hummus. This was the first time I tried dehydrating hummus myself and it was delicious. I'll never buy the already dehydrated stuff again. This was way better! I can't express how much my morale and strength is improved by having healthy and yummy meals to look forward to each day. I highly recommend giving it a try. 

Wisdom and I were out from July 3 - 7 and completed a total of 34 miles, including a 6 mile day trip to Saddle Lake. We gained a total of 3900 ft of elevation with 2100 of that coming on Day 1. Yes, with a full pack! Of course! We camped at Divide Lake, Marie Lake, and Diamond View Lake for two nights. They were all excellent.

This was a great trip and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year - as I'm sure the thousands of mosquitos are too. Happy hiking everyone! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

New Faces, New Places

Earlier this spring, my 71 year old Aunt and I set out to paddle 
more than 100 miles from Loreto to La Paz.  
Here's what happened.

March 27, Loreto y Agua Verde, Baja California Sur, Mexico, 0 miles paddled 

It's Go Day! I just took my last shower until April 6. Count them- that's ten days until my next bout with soap and water. Ten days! My Aunt, fiddling with gear and last minute details, stood by her bed. Her hair still dripped from her own last shower and I wondered if she was thinking what I was: Thank goodness for my own tent. Ten days with no showers times two people in a 4x7 space would quickly make for rough living. If any doubts existed about refusing to share a tent, those showers promptly cured them.

As we packed to check out, nerves and excitement fluttered about our stomachs. That afternoon we were scheduled to meet the kayaking group at a cafe for introductions and orientation. Naturally, we hoped for fun, friendly people, but we also hoped for average folks, like us. Please, no world class, long-distance paddlers that we'd worry about holding back... or keeping up with! As the meeting time neared, my Aunt and I hauled our bags of gear to the hotel lobby hoping we had everything packed correctly. "Town clothes," passports, and most of our money were in one bag that would remain in Loreto until we returned; "paddle clothes," a few pesos, snorkel gear, and provisions were stuffed in other bags to go with us. We also carried our travel insurance documents. Travel insurance was mandatory for this trip because of the emergency evacuation piece. If you were to be evacuated, you were to be evacuated by someone else. Once we were underway, there would be no way out except by power boat or by helicopter. A kayak, I guess, wasn't going to cut it. 

But evacuation was far from thought. We wanted to meet the group and start paddling. It was time to go. After introductions and a bit of small talk, Ryan, our guide, presented us with our first decision. Do we set off for our planned location, Ligui Beach, or do we bus further down the coast to Agua Verde and try to beat the wind? El Norte was still raging. Whitecaps bounced across the water's surface and we could imagine our kayaks doing the same. Forecasts called for better conditions, but not for a couple of days yet. Our dilemma was this: if we went to Ligui, our originally planned spot, we would have to paddle around two major headlands the following day and with El Norte blowing like it was, we might not make it. In other words, we would be stuck on the beach using our "rest day" on day one. And we still had a hundred miles of paddling and 10+ days of camping staring us in the face. A rest day further into the trip might be nice. Necessary, even. We had no idea what lay ahead. We opted to bus further. 

Were we disappointed? Of course, everyone was. We just cut 20 miles off our trip. But we understood it was the best decision, not only for practical purposes, but pleasurable ones too. Choosing to bus further down the coast today meant a rest day in the future. A rest day to recuperate and explore. It also meant the potential for normal, 4-6 hour paddling days instead of longer ones because we wouldn't be starting out behind schedule, and as our guide pointed out, "This trip wasn't just about paddling." 

As we pulled into Agua Verde hours later, I began to understand what he meant. 

Would we get off the beach and into our kayaks in the morning? Would El Norte ever stop blowing? And would the question be asked: Do you need to be evacuated? Stay tuned! Loreto to La Paz is just getting started. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Livin' Loreto

Earlier this spring, my 71 year old Aunt and I set out to paddle 
more than 100 miles from Loreto to La Paz.  
Here's what happened.

March 26, Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, 0 miles paddled

We arrived in Loreto, Mexico on March 23rd to the Posada de las Flores, a charming hotel right on the town plaza. The Posada, as we liked to call it, felt authentic and warm with its sun-burnt pink walls stretching from roof to floor and its gorgeous Mexican architecture. Brightly colored tiles, glazed ceramics, and tables, well-worn and made of iron, welcomed us home each night after a day of exploring. The Posada was the perfect place to land, and we felt lucky that we booked it all those months ago without really having any idea about it, Loreto, or even Mexico! 

It also made for a good practice spot to set up one's tent.

(By the way, when you can set a tent up in the hallway of a boutique hotel, consider it a sign you've got a very small tent!)

But the tent could wait. We had almost four days to prepare for our kayak trip and explore Loreto, and explore we did. Each day we walked the laid-back town to fetch bottled water, scout the two grocery stores, visit the local shops, find the lavenderia, check conditions on the Sea of Cortez, and find yummy restaurants. Vacation already seemed to mean something different this trip, and we embraced it all.

