Summer at Ross Lake, part 2

The day after hiking up Desolation peak for a view of a mountain that Jack Kerouac called “the most mournful mountain I’ve ever seen” (he also called it “the most beautiful”), we spent a more leisurely morning around camp, drinking instant coffee and eating a hearty breakfast.



Yes, a perfectly balanced breakfast.

Then we decided to get back in the boats and paddle across to the lake’s western side. Ross Lake is over a mile wide, and to be sat in the very middle of it, the water black and bottomless, your arms tired and your boat not feeling like it’s going anywhere, could have been cause for panic. So lucky it was that I had teamed up with the most upbeat group of companions, always making bad jokes, singing 80s hits, and quoting eloquent and charismatic naturalists (Richard Proenneke is a favorite).






By the time we made it up Little Beaver Creek, we were ready to stretch our legs, so we pulled up to the dock and got out to explore. Never ones to turn down the chance to scramble (up a rocky cliff, down a crumbling slope, or even a skillet of eggs at breakfast time), the boys saw the opportunity to cross an inlet via floating logs as one they absolutely had to take. Me, I stuck to the bridge that was just within eyesight and poised myself with my camera to capture their moment of triumph. Ahem, “triumph…”




After making quite a splash, we spent the rest of the afternoon returning to camp, stopping to swim, eat lunch, swim, and swim. Awaiting for me back at Lightning Creek was a challenge I had the courage to undertake: making and consuming my first campfire s’more. I may have even helped start the fire – a real nature-woman!





Heavenly. Glad I packed the big bag of marshmallows! I am forever changed.

After the sugar crash, we climbed one last time into our sleeping bags and set our alarms for before sunup. We anticipated a long, strenuous paddle back to the Ross Lake Resort, with early-morning winds blowing against us and four days of fatigue slowing our strokes. But things in nature seldom happen in the way you’d expect, and we cruised on calm waters, making it back to civilization in half the time we’d expected. After a quick stop on Cougar Island (the guys couldn’t resist making the same joke over and over again), and a rock-skipping competition, we turned in our canoes and headed west on State Route 20.




To celebrate the end of our escapade, we stopped by a tried-and-true favorite – Cascadian Farm, for organic berry ice cream and espresso. You know, to soften the shock of reintegrating ourselves into society, of course. Society, man – SOCIETY! Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to make another such escape with these guys, one day soon.



Summer at Ross Lake, part 1

This time two years ago, Phillip and I pulled out our gear in preparation of a fourth of July spent hiking and canoeing at Ross Lake in Washington’s North Cascades with a few great outdoorsy buddies. A trip a bit unlike any other we’d embarked on before, we had a total of 40 nautical miles to tackle en route to and from our campsite and for various other destinations around the lake. My arms twitch in protest just thinking about all the hours spent paddling.



We camped nearby to get an early start the following morning. The trip started with a mile-long hike, downhill to the shore of Ross Lake, where we found a wooden box with a telephone inside. We picked up the phone, which connected us to the staff of the Ross Lake Resort (known for its picturesque floating cabins) who sent a big electric boat across the water to pick us up and take us to the resort.



There we stayed long enough to rent our canoes and for me to slip into the new pair of chacos I grabbed for a steal at the REI garage sale. Very PNW of me.





Then the five of us piled into two canoes and paddled out, destination Lightning Creek Boat Camp. As the crow flies it’s about twelve miles away, but we were some seriously waterlogged crows and with some crooked steering I would be surprised if we made it there in less than fifteen!


After a few sappy pit stops, we eventually got our “sea arms” and cruised into camp. But we didn’t stay put for long and after unloading the boats we were out exploring some of the lake’s many inlets.






Exhausted, we returned to camp for a quick dinner before turning in for the night. Breakfast the next morning roused us only so much – we were really feeling the previous day’s paddling. Luckily, this day’s itinerary only featured two miles of rowing – the distance to and from the trailhead for Desolation Peak. We had prepped for the trip by reading a few chapters of Jack Kerouac’s “Desolation Angels,” written while he manned the fire lookout atop the peak in the summer of 1956.



If Jack could make the trek (4400-foot elevation gain over 4.8 miles), then we could, too. Only later did I learn that all of his gear, while arguably a lot bulkier than our daypacks, was carried up the mountain by a donkey. What luxury!



I lagged dramatically behind the group, which would have made for a triumphant photo finish, if I hadn’t been a bit skeptical of having reached the top. A number of false summits had shaken my confidence, until I finally found the guys again, each in a state of either napping, snacking, or downward dog. Then I caught sight of the fire lookout and that magnificent peak to the north: “Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen!”









After much rest and relaxation, we started our descent back down to our canoes. Back at our campsite, celebratory drinks were consumed (thumbs up to Phillip for packing in a couple of limes).



After a spot of dinner and some light reading, we were ready to say goodnight to Ross Lake.


Happy 2014!

After a New Year’s eve spent lollygagging around Bellingham, Phillip and I continued the trend of coffee shops and cooking big American breakfasts all the way through the fourth of the month. A call from Phillip’s brother, a nudge and a wink from Phillip’s sister, and we were all hurrying off to climb Mount Si, a classic Puget Sound day hike – one that I had never done before. For the first hike of the year, it was a great one!

With our bellies still full of the aforementioned breakfast, we made the quick forty-five minute drive to the tiny town of North Bend, and started up the trail.





After four miles of constant elevation gain (3150 feet), and a brief, slippery scramble through some snow, we reached Mount Si’s rocky peak (though not all at the same time, as I was the caboose for nearly the entire trip).  At the summit we opened our packs and pulled out four croissants for a celebratory snack, along with a strange piney beer that we split four ways, sip by sip.






From the top, we had a wonderful view of all of the Upper Snoqualmie Valley, as well as much of the Puget Sound.  On such a clear day, even the skyscrapers of Bellevue and Seattle could be seen in the distance.  Not bad at all for January!


We couldn’t bask in the sun for too long – the gray jays (also known as camp robbers) perched at the top kept pecking at us in hopes of food, and Phillip had to work that evening, so we packed up and started our descent.  The ice that proved challenging on the way up turned out to be comedically difficult to traverse on the way down – if I wasn’t doing a pretty convincing Charleston, then I had my arms wrapped around my knees, sliding on my heels and crying out, in a moment of extreme dignity, just how sure I was that I looked like a penguin.  I’ll tell you, penguins do it with more grace.

It wasn’t until Phillip locked arms with me and started running that I was able to keep my balance.  Or were we just in a controlled fall?  Who knows!  It was the perfect start to 2014!