Checking the conditions on the water became a fun and important task. El Norte was blowing and had us checking the wind's direction and strength on the sea throughout the day. These gusty winds from the north can blow in the 30 knot range for days at a time. 

Checking conditions.

El Norte was on our minds, but out of our hands. Ha, no. We didn't believe that. Not for a second. We were about to hold a paddle hours at a time for days. The wind would totally be in our hands. But somehow, we still smiled!

Conditions look good at 5:50 in the morning!

We loved practicing "Spanish" at local restaurants and shops like this one. All I can say is how kind Mexicans are. Also, how good-humored. 

On our last night in Loreto before the paddle south, I lay in bed going over our menu for like the 100th time. Patty and I were responsible for one breakfast, two lunches, and a dinner for our group of 14 people. I approached it from a backpacking perspective (focusing on ease and weight) and came up with a hot couscous dish for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chips and veggies for one lunch and curry tuna on tortillas with veggies and fruit for the other, and gnocchi with pesto for our dinner. I felt pretty good about the menu and hoped everyone would like what we chose. I also hoped we'd have enough water to boil couscous and gnocchi for 14 people. I mean, we were about to paddle into the backcountry of the Baja Desert, an area of the world that receives less than 10 inches of rain per year. Would we be using dowsing sticks to find water out among the cacti and desert shrubs?

Dowsing stick or not, I fell asleep looking forward to tomorrow. Loreto was a ton of fun, but I found myself stare more and more to the south, where the mountains and the sea were calling....

Did we find water? Did El Norte continue to blow? 
Did anybody like our PBJs? Stay tuned for the next installment of Loreto to La Paz! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Last Paddle of the Season

Two adult eagles, two juveniles, two herons, a kingfisher, 42 degrees, and one snow-capped volcano all to myself. Worth it. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why Do I Hike?

Normally it's to return to nature, to recalibrate, decompress. But this August, I will hike for a different reason. This August, I will hike 450 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in support of Cascade Beagle Rescue, a Portland-based animal rescue with a nationwide reach. Please follow my adventure or join the team by checking out my blog Follow Your Nose- A Hike for Cascade Beagle Rescue at www.followyourbeaglenose.blogspot.com. If you like what you see, share it with your friends. Together we can do great things! Thanks so much and happy trails to you! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


West Yellowstone, Montana, a small mountain town that consists of less than one square mile and sits at almost 7000 feet above sea level, had me at its edge last week. Suddenly, and without warning, I was overtaken by a funk of sufficient size. Was it boredom? West Yellowstone's version of Island Fever? Mountain Fever perhaps? An apt name for the big sky blues, I thought, as vast mountain ranges loomed in every direction. Never thought I'd tire of the mountains though.

Yet, I found myself dreaming of Bora Bora and yearning for open water. My kayak, hibernating in the garage, depressed me. I was sick of bundling up every time I wanted to take the dogs for a walk and I missed my sneakers. Thai food too. Even the snow covered meadows, my winter playground, became tiresome. The mountains drew close. My mood was as heavy as my boots, and something had to be done. Something would be done. Years ago, probably by accident, I learned the way to break through a funk and return to a happier place is to take action. Get moving. By taking positive action, I know I'm also taking control of my emotions, and that feels good. Really good.

The first thing I did was write to my uncle, explained to him my circumstances. He lives in a small town in Northern Vermont and has for decades. I figured he should have some insight. "Cabin fever," he wrote back later that night. "You've got a case of it." His cabin fever, he said, sets in after five days; I'd been in this less-than-one-square-mile-town for a month. My fever was high. 

"Go," he wrote. "Go to Bozeman, go to the coffee shop, take a drive with a good CD. Just go." A drive with a good CD sounded wonderful. I hadn't listened to music in weeks, I realized. "Go", he said again at the end of his email. "Going is the cure-all for cabin fever." 

Cabin Fever, a condition not found in the DSM-5, but one psychologists agree exists is, as explained by Dr. Josh Klapow, a psychologist at the University of Alabama, "Your mind's way of telling you that the environment you're in is less than optimal for normal functioning." Hmm. Dr. Klapow continued, "It's when you're in a space of restricted freedom for a period of time that you can no longer tolerate." Right. Time to go. 

So, that's what I did. I went. I snapped into my cross country skis and popped in my earbuds. I put P!nk on shuffle and repeat. I took the first left onto a black diamond trail I knew would challenge my ability. I wiped out almost immediately. I found myself smiling. On the next downhill turn, I narrowly avoided a tree. I tacked on a second five mile loop on a day I lacked almost all motivation. I came home with a black and blue toenail. I wrote my Yellostone/Birthday blog. The words, as if locked in cement, came hard at first, but I made myself push through and ended up with a fun post that people liked. My mood improved. All the while, P!nk played in the background.
                   Where there is desire
                   There is gonna be a flame
                   Where there is a flame
                   Someone's bound to get burned
                   But just because it burns
                   Doesn't mean you're gonna die
                   You've gotta get up and try try try
                   Gotta get up and try try try
                   You gotta get up and try try try

There's a saying in snowmobiling, something I've been doing a lot of out here: When in doubt, throttle out. Lay on the gas. Propel yourself forward. Take action. Go. And watch yourself break through. Because you will. You absolutely, undoubtedly will.  

2/25/16 Update: Interestingly, this post generated zero buzz on my Facebook page, but on email, it went crazy! I enjoyed reading everyone's own experiences with Cabin Fever from how long it takes to get it (2 days to almost never) and the steps they take to cure it (the most popular being GO!). If you get a chance and are interested, please share your experience, ideas, and/or solutions in the comments below. I'm curious! Thanks, Lisa

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birthday in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) has very strict rules regarding winter travel on its roads. Basically, the roads are closed to all travel except Yellowstone-permitted snowmobile or snowcoach commercially guided tours. Snowcoaches, or slowcoaches as I like to call them, are vans whose wheels have been replaced with tracks for over-snow driving. They work great, but the tracks prevent them from exceeding speeds of 25 mph. Hence, slowcoaches. One other way to enter the park during the winter season is on XC skis with a National Parks pass. And that's it, unless you win the lottery. Beginning in 2015, YNP began a non-commercially guided snowmobile program that allows a person like you or me to guide a group into the park. A total of five snowmobiles are allowed in each group and only one permit is granted per day to each of the park's five entrance gates months in advance. In other words, only five of these permits are given out on any given day for the entire park, and I got one for February 5th- my birthday! I figured it to be a truly special experience and wanted to share it with my partner Kimi and someone else special to me, but who? Yellowstone's winters, especially in early February, can be finger-freezing, toe-popping, mind-numbing cold, so I knew it had to be someone hearty. Someone tough and not a complainer. Marilyn, I thought, Kimi's 70 year old mom. She would be perfect. And she was.

With temperatures hovering around 5 degrees, we set out for Firehole Falls and Old Faithful from the west gate. Despite the cold temps, the day looked to be a stunner. Being cold is expected, what you're hoping for is blue skies and visibility, and it seemed we just might get it.

Firehole Falls is a popular 40 ft falls, and we had it mostly to ourselves. Often, that's the case with Yellowstone in the winter; the crowds aren't there, but as we made our way to Old Faithful, traffic picked up. Suddenly, the three of us were surrounded by fourteen hundred pound animals in every direction. My heart, like I imagined their hooves would should they decide they no longer cared to share the road, pounded in my chest. One kept turning her head back and throwing us dirty looks. Eventually, Kimi and I recognized the look and started to laugh. It was the same exact look our beagle gives us when we're late with dinner or to go to bed. It was the look of annoyance. I think that's when I knew we'd be okay. Our presence may have been annoying them (or at least one of them!), but it certainly didn't appear to threaten them. 

Some, such as the one below, even took a nap. 

Cute, but also problematic. Old Faithful was due to erupt in an hour and we needed to make that eruption in order to get the snowmobiles back to the rental shop in time. From Old Faithful, we could expect an hour and a half ride to the west gate, and that's without bison jams, elk, wolves, or whatever else might present itself in this most magnificent place. That said, we did not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. With temperatures in the negative 30s the past few nights and daytime highs of 10, these animals were not about to pass up the afternoon sun for us. So, there we sat amidst the snorts and the snores. Just one of the herd.

Because of the bison, we did miss Old Faithful and Marilyn was understandably disappointed. Old Faithful is arguably the most famous feature in the park, and the one we grow up hearing about, but in terms of eruptions, it's not the most impressive. I checked my phone for the time. We'd be cutting it close, but we had to stop. "Sometimes," I told her as we parked our snowmobiles at Fountain Paint Pots, "the most impressive geysers are here." The prettiest too.

And there, past the mud pots and blue pools, were two geysers blowing water 20-30 feet into the air as if trying to outdo each other.

And no one was there to watch them but us. Fountain Geyser, above, according to YNP literature, is one of the most unpredictable and beautiful geysers in the park, and after seeing it blow, I entirely agree. 

The stormtrooper returns to her ship after exploring the other world.

My story ends there, but the pictures don't. Keep scrolling to see a little more of winter in Yellowstone, and what I think is the best season in the park.

Bison napping along the Madison River. 

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

Elk make some of the best subjects in the park. Even a Royal Bull Elk (note the six points) will give you a smile, 

look toward the camera,

and give you his best side. 

What a great birthday! Thank you Yellowstone, Kimi, and Marilyn!